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Into The Future

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“Don’t worry, kid. We’re gonna get you to the doctor,” Bucky promises. Steve coughs a little harder and Bucky swears he can hear the kids’s chest rattle when he does. It scares the hell out of Bucky. 

The pouring rain isn’t helping any, both young men are soaked to the bone and Bucky knows this is in no way helping Steve’s condition. They didn’t have the money to take the bus and get Steve medicine so they made the choice to walk to the doctor. 

Steve shivers and coughs harder. Bucky looks around and makes a hasty decision. 

“This way. It’s shorter.”

“The alley? *cough* Seriously?”

“Faster and partially covered, kid. Come on,” Bucky says guiding Steve into the dark alley. 

“Short cut,” Steve grumbles and pulls his soaked jacket tighter. Bucky’s getting antsy. The alley is getting darker and Bucky is sure that there was supposed to be an offshoot that would have brought them at least a block closer to the doctor. 

“Buck?”

“What the shit,” Bucky growls. “Where the hell is Davene?” 

“Buck,” Steve chokes. 

“In a second, kid,” Bucky says dismissively as he turns back around and trots back the way they came looking for a missed side street. 

“BUCK!” Steve’s voice is high pitched, raspy and his yell brings on a wave of fresh coughing. 

“Jesus Christ, Steve! What?” Bucky demands, turning around. Steve is shaking, pointing at beacon of light that is expanding towards them at an impossible rate. Bucky is frozen for a moment, unsure what to do. Fight or flight instincts kick in and Bucky grabs Steve by the arm, yanks him backwards and then pulls him along behind him as they try to run from the glowing, growing light source. 

But Steve can’t keep up. Bucky can hear him visibly wheezing, his cough shaking the kid’s entire body. 

“Go!” Steve wheezes, pushing Bucky away. 

“Not without you, kid!” Bucky snaps. He’s about to hoist Steve over his shoulder when the light behind them suddenly floods the entire alley, blinding them both. There’s an immense void of silence. Bucky is screaming, he knows he’s screaming, but there is no sound. It’s like there is no air but he can still breathe. He can see Steve curled into a ball, eyes clamped shut, hands pressed to his ears. He reaches for him, tries to pull his best friend to him…

=========================================================

Gage and Ella are watching Sarge the German Shepherd bounce around the wooded area behind the old farmhouse they share. It’s a blustery evening, the wind blowing through the trees, stripping them of their remaining leaves.  

“Sarge! Come on!” Gage bellows over the wind. The dog looks back once before trouncing further into the woods, barking merrily at some random thing. Ella snickers as Sarge continues to bark and ignore Gage’s commands to come back.

Sarge’s barks change from playful to fierce and then he whines. Ella and Gage glance fearfully at each other before taking off after Sarge. 

“Sarge! Sarge!” Gage yells as the two run faster. More barking. Gage and Ella race into a clearing where they skid to a stop, tumbling over each other. Sarge is barking at a glowing vortex of light, dancing back and forth in front of it. The vortex begins to pulse, a loud bass-like thrum coming from it, forcing Ella and Gage to cover their ears. Sarge barks and whines more. The thrum becomes deafening and then there’s a huge, blinding light and a shock wave sending Sarge skating backwards and blasting Gage and Ella onto the ground once more. 

The noise stops and Sarge is barking happily. Gage and Ella chance to open their eyes. 

Laying in front of Sarge are two young men wearing clothes from some long forgotten era. The dark haired one looks up and Ella and Gage gasp. 

The younger man leans over onto his side and begins to choke and sputter. The dark haired one crawls to him and then looks pleadingly at Gage and Ella.

“Help him. Please. Please, please, help him,” the dark haired one pleads. 

=========================================================

Bucky lands hard enough to knock the air out of his lungs. He’s dazed until he hears Steve coughing violently. Bucky comes out of his stupor and sees a dog bouncing around in front of him barking and trying to lick Steve’s face and his. He sees a man and a woman staring at he and Steve with the oddest of looks on their faces, both wearing clothes he’s never seen before, ever. Steve’s coughing gets worse and Bucky does the only thing he can -- he pleads for them to help. 

“Please. He’s my friend. He’s really sick…”

This seems to snap them out of their trance. The woman comes forward first, kneels next to Steve and cradles his face in her hands. The man comes over next, sheds his coat and wraps it around Steve’s shoulders. 

“I’m a nurse,” the woman says gently to Steve. “Try to relax. I know it hurts, I know you feel like you can’t breathe, but you have to try and relax.”

“Easy, Chief, easy,” the man says in almost the same gentle tone. “We need to get you two inside. I’m Gage. This is Ella.”

“James. He’s Steve,” Bucky says quickly. Steve is slowly easing up on the coughing. He’s focused on Ella which is seemingly what she wanted. 

Ella and Gage give each other a look Bucky can’t read. He’s at their mercy though. Steve is sick and he has no idea where the hell they are or how they got here or how they’ll get back. 

Gage and Bucky help Steve to his feet, Ella puts her arm around his waist and lets him lean on her. 

“How’d you end up here, James? Sarge, shut up!” Gage barks. The dog huffs at Gage but obeys even though he’s still wagging his tail wildly and trying to lick Steve’s hands and Bucky’s hands while running around them. 

“I don’t...I don’t know. There was a flash of light and this sound…”

“Like a bass going apeshit?” Gage asks. 

“Bass?” Bucky questions as they walk. Steve starts to cough again. 

“Easy, honey, easy. We’re going someplace warm, just hang on.” Ella’s voice is soft and soothing and has an almost immediate effect on Steve. Bucky puts his hand on Steve’s shoulder and gives it a gentle squeeze. Steve looks at Bucky and tries to give him a smile but it's forced and Bucky knows this. 

The walk back is slow because Ella and Steve stop every few steps so Steve can cough and then try and catch his breath. Bucky is too worried about Steve to be concerned about anything else. All he can do is hope that Ella and Gage are the good people they seem to be and that Steve can get better.

=================================================

Ella leads Steve and the others into the small farmhouse. Based on the looks she's been getting from Gage she's not the only one thinking that she recognizes these two strange men who appeared out of a goddamn vortex in the middle of the ass end of Nowhere, Pennsylvania.

The thin, sickly blonde starts into another coughing fit just as they get inside. Steve, his name is Steve according to the other man. Ella is desperately trying to combat the feeling -- the knowledge -- that she and Gage know these two and that they are in fact the precursors to the heroes they will become later on.

One of them at least.

Ella looks quickly over at James as she helps Steve into one of the dining room chairs. He's only concerned about Steve and rightfully so. Based on the sound of Steve's cough and the way his chest rattles he's got bronchitis if he's lucky. Pneumonia if he's not.

“You said you came through some light? Was it like a vortex?” Gage asks. Steve is nearly choking now, his face beet red as he tries to stop and breathe.

“Later, Gage,” Ella intervenes. “Do you have anything to help open his airways a little?” she asks quickly. Gage  thinks for a split second before nodding his head and rushing from the room. 

“Steve, Gage is getting you an emergency inhaler. I think. But I need to know if you’re allergic to anything.” Ella is scared that if this is who she thinks it is that one wrong move may kill the poor guy. He’s already in a weakened state without the bronchitis/pneumonia issue. 

Steve shakes his head no, wheezing so hard he can’t talk. Ella glances at James for confirmation. He’s sheet white and scared but still manages to shake his head no. 

Gage comes back with the emergency inhaler and helps Steve with it. Ella brushes Steve’s soft blonde hair from his brow and he looks pleadingly at her, blue eyes tearing at her heart. He’s feverish. 

“Gage, they need clothes.”

“Yeah. James? Come with me, man. You two need to get out of those wet clothes.”

James doesn’t move.

“He’s going to be okay,” Ella promises. “Go with Gage so you guys can get warm, sweetheart.”

James furrows his brow and Ella sees Steve nod his head, sort of like a silent I’m okay type thing. James sighs and reluctantly follows Gage from the room. 

“How are you feeling, honey?”

Steve blushes a little and smiles weakly.

“Rough,” he manages to reply. “Thank you.”

Ella nods her head slowly and takes a seat across from him. 

“You’re a long way from home, I think,” she says gently. 

Steve looks around, the fever starting to burn bright in his eyes now. 

“I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore.” 

Ella smiles, certain that Steve’s making a joke while referencing a classic film. 

“No, Dorothy, this sure as hell isn’t Kansas.” She laughs lightly and it makes him smile. 

“Where…” His voice gives out completely. 

“We’ll go over that later, honey. I want you and your buddy to get out of those clothes first,” she says as James and Gage come back into the room. 

“Showers. You two can clean up, get warmed up, and we’ll figure shit out from there,” Gage states. 

“Come on, kid, a hot shower should warm you back up,” James agrees. He places his hand on Steve’s shoulder and gives it a knowing squeeze. Steve looks up with tired eyes and nods his head. 

“Think you can make it up the stairs okay, Steve?” Gage questions. Steve nods his head again. Gage glances quickly at Ella and then leads their two guests back upstairs. 

Ella rubs the back of her neck and sighs. This isn’t real. This is absurd. This is…

“This is insane,” Gage mutters walking back into the room after a few minutes. “Do you know who they are?”

“I’m afraid to admit who I think they are.” 

“Steve? James? Come on...they even look—“

“I know who they look like, Gage. I know what their names are. I just...Bucky and Steve? Cap and...how is this possible?” she asks.

Gage shakes his head.

“Don’t know. It has to be something with that fucked up wormhole or whatever that was we saw today. And their soaked to the bone. It hasn’t rained here in at least a week.”

“They’re also wearing clothes that went out of style in 1940 something. So either they’re really good actors…” Ella begins. 

“Or they’re the real deal,” Gage finishes. “Steve’s not faking that illness, though. That shit is terrifyingly real.”

“He’s feverish. If I had to wager a guess he’s got bronchitis working its way to pneumonia. He needs a doctor.”

“And what do we tell them, Ell? They probably don’t know their social security numbers - if they even have them - they have no insurance, no home address...somebody starts asking questions and they answer them honestly it’ll get them both locked away in a nut house.” 

“You’re suggesting we try and clear his issue up here? He needs antibiotics,” Ella protests. 

“Listen,” Gage says quietly as he takes Steve’s seat, “Steve Rogers before he got the serum was deathly ill all the damn time. Not just asthma. We’re talking this guy had Scarlet Fever, he’s got heart issues...he’s got lots of issues, to be honest. The army didn’t just reject him because of asthma, he’s got a laundry list of ailments. Antibiotics may do him more harm than good. Especially our antibiotics in our time.”

“You’re convinced they’re…” Ella purses her lips. 

“Pretty damn sure. And you see how Sarge took to them like a fly to shit. He’s not that sociable. Like you.”

“Oh piss off. I’m not the hermit, you are,” Ella grumbles. Gage grins. 

“What do you want to do?” Gage asks after a moment. 

“You’ve already made up your mind, Gage. Why ask me?”

“You live here, too.”

“We can’t throw them out, Gage. If they’re here there has to be a reason they’re here. Right?” Ella is looking for assurance that this isn’t something that’s going to end up with a case of the deads for them. 

“That’s the theory.”

==================================================

Steve and Bucky are in what Gage called the guest bedroom, stripping out of their soaked clothes. Steve shivers violently and nearly falls. Bucky grabs his arm and pushes him back towards the bed. 

“What’s an inflatable mattress?” Steve asks, pulling free from Bucky’s grip. His voice cracks when he speaks making his throat hurt more.

“No idea, Steve.”

Steve shivers again and sighs. He’s cold and tired and just completely miserable right now. 

“Shower. Come on.”

“We’re in our underwear and there’s a dame downstairs,” Steve protests. 

“Gage said she’d stay put ‘til we come back down. Besides, I saw the way you looked at her,” Bucky teases. Steve can’t help the flush of color that rises on his face. 

“Jerk.”

Bucky grins and the two head back to the bathroom. 

“I’ll wait outside. You feel like you’re going to fall, you better yell for me, kid,” Bucky orders. Steve rolls his eyes and walks into the bathroom, closing Bucky out. It’s so much bigger than the one at their place. He follows the instructions Gage gave them about the shower and in a few minutes he’s scrubbing himself while being warmed by the heated water. 

When he’s done he steps out and shivers. He grabs the super large towel and wraps it around himself in an effort to conserve some of the heat from the shower. 

“Steve?” Bucky calls through the door.

“What?”

“You alright?”

“Yes, ma.”

“Listen, punk…”

Steve opens the door to find Bucky standing there, arms folded over his chest, glaring at him. 

“Ma?” Bucky growls.

“Stop nagging,” Steve growls back. Bucky drags his hand down his face and shakes his head. He points to the guest bedroom and Steve trudges down the hall. He finishes drying off and puts on the clothes that Gage had given them. The clothes hang off of him in the most ridiculous way, but they’re warm and Steve is so grateful for that. 

It isn’t long before Bucky comes back. He’s dressed in a few quick moments but Steve barely notices. He’s staring at the pillows on the bed wishing he could just lie down for a while. 

“How are you feeling?” Bucky asks, sitting next to him. 

“Tired. Very tired. Where the hell are we, Buck? Look at this stuff. This isn’t...she said we were a long way from home.”

“Yeah. I’m pretty sure we are. Gage asked about the light we saw. Maybe they saw it, too. I’m just thankful they’re nice. And she’s a dish.”

Steve chokes out a hoarse laugh. 

==================================================

Gage and Ella listen as the stairs creak indicating that the two guests are coming back downstairs. The walk into the room freshly showered and looking much warmer than they were a while ago. 

“Better?” Gage asks. They nod their heads.

“Thank you,” James says genuinely. 

“How do you feel, Steve?” Ella asks. He sits down across from her and she can see him blush just a little. James sits next to Steve so that the four of them are facing each other. 

“I’m alright.” He’s lying and Ella can see right through him. She skews an eyebrow at him and he drops his eyes. 

“No you’re not,” she says gently. “Are you warmer?”

They both nod their heads. 

“Are you guys hungry?” She watches as they exchange glances. 

“Yes, ma’am,” James answers. 

“It’s Ella. Don’t ma’am me,” she jokes. He grins at her, his blue eyes shining. Definitely a ladies man, no doubt about it. 

“Go light. Something that’ll fill them up quick and is warm,” Gage tells her. 

“Oatmeal? Eggs?” She’s asking Steve and Bucky to see what they say. 

“Oatmeal,” Bucky answers for them. Steve makes a horrible face at him. Ella hears Gage snicker. 

“How about some hot tea with honey for you, Steve? To go with the oatmeal you don’t seem interested in,” Ella teases. Once again Steve blushes. He nods his head slowly. Ella heads to the kitchen. 

She can hear Gage and James/Bucky talking about the vortex of light as she heats up the water for the oatmeal. Instant oatmeal. Maple and brown sugar. She laughs to herself. Did they have this in their time or was it that non-flavored slow cook stuff? Will they even eat this? 

Ella puckers her lips as the tea kettle starts to whistle. She grabs a mug, drops a tea bag into it before filling it with hot water. While it steeps she grabs two bowls and empties some oatmeal into each bowl before adding more hot water. She stirs the contents, grabs the honey and dumps a good amount into the tea. She carefully carries everything out to the dining room. Bucky and Steve blink and Bucky leans down and sniffs the bowl.

“Did you add syrup?” he asks softly. Ella smiles. 

“It’s instant. It comes pre flavored, maple and brown sugar…” Ella stops talking when the guys give her puzzled looks. 

“Pre-flavored?” Bucky questions. 

“How’s it taste?” Ella asks. 

“Funny,” Steve rasps. Gage laughs when Bucky gives Steve a gentle nudge with his elbow. 

“Like I was saying, this isn’t your timeline, guys. Or at least not your…” Gage motions with his hands like he’s looking for the words. 

“All this stuff,” Bucky says looking around, “is nothing like home.” 

Gage takes a long, deep breath and exhales slowly. Ella’s lips twitch. She knows what Gage is thinking. Do they admit that they know these two? How much is too much information?

“What year was it when you saw the light in the alley?” Gage asks. 

