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It's only been a lifetime

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Rivers of blood, that was something they could both relate to; they'd spilled enough blood over the years to fill rivers. She knew it, he knew it.

Monsters didn't get happy endings, years had taught them that by now and yet he stood in a cold apartment in Brooklyn wondering how the hell he was supposed to walk away. 

She's better off without me. 

He'd believed that. He'd believed that with all he was at first. It was almost funny. Almost.

If it didn't hurt so fucking much, it'd be funny. One of those sad jokes that no one knew if they should laugh at or not.

His hand swung out, it went clean through the plasterboard wall effortlessly; he didn't care about paying for damages. He hadn't used his real name and he'd paid six months rent up front, he wouldn't be here for six months.

They could keep the rest of it for the hole in the wall if they wanted it, he really didn't care.

Money had never mattered to him; there was very little that had ever mattered to him if he was going to be honest with himself. He wasn't afforded such luxuries; he wasn't allowed to be what he wanted to be.

He wasn't allowed to be human and they'd gone and done it, hadn't they? They'd gone and made him believe there was nothing in there that was anymore until he'd met her. 

Whatever was still human in there pulled toward her like a fucking magnet. She was the most perfect destruction he'd ever seen and he knew it. A touch was electricity, a touch was enough to throw him off balance for days. That heart beat in there after all; it wasn't ice, it wasn't black and brutal. If he was ever going to let him be destroyed, he couldn't think of a better way to do it.

It didn't end well though, did it? He could remember her screaming when he'd been pulled into that lab; they both knew what was going to happen but they'd screwed with her so that she didn't remember.

And him? He'd been thrown into deep freeze until he was useful again, until he could be wiped and pointed at a target like it didn't goddamn matter that he had someone he'd loved. She wasn't his to love, they'd made that clear; the thought of Alexi touching her was beyond what he could bear. He'd hated it.

Until he hadn't.

There was no one in there anymore; it didn't matter once he was brought around what he was before or what he felt before, he'd lost it all. He was just gone. It took him years, years to find his way back to the people that he cared for but he didn't remember, not at first.

She did.

She knew who he was long before he did, she knew she loved him long before he knew he loved her; they'd crossed paths dozens of times over the years but he'd always been just out of reach.

Just too lost.

Just too buried.

Just too cold.

She wasn't afraid of him though.

She'd never been afraid of him.

Nothing scared her; she treat everything like a challenge more than anything else and he found that interesting. Before he'd known who she was again, he'd worked alongside her because she was capable. It came back in trickles at first and then it was like someone opened the floodgates and everything hit. Steve, Natasha, him...

Natalia.

His hand balled into a fist again. He didn't swing it this time, instead he turned and walked out of the apartment and headed out onto the street trying his best to let the fresh air clear his head.

I might have put a bullet in my brain to quiet the ghosts if not for Natasha.

What was to stop that bullet now? She was gone. She had no idea what he meant to her and yet he worked beside her anyway; he stood there and faced her and he loved her more than he could begin to tell her and she looked at him like there was nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing left of him more like. It was no wonder he was so angry and in so much fucking pain. The world had taken away the one good thing in his life and it didn't matter how many months passed since that day it still hurt as much as it had that first night.

It still tore him clean in two.

Days felt like weeks, it was hell. Hell would've been preferable. He walked. He walked for what felt like hours until he came to a stop outside of her building; he checked in from time to time when he knew she was home just to see if she was okay. He needed to know that she was safe at least.

Many a night, he'd stopped by and she hadn't been alone and it had worn away at him little by little. He knew that it was nothing.

She wasn't involved with anyone but it hurt him that he couldn't be the one there.

He wanted to be the one there with her.

Screaming. Screaming so loud and so painful that he felt the panic rise in him and before he even realised what he was doing he was sprinting up the fire escape and he vaulted onto the balcony outside of her apartment. She was screaming.

She was screaming so loud and with such fervor that he was honestly terrified. 

She always kept the door open just a crack in summer; he called it reckless but he knew that she was better trained than that. She'd never leave herself unguarded but the summer heat when you were used the harshness of Winter got to you. He slid the door open as gently as he could but she must have heard the movement regardless because her hand darted for her gun.

He stood there with his hands held out in front of him.

"I'm not armed, Natasha." He spoke softly.

