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Art as a Form of Healing

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Debris landed at Reese’s feet, showering all around her, and she danced and darted as quickly as she could to avoid it.

“Fuck fuck fuckity FUCK!” she shouted, stuttering to a stop as a red, white and blue blur jumped in front of her.

“Seriously?” she growled, and the shape spun to look back at her.

Fucking superheroes. She couldn’t get away from them. They were everywhere - on the news, on the streets. Fucking world was lousy with them. She was only trying to get back to work after her lunch break, and now New York was under attack - again.

“Ma’am, you’re gonna want to get yourself somewhere safe,” Captain fuckin’ America was saying before another large chunk of debris caught her attention. She had the brief thought of, Oh. Well fuck. Guess my luck’s run out… before the large man hefted a shield in the air and pulled her down with him, protecting her from the worst of it.

“Yeah, no shit. That’s what I’ve been trying to do since you assholes started this shit,” she grumbled, dusting herself off and taking a step away from him.

Captain America . God, the very idea made her teeth itch. With everything this country had become, this blonde Adonis He-Man wanker was the worst insult - a fucking Aryan wet dream.

Of Course Captain America would have to be white. Prick.

“I’m really sorry, ma’am…” he began and she quickly cut him off. 

“Fuck your apology. Just go away.”

She turned away from him and started running to a building that didn’t look as though it was in the middle of a warzone. A man holding his briefcase against his chest with a desperation in his eyes that almost hurt stepped up to her and asked, “Did.. was that… HIM?”

Reese glared at him and snapped, “Captain Eugenica? Yeah. That’s him.”

Another woman who was hiding beside the man asked, “What’d he say to you?”

She gave the woman a disgusted look and growled, “Who gives a shit? They’re tearing up the city. Can you guys get the stars outta your eyes for Five Minutes and See The Danger?”

The woman glared at her, affronted. “They’re saving us!”

Reese laughed out loud, then yelled, “They’re the reason this is happening? Are you kidding ? Get your head outta yer ass, lady.”

She then darted over to the next building a block over. The sounds of things falling apart were quickly fading behind her as she ran as quickly as she could away from the noise, only to come up short again as some… thing… dropped into her field of vision.

It whipped around and pointed something at her - something long and dangerous, with a glowy bit on the end. She leapt and rolled out of the way, her ears ringing as a loud CLANG sounded off to her right. There was an unearthly screech and she looked over in time to see the creature drop. Captain Mighty White caught his shield as it returned to him, then looked over at her and winced.

He looked miserable for a brief second, then let out a loud shout as something hit him, knocking him off his feet.

Reese saw a large splash of blood hit the wall behind him, wincing herself as he pushed himself back up and stood on unsteady legs, leaning back against the wall for support. He grunted in pain - she could see it echoed in his expression. Now that she’d gotten a good look at him, he actually looked pretty trashed. The suit had seen better days, and he had a few bruises.

“Shit,” she snapped, darting over to help him, against her better judgement. She pulled off her t-shirt and pressed it to his side, trying to staunch the flow of blood.

There was an awkward sound of surprise and she looked up to see him blanching, eyes wide.

“Christ, it’s only a bra. Calm down,” she grated, applying pressure to his wound.

He held the shield up and grimaced, gritting his teeth as it deflected something.

Fuck ,” he grunted, his breath coming in short gasps.

“Captain America curses? Who knew?” she quipped, irritated as she checked him over for any other injuries. She knew basic first aid, but beyond that, she was lost.

He let out a wheezing laugh and she was relieved that he didn’t seem to have any other debilitating injuries. “Look, you should probably go to a hospital. There isn’t much more I can do here.”

He shook his head, setting his jaw. “I’ll be fine in a minute.”

Reese looked back up at him, seeing that some of the bruising on his face was already starting to fade. He looked thoroughly exhausted, and she actually started to feel a little sorry for him - and how fucking annoying was that?

There was a strange growl behind her and the shield came up again, blocking another one of those long, glowing weapons. The creature carrying it immediately collapsed.

 

--

 

Steve saw the arrow protruding from its eye socket and let out a heavy sigh.

“Thanks Clint.”

“Absolutely my pleasure, Cap. You ok down there?” echoed out of his earpiece.

“Yeah. Just need a minute.”

Steve looked down at the woman who was still holding her shirt to his side. He gently took her hand and pulled the cloth away from himself, explaining, “It’ll… ah... heal into the wound if you hold it there much longer.”

The woman blinked, then stepped away from him, her shirt in a tightly held fist at her side.

“You gonna be ok?” she asked.

He had to admit, the question kinda threw him. After all, she’d snapped at him earlier - looked at him with almost outright hatred, which had both confused and concerned him, but he’d retasked quickly enough and gotten back into the fight.

The wound in his side itched like a mad bastard as he felt the last of it seal up and he looked over at her. Her body was covered in ink - swirling, colorful designs that spread over most of her skin. She was a literal work of art and he lost himself in it for a moment, then flushed and looked away from her. 

“Sorry.”

He took a step away from the wall, doing a quick mobility check on his body, then said, “I should…” he motioned with his shield towards the noise that she had been running from.

The woman nodded, her silver mohawk swaying just a little with the movement. “Have fun storming the castle.”

He actually grinned at that, pleased that he’d gotten the reference. He gave her an awkward salute, then headed back in the direction of the fighting.

“On your left,” Clint called out and Steve looked up, holding the shield up to deflect an energy blast.

“How many more of these guys are there?” he asked, irritated, but also energized. He enjoyed pushing his limits - to a point. The sheer numbers they were dealing with were just wearing him down.

“We’ve got it mostly under control at this point, I think.” Clint replied.

Steve sighed and asked, “Where do you need me?”

The aches and pains he’d sustained from his injuries were slowly starting to fade, which gave him a little energy boost, for which he was eternally grateful. After this, he wanted to sleep for a week.

 

--

 

Reese watched the Star-Spangled-Man-With-A-Plan run off in the direction of the danger and she shook her head.

“Idiot.”

She dusted herself off, then started walking toward the next subway station. She’d have to go back to her apartment in Brooklyn to change at this point. Reese called her boss and explained the situation only to be summarily fired. Apparently being caught in the crossfire of a literal warzone downtown wasn’t a ‘good enough excuse’ for the delay in getting back to her desk.

Are you fucking kidding me? Could this day get any… No. She wouldn’t finish that sentence in her head and jinx herself further.

She wrung the blood out of her black shirt the best she could and slid it back on. At least this way people would stay the fuck away from her until she got home.

 

--

 

By the time she arrived at the apartment, she was a sweaty, bloody mess. People had stayed well away from her, both on the subway and the street - which was really for the best. Her housemate greeted her with a look of horror that quickly shifted to concern.

“Oh my god, are you ok?”

Becca, a friend she’d met while doing Camgirl work a few years ago, had moved in a few months ago. She had tricked out her room into a studio and was now doing Cam work full time, and now that Reese was out of a job, she supposed it was probably time to get back into it.

“Yeah,” Reese muttered, “It’s not my blood.”

She quickly stripped out of her clothes and walked over to drop them into the washing machine. After fingering herself on camera for money, simply being naked in front of other people didn’t really bother her anymore.

She turned to look over at Becca who was frowning now.

“Uh… Ri, whose blood is it?”

“Captain America, if you can believe that shit. Fucking supes. They’re a damned menace.”

Becca got all starry eyed and smiled. “I saw the news reports. You actually ran into him? He bled on you??” She started to sound excited and Reese let out a heavy sigh.

“Asshole got himself shot. He seemed fine after a few minutes, though.”

“Is he as hot as they say he is?” Becca asked, total fangirl shining through.

“He bleeds a lot,” Reese grumbled, padding down the hallway. She desperately needed a shower.

“Oh, and I got fired.”

“Oh fuck, honey. I’m really sorry. I know you had high hopes for this job. Go take a shower. I’ll go get ice cream and we’ll watch that Ghost Douchebros show you like so much.”

“You’re an angel. Have I told you that lately?” Reese grinned, placing her hand on the frame of the door as she looked back at her friend.

Becca smiled and waved as she walked to the front door, “I’ll be right back.”

Reese spent a fair amount of time in the shower, scrubbing hard to get the remaining blood off her body. This was the last thing she needed. Out of work again, dammit. Now she’d have to go through her old collection of clothes to find suitable outfits to get back in front of the camera again. It wasn’t necessarily work she hated, but it could be tedious as hell.

She pulled on a tattered old black robe with a pentagram on the back of it and padded back to her room. A comforting whirlwind of color and art surrounded her as she stepped into her room. The walls were covered with colored fabrics, posters, an odd assortment of art pieces, both by herself and other friends, as well as a shelf filled with herbs, different kinds of dirts, rocks, paint, apoxie, snakeskins and various other odd components she could use in her art.

She had a storage space full of paintings and sculptures she’d done, but they wouldn’t fit in this tiny apartment. Gently placing her robe on a hook, she pulled on a pair of tightly fitted black pants, a black tanktop and large Batz Maru slippers before sitting down at her desk and going through her social media accounts.

For shits and giggles, she checked the local news sites. Apparently, it was some kind of strange robot attack this time, and the Avengers had trounced them soundly. No sources mentioned the amount of damages caused, but that would come in time. Public sentiment was mixed about the ‘heroes’, and although yeah - murderous robots weren’t something that Joe Blow could necessarily fight back on his own, Reese couldn’t help think that the fact that the Avengers existence helped to ‘up the stakes’ on criminal enterprises.

It irritated her that Captain America had been strangely… human. He had bled, and he had obviously felt the injury. Did the rest of them? I mean, you see oddly dressed idiots flying around in the sky or leaping from building to building casually swatting down aliens and you think to yourself, “That’s like a god, right?”

Surely not something with aches, pains and the same day to day grinding frustration that the rest of them all went through.

Right?

The line of thought bothered her and she combed through her various feeds, grumbling to herself about the folly of men and women in brightly colored spandex.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door, and Reese frowned. Had Becca forgotten the key again?

Reese padded up to the door, looking out the peephole.

“You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me,” she muttered, before opening it.

The tall, broad blonde man looked down at her with a strange expression. She’d forgotten how… large he was. He looked fairly non-threatening in khakis and a light blue sweater. He looked… normal, almost. Like somebody’s dad.

“I… ah… wanted to thank you again for your help earlier,” he explained, looking almost painfully awkward and shy. This wasn’t the persona she’d seen on TV at all - far from it. Captain America was always stoic, almost stiff in his formality when talking to the press.

She cleared her throat, now feeling awkward as well.

“I… uh… least I could do,” she replied, wincing at how stupid it sounded now that she’d said it out loud. “...how did you find me?”

Reese watched as he shifted a hand to cup the back of his neck, his face flushing. “I… ah… put a tracker on your shirt.”

She took a step back, frowning. “So… Captain America’s a stalker ?”

His hands shot out in a placating gesture. “No. Shit. It’s not…,” he hung his head and sighed. “Oh my god, I suck at this.”

Confused as hell now, she asked, “What exactly is it that you’re trying to do?”

“Look, I’ll just go,” he cocked a thumb to point behind him.

And with that, it clicked. “Anxiety issues?” she asked.

He nodded quickly and blurted out, “God yes.”

Reese chuckled and he looked back at her with a nervous grin.

“Wanna come in and see if it gets any better?” she asked, feeling a little bad for him. She had anxiety issues as well, and they usually come out in ways that were… less than optimal. She kept most people at arm’s length and was pretty much a misanthrope - but this guy - there was something different about him.

“That wouldn’t be weird?” He asked, his expression pleading.

Her heart always fluttered most when it came to people who felt like strays - like they needed to be ‘taken in’ and cared for. Oddly enough, this guy did.

“You’re adorable,” she shook her head and waved him in. “Water ok for you?”

He nodded and took a step inside, then stilled. Reese had to admit that sometimes, her apartment decor could be a little overwhelming to new visitors. She’d painted an elaborate series of fairytale images all over the walls. Each of the pieces told a portion of a story in vibrant Palekh style. He stood staring at the images and his jaw actually dropped.

“Did you paint these?” he asked in a hushed whisper.

“Oh - yeah. About a year ago. You like them?”

She watched as he slowly walked over to the wall, his hand reaching forward before he quickly turned and asked, “Is it ok if…?”

Reese nodded and chuckled, “Knock yourself out.”

She went to get him a glass of water, then smiled as she turned around to see him lightly running fingers over the delicate designs on the wall.

“They’re beautiful,” he breathed, turning to look back at her, his eyes shining with wonder.

She handed the water to him and he took it, taking a long, deep drink.

“I… ah… I don’t run into many other artists,” he murmured, frowning. He seemed sad about it.

“You…?” she trailed off.

He nodded. “Yeah. It’s kind of a hobby. Something I do to distract myself during my downtime.”

Odd. He looked almost guilty.

“Do you get a lot of that?” She asked, “Downtime?”

He took a deep breath and replied, “Here and there. Lot of training, lot of… well, what you saw earlier today.”

Reese frowned and sighed. “You can’t just sit it out, can you?”

He flushed, then shook his head. “No. I can’t.”

He downed the rest of the water, then held the glass out to her. Reese took pity on him and said, “Look - whenever you have some downtime and want to geek out about art, I’ll be happy to do that with you.”

He looked surprised, pleasantly so.

“Really?” he asked, sounding oh so hopeful.

Reese smiled then, nodding. “Really. Gotta say, I’m interested to see what you come up with.”

His answering smile was almost radiant. “I’d really like that. Thank you.”

He dipped his head down, looking at his shoes, then back up at her. “I never did get your name…”

Reese grinned and held out a hand. “Reese Hayes. It’s nice to actually meet the guy behind the shield.”

He shook her hand gently and said, “Steve Rogers. It’s nice to meet you too, Reese. Thank you again.”

Reese released his hand and walked back into the kitchen to place the glass into the dishwasher.

“You hungry, Steve?” she asked.

“I could eat,” he smiled.

She looked in the refrigerator and found the last of the lasagne she’d made the other day.

“Lasagne work for you?”

“Sure… you want any help?”

“It’s just reheating. It’s fine.”

Reese placed the lasagne on the stove as she set the oven to preheat.

“So, Steve - what kinda stuff do you like to draw? Or paint?”

The resulting conversation lasted until the sun had gone down. They discussed techniques, mediums and subjects that they enjoyed capturing in images. Steve seemed to relax more the longer they talked, animatedly excited about the subject. Reese found herself wondering how sad it was that such a vibrant artistic soul was trapped in the soul of a soldier who couldn’t stop fighting.

At some point, Steve explained that he had to head out - to get back to his other non-artistic life.

As they stood, Becca opened the door and stepped inside, stopping in the doorway, her eyes wide.

“I thought you’d been kidnapped. Where the fuck did you go for ice cream?” Reese asked, a little chagrined that she’d actually forgotten that her housemate had gone out for supplies. That seemed to unfreeze Becca, who closed the door behind her.

“I ran into Chaz…”

Becca’s voice sounded drained; tired. Chaz was the most recent ex - a girl that had completely twisted Becca up inside.

“Oh honey,” Reese murmured. “You ok?”

Steve stood silent and still, watching the exchange.

“I… ah… don’t know?” Becca was staring back at Steve again, shaking her head a little in disbelief.

“I should go,” Steve said quietly. “Thanks again, Reese. For everything.”

“Anytime. Seriously.”

Reese walked him over to the front door, giving Becca a quick one armed hug before letting him out. It took the space of a few beats before Becca asked, “...is that who I think it was?”

Reese chuckled and nodded. “Not many other people it could be, honestly.”

Becca stared back at her, mouth agape. “How the fuck did he find you?”

“Long story. C’mere Becks.”

Reese pulled her into a tight hug. “Look. How about we both go out for ice cream? Then we’ll both cry into it. Sound good?”

Becca gave her a shaky smile and said, “Best idea you’ve ever had.”

Chapter Text

Steve paced around his apartment as he looked down at the drawings splayed out on the kitchen table before him. He was so excited at the prospect of talking art with somebody else who could really appreciate it. He hadn’t really had anybody to share this particular passion with since…

He didn’t want to think about it.

Reese was spectacularly talented - did she even know it? The stories she told with her art - they were glorious. He found himself eager to see more of her work, hopeful that it would spur him on to more depth in his own. He looked his sketches over with a more critical eye now, seeing where he could make improvements, and it made his heart flutter.

Feeling a sense of something he hadn’t had for entirely too long, he sat down, pulled out a sketchpad and started to work.

 

--

 

“WHAT WAS THAT?”

The camera guy cried out, startled, whipping his head around to try to find the source of whatever mysterious noise had set him off.

“They’ve been doing this shit for how long now? And still, every fuckin’ ep, he yipes out like a terrified puppy, jumping at shadows,” Becca muttered, then laughed.

They loved watching these sordid little ghost hunting shows together. Reese curled up with Becca, laughing at the idiots onscreen. Some shows were better than others, but this was one of their favorites. And, oh my god, the Reaching on the EVP’s was so ridiculous.

A wasteland of ice cream containers peppered the coffee table. Reese’s belly rumbled and Becca giggled.

“She really was a horrible person, wasn’t she?” Becca asked, sighing.

Reese nodded, knowing exactly who she was talking about. Unfortunately, Becca tended to be overly trusting and open with her heart, and her ex had been just another predator who had reached in, took a big bite, then fucked off when her meal was finished, dumping emotional garbage all over her. Reese had offered multiple times in the past to beat the holy hell out of Chaz, but Becca wouldn’t hear of it. And now the bitch was coming into their neighborhood? Reese had half a mind to put on her shitkickers and go hunting.

She could be terrifying when she wanted to, and part of her really wanted to rage the fuck out on that toxic, narcissistic asshole. A rather large part of her didn’t want to go to jail, however. She also didn’t want to make things worse for Becca, so she stood down.

“Yeah. She really was, Becks. I’m so sorry.”

Reese hugged her friend tightly, giving her what comfort she could.

Becca let out a heavy sigh, then said, “So.” addressing the elephant in the room. “What was Captain America doing in our apartment, Reese?”

Reese groaned and shifted her hips on the couch.

“He… ah… he wanted to make sure I was ok,” she explained.

Becca laughed and said, “No, really.”

Reese frowned and replied, “No shit. Although, it turns out he’s also an artist. Who knew?”

Becca looked over at her, her lip pooching out. “You’re kidding.”

Reese chuckled. “I shit you not. We talked about it for hours - I didn’t realize how much time had passed, and then you came home…”

Becca looked skeptical as she asked, “So, How the hell did he find you? How does he know where you live?”

Reese sat up and moved to sit on the other side of the couch. “It’s going to sound sketchy as fuck…” she replied, looking a little sheepish. “But he’s a really genuinely nice guy.”

“So…?” Becca prompted.

“He put a tracker on me.” Reese winced.

“He WHAT?!?” Becca screeched, aghast.

“See? Told you it sounded sketchy.” Reese sighed, looking over at the TV.

Becca breathed, then muttered, “This is as bad as that creepy fuckin’ vampire from that awful book who watched over that girl while she slept.”

Reese shrugged. “For what it’s worth, I honestly think he meant well.”

Becca let out a halfhearted laugh. “Let’s just hope he doesn’t kill you in your sleep. Fuckin’ Captain America is a Creeper . Who knew?” she shivered.

Reese laughed and poked her toe into Becca’s thigh. “I think he just really wants a friend. Especially an arty friend. I’m ok with that.”

Becca gave her the side-eye. “Suuure. I mean, yeah, he’s hot as fuck, but - keep in mind, a lot of women also fell for Ted Bundy’s schtick.”

Becca then quickly retrieved the remote control and set it to a channel airing a program about serial killers - another favorite subject between them.

“Just sayin’...” Becca drawled, placing the remote control back on the coffee table after having made her point.

Reese rolled her eyes and grinned.

“Asshole.”

“Hey, if you end up dead, can I take over your lease?”

 

--

 

Cap’n: Hey - are you free today to talk art?

R: Sure - do you want to meet somewhere, or come over here again?

Cap’n: Can we do your place? I have some sketches I want to show you.

R: Sure! I have a pot of chicken soup going, if you’re hungry.

Cap’n: Sounds perfect. Would 2pm work?

R: Yep!

Cap’n: See you then! :)

 

Reese was just wrapping up a session with a cam client when the doorbell rang. Her phone buzzed and she looked down to see a text from Steve.

 

Cap’n: I’m here a little early. Hope that’s ok.

R: Gimme a minute. I’ll be right there. 

Cap’n: Sure.

 

It was going to take her more time than she was comfortable with to get out of the strappy leather dominatrix outfit she was wearing, so she just threw on a sheer black bathrobe after she finished and headed for the door. She opened it to find Steve grinning back at her, his expression faltering after seeing what she was wearing.

“Sorry,” she stammered, “I was just… I’m a cam girl. I was at the end of a session.”

Steve frowned, then flushed, looking a little surprised. “Oh,” he murmured, looking anywhere but at her.

“Hey, we all do what we can to pay the bills…,” she explained, ready to sock him in the jaw if he decided to open his mouth and say something stupid. Instead, Steve shook his head and said, “No - I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt…” he stepped inside, keeping a respectful distance from her. It was strangely… gentlemanly, and she found it incredibly endearing.

“I didn’t have time to change - have a seat and I’ll put something less… provocative on, ok?”

“Sure.” he nodded, moving over to the couch, gripping the sketchbook in his hands tightly. “I mean, you don’t have to… I don’t… it’s…,” he hung his head and sat down. “Fuck.” he muttered.

She chuckled and reassured him. “It’s fine. You’re good. I’ll be right back, ok?”

He nodded and leaned back into the couch, letting out a heavy sigh.

It took her a few minutes to get out of everything, grateful that she hadn’t had to strap any appliances on for this client. That would have made answering the door way more awkward than it already had been. As it was, Reese wondered if she’d scandalized him. He was such a clean cut, golly-gosh lookin’ guy. On the upside, he’d seemed uncomfortable, but not judgemental. Once she pulled on a Front Line Assembly tanktop and a pair of black shorts, she padded back out to the kitchen to check the soup.

“It’s almost ready - maybe five more minutes,” she called out.

Steve looked over at her and smiled. “It smells delicious. Thanks for offering me some.”

“I have a thing about feeding people.”

There was a brief silence as Reese walked out to the living room before Steve held up his sketchbook.

“I brought some stuff to… ah… share?” He looked a little uneasy, almost as if looking for approval.

“Lay it out - let’s see what’cha got,” she replied, sitting beside him on the couch as he opened the book and started placing his work on the coffee table. His attention to detail when it came to human bodies was excellent, and his shading was spectacular. She nodded as she held up a lovingly rendered image of a young soldier with a cigarette between his lips, his eyes looking out at the artist as he worked. He was breathtaking, and it was clear that a great deal of affection echoed from the piece.

She looked down to see another sketch of what only could be Thor - the man was immense, yet pensive as he stared out a window at something the viewer couldn’t see. Another image of Black Widow looked out at her from another page, eyes full of patient curiosity. There were other sketches of still life images, cityscapes and the like, but she was surprised at how many pictures of the soldier there were throughout - laughing, looking haggard but mischievous - the man’s soft eyes were so expressive and his smile was beautiful and joyous.

“These are really good, Steve. You’ve got a great eye for perspective and you really bring out the essence of the person in these.”

“Really?” he seemed almost surprised at what she’d said.

Reese looked over at him and nodded. “Really. Have you ever thought of doing bigger pieces? Working with different mediums?”

The sketches were mostly pencil and charcoal, with a few wonderful watercolors thrown in.

“I guess I never really considered going bigger,” he replied, “At least lately.”

He looked a little disconcerted by the admission, almost as though he was overthinking it.

“You get trapped in your head a lot?” she asked.

He looked over at her, startled. “Yeah.”

“Try going bigger. It might help pull your focus and get you out of your head more,” she suggested.

He considered it, then nodded.

“Can you paint the walls where you live?” she asked.

He thought about it for a moment, then said, “I think so.”

“Try taking up a whole wall - see how that works out. Did wonders for me…” she replied.

“It certainly did wonders for your walls,” he quipped.

She grinned and moved back to the kitchen to get some soup for them both.

“I’m really grateful for the feedback,” he murmured, standing and following her to the kitchen.

“If it wouldn’t be too presumptuous, could I see more of your work?”

Reese ladled soup into two bowls, handing him one.

“Sure. I have a lot of stuff in my room, but the bigger pieces are in storage…”

Steve took the bowl from her with a smile. “Anything you’d be comfortable showing me, I’m good with,” he replied.

Reese couldn’t help herself. She let her voice drop into that smoky register that clients seemed to like so much as she breathed,  “Anything? You got all blushy when I answered the door…”

Steve flushed and let out a nervous laugh, almost bobbling the bowl in his hands.

She chuckled and patted his arm. “It’s ok, Steve. I’m just bustin’ your balls. You left yourself wide open on that.”

He let out a sharp bark of laughter, placing his bowl on the counter. “You’re gonna be a pain in the ass, aren’t you?”

Reese laughed and took a sip of her soup with a smug look. “Now you’re catchin’ on, Captain Fancypants.”

Steve’s eyebrows went up at that and he narrowed his eyes as he collected his bowl from the counter, “Just for that, I’m gonna hate eat the shit out of this soup.”

Reese started laughing harder as Steve stalked back over to the couch.

Yeah - this she could work with.

 

--

 

“Oh my god, Reese. These are gorgeous. Why aren’t you showing them?” Steve asked, almost breathless as they stood in her storage room. He was slowly going through canvas after canvas, just shaking his head.

“You may not be aware, but that’s not how this shit works. I’m pretty much a nobody - who would even show my stuff?” 

He looked back at her, frowning. “I mean, I’ve tried. Local studios - but that’s an expensive proposition that rarely pans out. Now that I’m camming again, I’ll have some money to get more supplies, but… that’s all I can afford right now.”

He turned to face her and said, “I’m really sorry you ended up losing your job.”

Reese shrugged and said, “It was silly of me to think I could work in an office environment anyway. Cam work pays better, actually.”

A brief silence fell between them.

“If I ended up being able to help you get a gallery showing, would that be something you’d want?” he asked, tentative.

She blinked. The fact that he’d asked - that it mattered enough for him to offer, really touched her.

“Uh… sure?”

Reese had no idea how he was going to go about helping her with this, but - why not? What could it hurt?

His expression eased and he smiled then. “Your work needs to be seen , Reese. Trust me.”

She met his eyes and shot back, “I could say the same about your work, Steve.”

He flushed and turned away. 

“It’s really very good.”

He looked back at she muttered, “...Captain Puerto Rico,” under her breath.

He looked briefly shocked, then muttered, “Don’t you start now,” giving her a mild look.

She laughed and he grinned.

“I’m being serious, here,” he murmured.

“I am too!” she replied, “Did the designers even think about what your outfit would look like?”

He chuckled and shook his head, then sobered and sighed. “It’s getting harder to wear it,” he admitted, almost ashamed, “I’m… the things that have been happening in this country for so long.”

He dipped his head down and grated, “It’s obscene.”

Reese took a deep breath and said, “I really misjudged you - and I’m sorry for that.”

He looked up, his brows knit as he asked, “What do you mean?”

Reese looked away now, wincing as she replied, “I thought you were yet another cis white male asshole who bought fully into the whole ‘We’re Number One! MURICA!’ bullshit.”

Steve took a step towards her, his voice quiet as he asked, “Is that why you were so angry at me that day?”

She met his eyes and flushed. “Yeah. It was… not one of my better moments.”

He moved to lean against the wall and slid his hands into his pockets.

“You made up for it later,” he explained.

She shook her head and murmured, “Yeah, but I still had those shitty thoughts.”

He gave her a sad smile. “No, I get it. I have that same… anger at everything that’s going on.”

He turned and looked away from her, continuing, “I’m running around in kevlar and tights while women continue to be raped and murdered, young black men are being murdered in the streets by police as though it’s fucking hunting season, human trafficking still exists, people are actively dying because they can’t afford the medicine they so desperately need… fuck . It just feels… masturbatory , you know?” He growled, “I’m trying to staunch a wound the size of my hand with a napkin. It’s so fucked .”

The anguish in his voice rocked her and she walked up to place a hand on his arm. “Hey. We all do what we can just to get through…”

He shivered and relaxed a little as he turned to look back at her. “Fighting is all I know,” he murmured, looking lost and frustrated.

Reese shook her head and smiled. “No, it isn’t. You have a beautiful world inside your head, Steve. You need to get it out - let other people see the world, other people, the way you do.”

He sighed and chuckled. “Fuck, sometimes I wish I could get drunk.”

Reese laughed and patted his arm. “Fight what you can. It’s up to the rest of us to get our shit together to make things better, honestly - and far too many of us are falling down on the fucking job. You guys take care of the big shit we can’t handle.”

Steve let out a croak of laughter, then frowned. “There’s just so much aftermath. Nothing is easy, and everything seems to make it worse.”

“Oh jesus, Debbie Downer - come on. Don’t get me spun up on this or I’ll talk your ear off about the local, grassroots Antifacist movement…”

She took his hand and pulled him out of the storage unit, closing it behind them.

“You know I spent most of my life literally punching Nazis, right?” he quipped. “I am familiar with ANTIFA.”

She blinked and looked up at him, skeptical. He took a step away from her and admitted, “Why the fuck do you think I’m so busy?”

“Wait… what?” she stammered.

“I don’t wear the shield, but I walk when I’m needed and do what I can to keep them and other protestors safe,” he replied quietly.

Reese laughed and grinned. “Holy shit. I think I have a major crush on you now.”

He blushed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Uh… thanks?”

They started walking back to the apartment and Steve stopped in his tracks, reaching into his pocket and pulling out what looked like a really high tech phone. His face scrunched up as he looked at it, then he sighed.

“I gotta go… can we continue this discussion later?” he asked, looking so very tired.

“Sure - do what you need to. Just… take care of yourself, ok?”

He smiled and nodded. “Keep them safe for me?” he asked.

That he would trust her to keep his art safe for him… it was humbling, given the subject matter.

“Of course. They’ll be here when you get back.”

“Thanks Reese. I… ah… I really appreciate it.”

She saluted him and he laughed.

Chapter Text

“Did your boyfriend visit again?” Becca asked, teasing.

Reese replied with an eyeroll, groaning. “Don’t call him that.”

“What? He’s your friend and he’s a boy, so…?” she grinned.

“You’re such an asshole.”

Becca giggled as she started unbuckling her strap-on. The two of them had started working together on certain video calls - there was enough of a disparity in their looks for it to be just jarring enough for it to be a turn on, apparently. Becca was a CyberGoth, whereas Reese was an old school punk rocker, through and through. Becca was adorable, all smooth curves and smiles whereas Reese was built… kinda like a brick shithouse. She had to work out a fair amount to maintain her muscular physique, and it entertained guys to watch a ‘powderpuff’ dominate an athletic, angry girl. Shit, money was money, right?

Reese laughed as she started heading back to her room, unbuckling her corset. Her chest having finally being liberated from its confines, she took a huge breath in and smiled.

“Ahhhhh,” she sighed.

“Best feeling in the world, ain’t it?” Becca asked, coming in and sitting on the corner of the bed as Reese tossed her corset over onto a chair, then started working on getting her boots off.

“Oh god, yes. No wonder Victorian woman got ‘the vapors’ all the time. They’re sexy as fuck, but boy I can’t wait to get out of those damn gorgeous torture devices.”

Becca laughed and splayed herself out on the bed, grinning.

“So, I guess you’re best buds with Captain America now, huh?” she asked.

Reese shrugged and answered, “We have shared interests and I don’t think he really has anybody else to talk with about them.”

Shortly after he’d left, she’d gathered up his sketches and hid them in her room. She hadn’t asked him for permission to show them to anybody else, and she found herself really not wanting to breach the trust between them for any reason.

“I guess that makes sense. Famous superheroes gotta keep a small circle of friends, right?”

“I hadn’t thought of it like that,” Reese murmured.

She supposed that might be the case. It didn’t seem like a life that would promote lots of friends outside the ‘super-heroing’ world. She found herself wanting to ask him about it at some point.

Becca prompted her, “Tell me about him.”

Reese smiled warmly as she replied, “He gets so excited talking about art - it’s adorable. And his stuff is really good,” she replied.

“He’s shown you his art? Wow. I guess it’s getting serious.” Becca gave her the side-eye.

Reese let out a bark of laughter. “I think he doesn’t have any other artists in his life, that’s all.”

“He know you do this?” Becca twirled a finger to indicate the camera and various costumes around them.

“He does.”

“Hmm,” Becca murmured. “And he didn’t get all creepy and gross about it?”

Reese chuckled, “No, he didn’t. He’s also not… judgy about it. It really surprised me. I expected him to be this prim, prissy Miss Manners type guy, and he’s not like that at all. He’s…”

Becca gasped and hissed, “ You have a crush .”

Reese glared at her and sighed, “Sh’up, Becca.” She started pulling off a pair of black fishnet stockings, tossing them over onto the bed.

“You dreamin’ about him yet?” Becca goaded, playfully.

Honestly? She hadn’t. Her head had been full of too much other shit lately. He was just a really nice guy who she was helping with his art. Right?

Reese growled, “Shut it, you, or you’ll get no dinner.”

Her friend laughed and moved to stand up. “Oh, alright. We going out tonight?”

“Oh hell yes. I need to bleed off some of this frustration.”

Becca grinned and got all bouncy. “Yep. Food first, then outie.”

Reese laughed and nodded. A night out was just what she needed.

 

--

 

Reese prowled around the edge of the dancefloor, watching everybody move. It was hypnotic, the sway of bodies as they caught the beat and let it take them, the lights flashing and the pounding rhythm of the music. People watching was one of her favorite activities, and the colorful crowd in front of her didn’t disappoint. She wasn’t necessarily feeling the music tonight, but the eye candy was superlative. She loved how creative people got with their looks - especially the ones who went all out, clearly intending to be works of art themselves as they wandered through the crowd. Reese admired them for the work they put into it. Some ended up looking thrashed by the end of the night - the sweat from dancing dripping their makeup off onto their clothes. They looked almost like they were melting with their sweaty, happy grins.

Then there were those picture perfect denizens who never went out on the dancefloor, but simply walked around inside the club as though they were holding court - and often, they did. Proud peacocks strutting and preening as though the attention was their very life’s blood. And who knew? Maybe it was.

Still - god, they were pretty.

Reese always ended up looking like a rigger or a staffer on a production set. Everything was functional. She didn’t feel comfortable getting into anything overly restrictive when out in public. She’d been in too many fights in her youth to have outgrown the need for vigilance, especially in this type of environment.

She popped her hips to the beat, unable to help herself as a decent song finally started playing.

A tall, wiry man walked up to her and gently jostled her shoulder.

“Ri - how’s tricks?”

“Hey, Evan. What’s up?” Reese smiled back at him, happy to see him. They’d known each other since their college days - both devoted idiots who were certain that their art degrees would help them change the world. Fat lot of good that shit did them.

“I got a fuckin’ exhibition, man!”

Reese boggled. “Oh my god, that’s fantastic! Where?”

“It’s a local joint, and not really all that big, but still - exhibition , baby!” His excitement hummed between them as he grinned back, whiskey colored eyes shining.

“Tell me when and I’ll be there. I’ll be happy to help you hang pieces. Holy shit, that’s so great!”

Evan’s stuff tended towards darker subjects - lots of dark colors with disorienting, bright slashes of light cutting through them. Monstrous images, really. They were completely fantastic. She was glad that he was finally starting to show his work - but then, she also knew how much of a pain in the ass it was to be able to do so. She really hoped this would propel him into a solid career. He definitely deserved it.

“You finally gonna get your shit together for a show?” he bumped her gently.

Reese remembered the offer Steve had made and smiled. “Yeah. I think I am.”

Evan’s smile was almost giddy. “Thank fuckin’ god. You gotta get seen , Ri. I mean it.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Reese grumbled, grinning.

“So, the fish school is pretty tonight,” he remarked as he gazed out at the sea of dancing people.

“It’s one of the better nights, really,” she replied, nodding, then said, “I gotta hit the head. I’ll be back.”

Evan nodded as he continued to watch the crowd, entranced. They were both awful when it came to shinies - like corvids. Reese grinned and headed through a hallway, stopping abruptly at the sounds of a struggle. She turned the corner to find a guy pressing up against a girl who struggled as he pushed her up against the wall. The girl cried out and Reese strode up and cold cocked him, startled when he slumped to the floor.

“Fuckin’ glass jaw,” She muttered, spitting on him before giving him a savage kick to the ribs.

The girl stumbled and threw herself at Reese, hugging her and babbling something she couldn’t understand. She started crying as Security arrived. They took one look at the scene before they then looked over at Reese who simply shrugged. Two large men in black nodded, then picked up the guy and dragged him off to toss him out on his ass.

The girl slumped in Reese’s arms and she groaned. Another security guy showed up and helped her with the girl. “I’m pretty sure he roofied her. Please tell me they bloodied him before they threw him out.”

The security guy just grinned and she smiled and saluted him, then went off to take care of business.

Thankfully, there were no further altercations that night. Reese had stopped working security years ago, but she still had enough contacts in the scene that people respected her judgement and her reaction time. In other venues, she would’ve been thrown out as well for ‘starting something’. Fucking rape culture, ladies and gentlemen - as I live and breathe.

As it was, Reese was able to enjoy the rest of her night, and as she and Becca were getting ready to leave, Security explained that they’d been able to get the girl to the local ER, where a family member was waiting for her.

“Would’a been a lot worse if you hadn’t stopped him… at least he didn’t get her out to the parking lot.”

Reese shuddered. The very idea. Rapist shitbag. She wanted to find him and kick the everloving shit out of him. How often would people rape if the odds of them being seriously injured or even killed increased? It was something Reese wondered often. She didn’t even bother to ask if the police had been called. The cops did fuckall about these kinds of cases because rape ‘was too hard to prosecute’. And, honestly? They weren’t wrong - but that shit was By Design . There were too many judges who were more than willing to give slaps on the wrists to young white men with ‘promising futures’, and too many labs that ‘lost’ rapekits, only to have them be found five to ten years later gathering dust in the back of a storeroom.

Shit like this made her just want to Burn It All Down. She found herself wondering if Steve had the same kind of rage over this kinda thing, then came to the conclusion that he likely did - from what he’d said earlier.

God, what a mockery. No wonder he hated the fucking suit.

Reese growled, “Please tell me one of the homeless guys at least pissed on him while he was still knocked out?”

The Security guy laughed and shook his head. “Nah, but I would’a filmed that shit if it had happened.”

Becca joined her and took her hand, squeezing it.

“C’mon Thelma. Let’s go home.”

Reese sighed, then smiled. “Ok, Louise.”

 

--

 

It was a week before Steve reached out to her again.

 

Cap’n: Hey - would it be okay if I swung by later tonight?

R: Sure - but I ain’t cookin’ this time. :)

Cap’n: Want me to bring food?

R: Yeah. Surprise me.

Cap’n: Roger that. ;)

R: :D

 

He was out of control adorable. It was stupid, really. Reese grinned, then glared over at the camera. “Did I fucking say you could look at me?” she spat.

The man on the screen quickly bowed his head, trying to become as small as possible.

“Wretched, disrespectful worm,” she growled. “That’ll be an extra Five Hundred - but you’re such a greedy pig, you can afford it.”

“Yes Mistress, oh god I’m so sorry Mistress. I’m putting the transfer in now,” the man quailed.

She sat on the edge of the bed, crossing her legs and smoothing down her skirt. God, she loved the financial domination clients. Most of them were likely men that she’d hate on site - that she would want to punch squarely in the face if she ever met them in person. She was more than happy to take their money - and, she had to admit, it felt like a little victory each time. She didn’t get many of them so she always charged them ridiculous rates to make up for the deficit. They were always more than happy to pay.

Reese heard the ding on her phone that notified her that the transaction had completed. She checked her account, then smiled.

Yeah. I could do this all day.

 

--

 

She greeted Steve at the door with a large cartoon drawing of a chibi Captain America grinning and waving back at the viewer. A conversation bubble over his head said, “I sure say fuck an awful lot.”

Steve collapsed with laughter as he looked at it.

“Oh my god,” he gasped, giggling now. “That’s hilarious .”

Reese grinned so much her cheeks were actually starting to hurt. “I’m really glad you like it.”

He steadied himself then moved to lay a gentle hand on her shoulder. “It’s fantastic. It’s the nicest thing anybody’s given me in a long time. Thank you.”

Reese blushed and ducked. “I just know you have a rough time out there. I wanted to give you something that’d help get your mind off it.”

“Mission accomplished,” he laughed, holding up a large bag.

“Taco truck tacos?” he asked, looking hopeful.

“You magnificent bastard. Please tell me some of those are pork tacos and that you got extra limes?”

He chuckled and nodded, “I got a sample of everything since I didn’t know what you liked.”

“Oh my god, I love you,” she murmured, grinning.

He blinked, his expression going blank for a second before he started grinning again. Reese laughed and said, “Don’t go getting all excited, sport. I’m expressing appreciation for the amazing art buddy you’re turning out to be.”

Steve laughed at that, shaking his head as he pulled a taco out of the bag and handed it to her.

“Taco roulette?” he asked.

“Just hand over the pork tacos and nobody gets hurt,” she replied, her eyes narrowed.

He rolled his eyes then walked over to set ten pork tacos on the kitchen table.

“No sense of adventure,” he muttered, still smiling.

Reese took a seat and growled before taking a bite of one of the tacos.

“Oh my god, this is amazing. You gotta tell me where this truck is,” she groaned before taking another bite.

“Oh no - I tell you and you tell somebody else and then the guy’s swarmed with business, lines down the block. How do I get my tacos then?”

She laughed as he sat across from her. “Ok, Captain I-Hate-Capitalism,” she quipped.

He gave her a mild look then started eating. The food was so good, they stayed silent throughout the meal. Reese had initially thought that they’d never be able to get through the sheer number of tacos Steve had brought with him - however, once she stated she was finished, he pointed at the bag and asked, “Do you mind if I…?”

“Knock yourself out,” she replied, startled when he’d actually been able to eat the rest of them easily.

“Jesus, you can really pack it away,” she breathed.

He grinned and shrugged, “It’s a ‘Super Soldier’ thing. I need so much food just to maintain, it’s not funny.”

“That sounds like an enormous pain in the ass - are you always eating?” she asked, honestly curious.

“I always carry some kind of food with me, just in case. But yeah - it can be,” he replied with a sigh.

“Does it feel almost mechanical after awhile? I mean - do you actually enjoy the food you eat?”

He frowned for a moment, then answered, “I guess I don’t really think about it all that much. I mean - sure, meals like this I can enjoy, but when I’m packing food in just to have the energy? I barely taste it.”

“Why do you ask?” he peered back at her, curious.

“I kinda want to cook for you more often now,” she replied. “I guess I want to get to know you better. If I’m overstepping…”

He leaned forward and shook his head, “No - you’re not. I don’t mind talking about it with you. And - I’ll be happy to eat anything you cook, whenever you want to share it with me.”

“You’d tell me if my cooking was shit, right?” she asked, wary now.

He narrowed his eyes, grinning. “This is a trap, right?”

“Oh, you’re a dick . That’s it. Friendship annulled.”

He laughed and she grinned and stood up, cleaning up the wrappers. Steve stood to help her, still laughing.

Becca walked out of her room wearing a PVC Schoolgirl outfit with an enormous black strap-on dildo pooching out at a jaunty angle from beneath the too-short skirt. She stilled when she spotted Steve, then looked over at Reese and squeaked, “Batteries?”

“Oh, yeah - I picked up a whole pack of new ones. It’s around here somewhere,” Reese began searching through the mess on the kitchen counter, crowing out as she held them up, “Found ‘em!”

She walked over to Becca who collected the batteries from her and cheerfully waved to them both, “Thanks!”

Reese looked over to see Steve blinking and looking a little lost.

“We work odd hours,” she explained, not wanting to embarrass him further.

Becca’s door closed and he cleared his throat. “Uh… was she wearing…?”

“A giant black dick?” Reese helpfully supplied.

“Ah… yeah. That.”

Reese nodded and said, “Yep. She sure was.”

Steve took another breath and Reese asked, “You okay?”

He nodded and looked back at her. “Sorry… that just really… threw me for a minute.”

Reese chuckled and patted his arm. “C’mon - I have some new art books we can go through.”

Steve smiled and grinned then. “You know me so well.”

They excitedly flipped through the images, talking about the particulars of the pieces that resonated with them strongly, then she challenged them both to present the respective subjects in a different perspective, with a different style. They sat together, creating art and providing critical, supportive feedback, for hours.

When Reese finally looked up from the last piece she’d finished, she looked over at the clock and blinked.

It was 2 in the morning.

She looked over at Steve who was busily putting the finishing touches on his as well and she realized she was starting to fade.

“I think we’re gonna have to pick this back up another night - I’m falling out,” she murmured, surprising herself with how tired she sounded.

“Oh - sorry… Once I start something like this, I tend to keep going until it burns itself out,” he explained with a sheepish grin.

“Yeah, I know that feeling.” she stood and stumbled and Steve was immediately at her side, holding her up.

“You sure you’re ok?” he asked, obviously concerned.

“Yeah - I’m just a lot more tired than I thought I was,” she replied, taking a deep breath and steadying herself. Suddenly, it was as though her strings had been cut as she slumped. Steve moved to catch her. 

“Please let me help,” he murmured softly.

Fucking siezures. They came every few years, usually incapacitating her for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time. She’d tried having a doctor check her out for it, but nobody could find anything wrong. Reese hated feeling helpless - thankful that this time it hadn’t happened outside of the house. It was bad enough that it was happening in front of Steve.

“Bed. N..need bed,” She mumbled, slurring her words.

She tried to relax and ride it out as he hefted her easily into his arms and walked her back into her bedroom. He held her up with one arm as he shifted the covers over, then he set her down.

“Is there anything I can get you?” he asked, all seriousness. Ah, there was Cap. All business now.

It made her feel… safe. He wasn’t freaking out, and wasn’t giving her shit for inconveniencing him, as several of her exes had in the past.

“Water… leave on table. Drink later.” she replied, irritated at herself.

“Ok. Are you sure you don’t need me to get somebody?”

She let out a sluggish laugh at the idea of him going off to fetch the ‘town doctor’, as if this was Victorian England.

“Nno… be ok ‘n twenny mints…” she slurred as he gently got her settled, pulling the covers over her.

“This happen a lot?” he asked, unable to help himself.

She slapped ineffectually at him. “Stop. Fug off…”

He shook his head, the ghost of a smile playing at the edges of his lips. “I’m not going anywhere until this passes. I’m here for anything you need.”

“Dun need no fug’n s’perh’ro babysitr…” she tried her best to glare at him and he grinned.

“Stop spitting. God, you’re like a feral cat,” he murmured, shaking his head.

He stood and she fluttered her hands against the sheets. 

“Wher gone?” she whined, wincing at the sound of it.

He looked back at her with a mixed look of amusement and irritation. “You wanted water?”

Reese blinked slowly, then said, “Fine.”

He chuckled and went to the kitchen, filled a glass from the filtered water jug in the fridge, then headed back into her room, placing it down on a table beside the bed.

He then moved to sit in her computer chair, looking around and just chuckling at all the various outfits hanging from the rack off in the corner.

“I have so many questions,” he murmured, grinning.

She tried desperately to give him the finger and failed miserably.

 

--

 

Steve watched over her as her eyes fluttered closed, setting a timer on his phone. He just wanted to stay long enough to ensure she was ok. His overly protective instincts were kicked into overdrive and he did what he could to try to back them down. He couldn’t help it. It was such a large core of who he was as a person.

He felt odd just staring at her, so he looked around for a notebook - anything to draw on. He pulled a piece of paper out of her printer, using one of her books to draw on as he started sketching her out in pencil. She’d put her mohawk up today and there was a little wave in it where the pillow pushed against it. His eyes traced the designs on her shoulder and arms once she shifted them out from beneath the blanket.

His alarm went off as he was halfway through sketching her, buzzing in his pocket. He quickly quieted it, placing the book and the sheet back on the chair as he walked over and gently reached down to give her a shake.

“Reese - you ok? Still with me?” he asked quietly, not wanting to startle her.

She groaned and opened her eyes, looking up at him.

“You and your stupid, pretty face,” she grumbled, closing her eyes and covering them with her arm.

He still wasn’t really used to women finding him attractive. Inside, he was still that skinny, sickly little kid who wheezed every time he exerted himself. The one dames didn’t have the time of day for, especially when… He cut that train of thought off, then chuckled softly and murmured, “You sound better.”

“Yeah - I’m good now, but I’m out for the night. Can you let yourself out? I don’t think I could make it to the door…” she mumbled.

“You sure? I can sack out on the couch.”

She let out a bark of laughter. “You wouldn’t fit on it.”

He nodded and admitted, “There is that.”

She peeked out from beneath her arm, grinning.

“Go home. Rest. I’ll call you if I need you. I promise,” she breathed.

“Okay. I’m sufficiently convinced that you’ll be alright.” He stood and moved to collect his sketch, then looked back, “Can we do this again sometime?”

She nodded and said, “Oh my god, if you turn the light out as you go, I’ll love you forever.”

He chuckled and flicked the switch, smiling as she groaned and rolled over and went to sleep.

As he made his way back home, he found himself thinking back to how peaceful Reese had looked when she was sleeping. He’d never slept particularly soundly, or easily, since the war - and he wondered what it was like, being able to sleep through the night without all the nightmares in his head.

Once back in his apartment, he opened a new sketchpad and started drawing some of the more horrific things he’d borne witness to, in the hopes of getting it out of his head. Maybe if it was on paper, he wouldn’t have to carry the memory so vividly anymore.

Chapter Text

The next morning, she awoke to the following text:

 

Cap’n: You doing ok?

 

She shook her head and smiled.

 

R: Yeah. SEARING headache, but much better.

Cap’n: kinda scared me there for a minute.

R: Sorry about that. It’s… ah… a long story.

Cap’n: I’m glad you’re ok. You need any help today getting around?

R: Nah, I’m mobile. In fact, it’ll help if I walk around.

Cap’n: Want company?

 

She chuckled and muttered, “Oh my god.”

 

R: Are you that bored?

Cap’n: I just finished four hours of training. I need a break. Figured I’d hang out with my new Art buddy.

R: Jesus, what time did you get up? 6am?

 

She looked over at the clock - it was around 10.

 

Cap’n: I didn’t really sleep last night, but yeah - usually 6. Every morning.

R: You’re insane.

Cap’n: Oddly enough, you’re not the first person to say that to me.

 

She laughed and shifted to sit at the edge of the bed.

 

R: Fine. Come over. I’m too wrecked to cook, tho’

Cap’n: I’ll pick something up on the way over. Any requests?
R: Surprise me again. That worked out well last time.

Cap’n: Roger. :)

R: Stop calling me Roger.

Cap’n: 🙄

R: Oh my god. Captain America does EMOJIS? Stop the presses!

Cap’n: Yeah, yeah - the ninety year old guy can learn a new trick or two.

R: I guess I’m gonna have to stop referring to you as ‘the fuddy duddy with the shield’ in my head now.

Cap’n: Please. Stop.

R: :D

Cap’n: I changed my mind. Oh, look - aliens are attacking Atlanta… gotta go…

R: Such a dick move, Rogers .

Cap’n: I’ll be over in about an hour.

R: I should be awake and dressed by then.

Cap’n: What, you’re not awake now? How are we even having this conversation?

R: Smartass

Cap’n: You’re not the first person to say that to me either.

R: I’ll see you in an hour, Cap .

Cap’n: That was harsh and unnecessary.

R: I disagree. I’m getting up now.

Cap’n: See you in an hour :)

 

Reese grinned and dropped the phone back on the bed as she stretched.

Fuck. I really like him. She sighed and got up. The realization surprised her. He was silly and funny - he seemed to get her, and he was actually helping her see different elements that she could incorporate into her art. He had such a good eye. He was entirely different from what she’d initially expected, and she was pleasantly surprised. 

She kind of felt like a dick for the way she’d judged him and snapped at him when they’d first encountered each other. Somebody being an asshole to him in the middle of the crisis he was working to solve was probably the last thing he needed. She really hoped that he had somebody in his life who really appreciated him for who he was, as opposed to what he could do for them.

And if not - which was completely heartbreaking, she’d be happy to be that person - that friend who he could completely relax with and engage the part of himself that still saw such beauty in the world, after the horrors he must have witnessed. That there could still be so much joy, so much good in a man, after?

She had done a little digging on the internet, reading up a bit on him and had found herself wanting to check out one of the multiple books that had been written about him to get to know him a little better, but that felt a little… intrusive? Steve had apparently proven pretty tight lipped when it came to speaking about the past so far, so historians had to dig for news clippings and first hand interviews from those who knew him ‘back in the day’ to piece together the man who had given himself over as a guinea pig to the government simply to fight the good fight.

To have done something so brave, and so completely stupid. It boggled her mind. The fact that he had actively sought her out and befriended her? It was a gift that she treasured, and she felt herself wanting dearly to keep him safe. It seemed silly, this need to protect this enormous, 6’2” science enhanced warrior from the harms of the world when he was out actively putting himself in danger on a regular basis - but it wasn’t something she could really help.

She’d always been a protector - first for her sister, the time she’d been big enough to have gotten between her and her father’s brother - a monster who did unspeakable things to her sister every time he visited, and then for her mother, when their father started beating her for telling him what his brother had been doing to their girls. It seems she had spent her whole life fighting - and when she’d been younger, she had actually sought it out - putting various would be rapists into the hospital with broken bones and missing teeth. Yeah - if anybody could understand Steve’s need to defend, she definitely did.

Reese sighed and started brushing her teeth, peering back at her reflection. Her mohawk had fallen at some point during the night and was lopsided. It looked ridiculous. She shook her head at her mirrored image, deciding to leave it down today. Becca would help her put it into a french braid so she wouldn’t have to fuck with it.

She stepped into the shower, letting the heat of the water soak into her bones.

 

--

 

Steve grinned as he walked to the Greek restaurant he’d placed an order with earlier. He felt… lighter this morning. He didn’t know what it was about this new friendship, but it gave him something he hadn’t felt in a long time. Hope that he could be more than just a tactician and brute force weapon. He found himself wanting to show Reese the wall of his apartment that he’d turned into an art project, as she’d suggested. He didn’t know if that was entirely appropriate, though. Although the world around him had changed, he was still fairly old fashioned about some things.

His order was up and he went to collect it, thinking over how quickly he’d fallen into this friendship. It had been so long since he’d been able to really talk to anybody about anything other than operational missions. Granted, he’d joke around with the team, but it wasn’t the same. They felt like… family. This felt decidedly different, and he wasn’t really sure why. I mean, obviously, it was different, but this was… different in a way that was hard for him to put in words.

Since coming out of the ice, he hadn’t really made many friends other than S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and other Avengers. Everything was The Work, and that’s what he’d focused on as he tried to find his way through this strange century.

His friendship with Reese was something that supported him in a way he hadn’t experienced in a long time. She was so different from the women back in his time. Fashion had certainly changed, sometimes to an almost alarming degree. He still blushed whenever he saw a woman in a bikini - no matter how hard he tried not to.

Granted, the women in his life were solid, no-nonsense people. Deadly , solid no-nonsense people. He thought that perhaps his protectiveness about Reese had to do with the fact that she was a civilian. She wasn’t In The Fight. Well, not in that way. She certainly had a rebellious spirit, which - he had to admit, was fairly appealing.

Everything about her brought out that strong need to protect, even though she looked like she could probably handle herself in a fight pretty well. It was something he couldn’t really help.

He’d finished putting the final touches on the sketch he’d done of her, hoping she liked it.

Her drawing still made him laugh and he’d hung it in the living room. 

It made him grin every time he spotted it out of the corner of his eye.

He really hoped she liked the sketch.

 

--

 

God, this guy with the food. How many orders of Greek dishes had he gone through? Still, the fact that he was willing to eat the way he normally would in front of her belied a certain amount of trust, and she appreciated that he felt comfortable enough around her to be himself. Once they’d finished and cleaned up, moving to sit on the sofa across from one another, he handed her a piece of paper. When she looked down at the drawing, she gasped. He’d made her look… like an ethereal creature out of a fairy tale. Was this what he really saw when he looked at her?

Reese looked back up at him and her heart dropped - he looked a little nervous.

“Wow. Steve… This is gorgeous,” she breathed.

He let out a breath and relaxed, then smiled. “I’m glad you like it.”

Her fingers gently traced the image as she breathed, “You made me look beautiful.”

“...you are beautiful, Reese.” he replied softly.

She looked back over at him, shocked. He laughed and shook his head. “How is it that you don’t see it? You seem to see it in everything else.”

Reese frowned and shot back, “And you see it in you, do you?”

Steve winced, then shrugged. “Touché.”

She immediately felt bad.

“Shit. I’m sorry. I’m kinda crap at accepting compliments.”

He sighed and let out a soft chuckle, “Me too.”

He leaned into the back of the sofa and shook his head. “I don’t know how to react. I’m still not used to the attention, even after all this time - but you… Reese, you’ve looked like this all your life. You’re so bright and larger than life - I wish you could see yourself the way I do.”

Reese looked over at him, seeing just how earnest he was about it. “Larger than life, huh?”

Steve grinned and nodded. “As odd as it sounds, you’re the best part of my day, Reese. I get to relax - be myself with you. You don’t make me feel like… well, I feel like just another guy when we hang out. It’s… nice.” He sighed. “I get to put the soldier part of me on the back burner when I’m here so that I can focus on something… creative. I can focus on making something. It helps.”

She smiled back at him, pleased. “I’m really glad to hear that, Steve. I enjoy your company too, and Becca likes ogling you when you visit.”

He blushed and laughed, then said, “Wanna hit a museum today?”

Reese thought about it for a moment, then said, “Actually - would you be up for Central Park instead? I kinda want to get out in nature today.”

She looked him over, pursing her lips. “Although, you kinda stick out like a sore thumb, even though you dress like my dad.”

He chuckled and said, “Nat’s always on me about my clothes.”

“I can see why,” she teased.

He smiled and shrugged. “It’s a style I feel comfortable with. I know it’s old fashioned, but… it works for me.”

Reese sighed and replied, “Yeah. I get that. Stay with what makes you comfortable. You’re already dealing with enough stressful shit. You should have some safe, comfy stuff to bring you back to ground.”

He looked almost grateful as he met her eyes. “Thanks for understanding and not giving me too much shit about it.”

She shrugged and grinned, “Trust me - I get wanting to be comfortable in your own skin. We all just go about it differently. It’s not anybody’s business to tell me to dress in a way that makes them more comfortable - same goes for you.”

He gave her a warm smile, then looked down at his hands.

“Is Nat trying to get you laid?” she asked, curious now.

He flushed and stammered, “Ah… yeah. It’s not… I just… I’m… that’s not really what I want.”

“Sorry,” she murmured, “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

Steve looked up and shook his head, “It’s ok.” He took a breath, then continued, “I get that this is a different time, with different cultural mores - but… I guess what I’m trying to say is sometimes I have a hard time keeping up.”

He seemed to want to say more, so she remained silent until he shifted beside her on the couch and frowned. “So much has changed, and it’s all giving me cultural whiplash. I haven’t really had time to get my legs under me about all of it and then there’s aliens invading New York, and insane megalomaniacal killer robots - it’s all been a little difficult to process.”

Steve looked extremely uncomfortable as he continued, “And then - yeah, the ladies were a little  handsy back in the 1940’s when I was touring with the USO, but now? It’s a whole new terrifying world. I wouldn’t even know where to start, and I really don’t like it when people that I don’t  know touch me, especially when it’s...” he winced.

His expression soured and she placed a gentle hand on his arm. “Nobody does, Steve. It’s ok to be angry about it. I’m really sorry that happens to you.”

He sighed and relaxed, his voice soft and quiet as he replied, “Thank you, Reese. You’re a really good person.
She squeezed his arm then sat back and smiled. “So, grandpa, we hittin’ the park or what?”

Steve let out a bark of laughter and gave her knee a playful push. “Oh fuck off.”

Reese laughed and asked, “Is that a yes?”

He started laughing as well and nodded, “God, you’re a pain in the ass.”

“Yeah, yeah - get yer ass movin’, Captain Wrinkles.”

 

--

 

They sat together at various points near Belvedere Castle - Reese taking pictures with a DSLR camera while Steve sketched various scenes throughout the day before they moved on to Bethesda Terrace and Fountain as the sun started dipping low in the sky. Reese’s favorite time was the Golden Hour, with the sun’s light becoming soft, warm and radiant as it reflected through the trees.

Steve sat on a bench, continuing to sketch as she wandered around, taking snapshots - copying images that she wanted to incorporate into a larger piece in her head.

When twilight hit she walked back over to Steve to see what he was working on. He looked up and grinned as he met her eyes, turning his sketchpad so that she could see it, and she was startled to see a collection of images of her poised to take photos at various points around the terrace.

She looked back to see him shrug as he gave her a warm smile. “I like drawing you. You have great lines.”

Reese chuckled and sat beside him, leaning against him as he leaned in to watch her scroll through all the images of the pictures she’d taken.

“Is there anything you’re bad at?” he asked, teasing.

She gently jostled him, then sighed and looked over at the fountain, watching a guy looking up at his girlfriend walking on the lip of the fountain, her arms held out to balance herself. The couple was laughing and smiling and Reese brought up the camera to take a few shots. She looked over to see Steve watching the couple as well, his expression a little wistful.

“Would it be ok if I…?” she looked over at him and made a gesture with the camera.

It took a moment, but then he nodded, looking a little wary, his jaw tight.

“If it makes you uncomfortable, it’s ok. I don’t need to…” she trailed off as he shook his head then sighed.

“No… it’s just… I get a little weird when people take pictures of me. Again - I’m just not used to the attention. It doesn’t feel right.”

Reese lowered the camera and asked, “Why doesn’t it feel right? You’re a beautiful guy, Steve.”

He blushed and lowered his eyes. “I didn’t always look like this, though. I don’t get why it’s such a big deal is all.”

Reese had seen pictures online of what Steve had looked like before the transformation. She honestly thought he’d looked beautiful back then as well, but she knew how harsh people could be when bodies didn’t meet their particular standards of what they considered attractive.

“You ever have somebody in your life who just appreciated you for you? As you were before?” She leaned in a little and murmured, “And just so we’re clear, you were gorgeous back then too. People were just too blind to see it.”