“1940,” James/Bucky replies. 

“It’s 2015 here.” Ella says this as calmly and gently as she can and the braces for Steve and Bucky’s reactions. Steve chokes on his tea and Bucky sits back in the chair and takes a deep breath. 

“You’re kidding, right?” Steve asks as he wipes his mouth. 

“No, she’s not. All this stuff that you’ve been eyeing suspiciously is all modern technology,” Gage explains. Bucky’s eyes widen. 

“Modern...technology…” he muses. 

“This is a version of your future,” Gage continues. 

“What does that mean?” Bucky asks. Steve has given up and is just shaking his head in disbelief. 

 "It means that you're from a possible timeline from a parallel universe."

==================================================

Bucky's head is swimming. The future? Is this guy serious? They can't be in the future. This is a joke. A sick one at that. 

"No. No, this isn't...we can't be..." Bucky struggles to find the words to express the craziness of the situation. Ella and Gage exchange looks. Steve looks like he's about to pass out. What the hell is happening here?

"Look around you, sweetheart," Ella says in that same gentle voice that wooed Steve over earlier. "What do you see that's from your own time?"

Bucky looks around and goosebumps erupt on his skin. There is nothing here that he recognizes. The bowls she gave them, the mug she gave Steve, the nasty oatmeal, the way she and Gage are dressed...

"We need to get Steve in bed," Gage states. He and Ella are getting up from the table. Steve looks at Bucky and Bucky has to fight the rising panic he's feeling. 

"Yeah. Alright," he agrees with much reluctance. 

"I'll get the air mattress set up so if you want to stay up there with him you can," Gage offers. Bucky can only nod. Ella is helping Steve from the chair. The kid blushes furiously and she smiles, her hazel eyes sparkling when she does. 

"Come on, honey, let's get you upstairs." She walks him slowly from the room and Bucky decides to follow. He needs to keep Steve in his sights or he may go insane. 

As they pass through what Gage called the living room he sees more things that boggle his mind. Things he hadn't bothered to notice when they walked through here earlier. Things that scare him but also pique his curiosity to the point he trips over himself. 

They head up the stairs and Ella helps Steve sit on the bed and then pulls the covers back. Again, Bucky sees things are not like he's used to. Steve crawls under the covers, rolls onto his side, and sighs shakily. 

"You're okay, Steve. You're warm and safe. Gage's room is on the other side of the bathroom and mine is across the hall. If we aren't there check downstairs," she tells him. Bucky watches as she brushes Steve's hair from his face. He smiles weakly and closes his eyes.

"Buck?" 

"Right here, kid."

"Just checking," Steve mutters. 

Gage comes in a moment later with a large bag. Bucky watches in stunned fascination as Gage and Ella set this thing up. It's like a balloon in the shape of a bed. Ella says she'll be right back and walks out of the room. Bucky can hear the soft sounds of Steve's labored breathing as the kid drifts deeper into sleep. 

"Relax, man," Gage says quietly, "it's going to be okay. We're going to do all we can to make sure Steve gets better. And we'll try and figure out how the hell to get you guys home."

This last statement shocks Bucky. They aren't planning on keeping he and Steve like pets. They genuinely want to help and get them home. 

"Thank you. I mean it. Thank you," Bucky says humbly. Ella comes in with her arms laden with blankets and a couple of pillows. 

"It's still early and you're welcome to come back downstairs to get something else to eat or drink or just hang out and talk with us," she says as she dumps everything on the balloon bed and starts to shake out the blankets. "You're not confined up here. He needs sleep, though."

"I know he does. I just..." Bucky trails off. Gage pats him on the back.

"Stay up here. When  you're ready come downstairs. We can talk more," Gage tells him. Bucky nods. Ella runs her hand down his arm and smiles sweetly at him then she and Gage exit the room. 

Bucky sits on the balloon bed and looks around. He wanted a life of adventure, but this is a bit much. 

============================================

Ella flops down on the couch and cracks her neck. Gage heads to the kitchen and comes back a few minutes later with double shots for them both. They down the shots and Gage takes the glasses back to the kitchen. 

"What do you think?" He asks when he comes back into the living room. 

"I don't know. This is either the most elaborate dream I've ever had or there is some really fucked up shit going on in the Marvel Universe."

"If you're dreaming then so am I and those two upstairs are having a damn nightmare," Gage states. Ella nods in agreement. 

"I just...is it really them?" She asks, still trying to wrap her head around the situation. 

"I took their soaked clothes to the basement to get them washed. I emptied their pockets. Buck's the only one who had any kind of I.D. on him. James Buchanan Barnes is what is said. If he's not the real deal he's a pretty goddamn good facsimile.

"Jesus Christ, Gage," Ella whispers, "we have them here. We can save Bucky --"

"No. Ella, no. We can't...you can't alter their timeline like that. It's a fixed point --"

"You don't know that!" She protests. Gage shushes her and points up the stairs. 

"What are the odds that it's not? Look at the comics and look at the MCU. In both he gets taken by HYDRA, brainwashed, and turned into the Winter Soldier. None of that has changed. Do you think keeping them here will solve that?"

"Yes," Ella replies in defiance. "I do."

Gage shakes his head. 

"You can't change their destinies. If you keep him you keep Steve. No Captain America means that in their universe HYDRA wins and then aliens invade and it just spirals out of control from there."

Ella isn't buying it.

"What the hell are they doing here then?!"

"Something must have happened. I can't explain it. You saw that light vortex just like I did. They saw it, too. Hell, Buck said they tried to run from it. Something brought them here and that something will want them back at some point."

Ella sits in silence, unwilling to accept the explanation Gage has given. They have a chance to save Bucky from a fate worse than death. 

But deep down she knows he's right. Without Steve as Captain America, without Bucky getting captured, what happens to their world?

============================================

Bucky opens his eyes and blinks away the sleep fog. He must have fallen asleep. Steve's still out on the bed, now laying on his back, mouth hanging open as he struggles to breathe. Bucky shakes his head. He stands up quietly, covers Steve back up and creeps out of the room. He has questions. He needs answers. 

The hall is dark, but towards the stairs he can see a soft glow. He can hear Ella and Gage talking but can't make out what they are saying. He slinks down the stairs and just as he gets to the bottom the last stair creaks and Ella and Gage look over at him. So much for the element of surprise. 

"You okay, sweetheart? What's wrong?" Ella sounds worried, she looks worried. She glances up the stairs before focusing on Bucky again. 

"I'm alright. He's still asleep. I just...I have so many questions...I don't know what the hell is happening..."

"Come here and sit. Gage'll get you something to drink and we can talk."

Bucky takes a seat on the couch next to Ella. The couch is comfortable and warm. She smiles at him and Bucky finds himself smiling back. She's nice. Pretty hazel eyes, long lashes, her hair's a little short for his liking but that must be the thing here. 

"Whiskey," Gage says handing Bucky a glass, "I'm assuming you're old enough to drink?"

Bucky was about to take a sip and stops. 

"I'm nineteen. I should be," Bucky says a little more coarsely than he'd meant to. 

Gage and Ella pucker their lips. Ella starts to laugh. 

"They didn't change the legal drinking age till the 80s I think," she says to Gage. 

"Here, if a cop shows up you've been drinking NyQuil," Gage says flatly. 

"What's Night Quill?" 

"Never mind," Ella and Gage answer together. 

"It's not important. What is important is getting Steve back on his feet," Ella explains. Bucky nods. 

"Ask whatever you want, just try and keep an open mind about this," Gage tells him. 

"We're as confused by this as you are," Ella says. She touches his left hand briefly and then slides away from him a little like she's embarrassed. Bucky unconsciously slides closer to her again and he sees Gage smirk at Ella. 

"Who are you two?" He asks them finally. 

"As in names? Or --"

"He's my best friend. We were practically raised together. I spent more time at his house with his family than I did my own," Ella explains quickly. 

"Are you two...ya know...a couple?" Bucky asks. He blinks at the stupidity of the question given all the other shit that he wants to ask. 

"No," they reply together. 

"That would be like you and Steve dating," Gage states. This makes Ella burst out laughing. 

"Shut up and get your head out of the damn gutter," Gage scolds her. Bucky watches Ella bite her bottom lip as she tries to stifle her giggling. He's not sure what the hell is so funny but she's damn cute when she laughs. 

"But you two live together."

"We share this place. My grandmother left it to me when she passed, Ells needed a place to live and I needed help paying the taxes off on the property. We share the place. Doesn't mean we're dating, married, sexually involved --"

Bucky chokes on his drink.

"Gage, you jackass," Ella chides. She pats Bucky on the back till he's able to regain his composure. 

"To answer your question, we live together but it's roommates as opposed to lovers. That's all there is to it," Gage laughs. 

Bucky sits silently for a minute. There's a large rectangular thing that has dark, reflective glass. 

"What is that?" He asks motioning towards it. 

"A television. You had television in the 40s didn't you?" Gage asks. 

"That's a television?" Bucky asks, disbelief coating his words. 

"That's a TV. From our time. Not yours. Don't turn it on to impress him, Gage. Just stop." Ella's tone is one of warning instead of playful chiding now. 

"How did we get here?" Bucky asks, deciding to change the subject lest Gage and Ella start to fight. 

"That's what we'd like to know," Ella answers. 

"It is. We're as lost as you on that, James," Gage agrees. 

"Bucky. Call me Bucky."

This makes them both smile like they know that name fondly. It should scare him but it makes him feel more at ease instead. Like they're old friends now. 

Bucky continues to ask questions and Gage and Ella take turns and do their best to answer. It's late by the time they all go to bed, Bucky having at least some of his questions answered. 

============================================

Steve wakes up and panics when he doesn't recognize where the hell he is. 

"Buck?" He rasps. His throat feels like it's on fire. 

"Yeah." Bucky's response is groggy and thick, but Steve can tell he's close. 

"Where the hell are we?"

"Safe. Go back to sleep."

"Are you kidding me?!"

"Goddammit," Bucky grouses. Steve can hear things being shifted around and then there's a sudden blinding light overhead. 

"Serves you right," Bucky laughs as Steve shields his eyes. 

"Go to hell."

"Nah."

"Where are we?" Steve asks again. 

"What do you remember?"

Steve thinks long and hard for a few minutes. A bright light in the alley, a pretty dame, some guy, a dog...

He looks around, his eyes finally adjusting to the bright light. 

"A girl, a guy and a dog," he answers. 

"That's a start," Bucky says sitting on a floating bed of blankets. "But there's not much I'm going to be able to clear up, Steve."

Steve listens as Bucky goes over what happened while Steve was asleep, about Gage and Ella being like brother and sister, about how they found Sarge at the pound, how no one seems to know what brought he and Bucky here, that Ella is a nurse for babies at a hospital and Gage is something called an Emergency Medical Technician, and the best thing...

"Two thousand and fifteen?" Steve repeats dubiously. 

"Yes. We somehow landed in the future."

"And you believe that shit?" 

"Look around, Steve. Do you see anything from our time? From the last three decades?" Bucky asks. Steve looks around the room again trying desperately to find something that would disprove Bucky's story. He finds nothing. 

"That's not possible," Steve grumbles, refusing to give into Bucky's story. 

"Maybe not, but here we are."

 Steve rubs at his throat. He’s so thirsty.

“Need a drink?” Bucky asks. Steve nods his head. Bucky motions for him to stay put and Steve glares at him. Bucky rolls his eyes and exits the room. Steve can hear him knocking lightly on a door and then soft voices. Bucky returns a few moments later. 

“Ella’s getting you a drink.”

“You got her up?” 

“It was either her or Gage. You want me to go get Gage for you?” Bucky taunts. Steve huffs at him and then coughs. There’s a soft tapping at the door. 

“Guys?” Ella’s voice is soft as it comes through the door. Bucky opens the door for her. 

“Hi, honey,” she says as she walks in. She’s got a large glass full of what Steve hopes is orange juice. 

“Hi,” he rasps back and tries to smile. Dames don’t usually smile at him or look at him so this is a whole new experience for Steve. 

She hands him the glass and sits gingerly on the edge of the bed. Steve takes the glass and drinks down the cold juice greedily. 

“Do you want more?” She asks when he gulps down the last drop. Bucky is smirking at him. 

“Yes, please,” Steve says sheepishly. She smiles knowingly and gets off the bed. 

“Do you want anything, sweetheart?” The question is directed to Bucky. 

“No thank you, Ella,” he replies softly. She gives him that same sweet smile she just gave Steve and leaves the room. 

“She calls you sweetheart,” Steve teases. Bucky cocks an eyebrow at him.

“Yeah, okay, honey,” he retorts. Steve laughs a little. 

Ella knocks lightly again on the door and then steps inside the room. 

“How are you feeling?” She asks as she hands him the glass. Steve doesn’t drink it as fast as before. 

“Better,” he says after taking a breath. She places her hand against his brow and tilts her head. 

“You’re still a little feverish, but not like before. That long nap did you some good,” she says with a smile. Steve grins timidly. 

“Thank you,” he says softly. 

“It’s alright, honey,” Ella replies. She brushes his hair from his brow with the softest of touches. Steve starts to cough, ruining his blissful moment. 

“Go get Gage up, Bucky, please.”

Bucky nods and leaves the room. Steve’s trying to stop coughing, but it hurts and every time he tries to take a breath it makes him cough more. 

“Oh god, Steve,” she whispers. Gage and Bucky return a moment later. 

“Shit. Let me get the inhaler,” Gage says quickly. He rushes from the room and returns a moment later with the same device he’d given Steve to use earlier. Steve uses the device and slowly his airways start to open up and the coughing subsides. 

“He needs a nebulizer,” Ella says looking at Gage. 

“I know, but we can’t medicate him…”

“Why? Why can’t you give him medicine?” Bucky demands angrily. Ella and Gage look forlornly at Bucky. 

“We can’t, Buck. Our medicine is stronger and very different from yours and the dosages are different…it may do him more harm than good,” Ella tries to explain. Steve can see Bucky isn’t happy with that answer. 

“Even if we could give him medicine without worrying about the side effects we can’t get to them,” Ella adds. “Here, in our time, access to medicine is strictly regulated and insanely expensive - even with health insurance. He needs to try and ride this out, Bucky. We’ll do our best to get him better, I promise.”

This seems to satiate Bucky if only just a bit. Steve offers Ella a small smile. He’s thankful that she’s nice, calm, pretty…

“Since I’m up I may as well go to the store,” Gage says rubbing his neck. “What do you think? Jewish penicillin?” 

Ella nods her head in agreement. 

“More juice, stick to the stuff that’s real, not that sugar shit you like.”

“Sugar shit,” Gage mutters. “What else?”

Ella looks over at Bucky and gives him a playful smile.

“Chocolate?” she asks. Steve laughs when Bucky’s face lights up. 

“That’s a yes,” Gage chuckles. 

“Get some better whiskey and real honey, too, Gage.”

“Hot tottie?” 

“Yeah. That might help burn this fever out of him if nothing else,” Ella says thoughtfully. Steve can see she’s thinking hard about what they should get for he and Bucky. How will they repay her kindness and Gage’s? Steve has no idea, he just hopes he gets the chance to do so. 

========================================

Ella hears Gage’s Jeep rumble into the gravel driveway. Sarge’s ears perk up and he rushes towards the door. 

“Shh,” she hisses at Sarge. She finally convinced Bucky and Steve to try and go back to sleep and the last thing she wants is Sarge waking them up. 

She heads outside to help Gage bring in the groceries and give him a heads up that the boys are sleeping. 

“They’re asleep. Supposed to be anyway,” she says as she grabs some bags. Gage nods. 

“I got them some clothes so they don’t have to keep wearing mine. I guessed as best I could. I got the stuff for soup and some other things I thought they’d eat. They look like meat and potato guys.”

“Why? Because you’re a meat and potato guy?” Ella jokes. Gage rolls his eyes. 

“I have yet to read anything that says Cap is a vegan. And Barnes loves tacos.”

“What?”

Gage cracks up laughing and then Ella gets the joke.

“You’re a goddamn pig,” she grumbles.

