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No Second Chances

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Bucky could hear her soft laughter as she watched that American tv show in her apartment. He tried to think of the name of it… it was something from the 1990’s about a Jewish man and his friends in New York. It was one she watched often, he thought it must be one of her favorites considering how frequently he hears her watching it. He knows she also tends to watch it on bad days so he guessed he would probably have to hear her cry herself to sleep tonight. He sighed, silently cursing the super hearing the serum had given him; just part of his transition into an ultimate human weapon. The fact that they lived in the only two top floor apartments meant there weren’t any other tenants to distract him.

It had been 3 months since he had left his little piece of farmland in Wakanda and come here to Romania to hole up in this little apartment. 3 months since he moved in across the hall from the beautiful brunette who he quickly learned was also American and seemed to be keeping some secrets of her own. It didn’t take him long to learn her name was Ava and that she worked at the tiny bookstore across the street and shopped at the market on the corner; she didn’t seem to venture beyond that and spent all her other time holed up in her apartment cooking, watching TV or listening to music. He assumed she also spent some time reading considering her choice of job.

He couldn’t judge, he hardly left the apartment himself unless Steve called him for a mission and those tended to be quick and infrequent. He spent most of his time hiding out in his own apartment listening to her, wondering about her life. His favorite times are when she’s cooking; she softly sings to herself and the smells that come to his apartment are amazing, but the worst times are the nights she cries herself to sleep or has nightmares. Both situations make him feel things he couldn’t remember feeling in a very long time. But who or what was she hiding from? He heard the sound of her bright laughter again and didn’t even realize it had put a small smile on his face.

They only interacted maybe once or twice a week, her with a bright gorgeous smile and him shyly mumbling a polite greeting, trying not to appear mesmerized by her. She was fairytale beautiful, she made him think of that old cartoon movie that came out back in the 30’s when he was a younger man… Snow White? She looked like the kind of girl that attracted furry little woodland creatures to assist her with housekeeping. Or was on the run from a jealous evil witch. He wondered again what her secret was.

He laid down in bed and closed his eyes still listening to the sounds from across the hall. He heard the tv go off as she sighed and started getting ready for bed. He tried not to picture what it looked like when he heard her undressing and putting on something to sleep in. “Jesus Barnes, quit being such a creep” he mumbled as he felt himself start to get hard. These feelings of desire were new, he probably hadn’t felt anything like this since, well, the 1940’s. Did that make him an old creep, he wondered. After all, she couldn’t be older than 25 and he was about 100.

Part of him felt wrong for listening in on her like he did. Not that he could necessarily turn off his super hearing but he’d be lying to himself if he didn’t admit that he looked forward to hearing her do things around her apartment and he definitely paid close attention to it. It made him feel peaceful hearing her light steps as she moved around her kitchen grabbing things to add to her food, her sweet voice humming or softly singing to herself. He even got a little thrill when he heard her soft footsteps rushing down the stairs to work cursing under her breath because she’s running late.

But then there are the nights like this, where he can hear her crying in her bed. Imagining her all alone in the dark crying herself to sleep twisted his insides. Was she scared, sad, lonely? If he was anyone else besides the most wanted ex-terrorist on the planet he liked to think he could say more than some mumbled greetings, that he could actually connect with her somehow and figure out a way to help her.

Worse are the nights he hears her having nightmares. He of all people knows what it’s like to wake up in a cold sweat and in complete panic. He wishes he could wake her up and tell her she’s ok but all he can do is lay there as she cries and whimpers, clenching his fists. He hears her crying slow down then her breathing get even and he's finally able to relax.

____________________________________________________________________

He gets the call from Steve the next morning. Steve suspects there may be a Hydra base near the Romanian/Hungarian border only an hour from Bucky’s current location. Wanda is off the grid with Vision, Sam and Natasha are on a mission in China and Steve is meeting with King T’Challa in Wakanda to ask him to broker a pardon for the group of outlaws.

“So, any chance you can handle this one alone?” Steve asks expectantly. “I mean if you’d rather not we can hold off for a few days but they may move on by then. We usually gotta strike while the irons hot.”

“No need, I can handle it. I can be outta here in 20.” Bucky changes into all black as he ends the call with Steve and grabs his go bag to head out. He runs into Ava on the landing and she flashes him that dazzling smile. He clears his throat and mentally pulls himself together enough to give her a shy smile and hello.

“Heading out on another trip?” She asks, eyes going to his duffel bag. He didn’t realize she had noticed him leaving for missions previously. ‘Good job super assassin.’ he thinks to himself wryly.

“Uh yea just a quick overnight. I’ll be back by tomorrow.” He can’t help but notice the plain white t-shirt does nothing to hide her very generous chest and tapers down to her tiny waist while tight dark jeans show off her shapely hips. Where do they even make dames like this? ‘You’re being an old creep again, Barnes’ he thinks, as she gives him another sweet smile.

“Well have a good trip, see you around neighbor!” She tells him as she turns to head into her apartment. Bucky tries unsuccessfully not to look at her ass.

“Yea, thanks. See ya.” His gloved hand pulls the baseball cap down a little lower as he jogs down the stairs. Does she wonder why he always wears the gloves? Either way she must think he’s a complete dope who trips over his own tongue every time he sees her but he can’t help but feel a little warmth in his chest when he thinks about how warm and bubbly she always is regardless. He tries to shake off his thoughts about her; both her sweet personality and those tight clothes she wears. He needs to focus on the mission and keep his head in the game.

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Things had gone sideways as soon as he got to the coordinates. It was like they were ready and waiting for him. He got caught in a firefight and took several hits but managed to get out and steal a nearby small nondescript car. He was badly injured but knows if he can make it back to the apartment he can wait for his body to self heal the injuries and he’ll be fine. He almost makes it.

He collapsed just a few feet from his door. He’d lost a lot of blood and his vision was starting to get a little dark around the edges; he’s sitting on the floor slumped against the hallway wall when he hears her.

“Oh my god! James, are you alright?” She quickly jogs over and kneels down in front of him. He lifts his face and meets her wide hazel eyes. A fleeting thought passes through his head about how she has the longest eyelashes he’s ever seen. ‘Jesus Barnes, you’re nearly unconscious and still checking her out. Get a grip.’

She sees he’s injured and begins to fumble around for her cell phone. “Just stay tight, I’ll call 112 and-”

“No.” He cuts her off, reaching out to grab her wrist. “No police.” His voice is rough and strained but she gives him a small nod.

“Ok. No police. I have a medical kit, I can help clean you up. Can you make it to my apartment?” She pulls his left arm over her shoulders and slowly helps him get up. He almost wants to laugh at the thought of this petite little thing having to help the Winter Soldier walk. He vaguely wonders if she can tell the arm isn’t quite right but he’s too injured to do anything about it. Or maybe the close proximity and smell of her skin is just jumbling his brain too much.

They slowly but surely maneuver into her apartment and then into her bathroom where she helps Bucky ease down to the floor.

Ava steps out and returns with a large medical emergency kit and sits down facing him. She tugs the glove off his right hand but when she reaches for his left he tries to pull it away. “James, I need to get your gloves, jacket and shirt off so I can see your injuries. Please?” Her voice is so soft and soothing and her face looks so concerned. She was concerned for him.

The thought makes him feel warm and in that moment he would do anything she asked. She reaches out and takes the hand again gently pulling off the glove. He watches her face for any sign of shock but besides an almost imperceptible swallow her face never changes. He leans forward as she eases his jacket off, leaving him in just a white t-shirt, arm in full view. She seems to ignore the arm but her brows furrow at the blood stains all over his shirt.

He leans a little forward again with a grunt and raises his arms as much as he can while she slowly pulls the shirt over his head. Now she can see his full arm and the scar all the way around the prosthesis; he’s never felt so vulnerable but she continues to ignore it and go about her work. She opens her kit and pulls out some gauze pads and a bottle of clear liquid. “I’m sorry, this will sting. A lot.” she tells him with a voice full of apology.

“S’okay.” was all he replied and she started to clean his wounds with the alcohol dampened gauze. Completely focused on the task at hand she doesn’t notice how intently he’s watching her. He notices she has no makeup on but her skin is so perfect and luminous she would never need any. His eyes trail down to her pouty pink lips slightly open and pursed in concentration as she cleans all of his wounds.

She finishes and her eyes meet his. “A couple of these should really get stitched. I have the needle and sutures if you’re comfortable letting me do it.”

Even though he knows they’ll heal on their own in several hours he nods. “Yea. I trust you.” he says quietly and she gives him a small smile. He tells himself it’s because he needs to keep up appearances but deep down he knows it’s really that he’s loving the feel of her sweet featherlight touches against his skin. He tries to remember the last time someone tried to take care of him like this. Was it his mother? Winnifred. That was his mother's name. She used to make him breakfast every morning before school and smooth down his hair, chiding him for not combing it... He snaps back to the present and watches as she threads the hooked needle.

He closes his eyes and leans his head against the wall. He can’t believe he’s actually here in her apartment and this close to her. And under the worst possible circumstances. She’s seen his arm. What would he do now? He knows what he should do; he should go immediately back to his apartment, grab his go bag, and find a new country to hide in. Probably a new continent. He was already starting to feel his strength coming back, the super serum healing him at a hugely accelerated rate. He sighs, pushing the thought away for the moment.

“Where’d you learn to cook?” He knows he should just let her patch him up and get out of there but he’s desperate to know more about her.

She smirks. “Have I been stinking up the whole building?” He opens his eyes to see she's smirking so he gives her a lopsided grin back.

“No I didn’t mean that - well yea. But in a good way. It always smells so amazing. I can’t even work a microwave so the smell of good cooking gets my attention.”

She gives a little laugh, still focusing on the stitching. “Well I didn’t really learn to cook from anywhere or anyone specific. I had sort of a rough childhood and I guess cooking gave me a small feeling of control when everything else was turmoil and chaos. So I suppose I just ended up getting a lot of practice over the years.” she said with a little shrug.

He stayed quiet, not sure how to respond. He wondered what happened when she was growing up. Did someone hurt her? He hoped not, the thought made him feel terrible.

She finishes dressing the remaining wounds and puts everything back in her kit. “I’ll help you get over to the bed, you need to rest for a bit before moving around too much.”

Her bed? He’s shocked at first and his mouth opens like a fish. “Uh no, no it’s ok I can make it back across the hall-”

“Nonsense. You need to lay down for at least an hour or two. I didn’t do all this stitching work just to let you ruin it.”

He huffs out a little laugh. It was obvious she wasn’t going to let him out of this. She pulls his arm over her shoulder and they both stand up and move towards the bedroom. He notices the rest of the apartment is sparsely decorated. Just a small couch, tv, table and chair; much like his own apartment across the way, it was like she can’t relax and put down roots here.

The bedroom is different. The first thing he notices are all the books. She has a bookcase filled with books and they’ve spilled over into stacks on the dresser, and even stacks scattered around the floor. The bed is a full size and was piled with ivory frilly pillows and large soft frilly feather comforter and his first thought was that it looks like a cloud vomited all over it. He lets out a sigh as he sinks down into the soft mattress. Her bed feels like heaven. He’s been sleeping on an old mattress on the floor for months, and even in Wakanda his hut only had room for a small, simple cot. It’s like everything about her is softness and comfort.

Despite his initial protests, his eyes close almost as soon as they hit the pillow. He didn’t realize how exhausted he was until that moment, and he felt her pull the big fluffy comforter over him. The whole bed smells like her and he was enveloped in it; it’s like the scent of roses and fresh laundry. He feels her feather light touch as she moves his hair out of his face and whispers, “Just rest for awhile, you need it.” He falls asleep almost immediately with a contented sigh and into some vague relaxing dream.

Chapter Text

She sees him pass out almost immediately and smiles, glad he’s getting some rest. She has a feeling he doesn’t get much or the best sleep and she knows from experience how getting injured can completely drain you.

That metal arm. She remembers some stories from awhile back about a guy with a metal arm or metal hand… She couldn’t remember the details but she was pretty certain it was an arm and that it had been silver with some kind of red emblem on it; James’s arm is dark, almost black with little gold lines. He seems ex-military, maybe he lost his arm in one of the neverending wars the world seems intent on perpetuating. She’s had her own worries these past several years so it’s no wonder she doesn’t really recall the story. Besides, it isn’t any of her business what his deal is unless he wants to tell her. She certainly wouldn’t want someone probing into her past so she’s not about to do that to someone else.

And missing arm or not, the man in her bed is undeniably handsome. Not that she was in any kind of headspace to consider anything with a man; and maybe she’d never be. But maybe she could make a friend here. She avoided getting too close with anyone after what happened in Chicago but her nature is to be outgoing and friendly so it had been an especially lonely almost 9 months since she’d gotten here.

She thinks again about the handsome man sleeping in her bed. He obviously has his secrets but she can tell he’s good, she can sense it. He was definitely shy every time they interacted but it was in a really sweet, adorable way. She thinks about how tongue-tied he sometimes seems when they run into each other and smiles. She thought it was pretty cute. Yea, maybe one friend would be ok. But then her thoughts go to Jon...

Maybe it’s selfish of her to even consider reaching out for a friendship, how could she bring him into her bullshit. If something went wrong, if Jon somehow showed up here, she could be putting him in danger if he were anywhere near her. He would probably want to help her and Jon wouldn’t take too kindly to that.

She sighs and pushes the thoughts out of her head. Maybe someday she could consider making friends but it’s still too soon for that, too early to be sure it’s safe. She goes to the kitchen to take stock of what she has, he’ll probably be hungry when he wakes up and at least she can feed him before she has to usher him out of her place.

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When he starts to wake back up the first thing he notices is that he’s surrounded by softness and a wonderful scent. Her scent. He suddenly remembers whose bed he’s in and jerks up, wincing as the stitches pull.

He gets out of the bed and walks toward the main area of the apartment. He can hear her in the kitchen humming to herself while she throws something into one of the pots on the stove. Whatever she’s cooking smells great and he has a half smile on his face as he walks towards her. “Hey. How long was I out?”