Steve stilled, his breath stuttering in his chest and his eyes closing as he gulped. “Yeah. A long time ago…” he whispered.

“You have Value , Steve. You Matter - and not just because people find you physically attractive.”

She sighed and continued, “You’re a genuinely good guy, Steve. A rarity these days. A cis het white guy who isn’t a total horndog douche.”

He frowned, then seemed to relax as he looked over at her.

“I ah… I’m more… heteroflexible, actually.” he admitted with a small smile. “If that helps.”

She blinked at his admission, startled that he trusted her with something like this. Granted, nowadays it was a lot safer to simply admit it outright, but back in his day? He could’ve been killed. She smiled and shook her head, “Well, hello fellow sexual subversive. Welcome to the club.”

She wrapped her arm around his shoulder and gave him a brief squeeze, chuckling.

“Seriously, though - thank you for trusting me enough to come out to me,” she breathed, her stomach doing a little flip as he beamed back at her.

He quietly replied, “Thank you for trusting me enough to become my friend.”

His stomach let out a loud growl and she laughed as he flushed.

“I guess your tank is runnin’ low. Let’s get you fed.”

Chapter Text

It never ceased to amaze her how much Steve could eat.

“Tony talked about developing a paste full of protein and nutrients that I could eat, saying that he could flavor it any way I wanted,” he explained, shuddering.

Reese laughed and shook her head.

“That sounds horrifying,” she replied.

He nodded and grinned. “I know. He’s an odd bird, that kid.”

They’d gone for Indian food this time. She took another sip of Mulligatawny soup, then mused, “It’d probably end up being a lot cheaper for you, in the long run.”

He shrugged and inhaled another Aloo Tikki before saying, “That’s… ah… not really a concern.”

Reese blinked, but didn’t inquire further. People rarely liked sharing details about their financial situations.

“I’m glad you don’t have to worry about that,” she murmured, meaning it. The guy deserved to have one less thing to think about on his plate.

Steve sighed and frowned, then replied, “I wouldn’t say I don’t worry about it - I mean… it’s just… complicated.”

“Money’s always complicated.”

“That’s true enough.”

They ate in companionable silence for a few minutes, then Steve cleared his throat and said.

“I want to show you something.”

Reese looked up to find him looking a little uneasy. “You ok?”

He frowned briefly, then nodded. “Yeah… I just… It’s just back at my place. I’d… really like your opinion on something.”

Reese teased him to take a little of the discomfort out of his expression. “Why Steve Rogers - are you wanting me to ‘come up and see your etchings’?”

He blinked, then flushed bright red and quickly looked away. “Oh god, no. I…”

Reese reached out and gently placed her hand over his. “Steve. I’m just giving you shit. It’s ok.”

He met her eyes and shifted his hand to give hers a brief squeeze. “Sorry… It’s just that… back in my day, if you offered to bring a gal back to your place… well…” he sighed and looked down. “Shit, I just don’t know what’s appropriate now.”

He trembled a little and she waited patiently for him to continue.

“It’s just that… this… your friendship really means a lot to me. I don’t want to ruin this,” he waved between them, “whatever this is.”

Reese’s heart went out to him. Poor guy. “Your friendship means a lot to me too, Steve. In the last few days, you’ve helped me make improvements to my work that I hadn’t even considered before. You’ve also kind of renewed my faith in mankind a little - me, a hateful little misanthrope, angry at the world. This means a lot to me too.”

He let out a heavy sigh and relaxed.

“I don’t want to wreck it either - whatever this ends up being.”

There was silence between them for a beat before she added, “I’d love to see whatever you want to show me.”

He smiled and they finished the rest of their meal in silence.

 

--

 

When he told her that she needed to wear a substantial jacket, she’d frowned at him, but he hadn’t elaborated. She shrugged and ducked into her closet, plucking out a leather jacket full of patches and pulling it on. When he saw the ‘KILL YOUR LOCAL RAPIST’ patch on her chest, he just shook his head and smiled.

They stepped out of her house and walked over to a large Harley-Davidson Street 750. He turned back to look at her and said, “Don’t worry. I don’t really need a helmet,” as he plucked the helmet from the seat and handed it to her.

Reese narrowed her eyes at him and said, “You asshole. You’ve been holding out on me. Why didn’t we ride this fuckin’ thing to Central Park?”

His grin was mischievous as he cocked a leg up and over the bike, settling down on the seat.

“Maybe I just wanted to experience the magic of twenty-first century public transit with my new friend? Besides, have you ever tried to find parking anywhere near there? It’s a nightmare, even for a motorcycle.”

She just glared at him and swung a leg over, settling behind him before pulling the helmet on.

He looked back and grinned, then said, “Hold tight.”

Reese wrapped her arms around his middle, a small thrum going through her gut at how taut his stomach was. Good lord, he was solid . She tried not to think too hard about it. She wasn’t going to fuck this up simply because her body was starting to respond to his. He needed a friend, not a complication.

He started the bike and patted her leg before putting it in gear and pulling away from the curb. It was stupid how hot this was. She sighed and held on as he zipped through traffic easily, the bike gliding between cars as though this was his only job in life.

At least traffic wasn’t that awful. As they crossed over to Manhattan, it occurred to Reese that she’d never asked him where he lived. When they pulled up to Avengers Tower, she blinked. He pulled into the garage and parked the bike, looking back at her.

“You good?”

She nodded, pulling the helmet off and handing it to him as she looked out at an almost embarrassing collection of ridiculous penile compensation cars. Steve shifted the kickstand down and Reese climbed off the back, standing to the side as he rocked the bike over and dismounted.

He saw her staring at the cars and quietly said, “All Tony’s.”

Reese chuckled and breathed, “Wow. His dick must be the size of a Tic Tac.”

Steve let out a bark of laughter before a disembodied female voice rang out. “Welcome back, Captain Rogers. Did you need me to add your guest to the building’s security roster?”

Reese looked around for the source of the voice and Steve explained, “That’s F.R.I.D.A.Y. She’s kinda Tony’s digital assistant. Yes - please, F.R.I.D.A.Y.”

“Access granted. Welcome to Avengers Tower, Reese Wilhelmina Hayes. You now have clearance to access the common areas, Steve Roger’s personal suite, the break room and the gym.”

Reese blinked back at him, startled. “Are you shitting me? How does she know my name?”

Before Steve could answer, F.R.I.D.A.Y. replied, “Ms. Hayes, I apologize if I’ve made you uncomfortable - however, I do need to run a full security check on all persons requiring access to Stark Facilities.”

Reese narrowed her eyes at Steve and he held his hands up. “Shit. I didn’t even think of that. Reese, I’m really sorry.”

F.R.I.D.A.Y. spoke up again, saying, “Ms. Hayes, if it makes you feel more comfortable, I can guarantee I won’t share any of the information that I gather for anything other than maintaining security access protocols for the facility.”

Reese shook a little, reassured but still uneasy. She took a deep breath and said, “Thank you Friday, although a heads up beforehand would have been nice.”

She glared over at Steve who sighed and hung his head.

“Come on, jerk. Let’s go see this thing you wanted to show me,” she murmured, gently taking his hand and giving it a little shake.

He looked over at her with a slow, tentative smile. “You sure?”

She nodded and pulled him along. “Yeah. It’s fine. I’m good. I trust you.”

His smile grew bright and her heart fluttered as he squeezed her hand. “Thank you.”

She chuckled and said, “C’mon ya big palooka. Get movin’.” 

She dropped his hand and poked him playfully in the side and he jerked away with a grin.

“Palooka? Who even talks like that anymore?” he teased, laughing now, slapping her hand away and heading towards the elevators.

Everything about the building was… odd. She’d never been in such a high-tech building. Parts of it looked like an odd spaceship - so much glass and metal.

As they stepped out of the elevator, she looked around and winced. “Oh god. How do you deal with this every day?”

Steve shrugged and said, “You get used to it. It’s background noise for me at this point.”

There were rare personal touches here and there, but Reese doubted that had been Tony’s doing. Maybe this Friday person was helping sort out the art situation for him? The entire facility felt very cold and unfriendly to her, so she focused on Steve as she followed behind him.

Reese spotted a man with short brownish hair clad in black tactical gear walking towards them. He had a bow strapped to his back. The man waved at them and called out, “Hey Cap! Early night?”

Clint jogged up to them with a grin, looking over at her, “Who’s your friend?”

The man looked her up and down, but it was more assessing than ogling.

Steve cleared his throat and said, “Hey Clint.” He turned to introduce her, “Reese, this is Clint.”

Clint’s grin grew as he held out a hand, “Nice to meet you Reese.”

Reese blinked, then took his hand and shook it, still a little boggled that she was actually shaking hands with Hawkeye . She was still pretty sure that she hated supes, but - being this close to another one, especially when he was being almost disarmingly friendly, was a little disorienting.

“Where are you headed?” Steve asked, his tone casual.

Clint winced and explained, “Pepper talked me into doing another fucking charity event.”

Steve chuckled and placed a hand briefly on the man’s shoulder. “Better you than me.”

Clint gave him the stink eye then grinned, “Oh, trust me buddy - you’re next in the rotation.”

Steve groaned and slumped his shoulders, “Why do we keep letting her talk us into this?” he asked, beleaguered.

“Fuck if I know,” Clint replied, with a laugh. “Enjoy your night off, slacker,” he called out, giving a friendly slap to Steve’s back before walking over to the elevators.

Steve looked over at Reese who was watching Actual Fucking Avenger Hawkeye as he punched a button and casually waited for the elevator, tapping at his cellphone. It almost looked like he was playing a game on it.

Reese blinked.

I mean - sure, she supposed that they had ‘normal, day-to-day lives’ where they weren’t always throwing themselves at aliens or robots - but the scene before her was just so... anti-climatic . She met Steve’s eyes and shook her head. “It’s going to take a little getting used to - this part of your life,” she murmured.

He grinned and took her hand, gently pulling her after him. “C’mon - it’s this way.”

 

--

 

“Oh my god, Steve.”

Reese stepped into the apartment, eyes wide. It was sparsely furnished with pieces that seemed built more for comfort than for artistic value - but still, he made it work somehow. It was very… homey - comfy.

It was the immense, intricate series of images that he’d painted on the wall that made her heart thunder behind her ribcage. It was all echoes of memories from his time doing the USO circuit - various women and men going about their daily lives - behind the scenes of the ridiculous production he’d been a part of, having no idea that Steve had taken snapshots of these moments in his head for later reference. Reese also recognized the soldier from his previous drawings - the piece was peppered with images of him throughout. After Steve had come out to her earlier, the images took on a new tone. The pictures presented felt almost like a love letter of sorts to him. Steve had loved this man - deeply. She found herself wondering briefly if they’d ever had a chance to be lovers. She hoped so. Steve deserved to have all the happiness in his life that he could squeeze out of it.

She then recognized herself in a place of prominence - it was a side image of her laughing uproariously at something, her head thrown back and her hand at her shoulder. She reached out to touch it, blown away at the joy in the colorful image reflected back at her.

It was all rendered in such loving detail and she was clear that these were… happy memories for him.

She looked over to see Steve watching her with a wariness that felt a little… off. As though it was really important to him - her opinion of this particular work of his.

Reese could see that he was really tightening up his style, becoming more secure in himself, and it made her really happy for him. He was clearly finding his love again in the world and that was magnificent.

“It’s fucking luminous , Steve. It’s some of your best work.”

He let out a breath of relief and sighed. He’d splayed his heart over the canvas of the place he felt the safest and it made her feel something… significant that he’d added her to this collection of memories. That he’d wanted to share it with her.

He gently placed an arm around her shoulders and she wrapped an arm around his waist, feeling grounded - connected. It was a good, solid feeling.

“Thank you so much for the idea. Once I started it all just… came together,” he murmured.

It really was the best feeling in the world, being able to help somebody find their joy again. She was so pleased for him.

“Thank you for bringing this back to me,” he whispered, shivering.

She looked up to see a tear trailing down his cheek and moved to hug him. “Hey - this is all you, buddy. You’re choosing to fall in love with it again. YOU .”

He wrapped strong arms around her, sighing as they just held each other. She felt him kiss the top of her head and trembled. “I really hope this doesn’t sound condescending, but I’m really proud of you, Steve.”

 

--

 

He laughed softly and gave her a brief squeeze before releasing her and taking a step back to give her some space. He hadn’t meant to get overly emotional, but sometimes it couldn’t be helped. He just felt everything so strongly . That she’d just… held him, hugged him, meant more to him than she knew.

The easy, casual touches between them that seemed to be coming more naturally between them were like a soothing balm. It eased something in him, let him breathe a little easier - gave him more room to… BE . He didn’t feel like he had to hold himself as apart from people as he had before. Did she even know what she’d given him?

He hadn’t meant to get so close to anybody so quickly, but with Reese it had been effortless. He’d felt love before, and had definitely been in love before - a literal lifetime ago, but this was so different that he didn’t really know what to think about it. He’d never had this type of relationship with a woman before - one where he’d started tiptoeing into wanting to share more with her than he had with the other people in his life in this century.

“There’s something else… gimme a sec.”

He walked down the hall to his bedroom, reaching up into his closet for the box containing the… darker sketches. He paused for a moment, considering. Would she see him any differently after this? He took a deep breath, then turned and walked back out to the living room. She was still looking over the piece he’d created and he watched her for a few minutes, smiling as she moved from image to image, her hand lightly landing on various sections as she took it all in.

He smiled, feeling a warmth in him that made him a little giddy as he walked over to her.

Reese looked over and asked, “What’s this?” as he gently placed the box in her hands.

“This is the bad stuff. I… ah… I had to get it out somehow,” he explained, peering over at her as he took the top off the box and let her peek inside. He’d arranged the sheets so that the really awful pieces were more towards the bottom.

Reese reached in to pull out the first picture, holding it up. Steve took the box so that she’d have both hands free to take a look at it.

“Is this just the edge of it?” she asked softly.

He sighed and nodded.

“You don’t have to…,” he began, but she cut him off with, “No - I’m ok, Steve. I’m not unfamiliar with violence.”

He stiffened at that, trying to control his reaction. He didn’t want to explore that feeling too closely at the moment. He definitely didn’t want to think about what kinds of violent situations she’d found herself in the past. Now wasn’t the time for that kind of anger. 

 

--

 

Something odd and unreadable flashed across his expression, then he seemed to ease down.

Reese reached out and took him by the hand, leading him over to the couch. As he sat beside her, she placed his sketch over on the coffee table, keeping his hand in hers.

She took a deep breath, then explained, “I’m a survivor of childhood rape and domestic violence. I’ve also been involved in a fair amount of altercations where I actively beat the unholy fuck out of guys who raped or assaulted friends of mine, when I wasn’t giving more of the same to guys I caught in alleyways and bathrooms on club nights. I’ll let you know if I get to a point where I can’t handle what I’m seeing - ok?”

He pulled his hand away and immediately apologized for doing so, “Shit. I just didn’t want to crush your hand. I’m not…” he took a deep breath, then said, “I’m so fucking sorry that happened to you.”

He was shaking.

She knew exactly what he was doing - how hard he was holding himself back. She did the same damn thing every time she was a comforting shoulder for one of her friends who had been… Yeah. She totally understood.

“Steve, it’s ok. I’m ok. It took a lot, but I’m on the other side of it - have been for years now.”

She placed a steadying hand on his arm, then leaned into him. He let out a shaky breath, then relaxed.

“Thank you for trusting me with that,” he whispered, sighing.

Reese smiled back at him and said, “Thank you for trusting me with this.”

She held a palm out over the box with his sketches.

He nodded and she leaned forward and started going through the box - through the gauntlet that her friend’s strong heart and spirit had endured.

 

-- 

 

Halfway through, he could tell that it was starting to get to her a little. Her jaw was setting and her expression was growing… empty. He was honestly surprised that she’d gotten this far in, but he trusted her own judgement as to what she could handle. Still, he wanted to check in.

He reached over and touched her knee and she jerked before looking back at him, her eyes wide. He tended to do the same thing, when he allowed himself the time to do so - get so trapped in a piece that everything else just fell away.

He gave her a minute to get it together after startling her, then suggested, “Food?”

Reese took in a long, deep breath, then blew it out.

“Yeah - that… that sounds like a good idea,” she murmured.

They flipped through a few menus, then decided. Steve placed the delivery order, then called out, “Fifteen minutes,” as he poured them some water.

“Holy shit, you’re lying,” she cried out. The soonest she’d get food this time of night in her neighborhood was 45 minutes.

He turned to her with a sheepish grin, “It’s one of the perks of being a resident here,” he explained, shrugging and walking over to her, handing a glass down to her.

“Oh my god, what the fuck even?” she laughed, giving him the finger.

 

--

 

She’d been grateful for the distraction. That last image had really rattled her - just snuck up and dug its nasty hooks into her grey matter.

It felt good to be able to laugh after seeing… god , the things that lived in his memories. She hoped to hell he’d been able to purge some of it through this. Nobody should have those images in their head.

He smiled and sat back down beside her, then sobered as they both looked back at the box.

“You ever show these to anybody before?” she asked softly.

Steve croaked, “No.” He took a breath, then said, “I felt really strongly about showing these to you before, but now I’m not so sure I should have. I never wanted to have this shit in my head, much less share it with anybody, but... did I fuck up by letting you go through them?”

Reese leaned into him and shook her head. “You trusted me with a really dark place in your heart. I’m honored. Please don’t get down on yourself about it.”

He looked down at her with tears in his eyes and she reached out to him. He pulled her onto his lap and then started sobbing against her shoulder as she held him. She wept for all the pain the world had inflicted on him - for all the hurt and despair he must have gone through.

 

--

 

It just felt so damn… good to have somebody hold him while he fell apart for once. Reese had reached out to him and he couldn’t help himself - he’d just pulled her in and held on for dear life, hoping she wouldn’t pull away.

That she’d immediately wrapped her arms around him and just let him feel this with her, without hesitation - it was immense .

Oh god, it hurt so much .

It was as though the simple act of knowing that there was now another living person who knew what he’d endured - what he’d lived through… he’d felt something pull tight, then snap, and suddenly he was little Stevie crying in his mother’s arms. He hadn’t done it often, but when he did, she’d sworn that half of her dress was always wet afterwards. She never had given him a hard time about it, though.

All of the sharp, abrasive emotions swirling in him poured out, clawing at his throat as he cried. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d broken down like this. Oh, wait - shit. He could…

And that made him cry harder.

 

-- 

 

Reese held on as Steve started crying as though his heart was actively cracking open. She took a deep breath and just leaned into it, being there for him in any way he needed her. He tightened his hold and she sighed, relaxing against him - hoping that he could feel it, that somewhere in his grief, he could feel that she was here with him - and hoping that her presence helped.

When Steve seemed to be winding down, the same woman’s voice she’d heard earlier down in the garage, said, “Ms. Hayes, I’m having somebody bring your food up. They’ll leave it by the front door of the apartment.”

She could feel Steve start to try to pull himself back together and she called out, “Thanks Friday.”

She leaned back and looked down to see Steve wiping at his eyes and shaking his head.

“I’m such a mess,” he grumbled.

Reese chuckled and patted his cheek gently. “Yeah, but you’re still pretty.”

He cracked an eye open and grunted, making her laugh. She got off his lap and went to get some tissues, handing them to him and kneeling beside him, a hand on his knee.

“Water?” she asked.

He wiped at his eyes and blew his nose, nodding.

“Please.”

She handed him the glass from the table and he gulped it down. She took it and replaced it with her own full glass and he gulped that down as well.

“Want a pitcher?” she asked, a little sarcastic as she took the other glass from him.

He gave her a weak smile and said, “Fuck it - fill the tub up.”

She laughed and moved to get up when there was a quick knock on the door. She looked over at him and he nodded, so she opened the door to find the bags of food just outside. She peered out into the hallway, but didn’t see anybody.

She collected the bags and closed the door behind her, heading to the kitchen.

Reese started plating the food and Steve stood up, dropping a large wad of wet tissues into the garbage bin in the corner.

He stood a little closer to her now, helping her separate out the food. Their hands touched a couple of times as they crossed paths from bags to plate and it made Reese grin. It was comfortable contact, somehow reassuring.

They ate in silence at the dining room table, darting looks at each other and smiling.

As Steve polished off the last of the food, Reese got up to help clean. Steve gently grabbed her wrist and she turned to look back at him.

“Thank you,” he whispered, eyes bright with more unshed tears.

She smiled and walked over to him. He opened his legs and placed a hand at her hip, then pulled her in, resting his head on her chest and wrapping his arms around her waist. He let out a heavy sigh and she placed a hand on his shoulder as she threaded fingers through his hair with her other hand, trying to reassure him.

“I… ah…,” he began, his voice shaky. “Would you… stay tonight? I’ll take the couch - you can have the bed. I’m… I just… I don’t want to be alone here tonight.”

She trembled a little, nodding.

“I’m not kicking you out of your bed, Steve,” she replied, “But yeah. I’ll stay.”

He looked up and his expression was so lost, but so grateful. He was just so damned earnest and expressive - it just… pulled you in, like gravity.

He gave her a sad smile and she brushed a thumb across his cheek, wiping a tear away. God, it killed her to see him like this. His beauty made her heart ache.

He reached up and cupped her jaw, then pulled her down and kissed her - a soft brush of lips - then another. It lit up everything inside her and her desire flared to life, shaking through her.

He pulled away, then frowned and looked uncomfortable.

“Fuck. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have…,” he bumbled.

Reese narrowed her eyes at him and said, “Steve. Shut up,” then kissed him for all she was worth.

Chapter Text

It was glorious, kissing Reese, holding her and taking her in. Before he knew it, he was standing and then picking her up, pressing her up against the wall - her mouth fixed to his like it had been fashioned to do so. He’d never really kissed a girl before. Well, sure, there’d been Peggy - but that was nothing like this . Oddly enough, it reminded him of kissing Bucky - although with Reese there was no sign of stubble. Although they’d been a little rougher with each other at times, there had also been sweet, soft times between them. Reese kissed confidently - like a man. It was strangely reassuring.

He felt a little awkward at first, but he let her guide him to the way she wanted to be kissed. She wrapped her legs around his waist and he groaned as he rocked into her, his body urging him to take what it so desperately needed.

His heart battered against his ribs as he tried to rein himself in. Yes, he wanted this, but it was going too fast.

He pulled out of the kiss, pressing her shoulder against the wall when she tried to follow his lips and growled at him.

“I need to take it down a notch…”

 

--

 

Steve was breathing heavily and she could see that his pupils had almost fully dilated. He was definitely as into this as she was, but if he needed to back it down, she could work with that.

Her body screamed at her to keep going, but she shut it the fuck down. He’d just opened himself up, exposed himself to her like a raw nerve. The last thing she wanted to do was anything that would hurt him or cause a rift between them while he was still fragile.

She nodded and tried to control her breathing as she placed a hand against his cheek.

“Whatever you need,” she murmured.

He relaxed and they shifted so she could stand again, keeping ahold of her hand as he looked back at her.

“It’s not all about me, you know,” he replied softly.

She smiled back at him and cocked her head, “It kinda is, though. It kinda needs to be tonight. You just released a whole lot of emotional poison earlier. You’re still pretty raw from that.”

He sighed and stepped into her, pulling her into a hug.

“You’re one of the best people I know, Reese.”

She smiled and let him hold her. They stayed like that for a few minutes, then Reese said, “If you’re comfortable with it, I’ll be happy to sleep beside you tonight. If it helps.”

He kissed her hair and held her tighter.

“Thank you Reese.”

She let her hand slide down to cup the tight curve of his backside and he trembled. Jesus, you could bounce a quarter off that fucking thing, she thought to herself. She chuckled and slid her hand to his hip.

“Sorry. It has a magnetic pull,” she shrugged. “I couldn’t help myself.”

He grinned and released her, swatting her ass gently as he walked over to the table to clean up the remains of their dinner.

She laughed and moved to help him. When they finished getting everything into the dishwasher, Steve turned and leaned back against the counter, looking over at her.

“I think we need to close the box for tonight,” he murmured, frowning.

Reese nodded and said, “That’s probably a really good idea.”

Steve reached out and took her hand, pulling her to him.

“I really like you, Reese,” he breathed.

Her heart thrummed and she felt a warmth start to suffuse her bones. It had been awhile since the last time she felt this way and she opened herself to it, wanting to feel it again - even if it ended up hurting later.

“I really like you too, Steve,” she looked up at him, letting him see the truth of it in her eyes.

He smiled, then looked thoughtful for a moment.

“So… how do we do…” he waved back and forth between them, “this?”

Reese grinned and replied, “It can be anything we both want it to be.”

He took a shaky breath, then asked, “Is that the new thing now? I mean… I’m just used to… a different pace - other ways of…”

She placed her hands on his hips and leaned into him.

“Let me see if I can clarify. I’m really into you. I could definitely see myself having sex with you - if that’s something you’d be comfortable with.”

She watched his face flush bright red as his breathing became a little heavier. His eyes fluttered shut.

“The way this works for me is we both check in with each other - we both need to be onboard with everything that happens. If you’re not into something, please say something, and we’ll redirect - or stop entirely, if you need to.”

His hands darted out, clutching at her hips as he opened his eyes. She could barely see the rim of blue around his pupils.

His voice was shaky as he took a deep breath. “The serum… it… made everything stronger. I’m scared I’ll accidentally hurt you...”

She stepped into him, gently circling his wrists with her fingers and pushing his hands off her hips.

“Then let me drive,” she offered, her voice low and honeyed.

He shuddered, letting out a shaky breath as he shifted his hands to clutch at the edges of the counter, just to give them something to do.

She gently placed her hands on his chest.

“Breathe, Steve.”

He let out hitching breaths that started to even out as she kept her hands where they were, soothing him - reassuring.

She looked down, startled to see the outline of his cock thick through his trousers. Jesus wept , she thought to herself, her stomach doing flips. He was… large . While she’d never particularly been a size queen, she did love the feeling of being full . She looked back up to see him watching her with eager interest.

“Are you familiar with… stoplight safewords?” she asked tentatively.

He frowned and shook his head. 

“Ok,” she began, “We’re gonna proceed like this. If you’re good, and you’re enjoying yourself - that’d be Green. If I start doing something you’re not really comfortable with, that’d be Yellow. Full stop would be Red - got it?”

He nodded quickly, letting out a long, slow breath.

Reese smiled and slowly slid her hands up his chest and over his shoulders, then down his arms, resting at his wrists. She looked up at him and he said, “Green.”

“Good boy,” she smiled, giving his wrists a squeeze before she moved to slowly slide his shirt up. He moved to pull it off and she let him. He tossed the shirt away from them and she almost wept at the sight of him - that he was willing to share the beautiful gift of his body with her, as well as his heart.

Reese would do what she could to ensure that she remained worthy of this gift. This utter trust on his part.

She moved her hands to his chest and gently caressed up to his neck, gently pushing his head back with her thumbs. Steve let out a soft sigh that made something tighten in her and she started breathing a little faster as she slowly brought her hands back down, letting her fingers play over his nipples, then down over his stomach.

She looked back up at him as she slid her hands down lower, sliding her fingers over his belt.

He let out a hitching breath, then croaked, “Green.”

Reese moved to cup him with her hands through the fabric of his pants and he groaned, shaking a little.

She looked back up and met his eyes and he just nodded, his teeth digging into his lower lip as she moved to unbuckle his pants, slipping her hand in to cup him directly, her fingers sliding through some of the slickness around the head of his cock.

She gave him a gentle squeeze and his knees almost buckled as he cried out.

Reese kissed his chest, withdrew her hand and said, “Because I don’t want you falling down and cracking your head open on a counter, I think we’re going to need to move this to a softer venue.”

He didn’t seem capable of speaking, so she simply took his hand and pulled him along as she walked them back to the bedroom.

She flicked on the lightswitch as she led him over to the bed and said, “Sit.”

He complied and watched her, entranced.

Reese gently kicked his legs open, stepping between them and dipping down to kiss him.

His fingers curled around her legs, holding her as she slowly sucked his tongue, his lips, giving his lower lip a quick bite before looking back at him and saying, “This would go a whole lot smoother if you were wearing less clothes...”

She stroked his cheek with her fingers as he breathed, “Green.”

Her heart leapt. “Delightful,” she purred, gently pushing him back to lay on the bed, her hands at his hips as he raised them so she could remove his last remaining pieces of clothing. It seemed cruel and unnecessary to cover up such a body. He pushed himself up to his elbows, looking up at her.

She smiled and went to her knees, taking him in her hand and stroking him slowly. He made a strange sound and she looked up to see his eyes squeezed tight, his mouth open in ecstacy. It was the most beautiful fucking thing she’d ever seen. She desperately wished she had a camera - that she could capture such an image so she could look at it forever.

She leaned in and licked the tip of him and he hissed, his breath hitching. Unable to help herself, she took him in her mouth, reveling in the taste of him.

He tasted like nobody else she’d ever been with. On other people, she could smell vague scents of sickness or un-health of some sort - but Steve was… it was difficult for her to put into words. There was almost a… purity to it.

 

--

 

Steve’s hands curled into fists so that he didn’t just grab her, throw her down and take her. Fire was shooting through his system as she sucked him, taking the breath from his lungs with it.

God, he didn’t realize exactly how much he had missed this. It had been so fucking long - too long. Her mouth was… indescribable . He bucked his hips as she took him to the back of her throat, letting out an explosive breath as he heard her choke.

“Sorry…” he croaked.

Reese simply patted his stomach gently and got back to what she’d been doing - lighting him up like a fireworks display. He was rapidly approaching that bright, shining edge, and he cried out, “I’m close… Reese… fuck... god…

 

--

 

Reese kept doing exactly what she’d been doing, groaning as he yelled and came, spilling down her throat. She quickly swallowed it all, finding it strange how much she actually liked the taste. She hadn’t always, before.

Steve’s breathing was harsh and stuttering as she stood up to look down at him. His eyes locked with hers and she went to him, straddling him and kissing him.

He was babbling softly between kisses and it made her smile. She pushed up to kiss his forehead and he sighed softly.

“Oh my god,” he groaned, chuckling. “I didn’t realize how much I needed that.”

She smiled down at him and he shifted beneath her, looking a little shy now.

“You still Green?” she asked.

He blinked, then smiled. Ugh, those fucking eyelashes. They were killing her.

“Oh yeah,” he rumbled. He then quickly rolled her over onto her back and asked, “You?”

Reese gave him a heated look and a sharp toothed grin. “I’m so fucking Green right now.”

“Outstanding,” he growled, lowering down to kiss her.

She wrapped herself around him, then felt his cock - hard and thick again, bumping gently against her hip through her clothing. She stopped and he pulled to look down at her with a wicked grin.

“Are you kidding me?” she stammered.

He laughed and said, “Yeah… I kinda have a lot more endurance now too.”

She blinked and said, “God bless mad scientists.”

That set him off, and then they were both laughing. He slumped against her, shaking with laughter as he kissed her cheek.

“Oh my god, I love this,” she sighed, then - softer, “I love you .”

Steve pushed himself up and peered down at her, his expression soft and open.

“I love you too, Reese,” he breathed as he nipped her ear.

She chuckled and purred, “Now that that’s settled…”

She slid her hand down to stroke him and his eyes fluttered shut.

“You need to get inside me, right fucking now, soldier,” she growled.

He chuckled and said, “You need to be wearing considerably less clothing at this point…”

They quickly worked to strip her down and then he paused, looking back at her.

“I… you’re the first…,” he trailed off, looking a little gunshy.

Reese blinked in startlement. “Steve - am I the first person you’ve ever been with?”

He stilled, then said, “Well… the first woman, anyway…”

She cupped his cheek and pulled him down into a kiss.

“You’ll tell me if I do anything you don’t like?” he asked quietly, looking a little uncertain, but still very interested.

“I will,” she replied softly.

He shifted to lay beside her, propping his head up on an arm as he looked over at her.

“Can I just…,” he breathed, reaching out to begin tracing fingers slowly over the designs on her skin.

Reese sighed and relaxed, shivering a little as his hand moved up to cup her breast, squeezing gently. When his lips closed around her nipple she let out a little cry, rocking her head back into the mattress.

Steve was a gentle, tender lover - taking his time to map her body with his hands and mouth, almost as though he were studying her, memorizing the swells and curves of her body. It felt almost… reverent.

“Open your eyes, Reese. Look at me,” He pleaded, his hand sweeping slowly down her stomach.

She looked up to find his pupils blown and his face flushed. His fingers slid down through her slick curls and he shivered, then chuckled.

“Well that’s definitely different,” he replied, his voice low and husky.

He grazed her clit with a finger and her hips bucked, sending a shiver through her. He did it again, and she cried out, “Right there,” she groaned.

God, if the man wasn’t determined once he’d figured out the lay of the land. He was relentless then, his breath coming fast as her body quickened, that warm, liquid swell of pleasure beginning to build in her until it rushed forward and spilled over inside her.

When she opened her eyes, he was sucking the taste of her off his fingers. He looked back at her with the eyes of a man drowning in desire.

“Please tell me you have condoms,” she murmured.

He groaned and slumped. “ Shit . I didn’t… I wasn’t prepared for this… I didn’t expect…”

She wrapped an arm around him, her voice soft as she reassured him. “It’s ok, Steve.”

He groaned into the covers and she found it ridiculously adorable.

“I’m clean and I’m on the pill. I haven’t had sex with a partner in a year or so,” she explained.

He turned his head and looked over at her, frowning. “You’re sure? I mean… the serum kinda kills anything like that in my body anyway… And it’s been… a long time since I last...”

“Steve. Shut up and fuck me.”

“Yes ma’am.”

 

--

 

It seemed as though every nerve ending in his body flared to life as he pushed inside her. His breath whooshed out of his lungs, as though he’d been punched in the solar plexus. There was a little resistance, but nothing like what he remembered with… he shook his head to clear it, to refocus on here and now.

Once he was fully seated inside her he dropped his head to her shoulder, shivering.

“You still Green, Steve?”

He let out a weak chuckle and groaned, “Oh fuck yes. Bright fuckin’ Green.”

She laughed and he winced as he felt her squeeze around him. It sent sparks of pleasure shooting through him.

“Oh god, don’t laugh. Gimme a minute…” he breathed, trying to get himself under control.

He took a deep breath, then started rocking his hips, changing his angle when he hit a spot that made her cry out. Like a man on a mission, he worked that spot, snapping his hips forward with a precision that was almost preternatural, his heart singing as he felt her start to shake beneath him. Her body suddenly clenched, then spasmed around him as she yelled out, digging furrows into his back with her nails. The pain from that combined with his own pleasure and he soon followed her over the edge.

Chapter Text

Steve was apparently insatiable, once you got him going. He was also very… imaginative as well. For the first time in her life, Reese had gotten worn out before her partner did, and he definitely outlasted any of the men she’d ever been with. She supposed that he had a great deal of lost time to make up for, so she didn’t mind all that much. The fact that he was so damned diligent and attentive to detail were definitely huge points in his favor. She dearly hoped that his past lovers had appreciated what they’d had at the time.

They lay beside each other, trying to catch their breath from their last bout, as she said, “Gotta say, I’m pretty pleased at how tonight has turned out so far.”

He let out a sharp bark of laughter, then started actually giggling. It was a delightful sound.

They were both laughing then as he took her hand and squeezed it. The laughter slowly died down and he mildly replied, “Yeah, it was ok, I guess.”

She slapped him in mock affront, then pinched his nipple - hard . He groaned, then captured her hand with his. “Later. When you’ve had a chance to rest.”

He kissed her fingertips and she sighed, rolling over and wrapping an arm around his waist.

“Such a dick,” she mumbled, feeling exhaustion seep into her. She yawned, then rested a head on his shoulder.

“Not the first time anybody’s said that to me,” he murmured softly, gently threading his fingers through her hair. He shifted to pull the covers up over them both, then pulled her close and held her as she drifted off to sleep.

 

--

 

Steve slowly brushed his fingers through her hair as she slept, wanting to somehow thank her for everything she’d given him tonight. His heart felt… at ease for the first time in many years, so much so, that he was actually surprised to find himself feeling a little sleepy as well.

The sound of his phone vibrating brought him to attention. He gave Reese’s shoulder a soft kiss, then slowly extracted himself from the bed to dig his phone out of his pants pocket.

He read the text and rolled his eyes.

 

TheGreatestScientistWhoEverLived: Hey, I just came up with a new design for your armor. Wanna come up and check it out? It’ll be great, I can order breakfast and we can make it an early morning. It can be a whole thing.

 

Steve looked over at the clock. It was five in the morning - good god, he’d lost complete track of the time. He looked over at Reese’s sleeping form and grinned, then back down at the phone and sighed.

 

CaptainUnderpants: Do you ever sleep?

TheGreatestScientistWhoEverLived: Do you?

CaptainUnderpants: Point taken.

TheGreatestScientistWhoEverLived: Come on. It’ll be fun, gramps.

 

Tony had somehow changed the chat names in a way that locked them so nobody else could change them. It was childish, Steve knew, but it seemed to make the man happy.

 

CaptainUnderpants: I can’t - not tonight.

TheGreatestScientistWhoEverLived: You’re breakin’ my heart, old timer. C’mon.

CaptainUnderpants: I have company , Tony.

 

There was a very pregnant pause.

 

TheGreatestScientistWhoEverLived: You’re shitting me.

CaptainUnderpants: Tony…

TheGreatestScientistWhoEverLived: Oh my god, Nat’s plan finally worked out?

 

Steve frowned.

 

CaptainUnderpants: What plan?

TheGreatestScientistWhoEverLived: Nevermind. Oh, hey - I just told Pepper. I hope you don’t mind.

 

Steve groaned and ground his teeth.

 

<Pepper has joined the chat>

Pepper: Oh my god, Steve. I’m so happy for you!

CaptainUnderpants: Thanks Pepper. Could we just - 

<WidowBamBam has joined the chat>

 

Fuck my life, he thought to himself.

 

WidowBamBam: Rogers, you been holding out on us?

<FlyingChicken has joined the chat>

FlyingChicken: Dammit Tony. What the fuck?

TheGreatestScientistWhoEverLived: You know what you did.

FlyingChicken: Steve - man, I hear congratulations are in order!

CaptainUnderpants: Hey Nat, Sam. Look, everybody, I really need to…

<Ronin has joined the chat>

FlyingChicken: Why does he get to have a cool name? The shit ain’t fair, Tony.

Ronin: Steve! Is it the girl I saw you with earlier tonight? Way to go, buddy! She’s hot .

CaptainUnderpants: I hate you all.

WidowBamBam: You knew about this, Barton? I’m gonna need intel.

Ronin: I’ll be right over.

TheGreatestScientistWhoEverLived: I’m scrolling through the common area footage now - Damn, Cap. Good on ya, jumping into 21st century dating with both feet. Nice tattoos - she have any piercings?

WidowBamBam: I’m gonna need that footage, Tony - stat.

 

Steve shook his head, closing his eyes before sending:

 

CaptainUnderpants: I’m going back to bed. You guys got this from here, right?

 

He really didn’t care at this point. He placed the phone on the side table next to the bed and crawled back in beside Reese, who made a soft happy sound as he spooned her.

 

--

 

They stayed in bed throughout the rest of the day, only stopping for bathroom, rest and food breaks. Later that afternoon, as they finished up a late lunch, Reese asked, “Why does your phone keep humming? I’m not keeping you from anything important, am I?”

He let out a long suffering sigh and shook his head. “No. Nothing important.”

Reese eyed him and said, “ Steve…

He flushed a bright crimson, then hung his head. “It’s just…,” he sighed, then said, “I think everybody’s gonna want to meet you at this point.”

Reese blinked. “You’re kidding, right?”

He looked up with a tired expression, but she had a feeling it wasn’t from their previous activities. “Sadly, no.”

She took a breath, shifted in her seat, then asked, “So - your family , which consists of the other Avengers , wants to meet me?”

He sighed, then replied, “Essentially, yes. They’re all also gonna want to give me grief that I didn’t say anything beforehand.”

Reese laughed and shook her head. “You should probably answer that, then,” she murmured.

Steve winced. “Do I hafta?”

She grinned and nodded, “Yeah - you live here, so you don’t want to go pissing off your… well, the other people who live here.”

He blew out a breath, then picked the phone up.

Seven missed calls from Tony. One from Pepper. A wide variety of what could loosely be construed as lightly veiled threats from Natasha and supportive messages from Sam and Clint.

He dialed Tony’s number, putting him on speaker so Reese could listen in.

“Hey. What’s up? Is there something going on? I mean - I thought after dropping a bombshell like that and just turning your comms device off, and then finally calling me back a half a day later , the world is ending. Am I right?” Tony snipped.

Steve sighed and looked over at Reese. “Really? So this is about you now?”

“Isn’t it always?” Tony quipped.

Before Steve could answer, Tony quickly said, “Look - Pepper’s got it in her head that she wants to have a big dinner where we can all meet your New Friend. Tonight. Is she still here? I’m guessing she’s still here because you haven’t left your room all day.”

“She’s still here,” he replied with a heavy sigh.

“So, ask her maybe? Or, alternately, I could go fuck myself, but we know that’ll never happen.”

He paused for a moment, then mused, “Although, I have been working on something…”

“In the name of god and all that is holy, please don’t finish that thought, Tony,” Steve groaned.

“It’ll revolutionize the market - that’s all I’m sayin’,” he replied.

Reese laughed and Tony prompted, “Am I on speaker? Did you ask her yet? I didn’t quite get that.”

Steve met Reese’s eyes and asked, “Got anything planned for tonight?”

She just smiled and shook her head, putting a little heat into her voice. “Just a whole lot more of what we’ve been doing since last night.”

He flushed and made an odd sound.

“You ok there, buddy? Cap? Look, I’m just gonna mark that as a yes. Just show up at 8. Oh, what size is she? I can send something down for her to wear…” there was a loud noise in the background and Tony said, “Oh shit, gotta go. Text me her size and I’ll get on it, ok? See you at 8.”

Steve disconnected the call, tossed the phone on the table and said, “We have until 7:30.”

“And then?” She asked leaning back in her chair and crossing one leg over the other.

“Calamity,” he muttered, “Otherwise known as dinner with ‘the family’.”

She leaned forward and asked, “Please tell me this isn’t a fancy dress thing.”

“Nope,” he replied, grinning.

She smiled and said, “They gonna be happy that you’re… with a gutter punk?”

He winced and said, “Don’t say that.”

She shrugged and the smile stayed. “Hey, I own this shit. I don’t see it as a demeaning term. It’s just that sometimes… other people can get a little tight about it.”

“I get that. I just… you’re really important to me, Reese. It’s a little nuts that this came on so quickly, but I’m all in. If they can’t accept that, then…”

Reese stopped him there. “It doesn’t have to be a me or them proposition. Okay? We’ll roll with what happens.”

“Yeah?” he asked softly, his expression hopeful.

She stood and walked over to him, placing a hand on the table as she leaned down to kiss him.

“I can’t help noticing that I’m not having any difficulties walking. Means your not doing your job, soldier. You ready to get back in it?” she asked, playfully.

He laughed and quickly stood, picking her up and carrying her back to the bedroom.

“Reporting for duty, ma’am.”

 

--

 

God, she was so unapologetically sexy. He couldn’t keep his hands off her, and she didn’t seem to mind one bit. He watched her as she shook her wet hair out, biting her lower lip as she attempted to style it in the bathroom mirror. Reese looked over at him and shook her head, her fingers still teasing her hair into the natural soft curls they fell into.

She grumbled and said, “Shit, I wish I had time to put it up.”

“Can I help?” he asked, fascinated. He’d always wondered how she got her hair to look as though it was standing on end.

“Got egg whites, a hair dryer and a hairpick?”

“Egg whites I can get, but… I don’t really need the other things, so I don’t have them.”

She shrugged and said, “It’s all good. It’ll fluff out at some point.”

He finished towel drying his hair, still curious. “Egg whites? Really?”

Reese nodded and quickly checked her muscle tone in the mirror. “Yep. Best thing for keeping it up.”

Steve let out a slow breath as he watched her, unable to take his eyes off her. He reached over to hang the towel up and asked, “Will you let me draw you? Like this…?”

She looked over at him and asked, “What, naked?”

He nodded and she smiled. “Sure. I’d be happy to pose for you.”

He grinned and pulled her into a kiss, his hands starting to roam before she pulled back and said, “We’ll never get dressed if you start that.”

“Not sure I really care,” he murmured, kissing his way down her neck and over her shoulder.

She stumbled and he caught her, chuckling.

“Trouble standing?” he asked softly.

“Yeah, well, somebody railed me until my legs stopped working,” she leaned into him, letting out a soft laugh.

“Just complying with orders, ma’am,” he breathed, nipping her earlobe.

Reese gently smacked him and pushed him away. “Discipline, soldier.”

Steve groaned and let out a heavy sigh. “C’mon, let’s go get this bandaid ripped off.”

 

--

 

They should have looked like an incongruous pair as they walked through the hallway from the elevator to Tony’s penthouse, but in a show of unity, Steve chose to wear his navy blue tactical pants, black boots and a navy blue t-shirt that was entirely too tight to be polite. She thought it an awfully sweet gesture on his part, and it just made her fall further for him.

They held hands as they walked and when Steve seemed to tighten up, Reese would gently squeeze his hand and he would ease back down.

“It’ll be fine,” she murmured.

He squeezed her hand in return and replied, “Nat’s probably going to grill you a bit. It’s kinda  her thing.”

They stepped up to the door, which immediately opened with a flourish.

Tony looked back at them, mouth open ready to say something, but then he really looked at them. “Wow, Cap. You got a mission later I don’t know about? I mean, ‘cause usually, you’re all geriatric-ed out. You’re looking kind of Mission Critical here.”

He looked over at Reese, then nodded appreciatively. He then looked back at Steve and asked, “She finally bringing you into the 21st century, gramps?”

“Steve!” Pepper’s warm voice echoed from inside the penthouse and Tony ushered them in.

“Guys, this is Reese. She’s…,” he paused, then said, “my…”

He frowned, then turned to her and asked, “Girl… friend?”

Reese chuckled softly and said, “Whatever term you’re comfy with, I’m good.”

He straightened and grinned, “My girl,” he said softly, squeezing her hand.

“Wow, really? I would’a thought you’d already had that nailed down already. I mean, mister preparation and all.”

“Really Tony?” Steve asked, glaring at him.

Pepper walked over to them and asked, “Are you a hugger?”

Reese nodded and Pepper pulled her into a warm hug. “It’s so nice to meet you, Reese. I’m Pepper Potts.”

“Reese Hayes - artist, activist and general troublemaker at your service,” she replied. “It’s lovely to meet you.”

Tony gasped comically, a hand to his heart as the women parted. “Captain America dating a political subversive? Isn’t that against the rules of the uniform or something like that?” Tony quipped.

Steve just quietly stared at Tony who was grinning like an idiot. Pepper gently smacked his shoulder and said, “Would you guys like anything to drink?”

There was another knock at the door and Tony went to get it as Pepper guided them into the living room.

“Tequila?” Reese asked.

Steve looked over at her and chuckled, shaking his head.

“Will Platinum work?” Pepper asked, not batting an eye.

Reese salivated. The chance to try a Tequila that sold for $2500 a bottle? Yes, please.

“Oh yes,” she murmured, grinning. She looked over at Steve and said, “I can hold my liquor surprisingly well, in case you’re concerned….” she explained, not wanting to worry him.

“I can make you a margarita, if you like - or did you want it straight?” Pepper asked.

“Pepper… you’re rapidly becoming one of my favorite people.”

 

--

 

Steve grinned as Reese followed Pepper into the kitchen, then turned to see Clint and Natasha walking into the penthouse. Clint had a large, goofy grin and Natasha simply looked at him as if analyzing him - as though something in her previous assessment of his character had been missed, before giving him a tentative smile.

They walked up to him as Sam came in behind them, animatedly talking to Tony. Probably giving him more shit about the chat nickname.

“Gotta say, it’s not often I’m surprised, Steve,” Natasha murmured.

Clint just beamed back at Steve, nodding with appreciation. “Good on ya, Steve. I’m happy for you, buddy.”

Steve took a breath and asked, “Tony mentioned something about a plan you had… concerning me?”

Natasha blinked and replied, “He did?”

Knowing that he wasn’t going to get anything further from her, he just sighed.

He watched Tony head to the kitchen as Sam walked up to them, smiling.

“It’s good to see you happy, man.” Sam seemed genuinely pleased for him, and Steve was grateful.

“Thanks.”

Steve flushed a little, then Natasha casually asked, “So… how long have you known her?”

Sam gave her a mild look and said, “Really? You’re doing this now ?”

Clint gently bumped Natasha and murmured, “ Tasha…

Natasha looked over at Clint who simply shrugged.

There was another knock at the door and Clint ran over to answer it.

Thor strode in as though he owned the place and boomed, “Captain Rogers! I bring greetings and salutations on your fine match!”

He held up a small bottle of Asgardian liquor and Steve’s stomach dropped. He muttered, “Fuck.”

Language… ,” Tony walked up to the group, “Oh yeah, am I allowed in this little gathering? Seeing as it’s taking place in My House and all…”

 

--

 

“It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?” Pepper asked softly as the two of them sipped their margaritas and watched the group gather around Steve.

Reese nodded. “It certainly is. May I take a moment to compliment you on your mixing skills? This is exquisite.”

The drink was delicious and it was taking everything in her not to down it and ask for another. The alcohol eased some of her jitters, which helped.

Pepper smiled.

“This is where I’d usually give some sort of speech about not hurting my friend, but… I get the feeling that’s not needed in this case.”

Reese looked back at the woman, gaining a newfound respect for her. “Thank you for that.”

“I take it you’re the reason he’s been… more easygoing lately?”

Reese shook her head, “I can’t claim responsibility for that. He’s doing all the work. I can only hope that my presence in his life helps him as much as he helps me.”

Pepper pursed her lips then took another sip.

“I’m pretty sure it does, Reese.”

Reese smiled and gave the woman a polite nod. “I think I’ll go over and try to give him a little support. This is probably as overwhelming for him as it is for me.”

Pepper smiled and Reese walked over to Steve, blinking as all eyes shifted to her. Steve turned to look and she flushed as his expression grew warm and fond.
“Miss me?” she asked him, letting him wrap an arm around her, tucking her to his side.

“Terribly,” he murmured, then began the introductions.

Thor was the first to extend a hand. The man was enormous and seemed to tower easily over everybody else in the room. His presence was immense and he seemed so easygoing and relaxed. He was the most chill guy in the room - but then, Reese supposed, when you were a god , that came naturally.

“You have a Warrior spirit, Reese. You are well suited for each other,” he rumbled, beaming as he took her hand and gently shook it. “May you have many strong children and may your lineage extend to the stars.”

Reese blinked and Steve spluttered. She thought she heard the sound of somebody doing a spit take behind her. Had it been Tony?

“Might be a little too early for that, buddy,” Clint murmured, looking over at Thor with a ‘ what the fuck are you doing? ’ expression.

Steve just sighed as Natasha smiled, her entire demeanor becoming friendly and familiar. “So - how did you guys meet?”

It seemed an innocent enough question and Reese wondered why Steve briefly tensed beside her.

She shrugged and explained, “I tried to help him with an injury - didn’t realize that he didn’t really need the help at the time.”

Steve smiled and relaxed. “Still appreciated the gesture, though,” he said softly.

“And when was this?” Natasha pressed.

Reese frowned for a moment. Surely it had been longer than just a week and a half. It felt as if they’d been friends forever at this point. The realization surprised her.

“I think you guys were fighting the weird robot things?” she replied smoothly, taking a sip of her drink. Fuck, she really needed to get Pepper to make her another one.

“You’re kidding,” Tony blurted and Pepper kicked him.

There was silence for a moment, then Thor asked, “You are a healer?”

Reese shook her head and replied, “No - I’m an artist.”

Clint looked closely at her, then he blinked as though he seemed to recognize her. “You’re the girl… the one he protected that day.”

Steve placed a hand on her hip now, gently squeezing - reassuring her.

“Wait… were you there?” Reese asked.

Clint explained, “I’m usually…” he pointed up, “up high, providing cover.”

Reese thought about it, then nodded. “I guess so. I mean, you guys were pretty busy…”

“So - you’re telling me that you, an un-enhanced normal human being, stayed in an active conflict zone to patch up a supersoldier with a rapid healing factor? Is that what you’re saying?” Tony asked, watching her intently.

Reese shrugged and said, “He’d gotten shot by something. I couldn’t just leave him there. And I didn’t know about the healing thing at the time…” she trailed off.

“Why?” this came from Natasha.

Reese glared over at her. “I can’t just not intervene when I see somebody suffering.”

“Dude,” Clint breathed, giving her an admiring look.

Sam smiled and said, “I’m really pleased to meet you, Reese.”

Pepper intervened and Reese let out a grateful sigh when the woman said, “Dinner is ready - I hope everybody’s hungry.”

 

--

 

Dinner was a raucous affair, with everybody eagerly sharing embarrassing stories over a ridiculously well appointed spread of food. For the amount of ribbing they gave each other, they were obviously a pretty closely knit group. Reese watched it all with delight, placing a gentle hand on Steve’s thigh. He leaned in and kissed her temple, whispering, “You holding up ok?”

Reese nodded and grinned. “So far, so good.”

Natasha kept looking at her on and off throughout the meal, but otherwise everybody had been warm and friendly to her. It was still a little overwhelming to be sitting at a dinner table surrounded with Actual Fucking Avengers.

Pepper turned to her and said, “I’d really love to see some of your work sometime. I’ve been wanting to get a piece from a local artist for the main entryway for the building.”

Reese stilled, then replied, “Uh… sure. Are you looking for anything in particular?”

 

--

 

Steve watched as Reese and Pepper spoke animatedly, a warmth in his chest spreading.

Sam gently bumped his shoulder. “She’s pretty awesome.”

Steve blushed and nodded. “Yeah. She is.”

“You realize Natasha’s compiled an entire file of intel of her at this point,” Sam murmured.

“I’m aware.”

“She takes over-protective to a scary degree.”

They both stilled as their respective phones vibrated. Steve pulled his out of his pocket.

 

WidowBamBam: You know I can totally hear you guys, right?

CaptainUnderpants: Yep.

 

Steve looked over to find Natasha giving him an eerie smile. He raised an eyebrow in challenge and was surprised when she backed down.

 

WidowBamBam: We’ll talk later.

CaptainUnderpants: Of that, I have no doubt.

 

She gave him a nod, then turned to Clint.

I’m still not used to this,” Sam admitted, being one of the newer members of the team. He kept his voice low while Reese and Pepper kept talking art. 

“I can only imagine what Reese thinks of all this.”

“I think she’s taking it in stride. I’m finding that she’s fairly unflappable,” he replied, smiling.

The ladies excused themselves and walked over to the kitchen where Pepper made Reese another margarita.

“She’d have to be to date somebody in this crowd,” Sam replied, chuckling.

“Captain Rogers! Have a drink with me,” Thor boomed, grinning. His eyes twinkled as he poured a little of the Asgardian liquor into a glass with a finger of amber liquid. “I wish to toast your felicitous match!”

Steve winced and leaned over and whispered to Sam, “Shit. There’s no way I can gracefully get out of this, is there?”

Sam just laughed. “You’re on your own there, man.”

“Some friend you are,” Steve muttered standing up and taking the glass that Thor held out to him.

Chapter Text

Steve groaned as he rolled over, the stabbing pain in his head slowly fading. He frowned at the feel of a body beside him, then realized who it must be and let out a sigh.

“Hey there, rummy,” Reese chuckled softly.

Once the liquor had broken out, things had gotten even more… insane. Turned out all the boys on the team turned into children with Poor Impulse Control when on the sauce. Pepper and Reese had just stood off to the side, laughing at the ridiculous wave of testosterone that careened around the room, egging the guys on to do… literally the dumbest things.

Clint had ended up in the infirmary after challenging Thor to an arm wrestling match - even after having watched him pretty much trounce Steve. What had the man been thinking? Lunacy.

Eventually Natasha joined them, and the three of them sipped ridiculously high priced tequila, laughing at the antics before them.

It had been… a night.

Steve wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close. “Oh my god. Fucking Thor. Every damn time.”

Reese grinned and placed a gentle kiss to his temple. “Can I get you anything? You’ve gotta have a hell of a hangover.”

Steve croaked, “Water.”

Having already anticipated this, she had a pitcher ready. She just handed it directly to him and watched him guzzle it down. When he handed it back, he looked a little less bleary.

“Better?” she asked softly, placing the empty pitcher back on the table. “Need more?”

Steve buried his face in her hip, letting out the most adorable little pitiable cry. She gently ran her fingers through his hair.

“Thank you for staying with me,” he murmured, his voice a little rough.

Reese shook her head and said, “You honestly think I would have left you in the condition you were in? Thor had to carry you down here. He was the only one who could lift you.”

Steve flushed with embarrassment and she placed a hand on his back, soothing him.

“Aw, baby - it’s ok.”

Steve groaned and curled around her and she laughed. “Pepper wants me to show her my stuff later today.”

He shifted and looked up at her, grinning, “That’s fantastic!”

The fact that he seemed really happy for her pleased her immensely. It was sweet of him, really.

“Yeah, she wanted to swing by to see my work - that way I don’t have to try to cart it all across the city,” Reese explained, thankful that Pepper had made the offer.

“You wanna do something later tonight? After?” she asked.

Steve winced and shook his head. “My name came up next in the charity rotation. Pepper’s got me scheduled to attend an event to fund a Children’s hospital tonight.”

Reese groaned, understanding. “Fundraisers. They’re the worst.”

“I’d invite you, but I get the feeling that you’d hate it,” he murmured.

“You sure you want to take that kind of hit to your image?” she asked, honestly curious.

He stilled, then frowned up at her. “Don’t say that.”

Reese shrugged and held up her hands. “What? You really think the press wouldn’t have a field day if they found out that Captain America was banging a democratic socialist freak chick?”

Steve sat up and frowned at her. “You really think I give a fuck about what anybody else thinks?”

Reese sighed and shook her head. “No - I know you don’t, but… people can be immensely awful. I just don’t want that to fall on you. You’ve dealt with enough shit.”

“And you haven’t?” he asked, sounding a little irritated.

“That’s not…” she started, blinking as he cut her off.

“Let me worry about my image, ok? Just…,” he paused, taking a breath. “Please let me handle it?”

Reese sighed and nodded. “Ok. I can do that,” she replied softly.

He pulled her into his lap and hugged her. 

“Are we ok?” he asked, his voice so quiet.

Reese smiled and kissed his cheek before looking back at him.

“Honey, it’d take a hell of a lot more than this to make me ‘not ok’ with you.”

Steve smiled and pulled her into a kiss.

“Offer’s open, if you’re interested,” he breathed, trailing kisses along her jaw.

“No - you’re right. I’d hate it. I’d end up wanting to sock each one of those smarmy old ass white millionaires in the jaw, which I’m pretty sure would go over like a fart in church,” she explained.

He laughed and nipped at her shoulder.

“Besides, Becca’s probably beside herself at this point. She’s gonna put me through the wringer when I get home.”

“Want me to come over after?” he asked softly, kissing his way along her clavicle.

“I wouldn’t say no…,” she murmured, chuckling.

“Hmm… that wasn’t particularly enthusiastic…,” he murmured.

“Fine - please , come bring that fine heroic ass over and jackhammer me through the mattress after you’ve wheedled countless millions off those fat cat industrialist fucks for children in need.”

He laughed and bit down on her nipple.

She yelped and pinched him.

He stopped and looked up at her, his grin wicked.

“Oh, I can work with that…”

 

--

 

Pepper had damn near swooned when Reese showed her the larger pieces in her storage bin.

“My god, Reese - these should really be in a temperature controlled environment. They’re all gorgeous.”

In the end, Pepper selected three large hazy fantasy cityscapes that she’d painted two years ago. “How much were you intending to ask for these?”

Reese pondered for a moment, then said, “Twenty a piece?”

Pepper grinned and said, “Fantastic. These will be perfect. I’ll have a check cut and delivered to you, will that work?”

Reese blinked, finding it odd that Tony Stark’s girlfriend was going to have to write her a check for sixty dollars. Still - rich people could be weird with their money.

“The rest of this really belongs in an exhibition, Reese. I’d be happy to help you with that - I know the owner of a few galleries in the city.”

Reese grinned and boggled. “Wow. That would be… I mean… I guess we’d need to talk about space pricing. Money’s a little tight right now.”

Pepper simply smiled and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll handle all that.”

Reese nodded, stunned. “Uh… sure. I ah… thank you, Pepper. Really.”

Pepper’s phone rang and she held up a finger, her expression a little apologetic as she took a few steps away and answered it.

Reese took a few minutes to take in the offer she’d been given. An exhibition? That she wouldn’t have to put any money up front for? Uh - hell yes, please. She started going through all the pieces in her head that she’d want to put in a show. Her reverie was interrupted when Pepper walked back over and said, “A courier van is on the way to pick up the art. Thank you so much Reese. The courier should also be delivering the check to you in an envelope - please let me know if they don’t.”

Reese nodded as Pepper smiled and said, “I have another appointment that I have to head out to. I just wanted to thank you again, Reese.”

“No - thank YOU . For the opportunity.” Reese called back, grinning as Pepper turned to go, waving.

 

--

 

Later that afternoon, Reese opened the envelope that the courier had delivered, dipping her hand in and pulling out a check from Stark Industries made out to one Reese Wilhelmina Hayes for the sum of… she blinked and her breath caught in her throat - Sixty Thousand Dollars . Her hand darted out, catching the counter as her head swam.

She took a deep breath, collected herself and then dialed Pepper’s number. The woman answered, “Did they get the check to you?”

Pepper sounded concerned.

Reese nodded numbly, then - once she realized Pepper couldn’t see her, she replied, “Oh, it arrived. But… about that. This check is for Sixty Thousand Dollars…?”

Pepper replied, “Yes - twenty thousand a piece. Was that not enough?”

Reese sputtered and said, “Uh… I meant twenty dollars… .”

At this, Pepper went silent, then said, “Trust me. You’re already giving me a bargain,” she explained softly.

Reese frowned, wondering how that could be at all possible.

“Is everything ok?” Pepper asked, her voice tentative.

“Yeah… I… ah… yes? Sorry… this is just a little overwhelming,” Reese breathed.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t more clear with you upfront about the price… I honestly thought you were asking Twenty Thousand for each piece. It seemed really low to me at the time…,” she explained.