“Those two have been eyeing you up since they landed,” Gage continues. “Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed Steve blush every time you talk to him.”

“They’re kids, Gage.”

“Yeah, here and now they are. We’re older than they are.”

Gage and Ella stop and look at each other. 

“They’re kids, Gage. They really are…Gage we can’t let them go back. We can’t let them get hurt…”

“Ella, we’ve been over this. They can’t stay. If they do it alters their universe which might alter ours or god knows what. It’s like pulling a loose thread on a sweater, it just starts to unravel the whole thing. We cannot keep them. They aren’t pets —“

“I never said they were,” she snaps, “but how can you just stand there and calmly tell me to let Bucky go through hell and Steve watch his best friend plummet —“

“Stop,” Gage says putting his hands on her shoulders and squeezing gently. “Stop. You know we can’t let them stay. This isn’t their world. Hell, this isn’t even their time. They have to do these things, Ells. We can’t protect them no matter how much we want to. And believe me, I want to save them as much as you do, but…we just can’t. We can’t alter their fates or destinies or whatever you want to call it. And what would they do if they stayed? They can’t get jobs, they have no insurance, no proper I.D., no money —“

“I can pick up extra shifts,” Ella argues. Gage shakes his head no.

“You can’t change their futures, Ella. Neither of us can. And whatever brought them here will most likely take them back.”

Ella sighs heavily. This is so fucking stupid. They have the chance to save Bucky from hell, maybe they’ll alter Steve’s future, but wouldn’t that be for the best? To let these two live their lives out in peace instead of the crazy bullshit they’re going to have to suffer? 

“Ella, I get it. You want to save them. You want to keep them safe —“

“They’re just kids, Gage!”

“Yeah, because you being a whole three years older than Bucky makes you an adult,” Gage snorts. 

“Listen, asshole, I’m more of an adult than you are.”

“I’m older,” Gage retorts. 

“And so much less mature for your age group,” Ella fires back. 

“Oohhh, is that how it’s gonna be today? Alright, hussy, just remember that the next time you want me to be your wingman on a goddamn date!”

“Oh fuck off!” Ella laughs. “Wingman my ass. The last time we went out you left me to go chase after some half dressed hooker giving blow jobs in the men’s room!”

Gage opens his mouth as if he’s going to contest this, thinks better of it and just shrugs.

“I like getting head. I’m a guy,” he says calmly. 

“Fucking pig.” Ella laughs at Gage’s oinking noises as they head back into the house.

==================================================

Bucky wakes up and looks over at Steve. He jumps when he sees Steve watching him. 

“I hate when you do that.”

Steve shrugs and then coughs. 

“You sound horrible, kid.”

“I feel it,” Steve wheezes. “I’m hungry.”

“Me too. Feel up to going downstairs to see Ella?”

Steve lights up. Bucky rolls off the bed and follows Steve out of the room and down the stairs. 

“Hey! How are you feeling?” Gage asks upon seeing them enter the living room. 

“Swell,” Steve wheezes and then coughs for added emphasis. Bucky can only shake his head. Gage gets up from the couch and grabs a very flimsy looking bag from the floor. Bucky and Steve take a seat on the couch. 

“Ella, they’re up! Get them something to drink!” Gage yells. 

“Yes, master!” comes the reply from the kitchen. Bucky can’t help but grin. She’s a pistol. Even Steve is smiling. 

“Fucking smartass,” Gage grumbles. “I picked up some clothes for you two. Ella’s got them in the dryer now. I picked up some stuff to try and help you out, Steve. I don’t know if it’ll work, but we can try. Hopefully it doesn’t do more harm than good.”

Ella comes out of the kitchen carrying two large glasses. She smiles when she sees Bucky and Steve and they both smile back. She hands them the glasses and goes back to the kitchen. 

“Thank you,” Bucky and Steve say in the same sheepish tone. Gage smiles a little and nods. 

“Go see what she’s doing,” Gage teases when he sees Bucky and Steve looking in the direction of the kitchen. “If you ask her nicely she may make you something to eat.”

“Not that horrible oatmeal,” Steve mumbles. Gage laughs. Bucky elbows Steve in the ribs and gives him a harsh look. Steve shrugs and the two of them get up and head towards the kitchen. 

Ella is at the counter and turns around when they come in. 

“Hungry?” 

“Yes, ma’am,” Bucky replies. She scowls at him and Steve rasps out a laugh. 

“You get oatmeal,” she says flatly as she wipes her hands off, “Steve, what do you want?”

“Wait a minute, baby! I’m sorry!” Bucky apologizes quickly. Steve laughs harder and starts to cough. 

“See what you did?” Ella taunts going to Steve and rubbing his back. Bucky grits his teeth and sighs. Steve is just eating this up. 

“I’m just fucking with you, Bucky. It’s okay,” she laughs. She places her hand on Bucky’s cheek and smiles. Her hands are soft and warm and for a moment Bucky forgets how to breathe. 

“So, what would you two like to eat?” she asks. “We’ve got eggs, cereal, I can make you pancakes, we’ve got cold cuts for sandwiches…I’m getting ready to make chicken noodle soup for us for later.”

Both men beam at her. Home cooked meals from a pretty dame. Hot damn.

“Eggs?” Steve asks. 

“Sure. How do you like them?”

“Out of the shell,” Steve retorts.

“Cooked,” Bucky adds. He sees Ella lick her teeth and then she laughs. 

“Alright, assholes, alright. Out of the shell and cooked. Any other requests?”

Bucky and Steve glance at each other. Steve rubs his throat and Ella takes his glass, fills it up with more orange juice, and hands it back to him. 

“Scrambled is fine,” Bucky answers for them both. She nods. 

“Go sit down in the living room, guys, I’ll let you know when they’re ready,” Ella tells them. They begrudgingly leave the kitchen and go back to the living room.

Gage is playing on some small device that fits in his hand. He puts it aside as soon as he sees them. 

“I found some movies from your time we can watch, guys.”

“Our time,” Steve grumbles and sighs. 

“Focus on getting better, Steve,” Gage tells him. “Whatever brought you here will take you back.”

“You sound sure of this,” Bucky says, not sure if he should believe Gage or not. 

“Mostly sure. Pretty sure. Look, things like this...like what we all saw before you arrived are anomalies. Something is out of whack and at some point once it’s fixed you two will be back in your own time. That’s the theory, at least.”

“If we don’t? If it doesn’t fix itself?” Bucky continues. Gage thinks about this for a few moments. 

“You can stay here with us. That’s the only other solution.”

Bucky rubs his temples and then looks over at Steve. His coughing is under control. He’s not feverish really. Maybe being here is for the best for them. At least for now. And there’s Ella. Bucky’s heart starts to beat a little faster and he glances towards the kitchen. He can hear the distinct sound of eggs sizzling in a skillet. He looks over at Steve and sees Steve looking dreamily into the kitchen, his eyes almost glassy from being sick, a stupid smile on the kid’s face. 

“What?” Steve asks, snapping out of his stupor. Gage starts to laugh. Bucky fights the urge to torment Steve and simply shakes his head. 

==================================================

Ella finishes plating the eggs and rubs her eyes. She spent all night talking to Gage about Bucky and Steve and she’s exhausted. She called the hospital, pulled a few strings, and managed to take her vacation time off to stay here with Bucky and Steve. She’s still combating the feeling that she should tell them about their future, warn them of what’s to come, but Gage is adamant that she keep quiet. And he has a point. Telling them what she thinks their future will be could very well alter what happens to them. Steve may never get the serum and as Gage so bluntly put it “he won’t live to see his 30th birthday if he doesn’t meet Erskine” . That thought chilled Ella to the bone. Telling Bucky what happens to him...Ella shudders. She would protect these two with her life if she could. 

“Smells good.”

Ella shrieks and jumps, nearly knocking the plates onto the floor.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Steve rasps rushing over to her. He gingerly puts his hand on her arm like he’s scared she’s going to withdraw from him in disgust. 

“You startled me,” she tells him, smiling warmly and putting her hand on his cheek. He leans into her touch and closes his eyes for a moment. Gage says the last woman who showed Steve any compassion was his mother. He’s starved for attention. 

“I’m sorry,” he says again, opening his eyes slowly and lifting his face from her hand. “Just wanted to see if you needed help.”

“I’m good. Breakfast is ready -“

“What’d you do, punk?” Bucky asks as he walks into the kitchen followed by Gage. 

“Nothing. Jerk.”

Ella looks at Gage who is smirking. 

“Right,” Bucky antagonizes. Steve glares at him. 

“That’s enough, boys,” Gage says trying to keep a straight face. “Go eat.”

“You guys want toast?” Ella asks as she hands them their plates. 

“Yes, please,” Bucky replies and smiles. Fucking charmer. 

“Steve?” she calls as she grabs the bread. 

“No thanks.”

“Gage?”

“No, but you can make me eggs,” Gage replies. Ella turns around slowly to give Gage a menacing look. 

“Oooohhhh!” both Steve and Bucky sing. This only makes Gage laugh. 

“Make your own goddamn eggs.”

“That’s why you don’t have a man. You’re pissy,” Gage retorts as he grabs the eggs. Steve and Bucky are shoveling eggs in their mouth and watching Ella and Steve. 

“I’m pissy because assholes like you demand complete servitude,” Ella fires back. 

“A woman’s place is in the kitchen. Right, guys? Back me up here,” Gage says throwing more fuel on the fire. Bucky chokes on a mouthful of eggs and Steve is wild eyed, shaking his head no. 

“Fucking asshole. Look what you did,” Ella chides Gage. She gets Bucky a drink so he can wash down his eggs. 

“Me? You serve them!”

“They’re guests!”

“Pfft. You’re soft on them,” Gage persists, like they aren’t there anymore. Ella sees both Bucky and Steve light up and a light blush cover their cheeks. She looks away and over at Gage.

“Are you done?” she hisses. “What the hell?”

Gage shrugs and grins stupidly at her. 

“Go sit down before you fall down,” Gage orders the guys. They obey, like small children. As soon as they leave the kitchen Ella punches Gage in the arm. Hard.

“Ouch!”

“What. The. Fuck.” she growls. 

“Calm down. I’m just fucking with them. And you. They’re fascinated with you and we both know Steve’s never had a girl pay him any kind of attention before. Don’t get your panties in a wad,” Gage says flatly. He breaks a few eggs into the skillet and tilts his head as they sizzle.

“I hope they burn,” Ella mutters. She grabs another glass and the orange juice and brings it out to the dining room for Steve and Bucky. 

================================================

The past few days have been a blur to Steve. Between sleeping, eating, and sleeping some more he’s only been partially aware of what’s going on. What he is aware of is Ella. Her pretty hazel eyes, pink lips, the little dimple she gets when she really smiles, the way she laughs, how she doesn’t take any shit from Gage and fires back the most obscene shit Steve’s ever heard…

“What are you smiling about?” Bucky asks. He’s laying on the ballon bed, hands behind his head, looking at Steve.

“Ella.”

Bucky chuckles. 

“Me, too. Dame like that wouldn’t last a day in our time. She’d have goons all over her.”

“Yeah. She’s a great gal. Why isn’t she married?” Steve wonders out loud. Bucky sighs. 

“Don’t know, kid. Things are very different here. I’d snap her up in a heartbeat if I could.”

“You’d get her, too,” Steve mumbles, the sickening feeling of jealousy rising like bile in the back of his throat. Bucky turns over on his side and looks up at him. 

“She dotes on you, Steve. Don’t think for a second you don’t have a chance with her.”

“That’s here,” Steve gripes. Bucky rolls over onto his back again. 

“Maybe.”

“Maybe,” Steve repeats. “She dotes on you, too, you shithead.”

This makes Bucky grin. He likes Ella as much as Steve does and as far as Steve’s concerned he doesn’t stand a chance against Bucky. 

“She likes us both, Steve.”

This makes Steve take pause. It’s like his brain just hit a brick wall.

“No...what?” 

Bucky rolls onto his side again. 

“You see her doting on me. I see her doting on you. She likes us both.” Bucky’s answer is simple and matter of fact. Like this is the only logical explanation for everything. 

“She can’t have us both...that’s not...we don’t even belong here!” Steve argues. Bucky’s eyes widen.

“No shit we don’t belong here and who says she can’t have us both? Whose rule is that? Remember the Crawleys?” Bucky asks. Steve groans. He remembers them alright. 

“The husband, the wife and the three mistresses he kept in the other apartment,” Steve answers. 

“And that was in our time. Things are probably different here. Lots of things are different here,” Bucky muses. Steve shakes his head. Bucky’s fascination with all things new and technological is insane. How many of Stark’s conventions has Bucky dragged him to just to see what the mad man made? Steve’s lost count. 

Steve drops his weary head onto the pillow. Ella washed the sheets on both the beds in here today and they smell...perfumy. Something fake that makes his nose itch. Nothing like how she smells. Soft and warm and sweet and inviting.

There’s a soft knock at the door. Both men sit up quickly. 

“It’s just me,” Ella calls. “Can I come in?”

“Yes,” they answer together. Steve can’t help how eager he sounds. The door opens and Ella walks in wearing her usual tank top and what she calls yoda pants. They look ridiculous on her, but that tank top...his heart races and his balls throb each time he sees her in one. 

“Just checking on you two. Do you need anything before I go to bed?” 

“Steve wants a kiss goodnight,” Bucky says with a laugh. Steve’s jaw drops and he can feel his face turn beet red. Ella rolls her eyes at Bucky.

“He does or you do, smartass?” she asks. Now it’s Bucky’s turn to get red in the face and this makes Steve laugh. 

“Jerk,” Steve taunts. Bucky flips him off and Ella laughs. 

“Such horrible little boys,” Ella teases. Steve and Bucky both take offense to this.

“We’re not boys,” Steve tells her firmly. 

“We can show you just how big we are, baby,” Bucky adds. Ella’s not phased, just skews an eyebrow at them and smirks. 

“Uh huh. A kiss? For each of you? Is that what you want?” she asks. Bucky huffs at her and slides under the blankets on the ballon bed. He’s not used to being brushed off by a dame. Steve laughs harder until he starts to cough. Ella sits on the edge of the bed and rubs his back until he stops. It feels amazing to Steve. 

“Want a drink?” she asks. He shakes his head no. She gets up from the bed and before Steve can blink she’s kissed him gently on the cheek. 

“Goodnight, Steve,” she says with a smile. Steve can only look at her in amazement. She then kicks the ballon bed playfully which earns her a growl from Bucky. Steve starts to laugh again. 

“You want a kiss goodnight or not, grumpy pants?” Ella demands. Bucky throws the covers off and huffs at her again. Steve’s near tears he’s laughing so hard. Seeing Bucky have trouble with a dame is a damn riot. 

“Grumpy pants,” Bucky mumbles. Ella sits on the balloon bed next to Bucky and smiles playfully. 

“Grumpy pants. Are you over your temper tantrum?”

The look on Bucky’s face makes Steve howl laughter and then cough and laugh and cough some more. 

“Shut up, punk,” Bucky grouses. 

“Steve, seriously, calm down,” Ella tells him. She’s struggling to keep a straight face and that only makes it worse for Steve. He bites down on the inside of his cheek to try and stifle his laughter. 

“I’m not grumpy,” Steve hears Bucky mutter. He watches as Ella runs her fingers through his hair and then kisses him on the cheek. 

“You’re cute when you’re angry,” she teases. Steve loses it and starts laughing out loud again. 

“Alright, baby doll, alright. Is this how it’s gonna be?” Bucky asks. Steve sees Ella tilt her head just a bit. 

“Just stating a fact,” she says softly. “And I’m fucking with you, Bucky. That’s all. Don’t take offense to it.”

Bucky smiles and Steve sees just how deep Bucky is with Ella. It’s as deep as Steve is. 

“I know, baby. Thank you for the kiss.”

“Goodnight, guys.” Ella stands up from the balloon bed, stretches, waves at them and then leaves. 

“Think she’d have us both, Buck?” Steve asks absently staring at the door. 

“If there’s a heaven that would be it, kid.”