She looks up at him and flashes her amazing smile. “Oh hey there sleeping beauty! You’ve been out about 6 hours. I thought you could use the rest so I didn’t want to wake you. I’m sorry I hope that’s ok.” She looks worried like she thinks he might be upset with her.

He’s actually more embarrassed and surprised that he managed to completely let his guard down like that. He rubs the back of his neck. “No no it’s ok, I’m just sorry for taking up your bed like that for so long. I’d better go ahead and get back to my apartment. Thank you for all your help, I would have been in pretty bad shape otherwise.” He gives her an embarrassed smile.

She waves away his words, “No no, please. It wasn’t a problem at all. But you can’t go yet, dinner is almost ready, I made plenty for two and a soup for you to take home and have while you recuperate.”

Before he could even reply she was pushing a stack of two plates, silverware, and napkins into his hand and pointing towards the couch and coffee table. He opened his mouth to protest but the truth was that this could be his only chance to try her cooking or get to know her better than the brief moments in the hall have allowed, and the temptation was too much for him to pass up. He sets out the plates and silverware then turns to her. “I’m grateful for the dinner invite but any chance I could at least run across the hall for a shirt?”

She looks at his bare chest and her cheeks turn pink as she lets out a little squeak. “Of course! I’m so sorry, I was so busy with the food I didn’t notice your half nakedness! I mean, not that it’s bad to look at, it’s just… Ok, please just go grab a shirt because if I swallow another foot I’ll ruin my appetite for dinner.” For once she was the one who was tongue-tied and he couldn’t help but laugh at how cute it was.

Once he got back they sat down to eat and Bucky’s eyes almost popped out of his head when he saw the spread she had laid out for them; homemade goulash with spaetzle, a salad, and a platter of cheese with sliced apples and pears. He had eaten some good meals in Wakanda, the few times here and there when Shuri or T’Challa managed to talk him into joining the royal family for dinner. But goulash was something his mom had made for him growing up and it gives him a sudden rush of emotions.

“James, is everything ok? If this doesn’t look good that’s ok I have some other stuff in the fridge or I can make you something else?” He didn’t realize she was watching him. She seems so concerned that he might be disappointed and he feels terrible.

“No, not at all! It’s just, this meal reminds me of something my ma used to make and I got caught up thinking about her. This looks amazing and I honestly can’t wait to eat it.” The worry clears from her face and she smiles, dishing him up a massive helping.

“Will you tell me about her? Your mom?” She asks quietly. It warms his heart that she wants to know, he’s not used to anyone asking about him or wanting to know about his past, at least not his past before the war and the fall. He tells her a few stories about his mom, keeping them vague so it’s not obvious he’s talking about the 1920s-1940s. She seems completely enthralled and hangs off his every word, asking all sorts of questions about his childhood.

They spend another hour on her couch after dinner exchanging stories about their upbringings. He learns about her parents' death when she was only 2 and how she spent the next 16 years bouncing around foster homes in the midwest. While most foster kids struggle in school due to the turmoil in their home life she managed to excel and graduated valedictorian in high school. She got accepted to an Ivy League school and graduated with honors where she majored in linguistics.

Bucky was blown away. He couldn’t believe this woman was actually the full package; kindness, beauty, and massive brains. He’s never met anyone so out of his league, though young Bucky would have tried to smooth talk her into a date anyway. But 100-year-old Bucky is still happy having to settle for this; being near her, hearing her talk. He felt like a lovesick teenager.

It’s when he’s telling her all about meeting Steve in the 3rd grade that he slips up. “Steve has never known when to run from a fight and I always had to save his ass growing up. He was crushed when I finally got my orders to ship out to Europe without him-” He immediately stops talking and she looks confused.

“Orders to Europe? Were you stationed here?” For a few seconds he’s like a deer in headlights before shaking it off.

“Uh yea, I was stationed over here for awhile. But it’s getting late I should really get back to my apartment and you probably need some sleep, I know I hogged your bed for 6 hours…”

He thinks she looks disappointed but she quickly gives him a smile. “Right, I’m sure you want to rest too. Let me just pack up some leftovers and the soup I made for you.” She rifles around the kitchen for a minute and comes back with some tupperware, including a large container of some kind of delicious looking soup, which she hands to him. “I just wanted to make sure you have something to eat while you recuperate. I mean, you may need to figure out how to operate your microwave to reheat it but it should last at least a few days.”

He wants to tell her she doesn’t need to give him anything else, she should keep it and eat it but the temptation to eat more of her cooking is too much to pass up. He smiles as he takes the containers from her. “So, uh, I guess I’ll see you around… neighbor.” He knows he must sound so awkward but he can’t help it around her.

She gives him a smile that makes his insides quiver. “Yea neighbor, I’ll see you around.”

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Bucky can’t stop thinking about the events of the last several hours as he lays in bed that night. Ava, his stunning, sweet neighbor across the hall, taking care of him, her gentle fingers, sleeping in her bed, feeding him and listening intently to him talk about his life. Treating him like a human being. Like a friend.

He feels like their latest interactions have put his little crush in danger of becoming a full-blown infatuation. And he had shared far too much about his life. He shouldn’t have told her anything but he went so far as to mention Steve and leaving for the war, what was he thinking? What he should do, needs to do is grab his bag and leave town without looking back.

But even now he can hear her let out a soft sigh as she gets into her bed and it makes his heart flutter. He knows there is no way he’s going to make the right decision, to leave in the night without a word. She’s making him feel things he hasn’t felt in over 70 years and he can’t get enough of it. He falls asleep listening to her deep breathing from the other apartment.

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After deciding he couldn’t just disappear after Ava had seen his arm, Bucky had reached a sort of compromise with himself and decided to install some security measures via cameras and mics inside and outside the building. Now if something seems suspicious or goes sideways he knows to cut and run.

He knows he’s letting himself get too distracted by her but tells himself it’s just a harmless crush.

Ava’s soup is the best thing he’s tasted since he can remember and he savors it to the last drop. He inhaled the other leftovers the day before (even though it probably would have lasted a normal person at least 3 or 4 days) and now he’s set to gulp down a gallon of soup in one evening. He feels sort of sad once the last of it is gone, not sure when or if he’ll be able to eat her cooking again.

He washes out the tupperware and walks across the hall to return it. He pauses in front of her door, nerves on fire, but can’t bring himself to knock so he leaves it on her doorstep.

He was so sure that would be the last of her cooking he would get to eat, so he’s surprised the next day when he finds them refilled with something new on his own doorstep. He brings them inside to find a huge slab of lasagna (she must have noticed his inhuman appetite the other night), salad, and garlic bread along with a small note: “Don’t be a stranger, neighbor ;)” He smiles to himself and thinks maybe he’s finally found a flaw; her handwriting is terrible.

Their exchange of tupperware and food continues for the next week. He still hasn’t worked up the courage to knock, afraid the more time he spends interacting with her the more attached he’ll become. But as he polishes off the container of beef stroganoff and listens to her humming around her apartment he decides that tomorrow he’ll knock on her door.

____________________________________________________________________

Before he has a chance, Steve calls.

“I need you in Wakanda for a few days, Buck. The talk about the pardons is moving along a lot slower than we had hoped and I really want your input before we agree to any more concessions. How soon do you think you could get here?” Steve asks in an impatient tone.

“I can leave here within a half-hour.” Bucky packs up a bag as he talks.

“Great, we’ll meet you with the jet in that little field outside Snagov.” Steve hangs up as Bucky finishes packing. Wakanda is his happy place and it’ll be nice to see T’Challa and Shuri; the girl had become like a kid sister to him, always teasing and getting into his business. But he’d be lying to himself if he didn’t admit that he would miss the interactions with his sweet neighbor. ‘It’s only a couple a days, quit being such a sap,’ he chides himself. He really was getting soft.

Just as Bucky is locking the door he hears a soft throat clearing behind him and turns around to see Ava there smiling at him. His heart beats a little faster as he takes her in. Her long dark hair is plaited in a loose side braid, she’s wearing a light pink stretchy tank top that reveals some of her abundant cleavage and clings to her like a second skin, and black yoga pants that show every shape of her luscious hips and thighs. He doesn’t realize he’s completely zoned out. She quirks her plump pink lips at him. “Um, earth to James? Are you still here with us?”

He smiles and shakes it off, “Oh hey, sorry doll, I was a little lost in thought.”

She laughs, “‘Doll’? Jesus, what are you, 90?” He feels like he might be blushing a little, it’s like she had him pegged and didn’t even realize it. “Off for another trip?”

He looks down at the duffle bag in his hand like he forgot it was there. “Oh, yea. Just for a few days. You, uh - how are you?” God, he felt like such an idiot trying to talk to her.

A look crossed her face briefly, furrowing her brow. He had heard her wake up from a nightmare last night. It was the first time since before his injury that she’d done that and he’d been hoping whatever was happening in her life had gotten better.

“I’m good, it’s just work is getting a little busy at this time of year and my boss is an older man,” (‘Not as old as me’, Bucky thinks) “and I can tell he’s getting stressed out. I don’t know if I mentioned it the other night but I work at that little bookshop across the street, do you know it?” His heightened senses and hearing could pick up her pulse quickening with the lie about work. He knew it was something else bothering her; whatever sad secret had driven her to hiding out in this little Romanian apartment.

“Yea, next to that coffeeshop? I think I’ve stuck my head in once or twice.” He can’t help but imagine what it would be like to ask her to go on a date to that little coffeeshop, sitting outside and seeing the sun shine on her hair. Now he was feeling really pathetic and eager to get out of here before he says something stupid. “Well sorry to hear that about work, and sorry to rush out but I’ve got a jet-PLANE to catch.” ‘Bucky you idiot,’ he thinks, ‘after all Shuri’s hard work to unscramble your brain it’s like she’s dropped it right into a blender.’

“Well try to come back in one piece, I’m out of sutures after the last time.” She gently puts a hand on his forearm smiling up at him with sparkling eyes. He feels his heart start to pound and he returns her sweet smile.

“I can’t make any promises so you’d better stock up.” They smile at each other for a moment and he feels like there’s a spark between them.

“Ok, I’d better let you go. Have a good trip neighbor!” She gives him a little wink as she turns to her door and Bucky turns down the stairs, heart still pounding in his ears. Maybe when he gets back he can ask her about getting that coffee. Just as friends. Harmless.

Chapter Text

Ava was in a good mood after her interaction with the mysterious neighbor. James seemed shy and it was fun trying to pull him out of his shell a little bit. Maybe she would ask him to come eat dinner with her when he got back and get to know him a little more. It had been almost 9 months since she arrived in Romania, it really seemed like she must be safe now. She felt like it was ok to let herself breathe.

She thinks about how her bedding had smelled a little like him when she slept in it that night after he left; like earth and cedarwood. For some reason it had completely relaxed her and she had fallen into a deep sleep, but that seemed ridiculous. She just figured she’d been so lonely and isolated that she’s latching on to the first nice person nearby. It definitely has nothing to do with how attractive she finds him…

He was at least 6’0’ and she was a petite 5’2. Under other circumstances a guy like that with his muscles (not to mention that powerful looking arm) would intimidate or scare her considering what she’s been through, but he’s just so sweet and he has such kind blue eyes he immediately puts her at ease.

He really came out of his shell when he told her stories about growing up in Brooklyn. He made it sound wholesome, like an ideal childhood, it was hard for her to picture Brooklyn in the 90’s being like that. The whole thing gave her Newsies vibes, with him even describing delivering papers and playing baseball in the street. But what did she know about growing up in a loving household, maybe it caused you to see everything through rose colored glasses.

But something changed when he mentioned getting stationed in Europe. He got all squirrely like he needed to get out of her apartment as soon as possible. His friend Steve also sent some vague bell off in the back of her head but she guessed that he didn’t want to talk about his time in the military, and sometimes she could sense sadness behind his eyes. It’s probably where he lost the arm and she imagined that would have been a traumatic experience. She made a mental note to avoid the topic unless he brought it up in future.

Yea, she would invite him over for some dinner when he got back from his trip. It would be totally harmless to have dinner as friends. She smiles as she heads for work, wondering what she should make for him.

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Ava spent the last couple hours of her shift unpacking and shelving boxes of new books that arrived at the store and she’s exhausted. As the only employee of an elderly store owner anything remotely physical fell under her purview. She wasn’t complaining though, she loved working at the old bookstore and her boss, Mr. Popescu, was such a kind, sweet old man she would do anything for him.

She said goodbye to Mr. Popescu before ducking out the door of the shop only to discover it had started raining. She mutters a curse and runs across the street trying not to get soaked, and misses the menacing look on a familiar face watching her as she runs into her building.

Once in her apartment she grabs a towel to dry off her hair while she heads to the kitchen. James had left on his trip two days earlier and she wondered when he would be back; she missed having someone else to cook for and his presence made her feel a little safer. She was just trying to decide what to make for herself when a loud knock booms against her front door and her heart drops into her stomach. Something about that knock makes the fine hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She’s not sure how long she stands there frozen but another hard knock booms out. She swallows thickly and quietly makes her way towards the front door.

She tries to reason with herself: it could be anyone, it could even be James back from his trip, and what if he’s hurt again? She steadies her breath and very quietly walks to the peephole.

As soon as she sees him she stumbles backwards, knees buckling and landing her on her ass. All the blood drains from her face and she propels herself back with her feet. ‘No no no, this can’t be happening.’ she thinks frantically.

“Ava. Baby. I know you’re in there. Are you going to make me break down this door or would you rather make sure I go easier on you and open the door for me?” Jons deep voice seems calm but she recognizes the undertones of rage and it shakes her to her core. A small sob escapes her lips and she covers her mouth with the back of her hand. She tries in vain to quell her rising panic.