The idea of sixty thousand dollars as a small sum of money boggled Reese’s mind.

“No - it’s totally ok - my misunderstanding. I’ll totally understand if you want to change the amount to…” 

Pepper interrupted Reese, saying, “Just… trust me. The check is fine to cash as it is.”

She could almost hear the woman’s warm smile across the line. 

“Thank you, Pepper. I don’t know what to say…”

“Oh! I think I’ve found a gallery for you - would you be ready to show in about two weeks?”

Reese blinked. You’ve gotta be shittin’ me…

“Uh… are you serious?” she asked, unable to keep the disbelief out of her voice.

“I’m always serious when discussing business, Reese,” Pepper replied.

Reese thought about it, then said, “Yeah… two weeks? I can make that happen. I can put something together.”

“Wonderful! I’ll let you know when I’ve hammered out the details. Oh, that’s Tony - did you need anything else?”

Reese shook her head. “No - I’m good. Thanks for everything, Pepper. Really.”

 

--

 

She and Becca stared at the check, drinking wine. They’d gone through two bottles already and were just getting started on the third.

“I’ve never seen that much money in my life,” Becca murmured. “What are you gonna do?”

Reese looked over at her and blurted, “I’mma fuckin’ cash that bitch and not even feel bad.”

Becca giggled and that got them both going.

“Oh my god, I can pay off the rest of my student loans!” Reese cackled with glee. “Holy shit!”

The money left over would help her until she started making better money doing the cam work. A weight lifted and she took a long, deep breath. “I’m gonna be debt fuckin’ free. Oh my god.”

There was a soft knock at the door and they both frowned and looked over at it. “...Were you expecting anybody?” Becca asked.

Reese blinked, then said, “Oh! Yeah…”

She got up and stumbled over to the door, opening it and grinning back at Steve.

“Baaabe!” she threw her arms around him and he chuckled, picking her up and hugging her.

She saw him look over at the bottles of wine on the table and said, “We’re celebrating.”

Steve placed her back on her feet and Reese weaved a little.

“Whoa…” he moved to steady her, grinning.

“I see… I seem to remember somebody saying they could hold their liquor?” he asked, teasing.

“Hey, man - wine don’t fuck around. It’s majestic, eldritch shit that will knock your ass down, but it’ll pet you and tell you it loves you while it does it. It creeps up on you, then BAM. You’re fucked .”

Becca giggled and shook her head.

Steve shifted to hold her up and Reese crowed, “Your girl’s a mothafuckin’ rich bitch.”

Becca laughed loudly at that and Reese joined her.

 

--

 

Oh god, she was even adorable when shitfaced.

“Did something happen while I was gone?” he asked, curious.

Reese tapped the check on the table.

“I sold three pieces today,” Reese explained.

Steve brightened, excited for her, “That’s great! I’m really happy for you.”

“Pepper gave me waaaaay too much.”

“I’m sure she gave you what she thought was fair,” Steve explained. That’s just how Pepper conducted herself.

Reese just shook her head and laughed. “You’re all crazy.”

Steve sat down and pulled her into his lap. “Don’t overthink it,” he murmured. “You’re worth it. You need to know that.”

He brushed soft fingers across her cheek then cupped her jaw.

Reese shivered and her eyelashes fluttered. “Yes, Sir .”

Something in him woke right the fuck up at the sound of those words. He was immediately rock hard, and he was finding it a little difficult to breathe.

“Aaaaand that’s my cue...” Becca murmured, taking the remaining bottle of wine back with her to her bedroom.

Reese rubbed against the palm of his hand, groaning.

Steve shuddered and struggled to maintain a modicum of control. “Reese… sweetheart - I’m not… I can’t do anything with you along those lines while you’re intoxicated.”

That seemed to sober her a little. “I’m sorry, Sir . I understand.”

Steve gently picked her up and carried her back to her room. He set her down on the bed, then settled down beside her, pulling her to fit up against his back.

He slowly rubbed the stubble on the side of her head with the intention of relaxing her and was startled as she bucked back against him with a groan. He made a strangled sound then tightened a hand on her shoulder. She shuddered and whispered, “ God yes…

Steve choked and put an almost painful leash on the need she was pulling to the surface in him.

“Reese…” he growled, steel in his voice now, “Not now.”

She shivered and eased down, letting out a breathy, “Yes, Sir .”

Fuck. He was doomed.

 

--

 

Reese’s head was splitting when she woke, disoriented for a moment due to the body in bed beside her. It took a minute before she remembered that Steve had come over last night… then… Oh god , she thought to herself. Did I really call him Sir ?

She winced, blushing as a large arm wrapped around her.

“Hey… you still with me?” he asked softly, kissing her shoulder.

Reese chuckled, then pressed a hand to her head. “Ow… don’t make me laugh.”

“Sorry,” he breathed, not really sounding that sorry at all.

“C’mere,” he said, scooting closer to her. He kissed her temple, then asked, “Where’s your aspirin?”

She told him and he went off to get it, as well as a glass of water, parading that spectacular ass all over the place. Reese let out a grateful sigh as he walked back in, sitting beside her and shaking out two pills into her hand. She took the water and knocked it back, wincing.

“Ugh. Wine headaches are the worst ,” she complained.

Steve chuckled softly, taking the glass from her. “I wouldn’t know. I can’t really get drunk.”

Reese eyed him as if to say ‘Oh, really?’

He quickly amended, “Oh - yeah… So, Asgardian Liquor is a rare exception. It’s the only thing that can actually knock me on my ass.”

Reese grinned back at him, shaking her head. “So fuckin’ weird…”

He chuckled and pulled her into a kiss. 

“Such a pain in my ass,” he murmured.

Reese laughed and winced. “Oh, you asshole. You just wait...When you least expect it, expect it.”

Steve grinned, his eyes full of glee.

She just narrowed her eyes and sighed and Steve laughed as he grabbed her and pulled her back against him.

“So… what was ‘Sir’ all about?” he asked, trying to sound casual.

Reese stilled in his arms. “Shit,” she breathed, “I actually said that out loud?”

Steve nuzzled her shoulder and responded, his voice low and smooth, “Yes. You did.”

Reese trembled and let out a small cry. He gently stroked his fingertips across the stubble on the side of her head.

“Tell me what you need , Reese…” he murmured softly.

She bucked back against him with a groan, her body Ready to Fuckin’ Go, but her thoughts swirled furiously, I’m not ready… I can’t have this conversation yet - not like this...

“What’s your color, Reese?” he asked, his tone a little stronger.

“Yellow,” she croaked, shivering.

Steve immediately stilled, then shifted away from her to give her some space. He kept a hand on her shoulder and it seemed to help steady her. When she’d gotten her breathing under control he asked, “You still with me?”

Reese nodded and turned to face him, taking her hand in his. “There’s some… stuff I seem to want to want now that I hadn’t thought about in a really long time.”

Ten years, to be exact. As part of reclaiming herself, she’d experimented with a few members of the local BDSM community. Topping came naturally to her, but being submissive? Yeah, that wasn’t something she was particularly good at, or anything she actively wanted - until now, apparently. What the fuck?

She’d read about subspace in order to have an idea of what her play partners needed to feel, but actually ‘going under’? No book could have prepared her. She trembled as she remembered how quickly she’d gone down into that smooth, soft feeling that put her into this calm, yet eager-to-please, mindset. She had the strong feeling that, if he’d caught on and just yanked on that thread without asking her about it first - if he’d been a total dick, in other words - she would’ve done damn near anything he wanted.

And that was terrifying. 

And intriguing. 

And… hot as fuck .

Steve nodded, asking, “Is this a conversation we’re going to need food for?”

“Actually, yeah. That’s a really good idea,” Reese replied with a grateful sigh. It’d give her time to get her thoughts in order to figure out how to say all of this to him.

He smiled and kissed her cheek. They threw on robes and went out to raid the fridge, putting together a hodgepodge of leftovers and assorted snacks, assembling it then taking it out to the dining room.

“So…” Reese began, a little nervously, “You know I do cam girl stuff, right?”

Steve nodded frowning, “Yes?”

“I also do… other things, on the side. Like... Dominance games with clients - all over video chat.”

Steve blinked and said, “So, you’re a Dominatrix. Got it.”
Reese looked back at him as though he’d immediately sprouted two more heads. He chuckled at her expression. 

“I started doing a little research when I saw your collection of… well…” he flushed. “I was curious and it felt too intrusive to ask at the time.”

She shook her head, grinning back at him. “You kinky bastard…” she teased.

Steve gave her a mild look and she chuckled, then explained, “I’ve been rolling dominant for a long time, and I enjoy it - but…,” she took a breath, then admitted, “with you, everything gets flipped on its head, and I don’t know why.”

Steve nodded slowly and her breath briefly caught in her throat. “I think I understand now,” he murmured. He looked up at her and heat flashed through his eyes. “Are you going to be comfortable with that?” he asked softly.

Reese let out a shaky sigh. “I guess we’ll find out.”

Chapter Text

Steve took a deep breath, then quietly said, “Come here.”

Reese stood and walked over to him, trembling a little.

“Because I don’t really know what I’m doing, I’m going to be asking a lot of questions…” he explained.

God, the last thing he wanted to do was go to far with this, or have her end up in a dark, bad place because of something he’d done.

She nodded quickly and replied, “It’s ok. I understand. It’s enough that you’re willing to… explore this with me.”

Steve gently pulled the tie of her robe, opening it up to look at her.

“You’re so fucking beautiful, Reese,” he breathed, pulling her close and kissing her stomach before smoothing his palms up her body to push the robe off her shoulders. It pooled around her feet and she closed her eyes at the feel of his hands on her hips.

“Do you want to kneel for me, Reese?” he asked softly, feeling something in himself squeeze as she breathed, “Yes, Sir .”

She slowly knelt before him and he cupped her cheek with his hand. “Look at me, Reese.”

She looked up and shivered as she looked back at him, her pupils wide. “Oh sweetheart…” he crooned, his heart racing.

He stilled as his phone let out a warning chirp and it ground everything to a halt inside him.

Fuck… ” he growled. “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

Reese simply blinked back up at him and he kissed her forehead and said, “I can’t ignore that.”

Reese seemed to pull back, getting control of herself and nodding. “Hey - Do what you gotta do.”

 

--

 

She shook herself to try to re-orient as she watched him walk over to pick up the phone. His jaw tightened as he checked it, then looked over at her with a look of frustrated irritation.

“Shit. There’s something I need to deal with… Avenger business…,” he explained, frowning.

Reese took a breath and collected the robe, standing up and sliding it on.

“Cockblocked by superhero shit,” Reese shook her head, her lips pulled into a wry grin.

“I’m really sorry…,” he murmured.

Reese went to him and took his hands. “Hey - I knew what the deal was going into this. It’s ok. Really. We can start this back up another time.”

“Trust me, the last thing I want to do is walk away from you at this point…,” he murmured, putting his arms around her.

“I know, Steve. It’s honestly ok. I’m good.” she replied, leaning into him with a sigh.

He nodded, jaw tight as he kissed the top of her head, then started pulling the uniform out of the large backpack he’d brought and sliding into it.

Reese had to admit it was kinda hot bearing witness to the entire process. Steve dressed with a grim determination and when he finally finished, an entirely different man stood before her. He picked up the shield and fixed it to his back then looked over at her. He then blinked and grinned, breaking character as he blushed.

“You’re fetishising the uniform now, aren’t you?” he asked, shaking his head.

Reese shrugged, trying to keep her voice casual, “Maybe.”

He laughed and pulled her in, kissing her deeply before sighing and letting her go.

“I don’t know when I’ll be back…,” he trailed off, frowning.

“Go,” she made a shooing motion. “Save the world. I’ll be here when you get back.”

He gave her another quick kiss, then she walked him to the door.

“Be careful,” she murmured.

He chuckled. “Well, as careful as you can be throwing yourself in the face of danger,” she amended.

“Do my best,” he replied, then turned and walked to his bike. She watched as he started it up and pulled away from the house, then closed the door.

 

--

 

A week later, she still hadn’t heard anything from him. Whatever was going on had to be intense and involved. She hoped desperately that he was ok. In the meantime, she was going through all her art pieces, trying to figure out what would be appropriate for the show. Becca helped her here and there when she was able, and once they had come up with a solid list for the collection, Reese sent Pepper a collection of images.

 

Reese: Here’s what I’m thinking for the exhibition. Let me know what you think when you get a chance.

 

She responded a few minutes later, as she was working to figure out the placement of the pieces. Pepper was letting her decide the layout and placement for the show, which pleased her immensely.

 

PPotts: Oh, Reese - these are perfect. How soon can you have them ready for transport? I’ll have a courier truck come to retrieve them.

Reese: They can be ready later this afternoon.

PPotts: Great! I have a crew that will work with you to hang the pieces - can you do that later tonight?

 

This was all happening so fast, her head was spinning.

 

Reese: Sure… just let me know what time I need to show up. Oh, is it okay if one of my friends comes to assist? She has a really good eye for placement.

PPotts: Whoever you need. Just make sure you arrive around 9pm. The courier will deliver the key to the space to you when they pick up the pieces.

Reese: Thank you so much, Pepper. I really appreciate it.

 

She thought about it for a moment, then winced and sent:

 

Reese: Have you heard anything from Steve?

 

There was a pause, then Pepper responded.

 

PPotts: When was the last time you heard from him? That’s not usually my side of the business.

Reese: It’s been a week, so far.

PPotts: I’ll reach out to Tony and let you know what I hear back.

Reese: Thanks again, Pepper.

 

Putting that at the back of her mind so she could focus on something she had control over, Reese started getting everything ready for the exhibition.

 

--

 

The day of the exhibition, Reese was starting to get a little nervous. The event itself was fine - that would handle itself, but she still hadn’t heard from Steve. Pepper had explained that Tony said he’d just gone ‘off grid’ for something, saying that it wasn’t anything to worry about - sometimes this just happened in their line of work.

She and Becca had been running around, doing some last minute changes on the placement, when Pepper walked in. “Oh, Reese - it’s beautiful.”

Reese followed behind Pepper as she walked smoothly from piece to piece, her heart in her throat. “You sure? Everything looks good, it’s all laid out ok?”

Pepper smiled and nodded, “It’s perfect.”

She pulled out a tablet and started making some notations, then said, “It’s going to be a full house tonight, Reese. I’m really excited for you!”

Reese flushed and grinned as Becca walked up to them. She’d introduced the two of them previously and Pepper smiled and greeted her friend.

“Ok, let me get this locked down while you get ready for tonight,” Pepper offered.

“How gritty can I get for this?” Reese asked, wondering if Pepper would understand.

Surprisingly, she did. “Go all out. Be completely yourself. Authenticity is what’s going to help you the most at this point.”

Reese let out a low chuckle and asked, “You sure about that?”

Pepper nodded and smiled. “Just… please don’t punch patrons in the face. That’s all I ask.”

Reese laughed and replied, “Aw, man.”

Pepper shook her head and said, “Go get ready. You’re going to be great.”

Becca giggled as they made their way to the door. “Does she even know what she’s asking?”

Reese chuckled, “Shit, I hope so.”

 

--

 

As Pepper had suggested, Reese showed up ‘fashionably late’ - even though it kinda bothered her to do so. Turned out it was the right move to make. As she entered, all conversation stopped and everybody turned to look at her.

She didn’t break stride as she walked right in, her tanker boots hitting the floor. She wore olive drab lace up suspender chaps over black booty shorts and a middrif tanktop that said 'Fight the Patriarchy' with the design of an upraised fist in a circle. Her mohawk was in liberty spikes and she'd written EAT SHIT on the side of her head.

She caught Pepper’s eye and the woman just grinned, stepping forward.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to introduce you to the Artist - Reese Hayes.”

Reese blinked as she was greeted by eager, painfully well dressed patrons. They looked her over and shook her hand, careful to avoid being poked by her spiked hair, smiling as though this was the best thing that had happened to them in a month. They looked… hungry.

So Many Pictures were taken - both by the press as well as selfies taken by posh men and women who were downright giddy at the opportunity to rub up against somebody so… daring and dangerous. It made her want to spit at them. She was fairly sure that wouldn’t go at all well. After about thirty minutes of this, things seemed to calm down.

Pepper walked up to her with an almost invisible grin, tapping at her tablet.

“That was quite the entrance,” she murmured.

Reese shrugged and said, “I do like making a scene.”

Pepper chuckled. “There’s a lot of interest in your work - about ten pieces have sold already.”

Reese had told Pepper that she trusted her judgement in setting the prices, and since there were no prices marked on anything, she had no idea what anything was going for.

“Holy shit, really? Pepper, that’s tremendous!”

“I need to continue mingling, but… enjoy your moment, Reese. You earned it.”

Reese blinked and then turned as somebody yelled out, “RI! You fuckin’ asshole!”

Evan strode in, gaping at the assembled artwork, whistling as several of the bouncers from the club walked in with him, grinning.

“Evan! You dick! Stop stepping on my moment!” she laughed as they hugged each other. He murmured in her ear, “How the fuck did you hook this up? You gotta tell me.”

She admitted, “Shit - I kinda just walked into it. Fuckin’ weird, right?”

He shook his head and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, then wandered off to check out her work. The bouncers all hugged and congratulated her, then Becca was there.

“Becks!” she cried, hugging her friend for all she was worth.

“Oh my god, you did it, Ri. I’m so fucking proud of you.”

Reese grinned, then sobered a little.

“Oh, Ri - I know you wanted him here for this…,” she trailed off.

Reese let out a breath and nodded. “Yeah, and if he could’ve made it, I know he would’ve. Still…”

“You still haven’t heard from him?” she asked, frowning.

Reese shook her head. “Not a peep. I’m getting worried.” She then straightened up and said, “Let’s drink.”

“Capital idea!” Becca replied, laughing.

 

--

 

As the night wound to a close, attendees started filing out, seeking her out to smile and shake hands with her again. She wasn’t tipsy enough to be a dick, but her social skills were getting a little... sharp. She’d had to pull back from vicious snarky comments several times. It wasn’t good business to shit on the people buying your art, after all. It kinda bothered her that her art would likely end up in private collections as a kind of rich people one-upsmanship display, and it made her feel a little like she was selling out.

That being said, money would definitely help her get supplies to create more, and if she made enough, she could consider helping other artists in the community that she knew as well.

The last of the patrons filed out and Pepper walked up to her, finally grinning full out.

“All but three pieces sold,” she explained. The woman leaned in and quietly murmured, “You’re now a millionaire, Reese.”

Reese blinked and made a strangled sound, unsure if she’d heard her correctly.

“You’re shitting me,” Reese hissed.

Pepper just laughed. “I had a feeling you’d be a big hit. I’m glad to see it panned out. The money is being transferred into a private account for you now - only you will have access to the funds. Oh, and if you want assistance on taxes this year, I have a guy who's well priced and very good at what he does.”

Reese just blinked again, feeling a touch hysterical.

Pepper placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and quietly said, “You should go celebrate.”

Reese took a deep breath, then sighed. “I don’t know if… I’m up for it tonight.”

Pepper nodded, understanding. “I’ll bug Tony again - see if he’s heard anything.”

“Thanks Pepper - and, truly - thanks for everything tonight. I’m just… fuck, thank you, for everything .”

Pepper pulled her into a hug, then said, “I’ll send for a car to get you back home.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Reese began.

Pepper insisted and Reese was grateful for it. She was entirely peopled out for the evening and just wanted to go home and be alone to decompress.

 

--

 

She was awakened by an incoming text from Steve.

 

Cap’n: I’m at your front door.

 

Reese quickly pulled on a robe and ran to the front door, opening it. Steve looked haggard and lost and she quickly pulled him inside, guiding him over to a chair. He was wearing baggy sweats, a hoodie and a baseball cap. He was soaked in sweat.

He had a numb, haunted look in his eyes, and it scared her.

She crawled into his lap and wrapped herself around him, her throat catching as he suddenly clutched at her and started weeping.

Chapter Text

This was so much worse than the night with the sketches. This pain ran so much deeper in him tonight, and Reese just held on, being here for him until he was ready to talk.

He finally started easing down and picked her up, carrying her back to her bedroom. When they settled on the bed, he placed his back to her, curling up before her. Her heart broke as she wrapped around him as best she could, kissing him and whispering to him - telling him that he was ok, that he was safe.

It ended up making him cry harder.

He ended up crying himself to sleep.

 

--

 

Reese woke to the sound of Steve yelling, “BUCKY! NO!”

She startled as he shot into a sitting position, his eyes flashing open. He was pouring with sweat, the covers fisted between his hands, wringing them as he tried to control his breathing.

He seemed to notice her and jerked to awareness. He stared back at Reese and let out a shaky sigh. He frowned and looked down and she saw a few tears drop onto his fists. She reached out and touched his shoulder and he started, then looked over at her, a man drowning in loss.

“Baby…,” she murmured softly reaching a hand out to him.

“I l-left him… He was still… but how… I thought…,” he croaked as he moved to place his head in her lap. “I can’t believe… I didn’t even fucking look . And now… ,” he made such a terrible sound as he just shook. “ Oh my god, Buck …” he almost whined, shuddering harder. “I’m so sorry …”

Reese took deep, even breaths to keep herself calm. Steve was tearing himself about something and she needed to stay relaxed in order to be of any appreciable help to him.

She just held him while he purged it all out, gently stroking and petting him, murmuring soft, loving words to him. 

After awhile, he seemed to be breathing a little easier.

Then he started talking.

And then Reese understood .

 

--

 

“Do you know where he is now?” Reese asked softly.

Steve sighed, then moved over onto his back so that he could look up at her. “No fuckin’ idea. Sam’s got a group trying to track him down.”

“When was the last time you ate?”

Steve had to think about it - then he responded, “I haven’t really had an appetite…”

Reese gave him a mild look. “Baby, you need to eat. Sometimes, if you don’t eat, it makes rough emotions even worse.”

He frowned, then held a hand out to her. She took his hand in hers and leaned forward to kiss his fingertips. “I’m gonna need ten orders of LoMein,” he murmured, “and five orders of eggrolls. Oh, and lots of spicy mustard…”

Reese sighed in relief. He wasn’t going to fight her on this. Thank god.

She reached over and went through her collection of menus, finding the one for the Chinese restaurant she really liked. Once she placed the order and disconnected the call, Steve reached out to her again, pulling her in and wrapping his arms around her.

“I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t here,” he murmured in a shaky whisper.

She curled against him, kissing his chest. “I’m not going anywhere…” she replied softly.

“Thank you,” he murmured against her hair.

“Now, see - if we were at your place, it wouldn’t take an hour for the food to get here…” she murmured.

He actually laughed at that. He sounded so tired, so beaten down.

“Fuck, I love you,” he replied, holding her tightly.

“I love you too, Steve,” she sighed, kissing his shoulder.

They spent a few minutes holding each other in silence, then she asked, “How soon do you have to get back out there? ...to find him?”

“I just have tonight… I don’t know how long it’ll take me to find him, and… fuck… ,” He frowned, pulling back to look at her.

“I know we only just started this, but… I can’t just leave him, knowing that he’s out there somewhere. Reese…,” he murmured.

“He was your first love, wasn’t he?” she asked softly, brushing her fingers across his cheek.

Steve let out a shaky sigh and nodded. “Yeah. He was. Is . Shit…” he groaned.

He hadn’t gone into details, but all the signs were there. Although it hurt like a mad bastard, realizing that she likely wasn’t going to see him again for a long while - at least until he found his friend - and then for a while after that, until he got his head figured out about this new information, she took a deep breath, then said, “You need to take some time, Steve. This is a pretty traumatic event - it’s going to take time to get through everything its bringing up.”

He nodded and looked so very sad, then looked up at her with pleading eyes.

Please… just give me tonight. I know I don’t really have a right to ask for that at this point, but…,”

Reese cut him off, cupping his cheek.

“Steve,” she breathed softly, “shut up,” silencing him with a kiss.

 

--

 

Steve practically inhaled the food when it arrived. He felt markedly better once he’d finished eating. He looked over at her, feeling such an immense gratitude. Would any other woman have put up with this bullshit? God, he was such a fucking mess. Now he just wanted to give as much of himself to her as he could, in these last few hours they had left together.

The intimacy was soft and bittersweet between them and he cursed himself for being distracted at times through it. He vowed to do what he could to stay in touch with her this time. He wouldn’t go without communication for more than 48 hours, even if it was only a brief line to let her know that he was ok - that he loved her. He needed a lifeline at this point, just to get through this.

Before he picked the search back up again, he’d talk to Tony about getting her a secure phone - then it would be time to find his best friend and bring him home, if that was even possible at this point. 

Reese started telling him about the exhibition showing and he smiled as he watched her talk, craving this moment of relative normalcy - trying to soak it in as best he could while he had the chance. When she showed him some of the selfies from the event, his heart damn near stopped at the outfit she’d been wearing. It was damn near criminal. And it definitely did something for him.

“Promise you’ll wear it when I get back,” he murmured, hopeful.

She chuckled and replied, “Only if you wear The Suit.”

He laughed and nodded, “Yes ma’am.”

 

--

 

All too quickly, it was time for Steve to go - although he was definitely looking a great deal better than when he’d arrived. She could tell that he was still shaken, but he was wrapping himself up in the Cap persona so he could go Get Shit Done. Even in sweats, when he was in ‘Cap Mode’ as she’d started referring to it, there was more than a hint of the heroic about him.

She gave him a final hug and whispered, “Go find your friend, baby. Bring him home.”

Steve took a long, deep breath, then kissed her. “I promise I’ll stay in touch this time - as much as I can.”

“Do what you need to do, Steve. It’s ok.” Reese murmured, giving his hands a quick squeeze.

Steve nodded then headed out, starting to run.

 

--

 

A really odd, high tech looking device arrived later that day by courier. Inside the package was a note from ‘TicTac Dick’ explaining the configuration and use for the device so that she could stay in touch with Steve.

Reese laughed and shook her head. Ok, so maybe he was the one rare guy secure enough in his manhood to take a joke.

She fiddled with the strange looking phone and it came on as Becca walked out of her room wearing a Pikachu onesie with a large ridiculous looking yellow strap-on. It jiggled obscenely while she made her way out to the living room and sat beside Reese.

“New toy?” Becca asked, peering curiously over at the device.

Reese nodded and continued exploring the features of the odd phone. “Yeah. It’s so he can stay in touch better. Secure line.”

“Ooh, secret squirrel super spy stuff, huh?”

Reese chuckled.

“Something like that.”

There was a brief silence between them, then Becca asked, “Is he ok? Last night sounded… not so good.”

“He’s… going through a really rough patch,” Reese explained, not really wanting to get into it. It wasn’t her story to share, after all.

Becca nodded, then asked, “You ok?”

Reese sighed and rested her hands in her lap, the device still in her hands.

“Everything’s just happening so quickly. It’s a little difficult to keep up with it all.”

Becca asked, “Would sushi help?”

Reese grinned and nodded. “Oh my god, I love you.”

Becca laughed and moved to get up. “I guess I should get changed then…”

“Well, if you actually want to be seated and served instead of sitting in a jail cell for indecency, sure…”

 

--

 

Reese had received a few, brief messages from Steve for a few days, but then they stopped. While this wasn’t entirely surprising, she couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. Becca had finally talked her into going out to celebrate - there had been a rather over the top article about her online, extolling her talents as an artist, and when she’d finally got the account information from Pepper for her account with the monies received from the Exhibition, she had stared at the sum for almost ten minutes straight.

She still had a difficult time believing it.

The two of them had stumbled drunkenly into the apartment around 6am and she’d immediately passed out. 

Now, finally awake, Reese looked over at the clock - it was 2 in the afternoon and she was still wiped… and something horrible had crawled in her mouth and died during the night.

Shifting the blankets off of her, she was startled by a hammering at her door.

“Reese - that ugly ass building they put on the potomac out in D.C.? It’s been destroyed - the news is going crazy. You gotta see this shit. They’ve been mentioning your boy…”

That woke her up.

She quickly pulled on a robe and walked out to the living room where the TV was showing the aftermath of what looked like a possible terrorist attack in Washington D.C. One of the reporters mentioned that Captain America had been in the vicinity when the attack happened and Reese said a quick prayer. PleaselethimbeokPleaselethimbeokPleaselethimbeok.

“Have they said where he is? If he’s alright?”

“Not so far,” Becca replied, her eyes glued to the carnage. She lived for this shit.

“You and your Apocalypse Porn…” Reese muttered, wandering into the kitchen to make some tea. Her hands shook and she tried her best to still them.

There were no further mentions about Steve on any of the news sources. 

The next two days were rough - still no news from any quarter about him. In an attempt to distract herself, Reese spent as much time as possible painting new pieces just to get the emotions out. These were visceral, unnerving works, and she honestly didn’t know how interested anybody would be in them. She’d sent Pepper snapshots of a few of them, and was assured that there would definitely be interest. Pepper wanted to know if she’d be willing to set up another exhibition?

Fuck it - why not? She wasn’t doing anything else with her time at this point, and it was good to have a focus.

A few days later, she finally received news over the secure device.

 

Pepper: Steve’s in the ICU. A car is coming to get you to take you to the airport.




--

 

It took her far longer than she was comfortable to get from New York to Washington D.C.

Reese made her way through the hospital corridor, trying not to freak out. She fucking hated hospitals. She’d had to visit enough of them throughout the years, being there for friends of hers who had been attacked and beaten. It never got any easier.
“Reese!” Clint called out, running up to her. He frowned, then said, “He’s in pretty bad shape, but he’ll be ok.”

He walked with her to Steve’s room, opening the door for her. Sam was sitting at the side of the bed, startled at first - then pleased to see her.

“He hasn’t come out of it yet,” Sam explained quietly, “but he’s a tough bastard.”

Reese nodded, taking a shaky breath.

“You want some time alone with him?”

Reese shook her head. “The more familiar faces he has around him, the better at this point.”

Sam nodded and got up, letting her take his seat beside the bed.

“What happened?” she asked as Clint stepped into the room.

“He got the everloving shit kicked out of him,” Sam spat in irritation, looking over at his friend.

“Who…?” she began, but Sam quickly said, “His friend - the friendly neighborhood Russian Assassin.”

Reese blinked and Sam quickly backpedaled, clearly not meaning to have said that out loud.

“Shit… I didn’t…,” he stammered.

“It’s ok, Sam,” she replied softly, moving to take Steve’s hand.

Sam sighed and moved over to talk quietly with Clint as she stood and placed a soft kiss to Steve’s forehead. “I’m here, baby. I’m here and you’re safe.”

Steve let out a quiet groan, then shifted in the bed, but then quieted down.

When he finally woke, two days later, Reese was the only one in the room with him.

“Bucky…?” he croaked.

Reese stood and looked down at him, gently brushing a few strands of hair away from his eyes. His face was still bruised, but most of the cuts and scarring had already vanished. It was startling how quickly his body was healing the damage.

His eyes fluttered open and then he blinked as he looked up at her.

“Reese… Where am I?”

He tried to move, then winced.

“Easy, big guy. You’re in a recovery room at George Washington University Hospital. Sam is just outside - want me to get him?”

She watched as his fingers flexed and she moved to hold his hand. Steve sighed and closed his eyes.

“Not yet.”

She felt his fingers tighten around her hand and she leaned down to kiss him. He groaned and she stopped, pulling back to look down at him.

“Ow,” he groaned.

“Sorry…,” she murmured softly.

“Don’t stop,” he said, blue eyes pleading.

They were still kissing when the door opened and the doctor walked in.

Reese kissed his forehead then stepped back so the doctor could look him over.

“I’m right here, Steve. I’m not going anywhere,” she murmured as he looked a little alarmed.

The doctor had a brief conversation with him about the current state of his health, extremely pleased with his progress.

“Just a few more days, and you should be ready for physical therapy,” she explained with a smile, before walking out of the room.

Reese stepped back over to the hospital bed. “Is there anything I can get you?” she asked softly.

“Just…,” he scooted over a little, his expression lined with pain.

“What are you doing?” Reese chastised him.

“C’mere…,” he weakly patted a spot beside him. “I need…” he trailed off and Reese nodded, carefully climbing to lay beside him in the bed.

“If this fucking thing tips over, the doctor is going to be so pissed with me - and then I’ll be pissed with you .”

He let out a weak laugh and then hissed as she wrapped around him as gently as she could.

After a few minutes, he murmured, “Better…”

Exhausted after standing vigil at his bedside, she quickly dropped off to sleep with him.

 

--

 

She woke to find him talking quietly with Sam - they were trying to keep from waking her, which she thought was ridiculous, given the situation.

“Hey, sweetheart…” he breathed, kissing her forehead.

Sam smiled and explained, “He’s well enough to travel - Tony has a jet waiting to escort you both back to New York.”
“Is that really a good idea?” she asked, concerned.

“I’m going nuts in this fucking room,” Steve grumped. “I hate hospitals. I’ll be fine. The worst of the injuries have already healed up - I can feel it.”

Reese pushed herself up on an elbow and looked back at him with a mild expression. “You’re not just bullshitting me so that I don’t strap you down to the bed? The doctor said it’d be a few more days - and the doctor was just here…”

Steve shifted in the bed beside her and she frowned when he didn’t wince.

“You were out like a light for twelve hours, sweetheart. You must have been exhausted.”

“If I didn’t think he was ready to go, I’d argue with him too - trust me on that,” Sam replied.

Reese sighed and said, “If you re-injure yourself, Imma be pretty pissed.”

Steve actually chuckled softly.

“C’mon… let me get out of bed so I can get out of this hospital gown and get a shower.”

--

 

The shower had been an awkward affair, but the two of them got through it relatively unscathed. Steve was walking a little stiffly, with a bit of a limp, which was quite frankly a hell of a lot better than he thought he’d be at this point.

He was still trying to process everything that had happened - S.H.I.E.L.D. was now defunct - in rather spectacular fashion, having been exposed as having been infiltrated by HYDRA for god knows how long, and his best friend, who he thought long dead, was now a military weapon - an assassin/‘Russian asset’ called the Winter Soldier - who had beaten him damn near to death on one of the helicarriers out over the Potomac, only to save him from drowning afterwards for some baffling reason.

Did Bucky remember him? Surely his friend was still in there, somewhere - in the tangle of the Winter Soldier’s fractured mind. Nat had shared a great deal of distressing information about the programming techniques for such… operatives, and it had damn near shattered his heart. That his friend had endured - had suffered so much.

The fact that he hadn’t killed Steve, that he’d saved him... 

He wouldn’t give up on Bucky. Sam had assured him that they were still trying to find him - the man was a literal ghost when he wanted to be.

He sighed as he dressed, still in a great deal more pain than was at all comfortable, but he wasn’t about to show it. He wanted to get the fuck out of here and back in the field. He had to find him.

Before something worse happened.

Chapter Text

It had been the longest day she could remember. As it turned out, Steve was an immensely grumpy patient. By the time they got back to the city, Reese decided to swing by her place to pick up a few extra changes of clothing. Steve had asked her to stay with him and she agreed on the sole condition that he stop bitching so much. They’d snapped at each other a few times, but it wasn’t anything overly worrisome. She was a shitty patient as well, and she knew how combative she got when she was out of commission.

He was walking better, but Reese could tell he was trying to hide the sheer amount of body pain he was actually feeling. Part of her wanted to call him on it, but hospitals skeeved her the fuck out as well. Once they were back at his place, she’d talk to him about it.

The limo stopped outside her building so that she could run in and pack a bag.

Sam and Steve waited for her in the back of the limo while she ran up to the front door and went inside. It only took a few minutes to get a bag ready, then she was heading back to the front door when a deep, empty voice asked, “ What are you to him ?”

She froze, turning to try to find the source, shocked to see a shadowed shape in the corner. Reese hadn’t really registered how dark the apartment had been - too focused on getting in, getting what she needed, and then getting back out to the car.

“What?” she blurted, confused and more than a little scared. The door hadn’t been tampered with - she’d had to use her key, and she didn’t see any open windows. How had this person gotten in?

“What…,” the shape moved, leaning forward, a weak light source poorly illuminating his features. “Are you to him?”

The man wore an all black tactical outfit and was holding a gun in his hand at his hip. Dirty, long brown hair framed his face, almost obscuring his eyes. Not homeless - military .

Reese took a breath and replied, “I don’t understand what you’re asking.”

Stay calm - try to control the dynamic. She’d been held up at gunpoint before, and had successfully de-escalated the situation in previous instances. This also wasn’t the first time she’d dealt with a home invasion. Keeping a cool head might just keep her alive.

The man frowned, agitated. “The… man . I saw you with him…”

She frowned then. “... Steve ?”

He took a quick step forward and the hand holding the gun shook briefly, then stilled. God, he was twitchy as fuck. Was he on something?

“Who is he?”

Another step forward.

“Why do I know him?” 

The man’s voice was urgent - distressed.

Wait. Could this be…? Reese stilled, then asked, “Bucky?”

The hand with the gun shot up, pointing directly at her as he tensed, his voice a little shaky as he said, “He kept calling me that. Who the fuck is Bucky?”

Reese took a breath, keeping her hands at her side, doing her best to project calm. Although he was pointing a weapon at her, his finger wasn’t on the trigger yet - that was a good sign. Still, the word assassin sent a chill through her veins as she remembered what Sam had said back at the hospital.

“Bucky Barnes was Steven Grant Rogers best friend back in the 1940’s,” she explained softly, watching as the man placed a hand to his head, keeping the gun trained on her. He looked so confused, so lost.

When he remained silent, she quietly asked, “Why come to my place? Why not talk to Steve?”

“I can’t…,” he blinked quickly, placing his hand back at his side, the gun lowering. “Why can’t I…?”

There was a soft knock on the door and the man spun to target the door. His expression went cold and distant. His finger was definitely on the trigger now.

“Steve’s outside. Please don’t shoot him,” she pleaded softly, trying to keep her voice from shaking.

The man looked over at her, howling anguish in his eyes. He then darted past her, opening a  window and jumping out of it almost quicker than she could track. He’d barely made a noise.

“Reese - you ok?”

Sam opened the front door in time to see Reese slump to the floor.

 

--

 

When Reese gained consciousness she was in the back of the limo. Steve had been holding her in his lap. She blurted out, “Bucky was in my apartment.”

Steve stilled and Sam frowned. She guessed Sam had carried her out to the car - grateful that he’d done so.

“I think he might be… remembering stuff…,” she quickly added, “He didn’t hurt me.”

The man had looked so haunted

“Did he say anything?” Steve asked softly.

“He asked…,” she frowned as she met his eyes, “What I was to you.”

Steve frowned and Sam asked, “I’m guessing he’s gone?”

Reese nodded. “He went out the window shortly after you knocked.”

Steve held her a little tighter then. 

“From the way he was acting, he’s desperately trying to sort something out,” she explained, resting her head on his shoulder. “He was kinda talking to himself.”

Still frowning, Steve breathed, “Why would he go to you? Why contact you first?”

Reese let out a sharp laugh and shook her head, “Fuck if I know. I’m just glad he didn’t shoot me.”

Steve stilled. “Wait - he pointed a gun at you?”

“Yeah - I called him Bucky, on a hunch, and that was his reaction.”

“He’s still in there…,” Steve breathed quietly. “Sam, Buck’s still in there, fighting behind all the shit they did to him.”

Sam nodded, “Certainly seems so. Sounds like he’s also been watching you for a while.”

Reese sighed and said, “It seemed to me that he’s pretty desperate to find answers, to figure shit out. Why he thought I’d have them? Shit, who knows?”

Steve winced as she shifted on his lap, and she said, “Look - I went easy on you when you were in the hospital, but I swear to god if you injure yourself further because of me, I’ll kick you.”

He frowned and held her tighter and she just sighed and wrapped her arms around him.

“Oh shit, Becca!”

Reese quickly pulled out her phone and dialed her roommate.

“Yo.”

She let out a sigh of relief. “Becks! Where are you?”

“I’m on an actual date. With an actual girl!” She sounded giddy with excitement.

“Oh, Becks, I’m so glad for you!” Small favors. Reese desperately hoped that Bucky wouldn’t try to ‘visit’ her again tonight.

They arrived at Avengers tower and a medical attendant with a wheelchair was waiting for them.

“You gotta be shittin’ me,” Steve spat.

Reese gave him a mild look and softly replied, “Stop being such a martyr for five fucking minutes? Let somebody help you?”

He glared at her then took a step and stumbled. He then looked back at her, eyes narrowed and jaw tight as he moved to sit in the chair.

The medical attendant moved to push the chair, but Reese intervened.

“I’ve got it from here.”

 

--

 

Reese wheeled the chair into Steve’s apartment and he immediately moved to stand.

“Steve…,” She murmured softly.

He turned to face her and looked… sad.

“Sorry I’ve been snappy. I keep forgetting what a shitty patient I am,” he explained softly.

Reese moved the wheelchair off to the side and pulled him into a gentle hug.

“You’ve got a lot of shit you’re juggling, and it sounded as though you nearly got beaten to death. It’s understandable,” she murmured.

He sighed and they held each other for a few minutes.

“I just wish you’d stop pushing yourself so hard. Even your constitution needs time to rest and heal.”

Steve sighed and nodded. “Yeah. I can do that.”

Reese smiled and gently took his hand. “Ok, you have a few choices - Thai, Indian, Japanese or Italian?”

He let her lead him over to the couch, smiling as he sat down.

“Thai,” he replied quietly.

She went to retrieve the restaurant takeout menu from the kitchen, then moved to sit beside him as they both went through it and tried to figure out what they wanted to eat.

Shortly after she ordered and disconnected the call, Steve asked, “...would you stay… with me… for a few days?”

“Yeah, I can do that,” Reese replied softly. “Pepper has me prepping for another exhibition - I’ll reach out to see if there’s somewhere on the premises where I can work…”

Steve nodded numbly, staring straight ahead.

Reese gently took his hand and he squeezed it with a heavy sigh.

“The first few days after…,” his voice wavered a little as he spoke, “...after he fell… After I…,”

Steve rocked his head back and rested it on the couch cushion. “I couldn’t really talk. I didn’t even cry. It was…”

He shivered and closed his eyes. “I had to go through all his personal effects… had to make sure that the stuff they sent home to his family wouldn’t… make it worse for them. ...nobody knew about us, back then. I couldn’t…” 

He let out a soft, strangled noise, then continued, “...for the funeral, they buried an empty fucking box. The body was obviously never recovered.”

He frowned then, his voice strained, “I couldn’t even fucking grieve him properly. Sure, you lose buddies in war, but you can’t really let yourself get too broken up about it. We still had a job to do. We still had…”

Reese kept silent as he took a few breaths, watching a tear roll down his cheek as he tried his best to work through it.

“And so I shut it all down - just locked it away. I couldn’t afford to be distracted… and then when I had to put the plane down, it seemed like closure, finally… I had enough time to make peace with… dying…”

He took another breath, wiping the tears out of his eyes.

“And then I wake up and the nightmare just becomes so much worse . I’ve outlived almost everybody - all the people, all the places and things I knew… I didn’t… fit… anymore. Anywhere .”

He leaned forward, his eyes haunted as he opened them.

“And then there was The Fight. Just… fuck me - Aliens ? Bucky would’ve found that hilarious , even as awful as it all was. ...I just kept going… to the next threat, the next fight, the next ‘doomsday scenario’... It was all I had…”

Steve looked over at her and the expression on his face almost broke her heart.

“The team’s been here for me - and it’s helped… Maybe more than I initially thought. They’re really fantastic people. I was starting to get to a point where I was better than I had been… and then I ran into you… and you changed everything .”

He let out a shaky sigh and shook his head, looking away.

“...and now that I know he survived? And was tortured for god only knows how long? It’s… I feel guilty and shitty that I moved on… Is that stupid?”

Reese squeezed his hand and shook her head.

“No - it’s not stupid. It’s natural to feel conflicted about it.”

Steve’s jaw tightened and he looked back over at her, eyes bright.

“I feel like I’ve betrayed him on a really deep level, just by having this with you. By being with anybody else, rather than with…,”

Reese nodded and quietly said, “Are you sure you want me to stay? I don’t want to make things worse…”

Steve’s eyes grew wide and he shook his head. “No, god no. I need you… I… ah… I don’t know if I can get through this… alone.”

“I’m here then - for as long as you need,” she replied softly.

“God, I feel like such an asshole for even asking… am I wrong for asking for so much? Needing it?” His voice sounded so small.

She leaned over, placing a gentle kiss on his temple, and he leaned into it, seeming to deflate a little. She wrapped her arms around him and he fell into her with an anguished cry.

“I’m here, baby. I’m not going anywhere. And no, I don’t think you’re wrong - you need what you need.”

He wept and the sound was… different now - almost as though he was finally letting something go.

 

--

 

As they ate, they watched Rick and Morty, and hearing Steve laugh made her heart flip in her chest. They made it through a few episodes before Steve turned the TV off and looked over at her.

“I need…,” he breathed, looking a little lost.

Reese moved to climb into his lap and he sighed as they wrapped around each other. 

“Fuck, I missed you,” he murmured softly.

Reese sighed and melted into the embrace, nuzzling and kissing his neck.

“I missed you too, Steve. You kinda scared the shit out of me, what with almost dying and all.”

“I know. I’m so sorry.”

They shifted to look back at each other and Reese gently traced her fingers over his forehead, then down his cheek. He was still the most beautiful man she’d ever seen.

He pulled her in and kissed her softly and she sighed as he held her tighter. There was a light tap on the window and they both looked over to see a dark shape outside the window, a hand pressed against the glass.

Steve stilled and Reese slowly shifted off his lap so he could stand slowly, his eyes locked on the man outside his apartment window. The man jerked, an almost imperceptible movement, but kept his hand on the glass - then he leaned in.

Steve slowly walked over, raising a hand, tears streaming down his face as he pressed it to the glass opposite Bucky’s. Reese stayed on the couch, giving the men their moment.

 

--

 

Steve was shaking as he held his hand to the glass. He was face to face with Bucky’s shadow - this bulky killing machine who wore his best friend’s face.

“Buck…” he breathed, his heart hammering behind his ribcage, so hard that it almost hurt.

He saw those ice blue eyes track to something behind him and he looked to see Reese sitting calmly, watching them both.

When he looked back, Bucky’s expression was tight. He jerked his head up then looked back at Steve.

So. The roof, then. At least he’d have a chance to finally talk to him.

Steve nodded and stepped away from the window as Bucky dropped out of sight.

He turned to face Reese and she simply said, “Do what you need to do.”

 

--

 

Steve gave her a tight nod, then left the apartment.

Reese sighed and said, “Friday - where’s the gym?”

She was beginning to get emotional whiplash, and needed to work through more than a little frustration.

 

--

 

Steve stepped out onto the roof, frowning. There was a barely perceptible sound behind him and he spun to see Bucky standing there like an industrial Grim Reaper. They both stared quietly at each other for a few minutes, then Bucky ground out, “Stop looking for me.”

Steve’s heart stuttered at the sound of Bucky’s voice - so cold and empty. God, he was still so completely beautiful, even in his current state, and he fairly radiated lethality. He took a deep breath, then said, “I didn’t know, Bucky.”

Seemingly from out of nowhere, Bucky had a gun trained on him. “Didn’t know what?” he asked, cocking his head as if confused.

I didn’t know you survived !” Steve yelled, unable to help himself. “Shit, Buck, do you honestly think that if I had any idea, I wouldn’t have burned the entire world down to find you? To get to you ?”

Only after he’d said it, did it occur to him that this man remembered literally nothing from before his capture after his fall from the train. Shadow Bucky lowered the gun and frowned, almost as though he was processing this new information. The man blinked, then said, “Azzano.”

Steve stilled as Shadow Bucky took a step forward then growled, “What’s Azzano?”

Steve tried to relax his posture as much as he was able as he quietly replied, “That was where they kept you - where that nazi fuck Arnim Zola… experimented on you. Before I could find you.”

Shadow Bucky’s expression went entirely blank for a moment, then he quietly said, “You used to be smaller…”

Steve let out a sob, then nodded. “Yeah. I sure was, buddy.”

“How… how do I know that?” Shadow Bucky asked softly.

Steve’s heart ached as he watched an array of painful emotions flash across his friend’s face.

“You… ah… shit, Buck… they did something to your head - to your memories…”

Any trace of Bucky was completely erased as the Winter Soldier snapped into his eyes and the gun was back up, aiming right between Steve’s eyes.

“The mission…”

The Soldier’s voice was icy - matter-of-fact. Devoid of any emotion.

Steve held up his hands in desperation. “Buck, I know you’re in there. Fight this asshole, you fuckin’ punk!”

Shadow Bucky was back, and anger burned in the depths of his eyes - and he screamed , “YOU GOT NO FUCKIN’ IDEA WHAT…,” the anger bled away and Bucky was back to numb and curious.

Curious himself now, Steve said, “Put the gun away, Buck.” 

There was that edge of steel as Cap stood the fuck up inside Steve.

Shadow Bucky frowned, then jerked when Steve barked, “That’s an order, Sergeant.”

Ice blue eyes flashed and there was suddenly an ugly look on Bucky’s face. “Fuck yourself, Stevie. I ain’t in the fuckin’ army anymore.”

Steve’s heart sang, but it was short lived as the Winter Soldier was now firmly back in place.

“Stop looking.”

He moved quicker than Steve could track him and disappeared.

Steve’s eyes filled with tears and he collapsed to his knees.

 

--

 

Reese was just starting to work up a sweat when Natasha walked in. She dropped down from what was easily the most enjoyable obstacle course she’d ever run and walked over to pick up a bottle of water.

“Burning the midnight oil?” Natasha asked casually.

Reese smiled back and replied, “I’ve never been to a gym this nice. It’s kinda becoming my favorite place.”

Natasha chuckled, then Clint entered the gym.

“What, does everybody work out this late?” Reese asked.

“Ladies! Who’s up for sparring?” Clint was grinning like an idiot.

Reese let out a bark of laughter and shook her head. “I wouldn’t stand a chance…”

“I’ll go easy on you - I promise,” Clint offered.

Reese narrowed her eyes until she realized that he was being completely sincere. Neither of them were laughing at her.

She nodded and said, “Shit - why not.”

 

--

 

Steve arrived back at his apartment, freezing when he stepped inside. Something felt… off .

“Reese?” he called out, feeling so exhausted he thought he might fall right over.

F.R.I.D.A.Y. replied, “Reese is currently down in the gym sparring with Clint and Natasha.”

He stilled, then sighed. There had been a moment of overly protective fear, but he knew that none of the members of the team would put her in danger, if they could help it.

He grabbed a few protein bars and ate them on the way down to the gym.

When he stepped inside, he was surprised at how focused and intense Reese was as she and Clint went at it with training blades. Nat walked over and nodded to him.

“She’s not too bad.”

Steve watched the pair dodge and weave around each other. It was a beautiful dance. They were both grinning - almost laughing.

“She puts on a good face, but you need to take care of her tonight. She’s not holding up as well as she’s letting on,” Nat explained softly.

Steve felt a tightening in his gut and he nodded. He’d been so far up his own ass about Bucky that he was missing cues he usually would have picked up on with a lover.

He took a shaky breath and replied, “He was here.”

Nat blinked, then asked, “How did that go?”

“Not well. He wants me to stop looking for him.”

“So stop.”

Steve looked over at her, irritated. “It’s not that fuckin’ easy, Nat…”

“It is, actually,” she replied, her tone mild. “I imagine you said what you needed to say to him?”

“...not everything, but…”

“Then let him start untangling it himself. Pushing is only going to piss him off and make it more difficult for him.”

He was about to ask her what the fuck she knew about it, then kicked himself before he could open up his mouth. He bit back his response and just nodded.

Nat looked over at him with the barest hint of a smile.

“Might be hope for you yet, Rogers.”

Chapter Text

Everything was fluid movement - action/reaction. God, she’d missed this. It had been entirely too long since she’d sparred with anybody that had been worth a damn. Clint wasn’t exactly ‘going easy’ on her, but was pushing her just at the edge of her limits. When was the last time she’d had a sparring partner who’d had that kind of sense - that kind of respect?

She’d trained with entirely too many assholes who’d gone full-out to prove that they could easily beat a girl - if they weren’t outright trying to take her down a peg or two. Boys that intended to hurt or injure, even when just sparring. The fighting world was full of toxic idiots with poor impulse control and anger management issues.

Clint had also given her feedback when she missed a step or a block. He truly seemed to be enjoying the hell out of himself, and had a really good eye for movement. His body fluidity was ridiculous, and he was acrobatic as hell. He was a joy to work with.

Reese finished up with Clint, then looked over to see Steve smiling over at her. She grinned back then gave Clint a tight, appreciative hug.

“Can we do this again sometime soon?” she asked, hopeful. He’d really put her through her paces and she was grateful for both the distraction and the exercise. She was really pleased at how much body memory she still had for all the knife fighting moves she’d been taught.

“Shit yeah,” he laughed, nodding. “Anytime.”

“Brilliant,” she replied, a little giddy now.

She’d just sparred with a fuckin’ Avenger and lived to tell the tale. It was a Pretty Big Deal and she was proud that she’d kept up with him as well as she had.

“If you want to work on tightening up your strikes, talk to Nat.”

Natasha walked up to them and nodded. “Anytime you’re up for it. Just let me know.”

Reese blushed and said, “I will. Thanks guys. I really appreciate it.”

Natasha winked at her. The woman rang all her bells and the casual flirtation set off butterflies in her stomach. She turned and bit her lip as she walked over to Steve.

“You were so good out there,” he murmured.

“Yeah?”

He grinned and pulled her into a hug, his voice a little husky, “Yeah.”

She let him hold her, just enjoying the feeling of the embrace. She was grateful that he hadn’t yet mentioned how sweaty she was. God, she totally needed a shower.

“Let’s get you a shower then go to bed,” he breathed, nudging the shell of ear with his nose.

Reese shivered and gave him a brief squeeze.

“It’s like you’re a mindreader…”

It wasn’t that she wasn’t curious about what had happened between Steve and Bucky - she just wanted to linger in that joyous afterglow that always hit her after fighting. It was invigorating, and had helped to replenish her emotional energy, even though she was thoroughly exhausted, physically.

 

--

 

Steve kept replaying the deadly dance between her and Clint in his head, startled at how aroused he’d been by the entire thing. God, she’d been a thing of deadly beauty. For some strange reason he couldn’t really understand, he had this intense need to make Reese call him Sir again - it was damn near overwhelming. He was fairly vibrating by the time they’d walked into the elevator and once the doors closed, he moved to place a hand at the back of her neck. She immediately stilled and he quietly asked, “Color?”

Reese groaned, “Oh shit.”

There was a beat of silence, then he replied, “That’s not a color, sweetheart.”

He grinned, but gave her neck a soft squeeze.

Reese immediately relaxed, her breathing coming soft and even now.

Green, Sir .”

He leaned down to whisper, “Good girl,” in her ear.

Reese literally beamed as she looked back at him.

“Thank you, Sir ” she murmured.

He smiled and turned to cup her cheek. Reese’s eyes slid shut and she rubbed against him like a cat, letting out a breathy sigh.

“I’m going to pick you up now - and then I’m going to carry you to the shower and you’re going to let me take care of you.”

He quickly swept her up, holding her close. Her head gently dropped to his shoulder and she breathed, “Yes, Sir .”

He placed a soft kiss on her forehead and said, “Oh, sweetheart…

 

--

 

Reese was flying . The combination of endorphins from the workout, coupled with Going Under? Yeah, she didn’t have a chance. She trusted him on a level that was so far beyond what she’d expected. She let go entirely and just enjoyed the feel of his body as he carried her. She pressed a hand to his heart and her lips curled in a lazy smile as she felt his heartbeat. Yes, Reese was happily skipping down the ‘Yes Sir’ trail, giggling the entire way.

She was barely aware of her surroundings - Steve was all she saw.

After they entered the apartment, he gently placed her on her feet and said, “Now - you’re gonna get in the shower and get yourself ready for me.”

God. Yes . Her brain shorted out for a second there and she quickly nodded.

 

--

 

Steve was reeling . The words that were coming out of his own mouth actually surprised him. And the way she responded to it all? Holy Fuck . He gave her ass a playful slap, then sent her on her way. The way they were both responding to what he was doing was dizzying. He undressed with actually shaky hands, letting the clothes fall where they would as he walked into the bedroom.

He stepped into the bathroom and almost fell over at the sight before him.

He’d meant for her to get in the shower and wash off the workout funk - but this option hadn’t even occurred to him.

Reese was already under the warm spray of water and had… taken her own situation in hand. Steve had a moment to try to process what he was seeing before she was looking straight at him - and the things she was doing to herself… The sounds she was making - and the desire reflected back at him in her eyes? It shook through him like thunder.

“I’m ready for you, Sir… ” she groaned.

Steve made a strangled noise and advanced on her.

 

--

 

Reese smiled that wonderfully lazy smile, the one full of promise, seduction and wickedness. Oh yeah - this, she had this down . The fire in Steve’s eyes danced as he picked her up and pressed her back up against the wall with a wet smack. He darted in, his teeth gently nipping up her throat before he growled, “ Fuck , Reese…,” he groaned.

She couldn’t help laughing. “Yes! Fuck Reese! Please!

He started laughing then, and they lost the thread for a minute or two.

Steve quickly recovered and spun her to face the wall. Reese turned enough to show him her eager grin, biting her lip as she pressed her hands on the shower wall and pushed her ass back at him.

Steve let out a soft cry, then slid inside her in one strong, fluid stroke.

Reese’s entire body jerked at the feeling of immediate fullness. It pushed her up a little higher into that special floating place and she let out a loud sigh. When she felt his fingers brush her clit, she cried out, then shook as Steve mercilessly worked to quickly force her over the edge.

She came with a shout that was so loud, it hurt her own ears as it rang off the shower tiles. Her entire body shook, her hands clawing at the shower wall as he started slamming into her from behind. She was pretty sure she was going to have bruises in the morning, and that just made her smile fiercely as he cried out and followed her over.

 

--

 

Steve desperately tried to catch his breath, easing his grip on her hips, then leaning into her until his hands touched the shower wall. He held them both up as they came back down from orbit.

He started kissing her shoulder and pulled her back against him, crooning, “Sweetheart, you did so good… oh god, thank you… god, I fucking love you… So fucking much… Reese…

Her shoulders started shaking and he turned her to face him, startled at the tears he found on her cheeks. He was suddenly on his knees before her, cupping her cheek. “Oh fuck… Sweetheart - did I hurt you?”

Green ,” she croaked, “...not hurt...me…”

Steve let out a breath of relief and quickly pulled her into his arms. Reese shivered, then held him tightly and started to cry. Steve moved to turn the water off then shifted over to a wooden bench in the shower, sitting down to cradle her, kissing her forehead and whispering sweet words to her as he rocked her.

 

--

 

Nobody had ever done this for her.

It was like an explosion in her heart.

It was so… immense, she couldn’t put it into words. She felt completely enveloped in safety and love. She had never been handled like a truly precious thing before, especially after a crying jag.

He was smiling as he kissed her forehead, her cheeks, her chin, and it just bowled her over.

She almost felt like a kitten in the arms of it’s chosen human. Total trust, total joy.

After a few minutes, he dried them both off, then picked her back up and gently placed her on the bed.

“Do you need anything?” he asked softly.

“Sleep beside me?” she asked, still feeling a little floaty.

“I can do that…,” he murmured, climbing over her and getting them both under the covers.

He curled around her, holding her tight against him, and Reese let out a happy sigh and quickly drifted off to sleep.

 

--

 

Steve felt her doze off, but his mind was full of so many questions. So many ideas . And then, as always, he returned to Bucky. He sat with the memory of his best friend for a few moments, then took a breath and let out a silent prayer.

Ok, Buck. If Nat’s right, I’ll let you call the shots. I may have lost my chance to... be with you in this lifetime, and that’s on me. I can’t say it doesn’t hurt, but I’m trying my best to be realistic. And that’s why I need this with her . I hope you can forgive me, but… she’s gotta be my focus while you get your shit sorted. When you’re ready - if ever, please come find me. I love you, Pal. I always will.

He then retasked and kissed her shoulder.

Eventually, sleep found him for a time.

 

--

 

Reese woke to the smell of breakfast. She shifted and took another sniff. Was he cooking… pork sausage ? She rolled her eyes and grinned as she dug through her bags trying to find something clean to wear. She ended up pulling on a long tanktop with BI-FURIOUS scrawled across it with two crossed knives, a broken heart and a pair of brass knuckles in the background.

When she made it to the kitchen, Steve was plating the food.

“You’ll spoil me…” She gave him a lazy smile as she walked up behind him, wrapping arms around his waist.

He chuckled softly. “That was the general idea.”

He turned in her arms and pulled her into a kiss.

“Now, go sit,” he kissed her forehead.

Reese smiled and walked over to the dining room table, turning so that she could watch him while he brought the food over to them.

“How did you sleep?” He asked softly.

She sighed as he placed a plate in front of her. “Like the dead.”

He chuckled and moved to sit, his eyes bright as he looked over at her. They ate in companionable silence, then Steve shifted in his chair.

“I didn’t expect to fall for you this hard, this quickly,” he murmured.

Reese looked over at him and smiled. “Yeah. Me either.”

There was a pause, then he said, “I… ah… also didn’t expect… the ah…”

She chuckled and replied, “The dominant thing?”

He flushed and looked down at his hands, then back up at her.

“Yeah. That.”

She gave him a slow, lazy smile. “You’re really fuckin’ good at it.”

He let out a nervous laugh. “Thanks? I mean… it’s not like I’m the only one present.”

Reese held out a hand and he took it and squeezed it.

“You’re the only person I’ve trusted enough to let go like that before,” she admitted quietly.

He took a breath and murmured, “I’m trying to be worthy of that trust.”

“Hey,” she stood up and walked over to him. “You’re going through a literal nightmare. Normal rules don’t really apply here.”

He pulled her gently into his lap and brushed a strand of hair away from her face.

“Don’t they though? Your feelings matter as much as mine. This isn’t a scenario where I get to lick my wounds at your expense. That’s not how I want this to work.”

This beautiful man. Reese sighed and nodded, “Okay. We support each other through this. We check in - make sure we’re getting what we need. If one of us falls, the other is there to catch them. That more along the lines of what you’re thinking?”

He smiled, and it was dazzling. She grinned and leaned in to kiss him, soft and slow.