She was shaky. She could barely hold it without her arms trembling but she still looked determined to shoot if she thought he posed a threat. She hadn't slept properly he could tell that; the sheets around her were thrown absolutely everywhere from what he could only guess was her tossing and turning all night.

Her breath came quick and uncertain and her chest heaved with panic. He'd only ever seen her like this once before and she'd been so, so much younger.

The gun didn't bother him, not even a little bit. She knew better than to think he'd hurt her, it didn't matter to him if she shot him he knew that she knew he'd never hurt her. They were friends so he had that at least.

"W-Why are you--" She couldn't finish her sentence.

She was too preoccupied trying to settle herself and compose herself. She didn't seem to be winning. He walked over and sat down beside her, brushing her hair out of her face gently as he studied her with worried eyes; she lowered the gun but she smacked his hand away.

All he wanted was to see that she was okay. He knew the risks of it, he knew she could react badly but she knew he'd been watching over her.

She'd told him she didn't need it. She did, he knew she did. She didn't know. She didn't know who they were. That tore him apart in ways he couldn't begin to explain but he couldn't walk away. He couldn't just leave her even though he'd thought he could.

Love made people crazy. Ha.

"You were screaming." He flicked his eyes down to his lap for a moment before he inhaled a deep breath.

"I needed to know if you were okay." He wasn't acting like a teammate and he knew it.

He didn't care.

"I told you I didn't need you to watch over me." She chewed on the inside of her bottom lip.

He shook his head and released a sigh, his eyes flicked back up to her.

"You don't need me to watch over you but need me to watch over you." He was selfish.

He knew he was selfish.

"Because you love me?" She spoke and it threw him off.

His brow furrowed as he studied her wondering where the hell that had come from. She didn't remember.

She didn't know.

He'd passed it off as him knowing her from all those years ago and him wanting to make sure that she was okay. They were old friends, after all.

"Because I know you." He replied.

He couldn't face this now. 

"So you keep telling me." She didn't know him though.

Not the way he seemed to know her.

He stood up and moved back toward the door, casting a look over his shoulder at her and he had a sad look on his features that made her both curious and sad for  him. She wished she could understand why. She didn't know what the hell it was that ate him up, but she felt compelled to comfort him all the same.

"Take care of yourself, Natasha." James spoke quietly.

"You're just going to leave?" She sounded almost snappy.

He let out a small laugh and turned around just for a moment. He could see that she wanted answers but there were none that he could give her without risking messing her up. He wanted to ask what had her so spooked in her dream but he knew better than to think she'd tell him.

"I'm out of country in a few hours; I have a mission. I just wanted to make sure that you weren't hurt." Rookie mistake. Foolish and he knew it.

He'd sworn he was leaving and not sticking around so she wasn't put through more and so she wasn't put under pressure to remember things that may be gone forever. He couldn't do it to her but he couldn't quite stay gone either. He wished he could; she deserved better from him.

She'd deserved better from the world than the hand she'd been dealt.

They both did.

Their relationship was littered with moments like this. Almost-somethings. Memories gone, moments lost to the abyss only to come back again someday. Someday... God, he hoped there'd be a someday this time around. He'd lost her enough already.

She'd lost him enough already. They didn't deserve this but life was so cruel. Leonid Novokov had killed Bucky Barnes in the truest way possible: He'd taken away the only person in the world that he'd ever loved and now? Now he was empty and alone just like Leo had always wanted.

He'd taken everything and now, now he had nothing and there was nothing more dangerous than someone who had nothing; he had a new mission,a new focus and maybe it'd be the thing that saved his sanity for a little while, he couldn't keep on like this and he knew it.

It was driving him insane. 

He'd gotten his wish after all. What did it even matter now? She didn't remember. She might never remember. He'd love nothing more than to make her fall for him all over again but if he hurt her more he'd never forgive himself.

What a fucking mess he was in indeed. 

"You've got to stop this Guardian Angel shit." She couldn't look at him as she said it though.

Her tone sounded uncertain. That was curious to say the very least. He expected her to argue more but she fell strangely silent.

He allowed a smirk to play on his lips and he shrugged his shoulders.

"I will when you can say that and mean it. Goodnight, Natasha."

And just as quickly as he'd appeared the Soldier was gone leaving the redhead to stare at an open window with her covers scattered around her and her clammy skin prickling in the gentle breeze of the nights air.