‘Get up, get up, GET UP!’ she thinks as she forces her legs to move and stands up. She stumbles to the kitchen, barely able to feel her legs, and grabs the large chef's knife. She has to lean against the counter and take several shaky deep breaths to calm herself. She knows she can’t call the police, Jon is way too well connected and the Romanian cops are famously corrupt; he’s probably already paid them off to make sure he’ll be able to do whatever he wants to her.

Jon bangs on the door again. “Avaaaa” he says in a menacing sing-song voice that makes her start to tremble. “Ava you’re running out of time to open this door. I’m being very generous with you here but you’re being incredibly rude not letting me in after I came all this way.”

She’s still shaking as she makes her way to the bathroom as quickly as she can. After locking the door and pushing the small cabinet in front of it she backs into the furthest corner and slumps down to the floor bringing her knees up to her chest. Her heart is beating like a drum and she can feel her blood pounding. She vaguely wonders if something like this could actually make you have a heart attack. How hilarious would it be if she just died right here of a heart attack instead of waiting for Jon to break down the doors? She gives a short hysterical hiccupy laugh that quickly turns into a sob. ‘No, no, stay together, you have to keep it together.’ She could tell she was on the verge of getting hysterical, crying and screaming, but that wouldn’t help anyone; she needs to try and stay as calm as possible. She lets out a shaky breath and tries not to hyperventilate.

She hears him start to jimmy the lock then put some weight against the door, likely throwing his shoulder into it. Eventually there’s a loud pop and she can hear the door swing open, then the sound of his heavy boots on the floor. ‘Oh god he’s in the apartment, he’s going to come in here and then he’s going to beat you and.. and.. then he’s going to...’ It’s like her brain can’t even allow her to think the other thing. Her terror levels had exceeded a 10 and her adrenal system is thrumming. She clutches the kitchen knife and begs the universe to help her.

“Ava, darling, you know I don’t like hide and seek. It’s been almost 9 months, I mean frankly this is a shitty way to greet your fiance after we’ve been apart for so long.” She knows this is part of the fun for him; teasing and terrorizing her, getting her so worked up she’s almost out of her mind with fear. A mental image of a lion batting around a gazelle with its claws flashed through her head. “I know I didn’t bring flowers but a hug and a kiss would be nice.” He’s walking through the apartment glancing around each room and almost to the bathroom now. He doesn’t even hesitate before he kicks the door in, sending the small cabinet flying and causing Ava to throw her arms around her head and let out a surprised scream. She tries to stand but her legs had become jelly and all she can do is cower with the knife pointed out towards him.

“Don’t - don’t come closer! Don’t touch me!” Her voice sounds so pathetic, she’s not surprised when he laughs. The knife is shaking so badly she feels like might drop it and her vision is blurry with tears. Jon leans against the wall and grins down at her.

“Really baby? A year to plan your escape, then 9 months on the run and your plan for when I inevitably showed up was bathroom and kitchen knife? You went to an Ivy League Ava, I thought you’d be smarter than this.” It takes no struggle on his part to disarm her and drag her out of the bathroom by her hair. He backhands her splitting her lip, his show of calm over and his rage taking control.

“You make me look for you for 9 months you bitch?” She’s already sobbing and grasping at the hand painfully tearing at her scalp when he backhands her again, splitting open a small cut on her cheek this time and dazing her. “You just wanted to humiliate me, huh? Force me to go to friends in government, call in favors from criminals, to help me track down my little cunt of a fiance? Make me look like a fucking cuck, make me spend a shitload of money for you?”

He punctuates his words with violent punches to her ribs. She can feel them crack, her breathing becomes labored and painful. She goes limp and he drags her to the bedroom throwing her on the bed like a ragdoll. She weakly struggles when he produces the metal cuffs but it just takes another hit to the ribs to send her to the edge of unconsciousness allowing him to cuff her arms above her head. She’s thankful she’s barely conscious for the next part when he starts roughly removing her clothes and describing what he plans to do to her next. She tries to dissociate and go inside her own head but the sharp unbearable pain in her ribs as he climbs on top of her keeps her painfully aware of her current reality. All she can do is cry and whimper weakly while she waits for it to be over.

 ____________________________________________________________________

6 Years Previously…

Ava had worked hard to get into the prestigious linguistics program at Stanford University and finally she had arrived. Having spent 16 years moving around to 12 different foster homes in the midwest, some better than others and some worse, this felt like maybe she finally had some stability. She had a dorm room she only had to share with one other girl, her own space, the other students weren’t rough and tumble like the kids she’d known so she didn’t feel a constant fear of being robbed, bullied, or attacked. There were no adults in control of her, people who didn’t always have her best interests at heart, she would finally be able to make those decisions for herself and she would make sure they were good ones.

Ava immediately adapted to university life. She joined a few clubs and her outgoing personality drew people to her so she quickly made a good group of friends. She got plenty of male attention but she always politely turned them down to focus on her schoolwork. Until her friend Jamie’s brother came to visit and brought his friend Jon.

Jon was older, 28, and came from a wealthy and very well connected family, which seemed awe inspiring to a girl like Ava with no family and no connections to anyone but her still very new school friends. Jamie invited her to come out with them and Jon immediately lavished her with attention. He seemed to know all the ways to flatter her and make her feel special, and even though she had decided to forego dating to focus on school he was impossible to deny.

After that first night he came out to spend every weekend with her despite living a couple hours away. During the week he texted her constantly and they talked on the phone or skyped every night. He sent her flowers twice a week and gave her lots of over the top gifts, even after she told him it made her uncomfortable that he bought her so much stuff. She thought he just must be the most romantic guy alive.

Soon he insisted on getting her an apartment near campus so she wouldn’t have to live in the dorm and she tried to refuse but he went ahead and leased one anyway, surprising her with it during his next visit. An alarm bell went off in her head but she reasoned that he just cared and was looking out for her. She’d never had anyone in her life who did that and she wanted it desperately. Of course it wasn’t long before Jon also moved himself into the apartment. He had already pressured and manipulated her into giving up her virginity to him and that pattern of control escalated day by day.

By the time he started getting physical, grabbing her and hurting her, forcing sex on her even when she didn’t want it or was sick, eventually shoving, slapping, choking, he had isolated her from her friends and she had no one to go to for help. He regularly criticized and gaslighted her, chipping away at her self esteem constantly. He did let her continue school (he insisted no wife of his would be embarrassingly uneducated) so she threw everything she had into focusing on classes and learned to compartmentalize the abuse. Despite her misery and depression she managed to graduate with honors.

When he came home with the massive diamond ring and let her know now that she had finished her education it was time for them to get married and start their family, something in her head snapped and she knew she had to get away from him at any cost.

It took 6 months to gradually start siphoning money from her part time job into a secret account, then to map out her plan and figure out where she would go. Finally, he went on an overnight business trip and she caught a redeye to Ohio. From there she bought a small beater car for cash and drove to Chicago where she secured a studio apartment and a full time job. But she wasn’t careful. She worked under her own name and made several friends at work, hardly staying below the radar and it was barely 3 months before he found her. He showed up in her apartment, beat her within an inch of her life and forced himself on her over and over until she begged for forgiveness to his satisfaction.

After Jon dragged her back home she knew he thought he had broken her and she played along for an entire year. But she never gave up and she never stopped planning. She pretended to plan the wedding but really was planning her next escape. She knew she needed to go farther this time and decided that Romania should be far enough away to put her out of his reach.

She had survived the car crash that had killed her parents when she was 2, she had survived 16 years in a crushing and abusive foster care system, and despite his ongoing physical and sexual abuse she had managed to graduate with honors from one of the top universities in the world. She wasn’t going to let him break her, so she planned and made her escape to Romania, and managed to stay safe for nearly a year. She had no idea how he had managed to find her this time but she knew her chance of getting away from him again would be much slimmer going forward.

Chapter Text

She had started to realize he may not be planning to let her leave this apartment alive. He had called Mr. Popescu at work posing as her brother and telling him that she had needed to swiftly return to America for a family emergency and wouldn’t be back. He wasn’t avoiding hitting her face like he had back in Chicago so that they would be able to get on a plane and travel home without suspicion; now in addition to the split lip and cheek she could tell the right side of her face had to be purple and blue. It dawned on her that once he got tired of torturing and raping her he was probably going to kill her.

She didn’t want to die but everything just hurt so much. Her face throbs, the acute pain in her ribs has made breathing excruciating, he had choked her to unconsciousness twice and now it felt like she had swallowed knives. And the multiple assaults she had tried to block out left a terrible ache between her legs. The first time he had gotten on top of her she had struggled as hard as she could against the cuffs; now her wrists were in severe pain and she could tell they had bled, but he had just tightened them more and now she could no longer feel her hands.

She thought maybe he would at least make death quick but considering his sadistic nature she thought it more likely he would draw it out as long as possible, increase her suffering. She also wondered who would find her body. She wasn’t close to anyone here, her boss thought she had gone home to America. Would the landlord come when she failed to pay rent? Would James across the hall be the one to find her? He already had such haunted eyes, she felt guilty thinking he could have to be the one to see her body in whatever horrific condition Jon would leave it in.

When she feels him come into the room and get onto the bed she starts to weep. When he reaches over to grope at her breasts she can’t hold back from begging even though she knows it won’t do any good. “Please Jon... Please no more. I can't take any more, it hurts too much.” her voice breaks at the end and she lets out a sob as he laughs softly.

“Aww but baby, this is all you're good for” he mocks as he climbs on her again.

____________________________________________________________________

The talks with the UN had hit a bit of a snag. They were willing to work out a deal with the former Avengers members, they had after all been fighting on the “right” side. But the Winter Soldier was responsible for some of the most famous and notorious assassinations of the last 70 years; how could they possibly trust an individual who spent that many decades as a human weapon used for evil. Bucky didn’t blame them. He trusted Shuri’s deprogramming and knew he could stick to his vow to never murder unless forced to in self defense, but he had perpetrated acts of terror against members of the UN, how could they be confident that he was mentally stable. Or even semi-stable.

“So this neighbor found you bleeding in the hall, patched you up, saw your metal arm, and you are still planning to live there? Buck…” Steve gives him that ‘what are you thinking’ look as they walk to a meeting with T’Challa and the others.

“Steve, it’s not like that. She’s on the run from something too and I just know she ain’t gonna do anything. Trust me, if I had a single feeling she might try to turn me in I would be out of their before she could dial 112. That’s uh, Romanian 911.”

“Yeah, I know. I don’t know Buck, just seems like a massive risk. And I know you, you don’t take risks so there must be some reason you’re not willing to relocate. I mean, I would say you’re sweet on this neighbor but it’s got to be more than that.” Steve gave him a jab in the ribs.

Bucky felt his cheeks heating up. “I can’t explain it. I mean she’s gorgeous. Like movie star gorgeous. Even in my heyday she would have been far out of my league. But it’s more than that. She seems sad and scared, she has some big dark secret and I want to help her. But despite whatever she has going on she’s just so caring. She took care of me without a question, put me to sleep in her bed, she leaves dinner outside my door nearly every night, but she doesn’t seem to be asking for anything in return. It’s been a long time since anyone did something nice for me. Except you of course, punk.” Bucky elbowed him back and they walked into their meeting.

____________________________________________________________________

Steve decided Bucky could probably just head back to Romania for the time being and let T’Challa go back and forth with the UN about Bucky’s status. Steve, the ultimate optimist, seemed sure they would get it worked out. Bucky wasn’t so sure. But he had a strange feeling of relief at being able to head back to his little apartment.

Bucky pulled out the small tablet linked to the security system and saw that there was an alert from the night before. He figured it would just be a little clip of Ava coming or going and while he felt like a creep for opening the camera to watch the alert he couldn’t help himself, he just wanted to see a glimpse of her. He froze mid-stride as he saw the man come into view of the camera and pound on Ava’s door. It was possible she had a date, which would make his stomach turn, but something about this guys demeanor put Bucky on edge. He was tall, solidly built with several visible tattoos, and it would be damn near impossible for Ava to defend herself if he meant her harm, unless she had a firearm and some training but he highly doubted that.

As soon as he heard the man taunting her through the door he knew he was a serious threat to her safety and Bucky started to run back towards where he came from. “Steve! I need a jet now!”

____________________________________________________________________

The quinjet dropped him in a field just outside the city and he ran to the first uninhabited car and started it up. He couldn’t stop the thoughts racing through his head, wondering what state he was going to find her in. Just the thought of finding her lifeless body filled him with pain and rage. He knew he wouldn’t be able to hold back from killing the man responsible if he found her in bad shape. The panic was crawling up his throat. What if Ava was beyond his help. The sweet girl who sings to herself while she cooks, patched him up without question, fed him. How could anyone hurt her?

He has to control his breathing. Emotion was trying to take over but he needs to shut that off and let his training take charge. Once he arrives at the building he goes into Winter Soldier mode as he quickly and quietly made his way to the top floor. Everything was eerily quiet, he didn’t consider that a good sign. He could see the remnants of splinters on the floor from the man initially busting the lock but the knob was intact and the door is shut tight. He silently enters his apartment and stands there tensely straining to hear any sound from the other apartment.

After about a minute he heard footsteps, too heavy to be hers, enter the bedroom, then the slight squeak of the mattress as someone heavy gets onto the bed. That’s when he hears her, she was quietly weeping and his stomach dropped. He hears her beg the man not to hurt her again and hears his disgusting response as he prepared to assault her again.

Bucky swiftly exits his apartment and makes it to hers in just a few steps, knocking hard. He hears the man telling her to stay quiet or he’d make her regret it and her whimper in response. Bucky’s jaw ticked but he turns off that part of his brain and focuses on taking down the threat.

He could hear the man get out of the bed and go to stand in the hallway. Bucky pounds his fist on the door again and finally hears the man approaching, muttering curses to himself. As soon as the door opens slightly Bucky uses his metal arm to smash it back into the other mans face and hears the satisfying crunch of his nose breaking.

“What the fuck?!” Bucky stands over the man, who is holding a hand over his bleeding nose, and lifts him by the neck. He punches him several times in the face until the man is unconscious and incapacitated and he drops him on the floor in a heap, bleeding from multiple places on his face.