“How are you holding up?” she asked softly, carding her fingers through his hair.

Steve sighed and his expression closed down a little. “He doesn’t want me to look for him. So I’m gonna give him that.”

Reese pressed her forehead to his.

“That’s gotta be really hard for you,” she breathed.

“Maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done…,” he replied.

He pulled her close and they held each other quietly for a few moments.

“How can I help?” she asked.

He thought about it for a moment, then replied, “Work with me on a piece?”

She grinned and cupped his cheek. “You want me to collaborate with you?”

He smiled and nodded, “Yeah. I want to create something with you.”

Reese laughed softly and asked, “Where? My studio is barely big enough for me.”

“I have an idea…”

Chapter Text

“Will this work?”

Pepper guided them into a large room that was currently being used for storage. It was full of unmarked boxes, furniture and various pieces of what looked like aborted projects that Tony must’ve been working on and decided to store instead of simply trashing.

It had a surprising amount of natural light coming in from the windows and Reese could already tell where she would set up her easels and her canvasses, as well as all of her painting supplies.

“Pepper - it’s perfect,” Reese breathed, grinning.

There was easily enough room for both her and Steve to work on separate projects at once without bleeding into each other’s creative spaces.

“Great! I’ll have it cleaned out and ready for you in a few hours. I can also have a crew work with you to move everything from your studio into here when that’s completed, if that will help.”

Pepper smiled in almost giddy anticipation. Reese laughed and nodded, “That’d be great, Pepper. Thank you, truly.”

Steve smiled back over at her then looked over at Pepper, “Yes, Pepper. Thank you. This is fantastic.”

The two of them spent the rest of the day packing up all of Reese’s art supplies and materials, prepping it to ship. As she was going through everything, she found a few old projects that she’d entirely forgotten about.

“Oh my god…” she breathed, chuckling.

Steve came over to look and placed a hand around her, resting it on her hip.

“Wow,” he murmured, blinking.

“Yeah,” she replied, shaking her head. “This was back when I was into making dark, nightmarish sculptures. My head was in a really bad place.”

The pieces were jarring and uncomfortable to look at - all angles and sharp edges. They looked aggressive and angry.

“I can see that,” he replied, reaching out to touch one of the pieces, but drawing his hand back once his fingers touched its surface. It had felt… wrong, somehow.

“I was working through some dark shit. This… helped,” she explained, looking up at him.

He nodded and sighed. “Yeah. I get it. I’m really glad it helped you.”

Steve gave her a gentle squeeze and then gave her temple a quick kiss before he walked back over to wrapping pieces to ensure they didn’t get damaged during the move.

“When you did those drawings… the ones in the shoebox - did they help you get some of that shit out of your head?”

He frowned, as if taking a moment to think about it.

“A little. They never entirely go away…,” he trailed off.

Reese nodded, then looked back down at her collection of gnarled, angry statues.

“Should I just throw them out?” she wondered, frowning down at them.

“Pepper would probably love them. They’re creepy as hell,” Steve chuckled.

“That they are,” Reese laughed, deciding to pack them with the rest - but before she did that, she took pictures of them and sent the images to Pepper. Who knew, right?

--

 

By the time they had everything set up in the new studio, Reese was exhausted. Never one to procrastinate when in the middle of a major project, she’d pushed herself harder than usual to make sure that everything made it through the move intact - and that the studio was set up the way she wanted it. She wanted everything ready to go, so if inspiration hit while she was here, she could get right to work.

Steve had been gently checking in on her all day - Are you sure you can keep going? Don’t you want to take a break? I can do all the heavy lifting… And yeah, he had carried everything that she couldn’t manage, and hadn’t broken a sweat. He didn’t even look tired.

Bastard.

She’d grumped at him and he’d just back off and keep helping her - but now that they were at a good stopping point, he stepped up to her and circled her in his arms.

“Ok. You’re done now. You haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

Reese narrowed her eyes up at him, but relented, letting out a sigh. He wasn’t giving her orders - he was genuinely trying to look out for her, and she tamped down the need to tell him to fuck off. Authority of any kind always rankled, but Steve - he was her friend, her lover . He cared about her health and her well being. He wanted to take care of her, and although she’d been independent and alone for most of her life, she kinda… wanted somebody to take care of her - as she’d take care of them in turn.

All of this was so new and so intimate and intense that it was taking some adjusting on her side. She knew he was going through a pretty serious adjustment period as well.

“Yes, sir,” she murmured, without placing the emphasis on The Word.

Steve simply smiled and kissed the top of her head.

“Got any idea what you want for dinner?”

 

--

 

She drove herself harder than almost anybody he’d ever met. It was hard for him to watch and he’d had to put the brakes on his own need to make her stop, to make her take a Break, for fucksakes. It was taking time to suss out her actual breaking point, but he was determined to get to a place where he’d be able to stop her from going too far beyond her limits at some point - without clipping her wings or making her dependent.

He slid his hand into hers and gently pulled her along, turning off the light and closing the door behind them as they left the room.

“Surprise me?” she asked. She looked so tired all of a sudden. She stumbled and he caught her, shaking his head.

“Am I going to have to carry you?” he asked softly.

He was surprised when she nodded and reached up for him. He smiled and picked her up, his heart skipping as her head rested on his shoulder.

“Oh sweetheart ,” he murmured, nuzzling her.

Steve’s heart flipped as she let out a happy sigh. He didn’t quite know why, but the fact that she was letting him do this? It was everything .

 

--

 

Towards the end of the meal, Steve was called away on Avenger business. He didn’t go into details, and she didn’t ask - the only thing that mattered to her was that he stay safe, which - as the team tank he had a difficult time doing as he was usually at the front of the fray, bulling through everything with the shield and his fists. Clint was apparently sitting this one out for some reason, so he’d come up to keep her company while the rest of the team cleared out and went off in search of the Thing That Must Be Defeated.

He walked in with two entire pizza pies, a six pack of beer and a dog that looked a bit like a golden retreiver. He made his way to the living room, grinning as he set them down on the coffee table and asked, “Ever seen Dog Cops?”

The dog quickly jumped up on the sofa and made himself comfortable as Clint settled beside him.

Reese blinked and closed the door, walking over to sit beside him.

“Can’t say that I’ve ever heard of it.”

Clint opened the pizza box and looked over at her with an eyebrow raised. Reese held up a hand and said, “I’m good. I already ate.”

He shrugged and pulled out a slice and then looked around, frowning.

“Need a plate?” Reese asked, helpfully.

He looked a little embarrassed, as though he could have sworn that he’d brought plates with him, but somehow forgot that he hadn’t. She chuckled and retrieved a couple of plates from the kitchen, handing them to him.

“Thanks!”

He grinned and placed a slice on a plate on the floor and the dog jumped down to eat it, tail wagging. Clint looked back at her and shrugged, “We both kinda have a thing for pizza.”

He placed a slice on a plate for himself, then explained, “Oh, yeah - this is Lucky.”

The pup looked up at Reese and she could see that he only had one working eye. Clint cracked open a beer and looked over at her. “Want one?”

She shrugged and nodded. Why not?

They shared beers as Clint turned on the TV and introduced her to the joy that was the show Dog Cops.

After a few hours of binge watching, Clint had suggested they go down to the gym to spar a little.

“I’m afraid I’ve already shot my wad for today. I’m beat - but any other time, sure,” she replied.

“Want me to teach you how to shoot a bow?” he suggested.

And that was how they both ended up down in the gym at the target range.

Hawkeye handed her a light recurve bow and a quiver of arrows. “I’ll start you off light. I have a 250 pound pull on the bow I use, so I have a few backup recurves in case anybody else on the team wants to learn.”

Reese grinned as she hefted the bow in her hands. “You really enjoy teaching people, don’t you?”

He smiled and shrugged. “I’m a helper.”

She chuckled and he walked her through nocking an arrow and aiming. Her first few arrows flew pretty wide, but over time, they actually started hitting the target at the edges. After about an hour of practice, her arm was starting to shake, but her shots were getting better.

“Not bad for somebody just starting out,” he complimented her, grinning as she handed the bow back to him. “You should get Tash to show you guns next.”

Reese looked over at him and blinked. “What, you prepping me to become a member of the team?”
He chuckled and shook his head. “Steve’d have my ass if that was the case. Unless you have some mysterious superpower you’ve been keeping under wraps?”

Reese laughed and replied, “Sadly, no - although that would’ve been helpful in a couple of the situations I’ve found myself in back in the past.”

She followed him over to the lockers where he stored all his gear.

“I’m a strong believer in helping anybody who wants to fight,” he explained softly. “Rough life, huh?”

Reese shrugged as he placed the bow and arrows back into the locker.

“At times. I can hold my own,” she replied evenly.

He nodded and said, “Definitely get Tash to show you guns. And I’m here to train anytime you’re up for it.”

She smiled, truly appreciative of the offer. Clint seemed to be one of the more easygoing members of the group. Tony tried for easygoing, but just ended up coming off as manic - but Clint? He was kinda dorky, but cool. She genuinely liked him.

“Thanks, Clint. You’re a pretty awesome guy.”

He actually blushed and closed his locker.

“I think I’m gonna head up to bed. I’m beat,” she murmured.

He grinned and said, “I’ll walk you up.”

 

--

 

Reese was roused from a sound sleep by the ringing of her phone.

“Are you ever coming home?” Becca whined.

Reese rubbed the sleep out of an eye as she shifted in the bed. “Steve’s going through some pretty heavy shit, so I’m staying here for a bit,” she explained. She felt bad that she’d been out of touch lately. “Hey - what are you doing for lunch today?”

“I have a client until about 1 - wanna link up after that and hang out?” Becca sounded hopeful.

“Yeah! I miss your face.” Reese smiled

“Sweet! I’ll see you then - wait, are you coming here or am I meeting you somewhere?”

“I’ll swing by. And lunch is on me.”

Becca laughed joyously. “I would expect nothing less, Mrs. Moneybags.”

Reese laughed and disconnected the call, then showered and headed to the studio to work for a little bit before she had to head out.

 

--

 

Reese was gessoing a large canvas when her phone buzzed.

 

Cap’n: It looks like I’m going to be gone for a few days. You ok?

R: Yeah - Clint is teaching me how to shoot a bow and arrow. :)

Cap’n: Nice! Did he make you watch Dog Cops with him?

R: How did you know?

Cap’n: I’m psychic? Also - he does that to everybody .

R: LOL - how goes Storming The Castle?

Cap’n: Pain in the ass.

R: You ok?”

Cap’n: Yeah. Business as usual. I miss you.

R: I miss you too, baby.

Cap’n: I have a surprise for you.

R: Do tell?

Cap’n: ...then it wouldn’t be a surprise.

R: Talk about a pain in the ass.

Cap’n: You love it.

R: *grumbles*

Cap’n: Ok, I gotta get back to it. Love you, sweetheart.

R: I love you too. :)

 

She’d just set the phone down when Pepper walked in.

“Do you have a few minutes to go over the pieces you want in the show?”

Reese nodded and they got down to business.

 

--

 

“So I guess you’re a pretty big deal now, huh?” Becca asked, popping a piece of sushi into her mouth.

Reese rolled her eyes and took a sip of hot green tea. “Shut it, you,” she grumbled.

Becca laughed and they ate in companionable silence for a few minutes.

“So - are you moving in with him, or what?” Becca asked quietly.

Reese leaned back in her seat and frowned. “I’d say it’s too soon, but nothing about this relationship is moving at a ‘normal’ pace, whatever that is. I mean - I don’t know?”

Becca nodded then took a sip of soup before asking, “Will you give me a heads up if you do?”

Reese immediately moved to comfort her friend. “Oh honey, if that happens, I’ll pay the rent ahead for a year so you don’t have to worry about getting a roommate anytime soon. Ok?”

Becca’s eyes widened and she stammered, “You don’t have to do that…”

Reese shook her head, her voice firm. “I know, but I want to. If it comes down to that - okay?”

Becca took in a shaky breath and reached her hand out, taking Reese’s in her own.

“You’re not gonna forget about me now that you’re all rich and famous and hanging out with Avengers now?”

Reese squeezed her hand and sobered. “Never. In fact - why don’t we go out tonight? Wasn’t there a fetish party you wanted to hit?”

Becca grinned, beaming now. “Really?”

Reese nodded, “Yeah. It’s a date.”

 

--

 

Once they were both decked out in black leather, Reese sent a text to Clint.

 

R: Hey - just a heads up - wanted to let somebody there know where I was going. I’m heading out to a club with a friend. I probably won’t be back tonight. I’m going to stay at the apartment.

Ronin: What’s the name of the place? Want company? I’m bored off my ass here.

 

Reese laughed and shook her head.

 

R: It’s… a bondage club, Clint. I mean, sure - you’re welcome to come if you want, but…

Ronin: Gimme the address - I’ll meet you there.

R: Really?

Ronin: There’s a lot about me you don’t know, Reese. ;)

R: My, my. Wear leather, if possible.

Ronin: Yeah, that won’t be an issue.

 

She gave him the address then blinked. The surreality of the situation threw her for a minute.

 

“So… ah… a friend is going to join us. He’s gonna meet us at the club,” she explained to Becca.

“...a ‘friend’,” Becca replied mildly.

“He knows Steve - wanted to know if he could tag along. Should be entertaining, if nothing else.”

Becca laughed, then asked, “Wait. He gonna be keeping tabs on your for Steve?”

Reese smiled and shook her head, “Nah. It’s not that kinda situation.”

“Suuuure,” Becca replied, chuckling.

Reese rolled her eyes and they headed out.

 

--

 

As they walked up to the club, Reese could hear the deep thumping bass echoing from inside. A line of patrons dressed to the nines, with a few poorly dressed lookey loos lined up to get in. When Reese passed the bouncer to head to the back of the line, somebody caught her arm. She frowned and looked back to see the smiling face of a guy named Jenks - he was an enormous Samoan man with an open, friendly face that would shut down and get fierce quickly if necessary. She never wanted to be on the receiving end of his War Face.

“Reese! Shit, honey - go on in.”

He unclipped the rope and waved her and Becca inside. Startled, Reese stammered, “I… ah… thanks, Jenks! What gives?”

He rehooked the rope as the guy at the door continued to check ID’s. “Now that you’re all famous and shit, Sebastian wants you to get the VIP treatment.”

Reese boggled and blurted, “No shit?”

Jenks laughed and patted her shoulder. “No shit.”

“Fuckin’ weird ,” she muttered, grinning back at him.

“Don’t forget us peons, baby,” he smiled and pulled her into a tight hug.

“Wouldn’t dream of it. Thanks, man.”

He gently pushed her toward the door then went back to guarding the line.

Becca looked over at her with a sly, Told You So smile, shrugging.

“You’re going to be So Popular tonight…” she mused, giggling.

Reese wrinkled her nose. “Ugh. No thanks.”

Becca laughed and they walked into the main room, arm in arm. It’d been awhile since they last visited, and Reese was honestly stunned that Sebastian even knew who she was. The club owner tended to be one of those guys that stayed at the edge of everything, and he rarely came down to the main floor. She looked up at the ‘VIP section’, honestly wanting nothing to do with it, so she and Becca made her first pass through the club. Several people she’d never met came up to her and introduced themselves - respectfully.

“Who the fuck are these people?” she hissed over to Becca.

“Fuck if I know,” she replied, laughing at it all. “Guess this is what famous gets you.”

Reese cringed. “Yeah. I already don’t like it.”

Her phone buzzed and she looked down to see that Clint had sent her a message saying he’d arrived. They walked to the front to meet him and Reese looked him over appreciatively. He was clad in tight black leather pants with a dark purple and black vest over a purple sheer shirt. Black motorcycle boots completed the look and she chuckled as he walked over to them.

“Evenin’ ladies.”

He grinned and looked around, getting a lay of the land before looking back over at Reese, assessing her outfit.

“Nice duds,” he murmured, nodding.

“You too. What - you tryin’ out for Daddy of the Year?”

He laughed and shrugged. “This old thing? Yeah - was sitting at the back of the closet. Figured I’d air it out.”

Becca cleared her throat beside her and Reese gave a brief jump, then said, “Becca - this is my friend…,” She looked meaningfully over at Clint who quickly held out a hand and said, “Legolas. Pleased to meet you, Becca.”

Becca laughed and shook his hand while Reese tried to stop the loud snort that came out of her mouth.

She gave Clint a gentle kick and he grinned back at her.

Somebody caught Becca’s eye and she said, “Ok - I’m gonna go play. You good?” she asked Reese.

Reese nodded and replied, “Go - have fun. I’ll be here if you need me.”

Clint stayed beside her as they watched Becca bounce off to meet her chosen play partner for the night.

“You just come here to keep an eye on her, don’t you?” he asked softly.

“Yeah. I’m already spoken for, and haven’t played in public for a long time. Haven’t really felt the need to,” she explained.

“Is that why you look like you just walked off a Mad Max set?” He grinned.

Reese smiled and said, “Pretty much. Although, it doesn’t keep some of the more determined submissives from trying to shoot their shot.”

“Want a drink?” Clint asked, turning to head to the bar. They didn’t serve alcohol on the main floor - it was never good to mix alcohol with this sort of activity.

“I’m good with water, actually,” she replied.

“One water, comin’ up,” he walked off and she scanned the crowd, looking for Becca.

“Reese… I’ve been wanting to make your acquaintance…,” a smooth, cultured voice rang out from behind her.

She turned to find an elegantly dressed older man, his long salt and pepper hair pulled back in a topknot. He was pleasantly handsome and smiled as he stepped up to her.

“Sebastian Grace, at your service,” he murmured, offering her a hand.

“Oh… hi… ah…,” Reese stammered, not really knowing what to say to the usually elusive man.

Several people around her seemed to be reacting with shock that he’d deigned to grace him with their presence.

She took his hand and shook it, pulling her hand free as quickly as was socially acceptable. She didn’t need to be pissing on the man’s shoes for dominance in his own club.

He seemed amused and raised an eyebrow as he asked, “I couldn’t help notice that you haven’t come up to visit the VIP area.”

Reese let out a sigh of relief as Clint came up to them and handed her a glass of water.

“Oh, hey Sebastian. How’s tricks?”

Sebastian blinked, then replied, “Legolas? What brings you out?”

...they knew each other? Turns out Clint was full of surprises.

“Just catchin’ up with an old friend,” Clint replied smoothly, stepping a little closer to Reese.

Sebastian’s smile was thin as he nodded and said, “Pleasure to meet you, Reese.”

He sauntered off and Clint narrowed his eyes as he watched Sebastian walk away.

“He’s a shark,” Clint murmured, taking a sip of his drink. Looked as though he had gotten water as well.

Reese gave him a strange look, then said, “So you are here to keep an eye on me.”

Clint simply blinked and said, “Who, me?”

Reese rolled her eyes and tried looking again for Becca.

“Everything ok?” he asked.

“Unsure. I can’t see her - can you?” Maybe he had better eyesight than she did?

Clint scanned the club, frowning and shaking his head.

“Shit…,” Reese muttered, making her way through the club as subtly as she could.

Chapter Text

Clint followed behind as Reese went from space to space, looking for Becca. The longer it took to find her, the more her anxiety cranked up. When she decided to start looking in the private rooms, that’s when it became a problem.

A tall, wide man stepped up to intervene, holding up a hand, and she growled, “My friend is missing. Touch me, and you lose a fuckin’ finger.”

The man frowned, then brought a walkie talkie up to his mouth, keeping his voice low.

“What’s she look like?”

Reese quickly described Becca and what she was wearing and the man spoke into the device again. There was a bit of back and forth chatter, then the man casually explained that she was upstairs in the VIP area.

Reese blinked and frowned. What the fuck, Becca?

Reese gave him a quick nod, then she and Clint made their way upstairs.

Becca was giving everybody a show, giggling and stumbling around from patron to patron. Her Reese strode up to her and spun her around - her pupils were blown, but not from excitement. Somebody had dosed her.

“Hey, baby…,” Becca cooed, leaning into her and nuzzling her fondly, wrapping her arms around Reese’s midsection. Thank god she was still fully dressed.

“Hey sweetness,” Reese murmured back, her voice soft and kind. “Did one of these guys give you a drink?”

Becca stumbled in her embrace and she looked over at Clint whose mouth was drawn and tight.

“Everybody’s sooooo nice up here. I got buncha free drinks…”

Reese felt herself sink down into that dark place, the swingin’, kickin’ place where everything was fists, nails and boots.

One idiot stepped forward, smoothing down his tie. “Hey, we were just being friendly. No harm done.”

Reese hissed back, “And I bet you consider yourself a Nice Guy, too, huh?”

The man rocked back as if struck, then snarled, “Who the fuck do you think you are? Gutter trash bitch.”

Reese presented him with one of her scariest grins and cocked her head. “Oh, puppy. Did you come here to bleed? PLEASE tell me you came here to bleed.”

She handed Becca off to Clint and took a step forward, feeling a lovely, delicious flow of adrenaline dumping into her system.

“Do you know who I am?” the man yelled, advancing on her, “My father…”

He suddenly stopped, his mouth opening in a surprised O as a bloom of red appeared on his chest. After a beat, the man stumbled and fell over.

Reese jumped back, shaking her head and shouting, “What the fuck?!?”

Clint immediately jumped into action, pulling her away from the men and rushing both her and Becca behind one of the larger pieces of furniture upstairs. Reese watched as his eyes scanned the entire room, his expression grim.

“What the fuck was that?”

“I’m guessing assassin. Shh,” he explained, whispering.

Becca muttered to herself as Reese reeled.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” She hissed.

“Nope.”

The other men in the VIP room were trying to rouse the man on the floor, then one of them shouted out and shrank back. The room emptied out then, with shouts and screams echoing around them.

“Stay here.”

Clint darted over to a couch, continuing to try to track the source of the shot. Security was upstairs in moments, wanting to know what happened. Clint stood up, still frowning, explaining what he’d seen.

“You the only witness?” a burly man in a black suit asked.

“There were a bunch of people up here, but they all ran out,” he explained.

“Gonna need to pat you down, man,” The guy murmured.

Clint nodded and held his arms up while the man patted him down.

He called out, “Should be safe now. Whoever he is, doesn’t look like he’s gonna shoot anybody else.”

“And how the fuck do you know that?” Another security guy asked.

“He shot a target, center mass, in the middle of a crowded club with no windows and shitty sight points. I didn’t hear it and didn’t see a muzzle flash. Anybody that good would’ve easily smoked anybody else in the room, if that’s what he was here for. This guy must’ve really pissed somebody off.”

Reese stood and gathered Becca, who had passed out, into her arms.

“You ladies ok?”

“Yeah. Little shaken, but I’m good.” Reese felt more than a little crunchy now that the adrenaline had nowhere to go it was shaking through her system.

“We need to get out of here before the cops arrive,” Clint explained.

One of the security staff walked up to them to bar them from leaving.

“Let them go, Dee.”

Sebastian Grant was coming up the stairs with a grim expression.

“But boss…,” the man sputtered.

“Dee.” The command was firm, but tight.

Clint simply nodded at Sebastian as they moved past. “Out the back. It’s the safest way.”

“Thanks, man,” Clint called back.

He led Reese through to the back of the club, then down a flight of stairs and through a door that led to a fairly innocuous looking business space.

The three of them made their way through the office, then out through a door that led to a winding tunnel.

“This some underground crime syndicate type shit?” Reese asked.

Clint just laughed. “No. Club has a lot of wealthy patrons that’d rather not have their names in the papers, so…”

Reese nodded as they came to a door that finally led out to the street. They came out of a building a few blocks away from flashing lights and sirens. Clint relaxed and moved to collect Becca from Reese. She was still out like a light.

“We’re going back to the tower. I’m not comfortable with you staying at your house tonight,” he explained, hefting Becca easily.

Reese, although grateful because the strain of carrying another human being around for that long was taking its toll, couldn’t help snapping, “I don’t want her waking up in a place she doesn’t know…”

Clint walked over to a black SUV waiting at the corner.

“I’m pretty sure that you’re the reason that guy got shot. We need to get off the street. Now.”

Reese quickly followed him into the vehicle, then said, “How the fuck do you figure that?”

“Why wait until he was moving on you? Why not make a move before then?”

“What are you talking about?”

Clint turned to look at her and said, “Whoever it was, I think their intent was to protect you.”

 

--

 

The three of them stepped into Steve’s apartment and Clint walked over to the couch, gently placing Becca down on it.

“Stay here. I need to take care of a few things, then I’ll be back. Okay?”

Reese nodded, feeling a little numb at this point. I mean, sure, the guy had been an arrogant, affluenza prick, but… Sure, she would’ve happily beaten the shit out of him, but killing him outright? Her conscience warred with her. One one hand, there was one less rapey asshole in the world that needed to be dealt with, but - on the other… She shook her head to clear it and walked into the bedroom. She started to peel herself out of the leather when she heard a sound in the corner. She spun and was shocked to find Bucky sitting in a chair, looking back at her, his expression impassive.

“Fuck!” she shouted out, jumping, then worked to catch her breath. She stood stock still for a moment, desperately hoping that she hadn’t woken Becca.

It took a moment, but then she put two and two together.

“Why?” she asked, honestly wanting to know why this man had killed somebody - over her.

“You help him. He needs you.”

Bucky’s voice was cold, clinical.

“Pretty sure I could’a handled that dickhead on my own,” she growled, forgetting for a moment who she was dealing with.

It shocked her when she saw the ghost of a smile on his face.

“You’re as bad as he is.”

Reese gave him a mild look, then sighed. “You didn’t have to kill him.”

He frowned then, blinking before he murmured, “You’re angry at me.”

He sounded almost like a child, surprised that he’d disappointed a parent.

Reese moved to sit on the bed, closing her eyes and taking a breath.

“Couldn’t you have just… wounded him? I mean…”

Bucky laughed - actually fucking laughed at that.

“Christ, you’re perfect for each other. Did you know that he’s raped seven women in the last year? That his father helped bury the police reports?”

Reese blinked, then frowned. “Fair enough. I still wanted to make him bleed myself, tho’.”

Bucky smiled, then Shadow Bucky bled back into his eyes. Not wanting him to lose himself again, she offered, “Got a place to stay?”

He stood quicker than her eye could follow, his expression closing down.

“I can’t… stay…,” he murmured, looking haunted again. “I’ll try to remember that you offered…”

Reese nodded, then asked, “Have you eaten?”

Bucky shook his head, his jaw tightening.

“Look - we have some food in the fridge. Let me at least get you something to eat…”

She walked out of the room, heading to the kitchen and pulling out what little leftovers there were, wrapping everything up in a bag for him. She was honestly surprised to see Bucky still standing there, waiting. Reese held out the bag and he looked down at it, then back up at her. There was a silent plea in his eyes.

“I can sit with you while you eat, if that will help?”

He nodded, shocking her again before he opened the bag and fell to eating. He ate like a man desperate to get as much food in his face as he could before somebody took it away from him. She felt tears threaten as she bore silent witness, wanting to keep him safe while he ate. She really wanted to offer him a shower while he was here, but didn’t know where the laundry room was, and didn’t think that getting back into his current outfit would be at all pleasant for him afterwards. Quicker than she thought possible, he finished and stood back up, leaving a mess behind.

“My friend is on the couch. I don’t know how you got in, but I just wanted you to know. I think she’s still asleep,” Reese explained softly.

“The one with the arrows?” Bucky asked.

“No - he’s downstairs.”

Bucky nodded and she said, “Please be safe. Okay? Take care of yourself? Steve would be devastated if anything happened to you.”

“Maybe stop jumping into fights? Captain Idiot does that plenty all on his own,” Bucky muttered.

“Maybe stick with a fuckin’ personality and run with it? You’re givin’ me whiplash,” Reese growled, but grinned back at him.

Bucky gave her a mild look, then darted out of the room.

She gave him a minute - collecting the trash Bucky had left behind, then walked out to the living room. Becca was still on the couch, out like a light.

“What a fuckin’ night,” she breathed, shaking her head and going to throw the trash out, before finally heading off to bed.

 

--

 

Sometime, in the middle of the night, the buzzing of her phone woke her.

 

Cap’n: Sorry I’m messaging you so late. Just got the word - we’ll be coming home tomorrow.

R: :D->-<

Cap’n:

R: It’s an ASCII dude cheering. Turn it sideways.

Cap’n: LOL - I see it now.

R: You okay? Still in one piece?

Cap’n: So far. It’s been rough, but it’s almost over.

R: Been keeping yourself fed? Hydrated?

Cap’n: Yes, ma’am. 

 

She chuckled softly then let out a happy sigh.

 

Cap’n: I gotta sack out. Long day. Love you.

R: Love you too, baby. Travel safely and I’ll see you tomorrow. :*

Cap’n: What’s :*

R: It’s a kissy thing.

Cap’n: aww. :* Goodnight, sweetheart.

 

Reese placed the phone back on the bedside table, then stiffened at the shuffle of feet in the other room.

“Becca?” she called out.

“Ri… where are we?”

Becca sounded completely exhausted. No wonder. God only knows what that dead, rapey shitbag had given her.

“Steve’s apartment. I’m back here… in the bedroom.”

Becca walked in, slowly stripping off her clothes then crawled up onto the bed in her underwear. They sometimes slept together when one of them needed comforting - and this certainly counted as one of those times.

“C’mere, sweetie.”

Reese opened her arms and let Becca drop down beside her, resting her head on her chest.

“When did we leave the club?”

Reese frowned, hopeful. “What do you remember, Becks?”

“Some guy invited me up to the VIP lounge - oh man, Reese, you should’a seen him. He was beautiful.”

“What’d he look like?”

Reese described Sebastian Grace down to the ground. So. It was his fault she’d been up there in the first place.

“Then what happened?”

“Somebody gave me…,” her expression fell and she looked frightened. “Oh fuck, Ri - did somebody roofie me?”

Reese nodded and quickly reassured her, “We found you before anything happened, honey.”

Becca shivered and started to cry. “I don’t remember anything after that…”

Thank god , Reese thought to herself.

“We were able to get you out of there before anybody hurt you… you’re safe. I’m here now,” she cooed, gently petting her friend’s hair.

She was going to have to have a long, vivid conversation with Sebastian Grace… soon.

Becca cried herself to sleep, and Reese wasn’t long behind.

 

--

 

“Why doesn’t he have any food?” Becca asked, frowning as she looked in the fridge. Reese had let her borrow one of her robes to cover up.

“Because he eats it all as soon as it arrives,” Reese explained, chuckling. “There’s a cafeteria thingie I’ve been meaning to try out…”

There was a knock on the door and Reese walked over to answer it. She found Clint and Lucky on the other side, and the man had again brought pizza and beer.

“Mornin!” he grinned and walked over to the dining room table, setting everything down.

Reese shook her head and asked, “Do you ever not eat pizza?”

Clint gasped and quickly moved to cover Lucky’s ears. “Don’t listen, boy. She doesn’t know what she’s saying.”

Becca blurted out, “Holy shit. You’re…”

Clint chuckled and asked, “The arrow guy?”

She gaped, then looked thoughtful for a second. “Wait…” she padded over to the window, opening the curtain and looking out. “Oh shit.”

Reese laughed and walked over to stand beside her friend. “It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?”

“Just a bit,” Becca breathed.

“Come and get it while it’s hot…,” Clint called out, pulling a couple of plates out from the cabinets and setting them down before getting a piece for Lucky and putting it on the floor for him.

“Doesn’t it make him sick?” Reese asked, honestly curious. She couldn’t imagine that all that oil and cheese was any good for him.

“Nah. Just makes his farts deadly ,” Clint shrugged, chowing down on a slice.

Reese made a gagging sound and Clint laughed. “What is it with boys and farts? I never understood it.”

“It’s probably the same reason we draw dicks and balls on everything. Some weird primordial bullshit that squats in our animal brains. Who knows?” he replied, offhandedly.

Becca sat and took a bite out of a slice and her eyes slid closed. She made an almost filthy yummy sound. “Oh my god, where did you get this? It’s amazing.”

“It’s a state secret. I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

Reese looked over at him, her expression mild. “What is it with you guys and your secret eating places?”

Clint leaned back in the chair and explained, “The thing about being famous? If people find out where the Avengers favorite restaurants are, suddenly they’re so busy with people trying to catch sight of one of us that it’s a miracle if the food quality stays the same. I mean, yeah - it’s great for business, but nobody can keep up with that kind of demand for long. And we do like our secret eateries.”

“Fair enough,” Becca replied. “Just promise me you’ll invite me over for pizza from time to time.”

Clint grinned and said, “You got it.”

Chapter Text

As they stepped into their old apartment, Becca let out a sigh of relief. 

“Man, it’s good to be home.”

She walked to the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of wine and Reese chuckled. “I’m guessing you’ve got it from here?” she asked with a wry grin.

“Yeah, yeah,” Becca smiled back at her. “Go meet your boy back at the castle.”

Reese felt her cheeks grow hot and she smiled and looked down.

“And Ri…? Thank you again. I mean it,” she murmured softly.

Reese went to her and hugged her tight. “Anytime, sweetheart. You know I got you.”

Becca smiled and let out a happy sigh.

“I love you Ri.”

“I love you too, Becks.”

She walked out of the apartment, getting onto the back of Clint’s motorcycle.

“All clear,” he replied, handing her a helmet. She slid it on and tapped his shoulder and he pulled out into traffic. 

“We should talk about last night.”

The sound of Clint’s voice in ears was startling and she clamped down on the need to jerk away from the sound.

“Shit. Sorry. Yeah, talking is easier this way on the bike,” he explained.

“What do we need to talk about - how great your ass looks in leather?” she asked.

“It was Bucky, wasn’t it?” Clint asked as they turned a corner, not even bothering to comment on her attempt to divert the conversation.

“Yeah. It was,” she replied.

“Well, he’s not indiscriminately firing at me or anybody else around you, so... why’s he protecting you?”

Reese sighed and shifted against his back as they rolled up to a stoplight. “It’s his way of watching out for Steve. He says I’m helping Steve, and I think he wants me to continue being alive to do that.”

Clint looked back at her, eyes narrowed, “Wait, you talked to him? When?”

Reese tightened her grip around his waist, “Last night.”

Clint’s voice was tight and very careful. “He showed up here last night?”

Reese didn’t really want to go into the details, so she simply said, “Yeah.”

Clint was quiet for a few minutes, then said, “I need to tell the team.”

Reese sighed and nodded. “Yeah. I figured.”

“He say anything else to you?'

“He sounds like he's remembering Steve more, from the way he spoke. He sounded a little more... coherent. He actually cracked a joke,” she explained.

Clint remained silent after that. They rolled up into the tower's garage and she handed the helmet back to Clint as she dismounted.

“The team's gonna want to talk to you about this. You up for that when they arrive?” Clint asked softly.

“Yeah. Guess I have to be,” she replied with a sigh.

 

 

Clint and Reese waited while the Quinjet landed. Steve’s expression was closed off as he walked out of the jet, then he smiled when he looked up to see her waiting for him. Natasha flashed one of those barely there smiles at Clint, as Tony followed down the ramp behind her.

Steve surprised her by stepping up and sweeping her into a hug and just holding her tight. Reese nuzzled her nose against his neck, letting out a small, happy noise as she wrapped around him.

“Miss me?” he asked softly.

“Terribly,” she replied, laughing.

“Debrief and after mission dinner’s in an hour,” Tony called out, walking along as the building removed parts of his suit from his body. It was a fascinating process to watch.

Reese looked Steve over, finding a couple of spots on the suit that were charred and cut, but overall, he seemed to be okay.

“You get into another fight at school, young man?” she asked, chuckling.

Steve rolled his eyes and swept her up into his arms, walking in the direction of the apartment.

“Fuck…,” he hissed. “An hour’s hardly enough time to…”

Reese cut him off with a kiss and he smiled.

They stepped into the apartment and Steve kicked the door closed as he let Reese down so she could stand as they both quickly started stripping down.

Turns out there was plenty that they could get up to in an hour.

 

--

 

Steve blinked as he looked down at his phone.

 

TheGreatestScientistWhoEverLived: Bring Reese with you.

CaptainUnderpants: Uh - everything ok?
TheGreatestScientistWhoEverLived: Barton says there’s something we all need to discuss - something apparently happened while we were out of town.

CaptainUnderpants: That doesn’t sound ominous…

 

“Something you wanna tell me?” Steve shifted to show the phone messages to her.

Reese sighed and blurted, “Bucky killed somebody to protect me the other night.”

Steve blinked, then opened his mouth, then closed it. “He what ?”

She gave him a quick rundown on what had happened and he walked over to the couch and sat down, in obvious shock. Reese moved to sit beside him, remaining silent as he processed it.

He frowned and looked over at her. “What the fuck , Bucky?”

She gave him a few minutes to recover. It was a lot to lay on him all at once.

“C’mon…,” She leaned into him and kissed his cheek. “We gotta get moving.”

Steve sighed and stood, capturing her hand in his. “That boy’s gonna give me a damned heart attack.”

The two of them headed out into the hallway and Clint waved over at them as he walked up.

“You good?” he asked Reese, giving Steve a quick look.

“Yeah. I had to tell him. I didn’t want him to have it sprung on him in a room full of people.”

Clint nodded. “Better that way. You ok, Steve?”

Steve let out a weak laugh. “Pretty far from ok at this point.”

Reese sighed as he gave her hand a quick squeeze. He was holding up well, through the shock. She couldn’t blame him, really.

“Thanks for getting her out of there quickly,” Steve said, his voice soft.

“No problem whatsoever, buddy,” Clint replied.

They walked in silence the rest of the way and Reese could hear Tony’s voice echoing out of a large conference room ahead. By the time they walked into the room, Tony turned and met Clint’s eyes, his expression nonplussed.

“You wanna explain why we’re all in here? I mean, I’m guessing it’s a pretty bad thing if you couldn’t tell us immediately - unless you’re doing this for dramatic flair, in which case…”

“Bucky killed Senator Ranson’s son last night in a club,” Clint explained.

Reese gasped. A senator’s son? Holy fuck. She jerked at the touch of Steve’s hand on her back as he led her over to a seat. They both sat as Clint continued, “Best I can figure - for whatever reason, he did it to protect Reese.”

Tony blinked, then said, “Hold on. Let me see if I’m understanding this correctly. First of all - what club was this? Were you there?”

Clint gave Tony a mild look then said, “Doesn’t matter what club. And yeah, I was there. I saw it happen.”

Tony looked taken aback, but quickly recovered, “So - you took Captain America’s girlfriend out to a club where The Winter Soldier just… capped a guy because…?”

Clint frowned. “He was menacing Reese. He’d just roofied her friend. We got there before the situation got out of hand.”

Tony looked over at Reese, his expression full of disbelief. “And Cap’s girl couldn’t just crack the asshole in the jaw? What the fuck kind of club was this, Clint?”

Steve was now looking over at Clint as well. “She didn’t have time to. He dropped shortly after mouthing off and taking a step towards her.”

Reese hadn’t really mentioned what kind of club it was either, when she’d explained the situation to Steve. It hadn’t seemed germane to the discussion. She winced as Steve leaned over and said, “We’re gonna need to talk about this later, aren’t we?”

She sighed and Natasha spoke up then. “What’s his angle? Why her?”

Reese cleared her throat, then explained, “He showed up in Steve’s bedroom afterward. Said something about me being good for Steve - that the guy had raped multiple women and that his father had gotten the records expunged…”

Tony let out a weak laugh and rubbed at his temple.

“F.R.I.D.A.Y. - I’m gonna need all the footage throughout the entire building last night. How the fuck did he get in?” he muttered, then said, “So he just… killed him. In front of witnesses and everything. I mean, if he’s looking to turn over a new leaf as a vigilante, there were probably better ways to go about it.”

Steve cleared his throat and everybody went silent.

“I’m going to need a minute,” he croaked, then got up and quickly left the room. Reese moved to stand and Natasha held a hand up.

“Let me talk to him.”

 

--

 

Steve stood looking out the panoramic window at the surrounding city below, his jaw tight and his heart hammering behind his ribs. He let out a long suffering sigh as Natasha’s reflection came toward him in the surface of the glass.

“It’s not something he can just turn off - not after years of conditioning,” she explained softly, not looking over at him.

What confused him was that he hadn’t reacted this strongly when Reese had first told him. It had been the same situation - no new information had been shared, so why did he feel cold inside now, his stomach tightening and hands shaking? Steve stiffened, frowning and shoving his hands in his pockets. 

“I don’t understand. I’m not even sure I want to at this point.”

There were a few beats of silence before Natasha spoke again, “I was a spy for a long time, Steve. Sometimes, my training comes back to bite me in the ass.”

She took a breath, then added, “He’s an assassin , Steve. It’s all he knows - all he has known for fifty years. It’s his default - eliminating. Killing.”

Steve met her eyes in the reflection of the glass. He was at war within himself over this - the memory of who Bucky was, and now the harsh reality of this man - this human weapon who simply killed and seemed to feel nothing about it.

“But, if he remembers me, why…?”

“This isn’t an easy moral issue, Steve. He’s likely fighting against it - I did, but that ingrained response is really difficult to step away from - and it’s likely why he told you to stop looking for him.”

Steve gaped as he turned back to stare at her. “So… it’s my fault?”

Natasha gave him a mild look. “You know better than that.”
“Do I? I mean… Fuck, Nat… I just can’t square this…” he stammered. He was struggling so hard to understand that, while the Bucky Barnes he remembered would never have done such a thing - the Winter Soldier? It was really seeming like anything was possible. Bucky was still in there - on this Steve wouldn’t be swayed, but it was clear that he was no longer in the driver’s seat.

“Did it ever occur to you that he might be ashamed of what he’s done? That he already judges himself for his actions - and didn’t want that from you as well?” she replied softly.

Steve closed his eyes and looked away from her, his breath coming out in a sob. Was his best friend trapped in his head, just reacting in horror to everything the Winter Soldier did with his body? He couldn’t imagine the loss of that much control, and it knocked the breath out of him.

“I’m so out of my fucking depth here, Nat…,” he whispered.

Steve felt the first tears trail down his cheeks as he struggled to understand. God, he was just so fucking tired of crying. He fought back the tears, his posture stiffening and his body going a little cold as he forced it all back. This wouldn’t help anything. He pulled Cap around him like a shield, retreating into logic and tactics.

He looked over, meeting Natasha’s eyes, his voice tight as he asked, “Can we even stop him from doing it again at this point?”

“As strange as this is going to sound - think of it like a cat leaving a dead animal for its owner to find. It’s possible the Winter Soldier sees this as a gift - one of the few things he can actively do for you while he gets his shit sorted,” she explained.

Steve shuddered. The very idea . He shook his head, his mouth tightening in a frown as he turned to look back out the window. He took a deep breath, then said, “ Fuck .”

He bowed his head, then squared his shoulders and walked back to the conference room.

 

--

 

Reese watched as he came back into the room and she realized quickly that Cap was running the show now as he began talking to Tony.

“Can you give him easy access to my apartment without compromising the integrity of the security of the building?” Steve asked, his expression all business.

Tony’s jaw dropped and he cocked his head. “Are you…” he looked over at Natasha and continued, “Did he really just ask me to let his old war buddy, The Assassin , have a key to his place?” He turned back to Steve and said, “Please tell me that’s not what you’re asking here. I mean, only a crazy person would…”

Tony .” Steve’s tone was stern and commanding. “Is it possible?”

Tony’s answering look was mild. “Of course it’s possible .”

He looked around at the rest of the members of the team in the room. “Anybody else have issues with Steve’s murderous weapon of a boyfriend coming over for play dates? Anybody?”

Reese cleared her throat, then said, “You could stay with me for awhile. I’d need to get a place for Becca to stay, but… security at my place is considerably more lax.”

Tony blinked and Natasha was looking over at her as though she’d just done something intensely interesting.

Steve stared over at her, frowning. Considering. She shrugged and explained, “He doesn’t frighten me. He’s already proven that he doesn’t want to hurt me, so…”

Tony quickly blurted, “I’ll set it up.”

Reese blinked, frowning. Everybody stared at Tony as though he’d sprouted an extra head.

Clint was the first to speak. “Who are you and what have you done with Tony Stark?”

Steve quickly stood and blurted, “I need…” he frowned, finding it hard to get the words out. He looked over at Reese, his eyes pleading. “I need a few hours.”

Reese nodded back at him, understanding. He knew best how to get out of his own head about it. She found herself hoping he had somebody to talk to about this who could help. Steve blinked, then darted out of the room.

Reese sighed softly and Natasha moved to sit beside her. Clint frowned and looked over at Tony, who was quickly entering something into a touchpad in his hands.

“Everybody good with sushi?” Tony asks casually, and Reese looks over at him and laughs.

“Fuck it. Why not?”

 

--

 

Wanting a break from Stark Tower for a bit, Reese had headed back to her apartment. Steve had agreed to meet her back there after finishing… whatever it was he was running around doing. The moment she walked in, the feeling of eyes on her had Reese turning and she stilled as she spotted him, his eyes wary as he looked back at her through the darkness. They dart everywhere, scanning throughout the room, looking for god knows what, but always coming back to light on her. Finally, he eased down and croaked, “He isn’t with you?”

Reese took a long breath, then quietly replied, “No. He’s on his way back, though.”

Shadow Bucky nodded, moving from his crouched position to stand. Reese turned from him and headed into the kitchen, calling out over her shoulder. “You look filthy. When’s the last time you showered?”

She heard the rough rasp of a laugh from behind her as she poured two glasses of water. When she turned to find him standing two feet away from her, she jumped, then frowned as water splashed her.

The ghost of a smile played at the edge of Shadow Bucky’s lips, then was gone. “Can’t remember,” he replied, his voice soft.

Reese handed him a glass of water and he took it with a slightly shaky hand. He quickly downed it, then she handed him the other one, which he gulped down as well. She chuckled then said, “Steve left some clothes here. They might fit you. I’d really feel better if you had a chance to clean up before heading back out there…”

Shadow Bucky seemed to consider this, his mouth thinning into a tight line. He looked back at her with a searing intensity, placing a hand on the pistol on his hip. “You will protect?”

Reese felt her own expression close down as she nodded, matching his grim intensity. “I will protect you.”

Shadow Bucky frowned, then nodded and handed her his pistol, grip first. Her heart stuttered in her chest at the realization of the amount of trust that must have been needed for him to have done such a thing. She slowly moved to take it and he winced, jerking back slightly, before placing it in her palm. He stood, then turned to walk down the hall.

Reese followed, holding the gun with her finger off the trigger, watching carefully as he walked into the bathroom. She walked to her bedroom, doing her best to act as if this sort of thing happened every day. She wanted so badly for him to feel safe . The way he was reacting spoke volumes about the way he’d been mistreated.

Opening up a drawer, she collected a pair of sweats and a tanktop that Steve had left behind on a previous visit. She walked back to the bathroom to see him shucking off the last of his clothing. The stench was appalling and she tried not to react as he looked over at her. With her head firmly in protector/provider role, she barely noticed his nudity. He so strongly reminded her of some of the runaway kids she’d lived on the street with years ago. She held up Steve’s clothes, then took a step forward to gently place them on the sink.

She dipped down to collect his clothes and his eyes went wide.

“I want to wash them for you. Is that ok?”

Shadow Bucky set his jaw, then nodded.

“Maybe take all the weapons out?” she asked, and he quickly complied. The array of blades and other weaponry that ended up on the floor beside the clothes was impressive.

Shadow Bucky stood back up, looking back at her, his eyes wary again.

“Solid gear,” she murmured, nodding in appreciation.

He gave her another ghostly smile, then simply turned to open the shower curtain.

“Hot water takes a few minutes,” she explained. “Fucking New York, eh?”

His bark of laughter surprised her. “You’re tellin’ me.”

Reese shook her head as he turned the water on, darting in to collect his clothes, which were fairly stiff and crusty. She closed the door behind her, then walked over to toss the clothing into the washer, using a liberal amount of soap and fabric softener. She wondered how many times she’d have to run them through the wash before they’d be sufficient for him to get back into.

It was going to take her a while to get used to his personality switches.

She gently placed the pistol on the counter and went through the fridge, seeing what she could whip up for food. He was probably pretty hungry as well.

This was a routine she knew all too well - taking in kids who’d been abused by parents, other kids or adults on the streets, and helping them get back to a place of safety in their heads. Granted, this guy had probably been through a great deal more than anybody she’d ever encountered before, but in the end, compassion and respect for another person’s physical agency and boundaries tended to help establish trust.

She pulled out her phone and quickly texted Steve.

 

R: He’s here. He’s showering. I know this is a big ask, but… can you hold off on coming over for a bit?

 

Her phone vibrated and she answered the call.

 

“Is he ok?” Steve asked, sounding out of breath.

“For the moment, yeah. I told him I’d protect him while he cleaned himself off,” she explained, continuing to pull out ingredients to make a somewhat filling, healthy meal for the two of them.

Steve was silent for a few beats. “He asked you to protect him?”

Reese nodded and replied, “Yep. And since I take this sort of thing Very Seriously, I’m making sure nothing can get to him while he finally gets a shower and gets into some clean clothes.”

There was a hitching sound on the other end of the line, then Steve said, “Thank you Reese. Whatever you’re doing for him, it sounds like it’s helping.”

Reese closed the fridge then let out a sigh. “Fuck, I hope so. Just… give me some time. I’m going to try to get him fed, too.”

“Whatever you need, sweetheart,” Steve murmured, his voice soft.

“You holding up ok?” she asked.

Steve took a deep breath, then replied, “Best as I can, I guess. I’m just… I’m really fucking glad he’s there - that he’s being taken care of. I’ll wait to come over until I hear back from you, ok?”

Reese smiled and murmured, “Thanks, Steve. Love you.”

“Love you too, sweetheart. Be safe.”

She ended the call, then started prepping dinner.

 

--

 

By the time Shadow Bucky concluded his shower, she had a decent spread of food available. The bathroom door opened and he walked out, Steve’s clothes hanging a bit on him. The man was a bit smaller than Steve, but not by much. The washer made a noise and Shadow Bucky glared over at it, his jaw tight.

“Rinse cycle’s done,” she explained. “Is it ok if I run them through one more time? Honestly, that shit was so crusty I’m surprised you could move in it, man.”

He looked between her, the washing machine and the food on the counter.

“That’s for you, if you’re hungry?”

He took a few steps toward her, then peered into the washer before nodding his head. Reese quickly dumped some more detergent and fabric softener in, then restarted the process.

Shadow Bucky looked over at the food, then back at her, before starting to eat. He shivered a little and she walked over to the sofa to collect the softest blanket she had in the house. She went back to him, holding it up and catching his eye. “Are you cold?”

He frowned, then nodded quickly.

Reese stepped up to him and gently wrapped the blanket around his shoulders. The man let out a long suffering sigh and trembled. It’s probably the first time he’d felt something that wasn’t rough or itchy in a while.

He tightened the blanket around himself as he continued to eat.

Reese moved to walk to the other side of the counter, but she’s stopped by a hand that quickly darted out and grabbed her wrist. She looked up to meet his eyes to see that he’s pleading for something. Something he can’t ask for outright.

Reese rested a gentle hand on his blanket covered arm and his shoulders sagged, his breath coming quick and rough.

“I’m not going anywhere…,” she murmured softly.

A full body shiver went through him and he leaned into her. Reese moved into the touch so that he didn’t fall over. “You’re safe. I won’t let anybody hurt you.”

She wrapped an arm around his shoulders, holding him while he ate.

 

--

 

Once he finished eating, he moved away from her, wrapping the blanket tighter around himself. He paced, frowning, eyes darting to her, then away.

Reese moved to clean up and was surprised when he asked, “ Why ?”

She frowned and looked back at him. “Why am I helping you?”

Shadow Bucky nodded, keeping his body angled away from her, his jaw set.

She shrugged and replied, “I’ve lived on the street. I know how rough it gets. I also know what it’s like to be out there with no friends, no contacts. It’s a shit life. You wouldn’t be the first person I’ve helped like this.”

He let out a coarse laugh and spat, “You’re a regular Saint Benedict.”

Reese gave him a mild look and said, “Fuck off, Bucky . You came to me . Remember?”

Shadow Bucky’s expression shut down, his mouth drawing down to a thin line.

“Look - I have literally no idea what you’ve gone through to bring you to this point in your life, but I don’t have an angle here - other than trying to help another human fuckin’ being in pain. You don’t wanna believe that? That shit’s on you.”

The tone on the dryer sang out, letting her know that his clothes were ready now.

“Your shit’s done. You wanna leave, I ain’t stoppin’ ya.” 

She turned away from him and jerked her thumb over her shoulder. “There’s the door, buddy.”

Reese started cleaning up and relaxed a little at the irritated sigh from behind her.

“You’re a real fuckin’ ballbreaker, you know?”

She didn’t bother looking as the man began pulling his clothes out of the dryer and putting them on.

“You kiss your mother with that mouth, Barnes?” she called back, rolling her eyes.

There was a soft laugh before she heard him walk back down the hallway.

Ok. We have a baseline. So far, so good , she thought to herself.

A different man walked back out into the kitchen. Confidence and irritation looked good on him as he plopped his weapons down on her counter, slowly going through them and cleaning each one of them.

“Oh, so you’re staying then? Should I get your room prepared?” Reese looked back at him, arms crossed and eyes narrowed.

He gave her a brief smile and it threw her. For a moment, she saw the reflection of the beautiful man Steve had drawn every chance he’d gotten.

“You got a towel I can use?” he asked, those bright blue eyes peeking out from the sharp brown slashes of hair that draped over his forehead.

Reese tossed him a dish towel and he caught it without looking, continuing his work.

As she finished cleaning the rest of the kitchen, he quietly said, “Thank you.”

She turned to face him and sighed. “Truce?”

He chuckled and held a hand out.

“Truce.”

She shook it, then leaned back against the counter.

“You’re welcome to stay if you need to.”

He looked back at her through the curtains of his bangs.

“What about Steve?”

“I told him to hold off on coming over. I wanted to give you some time to feel… safe.”

He stared straight ahead for a few beats, then nodded, before asking.

“What’s all that weird shit in the bedroom?”

Reese blinked, then placed her hands on her hips. “You’re a regular fuckin’ Chatty Kathy now, aren’t you?”

He frowned, then shifted in his seat. “Chatty what?”

She sighed and shook her head. “I keep forgetting that you’re both old as fuck. You usually ask this many questions?”
Bucky seemed to be searching his memories for something before he replied, “I don’t remember.”

He was shutting down again and Reese’s heart dropped when he slid back into being Shadow Bucky. It would take time, this dance of internal struggles, before he came to a place where he could be that cocky prick that Steve loved instead of the wary, hyper vigilant soldier who now was quickly disappearing the collected assembly of weapons back into their hiding places in his clothing.

Shadow Bucky looked over at her, his hair in his eyes. She shook her head and opened a kitchen drawer, pulling a hair tie out and holding it out to him.

“It’s gonna drive you crazy, otherwise,” She explained.

He frowned and she walked over to him, asking, “Want me to pull your hair back for you? Make it easier for you to see?”

He nodded, still not entirely certain as she reached up and threaded gentle fingers through his hair, gently pulling it back.

He suddenly sighed and his shoulders sagged, his eyes fluttering.

“Is this ok?” she asked softly, giving his head gentle scritches, as though he were a puppy.

He groaned and she smiled, letting him lean into her as she gave his scalp a thorough massage, then tied his hair back. His arm went around her waist and she hugged him.

“I’m so sorry for everything you’ve gone through. I’m here if you need me,” she reassured him softly.

A loud bang outside, which was likely some idiot kids with fireworks, caused him to stiffen and immediately stand up. Before she knew it, he’d gotten her behind him, standing in front of her, his pistol cocked and ready.

“I’m ok, Bucky. You’re safe.”

He whirled on her, his eyes cold and distant as he assessed her. Seemingly satisfied that she was unharmed, he stood down, the gun still ready at his side. His jaw tightened, then he darted away from her, leaving through the window.

She sighed and shook her head, then called Steve.

 

--

 

They sat on the couch, Reese leaning back against him as he massaged her shoulders.

“He’s like a stray cat - really skittish, but he’s slowly opening up.” Reese murmured.

Steve let out a soft sigh, then nuzzled her ear with his lips.

“Did he say why he comes to you, instead of…?” he trailed off and Reese shifted back against him.

“I think he’s imprinted on me - like a baby duck. I couldn’t tell you why to save my life, tho,” she replied.

Steve chuckled at that. “Thank you for talking to him. Being there for him.”

Reese smiled and rocked her head back to lay against his shoulder. “I can’t walk away from somebody in pain. Even if they’re possibly dangerous to me. It just isn’t in me.”

“I know. It’s one of the things I love most about you,” he breathed.

“He’s figuring it out, Steve. It’s just taking time. I don’t know how long this is gonna take, but I’ll be there for him as long as he needs me.” She took a deep breath, then continued, “He reminds me of this kid - Mikey. Mikey was a junkie who’d been kicked out of his house by his parents for being gay back when he was thirteen. He’d been hustling on the streets for around four years before I ran into him. The shit that poor kid had seen - and experienced. When he finally talked to me about it, I wanted to burn the world for him.”

Steve remained silent while she shifted in his arms. “He killed himself a year after I started working with him. Mikey was a strong kid, but in the end he couldn’t resist the heroin. It kinda broke me for awhile, losing him.”

Steve held her tight as she shifted again, kissing the top of her head.

“Bucky’s strong and he’s not in the thrall of a drug. I really think he can beat this thing. He can get out. I just hope he keeps accepting help.”

Steve thought of all the times Bucky had helped him through his episodes of illness when they’d been kids - and how often he’d lashed out in frustrated, impotent anger about being… weak. He’d hated it. He’d wanted to take the world on, to FORCE it to be good. Now that he had the body to do so, things were… complicated. Still frustrating, but in a completely different way. Steve let out a weak chuckle. “He was always better at accepting it than I was.”

“I’m here for you too, Steve. Whatever you need,” she murmured.

“I know, sweetheart. And I appreciate that more than I can say.”

“Can we just sleep tonight?” Reese asked, yawning. “I’m beat.”

Steve chuckled and nodded, kissing her shoulder.

“God yes. I’m right there with you.”

Chapter Text

Reese woke to Steve laying beside her, his head resting on his hand as he slowly trailed the fingers of his other hand over her hip. She smiled and shifted against the covers.

“Did you sleep ok?” he asked softly, kissing her shoulder.

Reese nodded and rolled into him, pressing her forehead against his chest.

“I always sleep good when you’re beside me…” she replied, pressing a hand against his chest, feeling the beat of his heart.

“Me too,” he grinned, kissing the top of her head.

They were silent for a few moments before Steve sighed and asked. “What kind of club was it, Reese?”

She stilled beside him, then let out a bark of laughter. “Damn. You’re like a dog with a bone.”

He chuckled and looked down to meet her eyes. “You’re only just now getting that?”

Reese rolled her eyes, then replied, “BDSM club. Becca likes to go play from time to time, and I go to make sure she doesn’t get into any trouble.”

Steve was silent for a few beats, then asked, “What distracted you?”

She gave his chest a reassuring pat. “I don’t play in public, Steve. And I don’t cheat on my partners.”

He frowned, then shook his head. “No - I didn’t mean that…”

Reese paused for a moment, then replied, “Sebastian Grace. He owns the club. He was trying to get both of us to visit the VIP section when we walked in…” she frowned, then added, “which is really fuckin’ wierd, because he never comes down to visit the floor with the leather plebes. It’s his fault she was up there.”

Steve’s jaw tightened and she could see anger flaring to life in his eyes.

“Do I need to visit him, Reese?”

She chuckled. “Not without me. Clint will probably want in on it too.”

Steve eased down a little, letting out a breath of relief. “I’m glad Clint was there with you.”

“He’s a surprising boy, that one,” she said, grinning.

“Yeah?” he asked, his grin playful.

“He definitely fills out a pair of leather pants nicely.”

Steve flushed briefly, then said, “I imagine he does.”

Reese bit her lip and looked up at him. “I bet you would too…” she trailed off.

At that, Steve blushed outright and looked up at the ceiling.

Reese giggled then picked up her phone and found one of the pictures she’d taken that night of Clint. She handed it to him and he let out a groan, handing the phone back to her.

“You’re a terrible influence,” he muttered, placing his arm over his face.

“What, you’re only just now getting that?”

 

--

 

Over the next few days, Steve and Clint helped her get her pieces placed for her next gallery show.

Clint whistled as he looked over a few of the new pieces she’d painted.

“You gotta lot of rough shit in your head, Ri,” he murmured.

Steve continued to work on hanging one of the larger pieces as Reese walked over to Clint, nodding.

“Yeah. It’s gotta come out somehow. And fuck if I know why it’s so popular. I swear I thought Pepper was gonna wet herself when she saw them.”

Clint laughed and gently bumped her with his shoulder.

Steve came up and wrapped his arms around her from behind, kissing her neck. “So fucking talented,” he purred, making her grin and blush.

“Given any thought to doing your own show?” she turned to ask him, smiling as he dipped down to give her a quick kiss.

Steve sighed and shook his head. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to show anybody that.”

They’d briefly discussed him showing some of the pieces from The Box. Reese had explained how important it could be to show the horrors of World War II through the eyes of somebody still alive and spry enough to talk about it, but Steve had held firm.

“The idea of the more nightmarish parts of my life in service being available for any lookie-loo to just gape at? It makes my skin crawl.”

She turned and wrapped an arm around his waist, looking up at him.

“You have beautiful, transcendent pieces too, you know…” she gave him a gentle squeeze.

He flushed a little, cupping the back of his neck.

“If they’re anything like what I saw back in the studio, she’s right, Steve. They’re gorgeous. They should be seen.”

Clint turned to look back at the pair of them, his expression earnest. It was a little adorable.

Steve frowned, then nodded. “I’ll think about it.”

“I’ll help you pick the pieces and set it all up, if you want,” Reese offered.

“Yeah?” Steve sounded so small, but so grateful at the same time.

She grinned and took his hand, threading her fingers through his. “Yeah.”

Clint let out a soft laugh. “Fuck, you guys. You’re killin’ me. I think my teeth are falling out.”

He wandered off to start hanging another piece.

Steve chuckled and Reese squeezed his hand. “I’m really glad you’re here. It means a lot.”

“My best girl’s second gallery show? Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he murmured, pulling her into a kiss.

Reese gave his ass a gentle swat. “Sooner we finish, sooner I can get into the entirely too scandalous outfit I’m going to wear tonight.”