==================================================







Chapter Text

Ella is sitting on the couch watching Gage get ready to leave for the night. It’s been almost two weeks since the guys showed up. Sarge is all over them and Bucky and Steve have started taking the goofy German Shepherd outside to toss his toys around and play fetch with him. Steve’s definitely on the mend now, his fever is gone and his cough is almost cleared up. He still wheezes now and then, but nothing like when they first arrived. 

“Don’t do anything stupid,” Gage says suddenly. Ella is pulled from her thoughts and gives Gage a confused look.

“What the hell does that mean?”

Gage looks up the stairs and puckers his lips. 

“Don’t let this go any further, Ella. Don’t set yourself up for heartbreak. Or them.”

Gage walks away leaving Ella in stunned silence. She sits down heavily on the couch and looks at Sarge. Ella knows what Gage is talking about. She knows she can’t deny her feelings towards both men. She cares deeply about them. The more time they spend together, the more their personalities shine through, the deeper she gets. They have hearts of gold. They crave affection and Ella refuses to deny them that. Especially knowing what they’ll go through later on. But that’s not the only reason. They’ve shown her nothing but affection. Holding her hands, helping around the house, Bucky loves brushing her hair, Steve loves putting his arm around her and having her lay her head on his shoulder, Bucky is content to let her hold him. They laugh and eat their meals together, the three of them smiling at each other. It’s like a dream for Ella. 

“Ella!”

Steve’s hoarse cry breaks Ella from her thoughts and she goes charging up the stairs. 

“Bucky! He’s...he’s really sick…” Is all Steve says before pointing shakily to the door. She can hear Bucky vomiting in the bathroom.

“Downstairs. Get me some of that ginger ale you’re so fond of…”

“He’s going to need more than ginger ale, Ells. He...he didn’t make it to the bathroom…” Steve seems embarrassed by this admission. Embarrassed for his best friend. 

“Okay. Laundry is in the basement in the dryer. Grab the clothes. How bad is your room?”

“Not livable,” Steve answers solemnly. Ella was afraid of that based on the noises she's hearing in the bathroom.

“Bring them to my room. You two will crash there till I can get your room cleaned up.”

Steve looks scared, but he nods his head that he understands and hurries off. Ella can hear Bucky whimper and then…

“Oh god, Bucky…” she whispers as she opens the door. 

 

Chapter Text

MCU: Civil War

Steve and Bucky are headed to Siberia to stop Zemo. Bucky’s been silent and brooding since they got on the jet. 

“What you did, Buck...that wasn’t you. It wasn’t your fault.” Steve tries to explain. 

“Yeah, but I did it.”

The finality of Bucky’s response tells Steve just how hard this is for Bucky and just how much his friend is hurting. Bucky always took care of Steve and now Steve wants to return the favor but…

“Remember Ella?” Steve asks after a few moments. 

“Pretty girl with hazel eyes and the softest touch,” Bucky replies after a few moments. His tone has changed, albeit slightly. There’s a softer quality to it now as he remembers Ella. 

“Yeah. She was something. She took care of both of us…” Steve trails off thinking back on how Ella had pulled him out of the clutches of pneumonia and then almost single handedly taken care of Bucky when he became deathly ill. 

“She did. Never complained. You got the better end of the deal though, Steve.”

“How do you figure?” Steve asks. 

“She was your first.” There’s a hint of teasing in Bucky’s voice now that brings a small smile to Steve’s face. 

“You’re still jealous about that?” Steve asks, playing along. Silence for a few moments. 

“A little.”

“I’ve never seen you that sick, Buck.”

“Firing from both ends. That poor dame. Never been so goddamn ashamed in my life…’til now.”

The wretched notes Steve hears tears at him. Bucky blames himself for what happened and Steve knows there’s little he can say to convince him otherwise. 

“Not your fault, Buck.”

He’s answered by a hard grunt. 

“What was it like, Steve?”

“What was what like?”

“Her. Ella. Our girl.”

“Our girl,” Steve repeats, a huge smile on his face. “She was our girl for a while, wasn’t she?”

“For a very short while,” Bucky agrees. 

“She was amazing, Buck. She was…” he sighs, his heart aching in his chest all of the sudden. 

“I kinda thought she would be. Lucky bastard is what you are.”

“You were asleep,” Steve retorts as the jet lands. 

“Both times?” Bucky counters. Steve can’t help but laugh now. 

“Yes, Buck. Both times.”

====================================

The shit hit the fan in the biggest sense possible. Fighting Tony off to protect Bucky was hard enough. Tony took Buck’s arm off and Bucky is going into shock. To complicate matters further there’s a small army surrounding the base, coming to collect he and Bucky. If they get Buck...Steve knows he’ll never see him again. Only a few people knew they were here. 

“Get out of here, Steve,” Bucky groans. Steve shifts Bucky’s weight so he’s better able to support him. 

“Not without you, jerk.”

“Fuckin’ punk.”

“Learned all I know from watching you.” 

He hears Bucky huff a small laugh as they head toward the freight elevator. Steve’s hoping they can get up and out of the hole they’re in. If he has to jump, he can use his body to protect Bucky from the impact of the landing. 

“Stay with me, Buck.”

“Right here, kid,” Bucky mutters. Steve frantically bangs on the buttons to the elevator and the security cage finally opens. He helps Bucky inside and then bangs on the up button. 

Nothing happens. 

Bucky leans against the wall and moans, his right hand rubbing his chest. 

Steve presses the button again, harder this time. Still nothing. He’s about to punch the damn thing when the elevator suddenly begins to plummet at a stomach churning rate. 

“Steve!”

Steve is frantically pressing all the buttons and it only seems to accelerate their decent.

“Buck! Brace yourself!” Steve orders as the elevator continues to drop. Buck grabs him and they huddle together into the corner of the elevator awaiting impact. 

The elevator slams into the ground throwing both men into the top of the elevator then back down hard enough to knock them unconscious.

======================================

Gage rubs his neck and stretches. It was a shit show last night at work. He’s exhausted. Ella comes down a few minutes later looking like she got no sleep either. 

“Rough night?” he asks as he hands her a cup of coffee. 

“Yeah,” is all she says as she takes the cup. Gage nods. It’s been a tumultuous year since Bucky and Steve left. And that’s putting it mildly. 

Sarge whines and licks Gage’s hand. He pats the dog’s head and yawns. 

“See you later,” Ella says heading out the door. Gage waves absently and then heads upstairs to crash. 

It’s what seems like a few minutes later and Gage snaps awake to the sound of Sarge flipping shit downstairs. The dog is barking crazily and Gage can hear his nails skating around the tile floor of the kitchen. 

“Sarge! Shut up!” Gage bellows. He looks at the clock on his nightstand. He’s been asleep for about four hours. Sarge shouldn’t be acting like this. He’s got food. 

Sarge is still going apeshit downstairs, barking like a fucking nut.

SARGE! ” Gage bellows before kicking the covers off. It does nothing to stop the dog’s frantic barking. Gage storms down the stairs and into the kitchen where Sarge is barking and jumping at the door. 

“What the fuck?! Do you need to go out that goddamn bad?” Gage demands. Sarge continues to bark and jump at the door. Gage throws the door open and then kicks the screen door open for the dog.

“There! Go! Jesus Christ!”

Sarge doesn’t move. He looks back at Gage, whines, then starts barking furiously again. Sarge takes a few steps out the door, barks more, turns back to look at Gage and whines needily. Gage throws his hands up and follows the dog outside. 

“Oh my fucking god…”

“Gage?” 

========================================

Steve blinks away the gut wrenching pain his body is in and tries to look around. Bucky. Where the hell is Bucky?

“Buck,” Steve calls out, his voice weak and barely above a whisper. “Buck?”

Coughing. Steve forces his head to turn in that direction. He sees Bucky rolling onto his good side, hair hanging down like a curtain over his face. 

“Where the fuck did we land?” Bucky asks. Steve lets out a pained sigh of relief. Buck’s okay. He rolls onto his side then sits up on his knees. He and Bucky slowly get up and look around. 

“This is...oddly familiar…” Bucky mumbles. 

“Buck...that’s their house.” Steve’s shocked he can speak, even though his voice is barely above a whisper. Both men stop and just stare for a few minutes. They can hear Sarge barking his head off from where they stand. The two men look at each other and then head towards the house. 

They hear Gage telling Sarge to shut up and just as they crest the porch steps the door to the kitchen opens and they see Gage. 

“Oh my fucking…”

“Gage?” Steve knows it’s him. He’d recognize the guy anywhere. Gage blinks like he’s dreaming, looks at Bucky and he snaps out of it. 

“Shit. Get in here,” Gage says quickly. Steve helps Bucky inside and the door closes behind them. 

“Ella?” Bucky calls out. Steve was about to call for her as well. God he could so use her warmth and softness right now. 

“She’s at work,” Gage says looking over Bucky’s left arm. What’s left of it. “She should be walking at any moment.”

As if on cue the door opens and Ella walks in lugging a car seat with a small child inside. The happiness Steve had felt at getting the chance to see her is suddenly devoured by jealousy. 

“Ella.” Steve’s voice is flat and lifeless. Ella puts the little one on the floor and Sarge immediately runs over to sniff and lick the little one who giggles and squeals in delight. 

“Steve! Bucky! Oh my god! Did Tony do this?” She’s at Gage’s side when she asks this. Gage squeezes his eyes shut and Ella realizes too late what she’s done.

“You...how do you know?” Steve stammers. Bucky’s got a stone cold look on his face as he studies both Gage and Ella. 

“You always knew. You knew about this...about me…” Bucky stops talking and Steve can hear him grind his teeth. 

“Steve...Bucky...I’m sorry…” Ella begins to say. 

“You knew. You fucking knew and you didn’t say anything,” Steve snaps. 

“Slow your role there, Captain,” Gage snaps back. “There’s a damn good reason for us not telling you -“

“LOOK AT HIM! YOU COULD HAVE PREVENTED THIS!” Steve roars. Ella flinches and the baby starts to cry. She immediately rushes to the baby’s side and takes it from the car seat. 

“You let this happen. You let them do this to me. And what the hell is that?” Bucky demands furiously. “Did you wait a whole week after we left to fuck someone?”

Gage goes to swing at Bucky and Ella intervenes. 

“Gage! NO!” she yells, placing herself between Gage and Bucky. “No. Just...no…” Steve hears her voice break and he knows before she turns around again that she’s crying. 

“Take Sophie and go. I’ll deal with them,” Gage orders. Ella just nods her head and takes the crying Sophie out of the room followed by Sarge. 

Gage glares at both men and they glare right back. Silence fills the room. 

Ella comes back a minute later with two large bags slung over her shoulder and Sophie still in her arms. Steve can see Ella’s still crying. She refuses to look at he or Bucky. 

“I’ll call you in an hour. If I don’t, call the cops,” Gage instructs as he walks her to the door. He grabs the car seat and escorts Ella and Sophie outside. Steve hears a car start and then gravel crunching as the car drives away. He’s to pissed off to be upset about her leaving. Not only did they know, not only could they have prevented what transpired with Buck by saying something, Ella is nothing but a…

“So she’s a whore,” Bucky mutters as Gage walks back in. Gage slams his hands down on the small island hard enough to make the dishes in the cabinets rattle. 

“Listen to me and listen carefully. I know you two are pissed off. I get it. But you two fucksticks have to understand that by telling you what we knew it would have changed the outcome of who you are now -“

“Who fucking cares?!” Steve yells. 

“The rest of your fucking world cares, Rogers!” Gage fires back. “Don’t you think we had this goddamn debate the entire fucking time you two were here? Don’t you think we argued over telling you?”

“No,” Bucky replies with a bitter calmness. “We don’t.”

Gage purses his lips and inhales deeply. His phone vibrates and he reaches for it. Steve sees Gage look at the screen and skew an eyebrow before shaking his head. 

“Blame me. I kept her from telling you two. She wanted to. Blame me for keeping this from you. But don’t you ever, and I fucking mean ever talk about her like that again. She took care of you two. She loved you two assholes with her whole heart -“

“Obviously,” Steve growls. 

“Fuck you both. Think you can find better accommodations? There’s the fucking door. Don’t let it hit you in the ass on the fucking way out.”

====================================

Ella stops crying long enough to check into the hotel and get her and Sophie into the room. Sophie is coughing really hard from her crying fit and Ella can only hope she remembered to pack her daughter’s medicine. 

Her phone rings and Ella nearly drops it trying to answer. 

“H-hello?”

“Calm down, Els. Slow down.” Gage’s voice is a welcome relief to hear. She chokes back a sob. 

“Gage…”

“Are you and Sophie okay?”

“Yes. We’re at the Hilton. Gage...I don’t have her asthma medicine…”

“I’ll bring it to you. Do you need anything else?”

“N-no. I don’t...are they...are…” she can’t bring herself to finish her question.

“They’re here still. They’re still raging and fuming. I told them they can stay or they can go. You don’t come back till they’re gone, though. I’ll pay for the hotel. Those two assholes don’t deserve to see you or Sophie.”

Ella starts to cry again. All she’s wanted for the past year was to see them again. When Bucky and Steve left her world fell apart. Now, by some miracle, they’ve come back, but these aren’t the sweethearts she fell in love with. These are two men who are cold, calloused, and devoid of anything but hate and loathing for her and Gage. 

Gage is right. She needs to stay away from them. For Sophie’s sake as much as her own.

====================================

Bucky stands in the shower, hand planted on the wall, as the hot water runs over him. 

Ella. Ella. How could she do this? How could she...why wouldn’t she tell them? Fuck Gage. Fuck his reasoning. Ella…

Bucky stifles a sob and looks up into the spray of water. After all this time, after all the shit that’s happened, he got his wish to see her. She betrayed he and Steve. Worse yet...worse yet she’s someone else’s woman now. A woman with a child. Maybe it’s Gage’s. Why not lie about that too? Just friends. Bullshit. It’s all been a fucking lie. She screwed Steve because she’s...she’s…

Bucky slams his fist into his mouth to stifle the cry that wants to escape. He loved her. He had loved Ella from the first moment he met her. When she had been taking care of Steve he was mildly jealous, but she always paid attention to him, too, and that made it better. And when Bucky himself had gotten violently ill...she’d stayed by his side almost the entire time. She’d left long enough to screw Steve, though. Twice. 

The conflicting feelings tear at Bucky’s already broken soul. He slides down the shower wall, draws his knees up, and weeps.

====================================

Steve sits in what was formerly the guest bedroom. He’s staring hatefully at the crib that’s filled with little blankets. He doesn’t understand why he’s so fucking jealous, only that he is. She was their girl. But they left. Did she know they would be back? Is that part of the never ending lie she and Gage have been feeding them? Steve refuses to admit his feelings about her. If he doesn’t acknowledge them all that remains is the hate and loathing. He won’t have to deal with the pain. He’s got enough pain to deal with in the fact that they lied, that they could have saved Bucky. And now Bucky is suffering…

The door opens and Buck walks in wearing nothing but a towel, his hair soaked and hanging around his face. He looks up at Steve and Steve can see Buck’s been crying. He grabs Buck in a bear hug and holds him tight. Bucky freezes up, but slowly he puts his arm around Steve and his head on Steve’s shoulder. Steve feels him shake as Bucky breaks down again.

“This isn’t your fault. None of what happened or is happening is your fault,” Steve states, trying his best to keep his own voice from shaking. 

“Whose is it?” 

Steve doesn’t have an answer. He puts his head on Buck’s and cries with him. 

====================================

Bucky sits on the air mattress (balloon bed) waiting for Steve to finish in the shower. His chest and arm throb from where Tony burned his metal arm off. He looks over at the crib and his heart starts to ache more. Could this be Steve’s baby? How long have they been gone from this universe? It could have been his. He could have been her man, taken care of her, given her a baby…

Bucky swallows the lump in his throat. He stands up and looks into the crib, running his hand over one of the soft, small blankets. He can smell the scent of the little one, soft like baby powder. 

His thoughts circle back to Ella. She knew. She knew what would happen to him. She knew what HYDRA would do to him. They both did. They both let it happen. How many lives could have been spared if they’d told him? How many? How many years of torture could he have been spared? 