Bucky’s heart jumps into his throat when he enters the bedroom. It’s dark but he can make out Ava’s form on the bed. Wrists cuffed above her head, she’s on her side curled into herself in fetal position with her face buried in her arms, shaking like a leaf. He quickly grabs a soft white throw blanket from the floor and puts it over her. He feels a momentary urge to walk back out to the living room and tear the mans head off his body but he shakes it off and focuses on getting her out of here. He pulls each cuff open with his hands and gently pulls her arms down; she moans in pain at the feeling of the blood rushing back to her hands. He notices her wrists look pretty injured and makes a mental note to take care of those.

He crouches down next to the bed and keeps his voice soft, “Ava, I’m going to carry you out, ok?” He can tell she’s awake but she doesn’t respond and she keeps her eyes shut. He picks her up in his arms keeping her wrapped in the blanket. “Sweetheart, I need you to just keep your eyes closed when we walk out. Can you do that?” She doesn’t answer this either but turns slightly in his arms to bury her face in his chest. Good, he doesn’t want her to have to see the blood covered man sprawled in her living room. She’s silent as they leave but he can feel her hands cling to his chest and shoulders as her body heaves with little sobs.

He carries her to his apartment kicking the door closed with his foot and gently sets her down on the bathroom floor next to the tub. He turns on the water and tests it until it’s lukewarm then plugs the tub and lets it start to fill. After pulling out the small emergency kit from under the sink he turns back to her to take a mental inventory of her visible injuries.

She looks dazed and just stares straight ahead, most likely in shock. He’d seen that look before during the war. Her lip and cheek are both split open on the left side, she has dark purple bruising along her cheekbone and jawline on the right side. He can see where the fingers imprinted on her neck in deep, ugly bruises. Then there are her wrists. She must have struggled hard against the handcuffs because she managed to badly skin her wrists, they were bruised, bleeding, and looked extremely painful.

“Sweetheart, if I leave do you think you can get into the bath?” She was completely dazed and unresponsive. “Ok, that’s alright.” He turns off the water, opens his kit and gently cleans the open cuts on her face and wrists, then wraps her wrists lightly in gauze. “We need to leave here, very soon. I’m going back to your apartment and I’m going to pack some things for you. Are you ok leaving with me? I can keep you safe until you have somewhere you want to go. Ok?” He gently squeezes her hand with his flesh one to get her attention.

She blinks a few times and finally looks at him, eyes filled with tears. “I-I don’t want to be a burden to you. You shouldn’t have to keep me safe.” She says it so quietly a normal person would have struggled to hear her. His heart clenches at her words and the sadness in her eyes.

“Shh, no, you’re not a burden.” He gives her hand another gentle squeeze, “I’m going to go pack a bag and grab some clothes from your place. Stay right here and I’ll be back in just a minute.” He starts to stand and she suddenly grabs his hand, looking up at him with panic in her eyes. He crouches back down and gently wipes a tear off her cheek. “Hey, it’s ok. No one else is coming in here except me, I promise. It won’t be 5 minutes and I’ll be right back here, ok?” Her eyes are still scared but she nods a couple times.

Bucky sensed something was wrong as soon as he got to her door. He was gone. Bucky had taken too long to get back to her apartment and he had regained consciousness and fled. ‘Shit.’ He quickly packed up some of her clothes and toiletries into one of his duffle bags. He pulls out a pair of joggers and a tshirt from her drawers and heads back to his place to give them to her. He tells her to put those on while he takes down their bags and pulls a car around.

She cries out when he puts a firm arm around her waist and accidentally squeezes her injured ribs. “I’m sorry, I think my ribs are hurt.” He nods and puts his arm around her more gently to help get down the stairs and into the waiting car. He prays none of her ribs are broken, he doesn’t know what they’ll do if any of her injuries are serious since hospitals are definitely a no-go at the moment. As soon as they got to Belarus he would find a doctor willing to come to them for cash and look her over.

She was staring out the window with her head resting against the glass, glazed blank look in her eyes again. He doesn’t know what to say but he can’t stop himself from constantly throwing concerned looks at her the entire car ride. Eventually she closes her eyes and falls into a troubled doze.

____________________________________________________________________

It was several hours before they crossed the border into Belarus and Bucky pulled up to an older stone and brick apartment building going inside and leaving Ava asleep in the car. He deals with the landlord in Russian and gets the keys to an apartment on the third floor. After gently waking Ava and helping her inside, he tells her she’ll sleep in the bedroom and he’ll take the couch.

He’s making up the couch with a blanket and pillow when he hears her get into the shower and start quietly crying. His heart breaks for her and he wishes he knew what to do or say, it makes him feel helpless. After a long shower he hears her get into bed and she falls asleep pretty quickly. He lays awake on the couch thinking over everything that’s happened and wondering what they’ll do from here. He knows he needs to find her a doctor first thing in the morning but she was obviously (and understandably) traumatized and he was at a loss as to how to help her.

He began to pick up little whimpers and cries coming from her room which start to become louder and more desperate. His stomach twists and he wants to go in there to comfort her but he doesn’t know if he’ll scare her or make things worse. After a few minutes of listening he can’t take it anymore and goes into the bedroom to find her thrashing around and crying in her sleep.

“Hey, hey, Ava sweetheart, you’re ok. It’s ok, you’re alright.” he crouches next to the bed and gently shakes her shoulder to wake her. She wakes up with wide terrified eyes and short rasping breaths before her eyes focus on his face.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, it was just a nightmare.” Her eyes fill with tears and she starts to cry.

“It’s ok, don’t apologize” he reaches out and wipes away a tear without thinking about it and she reaches out to grasp at his arm. The feral terrified look in her eyes just makes him want to hold her and make everything ok.

“Please don’t go, I’m scared. I don’t want to be alone. Please.” Tears slip down her cheeks and he can hear the sound of her heart pounding like a bird in a cage. He puts his hand over hers and gently strokes the back of it.

“I’m here, I’m not going anywhere, I promise. Ok?” He uses his most gentle soothing voice and continues to gently stroke the back of her hand. He can hear her heartbeat start to calm down and he stands to pull the arm chair in the corner closer to the bed. Her eyes follow his every move like she’s afraid he’s going to cut and run but he sits down close to the bed, giving her a small smile. “I told you, I’ll stay right here. You have nothing to be afraid of, alright?” She slowly nods and lays back down on her pillow, turning on her side facing him and still not taking her eyes off his face.

He can tell she’s exhausted but fighting it, probably afraid to fall into another nightmare; he knows exactly what that’s like. “I’ll wake you right up if you have another nightmare. You’re safe.” Her eyes slowly start to close until she can’t keep the heavy lids open anymore and he hears her breathing start to even out. Just before she falls asleep her small hand reaches out and grasps onto his metal forearm.

The gesture makes him feel strange inside, warm and kind of… protective, proud? He can’t believe someone like her trusts him like this and seems to feel safe with him. It almost makes him feel like he could be a normal person. ‘It’s only because she doesn’t know who you really are, what you are. You’re a killer. You’ve been nothing but a killer for decades and someone like you could never deserve the trust of someone like her.’ The thought immediately freezes the warmth he felt.

But then he looks down at her sleeping form, eyes running from her beautiful sleeping face looking peaceful in sleep, to her small soft hand on his cold hard vibranium arm. He knows as long as he’s near her he’ll do anything to keep her safe.

Chapter Text

Everything looked sort of fuzzy, or like she’s underwater. She had only been semi-aware of James suddenly being there, arms under her, the warmth of his body and his scent. She wants to tell him, warn him Jon is somewhere in the apartment but she can’t make any words come out, all she can do is bury her face in him and cling to him like some pathetic wounded animal.

She feels like that’s all she is at this point… All the things Jon had always told her she was. Pathetic. Weak. Worthless. She thinks the words must be practically branded on her, advertising her vulnerability to people who want to take advantage of it. Her only defense had always been to run and hide, unable to defend herself against anyone who wanted to hurt her. She would have been dead soon if it hadn’t been for someone else much bigger and stronger than her coming to her rescue. But someone wouldn’t always be there, she had no one she could rely on like that and eventually she wouldn’t be able to run from what’s seemingly her fate; she’d always be pathetic and weak.

She can hear a voice talking to her and a sound like running water but she can’t make out any words. Her eyes are unfocused, hazy, all she can do is stare straight ahead not really seeing anything. It’s not until she feels his warm hand squeeze her cold one that she’s suddenly back inside her body. His face comes into focus after a few blinks, his eyes are filled with concern and he’s saying something about her leaving with him. Her eyes fill with tears. Why does he care? Why would he be offering to protect her?

“I-I don’t want to be a burden to you. You shouldn’t have to keep me safe.” She barely manages a whisper, her throat feels like it’s in a vice. She sees his eyes fill with pity which just makes her feel even more miserable than she already does. She has to look away.

“Shh, no, you’re not a burden.” His hand squeezes hers again. He says something about packing a bag and gets up to leave the apartment. She immediately starts to panic and grabs on to him, throat clenching again and unable to get her words out. She can feel her heart start to beat faster, the panic rising in her chest. He kneels back down and wipes away a tear she didn’t even realize was falling.

“Hey, it’s ok. No one else is coming in here except me, I promise. It won’t be 5 minutes and I’ll be right back here, ok?” She’s still terrified at the thought of being alone but finds herself giving him a couple quick nods.

She barely remembers anything from the hours after, falling back into a fuzzy daze. The next time she starts to come back to herself they’re in a different apartment and James is telling her to sleep on the bed and he’ll be out on the couch. She goes into the bathroom and numbly strips off her clothes in front of the mirror seeing all the bruises and marks on her face and body with a sort of emotional detachment. But as soon as the hot water from the shower hits her skin it’s like a dam breaks and she sinks down to the shower floor as the tears start pouring out. 

She tries to stay quiet knowing James is in the other room and she curls onto her side burying her face in her hands. The position aggravates her ribs but she barely registers the pain as she quietly sobs, letting the extra hot water spray down on her. 

Once she’s all cried out she reaches for the soap and starts scrubbing at her skin, wishing she could just scrub it off with steel wool. After her shower she pulls a pair of shorts and a t-shirt out of the duffel bag James packed for her, puts them on and crawls into the bed almost immediately falling into an anxious sleep. 

He was coming for her, she could hear his voice taunting her. “Why are you running baby? I just want to talk, I’ve missed you.” 

She was hysterical, tripping and running through the dark trying to get away but his voice still sounded like he was right next to her.

Suddenly large arms wrapped around her middle squeezing the breath out of her and then throwing her to the ground.

His face was right above her, smiling evilly. “I think this time I’ll break your legs first so you can’t keep running away.” His forearm is across her throat pressing down and keeping her in place while his other hand tears at her clothes.

She’s trying to scream but her voice is cutoff by the arm choking the life out of her. She’s clawing desperately at him trying to get him off. 

“You’re ok, it’s ok, you’re alright.” The voice was somehow breaking through. James. 

Her eyes snap open and she takes a huge gasping breath. James is kneeling down next to the bed with his hand on her shoulder. His blue eyes are calming and help bring her back to reality. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, it was just a nightmare!” Would he be mad at her for waking him up?

“It’s ok, don’t apologize.” She can feel the hot tears falling down her cheeks when he reaches out with his flesh hand and wipes them away. The contact from his warm skin grounds her and she impulsively grabs his hand as he starts to pull it away.

“Please don’t go, I’m scared. I don’t want to be alone. Please.” She hates how pitiful she sounds but she can’t help it; she just wants him nearby, where she can see him. He makes her feel safer. More hot tears fall down her face as he puts his metal hand over hers and softly strokes it.

“I’m here, I’m not going anywhere, I promise. Ok?” He was being so kind and gentle with her it made her want to cry harder. Her stomach clenched when he stood up but he was just pulling over a chair which he pulled next to the bed and sat down in. “I told you, I’ll stay right here. You have nothing to be afraid of, alright?” Her throat is so tight that all she can do is nod and she lays back down not wanting to take her eyes off him. It’s like he can read her mind when he says, “I’ll wake you right up if you have another nightmare. You’re safe.” And somehow she believes him. She’s not sure if it’s because she has no choice except to trust him but his gentle eyes and soft voice are the only things making her feelings of impending doom start to fade away. Despite the growing throb in her ribcage her eyes are heavy, exhausted from everything that's happened, and they start to droop closed. She reflexively reaches out a hand to touch his arm as she falls asleep.

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Bucky stayed awake in the chair through the night making sure Ava didn’t have another nightmare. Watching her sleep he takes in her innocent face and feels a pang for everything she’s been through. She was so pure, she hadn’t done the things he had, she didn’t deserve any of this and it seemed so unfair that someone so young and sweet has had to suffer so much. 

He wasn’t sure where they’d go from here but he knew from past experience it was a waste of time to fret too much about the future, you just have to focus on one day at a time. He’d contact Steve soon and update him on the situation. He wasn’t sure how Steve would react to him up and leaving Romania with his neighbor in tow, but he knows Steve would understand when he explained the situation.  

He leaves the apartment a few hours after sunrise to find a doctor for her and pick up some basics from the corner market for them. 

He cuts up some fruit and knocks on the door to the room. “Ava, are you awake? I have some breakfast, you should eat.” He waits for a moment then hears her cry out in pain. He drops the plate and rushes into the room in a panic to find her curled up with her arms wrapped around her sides face contorted in pain. 

“Ava, talk to me! What hurts?” She doesn’t reply, only groans in pain burying her face in the pillow. “Is it your ribs?” She manages to nod, still whining in pain. He runs to the kitchen to grab some ice and brings it back to her. ‘Please don’t let it be a splintered rib or internal bleeding.’ he thinks as he brings the ice in and pulls her arms away so he can press it on her injured ribs. “Hold this here sweetheart, it will help. There’s a doctor coming soon.” He tried to hide the worry in his voice, not wanting to aggravate the situation.