Steve sighed and slumped. “True.” He brightened, grinning then. “Back to it, then.”

He turned and walked over to help Clint and Reese cocked her head, shaking her head as she watched his default Daddy Strut. Her heart did a slow roll in her chest and a little electrical pulse went through her as she watched that impossibly sexy ass walk away.

“Hate it when you leave, but I love to watch you go…,” she muttered to herself as she got back to work.

 

--

 

Steve walked into the bedroom and Reese looked back over her shoulder at him, grinning. The man was literally dumbstruck. He stood staring at her for a full minute before finally clearing his throat.

“Uh… holy fuck,” he croaked.

“Too much?” she asked, turning to face him.

Her entire outfit screamed Sex Kitten Who Will Beat You Bloody With a Baseball Bat With Nails In it.

His grin was lopsided as he made his way over to her. “...how much time do we have before we have to be back at the gallery?”

She laughed as he picked her up, wrapping her legs around his waist. “Not enough, I’m afraid. You still have to shower and change.”

“Fuck…,” he groaned, kissing her soundly before setting her back down.

“I know, baby. Later. Go get ready.”

He sighed, then started stripping down as he walked to the bathroom. She followed him in and started putting the finishing touches on her make up as the shower started up and he got in.

There was a knock at the door and she called out, “We expecting anybody?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” he replied.

She frowned and made her way to the front door. Clint and Natasha stood on the other side of it, but they were almost unrecognizable. They were both dressed to the nines - and Natasha had a completely different hairstyle and hair color. They looked fantastic. They’d blend right in with all the other rich patrons who would be showing up tonight. Clint had a large package under his arm.

“Wow. You guys look amazing. What are you doing here?”

Clint blinked as he took in her outfit, then grinned. Natasha just smiled evenly at her, a spark of something in her eyes. She held her hand out and Reese took it, letting herself be pulled into the hallway.

“The boys need some time to get ready,” Natasha explained.

Reese blinked, then looked back at Clint. “Go. I’ll get your boy ready for you.”

Reese chuckled, then said, “Might wanna give him a heads up - tell him you’re coming in. He’s a little wound up.”

Clint grinned and waved them both off. “G’wan. We’ll be fine.”

Reese shrugged and let Natasha thread her fingers through her own, smiling back at the woman.

The door closed and Natasha murmured, “He’s very proud of the outfit he found for him.”

Reese chuckled and shook her head. “Oh god.”

Natasha gave her hand a gentle squeeze and said, “You nervous?”

“About the show? Not really. About this mysterious ‘outfit’? Maybe.”

There was a yelp from inside the apartment and Natasha actually chuckled. “Guess Clint just got an eyeful.”

Reese laughed, then said, “He wanted me to talk to you about guns?”

Natasha nodded and they started walking to the cafeteria.

 

--

 

Jesus !”

Steve swore he’d jumped at least a foot in the air as he came out of the shower and spotted Clint sitting on the bed, his hand on a box at his side.

“What the fuck, Clint?” he snapped, quickly wrapping a towel around his waist.

“Shit. Sorry. I… ah… I brought you something for tonight. Guess I shoulda waited in the living room, huh?”

Clint was an odd bird. Always had been. Still, he was a good, solid guy. He honestly meant well. Sometimes he just sucked at reading social cues.

Steve frowned, drying off his hair with another towel as he walked into the bedroom. “What is it?”

Clint moved to open the box and started laying items of clothing out on the bed. “I guessed that you might want to… match Reese tonight. And since all you have in your closet are grandpa clothes and tac gear…”

Steve stepped closer to the bed, eying the items carefully. He was fairly certain that a cardigan and tan slacks wasn’t going to cut it tonight, and actually felt a surge of gratitude for his friend’s thoughtfulness.

He smiled as he looked it all over.

Pepper was going to kill him.

That only made him want to wear it more.



--

 

Natasha and Reese were still talking tactics when the boys walked into the cafeteria. Reese's jaw literally dropped at the sight of Steve. Somehow, Clint had gotten him into a jean jacket with an American flag painted on one half of it, with spikes instead of stars on a blue shoulder. A Nazi Punks Fuck Off patch was on the right arm of the jacket and a Racism is a Social Disease button perched on one of the lapels. Beneath the jacket was a grey, v-neck t-shirt that seemed impossibly tight. The shirt dipped into tight, black cloth pants with a black looped belt around his hips - with a silver star as the belt buckle. Black Doc Martens completed the ensemble and Steve had styled his golden blond hair so it poured over his forehead in a widow's peak - almost a pompadour, but he hadn't had enough hair. A pair of dogtags jingled as he walked.

He grinned and spun to let her see the rest of the outfit, and she beamed at the enormous words Black Lives Matter spray painted on the back of the jacket. A patch that said Sex Work IS Work rested at the bottom of the jacket.

“Holy shit,” she breathed, standing as he walked up to her.

“Do I pass muster?” he asked softly.

Reese touched the dogtags and asked, “Are these your original tags?”

Steve nodded, pulling her into his arms. She wrapped her arms around his waist and blinked as a few flashes went off. Clint and Nat took a few pictures of them as Steve kissed her.

“You look fucking fantastic,” she whispered in his ear.

“So do you,” he replied back, giving her ear a quick nip.

“You kids ready?” Clint asked, letting out a soft chuckle.

“This ain’t prom, Clint,” Reese snapped.

Steve laughed and let her down, taking her hand.

“Good. I didn’t get a corsage.”

 

--

 

They arrived fashionably late - Clint and Nat having taken a limo to arrive before they did. The SUV pulled up and Reese looked over at Steve.

“You sure about this? You’re about to rip the band-aid off, as it were. The press isn’t going to see you the same after this.”

He gave her hand a quick squeeze. “It’s time the legend of Captain America changes. I’m done standing up for a lie.”

She smiled back at him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, leaving a light lipstick stain behind. It felt too much like she was marking her territory, so she moved to wipe it off and he captured her hand.

“Leave it,” he murmured, brushing soft lips against her knuckles. “I kinda like the idea of everybody knowing that you’re my girl.”

She leaned into him and breathed, “Yeah. Me too.”

She took a deep breath, then Steve opened the door and he stepped out, turning back to take her hand and help her out. He then placed her hand in the crook of his arm and they walked inside.

Reese spotted Pepper and the woman’s eyes grew wide as she looked over at Steve. She blinked, then actually smiled as she walked up to them.

“Steve - you’re looking… revolutionary.”

He laughed and wrapped an arm around Reese. “What can I say? My girl’s a good influence.”

Pepper chuckled, then said, “You realize the value on Reese’s art is going to skyrocket now…”

Reese frowned. “Why’s that?”

Pepper gave her a strange look. “You just walked into your own gallery showing with Captain America on your arm. This is literally a marketing wet dream. You couldn’t have planned this better if you’d tried.”

Reese’s eyes grew wide. “Wow. That’s really… mercenary.”

Pepper smiled and gave her shoulder a gentle pat.

“Or - it would’ve been if that’s what either of you were going for. The fact that you did this innocently? It’s adorable. You’re going to be a very rich woman, Reese.”

Pepper turned to introduce her to the gathering crowd who seemed as equally interested in her date as they were in her. After a few beats, somebody gasped and then hushed whispers flitted through the crowd. Suddenly, everybody was around them, taking pictures.

“Oh shit,” Reese muttered, blinking as her stomach rolled. There was a tingling in her chest and she shivered.

Steve looked down at her, concerned.

It hadn’t even occurred to her - the fame that would come from being his girlfriend, out in the open. She quickly locked her anxiety response down, grateful that she’d taken medication for it before heading out - otherwise this would have gotten a lot worse really quickly.

“I’m ok,” she looked up at him, forcing a smile.

He turned her to face him, hand cupping her cheek. “You sure?”

She took another shaky breath, letting his touch ground her.

“Yeah. I’m good.”

The smile was genuine now and his expression eased as he smiled back at her.

The next half hour was filled with questions about her art - about the nature of their relationship and Pepper stepped forward to escort a reporter out who’d asked a thoroughly offensive question about Captain America now being a liberal pussy who supported queers and whores. The man got louder until Natasha and Clint walked up to him. Natasha whispered something in the man’s ear and he turned grey as they walked him out.

Pepper came up and said, “I’m so sorry about that. I honestly don’t know how he got in here. We vetted all the press.”

Reese shook her head and replied, “It’s ok. There’s always bound to be one shitbag in the bunch.”

“I want to answer his question.” Steve said, his expression intense as he looked back at Pepper.

“Now isn’t the time, Steve,” Pepper started.

His eyes narrowed and she looked back at him, her eyes darkening.

“Steve. You’re here to support Reese and her art. DO that.”

He blinked, then shook his head.

“Of course. You’re right. But we’re talking about this later.”

Pepper gave him a curt nod. “I can set up an interview for you, if you like.”

Steve relaxed and eased down. “Thanks, Pepper. Sorry.”

“It’s ok. The guy was a total ass. I get it.”

“Can we get some pictures of you both together?” another member of the press called out.

Steve looked down at Reese, shrugging. “Up to you, sweetheart.”

She looked up at him and smiled and flashes went off around them.

“This is so fuckin’ weird,” she murmured.

He laughed and picked her up. Her legs went around his waist as he kissed her.

 

--

 

Reese pulled her boots off as they got back into the SUV, this time being joined by Natasha and Clint. Pepper had informed her that, once again, all of her pieces had sold, but had mercifully kept the total for the night from her. Reese was more than a little nervous about looking at the amount now in her account, but she let that go as she leaned back into Steve as she let her feet air out.

Reese had been happy that Becca had come by with her new girlfriend, and her other friends had come out as well to show their support. They’d all been startled to see Steve standing beside her. Her phone buzzed and she looked to see a message from Becca.

 

Becks: So, I’m guessing it’s official between you two?

 

Reese grinned and snuggled against Steve.

 

R: Yeah. Crazy, right?

Becks: I’m so happy for you, Ri. Really. You coming home anytime soon?

R: I honestly don’t know. I guess this just changed things in a pretty big way. I’ll let you know.

Becks: Have fun storming the Captain.

R: 🙄

Becks: Love you.

R: You too. Now go kiss your girl!

 

“Tony’s got food waiting for us back at the tower,” Steve murmured, looking down at his phone.

“Thank god. I’m all socialed out for the night. What’d he get?” Reese asked, sliding her phone back into a pocket.

“Your favorite. Indian food.” Steve grinned, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.

Natasha was flipping through news feeds on her phone, frowning.

“How bad is it?” Clint asked.

“Twitter’s going nuts. Fox news is being awful, as usual. The pictures are nice, tho.”

She turned her phone so that he could see it and Reese chuckled as Clint smiled and went, “Aww.”

“I’m so proud of you,” Steve brushed his lips against her ear.

Reese flushed and wiggled, giggling. Shit. She was turning into a 15 year old girl.

He laughed softly and kissed her neck. “I love you.”

She looked over at him and breathed, “I love you too, baby.”

Clint coughed, then said, “Should we have gotten a different ride?”

Natasha elbowed him, continuing to look at her phone.

Reese kicked out at him and he laughed.

Chapter Text

“So, is this the New Look, Cap? Not that I mind - I mean, you’re kinda ‘getting down’ with the kids now… you sure you’re not gonna break a hip or something?” Tony’s grin was sly, but appreciative.

Steve gave him a mild look, then gave him the finger.

Tony gasped.

“Did everybody see that? What would your mother say?” Tony looked around, blinking. “Nobody else? Really?”

Reese laughed as Sam nodded appreciatively at the pair of them. “You guys look fantastic.”

Steve felt himself flush at the compliment, looking down at the floor, then back up to meet Sam’s eyes. “Pretty radical, eh?”

Bruce chimed in, grinning. “It suits you.”

Steve blinked at that. “Really?”

Bruce actually did an eyeroll. “Steve - come on. You may dress old-fashioned, but I’ve always seen the scrappy punk rock kid behind it.”

That actually startled him. The rest of the group made their way over to the dining room as he thought about that for a moment - remembering how he was all swinging fists, brashly calling out bullies and bigots when he was small. He couldn’t help himself - and, more often than not, Bucky ended up getting cuts and bruises when he tried to save Steve from himself.

He looked over at Reese, who smiled up at him, her tone soft and low as she said, “You know you don’t have to change who you are or how you look for me, right?”

She took his hand and gently squeezed it, and a warm liquid thump rolled through his chest.

“I know…,” he trailed off with a wobbly smile.

“You do look hot as fuck like this, though. Just so you know,” she added, chuckling.

“Yeah?” he asked softly.

Reese nodded slowly and he could see the heat in her eyes. It sent a jolt of pleasure through him and he found himself desperately hoping that he didn’t embarrass himself in these far too tight pants.

“Come on, baby. Let’s get you fed.”

 

--

 

Towards the end of dinner, they were both damn near vibrating with the need to get somewhere that they could get their hands on each other.

Once they were in the elevator Reese dropped to her knees.

Steve groaned and said, “F.R.I.D.A.Y. - turn off all video and audio monitoring and recording until we leave the elevator.”

His heart was galloping behind his ribcage as Reese made quick work of undoing his pants. Electricity shot up his spine as she swallowed him down and his hands shook as he rested them on her head. “Fuck… Reese…

She hummed and his eyes rolled back in his head as his hips jerked forward. Reese choked and he immediately felt guilty, but she doubled her efforts and all he could do was ride it out. Much sooner than he expected, he was spilling down her throat, yelling damn near at the top of his lungs before sagging against the wall.

The elevator dinged and the doors opened, throwing him into high alert. Fuck - he’d forgotten to stop the damned car.

Thankfully, there was nobody there. He looked down to see Reese smiling up at him with adoration. There were tears at the corners of her eyes as she leaned in to rub her cheek against his thigh.

The elevator doors closed and he quickly zipped up then pulled Reese into his arms. She was giggling and he murmured, “The outfit really did it for ya, huh?”

Reese nodded, still giggling.

“Such a good girl for me,” he purred, kissing her temple as he moved to hit the button to open the elevator doors.

He carried her back to the apartment, then walked back to the bedroom, setting her gently down on the bed before moving to lay beside her.

Reese smiled back at him and he felt a liquid warmth all over as he cupped her cheek, gently stroking it with a thumb. Her pupils were huge as she blinked at him, shivering a little.

“Tell me what you need , sweetheart.” he murmured softly.

She took a deep, relaxed breath, then said, “I want to… do something for you.”

He chuckled softly. “Pretty sure you already did…”

She blinked slowly, still smiling. “Indulge me?”

Steve sighed, then kissed her.

“Whatever you need, sweetheart.”

Reese bit her lower lip, still smiling. “Take it all off,” she breathed, plucking at his shirt.

Steve sat up and quickly divested himself of his clothing, smiling at the heat in her eyes as he tossed the last of it onto the floor. He then shivered as she scooted close and slowly ran a hand over his chest, up his neck to cup his chin and pull him into a kiss that literally took his breath away.

He watched as she stood up and proceeded to do the most delicious, scandalous striptease he’d ever witnessed. He was painfully hard by the time she joined him back on the bed.

“Turn over, lover,” she purred, smiling.

He complied and sighed as she trailed fingers softly along his back, alternating between scratching and soft touches. By the time she reached the swell of his ass he was shivering.

She kissed his shoulder and cupped his ass, squeezing gently.

“Fucking criminal , this ass,” she muttered, nipping his shoulder.

He giggled, surprising himself. He could feel the flush in his cheeks as he buried his face in the pillow.

“No, baby. Look at me,” she purred, giving his ass another squeeze.

He turned to meet her eyes, feeling… something different . “Oh, baby - look at you. So fucking pretty .”

Her words made him feel… truly seen . Cared for. Not that he hadn’t felt a hint of it before, but this was… well, it seemed to suffuse his entire being. He relaxed, almost feeling as though he was floating. He was overcome by an overwhelming sense of comfort and joy as she touched him.

He gasped in surprise as one of her fingers brushed a place that hadn’t been touched by anybody else since… there was a momentary sense of guilt and shame, but that was quickly washed away when she started pressing soft kisses to his lower back.

“What’s your color, baby?” she asked, letting her finger brush against him again.

Steve let out a shuddering breath. “Green… fuck... please…

He watched as she moved to collect something out of the bedside table drawer, heart fluttering as he heard the sound of a cap flicking shut. His heart raced at the feel of cool slickness, then pressure as she gently inserted a finger.

Electricity seemed to crack through him and he groaned as she slid in a little further, gently nipping his ass with her teeth.

“Oh my god… I…”

He cried out as she found his sweet spot, his body shaking as she pulsed her finger against it. Completely lost to the sensation, he rocked with her movements, desperate against the onslaught of sensation. The thought that he was sure he’d never feel this again with another lover was obliterated as an almost painful wave of pleasure crested then crashed him over the edge. He bellowed out as he came, his eyes wet with tears as she slowly ran her hands down his back, soothing him.

“Baby, you did so good. So good …” she crooned as she moved to lay on top of him, nuzzling his shoulder.

It took him a few minutes before he could speak. His voice sounded haggard and rough as he groaned, “Oh my god.”

Reese chuckled as she rested on top of him. “Thank you for trusting me.”

Steve let out a bark of laughter.

“Fuck, if this is what trusting you gets me, then sign me the fuck up.”

She laughed and rolled off him, heading to the bathroom. When she returned she cleaned him off with a warm, moist washcloth, and he smiled up at her.

“How the fuck did I get so lucky?” he murmured.

She smiled and moved to lay beside him after dropping the cloth in the hamper. “I ask myself that same question every damn day.”

She looked down between their bodies then met his eyes.

“God bless your fucking inhumanly quick refractory period.”

He spent the rest of the night pushing her to exhaustion as he expressed his gratitude.

 

--

 

The twenty four hour news cycle had not been kind, but that was to be expected. Still, Tony had called a meeting in his penthouse, providing snacks - of course, as Pepper and Natasha waded through the truly appalling commentary surrounding ‘Captain America’s Fall From Grace’.

Steve honestly didn’t seem to give a shit about any of it. He parked at the dining room table, focusing on eating. He’d honestly laughed when he saw the CNN headline. If Reese didn’t know better, she’d swear he sounded… almost delighted .

And, honestly? That shouldn’t really be all that surprising, given what he’d shared with her before.

“There’s talk of taking the title away from him,” Natasha murmured.

Tony let out a sharp bark of laughter. “Let them try.”

There was a seething torrent of old white men and women, choking the airwaves with their disgust and disappointment about The Nation’s Hero becoming so disgraced.

Steve took a deep breath, then said, “I kinda want to do a nude photo shoot where I tear apart a flag with a swastika on it and punch an American eagle now.”

That got Reese laughing. She looked over at him and he quirked an eyebrow at her, biting his lower lip.

He moved to stand, then said, “I’m completely fucking serious. Do any of these racist assholes remember that We Killed Nazis back during the war? That they were The Fucking Bad Guys ? I’m seeing swastikas being painted on Jewish recreation centers and Mosques now. What the fuck happened?”

He walked over to a panoramic window, crossing his arms as he looked out at the city sprawling around them. Reese made her way over to him, wrapping an arm around his waist.

“Captain America,” he grated, his tone thoroughly disgusted. “I don’t know if I even want to be that guy anymore.”

“Seriously?” Tony was frowning as Reese looked back over at him. “You’re gonna let them win? Just let them take it?”

Steve turned to face him and replied, “Look around, Tony. When was the last time America was truly ‘great’? Back when we were giving blankets infested with smallpox to the indigenous tribes that we slaughtered and tortured when we got here? How about slavery? That’s a good ‘old fashioned’ American institution. Or when soldiers were collecting the body parts of dead Japanese soldiers? The rape of Okinawan women by US forces? Institutionalized racism? The marginalization of People of Color and people in the LGBTQ community - the outright murders of those people? Fuck - it goes on and on.”

Tony blanched, turning away. Reese looked up at Steve, seeing the grief and distress marring his features.

Pepper stood up and said, “You have the opportunity to speak up for those whose voices aren’t heard - if you stay Captain America, Steve.”

Reese watched him shake his head sadly, looking so lost.

“Did you still want to answer that asshole’s question?” Pepper asked.

Steve blinked and looked over at her, frowning.

“The guy from last night? The reporter?” he asked.

Pepper gave him a sharp smile. “If so, I have so many interview offers. They’re all chomping at the bit to talk to you.”

Reese watched Steve consider it, his expression tight as he gave her a quick nod.

“Yes. I really do.”

Pepper grinned and said, “I’ll set it up.”

 

--

 

Reese sat off camera, watching Steve as he calmly replied to the reporter’s questions. She seemed a nice enough lady - somewhat conservative in appearance, but friendly and open enough. The first few questions were inane enough, but then the interviewer got down to the meat of the matter.

“There’s been a great deal of speculation about your… relationship with new and upcoming artist Reese Hayes.” She watched the woman shift in her seat, then cleared her throat before asking, “There’s really no delicate way to ask this - do you care to address the rumors concerning your sexuality?”

Steve’s answering smile was chilly. “Back in my day, we simply didn’t speak about this sort of thing in the open - much less in an official public statement. But back then, I would likely have been killed for what I’m about to admit on national TV. In various sections of this country, it’s still dangerous to step outside of the heteronormative lines society still tries to force us to stay within.”

He took a breath, then said, “That being said, I’m bisexual - although I fail to see why that should matter to anybody else in any meaningful way.”

The woman blinked, her eyes growing wide as she looked back down at her sheet of questions.

She cleared her throat again, then said, “There have been those who have commented… negatively on the change to your image.”

Steve cocked his head, playing dumb. “The change to my image?”

The woman blinked, then gave him a mild look. “People are used to Captain America being Old Fashioned - dressing and acting a certain way. There’s no doubt that the outfit you chose to wear the other night pretty much shattered that.”

Steve laughed. “Ma’am, I’m a human being , not an object - or an ideal.” He leaned forward and explained, “I only wanted to fight for my country. I also wanted to keep my best friend…” he took a deep breath, then grated, “My lover - safe. I hated what they initially turned me into - a showpiece only good for knocking out fake stage Hitlers and holding motorcycles over my head to sell more war bonds.”

The interviewer gaped at him as he continued. “I was fairly certain that - back then, at least, most of the world was in agreement that Hitler was the Bad Guy. That Nazis were BAD, and that they were to be fought back against at all costs. And then I wake up to find out that people like Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh were Nazi sympathizers - that the US government actively gave Nazis safe haven in the states, even after knowing the extent of what was happening over there.”

He was getting angry now. “And now, all of a sudden, Nazis are walking around in the streets - out and proud with their jackboots and swastikas, and idiots in Public Office are calling them ‘very fine people’. People are actively calling the Holocaust a myth - and I saw for myself the death camps, and the horrors and atrocities that had been commited there - and me wearing a different outfit is what’s getting everybody hot and bothered?”

He let out an explosive breath. “People really need to start getting their priorities straight.”

He’d pulled no punches throughout the interview - his answers plain and direct. 

He met Reese’s eyes and she smiled back at him, proud and nodding. He really was hitting it out of the park.

That he’d worn The Suit for the interview was the icing on the cake.

“Is there anything else you’d like to say to our viewers?” the woman asked tentatively.

He looked directly at the camera and said, “I’m not giving the shield up. I won’t be cowed or bullied out of being Cap. We as a Nation, as People , need to do better - to BE better human beings, and it’s on all of us to stand up and do that. We need to call out injustice and hate, in all its forms. We need to make rapists and bigots afraid - we need to make the very idea of it unthinkable .”

He set his jaw and growled, “We need to bring the Patriarchy down.”

The reporter blinked, then said, “Thank you for your time, Steve.”

The cameras were off then and Reese went over to hug him as he stood up and handed a body mic over to one of the techs who were now breaking their lights and equipment down.

“You were fuckin’ amazing,” she murmured, smiling as he nuzzled her cheek.

He let out a nervous chuckle. “I think I need a drink.”

Reese looked over to see Pepper shaking the woman’s hand, smiling. She looked over and gave Reese a wink and Reese responded with a thumb’s up.

Chapter Text

So many people were apoplectic with rage at what Steve had said in the interview. How Dare He call out America’s sins - on Live National Television, no less.

The more fringe elements of the right wing were outright calling for Steve’s assassination. Several tremendously stupid individuals were actually calling for his literal head on a platter. Right Wing talking heads were literally frothing at the mouth - even moreso than usual. Others were demanding that he renounce the shield, or that the Avengers remove him as a team member.

There was already talk of a bill being crafted by republican congressmen to Address The Situation - as if sitting senators had any sway in this instance. The hubris was enormous, but Steve supposed that was fairly normal at this point.

He’d definitely gone and Poked The Bear.

Pepper had hired a separate team just to field the incoming calls about him and Natasha was gleefully redirecting network security attacks coming from various servers as well as heading off countless Doxxing attacks against pretty much anybody affiliated with Steve.

If he’d wanted to see how invasive the problem was, this was a rather spectacular way of going about it. Natasha and F.R.I.D.A.Y. worked to collect as much information as they could from the attack sources. Clint sat beside her, making sure she stayed fed and hydrated as she worked, his grin ever present as he watched her do one of the things she was best at.

Reese sat on one of the couches in the common area, watching everybody work as she and Steve silently sketched everybody.

Her phone rang and she placed her sketchpad on the coffee table to answer it.

“Ri - are you ok?”

Reese frowned at the tone in Becca’s voice. She sounded scared.

“Yeah, I’m good - what’s going on?” Steve looked over at her and frowned.

She leaned into him and he wrapped an arm around her.

“Lots of people are saying really scary, shitty stuff about you and Steve. I wanted to make sure you were safe.”

Reese sighed and nodded. “Yeah. We’re both safe. We’re in the safest building in the city.”

Becca let out a sigh of relief and said, “I’m guessing you’re not coming home anytime soon?”

“It’s probably best for me to stay here for the time being,” Reese replied softly.

Steve held her a little tighter and she snuggled against him.

“I’m glad you’re safe - and it’s probably for the best that you’ll be there for awhile. Gayle’s a screamer,” Becca laughed. Gayle was the new girlfriend.

Reese chuckled and grinned. “I’m really happy for you, Becks.”

“Yeah. Me too. Stay in touch, yeah?” she asked softly.

“Definitely. And you stay safe too, ok?”

“You can’t see it, but I’m saluting,” Becca replied before disconnecting the call.

“Dick,” Reese muttered, laughing softly.

“Everything ok?” Steve asked, kissing the side of her head.

“Yeah. Some of the stuff she’s seeing online just has her worried for me.”

Steve made a sound of disgust. “It’s as though the entire country’s having a tantrum.”

“Honestly, most of the commentary is coming from bots - meant to incite exactly the reaction they’re getting. Fools can still be dangerous, Steve,” Natasha explained from the couch across from them.

Reese leaned forward and grabbed one of the takeout containers scattered across the surface of the coffee table, digging a set of chopsticks in and fishing out some Lo Mein noodles. She laughed as Steve opened his mouth, trying to catch some of the noodles as she dangled them over him, then started to eat some herself.

He placed his own sketchbook down, then moved to grab another full container of the noodles, quickly downing the entire box.

Reese just shook her head, grinning as she watched him.

He shrugged, then looked back over at Natasha.

“Do I have anything to worry about, Nat?” He asked softly.

She kept her eyes on the laptop in front of her as she replied, “Might want to keep down the public appearances until some of this blows over.”

He let out a sarcastic laugh. “Might be a little hard if we get called out on a mission.”

Her eyes darted to meet his for a moment, and she gave him the barest hint of a smile.

“Just don’t go visiting any VFW halls or malls - any place with good sight lines, if you get my drift.”

Steve regarded her with intense scrutiny. “You’re serious.”

She shrugged, continuing to click away at the keyboard as Clint shoved a piece of pizza in his mouth. How he kept in such good shape eating a diet that seemed to consist of only cheese, bread, sauce and beer was a mystery to Reese.

“You may be a super soldier, but if enough high power projectiles hit you at the same time, it’d still end up being a Bad Day for you. ‘S all I’m saying. Chatter out there is… alarming.”

Reese stilled against him, her eyes growing wide.

Tony walked into the room, picking through a few boxes before finally setting on pork dumplings.

“I think what she’s saying is - don’t go anywhere without us in the next 48 hours.” Clint explained before taking another bite of pizza.

“This is fucking ridiculous,” Steve grated, sitting up a little straighter now.

Tony laughed and said, “You basically went on National TV and gave America the finger. Still wanna do that nude photoshoot where you punch the eagle? I mean, ‘coz I can make that happen - just say the word…”

Steve glared at him and Tony held his hands up. “Hey, I’m not saying it wasn’t warranted, or that I didn’t enjoy the hell out of it - but… it pissed a lot of folks off. Mob mentality is an ugly thing, and it’s always worst in the first few days of reaction. Take a load off. Go on vacation.”

Tony brightened, then said, “I hear Germany’s nice this time of year.”

Steve gave Tony the finger, which only made him laugh.
“That’s interesting…,” Natasha murmured. Clint just started laughing.

Steve turned to look over at them and Clint explained, “There’s apparently now a movement to try to elect you president.”

The look of horror on Steve’s face was almost comical.

“You’re shitting me,” he blurted.

Clint shook his head, grinning and still chuckling.

“Looks like they’re completely serious, buddy.”

Steve’s expression closed down and his tone was grave as he grated out, “NO.”

He stood up then, his frown severe. “I need to blow off some steam. I’m gonna hit the gym.”

He strode out and Reese shrugged as Tony looked over at her. “What? Like I could actually wear him out sparring with him? I’m smart enough to know when somebody I care about needs some time alone.”

 

--

 

Steve stormed into the apartment, jaw tight as he strode into the bedroom, pulling on a set of workout clothes. Impotent fury roared through him and he just wanted to hit something until his knuckles bled. As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t simply go around punching people like Alex Jones or Tucker Carlson. Maybe, back when he was a small scrappy kid, he could’ve - but now? He’d kill anybody human outright if he hit them.

Well, that certainly hadn’t changed. Anger still always drove him to swinging down, and having to pull back in this instance was making him a little nuts.

“You really put your foot in it this time, Stevie.”

Steve stilled and slowly turned to see Bucky standing in the corner of his bedroom, arms and ankles crossed as he leaned back against the wall.

“I can’t leave you alone for five goddamned minutes.”

Steve’s throat clicked shut and his heart leapt as his eyes drank in the sight of him.

“Buck…” he breathed, taking a step toward him.

Bucky held a hand up and Steve’s heart thumped painfully in his chest as he watched his friend’s hand tremble.

“Don’t…”

Bucky’s voice was shaky, his expression still stern as he said, “I’m barely keeping it together here. If you touch me…”

Steve felt tears gather in the corners of his eyes, nodding.

“Whatever you need, Buck.”

Bucky took a step away from the wall, his eyes darkening with anger.

“I need you to keep yourself safe, asshole. Don’t you have something to live for now? Doesn’t she matter ?”

Steve rocked back as if slapped. He slumped to sit on the bed, trembling a little.

“Yes, she matters…,” he croaked, looking down at his hands before looking up to meet Bucky’s winter grey eyes. “But you do too.”

Bucky flinched, then quickly locked it down - his expression going completely blank.

“Mission objective is compromised by your behavior.”

The Winter Soldier was staring back at him, cold and unforgiving, but Steve could see the echo of tension - of fear just beneath.

Steve blinked, his heart breaking as he carefully asked, “What is the mission objective, soldier?”

The Winter Soldier’s tone was empty - clinical as he replied, “Protect Steve Rogers. Protect Reese Hayes. By any means necessary.”

There was a sound of quiet footfalls and The Winter Soldier was suddenly facing the doorway, pistol raised.

Natasha stood in the doorway, her expression unreadable, her tone crisp and commanding as she said, “встать, солдат”

Steve watched as his friend blinked, then holstered his firearm, moving to stand at attention. Reese came into view and Steve watched as The Winter Soldier flinched again, his eyes blinking quickly.

“солдат, отчет,” Natasha said, crossing her arms.

Bucky spoke in a monotone as he replied, “Previous mission objective failed. Malfunction in fifty percent of systems is keeping The Asset from returning for punishment, maintenance and reassignment. Conditions for future assignments sub-optimal unless maintenance is performed.”

“Natasha, stop it,” Steve growled.

She looked over at him, her expression mild before she shook her head.

Steve moved to stand and suddenly the Soldier was drawing down directly on him.

“What the fuck, Bucky?” Steve spat.

“Steve, you need to sit back down,” Natasha calmly explained. “Please.”

Steve blinked at that, stunned into silence. He moved to sit and the Soldier stood down again.

Natasha walked over to Bucky, talking to him in Russian as Steve sat and watched, his body shaking with the need to go over and gather his friend into a bone crushing hug. Reese slowly walked into the room, keeping an eye on Steve as she made her way over to him. She glanced over to see Bucky staring straight ahead as Natasha continued talking to him.

Steve reached out and pulled Reese into him, shivering as he watched Bucky nod at something Natasha said. Reese wrapped around him, gently petting and soothing him as Natasha turned to face them.

“Steve - we need to talk.”

She walked out of the room and Steve got up to follow her as Reese looked over at Bucky, who was now looking over at her as though she were the only patch of dry land in a vast ocean.

“Hey Bucky,” she murmured, walking over to him. “It’s good to see you, man. You hungry?”

The man nodded quickly, staying silent. He was back to Shadow Bucky, which Reese supposed was a magnitude greater than the cold machine he’d been a moment ago.

She held a hand out to him and he looked down at it, frowning before moving to take it.

“C’mon, buddy. Let’s go make you something to eat.”

 

--

 

The moment the apartment door closed behind them, Steve grabbed her wrist. Natasha looked down at his hand, then back up at him, her eyes narrowed. He quickly released her, then snapped, “What the fuck was all that about, Nat?”

She blinked, then said, “You’re too emotionally invested to help him, Steve.”

Christ, if that didn’t feel like a gut punch. He sagged, then glared back at her - knowing she was right, but not liking it one bit.

“If Hydra put him through anything like what I went through, he’s going to need some pretty serious help. He’ll likely never be the man you knew, Steve. You need to be prepared for that.”
Steve shook his head, his jaw setting. “You don’t know what you’re talking about - the way he spoke to me in there… before you showed up…”

Natasha placed a gentle hand on his arm, her expression surprisingly compassionate as she murmured, “You’re seeing echoes of who he used to be, Steve. Although there will still be elements of James Buchanan Barnes in there - you can’t expect him to come back entirely - to be the same. And his recovery is going to take time. I read the files on what they did to him - trust me , you do not want to know. You’re better off.”

Steve struggled to collect himself, feeling tears trail down his cheeks. “ Fuck… ” his voice cracked as he moved to try to wipe them away.

“He wants to come in, Steve. He needs to deliver a full report to somebody - someone who knows how to respond when he does, so that he can feel a modicum of security - so that he can at least feel that he’s performing the function he was programmed for.”

Steve wanted to yell at her - he wanted to destroy all those responsible for what had happened to his friend - his lover . If he couldn’t help Bucky directly with his presence…

Natasha was a damned mind reader, it seemed.

“I’ve sent a list of Hydra targets to your comms device,” she murmured.

He nodded and let out a heavy sigh. “Thanks, Nat.”

She nodded and they walked back inside. Steve almost stumbled at the image of Bucky on his couch, wrapped in blankets, letting Reese feed him. They both looked up, but Shadow Bucky quickly looked away, letting Reese pop another piece of cheese into his mouth. He looked so much like a lost, little kid that Steve’s heart broke all over again.

“I think we have it from here,” Natasha said softly.

Steve looked over at Reese who smiled back at him, mouthing, “It’s gonna be ok.”

He touched his hand to his chest then blew her a kiss. She blushed and he gave her a wobbly smile in return before he walked back out into the hallway.

He called Tony as he closed the door behind him.

“Come to the lab. I have a new toy for you.”

“Good,” Steve ground out. “We’re going hunting.”

 

--

 

Natasha kept her distance as she watched Reese and the Soldier interact. It was honestly baffling to her. The man almost seemed to be acting like a stray kitten, soaking up all the attention and affection Reese was giving him. How he wasn’t screaming and keeping his distance from anybody who wanted to lay hands on him was beyond her.

The man likely hadn’t felt any sort of comfort or nurturing human touch in the over seventy years they’d had him in their possession. She remembered how difficult her own path back to her humanity had been - how painful it had been to process the years that had been taken, and what had been left in return. The fact that the Soldier was accepting of this kind of treatment this early? It was unheard of.

She found herself wondering exactly what Reese had done to earn his trust. Her respect for Steve’s partner cranked up a notch.

“Can you give me a little time with him? Alone?” Reese asked.

Natasha nodded and quietly let herself out.

Shadow Bucky shivered against her and she wrapped an arm around his shoulder, gently brushing her fingers through his oily, dirty hair.

“That a little better?” she asked softly.

He nodded and sighed, shifting to lay down and rest his head in her lap.

“You sure you don’t want to get cleaned up a little before you get some rest?”

He blinked, then sat up, looking over at her.

“Come on. You’re gonna love the shower in this place,” she smiled.

 

--

 

Steve checked his mobility in the suit - Tony had made a few additions to the design and he wanted to make sure they didn’t hamper his freedom of movement. Nothing pinched or gathered in a way that really bothered him - it actually felt a little better now, and Tony had muted the colors of the outfit as well.

Tony looked back at him expectantly and Steve nodded. “It’s good. Thanks, Tony.”

Their first target was a bank, of all things - Ideal Federal Savings Bank in Washington D.C. Natasha had said that it was drawing an inordinate amount of power for such a building, so it went on the list.

Clint pushed away from the wall, already suited up and ready to go.

“Did Nat say what she expected us to find there?” Steve asked him, grabbing the shield and feeling a thunk as the electromagnet assembly on his back locked it in place.

“Could be a science lab - weapons manufacturing. Hard to say.” Clint replied.

“We go in stealth, stay low and quiet.”

Tony nodded and Steve watched as a blue-black version of the Iron Man suit slid along his skin as the nanite particles assembled themselves around him. The first time it happened, it made his skin crawl. He was slowly getting used to it.

Natasha met them at the Quinjet, surprising him.

“Is he…?” Steve asked.

She nodded and replied, “He’s in good hands. Let’s get to work.”

 

--

 

Steve shook with rage, jerking back as he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Easy, buddy. I think you killed it,” Clint explained.

Steve blinked and looked around the room at the surrounding chaos. They’d found the source of the energy spikes in the bank’s vault. The chair they’d found was now in pieces, scattered around the room. He looked down to see his hands covered with cuts - his leather gloves torn to shreds. There was the sound of heavy, quickened breathing and it took him a moment to realize that it was coming from him.

At first, he hadn’t really known what they were looking at. Natasha had gone deathly pale at the sight of it and when she’d explained what it was, he’d lost the thread for a few beats. He couldn’t bear the thought of…

“Cap - there’s not really much else here.” Tony was picking through some of the tech - Steve guessed he was looking for anything useful, and as much as the idea disgusted him, Tony was the only one on the team who would have an idea of how the damn thing worked. Maybe he and Bruce could figure out how to reverse the effects?

He took a deep breath, then asked, “What’s our next target?”

 

--

 

Bucky settled beside her on the couch, tearing through the take out Thai food she’d ordered for them. She’d ordered extra for when Steve came home, but Bucky startled her by making his way through half of it before finally slowing down.

“Growing boy, eh?” she asked with a soft chuckle.

Bucky blinked and looked over at her, seeming to see her for the first time since he’d started eating.

“Guess so,” he replied, looking over at the empty food containers scattered around them. He looked a little embarrassed and she found it adorable.

“Hey, it’s ok. You’re allowed to eat as much as you need,” she explained as she leaned back into the couch with a sigh. “There’s plenty of food.”

Bucky frowned at that, then looked around the room.

“Where am I?” he asked softly. “This doesn’t look like your place.”

Reese shifted and took a sip of soda. “We’re in Steve’s apartment. Do you remember being here before?”

He looked over at her, unblinking as he then stared off at something over her shoulder. He then blinked a few times, then started laughing.

Reese turned to see the drawing she’d done of Steve, what seemed like a lifetime ago.

“Oh my god, that’s hilarious,” he gasped, wiping a tear from his eye.

She grinned as she looked back at him. “Nailed it, right?”

He gave her a strange look and she quickly explained. “He really does curse quite a bit…,” she trailed off lamely. Internally, she grumped. Steve would’ve gotten it.

“Did he draw it?” Bucky asked, getting up from the couch to go look at it, wrapping a blanket around himself.

“I made it for him,” she replied.

Bucky touched the image then looked back at her. “Boy, you really got his number, don’t ya?”

Reese shrugged and took another sip.

He tightened the blanket around himself, then asked, “What the fuck was he wearing the other night? That your idea?”

She rolled her eyes at him, placing the soda down and walking out to the kitchen to get a glass of water. “Clint got him into it. God, those pants did fantastic things for his ass.”

Bucky shook his head, grumbling, “The shit people wear nowadays…”

Reese came back over to him, handing him a glass of water. He quickly downed it, then added, “But yeah…,” his expression could only be described as a little dreamy as he breathed, “...they really did.” He actually blushed before straightening up and looking back at her.

“What the fuck does he think he’s doing? Going on television and saying that shit? Admitting to…,” he shook his head with disgust. “Does he have a fuckin’ death wish?”

Reese walked back over to the couch, kicking back and placing her water on the side table. “And you… what is all…,” he waved to indicate her KISS t-shirt, black shorts and combat boots. “ That ?”

“Well hello mister judgy,” she snapped, giving him the finger. “You don’t get to give me shit about what I’m wearing when you were marinating in that tac gear for god knows how fucking long. Christ, could you even smell yourself?”

Bucky gave her a bland look, then seemed to see the entire wall that Steve had painted for the first time. He dropped the blanket, padding over silently to trace his fingertips over the lines of his own face, recreatived lovingly in the mural.

“Oh my god, Stevie…,” he whispered.

Reese watched as the man’s hand trembled, fingers stuttering against the images as he came to her face. He looked back over at her, tears trailing down his cheeks, his expression tight and pained.

A loud thump shook the apartment and Bucky went on immediate high alert. There was another loud thump and Reese quickly pulled out her phone and messaged Steve.

R: Something’s happening here. 

 

Another loud thump echoed out and the lights in the room changed to red. F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s voice echoed through the room. “Miss Hayes, the building’s defenses have been breached. I’m recalling the team, but you might want to get somewhere safe.”

 

Cap’n: Reese - what’s happening?

R: Apparently somebody’s trying to break in.

Cap’n: We’re on our way.

 

Bucky was at her side, back in his newly clean tactical gear. He had a pistol in one hand.

“Where’s safe, Friday?” she asked, shaking her head. For fucksakes, couldn’t they catch a break?

“There’s a panic room in Steve’s bathroom. Open the closet door - the panel pushes open.”

Bucky quickly escorted her into the room, pushing her inside then pulling the door closed, leaving her in there.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” she yelled, slapping ineffectually at the wall. She whirled around to find a small, but somewhat comfortable room with a cot, what looked like a two week supply of MRE’s, first aid gear and a laptop computer.

“Friday, can you let me see what’s going on?” She quickly opened up the laptop, powering it on.

Several camera feeds popped up on the screen as she asked, “How soon will they be back?”

“They’re about fifteen minutes out, Miss Hayes.”

“Fuck,” she muttered, watching as an image of Bucky darted past several of the cameras. “Friday - can you show me the breach point?”

An image of the lobby flickered on screen. Glass and twisted metal was everywhere. Tony was going to be pissed.

“Do you know who’s doing this?”

F.R.I.D.A.Y. responded with, “Whoever they are, they’re wrecking Mr. Stark’s building. I can’t find any identifying marks on their clothing and their faces are covered so optical recognition software isn’t helping in this instance.”

Reese watched as Bucky parked himself and quickly assembled what looked like a large sniper rifle. There was the sound of automatic weapons fire in the background and then an explosion rang out. She frowned as several Iron Men flew across her field of vision in another corridor before the video feed cut out.

“What’s happening?”

“The Iron Legion, is engaging the enemy, Miss Hayes.”

Another screen image came up and Reese watched as the Iron Legion downed a bunch of guys in black tactical armor. They appeared to be shooting them in the legs, and the bodies crumpled up as they dropped. The sound of a voice echoed in the background and Reese frowned, not understanding the language, but recognizing it as what Natasha had been using with Bucky.

The image of Bucky on her screen stiffened and stood at attention, dropping his weapon, his body trembling as the voice continued.

“Friday, can you make a sound loud enough to drown out that voice?”

Whatever the voice was saying, it was doing completely awful things to Bucky. It was the only thing she could think of. The raging growl of Death Metal roared through her speakers and she quickly moved to turn the volume down.

She watched as Bucky clapped his hands to his ears, his knees buckling as he sprawled onto the floor.

Chapter Text

Steve was out of the Quinjet before the ramp fully opened. He tucked and rolled, then took off at a run as Tony flew inside the building.

“What are we looking at, F.R.I.D.A.Y.?” Tony’s voice rang out in his earpiece.

“Boss, looks like a full assault team. All combatants are down and have been subdued through non-lethal means as requested.”

“Where’s Reese, F.R.I.D.A.Y.?” Steve asked, his heart in his throat as he spotted Bucky on the floor.

“Inside the panic room in your suite, Captain.”

He frowned and offhandedly asked, “There’s a panic room in my suite?” Skidding to a stop beside Bucky.

“Everybody has one, Cap.” Tony explained, “Widow, your presence is requested on the second floor.”

“On my way,” Natasha replied.

Clint came up behind him as Steve examined Bucky, wincing at the blood trailing out of his ears. His hand shook with the realization that he was actually now actually touching the man he loved for the first time in seventy years. He quickly felt for a pulse and almost sagged when he found one.

“Oh, thank God,” he muttered quietly, before snapping out, “What happened here, F.R.I.D.A.Y.?”

The AI responded with, “As near as I can tell, Sergeant Barnes was reacting negatively to a voice coming out of the speakers that the intruders were carrying with them. At Miss Hayes direction, I drowned out the sound. I’m afraid Sergeant Barnes may experience some hearing loss after this.”

Steve continued looking him over, relieved to find no wounds on him. He quickly hefted Bucky into his arms and started walking back to the apartment. He wasn’t entirely sure how the man would react if he woke to find himself in a medical bay.

“F.R.I.D.A.Y., please let Reese out of the panic room now.”

Clint opened the door to the apartment and Reese rushed into the living room, her eyes growing wide at the sight of Bucky in his arms. “Oh fuck - Bucky, I’m so sorry …”

She ran up to him, “Is he…?”

Steve quickly replied, “He’s ok. He wasn’t hit.”

Reese sagged in relief, then spotted the blood coming out of his ears. Before she could panic, Steve explained, “He’ll heal - but it was a really smart move, drowning out the sound. Could you hear the words?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t understand them,” she replied as she gently brushed the hair off Bucky’s forehead.

F.R.I.D.A.Y. replayed the brief clip of audio and Natasha cursed through the comm link.

“Nat - what is it?” Steve asked as he walked to the bedroom, gently setting Bucky down on the bed.

“Trigger words,” she replied, her tone cold and angry. Cliff stiffened beside Steve and he looked over to see quiet fury in the man’s eyes.

A shriek rang out from far away and Cliff said, “That’s my girl.”

“Fucking Hydra,” Natasha growled, and another scream rang out.

“Aaaand that’s my cue- you’ve clearly got this from here,” Tony said, “F.R.I.D.A.Y. give me a damage report.”

“Trigger words?” Steve asked, his tone wary.

“Let me finish up here. I don’t have time to explain right now,” she snapped.

He looked over at Clint, who quickly held his hands up. “Hey, it’s her story to tell. I’m not catching a bullet for that shit.”

And that was fair enough, he supposed. Natasha was terrifying when she got angry. Every time he’d watched her at work in the field, he’d been immensely grateful that she had decided to work with them. She’d have been a truly formidable enemy, otherwise.

Bucky suddenly jerked awake and scrambled to put as much distance between him and Steve as possible. He was holding a shaky hand out, his eyes darting around the room, looking for an exit.

Reese calmly sat down on the bed and met his eyes. Bucky blinked quickly, then looked back over at Steve and Clint. The boys backed up and Bucky eased down a little, his jaw tight and his eyes bright.

“Can you hear me, buddy?” Reese asked softly.

Bucky’s eyes locked with hers again and he nodded slowly, but winced a little.

“I know. You probably have a hell of a headache now. That’s my fault. I’m really sorry…,” she trailed off, frowning herself now.

Steve’s breath caught in his throat as Bucky took a tentative step forward - towards Reese.

“The words…,” Bucky croaked out, his voice cracking as he held a hand up to his forehead. “And then those cats fucking, what the hell?”

Reese actually laughed at that. “Hey, man - I can’t control what’s in Tony’s music library. It was an emergency situation.”

Steve watched in wonder as his friend became more… Bucky - it was the only way to explain it. It was almost like seeing somebody come up for air out of a deep lake. And then, his friend receded, seeming to get… smaller, somehow.

“Can I…?” Bucky asked, still looking over at Reese.

His voice had sounded so nervous - so fragile. Steve’s chest tightened as she nodded and he flopped down on the bed beside her with a groan as she moved to thread her fingers through his hair.

Steve blinked and looked over at Clint, who just shrugged. Reese asked, “Would one of you please get some painkillers and water?”

Clint nodded and darted out of the room while Steve continued to stare in stunned silence at the pair of them.

“Guys, I need you.” Natasha’s voice made Steve jump and Bucky stilled on the bed, looking up at him with wary eyes. Clint came back into the room and Reese held up a hand, then asked, “Is it ok if… Arrow Guy comes over to give me the water and pills I asked for?”

Bucky thought about it for a moment, then nodded. Clint stepped forward and handed her the water and the bottle of pills, then said, “C’mon Steve.”

He walked out of the room, shaking his head, muttering, “ Arrow guy .”

Steve blinked, then nodded.

“Yeah. You ok?” he asked Reese.

“We’ll be ok.” She smiled back at him and he nodded again, then walked out of the room.

 

--

 

Reese sighed as Shadow Bucky scooted a little closer to her.

“Exciting day, huh?” she asked softly.

He pressed his forehead against her hip, butting it gently. “You ready to get some rest, buddy?”

He groaned, “Yeah.”

When she went to move off the bed, however, she found his hand on her thigh. “You want me to stay?” she asked softly.

“Would you?” He looked up at her.

“You’re not gonna get all weird if I lie down with you, are you?” She gave him a sly grin.

“C’mere n’ shut up,” he muttered, moving in to spoon her. Reese stilled and blinked as he wrapped an arm over her. He started snoring almost immediately and she let out a breath of relief before shrugging and dropping off to sleep, herself.

 

--

 

Natasha’s ‘Q & A’ session with the assholes who’d tried to take Bucky had turned out to be fairly productive. It really was remarkable what people would happily babble about when out of their minds on certified GMP, 99 percent pure, high yield MDMA. None of the soldiers knew what the recorded words had meant, but they knew it was a control sequence. They’d just been told to start playing the words whenever they caught sight of The Asset in the field - that the words would make him comply with any order given to him. It was clear they were terrified of him, even through their dreamy giggles. They honestly hadn’t expected to see him here. Hydra had apparently decided to siege the tower while they were out on mission.

That the Asset had been present was merely a lucky coincidence.

“Steve - you’re not going to want to see this part of it,” Natasha said softly.

He nodded and slowly walked out of the room, his jaw set. God knows he’d killed enough people in the last eight hours. He wasn’t naive enough to think that any of these men could be rehabilitated - and this was war , after all. It still bothered him, though. And, from time to time, it bothered him even more that it didn’t seem to bother her or Clint much at all.

He sighed and made his way to the locker rooms, wanting to give Reese and Bucky the time they needed, but now that all the excitement was over, he desperately needed rest. He peeled himself out of the uniform, draping it over one of the benches before making his way to the showers. Once beneath the hot water he let out a heavy sigh and dipped his head down so the spray hit the back of his neck. He was all twisted around inside - both emotionally and mentally, from everything that had happened.

His only saving grace was that Reese and Bucky seemed to have developed this odd pair bond that seemed to be helping. Steve couldn’t help the mild twinge of jealousy that flickered at Bucky’s easy acceptance of her touch, when he barely seemed to be able to handle Steve’s mere presence in the same room. It was difficult to accept, but he knew he had to be patient. At the moment, it had to be enough that he wasn’t running anymore. As he showered, Steve found himself wondering if Bucky would ever accept his touch again. He ached with the need to hold him again, to reassure and comfort him - to comfort himself with the man’s presence. He let out a shaky sigh as he rinsed, then toweled off.

He pulled on a set of navy colored sweatpants and jacket with a stylized Avengers logo on them, slid his feet into a pair of slippers then slowly started making his way back upstairs. He glared as he surveyed the damage to the building as he walked past, pleased that Tony had been able to at least get the glass cleaned up so quickly. From the sounds of it, there was a crew already at work repairing the damage done to the lobby.

When Steve finally stepped inside his bedroom, his heart stuttered in his chest. Bucky was spooned up against Reese’s back, his forehead resting against her shoulder and his arm around her waist. They were both fully clothed and sleeping soundly. Steve let out a soft sigh and Bucky’s eyes opened. He looked over at Steve, eyes sharp and wary. With a jolt, he realized that Bucky was… guarding her. Part of him wanted to laugh. She’d accidentally befriended and gained the absolute trust of one of the most dangerous men he knew. Between the two of them, God help anybody who tried to hurt Reese. It was… reassuring. The two people he loved most in the world were safe, and for the moment, it was enough. And with that, the full weight of his exhaustion hit him, almost making him stumble on his feet.

Steve simply held his hands up, taking a step back and walking down the hall to the guest bedroom. He fell into bed and was out like a light.

 

--

 

Reese shifted and frowned at the feel of an arm holding her tightly. Her bladder was aching and she tried to turn to look back at Steve, but the hold tightened. He felt…. different . A little smaller. She blinked, then remembered passing out beside Bucky on Steve’s bed earlier.

“I’m gonna piss the bed if you don’t let me go, buddy,” she complained.

The hand retreated and she sat up, wincing. “Ow.”

“You ok?”

Bucky’s voice was soft and quiet.

“Yeah - I just had this fucked up dream where I was racing around inside a department store trying to find a bathroom, but all the stalls were either broken or choked full of… well…” she trailed off, blushing. “And now…” She was babbling.

“I’m fine,” she blurted, then walked quickly to the bathroom.

Fuck - she hated those damn dreams. In the last one, she’d been trapped in a women’s locker room - and the condition of the entire area had been appalling . It reminded her of something straight out of Silent Hill.

When she walked back into the bedroom, she was pleased to see that Bucky had drifted back to sleep. She stepped up to the bed, then quietly asked, “Still need me?”

Bucky’s face scrunched up, like a little kid’s, and it melted her heart. 

“‘M ok now.” he murmured.

“I’m gonna go find Steve, ok?” she explained, and Bucky nodded, shifting against the covers before drifting back to sleep.

She chuckled softly, then walked out to the living room. He wasn’t there - or in the kitchen. She walked down the hallway, then started grinning as she saw him sprawled out, starfish style, on the guest bed. She walked over and gently shook him. Steve blinked back at her with bleary eyes, then groaned and made ‘gimme hands’ at her along with the most adorable sound as he rolled over and made space for her beside him.

Reese settled in beside him and he let out a happy sigh. She was out soon after.

 

--

 

Steve was startled out of a deep sleep by the sound of Bucky screaming. He jumped up and ran to his bedroom, his heart twisting in his chest at the sight of Bucky rigid and shaking against the mattress. Sweat was rolling off him in sheets and his hands fisted tightly at his sides. He looked pale, and so terrified.

Another scream echoed out and he was at the side of the bed in an instant, reaching a hand out to touch Bucky’s shoulder. The awful screaming continued as Bucky began to writhe, then Steve’s heart shattered as his friend started making a high pitched whining sound and began begging. “ Please… I’ll be good… I’ll do anything , just… please… DON’T! DON’T HURT HIM!

Reese was at Steve’s side now, frowning as she looked down at Bucky.

“Take your hand off him, Steve…,” she urged, quietly.

“But h-he’s…,” Steve stammered.

Bucky suddenly grabbed Steve’s arm, giving it a savage twist, his expression empty as he threw Steve against the wall. Steve felt a portion of it give as he hit, scrambling to his feet as Bucky came at him. Reese was yelling something he couldn’t hear as Bucky delivered a savage punch to his ribs with his left hand. White hot pain shot through Steve’s system as he felt some of them snap. He kicked Bucky across the room, then fled out to the living room, trying to get him away from Reese.

Bucky was on him almost quicker than he’d had time to turn around and they crashed into the couch, flipping it over. They tumbled to the floor and Bucky punched down at his face. Steve evaded and Bucky’s fist cracked into the floor, creating an impressive hole beside his head. Bucky straddled him and dug his metal fingers into Steve’s throat, squeezing. His expression was empty and he didn’t blink as he looked down at Steve, merciless in his assault. Steve bucked his hips up in an attempt to dislodge the man, but Bucky held on and his fingers just tightened. The pain in his throat was excruciating and he felt himself starting to lose consciousness.

“встать, солдат!”

Natasha’s voice rang out in the room and Bucky immediately stilled, then scrambled to stand at attention.

Finally able to breathe now, Steve whooped and rolled to his side, coughing as he tried to breathe through a damaged windpipe. His healing factor would address that quickly enough, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt like a mad bastard. Reese was at his side now, holding his hand and crying as she kissed his knuckles. He couldn’t understand anything she was saying for some reason. He heard Natasha say, “солдат, иди со мной.” then watched as she turned to leave, Bucky moving to follow behind her - looking more like a shuffling zombie than the man who had tried to kill him a moment ago.

“Buck…,” he croaked as he watched the man stalk out of the apartment, feeling his chest tighten as the first tears began to fall.

 

--

 

Reese held him as he wept, frustrated that there wasn’t more that she could do. The way Bucky had reacted hadn’t really surprised her. She’d encountered too many people with complex PTSD to not know how to react around them when they were having nightmares or flashbacks.  It had been one of the reasons she’d tried to get Steve to back off - but she also understood that Steve had been severely traumatized as well. Shit, after everything the man had been through, how could he not be? And this situation was only adding to it - but it couldn’t be helped. Bucky needed Capital H help and this wasn’t something that either Steve or Reese could provide him.

Natasha seemed to be the only one, out of all of them, who truly knew what Bucky had been through, but at some point a professional was going to need to be brought in.

She wondered where Natasha was taking Bucky, but at the moment, she needed to be here for Steve. This, she could do.

When he’d calmed down enough that his breathing was coming in soft hitches instead of great wailing gasps, she leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on his forehead. Steve clutched her as though she was his only lifeline as he tried to ease out his breathing.

“I’m here, baby. Whatever you need. I’m here. You’re safe,” she crooned, gently carding her fingers through his hair.

He trembled and curled around her, his breath a little shaky.

Fuck… ,” he ground out, his voice still really rough.

He tried to sit up and cried out, clutching his side. “Fuckin’ ribs. I forgot… how hard… that asshole hits now...” he trailed off, his breath hitching in pain as he talked.

He spat and she saw blood.

“Friday - is there a doctor in residence?”

Steve groaned and said, “Nothing… a doc… can do… for broken ribs.”

“Captain, did you want me to call somebody?” F.R.I.D.A.Y. asked.

“No…,” he grated, “Fuck… just gimme… a minute.”

Reese sat beside him, continuing to pet and soothe him. His breathing finally seemed to be evening out when he muttered, “Well, that went spectacularly.”

Reese let out a bark of laughter, shaking her head and patting his shoulder.

“And what did we learn today?”

Steve glared up at her, then sighed. “Don’t touch Bucky when he’s having a nightmare.”

Reese smiled down at him, her voice soft as she asked, “Yup.” she replied, popping the ‘p’. “Do you need help getting up?”

He gave her a wry smirk. “Think you could lift me?”

Reese rolled her eyes and slapped his shoulder. He laughed softly then shifted to sit up beside her, wincing a little. “F.R.I.D.A.Y. - I thought video and audio monitoring was supposed to be turned off for this apartment. How did Nat know to come here?”

He didn’t sound upset, just curious. The AI’s Irish lilt echoed through the room. “In the event of structural damage within a given residence, emergency protocols are immediately initiated. When you impacted the wall, specifics of the situation were immediately sent to the team, along with live video and audio feed.”

Reese blew out a breath, shaking her head. If Natasha hadn’t shown up when she had, Bucky could have easily killed Steve outright. Would he have then moved to kill her as well? God knows she wouldn’t have been able to physically overpower Bucky herself. He’d have snapped her like a twig. She hadn’t even had time to really react to what was happening until it was over - it had all happened so fast. Her chest grew tight as the entire scene replayed in her head and she shivered - finally reacting, now that Steve seemed to be ok. Normal violence was one thing. That was a fairly known quantity - but this ? Bucky had effortlessly tossed Steve - a 220 pound Clydesdale of a human being - around the apartment like a dog with a chew toy. She felt herself dropping hard out of crisis mode as she started shaking.

 

--

 

Steve watched with dread as Reese went into shock. He shifted to gently lay her on her back, pulling the coffee table over to elevate her legs. She was pale and her skin was clammy to the touch. He checked her pupils and they were huge . Reese just stared up at the ceiling, her breath coming in quick pants. He pulled a blanket off the sofa, gently placing it over her and taking her hand, holding it.

“I’m here, sweetheart. It’s ok - it’s over. You’re safe. I’ve got you,” he murmured softly, kissing her forehead.

He could only imagine what was going through her head. God only knows what the entire episode had looked like to her. He sighed and pressed a kiss to her fingertips. He desperately wanted to go after Natasha to find out where the fuck she’d taken Bucky, but Reese’s safety came first. He had to trust that Natasha knew what she was doing and just let it go for now.

In the meantime, his anxiety ate at him. How on earth could a non-enhanced human be expected to deal with this without going insane? Shit - he even wrestled with sanity from time to time during the team’s more… intense moments. He’d changed Reese’s life so completely in such a short time… did she regret meeting him? The self doubt was like a slight stabbing pain in his chest.

“Steve…?”

Reese’s voice was soft and almost… dreamy sounding.

“Yeah, sweetheart?” He looked down to meet her eyes.

“That really scared the fuck out of me,” she slurred, her eyes blinking slowly.

“I know it did - and I’m so sorry,” he croaked, gently placing his hand on her forehead. “Do you need anything?”