He hears the door open and looks over. Steve is walking in towel drying his hair. 

“I can’t believe she didn’t say anything to us, Buck.” Steve’s voice is low and somber. 

Bucky runs his hand over the soft blanket again and shakes his head. 

“Doesn’t matter anymore does it?” He asks quietly. “What’s done is done.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Bucky sits on the hospital bed watching as Steve and T’Challa talk. There’s talk they’ll be able to remove the programming HYDRA put in him. That T’Challa’s sister is some kind of mega level genius that puts Stark to shame. Bucky has his doubts. He knows the best thing for him is to go back into cryo and stay there. He’s too dangerous. He’s too much of a liability. And he won’t burden Steve any further. 

“T’Challa and Shuri are going to take care of you. Of this,” Steve says as he walks back over. “Shuri thinks she has a plan to remove the programming.”

Bucky just nods his head. 

“This is for the best, them putting me into cryo, Steve. I can’t trust my own mind.”

He sees Steve’s lip quiver at his words, but this is for the best. Steve nods his head and starts to walk away. 

“Steve.” Bucky reaches out and grabs Steve by the hand. “Don’t do anything stupid till I get back.”

Steve turns and hugs Bucky as tightly as he can. 

“Jerk,” he mutters into Bucky’s shoulder. 

“Punk.”

==========================================================

Ella and Gage stare blankly at the TV. It’s almost 4 in the morning and neither of them have gone to sleep. It’s been like this since Bucky and Steve left - again. Gage is terrified that Ella’s postpartum depression is going to go into overdrive since all the shit went down with Bucky and Steve. He had made her stay away from the house and for good reason. The hostility Bucky and Steve had towards them was nothing he was prepared for and certainly nothing Ella was prepared for. Even with Gage repeatedly trying to explain the reasoning behind not telling them they wouldn’t listen or accept it. And Gage understands why. He’s not stupid. He knows Bucky and Steve’s history. Knows how close they are. Knows that if the situations were reversed he’d be just a livid about Ella or Ella about him. But the fact that they took offense to Sophia. That Bucky had called Ella a whore...that he could not abide by. The weeks that the two men had stayed at the house were tense and argumentative. The three of them butting heads and clashing each time they crossed paths. Even Sarge was leary of them. At least for a little while. 

Gage came home one morning to find Bucky sitting on the living room floor with Sarge’s head in his lap, just petting the dog and staring absently at the TV. He had turned his head slightly when Gage entered the room, but they said nothing to each other. He passed Steve on the stairs and was rewarded with a tired growl. And that’s how it went until Gage came home one morning and neither of them were there. He had taken Sarge around the woods for almost two hours looking for Bucky and Steve to no avail. He waited all day, watching the news, keeping an eye on all social media to see if anything about them popped up. Nothing did. 

He called Ella the following day and told her the news. Ella had burst into tears. He had to go to the hotel to get her and Sophia. Ella had cried almost non stop that night and Sophia - ever aware of her mother’s moods - had cried herself into a coughing fit. Gage had to use tough love on Ella to get her to calm down enough to help Sophie. 

Now they’re sitting watching the news for some ungodly reason. Sophie is asleep upstairs, he can hear her breathing through the baby monitor. 

“Ella.”

“Gage.”

“Are you still on those pills? The antidepressants?”

“Why?” She asks with a cold laugh. “Do you think I’m suicidal?”

“If that’s a joke it’s not fucking funny,” he growls at her. Ella gives him a flustered look and shakes her head. He sees the first of the tears start to fall. 

“I stopped. They weren’t helping. I just...I need to get over them. They hate me. And they’d hate her…”

“They’re fucking assholes and you’re better off. Sophie needs you, Els.”

“I know she does. I know. She’s my heart and soul…” 

“Then don’t let this break you. Don’t let them break you.”

“They aren’t assholes, Gage…”

“Ella, they are assholes -“

“They just got each other back!” Ella argues. “You saw the condition of Bucky’s arm. You know what he’s been through. You know Steve had to choose between Bucky and Tony. Why they landed here again...it’s not their fault. It’s not their fault.” She breaks down entirely now, soft sobs shaking her body. Gage sits next to her on the couch and puts his arm over her shoulders. 

“Don’t cry, Ella.”

“In other news, famed comic book legend Stan Lee has been hospitalized. His condition is unknown at this point…”

Ella stops crying and looks at Gage. 

“Remember how we used to joke that Stan created our world, not theirs?” She asks. 

“Yeah. What of it?”

“What if he did?”

“Ella, you’re exhausted. You’re so tired that -“

“A series of earthquakes have erupted along the Pacific coast, moving steadily inward. Scientists are unsure what to make of this as there is no warning or pattern to the events…”

Ella gives Gage a fierce look.

“The Pacific coast is ripe with plate activity. This was going to happen,” Gage says dismissively. 

There’s a soft whimper and then a cry through the baby monitor. Ella wipes her eyes and gives Gage one last disbelieving look before heading upstairs. Gage rubs his eyes and sighs tiredly. He turns the TV off and heads to bed. 

==========================================================

Bucky and Steve sit on the porch looking at Steve’s pocket watch and the small picture of Peggy inside it. Thanos has been defeated. Those that were dusted have been returned. All that’s left is to return the stones, a job Steve took upon himself. 

“Are you sure about this?” Bucky asks. It’s the first time he’s spoken since Steve told him what he planned to do.

“Yes.”

“Till the end of the line,” Bucky mutters and shakes his head. 

“This...this is the end of the line, Buck. For us. You get to move on now. You don’t need me.”

Bucky barks out a harsh laugh. 

“Buck -“

“I get it, Steve. You love her. I...I get it.”

Steve’s heart stops for a moment. It’s true he loves Peggy, but not near as much as he had loved Ella. Ella who had betrayed them both. 

Steve snaps the pocket watch closed and gets up. It’s time to go. It’s time to leave. 

Steve gets ready, his heart torn between going back and staying put. He grabs the case and waits for Bruce’s signal. 

“Steve.”

Steve turns around and faces Bucky. Bucky’s eyes are full of pain and sorrow. 

“It’s going to be okay, Buck.” It’s a lie. Steve knows it’s a lie, but he can’t turn back now. “Don’t do anything stupid ‘til I get back.”

“How can I? You’re taking all the stupid with you.”

Bucky hugs Steve for a very brief moment before stepping away from him. They nod warily to each other and then Steve steps on the platform. In a flash he’s gone.

==========================================================

Bucky sits next to Clint at the table in the common room drinking his third cup of coffee.

“How’s the family?” He asks, trying to strike up a conversation so he doesn’t feel so empty inside. 

“Good. Lila’s a hell of a shot now.”

This makes Bucky smile a little. 

“You ready, Barnes?” Sam asks, marching into the room. 

“Going out on a date, boys?” Clint taunts with an idiotic grin. 

“Negative,” Bucky answers. “He’s not my type.”

This makes Clint laugh. Sam rolls his eyes and he and Bucky head towards the garage. 

“He says he just wants to see you today,” Sam tells him as they start to drive.

“What? Why?”

“Don’t know. I’m just supposed to drop you off and come back in an hour.”

“For what? Fucking tea?” Bucky snarks. Sam chuckles.

“That’s between you and him, Barnes.”

Bucky groans and covers his eyes with his hand. 

They get there much sooner than Bucky would have liked. Seeing Steve like this...it kills Bucky every time and Bucky has tried - and failed - to avoid the now old man. 

“Go on,” Sam says pushing on him. Bucky growls at him and gets out of the car. He’s barely at the door when it opens and ancient Steve is there with a worn smile on his face.

“Buck.”

“Steve.”

“We need to talk.”

“This should be rich,” Bucky grumbles as he steps inside.

“Sit down, Buck. Please. Do you want a drink?” 

“Negative.”

Steve sighs heavily and then takes a seat in the well loved leather recliner. Bucky looks around, much like he has every other time he’s been here. Pictures of Steve and Peggy and their kids and grandkids decorate the mantle. It doesn’t seem real to Bucky. 

“I made a mistake.”

“Did you give Sam your checking account info?” Bucky tries to joke. There’s a snuffled laugh. 

“No. Not that. I made a mistake going back and staying. I ruined her life.”

Bucky tilts his head because he’s not sure he’s hearing things correctly. 

“What?”

“This,” Steve says getting up slowly from the recliner and motioning to the pictures, “is wrong. It’s not her family. I stole her life. I made a mistake.”

Bucky clenches his fists. 

“But this is what you wanted, Steve. You wanted to go back and have this happy little family with this broad.” It takes every ounce of control Bucky has to keep his voice monotone. 

“What I thought I wanted, Buck. I turned my back on you, I stole Peggy’s life from her, robbing her of becoming a damn fine agent, I lost my best friend to my own stupidity. I know you’re pissed at me, Buck. I’m not stupid or senile. I made a mistake. I want to make it right.”

“How the hell do you plan on doing that?” He demands. Steve hands him a letter. Bucky opens it to see the shaky handwriting of his friend. 

“I’m going back. I’m going to deliver this to myself. I’m the only one who can convince me this is a shit idea.”

Bucky starts to laugh. The blunt truthfulness of Steve’s statement is the best thing he’s heard in months. 

“I’m serious, Buck. I should have never...I’m sorry I left you behind. I’m sorry…” Bucky sees tears well up in the old man’s eyes. Bucky’s irritation and anger dissipate quickly. He puts his arms around his oldest friend and hugs him.

“This doesn’t change the fact that you drew the line, Steve. You called it. This is the end of the line -”

“Bucky,” the old man says sounding pitifully sorry, “I knew it was a mistake when I did it. I just...I thought…”

Bucky waits for Steve to finish his thought, but the old man just furrows his brows and looks down.

“I kept seeing Ella everywhere I looked. I thought Peggy would make it stop.”

Bucky blinks in disbelief. 

“You did this...because of Ella? What the fuck…why would you think that would work, Steve? She betrayed us, screwing the second love of your life isn’t going to fix that hurt.”

Bucky’s words are blunt and cold and he has no remorse about that. Not until Steve’s milky blue eyes look up at him, swimming with tears. 

“I’m so sorry, Buck.”

Bucky relents and gently hugs his oldest and dearest friend. 

“Tell me what you need me to do, punk.”

==========================================================

Ella cradles Sophie to her chest as Gage throws food and clothes into bags in a hurry. 

“Her medicine. Where is it?” Gage asks nearly out of breath. 

“In the bathroom. Gage...what the fuck is happening?” Ella looks back at the TV screen, the emergency broadcast system on constant relay now. The world is in turmoil. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes...all over the globe. Shelters have been established and overrun, looting, rioting, rape, murder…

“It’s the end of the goddamn world,” Ella mutters and cuddles Sophia closer. 

“Seems like it, but maybe it’s a passing thing? Maybe somebody tested something like in that movie The Core and they’re going to fix it.” Gage’s voice holds no hope. 

“It started six days ago. Six days ago Stan Lee passed away.”

Gage stops throwing shit into a bag and looks at Ella, his eyes full of fear and trepidation.

“No. No, that’s...it’s a fucking coincidence, Ella. Stop talking and fucking pack!”

Ella kisses Sophia softly. 

“Mommy?”

“It’s okay, honey. We’re just going to go for a little ride.”

“Sarge go?” Sophie asks. 

“Yes, baby. Sarge is coming. Sit down and play while I pack, okay?”

“Otie.”

Ella glances at Gage who is looking at Sophie. She starts packing as fast as she can. 

They throw everything into the Jeep and strap Sophie into her car seat. 

“Sarge! Come on, mutt!” Ella calls. Sarge comes barrelling out of the house and jumps into the Jeep next to Sophie. She squeals in delight and Sarge licks her little face. Thunder roars overhead and crimson lightning forks the sky. Ella climbs into the back next to Sophie, Sarge jumps into the very back and Gage pulls onto the road in haste. 

“Oh fuck…” Gage’s voice is thick with terror. The Jeep is shaking violently. Ella can see the trees around them being uprooted and falling over left and right. 

“Mommy!”

“Shh, baby, shh, it’s okay,” Ella whispers, holding onto Sophie. 

“Hang on!” Gage yells. The Jeep lurches hard to the left and then to the right. Sarge gets thrown and whimpers in pain. Sophie starts to cry. The Jeep lurches again and the road buckles then disintegrates taking the front end of the Jeep with it. 

“Out! Get her out!” Gage screams as the Jeep starts to tilt forward. Ella rips at the safety straps on Sophie’s car seat making the little girl scream in fear. Sarge is barking like mad. Gage yanks open their door and Ella pulls Sophie free from the car seat. 

“This way!” Gage has to yell to be heard over the constant roar of thunder. The ground starts to shift under them again and Ella clutches Sophie to her chest and jumps clear of the vehicle. 

Sarge wasn’t so lucky. 

The Jeep lunges forward before Sarge can get out and disappears into the crater.

“SARGE!” Ella and Gage scream. They stand in stunned silence for a brief second, Sophie’s cries barely audible over Mother Nature. 

“Gage! Come on!” Ella yells. Gage grabs her arm and they start to run. 

=================================================================

Steve sits on the couch in the base common area watching TV with Bucky, Clint, and Sam. Clint's messaging his wife or one of his kids. Steve thinks back to Ella and the little girl she had. His chest tightens and his heart clenches. 

"Family man," Sam muses, nodding his head towards Clint. "Ever wish you had settled down, Cap?"

Steve looks at Bucky and sees his lips twitch. 

"Is that a no?" Sam persists. 

"Neither of you have someone special?" Clint asks, joining the conversation. "No one who has a death grip on your heart?"

Bucky and Steve look at each other. Bucky scratches the scruff on his chin but stays quiet for the moment. 

"I'd say that's a yes," Sam quips with a grin. 

"Care to tell us?" 

Steve sighs. 

"Yeah, come on. Spill it. Who is it?" Sam pesters. 

"He won't shut up till you tell him," Bucky mumbles. 

"Oh we want to hear yours, too, Barnes," Clint tells them. 

"It's the same girl," Bucky replies quietly. Both Clint and Sam are on the edge of their seats now. 

Steve swallows, the dry click in his throat overly loud in the room.

"Her name was Ella."

=============================================================

Steve and Bucky finish telling their tale about Ella and Gage, along with both trips they made to their universe. Clint and Sam have sat silently taking all this in, neither saying a word. 

Bucky hurts, the pain feels as fresh now as it did the day they saw her - them. He misses Ella so much, but he can never forgive her or Gage. They are just as responsible for the bloodshed Bucky caused as he is. 

He looks over at Steve and sees the fresh pain on his friend’s face. Bucky knows Steve misses her, too, but the pain in his voice is from being betrayed. 

“So...let me get this straight,” Sam begins, pinching the bridge of his nose. “You two traveled to the future, met these two people who took care of you and this was before either of you had the serum?”

“Yes,” Steve replies blandly. Sam blinks a few times before continuing. 

“And then you went back and...they knew about the shit that went down in Germany and they never told you. Never said a damn word the first time you were there? No warnings or hints? Nothing?” Sam questions. 

“Nothing,” Bucky mutters. “Not a damn thing.”

“And when you went back -”

“That’s when we found out that they knew. They fucking knew,” Bucky says heavily. 

“They knew all along,” Steve adds darkly. 

Silence.

“You really think they betrayed you? Clint asks after several long minutes. Bucky looks up from the floor at Clint. 

“She did. They did. There’s nothing to think about,” he states coldly. Clint shakes his head. 

“So what if they did know -” Clint begins, but he’s cut off by Sam.

“So what?!” Sam barks. “Man, think of what they could have prevented by telling Steve and Buck!”

“You’re right,” Clint says slowly, “but think about what would have changed if these people had told them.”

“That’s what has us so pissed off,” Bucky growls. 

“She - they - could have saved Bucky!” Steve snaps. 

“And in doing so changed everything,” Clint continues, his voice keeping the same calm demeanor. “Would you two be here right now? Would any of us be here right now?”

“They should have said something,” Sam argues. 