He pushes the hair off her forehead and tries to soothe her while they wait for the doctor to arrive. He realized the adrenaline from everything must have worn off so she woke up finally feeling the full pain from her injuries, and he knows from experience that adrenaline is a hell of a painkiller; particularly when your fight or flight response has been triggered.  

Finally, there’s a knock at the door and he quickly jumps up and ushers the small doctor in the spectacles inside. He converses with him in Russian as he hurries him into the bedroom where Ava is still curled on the bed. “She woke up in a lot of pain clutching her side and she mentioned yesterday her ribs felt cracked. Please, just make sure she’s ok.”

Bucky translates as the doctor asks questions but she can barely answer, making Bucky practically wring his hands in anxiety. He turns away as the doctor lifts her shirt to inspect and feel the ribs but tenses when he hears her cry out in pain. The doctor tells him it looks like several small fractures as none of the ribs feel broken or splintered so there’s no danger of a punctured organ. Bucky breathes a sigh of relief as the doctor gives her a shot for the pain and hands him a prescription

The older man eyes him suspiciously considering the injury and the rest of her wounds but takes the money without saying anything. He gives Bucky a prescription and instructions for her care as he’s walked out of the apartment. Bucky grimaces when the doctor tells him she needs to rest as much as possible for at least a week and may take a month or two to fully heal; he was really hoping to get them farther away sooner than that but it sounds like they may be stuck here for a few more weeks at least. 

He looks in on her after the doctor leaves and she seems to have fallen into a light doze, probably from the pain meds. He slips out to the pharmacy and comes back with everything the doctor told him to get, including something to wrap her ribs while they heal, as well as anything else he thinks they might need.

Once back at the apartment he quietly kneels next to her while she sleeps and gently takes each hand to clean and re-bandage her wrists. She slowly blinks awake as he’s lightly dabbing ointment on her cut cheek and he gives her a soft smile. “Hi sweetheart. You feelin’ a little better?” She nods up at him but still doesn’t speak. “You need anything? You should try to eat something.” She shakes her head and looks away from him, making Bucky more worried. 

He lets it go for now but knows she needs to start eating something soon. “The doc said we need to wrap your ribs to help them heal. Will you let me help you do that now?” He feels slightly embarrassed at first lifting her shirt and exposing her ribcage but that quickly turns to rage when he sees the brutal purple bruising along her rib cage. His jaw clenches and he wishes he had done more to the man responsible, hurt him so bad he’d never get up again.

He puts those thoughts aside and focuses on gently wrapping her ribcage, helping support her weight as she sits up so he can get the bandages all the way around. She lets out a few little groans of pain but stays otherwise stoic. “You’re doing so great, we’re almost done then you can lay back down and rest.” he tries to assure her. “I picked up some soup at the pharmacy, I want you to try to eat a little bit soon.” She doesn’t respond but her face stays fixed in pain. He sighs and finishes wrapping her torso, then helps her lay back down. He’s sure she’s still in some kind of shock from the trauma, he just wishes he knew how to help her. He sits in the armchair next to the bed as he watches her eyes start to get heavy. He knows he should get out and do a little recon around the building, figure out alternative exits in case they’re compromised, but he can’t bring himself to leave her side yet. He watches over her as she falls back into a troubled sleep.

Chapter Text

After that first night he moves a small cot into the room and sets it up on the floor where she can see him from the bed if she needs to, but he still spends the second night watching her, tensely waiting for any signs of a nightmare. She still won’t eat, he can barely get her to drink the water he keeps refilled and next to her bed, and she hardly speaks to him only nodding or shaking her head, occasionally mumbling one word answers. Until the nightmares hit, then she’s begging an invisible tormentor not to hurt her, and crying telling him she’s sorry when he manages to wake her. When she’s awake every noise outside the apartment startles her, causing her to desperately look around for him with wild eyes so he can reassure her that it’s ok. It’s killing him to see her like this.

Over the next couple days he manages to get her to sip some broth and drink more water. She’s still listless and practically unresponsive but he’s hoping she’ll start to come around once the emotional shock wears off, he knows the first days are the hardest. In the meantime he focuses on taking care of her, changing her bandages and making sure she’s healing. He wishes he could tell her he understands at least a little of what she’s going through, what it’s like to feel like your body isn’t your own, the nightmares, but he doesn’t know how to make the words come. He doesn’t think they would even reach her in her current state.

Things start to change on the 6th night.. When he wakes her from the nightmare she clings to him, inconsolable with her face buried in his chest, she practically launched into his arms. He holds her rubbing circles on her back and whispering soothing words but she just continues to sob and let out little cries of anguish. The whole scene makes him heartsick, he desperately wants her to be ok. He pulls her to him and into his lap as he lowers himself to the floor, back against the wall, encircling her in his arms.

“Ava I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there. This shouldn’t have happened.” he murmurs into her hair as her arms tighten around his neck. He can feel her shaking her head, disagreeing with him. “You don’t deserve any of this misery, I’m just so sorry. You don't deserve this.” She lets out a wail at his words and he gently rocks her back and forth. "You don't deserve this Ava, and it wasn't your fault." He can feel her fingers digging into him, arms squeezing him tighter.

“Not… your fault...” She manages to get the hicuppy words out between choked sobs.

“It's not yours either. I'm just so sorry but I promise you’re safe now.” He feels her nod against his neck and keeps his arms around her as she cries herself into exhaustion. Once she starts to fall asleep he gently tucks her back into the bed smoothing her hair back and cupping her cheek for a moment. She really didn’t deserve any of it, she was so sweet and pure he didn’t understand how someone could hurt her but he knew it wouldn’t happen again as long as he was around.

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She woke up screaming from a nightmare she couldn’t remember. James was right there, his hand gently rubbing her arm and his blue eyes helping ground her back in reality. She was practically hysterical throwing her arms around his neck and sobbing uncontrollably into his chest. She felt his arms go around her and pull her to him and instead of making her feel trapped his warmth made her feel safer. When he tells her it wasn’t her fault and she didn’t deserve it it’s like the dam inside of her breaks and the despair and wretchedness she had been holding onto comes pouring out. There's a hard painful lump in the back of her throat and her chest feels impossibly tight as something inside her shatters. She's not sure that it's true that it isn't her fault, but if he believes that maybe she can too. Then he's apologizing and saying he wishes he had been there. She can barely choke out the words, she may not be sure if it's her fault but it definitely wasn't his. He had saved her life now he was protecting her, watching over her. She doesn't understand why he cares or why he's doing all of this she knows she isn't worth the trouble but she's grateful for him all the same. He just lets her cry herself and holds her there on the floor until her body is incapable of squeezing out any more tears.

She’s almost completely asleep when he puts her in the bed and she feels his hand in her hair then on her face and she wants to lean into it but she's too worn-out. She still feels it’s loss when he takes it away.

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The sun was streaming through the bedroom window when she opens her eyes the next morning and they immediately land on James, soundly sleeping on the cot on his side facing her. She feels a pang of guilt that he has to sleep on the floor because of her pathetic neediness. She knows she hasn’t really been in her right mind but now that she’s started coming back to herself she’ll insist he sleeps in the bed and she'll sleep on the cot. She should probably sleep on the couch but she's knows she's not ready to sleep alone yet. The thought made her feel even more pitiful.

Her thoughts wander back to him and she lays on her side in the bed watching him. She realizes this is the first time she’s noticed him sleep since they arrived at the apartment but his furrowed brows make it seem like it may not be the most restful. Still, she’s glad he’s getting some sleep instead of standing watch over her. The poor guy must be exhausted from having to babysit her for a week.

She studies his handsome face and finds herself imagining her fingers running through his soft brown hair, touching his scruffy facial hair, ghosting over his full bottom lip. What would things have been like if she had met someone like him all those years ago instead? Now it was too late for her, she was used up, damaged goods. No one would want her, and someone like him could get any girl he wants. Tears prick her eyes and she shuts them tightly trying to shake off those thoughts. When she opens them again his are also open and looking at her. His gaze and his voice are soft when he says, “Hey.”

“Hey.” Her voice is barely above a whisper as they both lay on their sides facing each other, several feet apart. She thinks of her breakdown last night and her face flushes in shame.

He seems to notice her discomfort and concern fills his eyes. “How are you feeling? Are you ok?”

“Yea, I’m ok. I’m just - sorry about last night.” She averts her eyes, not able to meet his. She can see him getting up in her periphery and when she looks back up he’s kneeling next to the bed in front of her.

“Please, don’t apologize. You’re allowed to feel everything your feeling. It’s ok, a lot has happened.” He looks like he’s going to reach out to touch her but pulls his hand back. They're both quiet for a beat then he says, “So, any chance I can talk you into eating some breakfast?” She gives him a small smile and a nod.
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After putting her to bed Bucky had laid down on the cot, turning on his side to face her, almost afraid to take his eyes off her even though he knew she was asleep. He couldn’t stop thinking about everything that’s happened and he was wrecked over her breakdown. He could feel the desperation in her grasp when she clutched onto him and buried her face in his neck. As hard as it was he thought it might be what she needed to do to snap out of her near catatonic state, he hoped it was somewhat cathartic for her. Finally the exhaustion of the past several days, the stress and lack of sleep, caught up to him and his eyes slowly shut.

When he opened them the next morning he could tell she was already awake but she had her eyes tightly shut and looked like she was trying to hold back tears. After she takes a couple deep breaths she opens them and looks straight at him. “Hey.” He keeps his voice soft.

“Hey.” She replies. He notices her face change as her cheeks turn pink and she suddenly looks upset. His stomach drops.

“How are you feeling? Are you ok?” He wants to jump up and go to her but he's afraid to startle her.

“Yea I’m ok, I’m just - sorry about last night.” She looks away and he can tell she’s embarrassed.

He gets up to kneel next to the bed, closer to her. He just wants to comfort and reassure her, he doesn’t want her to feel embarrassed for being vulnerable. The second part of that thought is that he doesn’t want her to be embarrassed for being vulnerable with him, but he’s not ready to think too much about that. “Please, don’t apologize. You’re allowed to feel everything your feeling. It’s ok, a lot has happened.” He wants to reach out and cup her cheek like he did last night but pulls back not wanting to cross a line. After a pause he decides to change the subject. “So, any chance I can talk you into eating some breakfast?”

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He brings her some instant oatmeal and smiles a little as he watches her daintily take a few bites. He’d prefer if she scarfed it down considering how little she’s eaten for almost a week but this still feels like a step in the right direction. Maybe things were starting to look up, he felt hopeful.

He knows he needs to call Steve and it’s not a conversation he can have in front of her but he’s not sure if it’s still too soon to leave her alone in the apartment.

“I may need to step out today.” He decides to test the waters and judge her reaction. She stops midway bringing the spoon to her mouth and sets it back in the bowl, putting the bowl down on the side table. “Not long, just maybe 15 or 20 minutes.” She hasn’t looked at him but he doesn’t miss the slight tremble of her bottom lip. He walks to the bed crouches down next to her. “Sweetheart, I know you’re scared. I won’t be far, just down the street and I can be back before you know it. But if you tell me you don’t want me to go that’s ok too, it can wait until you’re ready.”
She finally looked up at him with watery eyes. “ I should be ok with being alone for a little while, I shouldn't be so reliant on you it's not fair. And... I just… don’t want to be afraid anymore.”

“I know.” He rests his hand on the bed near hers wanting to touch her but reluctant in case he startles her. “It takes some time. So if you’re not ready that’s totally fine. We can try it another day.”

“No it’s ok, I need to face this. And you’ve done so much you really shouldn’t push off what you need to do for me.”

He could sense her sinking back into the self loathing and sadness. He moved his hand over hers and gave it a squeeze. “That’s not an issue here. It’s ok if it’s too soon. I promise.” He gives her a reassuring smile and she gives a thin smile back.

“I appreciate it but really, it’s ok. You go do what you need to I know I’m ok here.” He searches her face wanting to make sure she’s really ok with it. He feels like it’s important that she makes the decision and he follows it, whatever it is, make her feel like she has some control, but he’s still worried about leaving her too soon. It seemed like she’s starting to get back to herself again and he was afraid to push anything that could cause her to regress.

“Ok, well I’ll keep it as short as possible. And I’ll just be at the corner, I can still see the entrance to the building from there.” He wasn’t sure who he was trying to reassure more, her or himself.

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Steve was understandably confused, concerned, and a little upset when Bucky initially told him he was in a new country and he had a stowaway. But once Bucky explained the whole situation Steve got it and supported his decision to help.

“Well you can’t hide out with this girl in Belarus forever, let me figure something out and get back to you in a week or two. Good?” Steve was always eager to help Bucky solve any problem that came up. Bucky really didn't know what he would do without him.

“Sounds good buddy. Thanks for the help. She’s really been through hell and I just want to make sure she’s going to be ok.” He can't keep the emotion out of his voice when he says it.

“I know Buck. I can tell she’s important.” There was an odd note in Steve’s voice but he couldn’t put his finger on it. “I promise we’ll figure out a more long term solution. In the meantime, just lay low and wait for my call.” Bucky and Steve said their goodbyes and Bucky rushed back to the apartment. He had only been gone for about 15 minutes, but he was praying he wouldn’t walk into her in a panic. Instead he found her up and in the kitchen looking through all the cupboards.

“Ava, you’re supposed to be resting!” He was shocked to see her out of the bed she’s only left to shower and use the bathroom for the past week.

She shuts the cupboard she’s inspecting and looks at him sheepishly. “I’m sorry, I just couldn’t stay in that bed anymore. And my ribs aren’t hurting me half as much as they were a few days ago. I was actually kind of hoping I could cook us something but there's nothing in this kitchen except oatmeal, canned soup, and some plums that are getting way too soft.”

“Well, I told you I can barely work a microwave." he says with a half grin. "I had to stick with a couple simple items. But if there’s anything specific you want I’ll get it for you.” Truth be told he was elated to see her out of bed and acting more like he remembered, when she was his pretty neighbor across the hall. And she was looking for food? He’d been so worried about her lack of appetite, this was a huge relief.