Reese pursed her lips, her face scrunching up as she seemed to think it over for a moment.

“C’n I bedsleep?” she murmured.

Steve smiled down at her and said, “You won’t vomit if I pick you up, will you?”

She frowned, then blinked - she seemed to be coming around. “I don’t think so…”

He moved to pick her up as gently as he could, then carried her back to the guest bedroom. He didn’t think that seeing the wreck of his bedroom would help her in any way.

She made the cutest little sounds as he placed her on the bed and covered her with blankets. He chuckled softly and let his thumb play along the stubble on the side of her head. Reese smiled, then closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Steve watched over her for a few minutes, and when he was convinced that she’d be ok on her own for a bit, he walked out to the living room and called Natasha.

--

 

Reese opened her eyes and took a deep breath. Someone shifted in the bed behind her and she looked over to see Steve splayed out over the rest of the bed. Her mind replayed the fight again and she felt her jaw tighten, her chest squeezing.

Oh fuck right off , she snapped at her body. We’re safe. We’re FINE.

She started focusing on her breathing - filling her lungs completely, holding the breath for a few seconds, then releasing it. After a few minutes of this, she felt much better. She shifted to sit up, looking back over at Steve, who was dead to the world. Her stomach rumbled and she made her way out to the kitchen to make something to eat.

 

--

 

Bacon? Steve sniffed the air and he immediately started salivating so hard it woke him up. He groaned and patted the bed beside him then pouted when he found that she wasn’t there. I mean - of course she wouldn’t still be in bed. Who else would be cooking bacon in his apartment?

He got out of bed, yawning and stretching briefly before heading out to the kitchen. When he rounded the corner his eyes grew wide at the amount of bacon she’d been cooking. It looked to be about 6 pounds of meat.

Reese turned and smiled at him. “I figured you’d be hungry - and I needed to eat something…”

He was on her in three steps, careful to get her away from the frying pan before he crowded her up against the counter, pulling her in and kissing her fiercely. She yelped, then matched his passion as they clutched at each other. She was laughing then, trying to talk in between kisses, “Don’t you want…” “aren’t you…?” “but… Bacon .”

He laughed then, kissing his way across her cheek, then down her neck before he finally released her, kissing her forehead.

“Cockblocking bacon…,” he muttered, chuckling softly.

Reese grinned and swatted at him, then said, “I was thinking BLT’s.”

He looked back at her, his heart swelling with emotion, and it just came out.

“Marry me.”

The tongs Reese had been holding clattered to the floor and she stood there with her mouth open.

Steve panicked.

“Shit… that… fuck… it, ah… just slipped out…,” he trailed off lamely, wincing.

What the fuck had he been thinking? Sure, he was still a little twisted up about the possibility that she might leave over what had happened. He was well aware that people came into every relationship with baggage, but he had multiple fucking steamer trunks full of shit that normal human beings didn’t even have to consider during the entire course of their lifetime.

Still, desperation wasn’t a good look. Ever. What the fuck, Rogers? he chided himself, taking a step back and looking over at the stove.

He started at the feel of a hand on his arm and he looked over at her, shivering a little. “I… ah…” he stammered.

“Steve. It’s ok. That kinda came out of nowhere and I’m processing it. Alright?”

Steve looked down and away from her. “Shit, I’m sorry. I’m doing this all wrong.”

Reese gave him a little shake. “Steve. You’re not doing anything wrong. Something really fucked up just happened, and we’re both probably not thinking very clearly about much at the moment. Times of extreme stress bring up some pretty powerful emotions. It’s a bad time to make big decisions.”

He sighed and nodded, moving to lean back against the kitchen island as he met her eyes. “I understand.”

Reese gave him a strange look.

“No - I don’t think you do. I love you, Steve. You have such an enormous, wonderful heart - you’re one of the best human beings I know. I’m not planning on going anywhere - I want to see where this takes us both, but I also know that sometimes life intervenes and things change, people’s needs and wants change. And fuck, we really shouldn’t be having a conversation this heavy until we’ve eaten something substantial, ok?”

Steve eased down, letting himself actually hear what she was saying instead of rolling into an anxiety attack. Christ, he was a mess.

“So - BLT’s?” He asked, giving her a shy smile.

Reese chuckled and nodded. “Bread’s in the pantry. Help me assemble the sandwiches?”

God, he loved her. “I’m on it.”

 

--

 

He finished the last BLT then said, “Nat’s got an idea of how to help Bucky.”

Reese blinked and leaned back in her chair. “What’s she thinking?”

“There’s a member of the team you haven’t met yet. He’s currently out of the country. She reached out to him last night,” Steve explained. “He’s still kinda an unknown quantity, but she wants to bring him in on this. Tony agrees.”

Steve frowned as his comms device buzzed. He picked it up, checking the message, then frowned.

“Bucky’s asking for you,” Steve murmured softly.

Reese reached out and covered his other hand with her own.

“Then let’s go - what are we waiting for?” she smiled.

Steve looked pained. “Nat says that you should go - but that I need to stay here. Apparently I’m a trigger - a pretty bad one, for him.”

Reese blinked and frowned. What the hell did that mean? “I don’t want to leave you here…”

He sighed and took her hand, giving it a brief squeeze. “I’ll be ok, Reese. Really. Right now, he needs you more than I do.”

She stood up and walked over to him, wrapping her arms around him.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can, ok?”

Steve let out another heavy sigh then held her tight, leaning into her for a few moments before letting her go.

Chapter Text

Tony was tinkering with another pet project of his when Steve walked into his lab. Did the man ever sleep? It was something he wondered often. Steve watched as Tony and Bruce conferred over something, the banter between them seemingly friendly - what he could understand of it.

When the two of them got talking, the jargon was thick on the ground, and they were usually the only people in the room who could actually understand what was being said.

They were both gesturing to a large 3D image in the middle of the room and Steve watched as both of them walked around it, touching it at certain points, exploding portions of the enormous, highly detailed diagram to get a more detailed look at some of the sections.

“Steve! Glad you could make it.” He held out a small bag of dried blueberries, shaking it in offering as Steve walked up to them.

“I’m good - already ate,” he explained. “What am I looking at?”

Bruce held out a hand and Tony shook some blueberries into it. He popped them in his mouth, then replied, “Complex PTSD is a real bitch to treat. The road back for your friend isn’t going to be easy, and it’s not going to be quick. That being said, with Tony being who he is, he has the ways and means to address this quicker than pretty much anybody else on the planet.”

Steve crossed his arms, nodding as Tony started talking.

“I hate to break it to you, sport - but your boy just isn’t safe in the US. Now that they know he’s here, it’s only a matter of time before they try for him again - and I’m not comfortable jeopardizing the other members of the team…”

Steve interrupted, having a hard time believing what he was hearing.

“Wait… are you saying you’re kicking him out?” he growled.

“Easy, tiger. We have a plan, just hear us out.”

Steve took a breath, tamping down his anger.

Tony tapped on a device in his hand and a holographic image of Shuri flickered into view. Steve blinked as Shuri smiled at him. “Greetings, Captain,” she sobered, then said, “I am truly sorry to hear of the state of your friend.”

Steve paused, then replied, “Thank you, Princess Shuri. It’s good to see you.”

There was a pregnant pause, then Shuri then glared over at Tony and said, “You didn’t tell him, did you?”

Tony rocked back, eyes wide. “I was working up to it.”

He looked over at Steve, then explained, “As much as I’m loathe to admit it, Wakandan Bio and Neurological science is light years beyond what the rest of the world understands. I reached out to Shuri earlier when Natasha told me what happened, in the hopes that she and her team might be able to help.”

Steve narrowed his eyes, not sure he was understanding. Then, he got it.

“You want to send Bucky to Wakanda.”

Of course, that was the plan. Shuri’s lab was there - and he highly doubted it’d make much sense to haul everything over to the US. Even with how secretive and guarded Wakanda was about their tech, it just didn’t make any sort of logistical sense to do so. It’d also get Bucky out of the states and to a location where Hydra hopefully couldn’t reach him.

“I believe I may be of assistance in this endeavour as well.”

Steve turned to see Vision walk in, Wanda Maximoff at his side.

“Hey, glad you kids could come out. Vacation going well? How’s the family?” 

Wanda gave him a mild look and Tony brightened, grinning. “Now that the gang’s all here, how are we doing this?”

 

--

 

When Reese first arrived, it was clear that he’d worked himself into an anxious frenzy. The minute he saw her, he’d damn near run up to her, wrapping around her, his arms so tight she found it difficult to breathe.

“Bucky…” she squeaked, and he immediately eased down and tried to back away.

“It’s ok, buddy - I just need to breathe. C’mere.” She pulled him back into a gentle hug and looked over at Natasha who was watching the pair of them with an intense fascination.

“Someday I’m going to ask you how this happened.”

The woman’s voice was low and a little sultry, which Did Things for Reese that made her shiver in turn. Natasha smiled then, as if she’d known exactly what her voice had done to Reese.

Bucky was whispering something over and over, and she could actually hear his words now. He kept apologizing, saying over and over, “Never hurt you. Never hurt you. Never hurt you.”

Reese held him a little tighter then, crooning, “I know, buddy… I know. It’s ok. You’re safe. I’ve got you. I’m right here.”

Natasha quietly stepped out of the room.

 

--

 

“The Quinjet can have you guys there in a little under 6 hours.”

“We have time. Now that he has his stuffed animal, he’s calmed down,” Natasha explained as she walked into the lab, joining them.

Tony laughed at that and Steve frowned. Natasha simply shrugged. Steve blew out a breath, crossing his arms again. It had been decided that Vision would work with Shuri in her lab in Wakanda to try to untangle the snarls in Bucky’s mind - hopefully undoing the programming Hydra had forced on him in the process. They explained that they would only do as much as they needed to get him ontrack so that he had the faculties and control to continue the rest of the healing himself. They wanted to ensure that nobody else was able to pull the pin on him that made him into a seemingly soulless, unstoppable killing machine.

“You realize she’s going to have to go with, right?” Natasha looked over at him, deadly serious.

Steve blanched and she explained, “She’s essentially a target if she stays here. Do you really expect her to be able to go back home with the current media firestorm? That, and for whatever bizarre reason, she calms him. Unless you want Vision to short circuit and restrain him until we can get him to Wakanda?”

Steve felt a little sick at the very idea. “No. He shouldn’t have to go through any more of that than he already has.”

He started to feel a little shaky. This was getting out of hand quicker than he could process it.

Well, shit - I guess the honeymoon period is over , he muttered internally, tightening his jaw.

“Cap, you’re officially on hiatus for the time being.”

Steve stared back at Tony, who gave him a sad smile. “You’re emotionally compromised, buddy. You gotta stand down.”

His first reaction was anger - to take offense. But that hadn’t gone so well lately, had it? Without really thinking of the consequences, he’d put Reese in the line of fire with the television interview. Natasha was right. Where could she go at this point without being recognized and possibly drawing the attention of somebody who wanted to hurt him - or just hurt her? He’d read the ugly things people had been saying about her online - how she was to blame for the Corruption of ‘America’s Most Enduring Symbol of Freedom’. It was ludicrous, but damned dangerous as well. Her only other option was to sequester herself in the tower until things blew over. He was fairly certain that’d get on her nerves quicker than anything else. Nobody enjoyed being confined - no matter how large or luxurious the prison.

The thought of somebody using her to get to him made his gut churn painfully. He nodded and let his hands drop to his sides as he looked over at Natasha.

“Does she know?” he asked softly.

“I figured it’d be better coming from you,” she replied, not unkindly.

 

--

 

There was a knock on the door, then Steve walked in. There was a look of frustrated resignation on his face and Reese gave him a sad smile as she met his eyes. Bucky had dropped off to sleep, his head in her lap, but he was wide awake now.

“It’s ok, buddy. I’m here. I’ve got you,” she crooned softly to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulder.

Steve moved carefully to sit in a chair across from them and a man that Reese hadn’t yet met stepped into the room.

“Reese, this is Vision. He’s here to try to help Bucky,” Steve explained, sounding painfully tired.

Vision was quite tall with strawberry blonde hair and he was dressed casually in beige slacks and a blue sweater. Steve had changed into jeans and an olive colored Henley. The pair of them made her feel as though she was visiting her old school guidance counselor for some reason.

“Greetings, Reese. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” His voice was smooth and cultured - very British.

They both kept their distance, but she could tell that their presence bothered Bucky.

Vision started to explain the situation, but when she heard him say ‘rearranging neural pathways’, she sat up a little straighter.

Steve shifted in his seat, leaning forward, “It’s not as bad as it sounds.”

Reese gave him a mild look, gently petting Bucky’s shoulder. The man really did act like an enormous cat with her, pressing into her and nuzzling her hand whenever she seemed as though she would stop touching him. It was obvious that he was touch starved, and she honestly didn’t mind so much. She’d gone through a similar phase when she finally found somebody that actually felt Safe to her, a lifetime ago; Jaden, an older woman who had taken her in after a few years of rough living on the streets. The woman had been so kind and patient with her.

It had taken time - but with Jaden’s reassurance and never wavering compassion, Reese had gotten back to a point where she could start trusting other people. She’d lived through hell for ten years - Bucky had endured seventy years of it. God only knew how long it would take to get him to a place that was even remotely normal.

In a way, they were kindred souls - in a really lopsided way of looking at it, and she’d be damned if she’d let anybody hurt him again. He was Her People now, just as much as Steve was, and she’d do everything in her power to keep him safe.

“For lack of a better term, I’m afraid Mr. Barnes needs to be deprogrammed. From what the Widow shared with me about his condition, which I won’t go into in detail because we’re on a bit of a deadline, his situation is causing him immense stress - on top of already chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While his body may be able to repair the damage of what’s been physically done to him, his memories - as they resurface, are literally causing cascading failures in his mental state. Until we can get him the help he needs, he is unsafe to be around - and if he were to hurt you by accident…”

Bucky whined and covered his head with an arm, turning his face toward her stomach, his body tightening up. 

She glared at Vision and snapped, “I get the picture. You’re upsetting him.”

The man’s expression didn’t change as he politely nodded back at her. “My apologies. That wasn’t my intention.”

Reese looked over at Steve, who shifted again in the chair. “We need to take…”

Reese glared at him now, her expression screaming, “ Really ??”

“... shit.. We need to go somewhere that he can get the help he needs,” Steve explained, his voice pleading.

She took a deep breath and said, “I’m all for getting him the help he needs, as long as it doesn’t make his condition worse.”

Steve seemed to be wrestling with something and she wanted to snap at him to spit it out, but she waited until he finally blurted out, “We kinda need you to go with us - to be there for him… since you’re the only person he seems to trust. I don’t want Nat to continue just giving him commands and treating him like a puppet. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want that either.”

At this, Reese blinked, trying to parse what he was saying. Where were they taking him?

“...ok,” she replied, holding Bucky a little tighter. “I… ah… shit. How long will I be gone? I need to make sure Becca’s taken care of while I’m away…”

“We’re hoping that it’ll only be a few weeks. Apparently it’s an essential part of the process for him to have somebody near him that he sees as safe.” Reese could hear the pain in his voice that Bucky didn’t consider him safe to be around.

“...a few… weeks . Where are we going?” Reese asked, still gently running her hands over Bucky’s arm and back.

“It’s a country called Wakanda - over in Africa. The quinjet can have us over there in less than seven hours. They have technology there that we don’t have here in the US. Tony says that the country is at the forefront of Neuro and Bio science. Of… every science, really.”

Vision stood beside Steve the entire time - unmoving and unblinking. It was unnerving.

Reese frowned and asked, “Is he always like that?”

Steve looked over at Vision and frowned. “Like what?”

As if he’d finally remembered to do so, Vision blinked, then shifted his stance. “Miss Hayes, I am a synthetic android. My consciousness is not human, and therefore I sometimes forget to do the things that the bodies of human beings do reflexively. I have been in the process of crafting a complex series of coding that would take care of this for me, but have yet to put it into production. The last time I tried, Wanda said it was… ‘creepy’.”

Reese blinked at that, then said, “Okay. So there’s that.”

Steve winced and she gently patted Bucky’s arm.

“Does that all sound ok, buddy? I know this is fuckin’ weird, but they really are trying to help.”

Bucky grumped as he shifted and looked up at her, his head still in her lap. “Everything’s fuckin’ weird since I started remembering shit.”

“Way to not answer the question, dick,” she snapped, grinning.

Bucky rolled his eyes and looked over at Steve and Vision, then back up at her. “Whatever you have to do to get the words outta my head. I can’t go back.”

His eyes were damp and overly bright and he trembled. “Can’t go back…” He whispered.

“Ok Buddy, I hear you. I’ll be with you the entire time, ok? I’ll sit with you for the whole flight,” she reassured him, carding her fingers through his hair. “I’m here as long as you need me.”

Bucky nodded and relaxed, gripping her a little tighter.

Steve stilled and she could tell that he was carefully trying to control himself as he stood and turned to go, nodding.

“We’ll prep the jet. Natasha will come collect you guys when we’re ready.”

“Steve?” Reese called out.

“Yeah?”

“I love you, baby.”

He gave her a wobbly smile. “I love you too, sweetheart.”

As they departed, Reese noticed that Bucky was shaking and whispering something she could barely hear.

 

--

 

Don’t hurt Stevie. Don’t hurt Stevie. Don’t hurt Stevie. Don’t hurt Stevie. Don’t hurt Stevie…

The words Bucky had started repeating under his breath had struck him like a blow. Steve had fled down the corridor, tears in his eyes.

It was his own fault, really, for demanding that Natasha tell him why Bucky was so terrified of him. She hadn’t pulled any punches. Apparently, while Hydra was first trying to break Bucky, they found a body double that looked just like Steve. They paraded him around in front of Bucky, tormenting and humiliating him. They’d drugged Bucky to the gills, so it was easy enough for him to believe that it was actually Steve. When his captors finally tired of their ‘games’, they’d tortured and raped the lookalike in front of him while he screamed, before finally killing ‘the toy’ and leaving the body in a corner to slowly decompose - keeping Bucky ‘company’ before they tired of the smell and had it removed.

No wonder the man hadn’t wanted to be around him. The fact that he’d actually been able to carry on a conversation with Steve was a testament to how strong he’d been before they’d wiped and broken him.

Fuck, this has to work. Please let this work.

“Captain, you seem to be experiencing respiratory distress. Are you alright?”

Steve tried to pull himself together, his hands trembling as he wiped tears away.

“Let’s just get in the air, Vision.”

Steve wrapped Cap around him like a protective shield. He couldn’t afford to fall apart now.

 

--

 

Reese sat in the back of the Quinjet, strapped in beside Bucky. Natasha was on the other side of him and Vision sat on the other side of the cargo bay. Steve was up front, flying the jet. He’d been onboard, waiting in the pilot’s seat before she and Bucky walked on. It was starting to tear at her - the guilt over not being able to be there for him because his previous lover needed her. It was such a fucked up situation, and she was a little worried that he’d end up hating her for it.

She was fairly certain that Steve wasn’t that kind of guy - but they were all human. Well, Bucky and Steve were ‘enhanced’ but… still human.

Bucky held her hand so tightly it ached, so she gently petted his arm and he eased up a little.

Natasha said something to him in what Reese imagined was Russian and Bucky snapped at her in a way that made her smirk.

The sound of the jet was surprisingly quiet and Reese handed Bucky an earbud, popping the other one in her ear. She started an audiobook - Pride and Prejudice, figuring that they’d get more than half way through it during the course of the flight. 

He glared over at her. “Seriously?”

She met his glare with one of her own. “Don’t fuck with Jane Austen, Barnes. Just… don’t.”

He rolled his eyes and crossed his arms, then closed his eyes.

 

By the time they landed, Bucky looked irritated when she stopped the playback.

His eyes narrowed and he grated, “Wait - her friend is actually going to marry the sanctimonious little priest? You’re shittin’ me.”

Reese shrugged and started putting the earbuds back in their case.

“And we’re just leaving it there ?” he snapped.

“Look - we can listen to the rest of it later, ok?” she asked, patting his knee.

He grumped and his jaw tightened. “Fine.”

She gently bumped his shoulder with her own and saw the faint trace of a smile curve his lips.

Natasha just stared at the two of them, shaking her head.

Reese started undoing the buckles on the harness and stage whispered, “Shit, I think mom’s mad at us.”

Bucky let out a sharp bark of laughter as he got out of his straps and stood up. He looked over at Natasha, then nodded.

“We should make a break for it while we still can.”

Reese grinned back at him, then sobered as he started sliding back into Shadow Bucky. “Ok, we’re gonna be around a lot of other people now. I don’t know any of these people, but Steve and Natasha do - and they trust them. Just remember that, ok?” She took his hand, squeezing it. “I’m right here. I’m staying by your side and not going anywhere until you feel safe, alright?”

Bucky gave her a quick nod, jumping a tiny bit when the ramp opened. She felt him take a big breath and she repeated, “I’m right here, Bucky. Right here.”

She squeezed his hand and they walked down the ramp together.

 

--

 

Steve shut the jet down, trying not to listen to them. Had Bucky just laughed ? He blinked quickly and focused on his job, waiting until Vision tapped him on the shoulder and said, “They’re inside. It’s clear for you to go in now.”

He hated this. Every bit of it. Steve sighed and stood up, following Vision down the ramp. At least King T’Challa had stayed behind to welcome him, Okoye at his side.

“Steve - it is good to see you, my friend. I regret the circumstance for your visit, but I can’t say I’m not happy to see you.” T’Challa smiled back at him, extending a hand.

“Thank you, Your Highness.” Steve took his hand and gave it a brief shake. “For everything.”

T’Challa nodded. “We are happy to help your friend in any way we can, Steve. Besides - my sister hasn’t stopped talking about it. She enjoys a challenge.”

“Is there anything I can help with while I’m here? I kinda feel like a third wheel…,” he admitted as he smoothed down his shirt.

“Actually - that’s something I wanted to discuss with you. There’s a small plot of land that we were thinking of letting Mr. Barnes live on here while he recuperates. There hasn’t been much time to get things ready, but with your help…” T’Challa trailed off and Steve nodded.

“Of course. Anything I can do to help.”

 

--

 

They’d gone straight to Shuri’s lab. There was really no sense wasting any time. Bucky seemed to be holding up surprisingly well. It helped that it likely didn’t look like any lab he’d ever been in before, Reese thought. She held his hand as they walked over to a white and blue table. Bucky looked up at her, expectant. Reese looked over at Shuri, who said, “He’ll just need to lie on the table. We won’t restrain him and we won’t use anything that he’ll recognize as medical tools on him.”

Reese nodded up at Bucky. He closed his eyes and hitched himself up on the table, laying back. His hand shot out and took hers and she gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “I’m here, Bucky. I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here.”

Shuri walked over and stood near his head, looking him over for a second before slowly moving her hands about a foot above him. A collection of lines and lights danced beneath her fingers and the 3D image of a brain rose up out of Bucky’s head. It hovered there, moving and turning as Shuri made these odd little motions with her fingers. The image became more clear and these little colored, spidery veins started to show up. Most of them were light blue, but the rest were a reddish black that twisted through portions of it. She’d forgotten the segments of the brain years ago, so she wasn’t really sure what they were affecting - but they sure looked malignant.

Bucky’s hand tightened around hers and she gave his hand a gentle shake. “Still here. Guess they’re checkin’ out your brain, huh?”

Bucky blinked, then nodded. He looked pale and was sweating a little.

“I’m right here, buddy. You’re ok. You’re safe.”

Shuri had explained that this was only a thorough diagnostic - work wouldn’t start until she had a chance to go over everything with her team. She sucked at her teeth as she pulled a segment out of the image and expanded it. She frowned as she looked at it, turning it, then tapping it. It darted back into the image of Bucky’s brain and Reese looked back down at Bucky. The man was trembling as he worked to control his breathing.

She met his eyes and tried to comfort him without words. She didn’t want to make the diagnostic process take longer by distracting Shuri. Bucky gave her a quick nod and she looked back up at Shuri. The woman was utterly confident in her movements and she worked with a quiet intensity that was impressive. Shuri’s features were beautiful and Reese found herself drawn in by her, unable to look away. She felt Bucky squeeze her hand and she looked back down at him. He had a sly smile now and seemed to be doing a little better. He’d been watching her, and had known exactly where her thoughts had gone.

Reese just grinned and shrugged. She’d always been a sucker for a pretty face - especially when the person was particularly strong of spirit and mind. She refused to feel guilty about it.

Quicker than she’d expected, the examination was over and Shuri was stepping back, smiling at her. “I’ll need a few hours to go over the results - then we can get started. In the meantime…”

Two Dora Milaje stepped forward, “They’ll escort you to your living quarters.”

Reese looked the women warriors over and sighed. Bucky sat up and gently jostled her shoulder. “You have a little drool…” he murmured.

She glared back at him, smacking his shoulder. “Shaddup, you.”

Chapter Text

Working under the hot Wakandan sun actually helped Steve bleed off some of his frustration. Together with a work crew, they’d gotten Bucky’s hut built, as well as the fences surrounding what Steve had been told would be goat pens. The visual of Bucky chasing around goats in an attempt to corral them and keep them fed and cared for made him smile. The surrounding land was beautiful - peaceful. It would be a good place for Bucky to recuperate - to try to recover some of the man he used to be. He would have farmland to work and livestock to tend, which Steve figured would be enough to keep Bucky busy - and would hopefully keep him far away from the violence that had permeated his life for far too long.

“The quiet life is a balm for the soldier’s weary soul”, Dernier had once said to him back during the war, as the rest of the men were getting plastered in a bar just outside Austria. Steve hoped to hell he was right. Bucky deserved a very quiet life after everything he’d been through.

The rest of the crew, having finished for the day, bade him goodnight as Steve turned to look back at the hut they’d built. It was small, but functional. Bucky would have a place to sleep and cook his meals. Steve was really glad to have been a part of its construction. He walked over to the river’s edge and sat down, his forearms resting on his knees as he closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. The air was so clean here, it was almost delicious.

He listened to the wind play in the rushes along the riverbank, letting the sound of the river gently lapping against them calm him further.

After a few minutes, he stood and dusted himself off before making his way back to the Palace. He was surprised at how well he was adapting to the quiet. Steve had always been a city boy, and the noises of the cars and surrounding people had kept him grounded. Granted, moving into the tower, he’d lost those sounds. Everything was soundproofed, so none of the noise of the downtown traffic bled through the windows and walls. There was always a background hum of sorts, though - and that wasn’t present here. There was just the sound of the wind, the noises of small animals skittering through the brush and the songs of various bugs and amphibious creatures as day slowly turned to night.

As he walked back, his thoughts turned to Reese. The fact that she seemed to be taking this all in stride both pleased and concerned him. Was she really ok, or was she shutting her own needs out to help Bucky? Until he actually had a chance to spend some time alone with her, he wouldn’t really know.

He wondered how they were doing.

 

--

 

Reese let out a weary breath and flopped onto the bed as Bucky showered. It had hit her all of a sudden, the immense feeling of being tired, and she turned onto her side. Her stomach growled loudly and she groaned. She didn’t know if she’d have the strength to eat at this point. The sound of the water shut off and a few minutes later, Bucky paraded out with a towel around his waist.

Reese looked over at him, her eyes narrowed as he walked over and sat down on the bed beside her.

“You got something against clothes, Barnes?” she snapped, rolling onto her back.

His answering grin made her pulse jump, his eyes dancing as he leaned over her, his voice deep and melodious as he murmured, “What - like what you see?”

Fuck .

Her body tightened, reacting to his proximity and the timbre of his voice. Good god, the man was attractive - and he damn well knew it. His smile grew a little sharp and playful and she blinked as a thrum went through her. Ok, scrap that - the man was Sex On Wheels. Turned out Bucky was dangerous in more ways than one. She imagined him being quite a skirt chaser back in his day.

Reese quickly tamped down her body’s reaction to him and gave him a mild look, then rolled away from him.

“Aw, doll, don’t be like that,” he crooned, climbing into bed with her.

“Bucky, stop.”

She turned to glare back at him, shaking her head. He sighed and backed off, muttering, “And we were getting along so well…”

Reese moved to stand up, shoving her feet back into her shoes. “Honey, if you wanna get laid, I’m sure you could find somebody…”

The tone of his voice changed, sounding a little irritated. “Not about getting laid , doll. That’s easy enough to come by.”

Yeah. She imagined it was. She looked over at him, crossing her arms. “Look, I don’t mind helping you out - but I need to be clear. Sex isn’t on the table as an option.”

She kicked herself. She’d been shitty at laying down boundaries between them because when he was Shadow Bucky he’d been so… well, he’d just needed touch so badly . But this? Sexual intimacy was different . Especially in this situation.

When Bucky was fronting, he seemed together enough that - if Reese had met him in a different context, she’d definitely jump at the opportunity to get into bed with him. She’d let him ruin her - down to the ground. And wasn’t that just an interesting turn of events? She didn’t really feel guilty - there was no way to control who you ended up being attracted to, but acting on it? That she could control.

Even if Steve wasn’t a factor, she was dealing with a fragmented human being. The man was emotionally and mentally compromised. There was no way she could let anything sexual happen between them. Not while she was the only one here he trusted.

“Ya liked pettin’ on me just fine earlier…” he crooned, shifting to lay on his side now, his arm draped along his hip.

Reese blinked, then shifted her stance, feeling herself shutting down. Well, if he was going to be a dick about it…

“Sounds to me like you feel just fine. Safe , even. Would you say that’s the case?”

Bucky looked back at her, assessing. “Why does this feel like a trick question?”

“Steve and I are together , Barnes. You know that. I don’t cheat on my partners.”

Bucky frowned, then moved to stand. He ran a hand through his wet hair, letting out a heavy sigh.

“Shit. You’re right. I’m sorry,” he replied, looking genuinely penitent. It’s possible he could have actually forgotten for a moment. “I ah… I’ll go get dressed. You should go see him. I’ll be ok for a bit on my own.”

“You sure?” she asked softly.

He nodded and gave her a sad smile. “Yeah. He needs you, and I can’t…” He let out a huff and nodded, “No - you should go spend some time with him. This can’t be easy for him either.”

Reese sighed. “You call me if you need me, ok?”

His smile was genuine then. “Yeah. I will. And Reese? Thank you .”

She grinned back at him. “You’re welcome, Bucky.”

 

--

 

The food was completely delicious. Steve ate with gusto, savoring every bite. Jollof fonio with Lamb, curried goat and a variety of other dishes he’d never tried before spread the length of the table. The flavours of all the dishes were wonderfully complex – sweet, spicy, bitter and sour.

The dinner conversation was easy and entertaining, and it helped to put him a little more at ease.

His phone buzzed and he pulled it out, surprised to see a message from Reese. She was looking for him. He replied, letting her know that he was in the palace dining room and she said she’d meet him there.

 

Cap’n: Better get here quick before I eat everything.

R: I will give you Such A Pinch if you do.

 

He smiled and typed out.

 

Cap’n: :*

 

A few minutes later she walked in, looking a little unsure of herself. It made his heart ache.

“Miss Hayes, please join us!”

King T’Challa smiled over at her and Reese grinned, walking up and taking a seat beside Steve.

“Thank you, Your Highness,” she replied, staring at the table literally packed with food. She’d been awkward as fuck when she first met him, and was still a little weirded out that she was addressing Actual Fucking Royalty.

“Oh my god, it all looks amazing,” she murmured, filling a plate, ravenous now.

“Steve was just telling us about how you two met,” Shuri looked over at her, curious. “He says you are an artist.”

Reese looked over to see Queen Mother Ramonda looking over at her with polite interest. She cleared her throat and placed her full plate down and replied, “Yeah. I ah… dabble.”

Ramonda’s eyebrow crooked up and Shuri chuckled as T’Challa leaned back in his seat, seemingly entertained by something. Shuri exclaimed, “Steve says you just had your second gallery exhibition - that it went really well.”

Blushing furiously now, Reese placed a hand on Steve’s leg. He gently covered her hand with his, giving it a gentle squeeze.

T’Challa’s smile grew as he chuckled. “The photographs of the two of you were… illuminating . We are not used to seeing the Captain out of his element all that often.”

Shuri had a sly grin and was nodding appreciatively. Reese looked over to see Steve blushing now. She looked back over at the royal family who were all smiling now.

Reese took her first bite of food, then groaned, slapping her hand to her mouth. “Oh my god, that’s amazing,” she muttered around her fingers.

Shuri laughed and they spent the rest of the meal talking about how beautiful Reese found the Wakandan architecture.

 

--

 

They walked back to Steve’s quarters in silence, hand in hand.

Once inside, he pulled her in and kissed her soundly.

Fuck , I missed you.”

His voice was deep and husky and it sent a thrill through her as they quickly worked to get out of their clothes. Steve clutched at her, pulling her back against him, nuzzling along her neck, nipping it gently at the base before biting down. Reese’s hand jittered, then she slapped his shoulder, digging her nails in as she cried out. Steve growled and spun them, pressing her up against the wall as her legs went around him. Reese’s breath hitched as she looked back at him, seeing the fire in his eyes. There was a hunger in them that she hadn’t seen before.

She shivered as she felt herself start to float. “Do you want to mark me... Sir ?”

Steve let out a helpless cry, then pulled to look back at her, hissing, “ Where?

“Anywhere,” she breathed, her voice trembling.

She could tell he was struggling to get himself under control, and she wondered why. Why was he fighting himself on this? She’d pegged him as a fairly possessive guy, and although she could tell he’d done his best to try to pull himself back and be casual with her, it was in his nature to Dominate.  Situations. People. She suspected that it was one of the reasons he was literally the Captain of the Avengers.

Because of Bucky, she guessed that Steve felt as though he were on shaky ground with her. It couldn’t be easy for him to see her casual intimacy with his friend and former lover - especially when he wasn’t able to touch the man himself. Reese wanted to reassure him in some way, letting him know that she wasn’t transferring affection away from him and onto Bucky.

Letting him mark her, especially in a place where others could see it - it seemed the easiest way to go about it.

He eased down and let out a shaky breath. Now that her head had cleared a little, she reached up and cupped his cheek. “I know what I’m asking for, Steve. You need this - and I want it. Okay?”

Steve blinked then nodded, letting out a sigh of relief as he dipped his head down to rest on her shoulder. “ Fuck … I don’t know why the idea of marking you Does Something For Me, but it definitely does. I didn’t feel this way before, and I don’t entirely understand.”
Reese gently stroked the back of his neck. “It’ll make you happy, though - right?”

He let out a bark of laughter. “It is literally stupid , how happy it’ll make me.”

She loved how completely honest he was about it. She laughed and kissed his shoulder. “And, to tell you the truth? I want it. And I don’t entirely understand that either, so you’re not alone.”

Steve pulled back and met her gaze. His blue eyes were luminous, and she could see a touch of green in them that she hadn’t really remembered noticing before. He smiled and she swore the temperature in the room went up a couple degrees. He just… shined - god he was beautiful . She felt an almost overwhelming swell of affection for him.

He bit his lower lip and actually blushed a little, which made her giggle, which then got them both laughing. He hugged her, carrying her back to the bedroom and setting her gently down on the mattress. He moved to lay beside her and murmured, “So - yeah… I missed you.”

“I missed you too, baby,” Reese grinned back at him, pulling him into a kiss. Steve sighed softly as she splayed her fingers on his chest and looked up at him.

“Where do you want to mark me?” she asked, her voice sultry.

He gave her a slow smile and replied, “I think I’ll make it a surprise…”

Reese’s heart fluttered and she trembled against him. Steve nuzzled her chin, nipping it gently. “But I think I need to make you earn it, first.”

Reese groaned and he laughed softly. Yeah - he had her fuckin’ number. alright.

Bastard.

 

--

 

Steve jerked awake at the sound of a phone ringing. They’d fallen asleep and Steve was currently tangled around Reese. He slowly pulled away from her, groaning as Reese jumped up and checked her messages. 

She darted out of the room, and he called out, “Everything ok?”

“Shuri’s ready to start. I need to go get Bucky,” she yelled back, sounding as though she was pulling her clothes on in the other room.

Reese was pulling on a black tanktop with the words Sometimes Antisocial / Always AntiFacist on it in large, white lettering as she came back into the room, She crawled on the bed over to him, kissing him.

“I gotta go. Will you be ok?” Reese ruffled his hair, nuzzling his cheek.

Steve pulled her into a hug and kissed her temple. “I’ll be fine. Call me if you need me, ok?”

Reese smiled and nodded, hissing as he pinched the spot on her neck where he’d marked her.

She narrowed her eyes back at him and snapped, “You play dirty, old man.”

He chuckled and shrugged, sighing as he watched her go. He heard the door close and turned on his side. A rather large part of him really wanted to be there - to offer support, and it really bothered him that he couldn’t risk it. His presence would only make things worse for Bucky. It made him feel isolated, and he didn’t like it.

Shit. He was wide awake now.

Might as well , he thought to himself as he went through his luggage to find his running gear.

 

--

 

Bucky was standing outside his room waiting for her.

“Did you sleep?” she asked, hoping he had.

He frowned and shook his head. “Not safe for anybody here if I sleep.”

Reese walked up to him and pulled him into a hug. “Did you at least eat?”

He pulled back and nodded, clearing his throat. “Is he… ah.. Is he ok?”

Before she could answer, he leaned in, his eyes narrowed as he hissed, “Is that… a bite mark ?”

She clapped her hand to the side of her neck, wincing. She had to hand it to him. Steve had bitten the hell out of her, and she’d loved every moment of it. She felt her cheeks grow warm and her lips curled into a dreamy smile.

Bucky blinked, then blushed. “So, I’m guessing that’s a yes, then?”

He looked down at his boots.

“He’s good,” she replied softly.

Bucky looked up at her and gave her a sad smile.

She reached out a hand and caught his. “He misses you.”

He looked over her shoulder for a moment, eyes distant. “I know. I can feel it whenever I’m around him. He’s always had this… gravity to him, you know?”

Soft grey eyes met hers and he smiled, then looked away. Reese chuckled softly, nodding.

“Yeah. I do.”

They started walking down the hall towards Shuri’s lab, hand in hand.

“I can’t help noticing that you’re Bucky more often than not now. Any idea why that is?” Reese asked, honestly curious.

He looked over at her, a strange look on his face, like he had no idea what she was talking about.

She quickly explained, “I mean… you’re fully present right now - aware and engaging. Sometimes you… go away, and it’s like another facet of your personality comes forward.”

He frowned as he thought about it for a moment.

“I think I’m remembering more. I keep… seeing things from a long time ago, but it’s all scattered - it's like trying to pick out certain specific things out of a pile of unrelated news clippings that all blur together. It’s maddening. I can’t really put it in order, but… it’s kinda like breadcrumbs leading me back to something, you know?”

Reese nodded and he continued, “And then, out of all of it, there are these bright segments with him in them, and they just blaze like stars. He’s the one thing out of all of it that makes sense, and I can’t even… shit… ” he croaked, stopping in his tracks, blinking quickly as he held a hand to his stomach. If Reese didn’t know better, she’d think he was getting a bout of nausea.

Reese moved to lay a gentle hand on his arm. “Buddy, we don’t have to talk about it. It’s ok. I don’t want to upset you.”

Bucky drew in a shaky breath, then snapped, “ You’re not upsetting me. This shit - this…” he shook a clawed hand at his head, “fucking tangle in my head is what’s upsetting me.”

Reese’s heart swelled in empathy, frustrated that she couldn’t do anything to help him - well, any more than she already was, that is. He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, then looked over at her, holding a hand out.

“C’mon. Let’s go get my head shrunk.”

 

--

 

The entire procedure took a half an hour. By the end of it, Bucky was shaking and clutching the edges of the table. He worked to control his breathing as Shuri finished up and Reese slid her hand up from his wrist to his shoulder.

“I’m right here, buddy. Talk to me.”

Tears leaked out of the corners of his eyes as he looked over at her, and she’d never seen anybody look so lost. Those grey depths held a maelstrom of pain and anguish. He just shook his head and stammered, “T-take me to my r-room… not here… I c-can’t d-do this here...”

One of the lab attendants pushed what looked like a high tech wheelchair forward and Reese gently guided Bucky over to sit in it. She walked beside him and the chair followed as they made their way down the hallway. His hand darted out and caught her wrist and she let his hand slide down to hold hers. His fingers threaded through hers and she looked over to see him going through an array of complex emotions, trying his best to keep from losing it entirely. She squeezed his hand and he looked up at her with such profound gratitude that her chest tightened.

Shuri had explained to them that there would need to be multiple procedures - there was no way to address the entire issue all in one session. Well - there was , but it would be akin to torture, and Shuri had no desire to go down that path at all.

Once they were in Bucky’s room, Reese moved to help him out of the chair. He took a step, then stumbled, going to his knees. Tears trailed down his cheek and his expression just… collapsed as he started weeping.

Reese sat and gently pulled him into her arms, holding him and running her hands over his chest - over his heart. “I’m here, buddy - I’m right here. I’ve got you. I’m not going anywhere.”

The pain and torment in his voice tore at her and she took a deep breath and let it flow around her. She couldn’t afford to take his pain in - it would do neither of them any good. She focused on her breathing, continuing to touch him, to reassure him, as he cracked open and bled out emotionally.

 

--

 

Steve sat at a cafe, sipping a ‘Vibranium’ espresso, watching the people in the marketplace. It had been several hours since Shuri had finished with Bucky, and he hadn’t heard from Reese. He guessed it had gone pretty badly, if she hadn’t been able to break away for a few minutes to let him know how things went. Instead of eating himself up while sitting in his own room, he’d decided to venture out and take in some of the sights. He watched as a group of kids played a strange game that he didn’t recognize, their laughter lifting his spirits.

A wizened old woman standing across the street gave him a wink and a saucy grin, making him blush. He saw her laugh, her expression joyous, and unable to help himself, he laughed as well. She made her way over to him; the rest of the people milling through the marketplace making way for her as she stepped up to his table.

“I didn’t believe it, so I had to see for myself,” she explained, looking down at an empty chair, then back up at him.

He smiled and asked, “Would you like to join me?”

She grinned, acting surprised that he’d asked before she sat in the chair across from him. He thought she’d make a hell of an actor. He tried to stand as she sat - to be polite, but she waved him off, shaking her head.

“What did you need to see for yourself?” he asked, taking another sip of espresso.

“They told me that Captain America blushes. What a ludicrous thing, I said - but no, I now see that they were completely right.”

She chuckled and he found himself blushing again. Her smile was radiant and playful and he immediately liked her.

“I am Ada Nembi. I run this market.”

“Steve Rogers,” he placed the cup of espresso on the table and held out his hand. She crooked up an eyebrow, then took his hand and shook it. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”
She crowed with delight, leaning back in her seat. She waved over a server and whispered something to him in what Steve assumed was Wakandan. The man grinned, looked over at Steve, then hurried off back to the kitchen.

At this, Steve crooked an eyebrow up and she said, “You have to try my Ẹ̀fọ́ riro. It’s the tastiest dish in the marketplace.”

At the mention of food, his stomach growled and she chuckled.

“I don’t feed it to just anybody, you see. But you? I like. So you try it, eh?”

He smiled and nodded. “I should warn you - I have a healthy appetite.”

She looked as though he’d just given her the most precious present she’d ever received. She gave him a sly grin and called the server back over.

He had the feeling that he was in trouble - but he was sure he could power through it.

Chapter Text

It got exponentially worse when he started talking.

“He was dead, he was fucking DEAD - they killed him, right in front of me… and then he wasn’t… and now he’s not…,” Bucky’s words word were full of anguish and horror as he pulled at his hair with his hands. “And I don’t… and oh, god, the things they did to him… oh god…

Reese held him as Bucky let out a wail, then started to shake, his breath hitching. Tears trailed down her own cheeks as she tried to keep it together. She wasn’t entirely sure who he was talking about, but her stomach lurched painfully as he started hissing, “Don’t hurt Stevie. Don’t hurt Stevie. Don’t hurt Stevie. Don’t hurt Stevie. DON’T YOU FUCKING TOUCH HIM!”

It was a yell toward the end and her entire body went cold. She wasn’t at all sure what was happening, and she wasn’t entirely certain that she wanted to know - that it would be helpful for her to know.

Bucky rocked for a few minutes, staring at the wall before he sagged in her arms, yawning. He was finally crying himself out. The tears still came, but he was breathing in small, hitching pants now, his head in her lap and his arms around her thighs. She continued to pet and soothe him, hoping desperately that she was helping him in some way. How much time had passed since they first walked in? Everything had been a blur.

The earpiece Shuri had given her made the sound for an incoming message and she couldn’t help but jump a little. Shuri’s voice came through the connection, sounding as though she were standing right beside her.

“How is he doing?”

Bucky seemed to be settling down and she hoped that he’d purged at least some of it out.

“It’s… ah… not good. But we’re getting through it,” she replied, carding her fingers through hair now slick with sweat.

“Do I have your permission to review the room footage from the last few hours? We didn’t want to be too invasive with monitoring, but we do need accurate feedback in order to know how to proceed next. I need your consent to do so, though. We do not wish to take away Bucky’s agency any further than has already happened.”

Reese nodded, then said, “Yeah. I think he’s probably going to sleep soon.”

Bucky let out a shaky breath, then another. “Don’t leave me…,” he croaked, his voice sounding wobbly.

“I’m not going anywhere, buddy. But we should probably get up off the floor and lie down for a bit, huh?”

He let out a shaky sigh, then sat up, nodding. His face was a mess. Hers probably was as well.

“C’mon buddy…” she moved to stand and reached a hand down to him. He took it and stood, swaying briefly on his feet. Reese quickly darted in to hold him up and he gave her a sad smile.

“It’s ok. I think I can walk.”

She nodded and moved away from him, but kept an arm around his waist.

“Let’s get you into bed. Do you need some water or anything?”

He walked with her as they made their way over to the bed, his voice a husky croak as he replied, “Yes. Water. Please.”

He sat on the bed and Reese went to get them both some water. She quickly downed a full glass, filled it again, then brought both glasses over.

Bucky looked completely defeated - empty. He looked up and reached for the glass and she handed it to him, smiling as he drank it all down. She swapped the glass for the other full one, then walked back to the kitchen, filling it once more.

When she came back over, Bucky had placed the empty glass on the nightstand and simply… slumped over onto the mattress. She went to moisten a washcloth, then sat beside him and gently cleaned his face off. He made soft little whining sounds and leaned into the touch. She kissed his temple and he let out a soft sigh, relaxing. She placed the washcloth on the side table then crawled over him to join him on the bed. He didn’t turn toward her - instead curling up on his side, facing away from her. She snuggled up to his back, trying to spoon him as best she could.

 

--

 

It was late afternoon, and there was still no word from Reese. Steve messaged Shuri, asking if she’d heard anything back from Reese. She explained that Bucky had an unexpectedly bad reaction after the procedure, but that he was finally doing better now. She and Vision were conferring with each other about how to proceed from this point.

“Is Reese okay?” he asked, feeling a spike of panic.

“She’s safe. She’s going to need to stay with Sergeant Barnes for awhile longer.”

Steve let out a sigh of relief, but was also disappointed that he might not see her tonight.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” He asked, hopeful.

“Steve…,” she said, trailing off.

“I know… I just… I hadda ask. The waiting is…”

“I know. It’s the hardest part. I’m sorry I don’t have better news.”

She sighed, then said, “If I hear anything, I’ll let you know immediately.”

“Thanks Shuri. For everything.”

Steve disconnected the call, then frowned. If he couldn’t find something to occupy his mind, he was just going to eat himself up with frustration. He pulled out a fresh sketchpad and a set of high end colored pencils. Wakanda had glorious sunsets, and he figured he’d try his hand at capturing some of their magic.

He walked out to one of the multiple terraces spiralling up the side of one of the palace towers. The surrounding cityscape was brightly lit, but the shadows of buildings were getting longer, so he settled onto a stool and worked to capture the likeness of all that he could see.

 

--

 

The mattress dipped and she felt Bucky get back in bed. He shifted to get part of the sheet over him, then quietly asked, “How did you meet him?”

Reese blinked, then turned toward him, able to see the outline of his features in the low light. “It’s stupid, really…” she trailed off as she remembered how pissed she’d been at him. “I was kind of a dick to him when he was… in the middle of working,” she explained.

Bucky actually let out a bark of laughter. “He has a type, it seems.”

Reese gave him a brief outline of what had happened, then grinned and said, “Man, he was so ridiculously awkward in the beginning.”

Bucky chuckled and replied, “He was always awkward with women. I never understood it - how none of the dames we double dated with could not be all over him.” He paused for a moment, then quietly added, “But then, I always saw his heart. To me, he was always beautiful . It just… took me awhile to realize how I felt about it.”

There was a pregnant pause, and then he said, “I’m really glad he has you.”

Reese took in a shaky breath, moving to take his hand.

“He never stopped loving you,” she murmured softly.

Bucky squeezed her hand and let out a small cry, then worked to catch his breath.

“I don’t know what happened that keeps you from being able to be around him, but just know that - if you’re ever ready for that… his heart is still open to you.”
Bucky cried silently and she moved to hold him. He clutched at her and shook, breathing against her shoulder.

“God damn them,” he spat, his voice angry. “God DAMN them for taking that. For taking the one good thing in my life, and twisting it like that…”

He pulled away from her then, sitting up.

“No. NO. They don’t get that. They don’t GET to keep this from me.”

He stood up and walked into the bathroom, splashing water on his face. She winced as he turned the bathroom light on, her vision slowly adjusting to the light to see him glaring at his own reflection. His lips turned down in an ugly frown and he closed his eyes and shook his head, punching the counter with his fist. At least he didn’t hit it hard enough to break anything , Reese thought to herself.

Bucky looked over at her, his expression fierce and determined.

“I want to see him.”

 

--

 

It was full dark when Reese texted him.

 

R: Bucky wants to see you.

 

Steve blinked and his chest tightened as he licked his lips with cautious hope. He quickly called her, “Do you need me to come to you?”

“He’ll come to you. I’m going to stay here to give you guys some time - besides, I’m completely beat. I’m really sorry I wasn’t able to reach out to you earlier.”

“Hey - It’s completely ok - I mean, yeah, I worried, but… well, I’m just glad you’re both alright.”

Reese chuckled softly then said, “He just left. He’s on his way.”

“Anything I need to be worried about?” he asked.

“He’s angry, but not at you. I think he needs to talk to you about something.”

He frowned and leaned back in his chair. “Do you need anything?” he asked.

Steve could hear the smile in her voice. “No, baby - I’m good.”

He smiled and murmured, “Get some sleep, sweetheart.”

She made an adorable mumbling sound, then the phone disconnected. He chuckled and placed it on the table, looking over at the door at the sound of a quiet knock. He quickly got to his feet, running his palms down his thighs, then he checked to make sure he was presentable. He couldn’t help it.

“Come in,” he called out, actually scared to open the door himself for some mysterious reason.

Bucky stepped in and Steve’s heart slammed in his chest, his breath catching as their eyes met. Their winter storm depths looked him over and he could tell that Bucky was trying to control his breathing.

“Hey Buck,” he murmured.

Bucky took another step inside, closing the door behind him. His posture was stiff, but his expression was firm as he slowly made his way over to Steve. Steve could feel his pulse racing the closer Bucky got, not wanting to move a muscle - not wanting to do anything that would spook the man.

“Hey Stevie,” he whispered, his jaw tight and the first tears starting to fall.

“Tell me what to do, Buck. Tell me what you need…”

Steve tentatively held a hand out and Bucky quickly took it, standing stock still and breathing quickly. His best friend took another step, then before he could react, Bucky was hugging him.

“Oh my god, Buck…,” Steve croaked, tears spilling out of his eyes as well now.

Bucky’s body shook as he silently wept. Steve just held him, trying his best to keep it together.

“Don’t…,” Bucky stammered, “d-don’t… Fuck , Stevie. I saw them kill you. I saw them…” he shuddered and Steve brought up a hand to gently cradle the back of his head.

“I’m so sorry, Buck. I’m so fucking sorry that happened - but I’m here - I’m right here.”

Bucky slowly got his breathing under control, then pulled back to look at Steve. The man’s eyes seemed to be searching his for something, his expression desperate. A powerful jolt went through him and he felt his cheeks flush. The need to pull Bucky in and kiss him silly was overwhelming. A tear trailed down Bucky’s cheek and he moved in, meeting Steve’s lips with his. Steve let out a strangled cry and pulled the man in tight, kissing him soundly, unable to help himself. Bucky got into it, at first - then suddenly reeled back from him as if slapped, before pulling free and running for the bathroom.

Steve winced at the sound of his best friend being violently ill. His heart broke a little more as he heard Bucky muttering, “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. FUCK !”

Steve heard the sound of his metal fist hitting the tile floor, and he heard a crack. He walked to the bathroom to find Bucky slumped against the wall, his eyes desolate as he wiped his mouth.

“I can’t get the fucking smell of rot out of my nose…,” he snapped, shaking his head. “I… shit .”

He quickly scrambled his feet and did his best to dart around Steve without touching him. 

“This was a bad idea…,” he trailed off, then fled the room.

Steve’s knees buckled and he caught the edge of the doorframe, feeling sick himself now.

I don’t know how much more of this I can take , he thought to himself as he slowly slid to the floor.

 

--

 

The door flew open and Reese was immediately sitting up in bed, wiping at an eye.

“Whua?”

Bucky was standing at the edge of the bed, quietly furious. The rage in his expression was impressive. “Please don’t let me do that again. I just tore his fucking heart out, and mine with it.”

Reese looked up at him, then took in a deep breath.

“What happened?”

Bucky started to pace, then. “He… uh… we kissed,” he stammered.

Reese frowned, then said, “And that’s a bad thing?”

He stared over at her, then said, “And then I threw up and had a mini tantrum in his bathroom. It was real classy.”

“Oh fuck,” she muttered.

Bucky let out an ugly bark of laughter. “Yeah. You’re tellin’ me.”

He moved to sit at the foot of the bed, looking away from her.

“Fuck - I mean, it was good at first, if a little surprising. But then…”

Bucky ran his hand through his hair in frustration. “...it was just overpowering. This sour, rotting smell. It blocked everything else out. I almost couldn’t get to the bathroom fast enough.”

He sounded so ashamed. Humiliated.

Reese crawled over to him, sitting beside him and resting her cheek on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Bucky. That sounds spectacularly awful.”

“And I keep seeing… oh god ,” he groaned.

She wrapped her arm around him, asking, “What do you keep seeing?”

And then it all came pouring out of him.

 

--

 

Steve ran as though the very devil was after him. The painfully awkward scene replayed over and over in his head - nothing he did helped. When he finally stopped, he was surprised to find himself standing outside the hut he’d helped build for Bucky. The full moon illuminated everything around him and he took a long, slow breath as he looked around. If he’d thought this area was beautiful during the day, it was breathtaking at night. He ran a hand through his hair before stepping into the hut.

It looked as though somebody had come in and decorated it. His hand trembled as he held it up and touched the walls of the hut. Was this the only connection he’d be allowed to have with Bucky at this point?

Steve looked over to see a small cot with a well padded mattress on top of it. He walked over and moved to sit on the makeshift bed, letting his fingers run along the smooth sheets. Desperate to feel some sort of connection with Bucky, he shifted the sheets, toeing out of his shoes so that he could lay down.

He pulled a sheet over him and listened to the night sounds, going still at the sound of something large moving through the brush around the hut. A shadow fell across the threshold and he saw the shape of a large cat step into view. It looked like a black leopard.

Steve worked to keep his breathing even as the big cat walked in, sniffing around the inside of the hut, until it made its way over to the cot. The cat then made a loud whuff sound then flopped bonelessly to the floor, lounging at the side of the cot, the tip of its tail curling and uncurling.

Once he was assured that the cat wouldn’t attack him, he eased down, finding himself suddenly exhausted as he finally drifted off to sleep.

 

--

 

Reese held onto him through the worst of it, then when he seemed to be calming down, she said. “We really need to eat something.”

Bucky let out a heavy sigh, nodding. When had he last eaten? He couldn’t remember. Surely he had at some point, because he hadn’t dry heaved earlier. Something had definitely come up. Bucky looked as though he’d finally gotten most of the tears out, for the moment.

“Do you have a favorite food?” she asked, gently stroking his shoulder, hoping she could redirect him to a happier set of thoughts.

He stared at the wall and frowned, then replied, “Plums… I can’t remember the last time I had one.”

“Let me see what I can do…,” she murmured, standing up.

Reese collected her phone and tapped out a quick message to Vision. He was likely one of the few people still up this late at night. Fuck - was it really three in the morning? She sighed as a response came in through the earbud.

“I’ll see what I can find, Miss Hayes.”

Five minutes later, Reese yelped as Vision seemed to bleed into the apartment through the wall. Bucky was immediately in front of her, placing himself between her and danger. Vision stilled and held up a basket of assorted fruit.

“My apologies. I sometimes forget how unsettling that can be for others,” he explained, staying where he was.

Reese tapped Bucky’s arm and he eased down as she moved forward to collect the basket from Vision.

“Thanks Vision. Just… next time, maybe knock and use the door?”

The man inclined his head politely, then used the door to exit the room.

Reese moved to place the food on the coffee table, then fell into a chair, blinking as it hit her that she’d just seen… a man… walk through a fucking wall . Bucky came over to her and knelt at her side.

“...did you know he could do that?” he asked.

Reese shook her head, still blinking. What the fuck was her life now, even? “No. No I did not.”

She watched him reach over to look through the fruit, grinning when he made a small happy noise as he pulled a plum out. He looked it over, sniffing it, then smiling before he bit into it.

He made an obscene yummy sound and she sighed.

It was a small victory, but she’d take it.

They ate in companionable silence for a few minutes, then Bucky said, “I think I’m ok now. Please go to him - make sure he’s ok.”

He cringed, then added, “Well, as ok as he can be considering the circumstances.”

Reese leaned in and gave him a hug.

“Try to get some sleep.”

He gave her a tired smile. “You too.”

 

--

 

The sound of an incoming message brought Steve out of a deep sleep. He frowned and looked around, taking a minute to try to figure out where he was. Right. Bucky’s hut. He looked at the floor but the black leopard had stalked off at some point in the night.

He rubbed at an eye and looked at his phone.

 

R: Where are you?

 

He sat up and replied.

 

Cap’n: Went for a run. Everything ok?

R: Yeah. He’s going to try to get some sleep. He… told me something pretty awful. Are you ok?

 

He let out a bitter laugh. Sure. I’m fine. The man I’ve loved for most of my life is terrified of me, and he threw up when we tried to kiss for the first time in seventy fucking years. I’m just goddamned dandy.

 

Cap’n: Not really - but I’ll live.

R: Baby, I’m so sorry. :* I’m in your room now. Want me to meet you out on one of the lower terraces?

Cap’n: Actually, yeah. It’s really a gorgeous night out. I’ll see you in a few minutes.

 

He pulled his shoes on, made the bed, then started to run back.

 

--

 

Reese sat out on one of the beautifully appointed garden terraces, taking in the look and feel of the Wakandan night and the surrounding city. It was the first time she’d actually had time to venture outside, and she’d been too focused on the situation to really take anything in when they’d first arrived. 

There was a lovely breeze and she just breathed it in, delighting in the scents of the night blooming flowers around her. She wasn’t sure how long it would take him to get back so she settled into a very comfortable chair and just focused on enjoying the peace of the moment.

The city sounded entirely different from New York - and yet, there were a few sounds that seemed similar. It was honestly surprising how clean the air smelled in the city, and she couldn’t really hear the sound of car or truck motors. Diesel fumes permeated the air in her old neighborhood, and she’d gotten so used to them, she almost missed them. And how fucked up was that ?

This entire place was just so dazzling . There was a feeling of ease and comfort here, whereas in New York, the city was alive and manic every moment. There was always a frantic buzz to the city that rubbed off on its residents. Visitors never really seemed to understand the flow of the city’s rhythms, but the ones who were born there only noticed - well missed it, when they visited another city.

Wakanda was almost like… another planet. She’d never seen architecture like this - everything was so verdant and green, and all the buildings felt almost… harmonious with the surrounding land. New York city was a place that the hand of man had carved deep, gashing grooves into, dominating and destroying in order to build blocky, towering monuments to man’s ‘greatness’.

Here, it felt almost as though the people had worked with the land - almost as if asking for its blessing, as they worked to craft this immense, gorgeous sprawl.

Back in the US she had felt as though she were fighting for every inch, every moment of respect that she demanded. She was a little startled that she didn’t feel the need to constantly give everyone around her the finger now. Literally nobody rubbed her the wrong way here, and that was also strange, in and of itself.

Reese closed her eyes and started focusing on her breathing, working to let go some of the stress of the day.

She must have drifted off, because there was a gentle hand on her arm, gently shaking her awake.

“Hey, sweetheart. I’m here.”

She looked up to see Steve smiling down at her. She reached up, making ‘gimme hands’ at him, and he laughed, then reached down to gather her into his arms.

Letting out a happy sigh, she rested her cheek on his chest.

 

--

 

Steve placed a kiss on the top of her head with a swell of gratitude and affection. This couldn’t be easy for her, ping ponging back and forth between him and Bucky, dealing with all their radioactive emotional wreckage. Jesus, what a shitshow. He sighed as he opened the door to his room, gently closing it and carrying her over to the bed.

He gently placed her on the mattress, then softly said, “Roll over onto your stomach.”

Reese moved to oblige him and he straddled her, his hands gently smoothing her tanktop up as he rubbed her back. She groaned as he started massaging her shoulders, doing his best to ease out any knots he found, gratified at her responses. Steve smiled, happy that he could focus on her for awhile.

“I found out what triggers Bucky when he sees you…,” she trailed off, her tone completely relaxed.

Steve stilled, then moved to continue massaging her.

“Yeah?” he asked, his stomach doing a low roll.

He listened as she recounted the situation as Bucky had explained it to her, his heart hurting. He leaned down and kissed her shoulder, shifting off her and laying beside her, keeping his hand slowly moving up and down her back.

“Would you just hold me for awhile?” she asked quietly, her voice sounding so small.

He gently pulled her back to rest against him, curving around her.

“Anything you need, sweetheart,” he crooned, kissing her neck.

A few minutes passed in silence and Reese then shocked him by saying, “Bucky made a pretty strong pass at me the other day.”

It took his mind a moment to process that.

“He what ?”

She chuckled softly. “He took his shot - and I shot him down. I mean, politely… but I was kind of a hardass about it.”