“Fine, they should have said something. But consider this - if they had told you two when you first went back what would happen to you, would you have believed them?” Clint persists. “Would you have believed some rogue doctor found a way to make you a superhuman, Steve? Or that Buck would fall from a train during a mission, get picked up by HYDRA, brainwashed, and turned into an elite assassin? At that point in time would either of you have believed you would become what you are now?”

Bucky starts to answer but Clint holds up his hand to stop him. 

“And let’s suppose you did listen and you did believe what they told you. What would have been altered? Would you have still met Erskine, Steve? Would he have still chosen you if you had? And what about you, Buck? Would you have just avoided all the trains? Would you have let Steve run around doing what he does?” Clint questions. 

“No,” Bucky replies quickly, “I would have...I will follow Steve wherever the idiot goes.”

Steve looks menacingly at Bucky, but he knows Steve knows it’s the truth. Sam snorts on a laugh and Steve shakes his head. They all see what Clint is getting at. 

“They were afraid things would change for us,” Bucky says quietly. He looks over at Steve again. 

“What would have happened if there had been no Captain America like you, Steve?” Clint asks. Steve shakes his head.

“I don’t know,” is all Steve can say. “I don’t know.”

“She loved you. This girl, Ella. She loved you both. No woman in her right mind is going to slave over one man let alone two the way she did for you,” Clint says, leaning back in the chair. “And Buck, if you were as sick as you and Steve claim you were -”

“Firing from both ends uncontrollably for almost a day. Yeah, I’d say I was pretty goddamn sick,” Bucky cuts in. 

“A woman doesn’t clean you up, sleep on the floor with you, and take care of you the way she did. And with you, Steve...if she didn’t care, if there wasn’t some kind of attraction she would have brushed you off and done the absolute bare minimum to get you healthy again. Look at the difference between her and what’s his name -”
“Gage,” Steve and Bucky reply together.

“Him. Did Gage take care of you the way Ella did? Doing your laundry? Cooking? Cleaning up after you? Holding you?” Clint stops talking and let’s his words settle on Steve and Bucky. He gets up and stretches. Bucky gets up and walks out of the room, Clint’s words weighing heavily on his heart. 

=================================================================

Steve opens the door to the apartment he and Bucky share. It’s been a few hours since Clint had given them something to think about and think Steve has. 

He hasn’t heard from Bucky since he walked out of the room shortly after Clint finished. 

The apartment is dark save the lone light in the corner of the living room. Steve sees Bucky sitting on the couch, hand over his eyes. 

“Buck?”

“Yeah.”

Steve sits next to him on the couch, but Bucky doesn’t move. 

“Still thinking about what Clint said?” Steve asks, even though he knows the answer. If Bucky’s pain is anywhere near his...it’s excruciating.

“Yeah,” comes the sullen reply. Steve nods his head.

“Me, too.”

“What if we were wrong about them...about Ella?” Bucky blurts out. 

“We were wrong, Buck. You know that as well as I do.”

Bucky hangs his head and clasps his hands between his knees. 

“I remember the look on her face when she walked through the door and saw us. How surprised and happy she looked, Steve. How excited…” his words falter. 

“She took really good care of us. She loved us. She was our girl, Buck -”

“And look how we repaid her! Look what we did...I called her a fucking whore!” Bucky covers his face with his hands. “I miss her,” he says through his tears. 

“I miss her, too. I miss her…” Steve swallows the lump in his throat, fighting back his own tears now. How could they have doubted her or Gage? How could they think that about Ella? 

“I was so sick...Steve, I was so sick…”

“I know. I was terrified. I’ve never seen you like that before.”

“She stayed with me. She cleaned me up. I just...when I saw the baby...and then when we found out that they knew…”

It was too much for them, Steve knows this. The battle to save Bucky, the fight with Tony, Bucky losing his arm - again. Then to land in the one place they never expected to see again…and to say what they did to the people who saved them...




Chapter Text

Steve sits quietly with Bucky watching TV. They haven’t said anything to each other for almost an hour. They’ve both been thinking and overthinking everything with Ella and Gage. 

“Remember the old man that showed up when I was supposed to take the stones back?” Steve asks, breaking the sullen silence

“The old you? How could I forget?”

Steve laughs a little.

“I never told you what we talked about,” Steve continues. Bucky puckers his lips and shakes his head.

“No, you never did. But I never asked so…”

Steve nods his head and stares at the TV for a moment. He gets up and goes to his room to retrieve the letter the old Steve gave him. He comes back into the living room and hands the letter to Bucky. 

Bucky doesn’t look surprised in the least. 

“You’ve seen this before?” Steve asks incredulously. Bucky nods his head.

“I was the one who made you wait until he showed up. I knew what he was going to do. He told me...you told me.”

Steve thinks about this for a moment, turning the letter over and over in his hands. Of course he would have told Bucky about the plan. 

“He told me about changing Peggy’s future,” Steve begins, now folding the letter this way and that. “He also told me about Ella.”

This gets Bucky’s attention.

“What did you tell you?”

“That I can’t run to another woman to mend the heartbreak I gave myself. That it won’t turn out the way I think. He gave me this,” Steve says handing Bucky the pocket watch. Bucky cocks an eyebrow at him.

“You’ve always had this -”

Steve opens it and shows Bucky the drawing of Ella inside, replacing Peggy’s picture that had been there before. 

“Did you draw this?” Bucky asks, taking the watch and looking at the drawing. 

“He did. So yes, I did, at some point. It’s not good. I’ve done better recently…”

“You, too?” Bucky asks. He hands Steve the watch back and gets up. He comes back a moment later with one of his notebooks, opens it and hands it to Steve. Inside is a drawing of Ella when they first met her. Steve hands it back to him and goes to the desk. He pulls out a sketchbook and hands it to Bucky. Bucky gives him the notebook back and the two sit in silence flipping through the drawings and sketches of their Ella they’ve each made.

“Remember the night you got ballsy and put your arm around her?” Bucky asks with a smirk. Steve smiles.

“It just seemed like a good idea,” Steve answers nonchalantly. 

“She leaned into you and I have never seen you blush so goddamn hard or smile that big...ever.”

“I was so goddamn happy when she did that, Buck. There was nothing else in the world that mattered at that point. She pulled you over and held you and I can’t think of a time you were so content with a dame.”

“She used to bust my balls on a regular basis,” Bucky laughs. 

“You antagonized her, Buck, let’s be real.”

“I did not!”

“Really? I’ll show you how big we are, baby?” Steve says mocking Bucky. Bucky laughs harder. 

“She rolled her eyes at me.”

“She rolled her eyes at both of us,” Steve chuckles. 

“I remember the first time she kissed me. Not on the cheek -”

“Full on lips,” Steve interjects. 

“Yeah. I thought she’d be forceful and I was all for it, but she was gentle and she let me take control. Sweetest kiss ever.” Bucky’s voice is soft as the memory plays back in his mind. 

“It was. Her lips were soft and I remember she tasted a little like citrus? Something that made my lips tingle after,” Steve says with a big smile. 

“We all slept in her bed while I was sick. Remember?” Bucky asks. 

“I slept in her bed initially. You two slept on the bathroom floor until you were able to leave the bathroom -”

“Is this why you keep a stock of Pedialite in here?” Bucky asks suddenly. Steve bursts out laughing. 

“It’s what she gave us to keep us hydrated. And yes. That’s why. It reminds me of her.”

The two men sit and reminisce for a while longer until Bucky’s barely awake. Steve turns everything off and heads to his room. He lays on his bed thinking about Ella. She was his first. His first love, his first kiss, his first everything. 

He and Ella had been laying on the couch together while Bucky was asleep in her bed upstairs. He was still recovering from what Ella had deemed demon flu. Steve had his arm draped over her ribs as they watched a movie, his hand slowly sliding up till it was just under her breast. He remembers the weight of it against his hand and how it made him hard immediately. He shifted behind her, the tightness in his pants becoming almost unbearable. She scooted closer to him again and he rutted into her. He hadn’t meant to, it was a natural reaction. He expected her to yell at him or sit up and tell him to cool off. Instead she slid his hand up to her breast and held it there. The weight and feel of it, even with her clothes on drove Steve mad. He rutted into her again and this time she moaned softly. Steve kissed her just below her ear and Ella had moaned a little louder. She scooted closer, shimmying her ass right up against his erection. This time Steve moaned. 

“Ella.” He was so hard he was hurting, his body aching for release. To his surprise Ella had turned herself over to face him, hazel eyes hooded by lust. She had kissed him, deeply and hungrily. Steve let his instincts take over and he rolled on top of her, rutting into her clothed heat. Ella had pushed him off and Steve had panicked, thinking that she was no longer interested. She stunned him by pulling her shirt over her head, exposing her breasts, taut nipples begging to be kissed. Steve dropped his head and licked at one making Ella moan more. She started to shift under him and when he sat up he saw her pulling her pants down and then off. Steve marveled at her, the beauty of her naked form in front of him. She reaches for his face and pulls him closer, lips pressed to his, and Steve takes it a step further by slipping his tongue into her mouth. She grinds up against him and Steve yanks his pants down till his cock springs free. She strokes his cock and Steve’s eyes roll up. When she stops he focuses on her again. She opens her legs, takes his hand and guides him down into her wet heat. Steve nearly blew his load right there. He was already struggling to breathe, the excitement getting to him already. 

“Shh,” she had whispered, caressing his face, “slow down, baby. Slow down.”

And he had. He got control of his breathing somehow and touched her down there, fingering her wetness, watching her writhe on his hand as she squeezed her breasts. He’s seen stag films before but they didn’t compare to this. At all. But he needed to be inside her. He needed to know what it was like. 

“Ella…”

“Slow and easy, Steve,” she whispered, taking his cock and guiding him inside. He moaned so loud it made her giggle a little. 

“Shh...don’t wake Bucky up. Take it easy.”

And he had. Slowly thrusting, enjoying the feel of her pussy on his cock, the way her walls would flutter around him every now and then when he’d move a certain way, how she’d bite her bottom lip or moan…

Steve’s hand is around his cock, slowly stroking as he remembers each thrust into Ella’s sweet pussy. He remembers how hard he had come that first time, how it had knocked the wind from his lungs for a moment, how she had shown him how to get her off, circling her clit and fingering her until she was bucking on his hand and he could feel her walls contract around his fingers. He had come again just from that, leaving a small mess on her leg. 

Steve ruts up into his hand, chasing a current orgasm, remembering how Ella had moaned when she came, calling his name in a breathless pant, and squeezing her tits so hard she had left marks. 

“Ella…” he moans as hot ropes of come spurt from his cock and over his hand. “Ella…”

================================================================

Stephen Strange is deep in a meditative state when what can only be described as a thousand freight trains crashing in the hall begins. 

“Now what?” he mutters to himself, opening a portal and going to the bottom of the hall stairs. Wong is already there staring up at an oval ripple in the middle of the air. It changes colors at a quickening pace and grows larger with every ripple. 

“What is it?” Wong has to yell to be heard. Stephen can only shake his head. It’s a tear of some kind in the fabric of time and space. 

“Prepare yourself!” he bellows, pulling up shields at the rip opens more massively. He can just make out shapes coming through. They look like they’re falling at a very high rate. 

He’s seen this before. 

The bodies land with a sickening thud and the portal or vortex or whatever it was closes immediately afterwards. Three people lay on the hardwood floors - an adult male, an adult female, and a child. The female is cradling the child in her arms, having shielded the little one from the impact. They both look to be unconscious. The male is slowly stirring. Stephen and Wong lower the shields and rush to the aid of the fallen trio.

“Wh-where am I?” the male asks. He’s dazed and he looks like he’s been through Hell. All three of them look like they crossed through Hell. 

“She’s unconscious. The baby is barely breathing. Open a portal to the Avenger’s medical unit, Wong,” Strange orders. Wong doesn’t hesitate, opening the portal while Strange scoops up the woman and child. Wong helps the male to his feet and they head to the only place Strange can think of that will help these folks. 

=============================================================

Ella wakes up and blinks furiously. Sophia. Where is Sophia? Where is her daughter? Where the hell is Gage? 

Ella looks around the room. She’s in a hospital. But where? 

“Gage? Sophia?” she croaks. There’s no answer, just the steady beep of the blood pressure cuff as it monitors her. Panic starts to fill Ella. 

“Gage! Sophia!” She manages to yell a little bit this time, her voice cracking as she does. Still no answer. She sits up and pulls free of the cuff, setting the alarms off. She doesn’t care. She wants her daughter.

“SOPHIA!” she screams. A nurse comes running in blathering about calming down. Ella doesn’t want to calm down, she wants her daughter.

“Where is Sophia! Where is Gage!” she fumes as the nurse tries to settle her. Ella pushes the woman away and tries to get up. More nursing staff show up. 

“WHERE ARE THEY?!” Ella shrieks. “WHERE ARE SOPHIA AND GAGE?!”

They just keep saying calm down, but she fights. She has to find them. They have to be here. Where is her daughter? 

Ella pushes and struggles as the staff holds her down. She continues to scream for her daughter and best friend. They won’t tell her where they are. They just keep saying calm down . How the fuck can she calm down if they don’t tell her where Sophia and Gage are??

Hands on her wrists and ankles now, holding her down, pinning her to the bed. Straps being pulled over those same body parts. Ella sees a needle being prepped and she struggles that much more, pulling and kicking as hard as she can against the restraints. She screams for Sophia and Gage until her throat is raw and her voice is just a scratchy whisper. 

The burn in her veins sends her into overdrive. She sees the nurse empty the contents of the needle into the IV she has. She thrashes harder and harder and harder…

=================================================================

Gage paces the locked medical room like a caged tiger. He heard Ella screaming for he and Sophia just a few minutes ago and now it’s quiet again. Where the hell are they? Where is Sophia? 

He tries to remember what happened. The world was ending. They were in the Jeep and the ground gave way and…

“Sarge...oh god. Oh god, my poor boy,” Gage whimpers. Sarge was the best boy. He had always protected he and Ella and Sophia…

Ella and Sophia. They had all made it out of the Jeep before it plummeted. They were running, trees were being uprooted and the ground was splitting open. Ella had Sophia in her arms, the baby in hysterics. The air around them was getting thick with smoke from the fires that were burning. He was worried Sophia wouldn’t be able to breathe…

There was a light ahead. He remembers the light. It was faint, but he just seemed to know that was their way out. He had grabbed Ella and pointed and she seemed to understand, too. They had run and run for what seemed like forever to get to the light...and then…

“We end up here. Where the flying fuck is here?”

=================================================================

Bucky is in the gym at the compound beating the shit out of a heavy weight bag. He’s been awake since a little after two this morning the nightmare making it impossible to go back to sleep. 

He punches the bag again and thinks about Ella. He misses her. Misses waking up next to her. Misses putting his arms around her. He catches the bag and holds it still, remembering how she had come in to find him on the bathroom floor, covered in his own filth, hanging onto the seat of the toilet. She’d started cleaning him up immediately, stripping him of his clothes, while he continued to be sick, wiping him down, helping him into the shower, cleaning up the mess while he was in there...she had offered to get in with him, she was afraid he’d fall, but Bucky was too embarrassed by all of this...and afterward when he couldn’t leave the bathroom he had awaken to her sleeping form cuddled up behind him, keeping him warm. He had put his hand over hers holding it for a moment before another wave of sick hit him like a freight train. 

And after all of that, after the embarrassment of having the prettiest dame he’s ever seen clean him up and clean up after him, she still wanted to hold him, still wanted to take care of him, still kissed him, ran her fingers through his hair…

That’s when they all started sleeping in her bed with Ella in the middle. It was heaven. 

“Buck.”

Bucky turns to the sound of Steve’s voice. Steve looks out of sorts, excited, panicked…

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“They’re here.”

“Who? Who is here?” Bucky demands. Steve blinks a few times, his mouth working like he’s trying to talk but nothing comes out. 

“Steve? Steve!” Bucky yells and shakes his friend by the shoulders. 

“They’re here,” Steve says again like he’s dazed, “Ella and Gage. They’re here.”