He could still see the yellowed fading bruises on her face and neck and the dark circles were still under her eyes but her spirits seemed to be on the upswing and he was feeling more hopeful than he had in days. “Well where’s the nearest market? I was actually thinking I might be able to go myself if it’s not too far. I mean, maybe not today I don't want to push it but in the next couple days?” She looks a little uneasy like she’s afraid he’ll forbid her from going.

He gives her a lopsided smile. “I hope you know you’re not a prisoner here. I do have some opinions on a shopping trip though. I think you should wait at least a few days when you’re more healed. And I’d definitely prefer you let me go and get you what you want but I understand if you need to get out and clear your head.” Bucky knew there was no way he wouldn’t be keeping an eye on her if she decided to go out, just in case something happened, but she didn’t need to know that. She just needed to understand the decision to go or not was hers.

“Well if you think I should wait a few days I’ll do that.” There’s something about the way she takes his advice to heart that makes him feel good inside. “And yea, I will need to get out soon and clear my head a little. Thanks for understanding. In the meantime, I guess we’ll just live off of...” she holds up a can of soup with Russian writing, “I can’t read this. Beet soup? Ugh.”

He huffs out a laugh as she continues to inspect the cans with a disgusted look on her face.

Chapter Text

Ava tried to insist James take the bed but he wouldn’t budge. She huffed a little at his obstinacy but he just shrugged at her. “Doll, there’s no scenario where you’re going to sleep on the floor.” He was such an old fashioned gentleman, she wondered where he got it. And there was that funny little nickname again; it made her think of old school Americana, like something Cary Grant would have said in His Girl Friday. It was a little odd, but she didn’t dislike it.

They never discussed him going back to the couch it just seemed there was an unspoken agreement to stay in the room together. For the first time in a week Ava actually slept through the night and considering she woke up to him softly snoring on his cot it seemed like he did as well.

So many questions flitted through her mind as she considered his sleeping form. She knew he had secrets, he was definitely hiding out like her when they met. What was he hiding from? And what was with that powerful metal arm? The more she thought about it, it was definitely not the kind of prosthetic they gave out to military vets, or to anyone, really. It looked like a prototype Stark Industries might produce, it certainly wasn’t like any prosthesis she had ever seen or heard of. Except for something she can only vaguely recall on the news from a few years back. A guy with a silver metal arm… but she was pretty sure he was wanted for some terrible things, murder or terrorism or something. There was no way this sweet, gentle man who had been nothing but kind and caring could have anything to do with that.

Then she remembers finding him bleeding in their hallway and how he had been adamant not to involve the police. She frowned. Maybe her judge of character was so far warped that she just couldn’t distinguish good from bad whatsoever. She had trusted and even loved Jon at one point in time. But she remembers James gently tending to her wounds, touching her so carefully like she was made of glass. And the other night when he had held her and whispered soothing words to her, she could almost feel his fingers on her cheek still. She had seen the flash of anger on his face when he had seen her ribs and she could definitely imagine him being very scary, but she knew that wasn’t directed at her and she had never felt scared by him. In fact, she felt the opposite, she felt safe when he was nearby. Her musings came to an end when he opened his eyes and looked at her. “Morning sleepyhead.” she said, cracking a smile.

“Good morning.” he gave her a sleepy smile back. Neither of them made a move to get up yet, both laying in their respective beds looking at each other. “We should keep up a low profile but I know you mentioned you were getting a little antsy, if you want maybe we can eat breakfast at the cafe a few doors down?”

The thought of eating turned her stomach but he looked so hopeful, disappointing him would make her feel even worse. “Ok.” she answered quietly. She feels like her mind has managed to compartmentalize her ordeal and she knows in the back of her head that it’s not the best way to deal with things but it’s the only tool she’s ever had. Putting it in a box and setting it aside is the only way she feels like she can get through the day. Her appetite was still non-existent and she finds herself picking at the oatmeal or soup James brings her just to appease him, but she feels an urge to vomit it all up afterwards. She’d managed to keep everything down so far, she knew he would be able to hear her in their close quarters and it would probably just worry him more. But not being able to run straight to the bathroom after every meal was just increasing the feelings of anxiety, lack of control. She pushed the thoughts aside and rifled through the duffel bag he had packed for her. It was obvious by the random assortment of clothes that he grabbed whatever was near. She takes out the knee length yellow sundress and pulls it on. It was flowy and didn’t really show any skin besides her arms and calves, it felt like a safe choice for being out in public.
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Bucky swallowed when she walked out of the bedroom. She was wearing a knee length yellow dress with tiny white flowers on it and she just looked so damn pretty he couldn’t stop his lips from curving upwards.

“What? Do I have something on my face?” She was looking at him confused.

He cleared his throat. “No, no not at all. I’m just hungry, and still waking up. Ready?”

He asked for the table at the far end of the cafe since it was private and he would be able to see everything from that position. Old habits die hard. The server brought his black coffee and her cappuccino, and he noticed she looked hesitant when reviewing the menu. His eyes zoned in on her plump bottom lip caught between her teeth. This felt like some kind of messed up version of that coffee date he had fantasized about back in Romania.

“Do you know what you want? I can order for us, I think they only speak Russian here.” She looked up at his words and he saw the hesitance in her wide hazel eyes. “Do you think you could try to eat a little more today? You’re still getting your strength back you know.”

She frowned a little. “Yea I know. I’m not really hungry in the mornings, I think I’ll just get the porridge, plain.”

“Well I’m getting a huge breakfast so maybe it’ll change your mind. If so, I might be persuaded to share.” He quirked a smile he wasn’t really feeling on the inside. Had she always eaten like a bird or was this temporary? Would it get better as she did? He tried to remember the time they ate together; he had been so involved in stuffing himself he hadn’t really noticed but if he thought about it he doesn’t remember her eating much outside of a few slices of apple or pear. He didn’t want to make her uncomfortable or pressure her but it troubled him. Why wouldn’t she eat?

“James,” her voice pulled him from his thoughts. She was looking at him shyly. “I just wanted to say thank you. I know it’s not much but I just don’t know how I’ll ever be able to thank you for everything you did. Everything you’re doing.” Her thanks made him feel embarrassed, he didn’t know what to say. “If you hadn’t saved me, he would have… I would be…” He could hear her struggling to get the words out and her eyes were starting to fill with tears.

He leaned towards her across the table. “It’s ok, please don’t thank me. I’m just so glad you’re alright.” He was trying to reassure her but he thought he might have made it worse when he saw her bottom lip start to tremble.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be alright, but I do know I would be dead without you. Saying thank you feels so inadequate but I just don’t know what else to say.” She looked down at her hands in her lap. “This was my second time trying to get away from him. Jon, that's his name by the way. He was my “fiance,”” she put air quotes around the word. “Not that he actually proposed or asked if I wanted to marry him, instead when I graduated he just sort of let me know we’d be getting married now.” She let out a small humorless laugh, still looking down at her hands. “Being with him was the worst kind of hell, I was so miserable every day. I know I’m such an idiot for ever letting him in. Sometimes I think I have the word ‘weak’ branded on my forehead.” He watches as a tear falls and slowly slides down her cheek which she quickly wiped away. His heart felt like it was in a vice, he hated that she's been through so much.

“You’re not an idiot, please don’t say that. Men like him with that kind of darkness inside just know how to hide it. It’s not your fault, it’s his, and you aren’t weak.” She raised her eyes and met his intense gaze. “You aren’t.” She looks like she doesn’t believe him but before she can reply the server interrupts. After he places their orders his eyes go back to hers. “Ava, I hope you really do know that none of that was your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong, or stupid.”

She looked uncomfortable, “Well either way all I know is the next time he’s not going to wait so long to finish the job.”

Bucky’s fist clenches under the table at the thought. “He won’t touch you again. Ever. I’ll make sure of it.”

She looks up at him surprised, a crinkle appearing between her brows. “James I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, because I’m not. I’m beyond grateful for everything, but I just don’t understand why… Why are you doing all of this for me?”

He wasn't sure how to answer. He couldn't really say, ‘because all I want is to be near you and the thought of someone hurting you makes me murderous’ without sounding like a psycho and sending her running to the hills. And he wouldn't blame her, he doesn't understand these feelings either.

“Well you helped me too, remember? You found me bleeding out in the hallway.” He hoped that answer is good enough.

She waves him off, “All I did was basically give you some bandaids and food, I don’t think it really compares. Plus, a big strong guy like you? I’m pretty sure you would have been just fine without me James.” She gives him a smirk which he returns.

“I don’t know sweetheart, deep down I’m just a big baby. I don’t think I woulda made it.” Her sweet laugh is like music to his ears. “By the way, my friends actually call me Bucky." It may not have been a good idea to tell her that but he felt uncomfortable hearing her call him James. Besides, he would have to tell her the truth soon, maybe it would be easier if she started to piece it together herself. Maybe it wouldn't come as a shock that way.

She gives him an odd look then nods. “Bucky… I like it. It’s adorable.” He laughed at her teasing. “How’d you come by that nickname? I’ve never heard of Bucky being a nickname for James.”

Was she testing him? “Well, I guess it’s not, it’s just something someone called me when I was a kid and it stuck.” Would it be better if he just got it over with and told her now, after all it was only fair she knew who it was she was really with. He wondered if she’d think she just traded one monster for another.

“Was it your best friend Steve who gave it to you?” He couldn’t tell if she was being coy, her face looked innocent enough as she sipped her drink. She had seen his metal arm, but if she already knew wouldn’t she have tried to stay as far away from him as possible? It’s not like the public was aware he hadn’t been under his own control, so if she had known who he was, she'd have to think he was a terrorist and multiple murderer.

“Uh, you know, I don’t really remember.” He was saved from further questioning by the server setting down their food. He was a little dismayed to see her small bowl of porridge, especially compared to the multiple plates they set down for him. He watched her push the food around with a spoon, only taking a tentative bite when she noticed him looking. He sighed. “Ava, you really need to eat, it’ll help you get better.”

“I am, I’m just a slow eater.” She’s wasn't looking at him but it was obvious she wasn't being honest. She seemed to make an effort to eat more and he assumes it’s just to placate him but he still gives her a smile when she finishes the entire bowl.

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She felt like breakfast had been going so great until the food came, and then she felt like she had to eat the entire bowl of porridge even though she didn’t want any of it. It put her anxiety through the roof. She knew he could tell something was wrong when she was quiet through the rest of the meal but she was eager to get back to the apartment and couldn’t focus or relax until she did. She was on the verge of panic and she just needed to get to the bathroom as soon as possible.

She couldn’t hold back and once they entered the apartment, runnning straight to the bathroom sink and losing all her breakfast.

“Ava, are you ok?” She was rinsing her mouth and brushing her teeth when she heard his concerned voice outside the door.

She finished rinsing her face and patted it dry. “Yea, it’s ok, I just got a little nauseous. I’m fine.” She opened the door and tried to give him a light smile. “See? I’m ok, no big deal.” The worry was still etched on his face but she could tell he wasn’t going to push. Deep down she knew this wasn’t good but she immediately felt so much better and calmer. She felt more in control than she had since before Jon showed back up. She knew it was temporary but she’d take what she could get. This was just temporary.

Chapter Text

He was practically wringing his hands as he heard her being sick in the bathroom. Was she sick, did he need to get a doctor, what was wrong with her? How would she get better if she couldn’t even keep down the little food he could manage to get her to eat? 

She seemed much better when she came back out but he still had that persistent worry in the back of his head telling him something was wrong. Then again, she was giving him a sweet smile and she seemed much perkier, like her old self. “Ok,” he tells her still hesitant. “Well just promise you’ll tell me if you need the doctor or medicine or anything. Alright?”

She smiled and nodded up at him then moved past him to the other room as he followed. “So I thought since I’m finally up and around I could go to the market and pick up some things for the next few days. Would that be ok?”

He was a little suspicious of the sudden change in her mood and demeanor but he rationalized it by figuring it could have something to do with her finally crying it out, then getting her first full nights sleep. He wanted to be hopeful that she’d be ok now. He smiled at her, “Of course, like I said before, you're not a prisoner. I can go with you?” He hoped she would take him up on the offer, it would make things a lot easier than having to keep an eye on her from the shadows. There was no way in hell he wouldn’t be following her to make sure nothing happened, but she didn’t need to know that. He remembered how important it was to start doing things independently, to start feeling like your own person again. 

“That’s ok, I think I just need some time to myself, I need to get out and clear my head.” He could see the sadness creep into her smile, he wondered what thoughts were going through her head and wished he could make them all go away. Seeing her sad made him feel weird things inside. It was an emotion he couldn’t quite pinpoint and could only barely recall from his previous life, but all he knew was that he only wanted her to be that happy bubbly neighbor he remembered.

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He watched from across the street as she walked to different vendors, sometimes finding one who could speak a little English or Romanian. A few men leered at her causing Buckys temper to flare but he admired the way she gracefully ignored it with her head up. He didn’t start to get worried until he realized she was making a wrong turn trying to get back to the apartment and ended up down a long winding alley. He had to duck into doorways every few feet making it harder to keep as close of a distance as he’d prefer; this was a perfect alley for muggers to hang around in and he wanted to make sure he was close enough to step in before anything could happen.

He could tell she was looking around, probably hoping for something familiar to let her know she was on the right track. He was pretty sure she hadn’t noticed the grimey looking man smoking a cigarette in a dark alcove she was about to pass and she almost walked straight into him, jumping in surprise. He tensed as the man yelled at her in Russian as she walked by, “Hey baby, why don’t you lift that skirt up for me.” Bucky could see the man had scared her as she quickly sped up and clutched her grocery bag tighter to her chest. “Hey! Fuck you bitch!” Bucky's fist clenched and he approached the man as he saw her turn a corner, grabbing him by his shirt collar.

“You think it’s ok to yell disgusting things at girls walking alone, you coward?” Bucky speaks to the man in Russian, his voice low and dangerous. 

