Bucky was already awake when Steve entered the kitchen. He sat at the table, a cup of coffee in front of him, and looked out of the window. He seemed lost in thought.
“Good morning,” he said.
Bucky kept staring out of the window. Steve sighed quietly and went to the coffee maker. At least he had made coffee. He took a mug out of the cupboard, filled it and went to the table, too.
“Bucky?” Steve said and sat down. Bucky startled violently. Coffee spilled out of his mug and ran over his hand and Steve cursed himself.
“Oh… oh god, it’s…”
“Sorry,” Steve said. He rose, fetched a few paper towels and cleaned the coffee stains. He also gave one to Bucky who cleaned his hand. He was white as a sheet. “I’m really sorry, Buck,” Steve said.
“I… I was…”
“It was my fault,” said Steve. Bucky’s hand shook and so he reached over the table and took it in his hand. Bucky was stiff like a poker from one moment to the next and Steve pulled his hand back. “Fuck, sorry!” he said quickly. He knew Bucky didn’t like to be touched, he really knew it. But it was a reflex.
“I’m sorry, Bucky,” Steve said again. Bucky looked at him and nodded but Steve saw that it wasn’t okay, that he was still far from okay.
Bucky nodded again and - with shaking hands - took a long sip from his coffee, choked, coughed and put the mug down.
“It’s not your fault, Steve,” he said quietly. “It’s… it’s me… I was… I was back… back there… and…”
Half a year ago Bucky was honorably discharged from the army after losing his arm in Afghanistan. His whole unit was killed because someone had placed a bomb in the middle of a road. He spent a few months in a hospital before they said he was fit to leave with a prosthesis. Steve had offered to move in with him. His house was big enough and he could look after him. Reluctantly Bucky had agreed because he had no idea where else he should live. Steve had cleared his gym equipment out of the second bedroom and had bought a bed for Bucky.
He moved in as soon as he was released out of the hospital… and since then he only left the house to go to his shrink. Technically. The house had an attached garage and Bucky could get into the car without leaving it. Steve drove him to the shrink where he parked in an underground parking garage and Bucky used the stairs, not the elevator, to get up to the sixteenth floor where his doctor had his office.
“If you… if you want me to leave…”
“No, Bucky,” Steve said hastily. “I want you to be here, okay? And it wasn’t your fault, it was mine. I overstepped your limits and I’m sorry.”
Bucky swallowed hard and licked his lips. He turned his head to look out of the window.
“It’s more than six months, Stevie,” he whispered. “I… I want to be me again. This… this broken man...” - he gestured at himself - “... I don’t like him. I want to be me again.”
“I know,” Steve said. He looked at his mug, at the coffee in it.
“You… you have to go to work,” Bucky said, a long moment later. “I… I’ll stay here.”
“I’ll call Tony and…”
“No,” Bucky shook his head. “I… I’ll manage. Promised.”
Steve felt uneasy but eventually he nodded. He emptied his now cold coffee and rose.
“If you need something…”
“... I’ll call you, I know,” Bucky smiled but it was a weak smile and it never reached his eyes. Steve smiled back.
“Right,” he said and put his mug in the sink. He straightened his tie, buttoned his jacket and went to the door. “Maybe… maybe you could try to go to the garden today? It’s going to be a nice day.”
“Yeah,” Bucky said absentmindedly. “Maybe I can do that.”
Steve knew he wouldn’t.
His head snapped up and he saw Pepper in front of his desk.
“Uh…” he said elaborately.
“Where have you been?” she smiled. “I had to call you three times.”
Steve leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath.
“Bucky?” Pepper asked a moment later and he nodded.
“Yeah,” Steve sighed. “I… I didn’t think this morning and… and I touched his hand and… I think… I think it will throw him back and it’s my fault and…”
“Steve,” Pepper said. “You’re doing your best. He needs time.”
“I… I keep telling myself but I think I only make it worse,” he huffed. “I’m a klutz.”
“No,” Pepper said and shook her head. “Sam told you it will take time and he’s good at his job. Give him time.”
“Sam said he should try to leave the house, maybe sit on the porch for a few minutes but Bucky doesn’t even leave the house when we drive to his doctor.”
“Maybe because your porch is so exposed?” Pepper suggested. Sure, she and Tony were technically his bosses but they were also his friends and they had visited him often. Well, at least before Bucky moved in. Bucky didn’t like to have too many people around him and three people were too many.
“Huh?” Steve asked.
“Your porch is at the front of your house. When Bucky sits on it everyone walking along the street can see him,” she said. “It’s not safe.”
“Huh,” Steve said, furrowed his brows and pursed his lips.
“You have a huge garden behind your house you don’t really use. Why don’t you build a roofed over porch at the back? Build a fence, too, and he can feel safe there.”
“Steve?” Pepper asked, concerned.
“That’s… that’s a brilliant idea. I… I will have to…” he looked up and gestured vaguely with his hands. “I have no idea how to build a porch.”
Pepper chuckled. Maybe Steve was brilliant as Head of Security but he was all thumbs as a handyman. She took out her phone, typed and then smiled.
“I sent you an email address. Clint Barton. Write him. He’s Tony’s secret weapon when he needs something repaired or renovated.”
“No phone number?” Steve frowned and Pepper smiled again.
“He’s hard of hearing and prefers to write,” she said.
“Oh, okay,” Steve saved the email address. “Thanks, Pepper.”
“No problem,” she said.
“But I guess that’s not why you came down to my office, is it?”
“No, I wanted to talk about the details for the upcoming charity event next month,” she said.