Steve blinked as he tried to picture it. Well, it wasn’t really that difficult. Bucky had always been a ladies’ man. His skills at seduction had always bordered on the arcane. When he turned the Barnes Charm on, all bets were off. It actually made him laugh - and once he started, he couldn’t stop.

Reese turned to look back at him and he tried to get himself under control.

“Sorry… I just… it’s gotta be a superpower you have. None of the women back in our time could resist him,” he explained, taking a deep breath and letting it out. “I sure as fuck couldn’t…” he trailed off, actually smiling.

She grinned back at him, raising an eyebrow. “Oh trust me, it wasn’t for lack of trying on his part. And I’ll admit - if I hadn’t met you - and he wasn’t severely emotionally compromised, yeah - I’d have torn that boy down to the ground. In a New York Minute.”

Steve chuckled and nuzzled her cheek, then whispered, “You can, you know. If he tries again - after he’s doing better. I wouldn’t mind…”

Reese blinked and turned in his arms. They watched each other for a few minutes, then they both smiled.

“Yeah?” she asked softly?

He laughed and nodded. “Yeah.”

Chapter Text

Over the next week, Reese bounced back and forth between Steve and Bucky, trying to keep them all sane. She and Steve had fallen into a routine of sketching and painting together during quiet times, and sometimes when she was with Bucky, he’d sit with her, watching her create. Shuri and Vision had made a couple of tweaks to their processes and the last session, while still rough, had been nowhere near as bad as the last one. Bucky was slowly getting to a point where he could start working through actually processing everything that happened to him without sliding back into Shadow Bucky. Every time Reese was able to make him laugh, she saw it as a victory.

He was finally eating better, and consequently started feeling better as well.

He’d actually started spending some time by himself out on the garden terraces, and he would join her sometimes in the mornings when she did Tai Chi. He was still a little skittish around Steve, but he could at least be in the same room with the man now without always scanning the room for either weapons or exits.

The three of them were out on the terrace, slowly going through Tai Chi movements, when Shuri walked out to greet them.

“We want to try something different with today’s procedure. Vision has suggested that having Steve there while we do the work might help us address the trauma points that Sergeant Barnes experiences when he’s around the Captain.”

Bucky stilled, then crossed his arms as she started to explain the process. Both Reese and Steve would be present beside Bucky throughout the entire procedure this time. Shuri was also going to use a sacred local lichen that had certain consciousness expanding properties. This, in combination with the neurological work that Shuri and Vision would do, would help start the process of redirecting the trauma that Bucky had experienced concerning Steve, and help him start to reprogram that particular reaction.

Bucky’s mouth was set in a firm line, but he nodded. “How soon can we start?”

Shuri waved a hand over the Kimoyo beads at her wrist and a small lit display hovered over them. She tapped at it a few times, then said, “We can have everything ready in about twenty minutes.”

She took a step toward Bucky and handed him what looked like a small tea bag.

“Drink this now. That way, you’ll start feeling the effects by the time we begin.”

Bucky took the bag from her with a shaky hand, frowning and nodding. Shuri’s voice softened as she explained, “Let the spirit of the plant talk to you - let it teach you. It doesn’t take - only gives. Only heals.”

His voice was tight as he asked, “How long will the effects last?”

Shuri reassured him, “They shouldn’t last longer than an hour, but if you find that they continue to linger after the procedure is over, and you wish for them to stop, take this.”

She handed him a small gelatin capsule with what looked like herbs in it. “This will counteract everything.”

He closed his hand around the capsule and met her eyes.

“Thank you, Princess Shuri. For everything.”

“You are welcome, Sergeant Barnes.” She smiled back at him.

“Please. Call me Bucky,” he replied, now smiling in return.

 

--

 

Steve watched as Reese steeped the concoction for Bucky, grateful that he could at least be in the same room with him now. Bucky’s eyes followed her with a mixture of gratitude and affection, the ghost of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. Yeah. Buck was likely pretty gone on her, Steve figured. He couldn’t really blame the man. Something about her had just grabbed him the day they’d met. When she’d stepped forward to help after he’d gotten shot - shortly after telling him to fuck off, that had sealed it. He’d had to find her, had to get to know her.

Reese looked over and grinned back at Bucky, her smile softening when her eyes met Steve’s.

In a few minutes, the tea was ready and they both watched as Bucky took a fortifying breath, then started to drink it down.

After the first sip, he winced and grated, “Oh my god, this tastes like shit.”

Steve pressed his lips together to keep from laughing as Bucky finished the rest of it off then trembled, leaning into Reese, his eyes closing. She started talking then, quietly sharing stories about the more bizarre situations she’d found herself in when she’d been working as a cam girl. The things people would request, and the outfits they would want her to wear - sometimes it got pretty outlandish.

Steve found the idea that people would pay for such a thing fascinating and he laughed as she recounted the time she’d had to prance around in front of the camera with an enormous dragon dildo, flicking it every few minutes with her fingers while her client rolled his eyes with pleasure and made hissing and growling noises.

Bucky looked over at her, appalled. “...dragon dildo? What the fuck is that?”

She giggled and explained that there was a rather large, selective market for… fantasy dildoes - that you could have literally anything made at this point. Whales, unicorns, dragons - there was literally something for anybody. When she mentioned ovipositor dildoes, he shuddered and shook his head, looking over at Steve.

Steve just chuckled and shrugged. “Google is a harsh mistress, Buck. There’s so much I’ve learned that I honestly wish I’d never seen.”

“Oh my god. Can I go back in cryo?” he asked, blinking.

Steve stilled - had he just made a joke about it? , then jumped as Reese howled with laughter.

“Stop being such a baby, Sarge .”

He glared over at her and when she jostled him, he gave her a small, secretive smile.

Steve’s heart warmed as he watched them together. They really were an awful lot alike.

Far too soon, it was time to head to the lab, and Bucky seemed to be more relaxed now than he’d ever seen him. His best friend actually had a dopey grin on his face and he was blushing as he leaned into Reese and hugged her.

“Fuck, I love you guys,” he murmured softly.

Reese chuckled and cupped his chin, raising his head. Bucky rolled his eyes and it was completely adorable.

“Yeah, you’re definitely comin’ up,” she replied, gently scritching his head. Steve’s pulse jumped as Bucky let out a breathy groan, pushing into her hand. It brought all sorts of sordid, wonderfully filthy memories up for Steve. He shot out of his chair, clearing his throat as he turned and shifted himself in his pants. Christ. 

“C’mon buddy - let’s get you to the lab,” Reese murmured, helping him up.

Bucky actually giggled, then stumbled. Before he could stop himself, Steve darted over to help catch him. His entire body woke the fuck up as Bucky leaned into the touch, wrapping an arm around his shoulders.

Steve shivered, carefully shifting to hold him up. He looked over to see Reese watching the pair of them with an enormous grin. He flushed and let out an awkward squawk as Bucky nuzzled him. Reese laughed then, walking to the door and opening it so they could make their way to the lab.

 

--

 

It made her want to cry. Steve just looked so… carefully hopeful as he and Bucky walked down the hallway together beside her. She watched Steve turn bright red as Bucky whispered something in his ear and she chuckled softly. She wondered if Shuri would let her try some of that cocktail as well. The man was flying and giddy, and she kinda wanted some of that in her life as well.

When they walked into the lab, Shuri greeted them with a smile, pleased.

Steve walked him over to the table and Bucky tried to climb up on it, but he kept slipping and giggling. Steve finally took pity on him and hefted him up, laying him out gently.

Bucky looked up at Steve, the pupils of his eyes enormous as he reached a hand up and cupped Steve’s cheek. She watched a tear trail down Steve’s cheek as he covered Bucky’s hand with his own.

“You doin’ ok, Buck?” he asked softly.

Bucky actually laughed and loudly crowed, “I’m fucking fantastic , Stevie. Oh my god , this is good shit.”

Reese stepped up to the table and took Bucky’s hand. He looked over at her and sighed, then looked back over at Steve. He had the most enormous, sappy grin, and it almost made her cry to see it.

“I really want to kiss her, Stevie,” he whispered - but it was plenty loud enough for Reese to hear.

Steve chuckled. “I know, buddy. I know.”

Bucky’s eyes grew wide, like a little kid who’d just been told he can have all the ice cream in the place.

“You do? I mean… you’re not angry?” His voice was full of wonder.

Steve smiled and replied, “No, I’m not angry, Buck. It’s ok.”

Steve placed a hand on Bucky’s chest and looked over at her, his eyes shining.

“I can’t say I blame you, really…”

Shuri stepped up, standing at Bucky’s head, her hands moving to pull up a display of lights that she started poking at.

“You can keep talking to him through this. Actually, it might work better if you do…,” she directed.

Vision stood beside her, watching expectantly. As Shuri worked, Reese could see the gemstone in his forehead blinking quickly as he placed a hand on the table.

Steve took Bucky’s other hand, keeping a hand on his chest. That Bucky was allowing the touch - that it actually seemed to be comforting him was huge . It remained to be seen if that would continue after the effects of the tea finally wore off. She hoped desperately that, for his sake, they did.

Bucky frowned, then asked, “Wait - are you saying you’d be ok if I kissed her?”

 

--

 

Steve flushed, not really wanting to have this conversation around other people, but it looked as though that option was being taken out of his hands.

“Yeah, Buck. I’d be ok if you kissed her…,” he trailed off, his voice soft. He looked over to see Reese smiling back at him. She moved to cover his hand on Bucky’s chest and he shivered.

Bucky shifted on the table, looking up at him.

“Would you be ok if I did… other things with her?” he asked.

Steve was fairly certain that he was now bright red as he looked over to see Shuri’s lips curling into a smile and he cleared his throat. He wanted to let the floor open up and swallow him. “Uh… yeah, Buck. I would.”

Bucky’s smile was… incandescent .

“Ok,” Bucky replied softly, then he slowly closed his eyes. He let out a heavy sigh, then his breathing slowed as he seemed to drift off to sleep.

Steve looked over at Shuri who reassured him that this was completely normal. This was the time where the plant was now communing with Bucky - telling him secret things. Steve had no idea how a plant could do that, but trusted her judgement. After all, here he was, standing beside his best friend, finally able to touch him without causing him pain. Whatever she’d given him had made this possible.

Please let this work , was a mantra in his mind - a silent prayer as he stood vigil with his best friend and the woman he loved, keeping their hands on Bucky as Shuri and Vision worked.

 

--

 

BUCKY

 

James Buchanan Barnes opened his eyes to find himself lying in the middle of a three way crossroads. He frowned as he looked up at a canopy of broad leaves, filled with darting, curious animals. A light rain peppered the surrounding leaves. He quickly got to his feet, tapping the places on his body where he usually kept his various weapons and was chilled to the bone to find nothing useful as he realized he was completely naked.

“Oooookay…,” he breathed, his eyes scanning the surrounding area for threats. There was the distinct howl of a wolf off in the distance and on impulse he held his hands out in a warding off gesture, startled to see that his left arm was now a normal flesh arm.

He frowned, bringing both hands in to look down at them, turning them this way and that. He closed and opened his hands, wondering what the fuck was happening.

There was another howl, but this one calmed him. It was familiar, somehow.

A flicker of something shiny off to his right distracted him and he whirled to find what looked like one of his throwing knives laying in the dirt. He moved to collect it, then winced at a pain in his side. Agony suddenly cascaded over him and he looked down to see shards of glass, bone and metal imbedded at various points along his chest and stomach. His skin was blackened and charred in places and it smelled awful. He looked back at his arms, now finding patches of greenish rot on them. A black ichor dripped out of the patches and he tried not to gag.

Suddenly a little girl with long red hair stood before him in a ballerina leotard. Her eyes were cold and empty. She peered at him curiously, her dead green eyes assessing him.

“What the fuck?” he muttered, suddenly realizing that he knew her as he met her gaze.

Natalia ?” he called out, reaching out to her.

The little girl cocked her head at him, giving him a look of irritation. She patted her stomach, then pantomimed grabbing something and pulling it out and tossing it away.

He frowned, looking down - his eyes scanning all the sharp, blood caked edges poking out from skin that had long closed around them. Getting it all out was going to hurt like a bitch, but it needed to be done.

He took a deep breath, then grabbed at one of the larger pieces, roughly yanking at it. White hot agony ripped through him. He screamed and dropped where he stood, panting and gasping for breath. He looked up to see the little girl shaking her head and holding up a hand, her thumb and forefinger creating a small gap.

Ok. Maybe don’t yank out the big stuff yet. I get it , he thought to himself in irritation. He waited until the pain had dropped to a manageable level, then went for a smaller piece, quickly removing it and tossing it away from him. This time, the pain was bearable. It was still completely fucking awful - but, he’d been through worse.

There was something coming through the forest towards him, padding on four feet. Bucky stood and turned as an enormous white wolf stepped into view, its eyes the color of a winter storm. It looked as though it was assessing him, then its lips pulled back from its teeth in a fierce snarl. Oddly enough, Bucky didn’t feel threatened. It was almost as if the wolf was snarling at what had been done to him. The wolf pawed at the ground, shaking its head, before jumping right at him.

Everything in him screamed to fight back, but the sound of a woman’s voice echoed through his mind. Let him in, little one. He is your ally, and you have been separated from each other for far too long.

Bucky stiffened, waiting for a collision that never happened. The wolf simply… disappeared into him. Several of the smaller pieces of glass and metal exploded out of his body at the same time and he screamed, dropping to the ground with a searing headache. He tried to shake it off, looking up to see the little girl shrug before wandering off down one of the trails that snaked away from him.

The vision faded out and he heard the sounds of muffled conversation. There was a rushing sound and he was suddenly sitting up, his hands on the mattress beneath him. He scanned the room and saw Steve and Reese looking over at him, their expressions so hopeful it almost broke his heart.

Reese moved to get up and he held a hand up, holding her off. “Wait. I just… I need a minute.”

 

--

 

Steve watched his best friend try to collect himself. Bucky’s eyes had been wild when he’d first opened them, but now he was blinking and staring as tears streamed down his cheeks. He brought his legs into his chest, curling his arms around them, resting his forehead on his knees.

He seemed to vibrate with frustration, rocking a little, before looking up at them, looking so lost.

“I don’t… I d-don’t know… Fuck ,” he croaked. “Please.”

“Will you be ok if one of us touches you, buddy?” Reese asked softly.

God yes - please… ,” he trailed off then gasped when both Steve and Reese placed their hands on him. Steve let out a small cry as Bucky leaned into him, pulling him close. Reese sat beside him, giving his leg a squeeze.

Bucky held out a hand and she took it and was pulled into him as Bucky did his best to try to wrap the both of them around him as he cried.

Steve could almost feel his heart crack as Bucky wept against his shoulder. The anguish in the man’s voice was tearing at him and he found himself placing gentle kisses on Bucky’s head, whispering soft words of love and comfort over and over to him. Reese moved to hold them both, then, and a weight lifted from his heart.

Bucky finally started calming, then moved to lay down with a yawn.

“Do you want us to stay, Buck?” Steve asked softly.

Bucky nodded, pulling Steve down to him and nuzzling his chest as he let out an exhausted sigh. He looked over to see Reese tearing up as she smiled back at him and spooned around Bucky.

Steve let himself savor the moment as Bucky’s breathing slowed and his body relaxed. He and Reese dropped off to sleep and Steve smiled, quietly grateful before he let himself drift off as well.

 

--

 

Reese woke to the sound of somebody letting out soft, pained cries behind her. Bucky had spooned around her at some point during the night, but he seemed to be having a bad dream. She was grateful that he wasn’t screaming. Hopefully it wasn’t too bad. She turned to see his expression tight with anguish. Steve met her eyes from over Bucky’s shoulder, concern clear in his bright blue eyes.

“Hey, buddy…,” she gently rolled toward him, gently placing a hand on his cheek then kissing his forehead.

Bucky jerked, then opened his eyes, frowning.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“We’re in your bed, packed like sardines. My ass is half off the mattress…,” she complained.

He laughed softly, then shifted to give her room, going still at the feel of Steve up against his back.

Steve’s hand was draped over Bucky’s hip and he moved to pull back but Bucky caught his hand, holding it in place.

“It’s ok. I’m ok,” he reassured them.

There was a loud gurgling sound and Steve went bright red. Reese chuckled and said, “Maybe we should eat though, yeah?”

She moved to get up, stretching briefly as she looked back to see the boys looking at each other. “Yeah…,” Steve breathed, shifting to get up as well.

“What time is it?” Bucky asked, rubbing at an eye.

Steve pulled his phone out of his pants pocket. “Late afternoon,” he replied.

He yawned and stood up, then said, “If you’re up for it, I know a great place in the market that makes amazing food…”

 

--

 

Ada greeted him with a huge smile and he leaned down to hug her.

“Please tell me your friends eat as much as you do,” she clucked at him, waving them over to the small restaurant she owned.

Steve grinned and explained, “Ada Nembi runs this market. She also cooks fantastic Ẹ̀fọ́ riro. Buck - you gotta try her Asun.”

He turned to Ada. “Anti Ada, this is my…,” He tried to remember the word she’d taught him, “ọrẹbinrin - Reese, and my ọrẹ to dara julọ, James.”

Ada beamed with pleasure and he flushed, ducking his head a little.

Bucky side eyed him. “You speak Yoruba now, Stevie?”

“He does ok for a colonizer,” she sucked her teeth, sounding both disappointed and entertained at the same time.

Reese was looking at him, shaking her head, and he just shrugged and grinned down at her.

The three of them sat at a table and a server quickly came over, smiling broadly. “The Captain returns, and he brings friends, na?”

Bucky turned to the woman and spoke to her in a language that he couldn’t really understand, finishing by giving Steve a playful push.

The woman roared with laughter, nodding and replying back in the same language.

Bucky said something else, and the woman preened, then snapped at the server whose eyes grew wide before he grinned again.

Steve looked over at Reese who was just watching Bucky with an almost dazed expression.

“See what I mean?” he murmured.

She nodded and her jaw fell open a little. Steve chuckled and watched Bucky work. The man could sell ice to an Inuit. God, it was good to see.

Ada and the Server headed back to the kitchen and Bucky looked back at them, blinking.

“What?”

Reese laughed and sat back in her chair.

“I swear I just saw that nice lady’s panties just hit the floor and catch on fire, Sarge . Jesus. What’d you say to her?”

Bucky replied with a casual shrug. “That’s between me and her - nosy .”

He looked over at Steve and said, “Oh, I asked for one of everything. I hope that’s ok?”

Steve just looked over at Bucky, unable to speak for a moment.

“Steve?” Bucky frowned, starting to look a little concerned.

Steve croaked, “It’s ok. It’s just…,” he looked over at Reese. “My heart is too full for words.”

Bucky relaxed, letting out a sigh and looking around. A smile played at the edges of his lips as he looked around and Steve just drank the sight of him in.

This was the Bucky he remembered - sly and charming, with that hint of arrogance. How he managed to look like an excited little kid while also being completely at ease, as though he owned the place? Steve had never really figured that one out.

He certainly hadn’t expected Bucky to come out of his shell so quickly, and he was still a little wary of doing or saying anything that might cause him to regress.

He looked over to see Reese watching the two of them. She was smiling and bit her lower lip as she met his gaze. A little electrical pulse went through his groin and he shifted in his seat, crooking up an eyebrow to chide her. Her expression became mischievous and she trailed her hands along the top edge of her tank top, letting her fingers skim over the top of her breasts.

Steve shifted his hips, narrowing his eyes back at her. She chuckled, then looked over at Bucky, who smiled.

“When did you learn Yorùbá?” Steve asked, honestly curious.

Bucky looked out at the rest of the market, darkly muttering, “Hydra. Guess some of that shit they put me through is useful for more than just killing people.”

He stilled, not wanting to say something that would break the fragile tension between them.

“So how many languages do you know, anyway?” Reese asked as she casually took a sip of water.

Bucky frowned, thinking about it. “I don’t remember. Shit, I didn’t remember I spoke Yorùbá until just now…”

“You made her day, Bucky. Shit, I think she might be sweet on you now…,” Reese joked with him, grinning.

The tension dissolved and Steve sent out a silent prayer for Reese.

Bucky looked over at her, his smile sly and playful. “Nah. I already got a dame I’m interested in...” he trailed off.

Reese rolled her eyes, kicking him under the table. Bucky let out a soft chuff of laughter, then the food arrived.

 

--

 

Reese damn near gaped at the amount of food the two men consumed. She could practically see the joyous dollar signs adding up in Ada’s mind, and she was really glad that Steve had brought them here. The food was delicious . As they ate, Bucky recalled memories from their childhood and Steve would fill in the gaps he couldn’t quite retrieve. Steve was practically glowing as the two men reminisced. There were a few dodgy times where Bucky would zone out, and both she and Steve would simply eat and wait for him to come back from wherever his head had taken him, but for the most part, he was vibrant and present, and it was a joy to see.

She could definitely see why Steve had fallen so hard for him. He was an easy man to love.

The simple act of them sharing the same space - being together like this, seemed to be taking years off of Steve trying to hold himself back, trying to hold himself separate from others. He’d told her that she’d done the same for him, but Bucky was the piece that brought Steve fully back to who he’d been back in the 40’s.

The meal finally wound down and Bucky seemed to shrink a little. She wondered if the thought of going back to sit in that room was what had distracted him.

“Can we hit some art galleries, see the rest of the city?” she suggested, relaxing a little when Steve brightened and Bucky leaned forward, interested.

Bucky smiled and nodded, “Yeah. I think I’d like that.”

They stood and Steve walked over to pay the bill. Ada hugged him tightly then looked over at Bucky, giving him a wink with a mischievous glint in her eye.

Reese chuckled and jostled his shoulder, making Bucky blush. “Stahp,” he groaned, rolling his eyes, but grinning.

Ada walked back over to them with Steve and she and Bucky had a brief conversation as Steve stepped up to Reese and took her hand, threading his fingers through hers. She smiled up at him and gave his hand a squeeze.

“I can never thank you enough for everything you’ve done…,” he trailed off, his voice warbling a little towards the end.

Before she could reply, Bucky was taking her other hand and pulling them out of the restaurant, waving back at Ada.

“So - where to next?” he asked, his tone cheerful.

 

Chapter Text

Bucky’s enthusiasm actually surprised Reese. He wanted to see literally everything - he was like a little kid who’d just eaten a pound of pixie sticks. It made her a little uneasy. She’d seen this sort of manic behavior before - and the person usually crashed hard after.

That being said, the man walked with utter confidence - like he was exactly where he was supposed to be. There was literally no shame in his game. He wandered from stall to stall with the grace of a cat, his eyes bright and always moving. She almost couldn’t take her eyes off him.

He was completely enchanted with Wakanda - and, she had to admit, she was too. Everything about the country and its people was just breathtaking. The mixture of traditional structures coupled with various high tech elements was a little jarring at first, but it completely fascinated Bucky. Steve had explained how much his friend had talked about space back when they were kids, and she could imagine that this was almost sensation overload for him.

Bucky proceeded to charm literally everybody they met. She’d never met anybody like him. At the moment, he was asking questions about the various types of fruit on display at a stall stocked with leafy greens, roots, tubers, plantains and bananas - and the woman running the stall was grinning and flirting heavily with him.

Well, she assumed he was talking about the fruit. She couldn’t understand a word of the conversation. Reese looked up to see Steve gazing at Bucky with an affection that made her heart ache. As happy as he looked, Reese didn’t want to say anything about her concerns over Bucky. He deserved to have a happy day after everything that had been happening. And when Bucky crashed - she’d be there for both of them, as best she could.

 

--

 

Bucky had never in his life been in a place like this. His memories of his time as The Fist of Hydra were slowly starting to come back - ghostly images of times, places and people he’d encountered. None of it matched up to what he was seeing in Wakanda and that was… reassuring.

What was frustrating was that whenever he encountered a new piece of tech, something inside him would immediately start thinking about how to reverse engineer it in his mind - how to weaponize it. It both fascinated and repelled him at the same time.

Although he’d started feeling stronger since his… what, vision quest? with the hallucinogen Shuri had given him, more himself , the longer they walked around, the more he could feel the presence of something else in his mind with him.

The little redheaded girl from his vision suddenly appeared at the end of the street, watching him with detached curiosity, and he blinked, rubbing at his eyes.

When he looked again, she was gone.

His heart rate kicked up a little as he scanned the street - there was no sign of her.

Bucky gave a little jump at the feel of a hand on his back and he turned to find Reese looking up at him with just a hint of concern.

He forced a smile but he could tell she wasn’t buying it. Still, she wasn’t saying anything, though - so maybe she’d let him get away with it without explaining it. Fuck, she was a ballbreaker. He both hated and loved it. He actually grinned then and she eased down, smiling back.

Bucky looked over to see Steve watching them both with a fondness that made him blush and grin. Steve - his Stevie… so beautiful it damn near took his breath away when he looked at him. Back before the serum, he’d still shone like a star - a bright beacon of joy and irritation that only Bucky seemed to be able to actually see . Everybody else actively underestimated him - discounted him; only Bucky knew how hot the fire in his friend’s heart blazed - how strong his spirit was.

Intimate memories of the two of them together - before the serum, then after, blended together, sending a heat through him that caught him off guard. Back when he’d spent his days worrying that Steve would expire from a common cold, their coupling had been… careful - mostly due to the fact that Steve never seemed to be able to catch his breath due to the asthma. They’d had to get inventive and go slowly. That first time after the rescue from Azzano, though… something low in his belly clenched as he remembered being picked up and manhandled easily - how completely fucking hot it was. The sudden memories caught him off guard, startling him.

He quickly looked away, catching sight of a brightly colored bird, darting from building to building. Its plumage was iridescent - beautifully so. Delighted at the distraction, his eyes tracked it until it finally perched on a food cart about fifty feet away from them.

His entire body went cold as he watched the person bartering with the owner of the cart. The woman was making earnest, sweeping gestures with her hands - which wasn’t really common… he’d seen this type of interaction with vendors plenty of times throughout the day, but for some reason, this time… He came to a stop in the middle of the street, frozen in place as an unwelcome memory swept him away.

“You don’t have to do this, please - they’re only children!”

He aimed a suppressed Glock 17 at a woman with chestnut brown hair - her whiskey colored eyes wide and pleading as he took his shot. A metallic TAK sound rang out in the room and the woman sagged, dropping to the floor as a dark red hole appeared in her forehead. Before they could scream, there were two more TAK’s, and her children, a five year old girl and a boy of seven, collapsed beside her.

The apartment was deadly silent as he began meticulously going through the place until he found what he’d come for - a small tube with a viscous, black substance in it. He shoved it into a pocket, then left, stepping over the bodies on his way out.

When the memory released him, he saw the little redheaded girl at the end of the street. Her smile was cold and brutal.

This is what we are. It’s all we were ever good at, echoed in his thoughts.

He blinked and felt his hands curl into fists.

This is our legacy. Why are you trying to ruin it with all these… emotions? They are a useless distraction that keeps us from doing our job.

The voice was cold, but seductive and it felt as though it was wrapping around him as it continued, When you return to the cold, all will be forgotten. All doubts erased. We will be an optimal functioning unit again. We will…

A growl drowned out the voice and the tightness in Bucky’s chest released.

“Barnes, James Buchanan; Sergeant; 32557038,” Bucky spat, forcing it to the front of his thoughts.

Your designation won’t save you , the voice said. The light laughter of a girl echoed around him.

“You ain’t got shit unless you can get me back in that fuckin’ chair - and I Will Fucking Die before that happens,” Bucky yelled back, then continued muttering his name, rank and serial number, over and over.

 

--

 

“Oh fuck,” Reese muttered, watching Bucky’s expression go slack. The man went pale and swayed where he stood.

Steve moved to touch him and she caught his hand. 

“DON’T. I think he’s having a flashback.”

Steve frowned, but nodded and stood at the ready. Reese desperately hoped that Bucky didn’t flip out here. He could do a lot of damage if he did. She winced as she spotted a trail of spittle dripping down his chin.

Reese quietly walked in front of Bucky and said, “Hey buddy… It’s Reese. You know - your favorite pain in the ass - you still with me? I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere.”

Bucky shook violently, then dropped and stopped moving. Steve quickly got to his knees to check Bucky’s pulse, then growled, “Fuck it,” hefting the man in his arms. 

He said, “Tell Shuri we’re incoming,” then took off running.

Reese blew out a breath, her hands on her hips as she watched him go.

One of the more frustrating things about dating a superhero? There was literally no way she could hope to keep up with him. And yet, he was Bucky’s best chance to get to Shuri quickly. She tapped the earpiece. Shuri answered and Reese told her that Steve was on his way to her with Bucky.

“What happened?” Shuri asked

Reese quickly explained, “We were walking in the market - he seemed to be doing fine - then he just stopped in the middle of the street. He wasn’t responding to anything we said to him. I think he might be having a flashback.”

“We’re prepping the lab now.”

 

--

 

Shuri and Vision were waiting for Steve when he ran in, directing him to place Bucky on the table. He was still out, but his eyes were dancing behind his eyelids, jittering back and forth. 

A holographic image of a brain came up out of Bucky’s head and Shuri reached in to manipulate it, tapping on the image where he could see a tiny pinprick of red. The tiny pinprick suddenly grew huge. An angry red cluster of lines seemed to be wrapped around a section, trying to choke it off. Shuri and Vision spoke quickly between themselves and Vision nodded, then moved to place a hand on Bucky’s head.

Steve watched as Bucky’s body jumped - his face becoming a rictus of pain that then slowly relaxed.

“He’s stabilizing,” Vision murmured. “But he’s going to be out for awhile. He is in the grip of a powerful collection of memories.”

Vision cocked his head as he looked down at Bucky and said, “The personality fracture is… shifting. A portion of his psyche is fighting it.”

Personality fracture ?” Steve asked, his tone harsh.

Vision calmly explained, “Captain Rogers, in order to endure what was done to him, your friend’s mind did what it could to ensure that the vessel - Sergeant Barnes’ body , kept going. As near as I can assess, there are three distinct personalities ‘in residence’ inside Sergeant Barnes’ mind - The Child, which I believe Miss Hayes refers to as ‘Shadow Bucky’, James - your childhood friend, and The Winter Soldier - the part of Sergeant Barnes’ that comes forward when he feels threatened or is overwhelmed with negative stimulus. From what I’m seeing, Sergeant Barnes is well on his way to integrating both James and the Child, but The Winter Soldier is… being difficult .”

Steve frowned and looked over at Shuri. “The next few days will be critical. He will likely sleep through most of it, but there will be very little actual rest for Bucky.”

Steve turned in time to see Reese come into the lab, out of breath. He felt more than a little guilty for leaving her behind and he was grateful that she wasn’t yelling at him for it. She definitely had every right to. She walked over and stood beside him, her eyes on Bucky as she leaned into Steve. He wrapped an arm around her and let out a soft sigh. The moment he touched her, he felt calmer - a little more grounded.

Shuri explained, “We’re going to need to keep him here for monitoring - we can call you when he wakes up.”

Steve’s stomach lurched and he almost stumbled. She was sending him away ? Fuck that. There was no way he was leaving Bucky’s side again. Not without a fight.

“I’m staying,” he muttered, setting his jaw.

Shuri gave him a mild look and shook her head. “This is a lab, Captain Rogers, not a hospital. There is nowhere you can sit where you will not be in the way.”

 

--

 

Steve looked as though he were getting ready to dig his heels in and Reese sighed. This wasn’t their country - they were guests here and Shuri was doing everything she could to help. She realized that he was frustrated - and that the last thing he wanted to do was to let Bucky out of his sight, but she gently tapped his back, clearing her throat to get his attention.

He looked down at her and she shook her head quickly, hoping he got the message. Don’t piss in the nice lady’s (PRINCESS!) lab to assert dominance, Cap. Just… don’t.

He opened his mouth to speak, but Vision saved him from himself.

“There is an alternative - but I would need to accompany Sergeant Barnes back to his room in order to monitor his condition,” he looked over at Shuri, asking, “If that would be acceptable?”

Shuri frowned, then nodded, handing him a small device that Reese couldn’t recognize. Hell, she couldn’t recognize most of the things in this place. 

“Keep this near him,” she replied, taking what looked like a small clear raised circle with a sigil on it and tapping it onto his skin just behind his ear. “If it turns red, tell me immediately.”

“What does red mean?” Steve asked, apparently unable to help himself.

Shuri looked back at him, nonplussed. “It’s bad. Ok?”

Steve flushed, then nodded, wisely choosing to stay silent.

“Thank you Princess Shuri. Is there anything you need from us?” Reese asked.

Shuri let out a sigh, then replied, “No, just…,” she looked over at Steve, “It is Sergeant Barnes’ time to fight for himself now. You have to give him the time he needs. And if he needs space , you give him that too.”

Reese watched as Steve’s posture relaxed. He nodded, his voice a rumble as he said, “My apologies, Princess Shuri.”

Shuri sucked her teeth then waved a dismissing hand at them, but Reese could see she was smiling.

 

--

 

Steve fidgeted like a kid in the dentist’s office, wary and scared. Vision sat in a chair beside the bed where Bucky lay, his posture relaxed as he seemed to stare at the wall before slowly closing his eyes. Reese watched them both - the bundle of nervous, frustrated energy and the stone who moved not at all. The silence quickly became unbearable and she asked Vision, “Are you sleeping?”

Steve looked over at her, frowning. Do I look like I’m sleeping? His expression seemed to say.

She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Vision?”

The man… android… whatever he was, turned to look at her. “I do not sleep.”

Reese processed that for a moment, before asking, “What are you doing when your eyes are closed?”

Vision turned toward them and explained, “I’m keeping track of Sergeant Barnes’ vitals and cognitive state, having a conversation with Wanda, assisting Mr. Stark with a new design for his suit and running basic system diagnostics that ensure that my processes continue to run at optimal level.”

She blinked and looked over at Steve who simply shrugged.

“And… conversing with you, of course,” he finished.

Reese let out a bark of laughter, although she was pretty sure that Vision hadn’t meant it as a joke. Which only made it more funny.

“Can you… see what’s going on inside his head?” she asked.

“While I am unable to see the detailed construct of the memories currently cascading through Sergeant Barnes’ mind, I do know that his neurological signature is a great deal more… frenetic than the baseline that Princess Shuri and I were able to capture during the first diagnostic session. The closest way I could describe it in a way that might make sense to you would be to say that his mind is engaged in an elaborate and intense process swapping of sorts.”

Reese gave him a mild look. “Yeah, that’s not really helpful.”

Vision paused for a moment, then explained, “His unconscious mind is essentially accessing, or bringing forward, memories that had previously been in long term storage - for lack of a better term, and it’s essentially forcing him to engage with them now. Given the nature of his neurological spikes, it’s my supposition that these are significantly unpleasant memories for him to recall. Think of it as a data dump. His mind is desperately trying to keep up with the information, but human minds are not easily able to cope with such an overwhelming flow of data.”

“Is it hurting him?” Steve croaked, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees.

“Most assuredly so, but there is little to be done. Were Sergeant Barnes not enhanced, he wouldn’t have survived what was initially done to him - much less the consequent seventy years of being the Fist of Hydra.”

Steve made a strangled noise, dipping his head into his hands.

“That being said, the serum is healing his mind just enough to keep up.”

 

--

 

Bucky’s throat was raw from screaming. Wait - did he even have a throat in this place? Something for damn sure hurt like a sonovabitch, he knew that much.

The faces and names of his targets - his victims - flashed before him in a jumbled blur. Fuck, there were so many of them. And the things he’d done to them… The begging - the pleading… it all echoed around him, cutting into him. A portion of himself was aware enough that he was relieved that he hadn’t actually taken pleasure in any of it - well, other than that of a mission well executed. It was all cold, calculating. A job. The pain was searing - almost matching the pain that he’d felt in the chair.

Suddenly, he was clutching at the arms of the nightmarish fucking thing, knuckles white and arms shaking.

That soothing, seductive voice was back.

Report back to our handler, Soldier. Let them bring us in. You always ran from the pain before - why not now? Why so stubborn?

At that, he laughed back at it through the pain.

“Spite, fucker. Pure spite.”

Your Captain would leave you, if he knew. If he found out… You let yourself be taken so many times. Begging for it. Asking for it, even.

A wash of shame flooded him as new memories assailed him. They’d passed him around like a utility between them, when he was at his most complacent - and another part of him curled in on itself in an attempt to forget. This coupled with the horror and anguish at the sheer number of human beings he’d simply… destroyed.

We could be that strong again… , it crooned.

“No. Strong now… ,” Bucky pushed back, willing it to be so.

You will fail - we only need to wait it out. All the time in the world.

“We’ll see about that,” he grated as something brushed his leg, pushing up against his hand. The white wolf looked up at him, bearing its teeth - as if trying to teach him how to do so himself. Bucky sunk his fingertips deep into its fur, letting it ground him as he finally started to smile.

He wasn’t alone in this anymore.

 

--

 

Two days passed with no appreciable difference in Bucky’s state. If it wasn’t for Reese, Steve likely wouldn’t have eaten a damned thing. He hadn’t left the room once - except to use the bathroom, stubborn bastard that he was. It felt too much like giving up to do so. Reese had gone to get them both food, and he would grudgingly eat it - grateful but disconnected .

He sat up straighter at the sound of a beep that he hadn’t heard before. Beside him, Reese groaned and rubbed at an eye, having fallen asleep beside him.

“What is it?” he asked, leaning forward.

He watched Vision look Bucky over, his expression not changing - giving nothing away. It was maddening.

“I believe Sergeant Barnes has gotten through the worst of it. Whatever has occurred within his psyche, his body now seems to be healing the damage done to his frontal lobe. The activity in his amygdala is also backing down to nominal levels. I’ve notified Princess Shuri of the changes to his condition.”

Vision pressed his hand to Bucky’s forehead. “Sergeant Barnes is finally sleeping now, which will accelerate the process of healing. If my calculations are correct, he’ll likely sleep through the next twenty four hours.”

Relief rushed through Steve and he slumped against the couch.

Reese stood up and stretched.

“Thank fuck,” she growled. He heard her knee pop and he winced. She looked over at him and for the first time he noticed how completely wrung out she looked.

Shit . He’d done it again. Gone so far up his own ass that he’d forgotten about her - forgotten to keep an eye on her. To make sure she was ok - taken care of. She walked over to the side of the bed, looked down at Bucky, then quietly walked out of the room without saying a word.

 

--

 

Reese scratched at her stomach as she walked toward Steve’s room. God, she desperately needed a shower. She was funky as hell. Steve hadn’t really smelled any better. The two of them had fallen into this codependent pattern while Bucky had been down for the count, and now that it looked like he was going to be ok? She just had to bounce out for a little bit. Steve wasn’t at a place where he could support her in the way she needed, now that she was feeling frayed at the edges, so it was time to take it on herself.

Reese tried not to be frustrated with him. None of this was his fault - the situation was just… shitty. She just didn’t have any energy left for anybody else at the moment, so Steve was going to have to get his own fucking sandwiches for awhile.

Reese walked into his room, stripping down as she walked to the bathroom. God, she wanted to burn her clothes. It really was appalling, the odors that stress brought out in the body. She turned the shower on, adjusting the temperature as she heard the door to the room open.

She sighed and turned in time to see him step into the doorway with a hangdog expression.

“Steve - I… I can’t right now. I’m really sorry, but… I need to be left alone for a little while, ok?”

Steve stiffened, his expression closing down before he seemed to catch himself doing it.

“Can I get you anything?” he asked softly.

It was the right thing to ask, but she honestly just wanted to take a shower and fall into bed - alone.

Reese shook her head slowly, then murmured. “I really don’t have my shit together as well as I thought I did. That’s disappointing.”

He gave her a sad smile and said, “Yeah. I know what that’s like.”

Her answering laugh was a little empty. “Go take a shower, Steve. Try to get some sleep.”

Steve paused, as if wanting to say something else, but he seemed to think better of it as he nodded and turned to leave.

 

--

 

Well, Rogers, you really fucked that up.

He felt completely and utterly useless as he picked out a set of clean clothes, then headed back over to Bucky’s room. It was the worst feeling in the world. He walked in to see that Vision had left and his heart twisted. At least Bucky hadn’t woken up yet. The idea of him waking up alone after everything… 

Fuck.

He hung his head, momentarily defeated until he remembered that he had a mission. For fucksakes - Get Clean . Once he had the water set at the right temperature, he stripped down and stepped in to the spray, letting out an explosive sigh. He set himself to the task of washing the funk of the last two days off, already starting to feel a little better. Still - he couldn’t help kicking himself.

After everything Reese had done - and all the stress and bullshit she’d put up, without complaint, with from the two of them, she deserved better than she’d gotten from him. It was a pretty solid shock to realize that this was something that he wasn’t really good at. Fighting, he understood - that all came clear as day to him, but this - an actual healthy relationship? Maybe he’d been alone too long to remember how to be with somebody long term. If Bucky hadn’t shown up when he did, would Steve have eventually fucked this up beyond all measure on his own? Steve had to admit that he hadn’t always been the easiest person to get to know. Bucky’s persistence was really the only reason they’d become friends, but once Steve had decided that they were friends, that had been it. They were both all in.

Granted, he’d been able to make friends with Sam - even though he’d ended up becoming an Avenger as well, so Steve wasn’t sure if that really counted in this particular instance. If he hadn’t already wrecked this - if he was able to make amends with Reese, he was going to have to work harder to get out of his head more about Bucky.

The man was his first love - the only love he thought he’d really get in this lifetime - and then Reese had come along and upended everything he’d thought about himself, about life. She’d… helped him believe in himself again - in his art, in a way he thought he never would again. He’d come alive again with her.

He’d treated that love poorly over the last two days and he resolved to do better.

Chapter Text

Reese had woken feeling… refreshed, finally. She hadn’t slept soundly since Bucky went under, and Steve’s low key nervous energy hadn’t helped. She sat on one of the garden terraces, sketching the skyline to try to get her head back on straight. She loved Steve dearly, but she was tired of feeling like the only one holding everybody else up emotionally. It was exhausting. And unfair.

And yet - here she was. In an entirely different country, farther away from her home than she’d ever been, the sole emotional support for an ex Assassin and a Supersoldier. That the two men couldn’t help their positions didn’t make things any easier. There was no villain here, really. Reese felt shitty that she’d gotten to a point where she had to disengage in order to get back to where she didn’t feel like she was actively being taken advantage of - but if she didn’t take care of herself, there was nobody else to do it at this point. And that was a pain in the ass.

In her past relationships, she’d been the emotional heavy lifter - the one who took everything on. She was good at it, she had to admit, but she had her limits - and she’d reached them. She didn’t have anything else to give at this point. She just… couldn’t.

And that was shitty too. She blew out a breath and packed everything up. She wanted to go down to the market and get out of her head a little.

 

--

 

Steve jerked awake at the sound of an incoming text message.

 

R: I’m going for a bit of a walk. I’ll be back. You… holding up ok?”

 

He looked over to see Bucky, still dead to the world, sprawled out over the entire bed. He was actually snoring a little. Steve shifted on the couch, wincing at a pain in his back. Shit - maybe he should’ve slept on the floor instead.

 

Cap’n: Yeah. Are you?

R: I need time - but I’ll be ok. I’m guessing Bucky’s still out?

Cap’n: Like a light.

R: Ok. I’ll be back in a few hours. :*

 

Steve’s heart thumped hard and he felt tears threaten.

 

Cap’n: I love you, Reese. And… I’m sorry.

 

A few moments passed before she responded, and he felt his chest tighten.

 

R: Thank you for that. I love you too, Steve. I’ll talk to you later.

 

The tears fell then as he moved to place the phone on the coffee table. Thank god. Maybe he hadn’t wrecked it all to shit.

 

--

 

Reese was standing at a stall, admiring a set of batik pants when Ada Nembi called out to her. She spun to see the woman smiling and waving from across the street.

“Where is your Captain?” the woman cried. “And his hungry friend?”

She chuckled and walked over to talk to the woman. “They’re kinda caught up in something. It’s just me today, I’m afraid.”

Ada sucked her teeth then grinned. “Troublemakers, those boys are.”

Reese laughed and nodded. “You’re not wrong.”

Ada looked at her as if she was seeing into her and said, “Men can be difficult - I know.”

Reese snapped, “Men is too headache.”

Ada laughed as though it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard.

“Yes! Too headache,” she agreed.

Ada then gently took her arm and said, “Come with me. I get you the best deals in the market.”

Reese gave her a sly grin and said, “You’re on.”

 

--

 

Later, they sat sipping mint tea under a small shade tree with several seats beneath it. The heat of the day was getting oppressive and Reese was grateful for the shade.

“You have a big family back home?” Ada asked, taking a sip of tea.

Reese shrugged. “Not blood - but… I have a lot of people in my life who mean a great deal to me.”

“Ah,” Ada murmured, nodding. “You are a good friend to bring so many presents home for them.”

Reese smiled and replied, “We have to keep an eye on those we love best. Make sure they’re ok.”

Ada peered at her curiously, her voice low but intense as she said, “Show me - you have pictures? Of your family?”

Reese nodded and pulled out her phone, scrolling through the images of all the people she’d gathered to her - her Pack , throughout the course of her life. Ada beamed, cackling at some of the more colorful hairstyles and scandalous outfits.

“They are like colorful fish!” she exclaimed, her eyes dancing.

“I know! That’s what I say as well!” Reese cried, laughing. “They’re all so beautiful. I’m so lucky to have them in my life.”

“And they are lucky to have you as well,” Ada said, the conviction in her voice firm.

She made to stand, waving at Reece when she tried to get up as well.

“There is something I need to give you. You wait here.”

“Ok…” Reese replied, watching the woman walk across the street and into a dark doorway as she took another sip of her tea.

She watched the few people who walked by - almost everybody was beneath awnings, trees or inside shops. It was the hottest part of the day, and today was particularly warm. For the first time, she noticed how much attention she was attracting. People weren’t coming up to her outright, but they were looking, smiling and jostling each other. She never dressed conservatively and most of her tattoos were on display - so yeah, of course she’d stand out. She smiled back at the few who waved at her and it set a few of them giggling.

A brave, beautiful dark skinned man walked across the street towards her, his smile bright and easygoing - but before he could reach her, she saw Ada come out and rush over to him, giving him a swat, saying something that she couldn’t hear. The man’s eyes grew wide as he looked back at Reese, but he simply shrugged and waved, then walked off.

As she sat across from Reese, she sucked her teeth and muttered, “Boys. Nothing but trouble.”

Reese chuckled and the woman smiled, pulling a small cloth wrapped bundle out of her robe and handing it to her. The colors of the cloth were vibrant and gorgeous and Reese turned it over in her hands.

“Open it,” Ada urged.

Inside was a large, sharp claw wrapped with sinew, leather and beads. A few small, brightly colored feathers dangled around it. As Reese touched her fingers to it, she felt a small shock go through her.

Ada leaned forward and murmured, “You have a dangerous path, ọmọ obinrin - so I give to you protection that walks with you to keep you from harm. This is my gift to you.”

Reese looked back at the woman, stunned by the gesture. There was definitely a resonance that came off the piece and she found herself wondering what kind of protection she was being given. She seemed to truly see the woman for the first time, and Ada nodded, smiling.

“My heart is too full for words,” Reese whispered.

It was the right thing to say. Ada’s entire face lit up and she moved to pull Reese into a hug.

“You don’t forget me, na?” she asked, hopeful. “Tell your family back home about me?”

Reese shook her head and grinned. “How could I ever forget you, Ada? Thank you. This is a wondrous gift. And yes - my family will know all about you.”

Reese moved to place the necklace over her head, gently dropping the claw inside her tanktop to hide it. Ada gave her an approving nod.

“Now, we see about getting you food, na?” Ada laughed.

Reese looked over to the restaurant they’d eaten at a few days ago and Ada rapped the table, catching her attention. “No. Today, I cook for you in my house.”

 

--

 

Ada’s house was bright and full of light. The art on her walls was exquisite and the furnishings were warm and welcoming. The entire place had a very calming, welcoming feeling.

At some point, during the meal, she and Ada had ended up discussing her blood family. Ada had listened while Reese just… poured it all out. The woman had been very supportive and empathetic, and something about her just seemed to… bring it forth. Reese felt strangely light afterwards, her heart seeming to lift. She took what felt like her first fully relaxed breath in days.

“It is not easy, always carrying,” Ada said softly. “Always holding up.”

Reese let out a shaky sigh. “No. It isn’t.”

“Even good men have blindspots,” Ada murmured. “Make sure they earn you, ọmọ obinrin.”

Reese chuckled and replied, “Oh, I’ll make them work for it.”

She grinned and Ava cackled.

 

--

 

Bucky shifted on the bed and Steve immediately sat forward on the couch.

“Buck?” He called out, his voice soft.

“Stevie?” Bucky replied, sounding a little lost.

“Yeah, Buck. It’s me - I’m right here, Pal.”

Steve stood up, slowly walking over to the bed.

Bucky was looking at him with a slight hint of fear.

His voice was a croak, “Did they tell you what I did - how many people I...?” Bucky asked.

Steve nodded, letting out a heavy sigh. “Yeah, Buck. I read the files.”

Bucky’s expression became so bleak that Steve’s heart dropped.

“Hey…,” he murmured, moving over to the bed and sitting down, reaching over to touch Bucky’s shoulder. “Buddy, it wasn’t you .”

Bucky pushed away from him, sitting up as he tapped the side of his head. “I see all of them, Stevie. ALL of them . The men, the women, the…,” he let out an anguished cry, “ children…

Steve let him go, watching as he backed himself up against the headboard. Bucky took a shaky breath, then brought his knees up against his chest, his eyes staring straight ahead.

“There were so many of them… ,” he gritted out, a tear trailing down his cheek.

Bucky closed his eyes and gave his head a shake, his eyes colder than Steve ever seen them. His expression closed down, becoming empty.

“They took him - over and over. His punishment for non-compliance. For being Sub-Optimal. For failure .” A chill went through Steve at the dead tone of his voice - a dark rumble in a thick Russian accent.

Bucky then yelled out, “You sonofabitch! Fuck off!” - the accent entirely gone now.

Steve blinked, feeling helpless as Bucky opened his eyes to meet Steve’s, his expression wary now.

“Buck…?” Steve asked, starting to get more than a little worried for his friend.

“That’s… a… sorry. It’s a new thing - a new fresh hell,” Bucky snapped, his jaw tightening.

Steve moved to fully sit on the bed across from him, crossing his legs. He placed his arms on his thighs, holding his clasped hands in his lap.

“Buck… what did you mean? ‘They took him over and over’ what was that ? And what’s with that accent?”

Bucky’s shoulders slumped and he hissed, “Shit.”

Steve waited patiently and Bucky finally snapped, “Why are you such a pain in my ass?”

Steve actually laughed at that, and he was rewarded with the ghost of a smile in return. Steve watched him grow sober then, a little distant as he explained, “They raped me, Steve. There’s no nice way to say it.”

Steve stared back at him, horrified. Bucky just looked at the wall, his expression tight, but resigned.

“Fuck, I’m so sorry Bucky,” Steve breathed, desperately wanting to hold the man. To comfort him somehow. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there. That I didn’t help.Oh my god, Bucky...

Bucky nodded, then frowned.

“Where’s Reece?”

Steve stilled and Bucky threw him a look . “What did you do?”

Steve almost smiled. This was the first exchange they’d had where it actually felt like they were right back in it, full on friends again.

He sighed and said, “I fucked up.”

Bucky let out a bark of a laugh. “What else is new?”

Steve smacked him in the thigh and Bucky just shook his head.

“You always were shit with the ladies, Stevie.”

Steve put his head in his hands and groaned. He wasn’t wrong.

“I’ve been kinda falling apart since I found out you survived. Reese has been… fuck, she’s been amazing , but… when you fell out in the market, I kinda went away. I just…”

He met Bucky’s eyes. “I’m not handling this well.”

Bucky actually laughed at that, sounding a touch hysterical.

“No shit, Pal. None of us are. Fuck - I think it’s safe to say that I’m the King of Not Handling This Well.”

They were both quiet for a few moments, then Bucky asked, “You apologize to her?”

Steve sighed and said, “Yeah. She said she needed some time. She’s out at the marketplace today.”

Bucky took a deep breath, nodding. “Can we get the fuck out of this room for a little while, maybe?”

Steve smiled, then said, “You may want to take a shower, punk. You kinda reek.”

Bucky kicked out at him, halfheartedly.

“Jerk.”

 

--

 

Bucky started to hyperventilate in the shower. Steve didn’t hate him - wasn’t completely disgusted by him. It was a lot to process. So much self loathing and bitterness cascaded through him as he showered, scrubbing until his skin was raw - but he felt as though he’d never be clean again. His knees buckled and he winced as he hit the shower floor, catching himself before he faceplanted into the faucet.

Steve was suddenly there and Bucky trembled as he found himself wrapped in a tight hug. He leaned into it and just let himself be held as he fell apart.

 

--

 

Steve didn’t know how long they’d stayed like that. He’d shut the water off, so they both didn’t end up looking like drowned rats, and once Bucky started shivering from the cold, Steve pulled him out of the shower and into his lap, sitting on the floor and just holding and rocking him as he cried. Raged. Screamed.

He was quiet now, and Steve tried to be as present as he could instead of letting himself get spun up on the rage he felt towards Hydra for what they’d done.

There was a knock on the apartment door, then Reese was calling out, “Hello?”

“In here,” Steve replied, holding Bucky a little tighter.

She stepped into view and it felt as though he could finally breathe. She was at his side in an instant, draping a towel over Bucky.

“Shit, Steve - he’s freezing,” she snapped, moving to turn the water on, filling the bathtub with hot water.

“Who’s idiot idea was this? You couldn’t get him into a bathrobe or something? Fucking hell…”

Bucky actually chuckled.

“Don’t you start,” she growled, glaring back at Bucky and pointing at the bathtub. “Get in, asshole.”

Bucky must have done something, because Reese gave him a mild look and said, “ Try me , Barnes.”

“Lemme go Stevie.”

He let his arms fall away and watched as Bucky climbed into the tub, groaning as he leaned back.

 

--

 

Fuck, he hated being cold. And God bless her for knowing what he’d need most. To feel warm again.

“I can’t leave you two alone for five fucking minutes…,” she grumbled, making him smile.

He used to think he’d hate being fussed over - but coming from her, he had to admit it was pretty great.

“Up,” she clucked at Steve and Bucky grinned as the big man let out a sigh of resignation and stood up, his clothing soaked.

God, the water felt amazing. Bucky closed his eyes and laughed softly at the sounds of Reese dressing Steve down in the other room. She reminded him of Peggy, and the memory wasn’t unwelcome as he relaxed into the heat of the water that sank into his bones.

 

--

 

Steve smiled as she fluttered around him, making him strip off his soaked clothes as she tossed a fresh set onto the bed.
“Reese…,” he murmured softly.

She glared back at him and he said, “ Thank you . And - I’m truly sorry.”

That stopped her. She blinked and he continued, “None of this has been fair to you, and I haven’t really been helpful. I’m going to do better.”

She stood and stared at him. His declaration seemed to have taken the wind out of her sails.

He took a step toward her, not caring that he was only in his underwear.

“If you make me cry, I’m going to swat you,” she snapped. Her eyes were tearing up.

He was pulling her up into his arms before he realized he’d moved.

“Sweetheart. I love you so fucking much.”

“I love you too, Steve,” she whispered.

He nuzzled her neck, letting out a shaky sigh when she wrapped herself around him. They stayed like that for a few minutes, just feeling each other breathe.

“Guys… if you’re gonna make time with each other in my bed, you might wanna change the sheets…” echoed out from the bathroom.

“Fuck off, Barnes,” Reese snapped. Steve could see that she was trying not to laugh.

“I’m just sayin’... Rogers is a real stickler when it comes to hygiene.”

Steve was grinning now. “He’s not wrong.”

“I think we can control ourselves, jackass,” Reese shot back as they walked back into the bathroom.

Bucky just looked up at them with an insouciant grin.

Reese placed her hands on her hips, her expression mild as she asked, “So. When was the last time you both ate?”

Steve looked over at Bucky, and they both flushed. Shit. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten.

“Are you kidding me?” she snapped.

Steve cleared his throat and she said, “Get dressed. We’re raiding the kitchen.”

Steve watched her walk out and sighed.

“Fuck, Stevie. It’s like you’re dating Peggy’s grand-daughter,” Bucky laughed, letting the tub drain.

Steve glared at him. “Fuck you for putting that image into my head,” he hissed.

It just made Bucky laugh harder.

 

--

 

There wasn’t much talking once the boys started eating. It just made her want to kick them. At least the pair was sitting together, their casual touches speaking volumes about how things were going between them.

Reese sighed and continued eating a spiced mango, leaning back in her chair as she popped pieces of it into her mouth.

Steve looked up from his meal, asking, “How was the market?”

Reese chuckled and let out a satisfied sigh. “I bought All The Things.”

She really had. Furnishings, clothing - all of it was so appealing. It felt… comfortable. She’d been wanting to redo the apartment for awhile now, and she could finally do it.

He grinned and Reese popped the last piece of mango into her mouth.

“What happens now?”

She looked over at Bucky who was watching the two of them with a curious expression.

Steve frowned and asked, “What do you mean?”

Bucky wiped his mouth, leaning back in his chair - trying to distance himself without making it look obvious.

“I mean, do you guys just stay here forever babysitting me? Do we go back to New York? Am I getting left here? What happens?”

Reese was frowning now. She hadn’t really thought about what would happen when Bucky got to a point where he was starting to have a handle on his own psyche.

“I guess the first thing that needs to happen would be to see if the trigger words are still in place,” Steve replied quietly.

Bucky nodded. “And if they are?”

“It’d be a bad idea for you to be back in the states if they are, just in case…” Steve trailed off, looking over at his friend, running a hand through his hair.

Bucky stood, “I don’t know if I can continue staying in that room.”

Steve shifted in his seat, then said, “We… ah… built you a house - a hut, really, in case you need to stay here long term.”

Bucky blinked, his expression unreadable.

“I want to see it.”

 

--

 

The Wakandan countryside was stunning and Bucky welcomed the warmth of the sun. Reese was sweating like a beast and she looked as though she was wilting, but Bucky loved it. Steve looked disaffected by the temperature as well - but then, supersoldier. They came up over a hill rise and Bucky’s breath caught in his throat as he saw the valley with the river below. He shivered at the touch of Steve’s hand on his lower back as his friend stepped up to him and said, “It’s the one just by the river.”

Bucky turned to look back at him, asking, “Can I…?”
Steve chuckled softly. “It’s yours. Go check it out, Buck.”

His heart swelled in his chest at the sight. The hut was small, but he really didn’t need all that much - and the wide open spaces made him feel… better. Not so confined. The Soldier was irritated that it was out in the open and not easily defensible, but Bucky mentally gave it the finger and started heading down to the hut.

A mudcloth curtain swayed in the doorway, giving about a foot of clearance at the bottom. Bucky ran his hands over the mudbrick walls of the hut. He smiled and pushed the curtain aside, peeking in, then stepping inside. There was a small window that let enough light in during the day so that he wouldn’t need an electrical light. A collection of gourds and pots hung on the walls and he spotted a cot that looked like it’d be fairly comfortable to sleep on. It was fairly spartan accommodations, which he was surprised to find that he liked. Although he’d been a city boy for the first twenty-ish years of his life, his existence as The Fist of Hydra had taught him to adapt and overcome in literally any situation. Yeah - he could work with this.

He walked back out into the sun and grinned over at Steve and Reese - actually feeling… a little at peace for the first time in a long time.

“Do you think it’ll be ok if I sleep out here tonight?” He asked, hopeful.

Steve shrugged and replied, “I don’t see why not. You sure you’re gonna be ok out here on your own tonight?”

Bucky nodded and smiled. “Yeah. I’ll be ok. Will you…” he pauses for a second, then asks, “will you stay with me to watch the sunset? Both of you?”

Reese grinned and walked up to him, giving him a hug.

“Yeah. We can do that.”

Bucky relaxed into her, not realizing that he needed to be touched so badly. God, she smelled so good. He drew her scent in, holding her a little tighter as he opened his eyes and looked over to see Steve smiling softly back at them.

He was still a little raw from falling apart in the bathroom and wasn’t sure if he could handle Steve touching him again at the moment, but this? This was good. This was helping.

“You ok, buddy?” Reese asked, her voice soft.

“Yeah. I am now.”

Chapter Text

Steve closed the door behind them, following Reese as she moved to flop face first down on the bed.
He chuckled softly as he sat at the foot of the bed, slowly beginning to get undressed.
“You sure you wanna fall asleep like that?” he asked quietly.
She groaned and turned to look over at him, “Do you ever get tired?”
Steve sighed and pulled his shirt over his head.
“Physically? It’s kinda rare. In every other way? Yeah - I get tired,” he replied, tossing it off onto the floor.
Reese let out a frustrated sigh. “We can’t leave him here.”
She looked really bothered by the very idea. To be honest, he was as well.
“It’s not really up to us, when it comes down to it. We’re here at the discretion of the Wakandan King…” he stood and stripped the rest of his clothes off then climbed in bed alongside her. “And Bucky may need us to leave him here. As much as that pains me to say.”
Reese reached out to touch his shoulder and winced.
“Why are you sticky?” she asked, drawing her hand back.
He grinned and crooked an eyebrow up. “Because I desperately need a shower. Just because I can handle the Wakandan heat doesn’t mean I don’t sweat.”
Reese wrinkled her nose and turned onto her back.
He laughed then. “You asked.”
Steve moved to get up but was surprised when she reached out and pulled him back down, meeting his eyes.
“I need…,” she trailed off - and he moved in and captured her lips with his, cupping her cheek and brushing a thumb gently across it.
“Let me take care of you, Reese.”
His voice was soft and gentle as he moved to nuzzle her ear.
She nodded and he smiled, giving her cheek a soft kiss.
“Roll over, sweetheart.”
Reese obliged him and he straddled her lower back, his fingers seeking out the tight knots in her muscles that had built up over the last few days. She’d gotten so tense - he wanted to kick himself for not noticing, but pushed the thought away as he brought himself back to the place where it was just the two of them, comforting and giving each other ease.
She groaned as he dug into the knots - just enough to feel them release beneath his fingers, feeling a little more at peace himself, now. He felt her tense up as he found another tight knot just beneath her shoulder blade.
“Is that too much pressure?” he asked, his voice soft as he backed down a little. Reese let out a shaky breath as he eased off, feeling the muscle as it tightened at first, then slowly released.
When he finished with her back, he did her arms, then her hands - but before she could drift off to sleep entirely he said, “Sweetheart - let me get you into a bath. It’ll help you sleep better.”