“Hey man, get the fuck off me and mind your own business.” he spat back. Bucky lifted and slammed him against the wall, causing his eyes to go wide with fear as he was lifted a few inches off the ground. “Whoa whoa buddy, I’m sorry, ok?!” Bucky slammed his gloved metal fist into the wall right next to the mans face leaving a dent in the cement.

“If I see you around the neighborhood being a sleazy asshole again I’ll knock your teeth out.” Bucky dropped him and continued moving forward around the corner as the man scurried back inside whatever backdoor he had come out of.

He stopped cold when he saw her. Her back was against the wall with her legs sprawled out in front of her, groceries scattered. “Ava! Ava!” he started to run toward her but stopped to duck into a doorway when he heard her quiet voice.

“...about the size of a baseball, dark purple with tiny light spots all over it, looks firm and juicy, the outside is shiny…” She was staring at an object on the ground near her and it took him a moment to realize she was describing the plum that had rolled out of her bag. He knew that technique and had even used it himself during his own panic attacks. He breathed a sigh of relief but still debated going to her. It seemed like she had been too in her own head to have heard him so he could still hang back, but something about not helping her, seeing her on the ground with all the groceries scattered made it seem so wrong not to do something.

Before he could make a move he saw her erratic breathing start to calm and she pulled herself to her knees, starting to gather the spilled groceries. “You’re ok, you’re ok, you can do this. You need to do this.” Hearing her pained voice and watching her pick up the groceries with shaking hands was killing him, but her words had convinced him; she needed to feel like she could get through this herself. If he rushed in to try and save the day it would just reinforce her feelings of helplessness so he held himself back and stayed hidden. 

He couldn’t help but admire the way she shook off the panic attack and started to recover so quickly. His usually took him out for an hour or longer, but she was able to push it away and get back up like it was nothing. She was so much stronger than she realized and he wished she could see it too. He could only hope she would in time.

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She had been doing so good and felt much better than she had in a long time, until she had to go and get herself lost. The language barrier at the market made doing the shopping a little tough but she was able to get by with English and her bits of Romanian. The lecherous looks from a few strange men made her stomach turn, though she basically expected most men to be sexually aggressive at this point, but she ignored them even though they put her nerves on edge. 

She thought maybe that was the reason she got turned around and ended up down a twisty alley. Her sandals made a clicking sound on the cobblestones as she tried to remember if anything around her was familiar. She was so lost in her own thoughts she didn’t notice the rough looking man in the dark doorway until she was passing right next to him and she almost jumped out of her skin when he stepped towards her and said something in Russian. Based on his hand gestures and the way he was looking at her she was pretty sure she didn’t want to know what it was. She wrapped her arms tighter around her grocery bag and sped up her steps, just short of a jog as he yelled something at her back. 

She could feel the sweat start to break out on her forehead and she wiped at it with the back of her shaking hand.The street started to tilt sideways as she fell heavily against the wall, heart hammering against her ribcage like it was trying to break out. The thoughts started flying through her head; something bad was going to happen to her, someone was going to hurt her, she was in danger. Then suddenly she was back in her old apartment, she could feel his hands in her hair tearing at her scalp, punching her rib cage and she was going to die. 

The grocery bag fell out of her arms and she was sliding down the wall landing hard on her tailbone, the sharp pain pulling her back to reality and she realized she was on the ground, legs thrown out in front of her and groceries rolling everywhere. Her chest tightened, the muscles getting so tight she didn’t think she could pull in a breath. Her head lolled against the wall as she desperately tried to breathe but her lungs felt like they were unable to inflate against her tight ribcage. Her mind started to go again, all she could hear was static as her brain began to replay past horrors, the feeling of doom crushing her. 

It sounded like someone was saying her name but it was miles away and couldn’t reach her, the static in her brain wouldn’t let her acknowledge it. ‘No, no, no! Don’t go under, you have to focus, find something to focus on!’ , she thought, and made an effort to refocus on her surroundings. Her eyes landed on a large juicy plum that had rolled out of the bag and was only a few inches from her hand. She started to murmur to herself, “...about the size of a baseball, dark purple with tiny spots all over it, looks firm and juicy, the outside is shiny…” Her breaths slowly became more even until she was able to take larger pulls of air. She pulled herself to her knees and slowly started to gather all the groceries and place them back in the bag, hands still tremulous, then she wiped her clammy palms on the skirt of her dress and wiped the tears off her cheeks. ‘ You’re ok, you’re ok, you’re ok... ’ the mantra ran through her brain as she gathered herself together and began making her way back to the apartment.

It didn’t take her too long to find the right way back and she used the walk to mentally pull it together, she didn’t want James or Bucky, (that would take a little getting used to) to know that something had happened. She was tired of being seen as weak or helpless, even if that’s what she was. She sighed and took a deep breath before opening the apartment door, finding the apartment eerily quiet. “Jam - Bucky?”, she looked around and quickly realized it was empty. The grocery bag almost fell out of her arms again but she managed to catch herself and squeeze it back to her chest. The panic started to well up again as her mind raced with a thousand thoughts, none of them positive.

He was gone. He had left her here. She was alone again, vulnerable with no one to lean on. How could she blame him, she was like a dead weight around his neck. No matter that she really felt like they were connecting, maybe becoming friends. And his behavior towards her at breakfast gave no indication that he was planning to take off on her. Was it because she wasn’t eating enough and had thrown up that morning? Maybe it had made him realize how fucked up she truly was and he decided he didn’t want to be stuck dealing with her mountain of issues. He was young and attractive, very attractive, he should be free to live his life maybe meet some women, instead of being tied to one that was so supremely fucked up and just a shadow of a person. One as dirtied and worthless as her.

Before she could spiral further he walked into the apartment. She must have had a crazed look on her face because his was suddenly filled with concern and he immediately approached her and took the bag out of her hands. “What’s wrong? Did something happen? Are you ok?” She was so filled with relief she launched herself at him, wrapping her arms around his waist as soon as he set the bag down. He stiffened in surprise for a second then relaxed and she felt his warm hands rubbing up and down on her back. 

She started rambling into his chest, “I got here and it was empty and you were gone and I thought that you had left and I wouldn’t blame you if you did but I was just so worried and didn’t know what I was going to do and..”

He gently pulled back and looked down at her. “Sweetheart, I’m not going to just leave you like that. I promise.” There was something about the way his eyes were shining at her that gave her butterflies but she pushed it aside before she could think into it too much. “I would never do that. I’ll stay with you until you have a safe long term solution or you tell me to go away, ok?” He had a small smile and was looking at her expectantly.

She nodded and smiled back. “Ok, thank you… I don’t know why you’re helping me like this but I am really grateful.” She awkwardly realized they still had their arms around each other and he seemed to realize it around the same time judging by the embarrassed look on his face. They both dropped their arms and looked away, Bucky cleared his throat.

“You don’t need to thank me, it’s just the right thing to do. And I’m sorry I gave you a start, I just thought I should step out and do a little recon around the neighborhood. I just like to know all the routes, old habits.” Right, of course. He was just doing it because he felt like he had to, it didn’t really have anything to do with her specifically, which was fine, why should she want it to be about more than that? “Did your shopping trip go ok?”

She swallowed, remembering the panic attack that had almost incapacitated her. “It was good, it was really nice to get out. I accidentally dropped the bag so some of it’s a little banged up but it should be ok. I could make dinner tonight if you want?” She felt bad about lying but she didn’t want to admit how weak she was and she definitely didn’t want his pity.

His face lit up at her suggestion, “Are you sure? I don’t know if you should push yourself too hard, you should be resting and taking it easy...”

She put her hand up to cut him off, “I’m restless, I can’t lay around any more and there’s not even a tv to distract me. Besides, cooking helps me relax so really it would help me get better if anything.” 

He flashed that smile she was really growing on her. “Aw well when you put it that way doll, I guess I’d be an asshole to try and stop you. Definitely nothing to do with missing that good cooking.” She smiles back at him feeling her cheeks getting warm. How did he manage to make her suddenly feel like a schoolgirl. She really hoped he didn’t notice, she would die of embarrassment. 

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Bucky couldn’t stop thinking about the way she had wrapped her arms around him and hugged him so tightly. Just imagining the way she felt pressed against him, all soft and warm, made his heart race. The only other times she had been in his arms were heart wrenching, with her hurt or crying or both, but this was different. She had been… happy to see him, it made him imagine a different situation, one where he was normal and she wanted to be with him and he could come home and be greeted by that happiness just to see him.

He decided to go out again for a bit while she was busy in the kitchen. He didn’t know what was coming over him but he just wanted to do something nice for her, something to make her happy. When he came back he held the item behind his back nervously. What if she didn’t want it, or thought it was a weird gesture? She would be too nice to tell him that and having to wonder would probably be even worse. He quickly dropped it in a drawer near the kitchen deciding he would give it to her when they ate.

The smells from whatever she was making were amazing and he felt his stomach grumble in response. She smiled at him as he walked towards the kitchen. “Stuffed cabbage rolls. In case you were wondering. And fried polenta on the side. Does that sound ok?” 

His smile widened, “Sweetheart, that sounds amazing.” He got two mismatched plates and silverware from the sparsely furnished cupboards and set them out on the table along with two glasses and a pitcher of water. She set the food out and he couldn’t help but notice that while she loaded up his plate with a massive helping she only served herself a small cabbage roll and no polenta. He decided not to say anything, he hated the way his prodding had made her turn quiet during their breakfast that morning. 

After he had managed to shovel down half his plate (during which she had only had a single bite of hers) he got up and pulled open a drawer nearby. “So I know you’ve been getting stir crazy and I thought maybe having something to read could help.” why was he so nervous? He felt like such a dope. He couldn’t even manage to look at her face, afraid she might be put off. “The bookstore only had one book in English but hopefully it will at least help ease some of your boredom. I mean, if it’s not really something you want to read that’s ok too… And I can get a tv at some point in the next few days, so you don’t have to read it if you’re not interested...” Bucky scratched the back of his head. ‘You’re rambling you idiot.’ he thought to himself.

Once he finally did look up holding the book out to her he saw she had the sweetest smile on her face and her eyes were shiny. “You went out and got this for me?” She was still smiling but a confused look also crossed her face. Her fingers glided across his as she took the book from him and the soft contact almost made him shiver. “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” she read as she looked at the cover. “I love this one. Have you read it?” she looked back up at him.

“No, I saw the movie once a long time ago but I’ve never been much of a reader to be honest.” A memory of a movie theater, popcorn, his arm around a cute redhead flashed through his mind. Another lifetime. He focused back on her as she thumbs through the paperback a small smile playing on her lips.

“Bucky, I don’t know what to say. This is so thoughtful, thank you so much.” She came over to him and gave him a brief hug, surprising him.

“Oh, it’s no problem.” he hoped she couldn’t detect the slight strain in his voice as her arms lightly squeezed him. As soon as she moved away from him he wished he could pull her back in for a longer one. As she walked back to her chair he noticed she’s clearing her plate and taking it to the sink. Had she eaten more than that initial bite? He frowned. 

She sat back down and started reading while he finished his dinner. He could barely taste his food as he watched her, entranced by the way her full rosy lips parted and moved ever so slightly as she read. She took a long sip of water and he didn’t miss the way her tongue flicked out to catch a drop on her bottom lip. He had paused with the fork halfway to his mouth as she did it and her eyes snapped up to his.

Her cheeks turned pink and she looked at him self consciously, tucking some hair behind her ear. “What? What’s wrong, why are you looking at me like that?” 

His eyes quickly went down to his food and he continued eating his forkful hoping to buy a few seconds. What could he say? Because you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen and even watching you drink water makes my heart pound? “Nothing you just had a little food on your face.'' he mumbled, still not looking at her. 

He heard her giggle as she used a napkin to wipe her face. “Jesus. The way you were looking at me, I thought I had grown a second head.” 

He laughed too hoping she can’t hear how nervous it is, “Sorry, I guess I kind of zoned out there.” He finished his plate and she jumped up to clear it for him. He tried to pull it back from her insisting he wash it himself. 

“Bucky please, just let me take it. You’ve taken care of everything else, the least I can do is help out with the cooking and cleaning around here.” He relented but he still felt guilty. He didn’t want her to think she had to wait on him, or that she owed him anything. He had a feeling convincing her of that would be an uphill battle. But if he was lucky he’d get plenty of time with her to try.

Chapter Text

Ava was deep in thought as she pushed the eggs around on her plate, oblivious to the way Bucky was frowning as he watched her. They had been in Belarus for a couple of weeks now and had developed a sort of companionable routine; they ate breakfast at the cafe most mornings, she went to the market a couple times a week and cooked the rest of their meals, and they spent the rest of their time in the apartment watching the tv Bucky had picked up or with Ava reading on the couch. Bucky caught himself watching her as she did little things around the apartment; he sat at the kitchen bar as she cooked or watched her while she read (pretending to watch tv) but she seemed completely unaware of the attention. He could tell her mood and her overall state of mind was vastly improved, she was much more like his sweet, teasing neighbor again. And while he still had concerns about how much she was eating he could tell she was making an effort. She still got sick occasionally and he thought maybe it was some kind of reaction to the trauma, but it worried him.

They had shared more about themselves with each other but she could sense Bucky was holding back and still being secretive with details of his past. She had some suspicions about why that might be but she had decided not to pry, thinking he would tell her when or if he was comfortable enough to. For her part she avoided talking about anything to do with Jon and he didn’t pry either, which she was grateful for.

She knew her mental state was much better than when they had first arrived but her mind still felt fragile, like talking about what happened would tip her back into the darkness, so she stuffed it as far down as she could and tried to move on. That didn’t always succeed in keeping the thoughts from occasionally bubbling up and she still couldn’t wrap her mind around the strange ways her life had suddenly changed within the course of a few weeks.