“Boy Scouts of America?” Steve asked and Pepper shook her head.
“No, Girl Scouts,” she said. “And I had the idea, that…”
“Bucky?” He called as soon as he had entered the house. “It’s me, Steve! I’m home.”
Bucky didn’t answer but Steve could see him in the living room, sitting in his favorite armchair, watching TV. Well, sort off. He held the remote in his hand and zapped through the channels.
“Hey, Bucky,” Steve said and went to him. Bucky looked up and shut off the TV.
“What’s up?” Bucky asked and cocked his head.
“I… uh…” Steve blushed and sat down on the couch. “Someone will come later.”
“Someone?” Bucky frowned but Steve saw that he was alarmed.
“A… a handyman,” he explained. “The garden is… well… ugly and I want it pimped up.”
Bucky turned his head to look out of the window.
“What’s wrong with the garden?” He asked.
“Bucky, this is not a garden, it’s wilderness,” Steve said. “I want a porch in the back where we can have a barbecue and where we can sit and enjoy the sun. And I want lawn and pretty flowers.”
“Why? You’re almost all day long at work,” Bucky asked, still confused.
“But… I want a nice garden,” Steve said again.
“Uhuh,” Bucky said. “You haven’t spent a minute in the garden since I moved in.”
“Yeah,” Steve said and gestured at the window. “Because it’s ugly as fuck and there’s no place to sit and…”
They got interrupted when the doorbell rang. Both men looked at each other for a moment but then Steve rose and went to the door. He could hear the rustling of clothes and when he looked over his shoulder he saw that Bucky was gone. Probably to his bedroom, Steve thought.
He sighed and opened the door. Outside was a man, a bit shorter than him, dark blond hair and broad smile on his lips. A yellow labrador sat beside him, panting and wagging his tail.
“Hi, are you Steve Rogers?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s me,” Steve said and held his hand out for the other man to shake it.
“Barton,” he said. “Clint Barton,” he added a moment later. "And this is Lucky," he said and pointed at the dog. The moment he heard his name he started to wag his tail. "I hope you don't mind."
“Come in both of you.” Steve stepped aside and Barton and the dog followed him into his living room. He looked around curiously. Steve saw a purple device behind his ears.
“You said you need your garden poshed up,” Barton said and Steve nodded.
“Yeah,” he sighed again and gestured for Barton to follow him. He led him to the kitchen and through the backdoor into the yard that once was a garden. “That’s it,” he said and Barton nodded slowly.
“Well, you didn’t exaggerate,” he said. “What did you do to your bushes?” Barton blurted when he saw the sorry remains of what once was a nice shrubbery.
“I… uh… my mom said I don’t have green fingers, I have black fingers,” Steve said and scratched the back of his neck.
Barton looked around the area and pursed his lips.
“So, what do you want me to do here?”
Steve turned his head, saw Bucky standing behind the window of his bedroom and watching them. So he gestured at the back end of the yard and started to walk over. Barton followed him.
“See, Mr. Barton,” he started but Barton interrupted him.
“Call me Clint,” he smiled.
“Steve,” Steve said, too, and then continued. “The thing is, I bought the house two years ago and I hired a company to renovate it. I always told myself that one day I would lay out the garden but… it never happened. I never had the time. But then, half a year ago, my friend moved in with me after they released him from the army. He’s been in the war and traumatized and he doesn’t leave the house. I hoped he would be able to sit at least in the garden but…” he gestured at the yard again.
“... there is not really a garden,” Barton - Clint - said and nodded.
“I thought a roofed over porch would help him. So he’s not too exposed to the outside and… and maybe a fence. And…” he pointed at the dead bushes and flowers, “maybe some plants, too.”
Clint reached in his back pocket of his pants, pulled out a small notebook and started to write. He pursed his lips a few times and then nodded.
“I think I will be able to get the porch done in around a week, ten days tops. The garden? Two weeks,” he said. “And if I juggle my appointments I can start…” he deliberated a moment, “... Tuesday okay?”
Steve’s brows hit his hairline.
“So fast?” He asked and Clint nodded.
“Your friend… he lost his arm, right?”
“How… did Tony tell you?” Steve asked and Clint shook his head.
“No,” he said. “He’s at the window and… well… my eyes are really good. I’ve been in the army, too, and…” he pointed at his ears. “I can understand what he’s going through at the moment.”
“I understand,” Steve said with a smile.
“So, what do you want me to do with the garden?” Clint changed the topic.
“I… I have no clue,” Steve admitted. “Just… just make it look nice.”
“Okay,” Clint said. “I’ll send you an estimate tomorrow. Is that okay?”
“Of course it’s okay,” Steve nodded. “You have free rein to do whatever you think is necessary. Just…”
“... make it look nice,” Clint grinned.
He sat down on his bed and stared at the door. Why did Steve hire someone to make the garden? It was ridiculous. He never used the garden. He didn’t even like flowers and that crap.
But then he heard them leave the house through the back door and - sue him - Bucky was curious. He went to the window and saw a man beside Steve, a bit shorter, dirty blond hair and arms to die for. He smiled and gestured around a lot. The two of them walked around through the garden and talked and Bucky saw a yellow lab following them.
At one point the man looked in his direction and Bucky knew that he could see him. He made a step back but still watched them. There was something about him… something Bucky couldn’t put his finger on it right now.
He licked his lips and took a sip from his tea.
Well, he could stay in his bedroom as long as the guy worked here, couldn’t he?
With a last glance he laid down on his bed, turned to the side and closed his eyes.