=================================================================

Gage looks up at the ceiling for the hundredth time. He’s been in this room for god knows how long. He’s seen one nurse who refused to answer any of his questions. He’s livid. He’s not heard a peep from Ella or Sophia. 

“HEY!” he yells at the ceiling. “ASSHOLES! WHAT THE FUCK?!”

He’s not expecting an answer so when there’s a knock at the door Gage is more than a bit surprised. He’s flat out shocked when the door opens and he sees who it is. 

“Gage?” 

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Gage mutters as Steve and Bucky walk in. “Why the fuck not?”

“Gage, where’s Ell-”

“Fuck if I know!” he barks at Steve angrily. “You tell me where the fuck you shit eaters are keeping her and the baby!”

“We don’t know. We just...we heard you were here -”

“Oh did you now?” Gage fumes. “Who told you? Glenda the good witch of the North?”

Bucky’s lips twitch, Steve shakes his head.

“What happened?” Steve asks. Gage can hear the forced calmness in the man’s voice. 

“Fuck off, Rogers. You don’t care. Remember? We betrayed you and your boyfriend here.”

“Knock it off, Gage,” Bucky snaps. “We made a fucking mistake. We know this. We know this . We want to help -”

“Help what?! Our world is gone. Destroyed. Totaled. We can’t go back. What the hell do you think you’re going to help with?!”

“Gage, stop. Please. We made a mistake before. We were hurt and we didn’t expect -”

“Piss off, Rogers. I don’t want your excuses. You called Ella a whore. Correction. Barnes called Ella a whore and you agreed with him. You yelled at her to the point that she was crying hysterically when she left. You made her feel like shit. That woman LOVED YOU. Do you understand what that means? Do either of you even know what love is ?” Gage fumes. Bucky and Steve look thoroughly ashamed. Both men hang their heads. 

“We do,” Bucky answers after a moment. “We do.”

“Try to forgive us, Gage. Understand that we were fresh off a fight with Tony, Rhodey -”

Gage waves away Steve’s partial explanation.

“Yeah, yeah. Germany, the whole Civil War thing.”

Bucky and Steve exchange glances. 

“We...we understand now why you didn’t tell us, Gage. Why you said nothing. At the time we couldn’t…” Steve trails off. 

“We were both hurt. When we realized where we were all we could think about was seeing Ella again. When she said what she did...and then seeing the baby...Gage, we are sorry. Please believe us. We care about her so much. We’ve missed her so much.” Bucky’s voice is quiet and low and full of raw emotion. Gage looks between the two of them and sighs deeply. They’re stupid. The two of them are stupid, but they’re stupid for Ella, just as much as she is for them. They really didn’t mean it. 

“You called her a -”

“And I would take it back a hundred times over if I could, Gage. Please, please believe me,” Bucky pleads. 

“We would never hurt her, Gage. Or you. Or Sarge -”

“Jesus Christ...Sarge…” Gage groans. 

“What happened?” Steve asks. Gage shakes his head. 

“You want to show me you care? Find Ella and Sophia.”

=================================================================

Steve finds Banner first. It’s a good thing, because Bucky would have probably strung him up. 

“Where is she?” Steve demands. Bruce’s eyes widen as Steve storms into his office.

“Where is who? She who?” Bruce is clearly unnerved by Steve’s demeanor. Good. 

“The girl and her mother. Where. Are. They.”

“I have the little girl on oxygen. She was having a life threatening asthma attack. Her mother…”

“Bruce,” Steve warns, fists clenching and unclenching. 

“I wasn’t here when her mother woke up. They sedated her. Heavily. She’s still out of it. Had I been here when they arrived this wouldn’t have happened.”

Steve’s not having it. Sophia had an asthma attack and Ella - for lack of a better term - is unconscious. 

“Where. Are. They.” He repeats the words again, slower this time for more effect. Bruce isn’t foolish enough to challenge Steve. 

“Come with me,” Bruce says. He leads Steve to one of the medical rooms and opens the door slowly. Inside Steve sees a nurse sitting with tiny Sophia. She’s got a little oxygen tube in her button nose. She appears to be sleeping. 

“She hasn’t done much but cry a little for her mother,” the nurse whispers as Steve walks over to the bed. She looks like Ella. Like her mother. He runs a thick, calloused finger over the small hand and the little girl stirs.

“Mommy,” the little one sighs. She whimpers a little and then goes back to sleep. 

“She needs her mother,” Steve whispers. “Where is she?”

“This way.”

Bruce leads him towards another room but they don’t go in. Steve can see Ella through the window in the door. She’s completely out. 

“Get Gage and Sophia in there with her. Now.” 

=================================================================

Bucky is on his way to the medical wing to find Bruce after trying everywhere else to find Ella and the baby. Fury has gotten wind of he and Steve’s hunt for them and now Fury has Maria chasing them down. His phone goes off before he gets to medical.

“Steve.”

“Found them. Bruce is reuniting them now. Ella’s still out, she was heavily sedated. Sophie is on oxygen still.”

“Fury wants to see us. Pronto.”

“Fuck,” Steve growls. “Where are you?”

“Medical.”

“So am I. Come inside and go to the right. I’ll meet you there.”

Bucky does as Steve ordered and finds him. 

“Gage has Sophia right now. He’s got to walk around the oxygen tank. He’s trying to keep her calm,” Steve states and points into the room. Bucky watches as Gage paces around the room, carrying Sophia, trying to console her. The little girl opens her eyes and looks right at Bucky. Unmistakable blue eyes lock onto his for a second before looking away again. 

=================================================================

Fury is livid. 

“And you two didn’t think this was pertinent information?” Fury snaps. Steve leans back in his seat and closes his eyes. Bucky sucks in a deep breath. 

“What difference would it have made in the long run?” Steve questions. 

“It doesn’t matter now anyway, does it?” Bucky snaps. “They’re here. We know them. They saved us. Twice. We can’t treat them like prisoners.”

“The little girl?” Fury asks, it’s a bait question.

Steve and Bucky look at each other. 

“Tell me one of you is the father. Please. Let’s just make this day that much better,” Fury snarks. 

“We don’t know who the father is,” Steve admits. “She had the baby between our first and second trip.”

“I see,” Fury says, sitting back in his chair. “Are they still separated?” He directs that question to Maria.

“No. I had Gage and Sophia moved to Ella’s room -”

“On whose orders?” Fury demands. 

“My own,” Steve states, his frustration starting to show. “Sophia needs her mother. She’s already on oxygen. They’ve been separated long enough.”

“Why was she on oxygen?” Fury asks Maria.

“She had a really bad asthma attack,” Bucky answers before Maria can. “Is it okay if that little girl has her mother? Or should we start acting like ICE and -”

“Point taken, Sergeant Barnes,” Fury cuts in angrily. “I want to speak with them. I want to know what they know. Without the two of you present.”

“Why?” Steve demands. This is getting absurd. 

“To see if their story matches yours.”

“Why the fuck wouldn’t it?” Bucky is about to flip shit. Steve knows it’s coming. 

Fury ignores Bucky’s question and looks at Maria. 

“Get them into a room. I want full audio and video surveillance.”

=================================================================

Ella opens her eyes slowly. She keeps thinking she hears Sophie’s cries, but they sound far away. 

“Sophie?” She’s still groggy, the lights in the room are blinding her.

“Mommy!”

Ella forces her eyes to stay open. She sees Gage holding Sophia who is reaching for her and crying. Ella forces herself to sit up making her head swim. 

“Easy,” Gage whispers, putting his hand on her arm. He undoes the restraints, Ella opens her arms and Sophia squirms out of Gage’s hold and into Ella’s lap. 

“Mommy,” the little girl fusses. She buries her face into Ella’s chest and sobs a little. 

“It’s okay, baby, mommy’s here,” Ella whispers. She looks at Gage who looks worse for the wear. 

“Where are we?” she asks after Sophia settles down. Gage sucks on his teeth. 

“Their world.”

Ella furrows her brow. She doesn’t understand what he means. 

“Whose world?” she asks feeling stupid because she doesn’t know. Gage stays silent for a moment. Ella can see he’s debating something. 

“Steve and Bucky’s,” he says at long last. 

=================================================================

 

Chapter Text

It’s been over an hour since Ella woke up. Sophie is fussy because she’s hungry and thirsty. Ella’s hungry and thirsty, too. She can only imagine that Gage is ravenous. She’s about to see if they can get someone’s attention when there’s a knock on the door. It opens before either of them can say anything.

“You have got to be shitting me,” Ella grumbles. 

“I tried to tell you.”

“My name is Agent Hill. I’m going to take you to a room to speak with Director Fury -”

“Yeah, no. Are we under arrest? Pretty sure you can’t hold us against our will.” Ella cut off Hill’s little formal speech, she’s in no mood for anymore shit right now. 

“You aren’t under arrest, but given you’re arrival and the people who know you we think it in everyone’s best interest to keep you here and have you talk to the Director.”

“Fuck this noise,” Gage mutters. “This is fucking stupid.”

“My daughter needs to eat and she needs something to drink. Now,” Ella states coldly. 

“We’ll tend to that once you go into the room.”

“And if we refuse?” Gage asks.

“You don’t have a choice.”

Ella and Gage exchange worried looks. Such utter bullshit. 

Hill escorts the three of them to what looks like a conference room. 

“Mommy, I hundwy,” Sophie says looking pleadingly at Ella. 

“I know, baby, just hang on.”

“Two way glass,” Gage says rapping his knuckles on the thick glass mirror. 

“Modern Spanish Inquisition. Swell. Can we get some goddamn food here?!” Ella barks at the glass. 

“You’re starving a small child!” Gage yells. 

“FOOD!” Sophie adds. 

“We’ll bring something in momentarily,” a disembodied voice says through a speaker. 

“Goody,” Ella mumbles. She sits down in one of the chairs and puts Sophie on the table. The little girl cocks her head to the side and yawns. 

“Sleepy?”

“Hmm mmm.”

Ella hears Gage chuckle behind her. 

“Where Scharge?” Sophie asks. 

Ella looks over at Gage who hangs his head. She swallows the lump in her throat as she tries to think of a way to tell Sophia about her favorite friend.

=================================================================

Steve and Bucky stand on the other side of the two-way mirror looking in at Ella, Gage, and Sophia. Ella’s helping Sophia eat the meal they were given. Ella’s making faces at Sophie to get her to eat more and the little girl giggles each time.

“She’s got Ella’s laugh,” Bucky says with a grin. 

“She does, doesn’t she?”

“She has your eyes, Steve.”

Steve looks at Bucky like he’s gone mad.

“What?”

Bucky’s about to repeat himself when Fury walks in with Maria. Gage and Ella don’t look impressed and Bucky finds this overly amusing. Steve grins a little, too. His two of his three favorite smartasses are in that room, the other one is standing next to him. 

“So I understand you three aren’t locals,” Fury begins as he takes a seat. “Care to tell me who you are?”

“Depending on who you ask I’m the whore of Babylon,” Ella answers. Both Steve and Bucky step back like they were punched in the gut. 

“She’s still mad,” Bucky says softly. 

“She is. We have to find a way to make it up to her.”

“I mean your actual names,” Fury says testily. 

“What do you want, Fury? What the hell do you want us to tell you?” Gage demands. Fury looks at Maria and then at Gage and Ella. Sophia is looking at Fury quizzically. 

“Where’s you eye?”

“Sophia, no,” Ella chides, but Steve can see Ella smirking just a little. 

“The cat took it,” Gage answers. 

“What are you two doing?” 

Steve and Bucky both jump. They turn around to see Wanda watching them. 

“Watching. Ask questions later,” Bucky tells her. He takes her hand and pulls her to the window with he and Steve. 

“What makes you say a cat took my eye?” Fury asks. Gage is leaning against the wall with his arms folded over his chest, shaking his head.

“Because a cat took your eye,” Ella states calmly. “Goose.”

“How exactly do you know about the goddamn cat?” Fury demands. Maria is speechless. 

“We know a lot of things, Fury. We’re not from this world. But I’m sure you talked to your golden boy and his sidekick,” Ella snaps. There’s so much animosity in her voice that it makes Steve shrink back from the window again. 

“Assuming you’re referring to Captain Rogers and Sergeant Barnes, yes, I have spoken to them.”

“Then what the hell are we being held hostage for?” Gage snaps. 

“Because you’re a liability,” Fury answers coarsely. “Talk.”

“About what?” Ella demands. “Goose? Carol Danvers? Agent Coulson?”

Steve sees the color drain from Maria’s face. Fury isn’t impressed. It’s not just he and Bucky they know about, it’s their whole world.

“Or maybe you’d like us to tell you about Erskine and Zemo. HYDRA maybe?” Gage continues where Ella left off. 

“How about this,” Ella says and Steve knows by the tone of her voice that the shit is about to hit the fan. “How about we tell you Sergeant Barnes trigger words. Longing, rusted, daybreak -”

“That’s more than enough,” Fury cuts in. Now he looks shook. Steve looks over at Bucky who is beyond shaken up.

“She knew the words,” he mumbles. “She…”

Wanda rubs Bucky’s arm and gives Steve a fearful look. 

“How do you two know all this?” Maria asks, finally finding her voice.

“Look,” Gage says pinching the bridge of his nose, “we aren’t from here. Obviously. We fell through a portal similar to the ones that sent the super soldiers to us. In our world all this,” Gage gestures around himself, “is a figment of some guy’s imagination.”

“Except that it wasn’t. Because here we are with you,” Ella says wiping at Sophie’s little mouth. The girl fusses and tries to get away. 

“Everything we know is because of one guy. And when he passed away our world disintegrated.”

“Tell me more,” Fury says calmly. “Tell me everything.”

“Who are they?” Wanda asks as Steve steps away from the glass. 

“Friends.” The word sticks in Steve’s throat. Are they still friends? Gage may have forgiven them, but has Ella?

=================================================================

Steve finishes telling Wanda who Ella and Gage are and Wanda sits quietly for a moment. 

“You both love her.” It’s a statement of fact, not a question. Neither of them contest the statement. 

“That little girl is going to need clothes and things,” Wanda continues. “Maybe the key to getting on Ella’s good side is to show her that you two aren’t the assholes you came off to be.”

“How do we do that? We don’t know anything about kids,” Steve retorts. 

“What do we do? Go to Crate and Barrel and clean them out of all their baby stuff?” Bucky adds. She gives them a haughty look that shuts both men up. 

“No. You call someone who has kids and ask him for his suggestions before you go apeshit.”

“Clint,” Steve and Bucky say together.

“Right. Clint. He’s your starting point,” Wanda says looking into the room with Ella, Gage, and Sophia again. “Jesus, Steve, she looks like you.”

“She’s got his eyes,” Bucky adds in agreement. 

“No. N-no,” Steve stammers and presses his hands to the glass. Wanda shrugs. 

“Maybe that’s why they’re here. Call Clint. And calm down you two. You can’t make things better if you’re as wound up as you are now.” 

Wanda kisses them on the cheek and walks away. Steve pulls out his phone and is about to call Clint when he hears Fury ask about Sophia.

“She had an asthma attack I understand. What other conditions do we need to be aware of?”

There’s no smartass remarks this time. 

“Let me rephrase this,” Fury says getting up, “talk to Doctor Banner and tell him about her issues and any you two have. You’re confined here because you’re too dangerous to let loose -“

“Hostages,” Ella mutters.

“No,” Fury corrects her, “you may go out, but you’ll need to have at least one agent with you at all times. For now, Maria will take you to see Doctor Banner.”

“Swell,” Gage grumbles. Maria motions for them to follow her out of the room. Ella scoops up Sophie and they follow Maria out. 

“We’re following them, right?” Bucky asks. 

“Yeah.”

They head out of the room and down to medical but when they get there they only see Gage and Maria. 

“Look what the cat dragged in,” Gage taunts. 

“Captain Rogers. Sergeant Barnes -”

“Fury’s looking for you, Hill,” Bucky tells her. Steve knows it’s a lie, but he lets it go. 

“Can I trust you two with our guests?” Maria asks. There’s an air of condescending in her tone. 