That night in her apartment she had been positive she was going to die, was sure it was the end. It wasn’t exactly a new thought for her, she had thought it many times since she met Jon and his violence became it’s most brutal. At some point she had stopped being able to imagine her own life beyond the age of 25. When she had tried to imagine it all she could see was a deep dark abyss, a pitch black void that was somehow both infinitely deep and dark and completely solid at the same time, impassable. She had no idea why 25 was the age her brain had settled on but it was, and her psyche told her that it was somehow her life’s cutoff.

It wasn’t that she was actually suicidal, though sometimes during the worst of her abuse the thought that maybe she should just end her own suffering had flitted through her mind, but it was more like she didn’t believe he would let her live much longer than that. He had beat her so badly so many times she felt sure that one day he would really snap and go too far for her to recover from. And that night in the apartment would have definitely been it.

Then her mysterious neighbor, who was now sitting across from her, had appeared out of the dark, taken her somewhere safe, and promised that Jon would never hurt her again. And she was actually starting to think maybe she could believe it. She knew hope was dangerous, it just made her feel a million times worse when it was dashed, but the man across from her had been so sincere when he said it and he’d been so kind and gentle, she was desperate to believe him.

Bucky had been watching her, wondering what she was thinking about as she chewed on her lip and the different expressions crossed her face. When she looked up and caught his eyes she recognized that concerned look on his face, the furrow of his brows while he looked from her face down to her untouched food and back to her face. She immediately ate a large forkful of food and tried to give him a reassuring smile.

He gave her a smile back as she brought another forkful to her mouth. He had stopped bringing up how much she was eating, he could tell any comments on her appetite caused her to immediately clam up and start to withdraw which was the last thing he wanted, but it seemed that sometimes he wasn’t able to hide the worry on his face. Suddenly the burner phone in his pocket started ringing, breaking him out of his thoughts.

Bucky started to stand with an apologetic look on his face, “I’m sorry, I’ll be just outside the door. 5 minutes.” She smiled and nodded and Bucky stepped out of the cafe to take Steve’s call. He hadn’t heard from Steve since that initial call when they had arrived and was eager to know if he had some news or any ideas on how they could help Ava.

“Hey Buck, I’m sorry I haven’t reached out in a while, I’ve been working on some things. Do you think you and the girl can stay there for just a little longer?”

Bucky huffed, “She’s not ‘the girl’ Steve. Her name is Ava. And yes, we’re fine here for the time being. But I need to find something more long term for her.” Bucky’s voice softened, “I’m sorry for being short, I just - I need to make sure she’s taken care of.” Bucky looked at her through the front window noticing she was back to pushing the food around on her plate.

“I know, I understand. I think I’ve got some ideas but I need to confirm a few things before we can make a move. You and Ava just need to sit tight for a little while longer and I’ll be in touch soon.” Bucky hung up and headed back inside. He knew Steve would come through with something soon, he always did.
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Ava was quietly humming to herself as she chopped the vegetables and Bucky sat on the stool watching. “Are you sure I can’t help? Chop something? Put a thing in a pot?” His hand darted out and grabbed a piece of the carrot she had just cut.

She swatted at him playfully. “Hey! No eating the food I’m prepping! And I told you, I’ll take care of the cooking, why don’t you go watch tv and relax? Star Wars is on. Empire Strikes Back, the best one.”

He just looked at her blankly. “Star Wars? Never seen it.” He quickly grabbed another slice of carrot and popped it into his mouth.

She dropped the knife on the cutting board with a clatter. “What? You can’t be serious.” He shrugged and shook his head. “But, you know what Star Wars is… right?” He continued to stare at her blankly. “Oh my god! There’s just no way. ‘Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope’? ‘May the force be with you’? ‘Luke, I am your-’ wait, nevermind, that ones a spoiler. Seriously, how is that possible?”

Bucky smiled as he watched her get all worked up, picking the knife back up to wave it at him, reminding him of one of those Italian Nonna’s from Brooklyn back in his day. He thought she was extra cute when she got animated about something. “I don’t know what to tell you doll, I guess I missed that one.”

“One?! There isn’t just one Bucky! Star Wars is… prolific! I don’t understand how a human could possibly have existed on this earth all the way into adulthood and never even heard of Star Wars. It’s obscene. It’s wrong.” She was so serious about it Bucky couldn’t help laughing. He tossed another piece of vegetable in his mouth. “And I swear to god if you steal another piece of this food I will take your hand like you’re Luke Skywalker!” She pointed the knife at him threateningly.

Bucky chuckled and put his hands up in front of him in surrender, “Well I don’t know who that is but message received. No more stealing.” She tried to give him a glare but couldn’t help smiling. “And I’ll tell you what, you can pick out all our movies from now on and teach me all about which ones I need to see. I’m pretty sure not knowing Star Wars won’t be my only egregious pop culture sin.” Bucky thought of the list Steve kept, of all the important things he had missed and needed to catch up on, and wondered if Star Wars was on it.

“Ok then, I suppose that’s a fair concession.” She gives him a sweet smile that makes his heart stutter. “We can start with A New Hope after dinner. You’ll love it.”

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That night after they finished both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back they got ready for bed and slipped under their separate covers, both turning towards each other. They laid there for a minute before Ava broke the silence. “So, what did you think of the movies?”

“They’re definitely not like any movies I’ve ever seen before. I still can’t believe Vader was his father the whole time. Why would Obi-Wan tell him Vader murdered his father instead of telling him the truth? Seemed like kind of an asshole move. And I kinda wish Leia was into Luke instead of Han. I mean, they did kiss and Luke definitely seemed into it.” Ava couldn’t help but giggle at that, boy was he in for a surprise.

“Well we can watch Return of the Jedi tomorrow and all your questions will be answered.” She stifled a yawn with her hand.

“Somebody’s exhausted from laying around watching movies.” Bucky teased.

“Maybe you’re just exhausting.” She quipped back.

Bucky laughed, “Ouch! You’re breaking my heart doll!” Ava started to giggle but was caught in another yawn. “Alright, sounds like it’s time to go to sleep. Goodnight Ava.”

“Goodnight Bucky.” Ava said sleepily as her eyes closed. He could hear her breathing change after just a few minutes and his own sleep followed soon after.

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Ava was the first to wake up the next morning and smiled to herself when she saw Bucky softly snoring a few feet away. She got out of bed as quietly as possible deciding to go make them some coffee since she knew he liked to start every day with a cup of it black. She thought he must be in an exceptionally deep sleep as he was still snoring while she opened the door; he was almost always hypervigilant and ready to pounce at anything. She was humming to herself as she finished silently closing the bedroom door and turned back to walk towards the kitchen, instantly stopping short as she noticed the very tall, muscular bearded man standing in the living room. Ava blanched and let out a scream as he started to move towards her, his hands out in what she barely registered as a calming gesture. “Hey, it’s alright-” he started.

Bucky bolted up as soon as he heard her and sprinted into the living room automatically putting himself in front of her. His tense posture immediately melted as soon as he realized who was standing there. “Steve, Jesus! You scared the shit out of us! You couldn’t have called?”

Steve looked at him sheepishly, “I did, I’ve been calling for a couple hours and you didn’t answer. I figured that wasn’t like you so I decided to make sure everything was alright.” Steve looked around Bucky at Ava, “You must be Ava, I’m really sorry for scaring you.”

It had taken Ava a few minutes to recognize him with the beard and longer hair, but in the time he and Bucky had exchanged those few sentences she had realized Captain fucking America was standing in their living room. “N-no problem.” She felt like she was probably gaping and told herself to get it together.

He turned back to Bucky, “Buck, you think there’s somewhere we could go and talk for a bit?” Bucky understood, they needed to talk without Ava present.

Bucky turned to Ava and put a hand on her shoulder, “Sweetheart, are you alright? I know Steve gave you a scare, you ok now?” With Bucky’s back to him he couldn’t see the interested look on Steve’s face.

Ava nodded and gave him a reassuring smile. She had been shaken up but managed not to let it spiral. “Yea, I’m good. You want me to leave? I could go to the cafe?”

Bucky waved the suggestion away, “No, no. We’ll go, just stay here and sit tight. We won’t be too long.” He turned back to Steve, “Alright, let’s go talk.” They headed out and Ava stood there still in shock. Bucky and Steve Rogers… She supposed that answered some of her questions about him, but it also created a whole lot more. Last she remembered hearing, Captain America was fighting the guy with the metal arm because he had blown up a UN meeting and crashed something into the Triskelion, why would they be acting like friends? Ava decided to make that coffee anyway, they might want some when they came back and she needed to do something to stop her mind racing, then she plopped down on the couch to mull over this new development.

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Bucky leaned against the wall behind the building, where he figured he and Steve would have some privacy to talk. They stood there for a moment before Steve started talking, “So, I couldn’t help but notice you both came out of the bedroom this morning…” Steve quirked a brow at him and tried not to smirk. “I mean, I can’t blame you Buck, she’s definitely a beautiful girl. Exactly the type you would have been head over heels for back in the day.”

Bucky suddenly couldn’t look him in the eyes, like Steve might guess at all the feelings he’s been harboring. “It’s not like that, I can promise you. I sleep on the floor. Just figured in case something happened during the night it would be better to be in the same room…” Steve was giving him that ‘Ok sure, whatever you say’ look. “She was… having some nightmares. She felt better when I was in the room. I know what that’s like.”

Steve looked a little abashed at that, “I understand, that makes sense. Well let’s get down to it. I’ve met with T’Challa and him and I both think the best thing is for you and Ava to come to Wakanda for awhile. At least until we figure things out. We can figure out a long term solution in the meantime, both for her and for you with regards to the pardon, and meanwhile she’ll be safe. And I have a feeling she’ll be more comfortable if you’re there too.”

Bucky nodded. The thought of being with her in Wakanda, his happy place, gave him a warm feeling. He thought about showing her the farmland, the herd of goats he took care of, all the village kids who used to follow him around. He thought she would like it. “Alright. When do we go?”

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Ava practically jumped up when they came back to the apartment. Steve spoke up immediately, “We didn’t really get properly introduced, I’m Steve Rogers. I’m so sorry about scaring you like earlier.” Steve extended his hand and Ava put her small one in his large one as she registered how warm and rough his hand was.

“Ava Davenport.” She gave him a warm smile as they shook. “And please, don’t worry about earlier, I’m just jumpy.”

Steve raised his eyebrows, “Davenport? Sounds fancy.” Steve smiled back at her as they released each others hands.

Ava laughed, “Yeah, I know. It sounds like I summered in Martha’s Vineyard, but I can assure that couldn’t be further from the truth.” She had always found it funny that her name evoked images of sailboats, white houses with Georgian columns, Norman fucking Rockwell. The reality had been group foster homes where all her personal possessions were constantly pilfered and stolen, uncaring adults (at the best times), cruel ones at the worst.

Bucky watched as they both bantered and smiled at each other, a strange cold feeling in his stomach. Was she attracted to Steve? He couldn’t blame her if she was, he was certainly better company than Bucky. In fact, Steve was undeniably better in every way. He hadn’t done all the evil things Bucky had, didn’t have the blood of all those people on his hands. Was Steve into her? She was definitely beautiful, vivacious, kind… He couldn’t imagine how someone wouldn’t be interested. He was snapped out of his melancholy thoughts by her voice.

“Bucky? Hello? Did you leave us?” He looked up as she laughed at him. “Steve said you two had something you wanted to discuss with me?” They had both agreed outside that Bucky should be the one to take the lead on the conversation since he’s the one she knows. But now that the self doubt was clouding his mind he wondered if it would be better coming from Steve, maybe she’d be more agreeable to it if she felt it was his suggestion.

Steve cleared his throat, “Right, well Bucky shared with me that there’s a bad person from your past who might be after you. And it seems they have the resources to track you down, even halfway across the world.” Bucky could see her face tighten and it pained him to know she was probably remembering what had happened. “So Bucky and I have been talking and we’d like to make a proposal…” He knew Steve was looking at him wanting Bucky to pick up the conversation.

Bucky swallowed the lump in his throat and looked at her, “Steve can take us to Wakanda, today. It’s completely safe there, we’ll be guests of King T’Challa and we won’t have to hide or stay under the radar. It’ll at least be a temporary reprieve so we can get our bearings and figure out something more permanent.”

Ava was temporarily speechless, she felt overwhelmed by everything. Wakanda? She barely knew anything about the country, just that she had heard about it maybe briefly on the news once or twice and she knew it was in Africa. And they would be guests of the king? It all felt so sudden and shocking. But she trusted Bucky and she knew if he said it was the best option then she believed him. She realized he was waiting for her to say something and she quickly stuttered a reply. “And-and you think this is what we should do?”

It didn’t escape Steve’s notice that she seemed eager to know what Bucky thought. She clearly trusted him implicitly and it was obvious Bucky's been fostering some feelings for her and it gave Steve a little hope that his best friend might have a chance at some happiness.

“Yes. We, both Steve and I, think this is definitely the best option for now.” Bucky moved toward her and put his hand on her arm, eyes softening, “I promised I’d keep you safe and I will. We don’t have to go if you don’t want to, but I do believe this is the best option.”

She still felt guilty and like a burden to him, his willingness to stay with her regardless of if they went to Wakanda or not intensified those feelings. “Bucky. I shouldn’t be your problem, none of this should be...”

He cut her off before she could finish, “Sweetheart, you’re not a problem. I told you, I want to be here. I’ve spent time in Wakanda it’s a pretty amazing place. I think you’ll like it there. But if you don’t, we can leave. And if you don’t want to go at all, that’s ok too. We can figure out a new plan.” He saw that her lip had started to tremble and was caught off guard when she suddenly moved towards him, wrapping her arms around him in a hug. He stood in shock for a few seconds before returning the hug, closing his eyes with a smile as they held each other for a minute.

Steve felt a little awkward standing there as they embraced, even as it gave him a hopeful feeling. He waited for about a minute before clearing his throat, causing them both to break apart looking slightly embarrassed. “Quinjet’s waiting. What do we think?”

She looked to Bucky and nodded. “Ok. Let’s go to Wakanda.”