“Yes, Agent Hill.” Steve’s tone is short. Maria takes the hint and walks away. 

“What do you two want now?” Gage asks once she’s gone.

“To see Ella and Sophia,” Bucky answers. Steve has a different question. 

“Who is the baby’s father?”

“I took a vow of silence never to tell you,” Gage answers. “But if Buck asks…”

“Steve’s the father, isn’t he?” Bucky didn’t hesitate. Gage nods his head yes. 

“Why didn’t you tell me?!” Steve demands. 

“She made me promise not to tell you. After the incident in the kitchen...she didn’t want any more problems. She’s had a rough couple of years. She and Sophie both.”

“Wha...Sophia is my…” The world seems to spin and Steve has to use the wall to steady himself. 

“Steve, sit down,” Bucky orders. He’s pushed down into a chair.

“Head between your knees, Steve.” That was Gage’s voice. Steve does as he’s told and after a few deep breaths the world settles back into place. He looks up at Gage. 

“Sophia is mine?” 

“Combo effort there, buddy. You did teach him about sex, right?” Gage asks looking at Bucky. Steve sees the shit eating grin on Bucky’s face and he punches Bucky in the leg.

“Ow! Goddammit!” Bucky howls. Gage laughs a little. 

“When...when did she find out?”

Gage rubs his neck and looks into the room where Ella and Bruce are with Sophia. 

“When I forced her to go to the doctor about her depression.”

“Depression?” Bucky repeats.

“When you two left the first time...it nearly destroyed her. She was heartbroken. She didn’t want to eat, didn’t sleep…” Gage shakes his head. “She was falling apart. The doctor made her take a piss test because she must have told him she’d been sexually active. It came back positive. She came home ecstatic. We got into a huge fucking fight when she told me who the father was…”

Gage looks over his shoulder and into the room again. Steve is barely able to breathe at this point. 

“Why did it cause a fight?” Bucky asks. “Just friends, right?” 

“Don’t be a prick,” Gage warns. “She’s like a sister to me. I didn’t want her to get hurt. I warned her not to get attached to either of you. Instead she got attached to both of you. She pulled herself out of her depressive state, the idea of having a part of you with her I guess made it better. I got over being pissed off, because what the fuck good was it going to do? She was elated.” Gage takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. 

“She has asthma because of me...because I had it…” Steve stops talking. Gage shakes his head no.

“Doubtful. Sophie is a premie -” 

Steve groans and Bucky has to sit down next to him because he looks like he’s about to fall. 

“Premature?” Bucky asks. Gage nods his head. 

“Ella was on her way home from work one night when she was sideswiped. The airbags deployed and forced Ella into premature labor -”

“Oh god,” Steve groans. Gage looks back into the room again before continuing. 

“She was bleeding heavily and they opted to do an emergency cesarean. The doctor on call butchered Ella. She’s got the most horrific scar now. Sophia’s lungs weren’t fully developed yet and one of her heart valves wasn’t working properly. She’s got a scar on her chest from them doing surgery on her. She’s going to have a heart murmur the rest of her life.”

Steve’s in tears. His girls. They’re his girls and he hasn’t been able to help them. He hasn’t been there for them. 

“Steve,” Gage says gently, “none of that is your fault. It’s not Bucky’s fault. It’s not Ella’s fault. It’s just shit that happened. Sophia is a strong girl. She’s got her mother’s fire and her father’s bullheaded determination -”

Bucky wipes his eyes and laughs. 

“Definitely your daughter,” he jokes. 

“Shut up, Barnes,” Steve grumbles as he wipes his own eyes. Gage smirks. 

“Why are you crying, Buck?” he asks. Steve looks at Bucky who just hangs his head.

“Buck?”

“I wanted to be the one to give her the baby. I would have...I would have stayed and married her, bought her a house...I don’t want to lose Ella and I want to get to know Sophia.” He looks at Steve with pleading eyes when he says the last part. 

“That’s up to Ella, Buck,” Gage says gently. “She’s not too happy with being here. She’s going to fight you both and I’m going to tell you right now, for all the love and affection she showed you two she can be equally venomous and cruel. Be prepared for that. If you really love her - if you both mean what you say - then ride out her anger.”

=================================================================

“Bruce, how much longer is this going to be?” Ella asks. She doesn’t hide her exasperation. She’s tired, she reeks of smoke, and she’s worried about Sophia.

“Just a few more questions then we can get you some clothes and get you into one of the efficiencies on the upper level,” Bruce promises. Ella sighs and watches as Sophie plays with a plastic tub a nurse gave her.

“No allergies?”

“Penicillin, seasonal.”

“Okay, asthma we know about, heart murmur...she’s a little underweight, but nothing serious. Does she eat okay? No food aversions?”

“She can be picky when she wants to be, but she eats pretty well.” 

Bruce nods his head. 

“She’s okay. A little stressed out from all you three have been through. If you don’t mind my asking where is her father?”

Ella laughs cynically. May as well tell the man, they’ll find out eventually anyway.

“Would you believe he’s here?”

“Gage?” Bruce asks. 

“How about Steve Rogers?”

Bruce puckers his lips and blinks a few times.

“I know he and Buck are very fond of you -“

“Oh bullshit!” Ella yells. Sophia stops drumming on the plastic tub and looks at her mother.

“Mommy?”

“Sorry, baby, it’s okay,” she says and forces herself to smile. Sophia smiles back and Ella once again sees Steve in the little girl’s face. It pulls at her heart. 

“Does Steve know?” 

This question catches Ella off guard. She’d expected Bruce to ask how the hell that was possible first. 

“N-no. I don’t...I never told him. I swore Gage to secrecy.”

“Ella, I know you and Gage and Sophia have been through Hell. You know what the right thing to do is. When you’re ready.”

Bruce lets it go at that and Ella is extremely thankful for this. 

==========================================================

“How do we fix this, Gage? How do we make things right?” Steve asks. He needs to know there’s at least some hope they can do so.

“Tell us what she needs us to do,” Bucky pleads. Gage looks into the room again. 

“Take care of Sophia. You want to get on Ella’s good side again, get Sophie what she needs. Take care of your daughter.”

He doesn’t address either man specifically when he says this. 

“What does the baby need?” Bucky asks. Steve is already pulling out the little notebook he keeps with him. 

“Are you sure about this?” Gage questions. “Because Sophia has nothing right now and getting her squared away will not be cheap.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Steve says dismissively. “She’s worth it. Our girls are worth it.”

Gage nods his head and starts listing everything Sophia needs. 

“What about you and Ella?” Bucky asks once Gage finishes. He shrugs.

“Don’t force gifts on Ella. Just get this stuff for Sophie.”

“Gage,” Steve protests. Gage shakes his head no.

“Trust me,” he says. 

“What about food?” Bucky asks. Steve freezes. 

“Sophia loves eclairs and chocolate donuts. Sugar in general. She’s two. She’ll be your best friend if you give her a cookie,” Gage tells them. This makes both men smile warmly. 

“Got it. Let’s go, Buck.”

They head and on their way to the first destination Steve calls Clint and picks his brain about certain items on the list, what brands to get, what to look for, what he and Laura would recommend, etc. 

By the time Bucky parks the SUV Steve’s head is swimming from all the information Clint and Laura gave him. 

“Ready?” Bucky asks. Steve takes a deep breath.

“Yeah. We’re doing this for our girls.”

Bucky grins a bit. 

“Still willing to share?” He asks. 

“If she’ll have us, Buck. She and Sophia.”

==========================================================

Ella sits on the atrocious looking pleather couch and rubs her eyes. She finally got Sophia to go to sleep after fighting with the her over taking a bath, the harsh soap that they were provided, Sophie’s insistence that she wasn’t tired…

To say that Ella is exhausted is an understatement. She’s absolutely drained. They’re in a world that shouldn’t exist, their own world has been destroyed, they lost Sarge, Gage refuses to deal with that, and they’re hostages in Avengers HQ.

Ella rubs her eyes again. The two people she’s surprised she hasn’t seen are the two she’s most concerned about coming across. Does she tell Steve he’s Sophie’s father? How will Bucky handle that news? Will either of them even care?

Ella furrows her brow. Why the hell should she care what they think? They called her a whore. Steve had berated her. They had broken her heart into so many pieces she’s not sure it’ll ever be whole again. Why should she give two shits about either of them?

==========================================================

Steve and Bucky lug everything into the compound and to the elevators. They’ve been gone much longer than they’d anticipated. Getting everything on the list was the easy part. The hard part was not buying everything they saw that had pink, bows, lace or a combination of all three. Bucky was hell bent and determined to get Sophie everything that had little bows and ribbons on it. Steve wanted to buy Sophie shoes and sneakers in every shade of pink imaginable. 

“Steve...what the hell do we do with this stuff?” Bucky abruptly asks. 

“Give it to Ella.” Steve’s answer seems like the obvious choice here. 

“Think that’s a good idea? Gage said to give her time. I’m pretty sure he meant more than just a few hours.”

The elevator stops, the doors open, but neither man moves.

“Shit,” Steve mutters. The elevator doors start to close and he holds them open. 

“Gage?” Bucky offers. Steve looks at all the stuff they bought that’s filling the elevator. He had really wanted to Ella to see all this and be able to talk to her. 

“Yeah,” Steve agrees with reluctance. “Go see if you can find him. He should be in his quarters hopefully.”

==========================================================

Ella is about half asleep when she hears a knock on the door. She groans and gets up.

“Who is it?” She keeps her voice low so she doesn’t wake Sophie up. 

“Gage.”

Ella opens the door and gasps at all the stuff around Gage. Bags and boxes of every variety are at his feet.

“What the fuck?” It’s all Ella can say.

“Looks like Santa came early. Help me bring this in,” Gage says, scooping up a box and several bags. Ella does the same and after two trips they have everything inside.

“What the hell? How did you get all this, Gage?” Ella asks, plopping down on the couch and surveying the haul.

“I didn’t. How could I?”

“Then where did it come from?” Ella’s beyond perplexed at this point. Gage shrugs.

“I think you know,” he says calmly. Ella’s lips twitch.

“Did you know they were going to do this?” 

Gage doesn’t answer which means yes, he did.

“They miss you,” he tells her as he starts to unbox a car seat. 

“You did know,” Ella says stating the obvious. 

“I told them to give you time, Ella. Time to get Sophie settled and to just...They asked about you and her, apologized profusely -“

“I don’t believe this,” Ella mumbles as Gage continues to talk. 

“It’s up to you what you want to do, Els. But Steve is Sophie’s father, don’t you think she deserves to get to know him?”

Ella doesn’t answer. 

“Bucky misses you. Steve misses you. They want to talk to you but not until you’re ready. They don’t want to push you away.”

“What about Sophie?” Ella asks, her voice is barely above a whisper.

“Up to you, Els. I can tell you they both want to see her. Look at all this stuff. Car seat, crib, mattress, sippy cups, bottles, diapers, and so much pink…”

“I don’t know what to do, Gage.”

“They’re trying,” he says handing her a bunch of little girl’s clothes. Ella’s lip trembles. 

“They got this on their own?”

“All I told them was what she needed, they did the rest.”

“They did the rest,” she repeats softly. Pink bows, frilly little dresses, hot pink jogging suits, she lost count of how many goddamn pairs of shoes there are. Ella’s heart aches so much right now it brings tears to her eyes.

==========================================================Steve and Bucky sit on the couch at their apartment. Both men are tired but neither of them can sleep. They’re overly eager to know if Ella is pleased with what they got for Sophia and if Sophia will like what they got her. They want to know if Ella will forgive them, if she’ll talk to them, if she still loves them.

“We should bring them breakfast,” Bucky suggests. Steve lights up.

“Ella loves waffles,” Steve says looking at Bucky. Bucky laughs a bit. 

“She did, at least. Remember the day she made enough waffles to feed the entire army?”

“Yup. She kept sneak eating them after breakfast. We kept catching her eating them,” Steve chuckles.

“You asked her if she had a waffle problem…”

“She threw a fucking waffle at me,” Steve finishes. Both men crack up laughing. 

“I miss her, Buck,” Steve admits after they settle down. Bucky nods his head.

“I do, too. More than anything. I miss her touch, her warmth, her smile...I miss all of it…” Bucky swallows hard. How many nights has he lain awake wishing for her to be there to hold him? How many nightmares as he woke up screaming from and needed her healing touch to soothe him? 

“How long do we wait, Steve? I know Gage said she needed time, but how long?”

“Until she gives us a sign,” Steve answers.

==========================================================

Sophia kicking Ella in the ribs wakes Ella up. Sophie is sideways in the bed, her little foot pressed into Ella’s rib cage. She’s still asleep somehow. Ella is on the very edge of the bed, one wrong move and she’ll be on the floor. 

She regrets not putting the crib together last night. 

“Christ almighty, Sophie,” Ella grumbles as she carefully slides off the bed. She puts the pillows around Sophie’s body to keep her from rolling off the bed and then heads to the bathroom. It isn’t long till she hears a plaintive cry and then coughing.

“I’m right here, baby,” Ella says, walking into the room again. Sophie is sitting up on the bed rubbing her little eyes. She’s totally discombobulated, her hair sticking up every which way. Ella has to bite her lip to keep from laughing out loud. She looks just like Steve when Bucky used to wake him up.

Ella’s smile fades as she thinks about Bucky and Steve. Not for the first time she wonders where they are.

She gets Sophie dressed and goes to get Gage up. The three head to see Bruce about an emergency inhaler and to ask about a nebulizer to keep on hand for her. Bruce gives them the inhaler but tells them they’ll need to special order a mask small enough for Sophie. 

They finish up and head back to their assigned living quarters. 

“What the hell is that?” Gage asks pointing to something hanging from the door to Ella’s quarters. 

“What dat?” Sophie asks, trying to imitate Gage.

“I don’t know, little parakeet. Let’s go look,” Ella replies. They get to the door and opens the bag. The unmistakable aroma of eggs and waffles and bacon hits their noses. 

“Smells like breakfast.” Gage is salivating as he looks in the bag. 

Ella opens the door and they follow Gage in. He takes the bag to the counter and proceeds to unpack three styrofoam containers. 

“Mmmm waffles,” Ella purrs. Her stomach growls as she sniffs the air. Sophia does the same.

“Hungry, little parakeet?” Ella laughs.

“Yesh!”

“Where’d it come from, Gage?” Ella asks, though she’s sure she knows the answer. 

“Three guess, the first two don’t count,” Gage answers as he cuts up the waffles for Sophie. Ella’s heart stops for a moment. They’re still trying. She’s torn between what her heart wants and what she needs to do for Sophie. And right now she’s not sure they aren’t the exact same thing.

==========================================================================

Every day after that there’s something left at or on Ella’s door. Mostly groceries - milk, eggs, a variety of breads, donuts, eclairs, cereal...when she saw the instant oatmeal she had laughed and then cried. She misses her Bucky and her Steve so much. But there’s no word from them. No other form of communication other than the food. No way to contact them. 

She opens the door like she normally does expecting to see another bag full of something, but today there is no bag, no groceries, no toys for Sophie. Ella is perplexed. She’s not upset, god knows they’ve bought enough groceries for her and Sophie for at least a month. She wonders if something happened that made them stop. Did they go away? Or worse...did they decide she’s no longer worth the effort? She wipes tears from her eyes quickly so Sophie doesn’t see she’s been crying. The last thing she wants is to have her upset, too.

She closes the door and sits down on the couch. Sophie is watching TV and playing with the little steering wheel toy Bucky and Steve had bought her. She’s whipping the steering wheel around like a maniac and makin raspberries as she does. Ella sees more and more of Steve in Sophie every day. And every day it’s a struggle not to cry because of how fucking much she misses them. She wonders if Steve knows Sophie is his. If he’s seen her since they’ve arrived. If either he or Bucky still care.

“You are a terrible driver,” Ella tells Sophie as the little girl continues to drive like she’s in GTA or the Simpson’s Road Rage game. Sophie responds by spinning the wheel around as fast as she can and making even louder raspberries. Was Steve like this when he was little?

VROOM!

“Settle down there, Lightning McQueen.”