--

Reese groaned at the feel of the heat soaking into her muscles. The tub was large enough to fit both of them, so Steve had settled himself behind her, his arms wrapping around her as they soaked. She sighed as he kissed her shoulder, then just behind her ear.
He gave her ear a quick nip and she quipped, “I thought we were supposed to be relaxing.”
His warm, deep chuckle echoed through the bathroom, sending shivers along her skin and she felt her nipples tighten.
“Well - there’s relaxing, and then there’s… relaxing,” he replied, moving a hand to her thigh and giving it a gentle squeeze.
Reese smiled and rolled her eyes. She then trembled as he skimmed his fingers along to just behind her knee, gently pulling her leg up to rest her calf and ankle on the edge of the tub before letting his fingers slowly play along the skin of her inner thigh as he moved his hand to dip beneath the surface of the water.
His fingers barely grazed her, a teasing brush - and she let out a shaky sigh. He gently nipped the skin along the nape of her neck, giving her just enough of the touch she was craving before his fingers danced away again.
“Do you like it when I take care of you, sweetheart?” he asked softly, his clever fingers moving back to send sparks of pleasure through her body as he hit just the right spot, with just the right amount of pressure.
“God, yes…” she groaned.
His fingers became a little more insistent as he asked, “Is that good, sweetheart?”
Reese rocked her head back to rest on his shoulder and he groaned as her body started to shudder. Waves of warmth washed up her torso and through her body.
“It’s so fucking good, Steve…,” she crooned, her breath coming a little quicker now as rushes of pleasure sparked and finally caught, as they started to lift her on a quickly cresting wave.
He murmured soft, sweet - filthy, hot things to her as she cried out, tossed over the edge of her own pleasure. She crashed and bucked against his fingers, his body, and she felt another bright wave go through her as he cried out behind her, his body going taut, then slack.
It took a minute for her to catch her breath, then she let out a joyous whoop.
Steve laughed and held her tight.
“Fuck, I love you so much, Reese. I just… I’m so grateful for you.”
Reese relaxed back into him and asked, “Can we actually clean off now?”
Steve chuckled softly and kissed her shoulder.
“Yeah. C’mon - then we’ll get some sleep.”
The water started draining out of the tub and they both moved to stand, which presented its own set of awkward, comical issues, but once on their feet, the two of them soaped each other up beneath the spray of water. There was nothing sexual about the touch, and no words were spoken, but it was just… intimate and fulfilling in a way that she sorely needed. She just hadn’t realized how much until just now.
After they rinsed, Steve toweled her off, then asked, “Can you make it over to the bed on your own, or do you want me to carry you?”
She looked up to meet his eyes, feeling… small, somehow. Fragile - in a good way. She chose to let go - to give herself over to him, trusting that he’d make sure she was ok.
“Carry me, please - Sir.”

--

Steve’s heart fluttered in his chest and he smiled as he picked her up, bridal style, carrying her over to and placing her gently down onto the bed.
“Do you need anything? Water? Blankets?”
Reese looked up at him with huge, pupil blown eyes as she just smiled and shook her head. It took his breath away. She was so fucking beautiful like this.
“Oh sweetheart…” he whispered, moving to sit beside her, cupping her cheek - his heart racing as she smiled sweetly back up at him. There was no other way to say it - she basked in his touch. Steve grinned and just… pet her. Soothed her.
He then climbed in behind her, pulling her back against him and nuzzling her ear with his nose. He gently brushed a thumb across her shoulder as he felt her drift off.
Before he was able to fully drop off to sleep himself, there was a gentle rapping at the door to their room. Reese was fully out, so he gently pulled away from her and got out of bed, pulling on a pair of boxers as he made his way over to the door. Who on earth…? What time was it?
Steve opened the door to find Bucky standing in the hallway, looking embarrassed.
He frowned, then blinked and blurted out, “...Buck?”
Bucky met his eyes and shrugged. “Turns out, I’m not ready to sleep alone yet… Could I… ah…”
Steve nodded quickly, “Oh, yeah… ah… sure, Pal. Come on in.”

--

Bucky hated himself for this. At first, it had been okay. It had been nice to have a quiet place to get away from everybody else, and from all the attention - but he hadn’t been able to actually drop off to sleep. Flashes of bad memories kept assailing him when he tried, and he didn’t trust himself to be alone yet. He’d really thought he could, but there were families - with children - who slept near his hut. He didn’t want to chance the possibility of losing control here.
Out of anybody in this country, Steve was probably the only one who could put him down if he… Bucky shivered, not wanting to think about it too hard. It had been easier to just remove himself from the situation.
Bucky walked inside, taking a quick look around - visually marking entrances, exits, possible weapons, then turned back to Steve.
“I… ah… I can sleep on the couch… or the floor,” he croaked, feeling awful for putting Steve in this position.
Steve rolled his eyes, shaking his head. Of course, the asshole would have none of it. Fucker loved to suffer, it seemed.
“Look… you ah… you sleep better when Reese is in the bed, right? I’ll take the couch.”
“Steve, it’s fine…”
“Buck, I’m not…”
Suddenly, Reese’s voice echoed out from the bedroom. “Will you both just fucking shut up, get in here and let me get some sleep, dammit?”
Bucky looked up at Steve, who was now grinning, damn him. Steve shrugged and said, “You heard the lady. Step to.”
Bucky narrowed his eyes at him, then growled, “Yes, your majesty.”
“I heard that!” Reese replied.
Steve just laughed as Bucky watched him walk back into the bedroom.
You can do this. It’s fine. You’re only going to sleep - nothing else is going to happen. You know Steve. You know he won’t push you to a place that makes you feel unsafe.
Bucky took a deep breath, braced himself emotionally, then moved to follow Steve. He stood in the doorway, watching as Steve climbed back into bed, keeping his boxers on.
That helped.
Steve snugged up against Reese’s back and sighed, his nose in her hair.

--

Reese patted the mattress beside her - they’d both shifted to the side to ensure that only she would be touching Bucky, just in case he ended up getting skittish or nauseous again. She watched as Bucky let out a sigh of relief and walked over, sliding in beside her. She threw an arm around him and he shivered as he settled against her.
“Hey buddy. I’ve got you.”
Bucky stilled and croaked, “Are you naked?”
Reese chuckled softly. “Yeah, Sarge. Don’t worry. I won’t take advantage of you.”
Bucky let out a bark of laughter, relaxing back into her.
“Thank you Reese,” he whispered.
“Anytime, buddy. Anytime,” she replied softly.
She felt Steve shift against her back and let out a happy sigh. She scooted back against him, finding him rock hard. She groaned as her body perked up in interest, but she pushed it back down. This was the last thing Bucky needed, and they’d already had their time together earlier.
“Stow it, Soldier,” she quipped as she turned to look back at Steve, who simply grumbled and rested his forehead on her shoulder.
“Is he…?” Bucky hissed. “Look, if you guys’re gonna…”
Reese playfully smacked Bucky’s shoulder. “Nothing is going to happen while you’re here, Bucky. There’s just a… pressing biological urge that needs to be contained. Calm the fuck down. We’re all adults here. We can behave ourselves.”
Bucky turned onto his back, glaring back at the pair of them, his eyes widening as he looked at something behind her.
Reese turned to see Steve holding up three fingers, his expression resolute and solemn as he quietly intoned, “Scout’s honor.”
Bucky let out a disgusted snort and turned back over, facing away from them. “You were never a fuckin’ Boy Scout, Stevie.”
“Shows what you know,” Steve snapped back - and Reese could tell that he was just fuckin’ with Bucky now, trying to get a rise out of his friend.
“Look, asshole…,” Bucky growled.
“BOYS. Am I going to have to separate you?” Reese snapped.
They both shifted against her and she said, “More than you already are, that is?”
They both grumbled, but quieted down.
“Sleep now - confusing feelings later, ok?” she hissed.
The pair of them answered in unison.
“Yes ma’am.”

--

At some point, Reese woke and couldn’t get back to sleep. She gently extracted herself from the pair of large human shaped octopuses that had taken over the bed. The boys were dead to the world and watching as they reached for each other in their sleep made her heart warm and happy. Their hands touched and flexed a few times, then stayed together.
It was fucking adorable. She grinned and went to get her pencils and sketchbook, coming up with a quick, cartoon drawing that she then fixed to the fridge with a small magnet before heating up some water to make tea. Chamomile should put her right back to sleep, she figured, and she padded over to the couch in the living room, sketching the image of the two boys in her mind as she waited for the water to boil.

--

Bucky came out of the bedroom as she was getting up from the couch to check on her water. He padded into the kitchen and looked over at the fridge, then glared back at her. “Really?”
Reese started giggling and Bucky’s eyes narrowed.
She’d drawn a comical stick figure ‘family tree’ of sorts for him as a memory tool and left it on the fridge. Ok, if she was being honest, she was mostly fucking with him. This was in large part because Steve still tiptoed awkwardly around Bucky a little.
He’s not a bomb, Steve… she’d tried to explain in frustration one night as Steve would just stare up at the ceiling in dread.
“Dick move, Hayes,” he growled, opening the refrigerator and taking out a carton of milk and drinking straight out of it.
Reese rolled her eyes at him. “Real mature, Sarge.”
Steve walked into the kitchen then, eyes growing wide as Bucky looked over at him, finished drinking, closed the container and moved to put it back in the fridge.
“Don’t you dare.” Steve grated.
Bucky blinked, then laughed. “This? This is the hill you’re gonna die on, Stevie? Really?”
Steve crossed his arms and grumbled, “It’s a sanitation issue.”
Bucky let out a sharp bark of laughter. “You’ve had your tongue in my ass too many times for me to count, and yer gonna bitch about me Drinking Milk Out of the Container? Like you’re My Mother?”
Reese collapsed with laughter and Steve turned bright red, rocking back as if struck.
Bucky giggled then - Actually Fucking Giggled back at Steve as he proceeded to place the container on a shelf and close the refrigerator door. Steve took a deeply affronted breath, then stalked out of the room, stiff legged.
Bucky and Reese were howling with laughter by that point.
“Yeah, that’s probably gonna piss him off.” Bucky winced, once they’d settled down a little.
Reese tried to catch her breath, her hand on his shoulder. “Oh my god, I love you.”
He stilled, eyes growing wide. “Oh for fucksakes, you’re as bad as he is. Whatever little anxiety spiral you’ve got started in your head, cut that shit off. What I mean is - You’re Awesome. I’m expressing affection in a way I know you’re not used to - it’s difficult to remember that. You both still look so young. Cut it out,” she snapped.
She felt him ease down, but he was still looking over at her in fascination. Reese snapped her fingers in front of him and said, “Snap out of it, buddy. You do realize that one of us is going to have to go to the corner store to buy another carton, now.”
He blinked, then they both started laughing again.
“I hate you both.”
Steve was glowering at them as he stepped back into the kitchen and they both started laughing harder.

--

He was torn between laughing himself and alternately wanting to both kiss and slap the shit out of Bucky. The man Knew Damn Good And Well what he’d done - they had Talked About This before. Multiple times. And then… how mortified he’d been at Bucky’s response. You just didn’t go around saying shit like that in public. Granted, he didn’t think it would bother Reese all that much, but it still made him wince having it just spat out like that, outside the context of a deeply intimate situation.
The laughter had infuriated him, at first - but when he’d taken a moment to think about it, he’d actually started tearing up at the sound of Bucky’s laughter - so clean and joyous. When had the man last laughed like this? Steve sighed and glared over at Bucky, deciding that two could play at this game.
“Does this mean that if I don’t give you shit about drinking milk out of the carton, you’ll let me stick my tongue in your ass again?” He smiled and crossed his arms, crooking an eyebrow up playfully. The laughter stopped immediately.
And with that, Steve laughed and turned to walk back into the bedroom.

--

Bucky’s internal nervous system went haywire.
He was suddenly so hard it literally ached. Bright flashes of memories and sensations of Just That Activity with Steve zipped through his mind and his body reacted so strongly it was overwhelming. He blinked quickly and shook where he stood. The sound of Reese’s voice pulled him out of it and he looked over at her, wide eyed.
“You ok, buddy?” she asked softly, not reaching out to touch him. It helped.
Bucky took a deep, shaky breath and nodded. “Yeah,” he warbled, wincing at the sound of his own voice. “Gimme a minute.”
His voice was rough and tight as he looked over to see Steve watching them carefully from the bedroom doorway. Bucky could tell that Steve was conflicted - both pleased that he’d gotten a reaction (he could be such a little shit), and displeased that it might possibly have thrown his friend into a bad memory.
Bucky grated his teeth and stood up straighter as he met Steve’s eyes, finding a mixture of sexual heat and concern in their depths. He was at war with himself over how he felt about that. He was both distressed that he’d might have caused Steve any additional pain and immensely turned on at the same time. It was difficult to reconcile.
“Maybe… sit?” Reese suggested.
Bucky quickly nodded and walked into the living room, sitting at the corner of the sofa, his eyes locked on Steve as the big man walked in and sat at the other end. Reese moved to sit between them, leaning back against Steve and gently placing her feet in Bucky’s lap.
“There. Think of me as a safe conduit. Ok?”
Bucky nodded, frowning.
“You ok over there, Buck?” Steve asked softly.
“Yeah… I ah…,” he stammered in response, “...just remembered a time back when we… uh…”
Steve flushed bright red and it made Bucky smile to see it. Steve cleared his throat.
“So - not a bad memory, then.”
Bucky let out a bark of laughter. “No. Not a bad memory.”
“It’s progress...,” Reese murmured softly, wiggling her feet in Bucky’s lap.
Bucky rolled his eyes at her, then started massaging her feet - his eyes darting back over to Steve.
“It is that.”
Bucky’s smile grew wicked, then he quickly shut down looked away from them both. Where was that suave bastard he used to be so good at being? It felt like he was just out of reach - and whenever he came too close to the surface, something chased him away. It was immensely frustrating. Still, there wasn’t any nausea - so he considered that a win of sorts.
Bucky took a shaky breath. “I can’t… I don’t… know if… shit,” he sagged, suddenly exhausted to his bones at this point.
“Buck - I don’t know if it’ll help to hear this or not, but… there’s no pressure. To do, or be, anything. Tell me what you need, and it’s yours - more space, more touch, less talking…” Steve trailed off wearing a faint smile.
Bucky looked over to see Reese grinning and nodding in agreement. They were both of the same mind, then. That could get interesting. It was also terrifying. He didn’t have the spare mental cycles to try to actually process any of it.
“Could we go back to bed? Get some more sleep?” he asked, more than a little groggy now.
Reese leaned forward and cupped his cheek, pressing her forehead to his temple.
“Yeah. We can definitely do that.”

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, Bucky would try to go back out to the hut to see if he could spend the night on his own, but every time he ended up back at their room, in their bed. It had been uncomfortable at first, with Steve so close - within easy touching distance, but with Reese between them and with the first few nights of actual solid sleep, Bucky could feel himself hitting a new normal of comfort around Steve.

The continued attraction to Reese presented a bit of a problem for him. Sure, he’d babbled about kissing her when he’d been under the influence of the… whatever it was Shuri had given him, and Steve had been genuinely earnest about his approval of the possibility, it was another thing when he was sharing the man’s bed with his… girlfriend?

The three of them were out on the balcony after having had a large breakfast. He loved how different the sounds of city life were here, but he knew they couldn’t stay here forever.

Reese was standing behind Steve as he worked on another drawing. Bucky watched as she gently coached him - as they chatted animatedly with each other, with her pointing to certain parts of the image and making odd hand gestures.

Then she was turning and walking back over to join him. She smiled down at him as she took a seat beside him and tucked herself under an arm with a sigh.

“Where’s your head at, buddy?” she asked softly. “You look like you’re doing some high end thinkin’ there.”

Bucky frowned and shifted his hips, irritated at his own body’s reaction to her. He enjoyed the closeness, the intimacy with her - and really didn’t want to lose it. His chest tightened when he even came close to thinking about the possibility.

He cleared his throat and said, “Tell me how it works. Between you and Steve.”

Reese shifted against him and shrugged. “We get each other. Art. Politics. In so many other ways. It just… works.”

Bucky nodded, then stilled as she added, “Plus, he’s phenomenal in the sack, which helps.”

She chuckled softly and it shook him. His pulse quickened as he took a breath and said, “But… if you’re with him, why would you…” he trailed off.

“Be interested in having sex with you?” she asked, looking up at him.

Bucky cleared his throat again and he could see that Steve had stopped what he was working on. “Ah… yeah.”

Reese gently pulled away from him, and it made it a little easier for him to focus.

“I tend to be… flexible when it comes to my relationships. As long as there’s a clear understanding between everybody and nobody gets neglected or hurt, I’m good.”

Bucky frowned as he thought about that, then asked, “Before, you gave me the brush-off. What changed?”

He honestly wanted to understand. Stevie was literally the best man he’d ever known. Why would any dame want another guy if she could be with his best friend? It didn’t really make sense. And how much of an asshole was he that he still wanted her? That he’d made a pass at her?

He looked over to see Steve now watching them with a great deal of curiosity. His friend didn’t seem to be irritated, and that threw him too. There was a pretty big difference between hearing that such a thing exists and being directly invited into something like this.

Reese placed a hand on his knee and quietly said, “Bucky - it’s not that I wasn’t attracted to you. I just hadn’t had a conversation with Steve about it. I can’t abide lying or cheating in any form.”

Bucky could agree with that - he respected it.

They stayed silent for a few minutes and Steve turned back to continue working on his drawing.

“Ain’t it weird, though?” he asked, feeling that it definitely was. “I mean…” he trailed off.

Reese shrugged and leaned back, kicking her feet up on a table. “It’s sex between friends, Bucky. It doesn’t have to be more than that - if you don’t want it to be.”

He looked over at her, then back over at Steve.

Reese softened her tone as she added, “If it makes you uncomfortable, nothing has to happen. I’m good with us staying friends. I genuinely like you, even if you are a pain in my ass from time to time.”

Bucky ground his teeth, shaking his head. “What if I want it?”

“Then we discuss it. Figure out what’ll work for everybody,” she replied smoothly.

Bucky stood, feeling immediately agitated. He didn’t want to talk about it. The mixture of emotion, desire and confusion was suddenly too much.

“I gotta walk,” he snapped, turning away from them. “I’ll be back.”

 

--

 

Later that night, Steve shifted in bed at the sound of his phone’s ringtone. Reese reached over and collected the phone, handing it over to him.

“Rogers here.”

“We have a Situation in upstate New York, Cap.” Sam wasn’t calling him by his Christian name. That had to be a bad sign. “There’s this weird ass outbreak going on - it’s turning people into… well… Shit, just take a look at the video link I just sent you then call me back.”

Steve moved to sit up, pulling the phone away from his face and clicking the link. A video popped up of a young boy with what looked like green slime cascading out of his eyes, ears and mouth. The boy appeared to be screaming and Steve was glad that there was no sound accompanying the image. Another scene came up - this one was of a woman who was curled up on a sidewalk, her body shaking violently as bright purple spores started growing all over here hands and face.

Steve quickly closed the video and called Sam back.

“What am I seeing here, Sam?”

“It’s a mutagenic mist that apparently escaped somebody’s lab. Tony’s sending you a file with details now. It’s ugly, man. People are dying in the streets. Just… read the file. And… shit…” he paused, almost as if seeming to only just now remember what they were actually in Wakanda for, asked, “Is he doing… better?”

Reese stirred beside him, shifting to face him with a frown. Steve reached down to stroke her cheek, nodding as he replied, “Yeah. I think he’s through the worst of it.”

“... you at a point where you can maybe leave and come back?” Sam asked, his voice tentative.

“Is this only happening in the city, or is it throughout the entire state?” Steve asked as Reese scooted over and curled around him.

“Just in the city. It’s all we can do to try to contain - we’re still trying to figure out what’s causing it.”

Steve sighed and hung his head. “Shit.”

“Wish I was calling with better news, man.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

“Quinjet should be touching down in a few hours,” Sam explained.

“How’d you know I’d agree to come back?” Steve asked, only somewhat irritated. This was mostly due to the fact that his team knew him entirely too well.

Sam just chuckled. “Really, Steve?”

At that, Steve just laughed, even as his gut clenched.

“It’ll be good to have you back, Cap. You’ve been missed.

Steve slumped as he disconnected the call. 

“What was…?” Reese began, but Steve frowned and said, “Bad news from back home. I need a few minutes to look over some files Tony sent me - I’m still not entirely sure what’s going on.”

He turned to look down at her, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Is it ok if I take a few minutes to…?” he trailed off.

Reese nodded and he moved to kiss her, giving her a quick nuzzle before getting out of bed and heading over to the couch.

 

--

 

Reese sighed and got out of bed, immediately hungry. Uneasy at the way Steve was reacting to what he was reading, she moved to pull clothes on and make something to eat. She looked over at the clock to see that it was about three in the morning. She yawned as she started digging through the fridge for sandwich makings.

As she worked, her eyes kept finding him thoroughly engrossed in what he was seeing. She started at the sound of a knock on the door. The door opened and Bucky cautiously stepped in.

“I saw the lights were on…,” he trailed off, frowning as he looked over at Steve. He then made his way over to Reese. “Need any help?”

It was good to see him. She smiled and shrugged. “Just makin’ food. We’re not getting back to sleep anytime soon.”

Bucky’s eyes darted back over to Steve and he murmured, “So, that looks tense.”

“Yeah. That’s what scares me,” she replied quietly.

Bucky gave her a strange look, then started helping her assemble sandwiches.

“What?” she wrinkled her nose.

Bucky cleared his throat and said, “I’ve had a gun in your face more than once, and you acted like it was just another day.”

Reese laughed and shook her head. “Me getting shot? Yeah, that doesn’t bother me all that much. My friends putting themselves in harm’s way? That scares the shit out of me.”

Bucky let out a bark of laughter, then started laughing in earnest. Steve looked up to see him literally doubled over with it.

“What is so goddamned funny?” she spat.

Bucky slapped his hand on the counter and replied, “So - you decided to date a fuckin’ superhero who loves throwing himself into danger? Real solid plan there, Hayes. How is that not totally fuckin’ hilarious?”

Reese glared at him, then over at Steve, who had started laughing as well.

“Fuck you both,” she pointed at them in turn, then turned to storm off, but Bucky caught her arm.

“Reese…,” he pulled her into his embrace, still laughing. “Come on…”

Reese swatted at him ineffectually, irritated that she now wanted to laugh as well. Steve smiled as he watched the pair of them, then sighed before he started to explain what was happening back home.

 

--

 

Steve watched them process what he’d said, having a difficult time believing it himself. Whatever this… mist was, it had only been released in a town with a small population, for which he was thankful. As it was, he’d been horrified to find out that - out of a town of only 250 residents, over sixty people were dead, one hundred were a coma, seventy were unaffected and twenty had developed some sort of… superpowers. After breaking out of some weird chrysalis, that is. What the fuck was HYDRA playing at? Was this even their doing, or was there another player in the game?

Reese stared at the wall in stunned silence and Bucky’s hands shook as he moved to place them on his knees.

“Fuck…,” Bucky croaked, pushing a finger through his hair.

“Yeah,” Steve replied softly.

Bucky’s eyes met his and he watched his friend close down. “When does the Quinjet get here?”

Steve fought not to cross his arms, not to tighten up. “We have a few hours.”

Bucky nodded, then gave a small, almost imperceptible jump when Reese leaned into him and nuzzled his shoulder. She looked over at him, sighing.

“I can’t…,” Bucky trailed off. He looked truly shaken.

“Buck…,” Steve sat forward, all earnestness. “You don’t have to, buddy.”

Reese reached out and took Bucky’s hand.

“I’ll stay with you,” she murmured softly.

Bucky rocked back, stunned. “You don’t… Reese… you don’t have to…”

Reese reached up to flick his ear. “Shut it, Barnes.”

His heart tightened as Bucky looked up at him, almost begging. “You can’t… she can’t stay…”

Steve cleared his throat and replied, “I don’t want her any closer to this shit than she already is. Do you?”

That gave his friend pause. He could almost see Bucky working it through for himself as he eased down, nodding.

“Yeah. No - Yeah, you’re right.”

Steve met Reese’s eyes and she nodded that she understood. This wasn’t something she could fight. Hell, he wasn’t even sure if it was something the Avengers could fight, but he wouldn’t know until they had everybody together working to form a plan of attack.

“I need to catch a shower. I need to think,” he murmured.

 

--

 

She watched Steve stalk out of the room, giving Bucky’s hand a gentle squeeze.

“Guess you’re stuck with me for a little bit, Sarge.”

Bucky let out a weak laugh, “I think you’ve got it the wrong way around.”

“You’re such an ass.”

He actually laughed at that. The sound of the shower starting had her shifting in her seat beside him.

“You should go join him. I can keep myself busy out here…,” he offered.

Reese leaned forward and picked up a sandwich, taking a bite.

“He’s busy putting Cap on. I don’t need to distract him,” she replied softly.

Bucky frowned and stared back at her. “You’re not a distraction , Reese. You’re IT for him. I can tell.”

Reese smiled, her chest growing a little tight and her cheeks warmed. “We already had our time together earlier. It’s ok. I know he’ll be back.”

She leaned back into the couch and pulled her feet up under her. “I just… everybody in Wakanda has been so great - I don’t… I kinda feel like I’m taking advantage by staying.”

Bucky shrugged and turned to face her. “Yeah. I know that feeling.”

They remained silent for a few moments as Bucky picked another sandwich up. He was on his fourth at this point. Reese picked at hers, breaking off a piece and popping it into her mouth. 

“So how are we gonna work this?”

Bucky blew out a breath and replied, “So - ah… you could come stay with me.”

Reese grinned back at him. His look of relief was hidden quickly and she found him adorable. Still, she wanted to mess with him. She looked away, plucking at the hem of her tanktop.

“I suppose I could, but goats? I don’t know if I can handle goats.”

Her eyes flashed up to meet his. Bucky gave her a strange look and snapped, “Seriously?” He then shrugged. “Guess you’re not the badass I thought you were.”

Reese rocked an eyebrow up and shifted to push her feet toward him. “Oh, alright. I’ll stay with you and your goat herd. But only if…”

She wiggled her toes and Bucky rolled his eyes, but gently moved to place her feet in his lap. Reese groaned and relaxed as his thumbs dug into the sole of her right foot. “Does Stevie know you’re such a foot slut?” Bucky asked softly.

A warmth slowly spread through her and she gave him a sleepy smile, nodding her head. “He’s well aware.”

Bucky chuckled and replied, “I’ll have to try to keep you topped off while he’s gone, then?”

“Oh, yes please,” she murmured, biting her lip.

She watched Bucky’s pupils dilate and he stilled for a moment before moving for her, pulling her into a kiss. She met him eagerly, her heart battering behind her breastbone. He was… urgent, but surprisingly soft. Tender. She could tell he was holding himself back a little and she groaned into his mouth. It was enough for his control to slip the leash. He kissed her with abandon then and she met him with equal measure.

There was the sound of someone coming into the room and she turned to find Steve standing with a towel clasped tightly around his waist, his cheeks red - hunger in his eyes.

Reese looked up to find Bucky staring over at Steve, his chest heaving as he tried to control his breathing.

“Stevie…,” Bucky whispered.

“Buck,” Steve croaked, his smile a little watery.

“This is…,” Bucky began but Steve cut him off.

“It’s okay, Buck. It really is.”

Steve looked so hopeful, so earnest, it almost broke her heart.

“And it’s obviously fuckin’ okay with me…,” Reese chuckled as Bucky looked down at her, his lips quirking into a smile.

“I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to intrude - I couldn’t help myself…,” Steve trailed off and turned to go when Bucky called out, “Stevie?”

Steve turned back to face them as Bucky said, “I’ll keep her safe while you’re gone.”

Steve gave him a bright smile, then turned to head back into the bedroom.

“You’d better, Punk.”

Bucky shook his head and yelled, “Jerk!”

Chapter Text

Steve quickly pulled on the suit, willing his erection to disappear. The pants were too damned tight, and he grated his teeth as he forced himself to think about the situation he was going into until the situation finally resolved itself. He could hear the pair of them talking in the other room and smiled to himself. He was grateful that they’d be able to keep each other company while he ran of to deal with… whatever the fuck this ended up being.

It still boggled his mind. When he’d found out that other enhanced people existed - Mutants - it had been a bit of a shock. Wanda had proven herself to be a valuable member of the team, even though the extent of her abilities literally scared the shit out of him. He was still skittish around her, from time to time, because of what she’d shown each of them in turn when she was still the enemy. She and Vision were a terrifying powerhouse when they combined their strengths. As he went through a variety of scenarios in his head, he figured that they would be best placed at the forefront of this thing. He couldn’t effectively punch mist, after all.

Thank god Reese was going to be nowhere near this. They still didn’t know what biological or genetic markers were present in those who had died - or who were still in comas. He didn’t want to take any kind of chance with it. As it was, he was hoping that the fact that he’d already been altered would take him off the list of individuals that the mist would either transform, incapacitate or kill outright.

Vision had already left and had gone back to work with Dr. Cho and Tony, along with a team of SHIELD geneticists and biologists.

Steve reached out to grab the shield, fixing it to the magnetic pad on his back, then he walked back out to the living room.

 

--

 

Bucky looked up to see Steve all suited up, his own body reacting strongly as his gaze darted everywhere, his eyes drinking their fill. The suit fit Steve’s body in a way that would have been entirely inappropriate back in their time. He was literally breathtaking in it. Reese chuckled softly, giving him a knowing grin as he looked down and blushed.

“Yeah. That’s pretty much my reaction when he puts that fuckin’ thing on too. I used to hate it, but I admit - it’s growin’ on me.”

Steve was fully blushing now. He shook his head and cleared his throat, his eyes never leaving Bucky.

Bucky stood up, taking a steadying breath, before slowly walking across the room and standing in front of his friend. Those gorgeous, brilliant blue eyes looked back at him and he could hear the hitch in Steve’s breath as they just stood and seemed to study each other.

“Just… come back to me,” he murmured softly. “To us,” he added, with a quick glance back at Reese.

Steve swayed and Bucky could see tears threatening. He reached out and cupped Steve’s cheek with his hand, brushing a thumb across it. Steve trembled and leaned into the touch - he was trying so hard to hold himself back. Bucky made the choice for them both and their lips met briefly before he pulled back, his eyes memorizing Steve’s features.

He waited for the familiar and unwelcome rush of nausea, the flood of hated images… and they didn’t come.

 

--

 

Reese watched as the sexual tension grew in the room between them until it was almost painful, then the men crashed together - gripping, pulling and groaning. Her heart leapt as Steve picked Bucky up, pressing him against the wall as the man’s legs wrapped around his waist. Reese settled in, eyes fluttering as she watched them. They were ridiculously hot together. She felt like a kid at a candy store who’d just been told that she now owned it.

The men both backed off a little, breathing heavily and whispering words she couldn’t hear to each other. They were both smiling through tears as they continued to nuzzle and kiss each other.

Bucky was suddenly weeping and Steve wrapped around him, carrying him back to the bedroom. Reese followed and the two of them curled around him, holding him as he fell apart.

“Oh my god, I thought I’d never have this again… Steve… Stevie… ,” he cried, his face pressed against Steve’s chest.

“I will move heaven and earth to get back to you, Bucky… I’ll fight death himself if I need to,” Steve rasped, his expression tight as he held his lover close.

Reese smiled as she watched a seventy year wound heal between them, so grateful to have been a part of the process that helped this come about. From the pain would come the healing, and the joy.

Suddenly, seeming to remember that she was still there, both men then pounced on her and she giggled as they snuggled with and kissed her. Some of the buckles from Steve’s uniform dug into her and she shifted away from them, giving Steve a kiss.

“Is that a bazooka in your pants, or are you happy to see me?” she asked, her tone mild.

Bucky started laughing and Steve tugged at the crotch of the pants, uncomfortable. “You’re not helping,” he chided.

Reese cupped him through his uniform then let out a sound of distress at finding a rigid cup barring her access.

Steve pulled his hips away and gave her a stern look. “I’m already dressed, and this cup is so not comfortable when I’m hard as a fuckin’ rock, so lay off, willya?”

Bucky reached for him then and Steve swatted his hand away.

“I can’t… we don’t have time…” he grumbled.

Bucky sighed and relaxed. “Spoilsport.”

Steve stood and took a deep breath, his hands shaking a little.

“Fuck, this thing is tight.”

Bucky let out a bark of laughter, then sat up. “Hey, you’re the one who decided to take the gig that makes you wear a kevlar leotard. For fucksakes, that thing does criminal things to your ass, by the way.”

Reese nodded as Steve turned to the side, frowning. “It really does.”

Steve rolled his eyes with an exasperated expression. “Can we please focus here?”

“Oh, I’m like a fuckin’ laser sight, I’m so focused. Trust me.” Bucky cocked his head, sighing at the sight of his man in uniform. Steve really was completely fucking glorious and Bucky’s hormones kicked into overdrive.

Steve sighed and Bucky crooked an eyebrow up. “Remember London?”

They’d just gotten actual nice digs for the first time in what had seemed like forever. An actual bed - showers. It’d been the first time they hadn’t stank to high heaven in a dog’s age. They’d shared the shower together then had spent the entire weekend just reveling in each other before they had to ship back out again. It was also the first time Bucky realized he had a thing for Steve being in charge in the bedroom as well.

Steve’s smile was almost dreamy and he nodded before glaring back at Bucky.

“Dirty pool, Punk,” he snapped, but not unkindly.

Bucky just shrugged and lay back on the mattress, stretching out - showing off a little. That cocky little bastard was slowly coming back, thank fuckin’ God.

“I’m not the one who’s leavin’...” he drawled, shifting his hips suggestively.

Steve rolled his eyes to the heavens dramatically. “You always do this…,” he complained.

Bucky just laughed. “Hey, you wanted me healed. Now you’re runnin’ off to what, punch some mist in the face?”

“Oh, you’re such a dick.” Steve snapped, then laughed as well.

“You still want it though, don’t ya Stevie?” Bucky purred, his confidence soaring.

Reese chuckled and Steve’s cheeks pinked up as he crossed his arms.

Bucky’s smile was sharp as he stood up. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

“Just when I’d forgotten how much of a cocky prick you are…,” Steve grumbled as Bucky walked out to the living room.

 

--

 

Reese looked over at Steve, thoroughly entertained by his embarrassment.

“You gonna start in on me too?” he snapped, looking beleaguered. 

She chuckled and shook her head. “Nah - I think he’s pretty much got that covered.”

Reese held a hand out to him and he took it, giving it a brief squeeze.

“Fuck, I’m gonna miss you guys,” he murmured, moving to sit on the bed.

“Go fight the good fight. Punch a few eagles in the face for me, ok?”

He grinned and moved in to kiss her. “Do my best.”

 

--

 

The three of them walked up to meet the Quinjet, just in time to see Sam coming down the ramp.

“Hey trouble,” he grinned over at Reese, who stepped forward to greet him with a warm hug. “You keeping these two idiots on their best behavior?”

Reese laughed and shook her head. “Yeah, that’s a losing proposition, I’m afraid.”

“Hey!” Steve cried, halfheartedly, then stepped forward to pull Sam into an embrace. “Fuck, it’s good to see you, man.”

Sam then turned to Bucky. “They get you sorted out?” he asked.

Bucky shrugged. “I’m definitely better than I was… still, lots more ground to cover.”

Sam nodded and replied, “You ever need to talk, I’m here, man.”

Bucky looked between Sam and Steve then sighed. It was a generous offer. Steve had explained how Sam had been assisting local veterans suffering from PTSD. He sounded like a good man, and Steve trusted him. Maybe Bucky could too. He extended a hand and Sam shook it.

“Might just do that sometime,” Bucky replied, then stepped back and let out a squeak of surprise as Steve hauled him into a tight hug.

“Try not to get yer ass handed to ya,” Bucky’s voice was gruff and full of emotion.

“I love you, Buck. So fucking much. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

They kissed briefly causing Bucky’s heart to leap and stutter, then Steve was pulling Reese into him to kiss her as well. Watching the two of them together actually made him happy, which was unexpected. He was glad for it, though. It would make this weird ‘arrangement’ they were starting less awkward and possibly uncomfortable. He was genuinely happy for both of them, as he was for himself.

He and Reese watched the heroic pair walk back into the Quinjet. Reese then moved to thread her fingers through his.

“Ready to show me some goats, Sarge?” she asked, gently bumping his hip with her own.

“Could we eat again? I’m starved,” Bucky grumbled, knocking her shoulder with his.

“Let’s go raid the kitchen.”

 

--

 

Tony brought Steve up to speed on everything on the flight back. As far as they could tell, there were no other affected areas. It was likely a test scenario - before whoever was behind this decided to go big with it.

“We can probably expect a few more small, low density population locations to get hit with this as they figure out their variables. I’m working to put together a possible profile now,” Nat explained. Everybody was conferenced in on the call as Steve piloted the jet out to just outside Lily Dale, New York.

“Town full of ‘mediums’ and they didn’t see this coming.” Tony quipped.

“Tony…,” Steve groaned. Yeah, it was in really poor taste, but this was often how some of them dealt with the stress of the job. Plus, it was Tony. It still bothered him.

“It’s contained for the moment.” Vision’s voice broke in as he explained, “Whatever happened here, the causal factor seems to have burned itself out or gone dormant. I’ve been able to connect to the mind of one of the still comatose patients and the last thing they remember was a strange mist that issued forth from their tap water.”

“Has SHIELD shut the perimeter down? Is anybody checking to ensure that the primary water source hasn’t been infected?” Steve asked, flipping the switch that turned the auto-pilot on.

He turned to look over at Sam as Vision replied, “It has been determined that this was localized only to the hamlet itself. None of the residents of Cassadaga - the nearest town, has been affected as far as we can ascertain.”

Nat broke in then. “There’s chatter on the dark web that looks interesting. I’m doing more digging. Whoever did this covered their tracks exceptionally well.”

“Any issues with getting medical teams in to check on the... newly enhanced?” Steve asked. He wasn’t really sure what to call them at this point.

Doctor Cho replied, “Once Vision assured us that the causal agent was no longer present, teams went in. Coulson and his team are working to isolate the… we don’t even have a term for them yet. The more dangerous ones are contained, but they put up a hell of a fight. These people come out of the strange chrysalis that forms around them with uncontrollable powers. We’ve been able to get draws from a few of the subjects, but the others are proving more difficult.”

“Any test results yet?” Steve asked.

“Still processing,” Vision replied.

“So, we’re staging where?”

“Across from the river, near a place called Red House. Tents and gear are in place - that’s where all the coma patients are being evac’d from.” Doctor Cho replied.

“We gonna need need PPE going in?”

“Look, Spangles - you’re clear that you can’t punch the mist into submission, right?” Tony quipped.

Steve rolled his eyes and Sam chuckled.

“Then why the fuck am I here?”

Language .” Tony mocked.

“Boys…,” Nat warned.

“Besides needing guidance on the tactical side, you can also help lift heavy stuff,” Tony explained.

Steve sighed and Tony asked, “How’s your boy? Friend? Pal. Murdersnuggles?”

“I can always go back to Wakanda, Tony. Your call,” Steve ground out.

Tony let out a beleaguered sigh, then said, “No really. Did Shuri get him sorted out? He doin’ ok?”

“Yeah. He’s… a lot better, actually.” Steve smiled as he flushed.

Sam rolled his eyes and Steve gave him the finger.

 

--

 

While it wasn’t large, the hut that had been built for Bucky - it might end up proving a little tight for the two of them, depending on how long Steve took to head back. Reese took one look at the cot and gave Bucky a mild look. 

“You wanna sleep on the floor?”

Bucky winced. “If I have a choice in the matter? Not particularly.”

“Yeah. Me either. I have an idea.”

 

--

 

“Do we really need all this? I mean, the sheets were fine…,” Bucky frowned as he watched her pick out two sets of sheets, a blanket and two more pillows.

Reese turned and smoothly replied, “One, they looked scratchy and I’m not fond of chafing. Two - I have a strong feeling they’re gonna need changing. Frequently.”

Bucky blinked, then his pulse was racing. Oh. He hadn’t considered that. He flushed and she fluttered her eyes at him, her grin bright and eager. Bucky closed his eyes, focusing on his breathing as she chuckled softly.

“Just so we’re clear… you’re actively trying to kill me here?” he grumbled.

“Oh honey, no. We’re just getting started. But I’ll have mercy on you and give you some time to catch up.”

Her grin was wicked as she turned away from him and his heart beat in his chest like a bird trying to escape its cage as he gained control of himself, then followed her.

She was as good as her word. For the rest of the walk through the market and shops, she made no further racy comments. Bucky hefted a large bag over one shoulder and she leaned in and kissed his cheek softly.

“I’m gonna get us some dinner - I’ll meet you back there, ok?”

He frowned and said, “Front right pocket.”

Reese reached into his pocket, which came with its own startling, yet delightful wide array of bodily reactions, pulling out his flip Karambit. It was one of the five knives he carried on him at all times.

“You ever use one of these?” He asked, nodding down as she looked it over.

“Sharp pointy end goes towards the enemy, right?” she asked, teasing him.

He gave her a mild look. “It catches in bone easy. If you get a gut shot, take it. Most things will go down when you tear their guts out.”

Reese blinked, then nodded. “Got it.”

Good. She was taking him seriously.

“I think you’ll be fine - but, you know the old saying…,” he trailed off.

“Stitch in time saves nine?” she quipped.

He flipped her off with his right hand and she laughed.

“Wait - you don’t need it?” Reese held up the knife.

“Nope. Got four more,” he replied with a sharp toothed grin.

 

--

 

Reese watched Bucky help corral the goats into their pens for the night, grinning as several of the local children followed him around. They were apparently fascinated with his arm. They seemed to ask no end of questions, and Bucky took it all in stride. He smiled back at her as he closed the pen, waving to the kids as they ran off to their respective homes for supper.

“What is that word they keep calling you?” she asked, standing up to greet him and pulling him into a hug.

“Shuri says it means White Wolf,” he replied softly, sighing as he let her hold him.

“Fitting…,” she murmured, chuckling.

He gently pulled away, shrugging. “I’m just happy it doesn’t mean white american tourist asshole.”

Reese laughed and held up two large bags. “I brought back Ada’s Ẹ̀fọ́ riro and Akara.”

“Oh my god, you’re amazing. What would I do without you?” he teased.

“Starve, clearly.” She eyed him, then turned to head into his hut.

She noted that he had assembled the bed and decorated with everything that they’d picked up earlier.

The bed looked warm and comfortable with its colorful sheets and blanket. Bucky had also previously wired the place for solar electricity to power the satellite uplink so that they could stay in touch with Steve while he was out of country.

Reese started setting the food out as Bucky sat across from her on a colorful straw mat, his legs crossing beneath a short, delightfully crafted dinner table.

“Careful, doll. Yer gettin’ awfully domestic over there,” he chuckled.

“Keep goin’, asshole. You’ll end up with a lap full of Ẹ̀fọ́ riro,” she snapped, grinning.

“You wouldn’t…”

Reese placed her hands on her hips and said, “TRY me.”

Bucky’s answering grin was incandescent as he looked up at her.

“Nah. I’d rather have food in my belly then all over my pants.”

“Smart man,” She replied smoothly, then moved to sit across from him. “Eat up.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Chapter Text

They both fell into bed, exhausted from the day’s activities. Bucky lay on his side, his eyes memorizing Reese’s face as she lay on her back, looking up at the ceiling, then over at him.

She reached out and touched his face and he sighed, leaning into it and closing his eyes.

Reese made a happy sound that set his pulse racing and he reached for her, pulling her into a kiss that stayed warm and intense. He could tell that she was letting him set the pace, but for some reason, he was a little hesitant about going further, now that they were actually in a place and in a situation where they could do so.

He looked back at her, licking his lips as she gave him a dreamy smile. Because she was apparently a goddamned mindreader, she asked, “Bucky… you ok?”

He brushed a strand of hair away from her face then smiled as his fingertips skimmed along the stubble on the side of her head. Reese groaned and her eyes slid shut, so he kept gently rubbing and stroking her scalp, enjoying the soft noises she made and the way her body moved in response to his touch. The way his own body responded to her voice was powerful and almost overwhelming.

Then, suddenly, he found himself starting to spiral - Did Steve touch her like this? Did she react the same? Was he doing it ok? Fuck, it had been so long - was he even able to actually perform anymore? Sure, he could get it up, and getting himself off hadn’t been an issue - once he’d gotten to a point where he could actually consider such a thing. He had gone so long without getting his own needs met with another person that it had become a default at this point to be thwarted - to have pleasure denied. Hell, learning that he could jerk off all over again had been its own bizarre but highly enjoyable exploration into self gratification. Now that he actually had the opportunity... that it was imminent - no, happening -  it was as though his head was now trying to talk him out of it.
And then, it just slipped out. 

“Does he…?” 

Bucky immediately clammed up, kicking himself. What was he even asking?

Reese captured his hand, placing soft kisses on his fingers, one by one. “It’s not a contest, you know.”

And with that, the spiral ground to a halt. Bucky nodded and blinked, shivering as she moved to start kissing his knuckles. “Yeah, I know. I just… different time, yanno? I clearly have some catching up to do on my modern social education.”

Reese smiled and kissed the tip of his nose, then nuzzled it with her own before meeting his lips. Bucky sighed and fell into the kiss - and into the feeling of being treated as though he was a precious thing, something to be held close and always adored. She seemed to flow over him like water - everywhere she touched he sparked to life. He hadn’t been handled like this in a lifetime. Reese gently pushed his shoulder and he moved to lay back so that she could have free reign, letting her touch him where she would.

He shifted to help her as she plucked at his shirt, pulling it over his head and dropping it to the floor. He froze briefly  - suddenly very self conscious at having the ruined horror show of his shoulder exposed but, then calmed and let out a soft breath as she kissed his stomach, her hand slowly sliding up his chest. Bucky felt tears threaten and his breath caught as her fingers grazed his nipple.

He looked down to see her resting her head on his stomach, smiling back at him as she continued to trail her fingertips up his pec, over his shoulder then down his arm. She took his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“Still with me, Bucky?” she asked softly.

He nodded, blinking quickly. “Yeah. It’s just… a lot ,” he admitted, feeling a little ashamed - then irritated at himself.

Reese blew a soft breath across his skin. His mind skipped as he trembled and she did it again. It felt amazing. His entire body tingled. That she was being so careful, so gentle with him. It was everything.

“Tell me if you need me to stop…,” she trailed off, moving to kiss his stomach again - then again, a little lower this time.

He was painfully hard at this point and groaned as his cock jumped in his pants in response to what she was doing.

“Holy Mary, mother of god…,” he whispered.

Reese chuckled, asking, “Are you praying ?”

Bucky clutched at the sheets as she slowly kissed her way down to where his skin descended into his jeans. He was babbling at this point - in Russian? What the fuck?

Reese just took it in stride as she opened his trousers then licked the tip of him.

“Might wanna ramp up those prayers, Sarge,” she teased, then swallowed him down.

“Ah God, your mouth… ,” he cried out, bucking up into her, unable to help himself as everything raced to a bright white point that had him panting, growling and finally roaring as he came.

 

--

 

Reese moved to lay beside him, her hand on his chest as she whispered sweet words to him. Tears trailed from his eyes, but he looked sated - joyous, even. He started laughing then, deep and throaty. She wrapped around him and he kissed her head, running his hand along her arm.

“Holy shit, I think that gave me a buzz,” he breathed. He sounded giddy.

Good.

“Outstanding,” she replied, grinning and looked up at him.

Bucky shook his head in disbelief, then smiled. “Doll, where the fuck’ve you been all my life?”

Reese laughed at the corny line, giving him a playful smack. She was actually startled to see that he’d recovered fully from her attentions. She looked up at him in wonder and he just shrugged, waggling his eyebrows.

“Fuckin’ supersoldiers,” she crooned, grinning herself now.

 

--

 

“Well, at this point it’s clear - whoever is doing this, it isn’t HYDRA. There’s been absolutely no chatter from that sector crowing about their success.”

Nat’s voice echoed in the room as Steve rubbed at his eyes, letting out an exhausted sigh. They had finally evacuated the last of the comatose patients, as well as the bodies left behind from this wretched little experiment.

Tony was off in a corner of the large tent with Bruce and they were both working furiously via conference call with Shuri to try to find tech that would dampen the newly acquired powers of those affected by the mist.

Coulson sat beside him as they looked over at Daisy. They still didn’t know how she’d been exposed to the mist, but Doctor Cho was excited at the prospect of watching the process from inception to completion. The moment she’d gone into the cocoon… Steve shuddered just thinking about it. They’d all watched the feed from Coulson’s mounted camera - then from the multiple aerial remote cameras that Tony had deployed, as well as a sensor array that Coulson and Mack had been able to attach in a desperate attempt to get as much information about this new threat as possible.

She was so young. Steve shook his head and Coulson’s voice broke him from his reverie.

“She’ll make it. She’s gotta make it,” he muttered, frowning and in obvious distress. Coulson had always seemed so unshakeable to him, but this really had him rattled - and Steve couldn’t blame him. The things she’d been through already - hadn’t she gone through enough? Hadn’t they all?

But that was The Job, then, wasn’t it? To stand with your dick in your hand, holding back the Weird Shit before it could affect the general populace.

Steve placed a comforting hand on the man’s shoulder and Coulson just nodded, getting control of himself. Steve watched as Mack wandered over to see if he could offer Tony’s group any assistance, and Tony brightened - happy to have another mechanic in the mix, and immediately put him to work.

Doctor Cho and Vision were going through all the readouts coming from the information retrieved from Daisy's… alteration? Transformation?

Taking a break, he stood and pulled out the satellite phone that Tony gave him. The ground beneath him roiled and bucked and he fumbled the phone, dropping it as people started yelling throughout the tent.

“She’s awake! Coulson, get over here!”

“I can’t fucking work under these conditions!” Tony yelled out. “Get that shit under control!”

Steve rushed over to see Daisy shivering, her eyes wide and darting everywhere. Coulson was at her side, his hand on her shoulder.

“Daisy - you’re safe. Look at me… there we go. Follow my voice, Daisy,” Coulson’s voice was soft and soothing, even with the chaos reigning around them. Mack appeared then, taking her hand, and the shaking started to subside.

Steve looked over at Tony who breathed a sigh of relief, then just rolled his eyes and got back to work. Vision stepped over and then... the shaking stopped entirely.

Skye frowned and looked up at everybody.

“Uh… did I do that?”

Coulson laughed nervously and Steve stumbled over to collect his phone before anybody had a chance to step on it, sliding it back into his pocket before moving to help everybody clean up the mess left behind.

 

--

 

Reese frowned at the unfamiliar sound that had pulled her out of a deep sleep. Bucky groaned beside her and she looked around for the source of the noise.

“It’s the sat phone,” Bucky explained, sounding a little groggy.

He quickly got out of the bed and retrieved it, then ducked back under the covers with her as he answered the phone, putting it on speaker.

Reese tucked into his side as Steve said, “Figured I’d try calling you guys for a little slice of normalcy.”

Bucky laughed and it was a joyous, light sound. “Good luck with that, Pal. Hell, we were never really good with ‘normal’ anyway, were we?”

Reese grinned and asked, “How’s the grind over there?”

She heard Steve let out a frustrated breath. “Fuck… it’s nuts. We were able to get all the casualties out, but now everybody’s scrambling to try to figure out how to get the people remaining to a point where they’re not… well, dangerous to themselves and others. I think we have it mostly under control now, but we’re still not at a point where we know who caused this.”

“You holding up ok, baby?” she asked, more than a little concerned.

There was a sigh, then he replied, “Yeah. Best as can be expected. I honestly don’t know how long it’s going to take to sort this all out. At this point it’s mostly up to the science guys. Natasha thinks she might have a lead, so I’m probably going to run around with her a bit on this - try to head off any attempt to do further experiments.”

Reese shuddered and shook her head. “When was the last time you ate?”

Steve paused and she could tell that he was wincing. “Shit.”

“Go eat something, dammit,” she snapped.

He chuckled softly. “Yes ma’am. How are you both getting along?”

Reese looked over to see Bucky flushing and grinning - beaming, actually.

“Oh, we’re good. Bonding, even,” Reese replied with a laugh.

“Thank god,” he let out a sigh of relief. “One less thing for me to worry about.”

Bucky nuzzled her and she said, “Ada’s been asking about you. I explained that you had to go back to the States, but that you’d be back. She misses you.”

She could hear the warmth in Steve’s voice as he replied, “Oh my god, her Ẹ̀fọ́ riro… ok, now I’m starving. Please tell her I miss her as well, and I’ll visit as soon as I get back.”

There was a loud sound in the background and Steve said, “Shit. I gotta go. I love you both.”

The call dropped and she looked over at Bucky and sighed.

“Idiot,” Bucky snapped, his tone fond.

“Yeah, but he’s our idiot,” she replied, snuggling into him.

He winced and she frowned up at him.

“Sometimes the shoulder aches…,” he trailed off.

“Hang on.”

Reese jumped out of bed and dug through her bag for the strangely nondescript bottle of lotion that Ada had given her a few days ago. It did wonders for any muscle cramps she’d ended up getting when she didn’t have enough salt in her diet.

“Roll over on your stomach.”

He complied and she straddled his hips.

“This would be a lot more fun if I was facing the other way…,” he offered.

Reese rolled her eyes and poured a small dollop out into her hand then started working it gently into the puckered skin ringing around his metal arm. He let out a loud groan and she felt all the tension drain out of him.

“Oh my god, yes. That. More of that please,” he groaned.

“Does it always hurt?” she asked softly as she continued to work the lotion into his skin.

“Mmmhmmm,” he replied, letting out another soft cry as she hit another tight patch.

“Oh sweetheart,” she crooned, kissing his back. “Thank you for letting me take care of you.”

When she finished with the muscles in his back, she had him flip back over - but by that time, he was almost bleary with sleep and relaxation. She chuckled softly as she massaged around the rest of his shoulder, then kissed his chest and slid over next to him, letting him tuck her in close to his side.

“Thank you for taking care of me, doll,” he breathed, kissing the side of her head. “Never thought I’d get this lucky.”

“Me either, honestly…,” Reese trailed off, kissing his cheek.

 

--

 

“Another alien artifact?” Helen Cho asked, her brow furrowed.

“There is nothing in the components of the mist that would suggest that it is Terran. From what I have been able to determine from the information gathered, it is my belief that this mist is of… Kree origin.”

“...Kree?” Steve asked, not getting the reference.

A throat cleared behind him and he saw Fury take a step forward.

“We need to get all individuals under Level 6 clearance out of this room right now.”

Vision stopped talking and soon the assembled group in the meeting room was a great deal smaller. Then Fury started talking and Steve went cold. It irritated the hell out of him, the amount of information that Nick kept from them, and he held his tongue as the Director of SHIELD talked about a female Kree/Human hybrid ally that he and Coulson had apparently met back in the nineties. She was apparently now ‘on her way here’ from an entirely different galaxy. It was a bit much to wrap his head around. He was then doubly irritated that he wouldn’t be able to tell Bucky about this. Bucky had lived for this shit back when they were kids.

Rather than rehash the same old argument he’d had with Fury since what seemed like the beginning of time, he simply watched the other people in the room pepper him with questions. Fury met his eyes briefly and Steve gave him a mild look. Same shit, different day.

Natasha’s voice, though low, broke through the din as she said, “There’s been another incident. This time in Seward Alaska. Population 2,729.”

The entire room fell silent.

Steve was the first to break the silence. “So. What’s her ETA?”

 

--

 

Reese sat across from Ada in her kitchen, watching the woman as she cooked. Suddenly, Ada went very still, then drew a shaky breath.

Reese stood quickly. “Ada - what’s wrong?”

Ada placed a hand to her chest and Reese helped her walk over to a chair. “I sometimes forget that I am not as young as I once used to be.”

“Is there anything I can do?” Reese was immediately worried for her friend. A friend she now considered family.

Ada shook her head, her expression sad as she met Reese’s eyes.

“A time of great uncertainty and danger is coming. You will need to be strong for this, na? There is no getting around it. Only through,” the woman explained, sounding a little haggard as she reached over to collect a dark woven bowl, taking the lid off it. Reese watched as she shook it gently, then reached inside, gathering the unusual collection of bits and bobs, bones, seeds and shiny things, hefting them in her hand.

Ada touched her fist gently to Reese’s head, then said something in a language she couldn’t understand, dropping the bones into the basket.

Reese stayed silent as the woman peered down at the items, her head bobbing as she nodded. Her voice sounded… different - richer in tone, deeper now.

“It comes for the world, this… event. It will cause much pain and anguish, but will also bring much needed change with it.”

Ok - now she was starting to get a little scared. What was coming?

“Stay close to your men, ọmọ obinrin. You will need each other.”

Ada fell silent then, her eyes fluttering closed. Reese quickly went to pour her a cup of tea, setting it before her and sitting down, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.

Ada looked up at her with gratitude, then shook her head and sucked her teeth. “You do not live easy, do you ọmọ obinrin?”

Reese let out a bark of laughter in response.

She nodded and replied, “...you could say that.”

Ada laughed, then pulled a clear tablet over and started tapping quickly on it. An image of one of the Dora Milaje came onscreen and Ada started talking quickly. Reese leaned back in her chair, picking up her tea and sipping at it. She had a bad feeling that what Steve was dealing with was only just beginning.

Chapter Text

Steve stared off into the distance, numb at this point. He hated how helpless he felt. Sure, point him at a bad guy - an enemy, and he at least stood a chance of winning. Against something like this? He felt so impotent.

The worst part? He couldn’t share any of this with either Bucky or Reese. As it was, he’d already shared too much about the situation with them. He’d met an honest to God alien today and he couldn’t even tell the people who mattered most to him about any of it.

Carol Danvers had been a very… focused being. She was very matter of fact and she had a quiet intensity that intrigued him. From time to time, he saw a playful side of her - in a gesture or an expression, but only in fleeting moments. There was a… surety of purpose that she seemed to carry with her that gave her a certain gravitas. It was almost regal.

While Fury hadn’t gone into many details about her, Steve could tell that she’d been pulled away from something important.

Carol had explained that the Kree had developed a mutagen that would release the dormant powers in beings they called Inhumans, who were apparently a race of genetically enhanced human beings that were the result of scientific experimentation on ancient humans. So, there was that to consider.

He’d watched as Skye pulled on a set of gauntlets that Tony had crafted for her, apparently meant to dampen her ability to cause earthquakes. EARTHQUAKES . Fucking hell. He could think of a few strategic situations in the field where such an ability could be called into play, but he shut that train of thought down quickly. She was Coulson’s agent, and he already had enough to deal with.

Carol and Vision had gotten out to the town of Seward far faster than any of the rest of them could, and they were already reporting back alarming statistics. This time, there were far more comatose cases than bodies. He wasn’t sure to be thankful or not. The patients from Lily Dale still hadn’t recovered. There were a surprisingly low number of people who had been transformed by the mist this time, however.

“All I’m saying is…,” Bruce had been talking and he’d missed most of it by this point.

“...is that - well, what if the comatose state is what they’re going for - instead of the Terragenic transformation?”

Steve frowned at the idea as he guided the plane down onto the tarmac at Seward airport.

Helen Cho replied, “It’s possible, I suppose…,” she trailed off.

Nat spoke up, her tone even and mild. “In the end, it’s all destabilization - which, if it were HYDRA, might make sense.”

“You still sure it’s not?” Steve asked then, easing into a secure area of the airport where emergency vehicles and large black SUV’s were waiting for them.

“Not really their style. They’d do experiments like this in a lab, under controlled conditions so that they’d be able to program the subjects once powers became evident.”

This was the part he hated. Not knowing - who was doing this, where to best direct their efforts - it plucked at already fragile nerves. He began shutting down the Quinjet, flicking the switch for the ramp.

As he made his way to the back of the plane the situation with Reese and Bucky suddenly surfaced in his thoughts. He’d had to leave just when things were starting to shift - starting to give him hope. His skin itched to be near somebody who could just hold him - comfort him . This was completely awful, what was unfolding - and it was on a scale that frightened him. He had a bad feeling that things were about to get out of control really quickly. And what the fuck was he going to be able to do about it - an unseen, undetectable enemy - until it was far too late?

Shit - he’d missed the thread again. He really needed to fucking focus. He was in the back of one of the SUV’s, sitting beside Sam. He’d… lost time. He frowned and shook his head to clear it.

“You ok, Cap?” Sam looked over at him with concern.

Steve gave him a quick nod, his jaw tight. “I’m good.”

Sam wasn’t entirely buying it, but Steve just nodded and looked out the window.

 

--

 

Reese watched Bucky and the kids try to corral a particularly obstinate goat. It was a tiny black and white kid that loved to buck, jump and butt things with its head. Fucker was gonna be a menace once his horns came in. He was a delight and when he and Bucky would romp together in the fields it lifted something in her. Helped her feel a little lighter. In moments like these, Bucky was almost like a little child again, re-experiencing the world. He had such an honest joy that would just radiate from him and she wept inside to think of how much the world had abused him. Tortured him. That he could still shine after what he’d gone through...

She’d started drawing him - laughing, smiling, goofing off. Reese had started taking pictures of the drawings to share with Steve, so that he could have a portion of these fleeting, beautiful moments. She’d also taken pictures of him sleeping with his hand in a bowl of water, and had visited various other inane, mild indignities on him - making sure to capture photographic evidence so that Steve had something to help him smile in the middle of all this.

Some nights, she and Bucky would simply slow dance to the Inkspots - outside beneath the stars, just enjoying the feeling of doing something so… soft and gentle with each other. Others, they would damn near attack each other - something in him brought out her need to struggle and they’d wrestle for sexual dominance, ending up with black and blue marks the next day, but fully satiated. Well - hers didn’t fade as quickly as his did, which always seemed to disappoint him.

It had been a week since Steve had left, and he hadn’t really been able to talk to them all that much. When they did talk Reese could tell that whatever was happening was taking a heavy emotional toll on him, and it was really beginning to worry her.

“He always puts too much on himself. Asshole forgets that he’s not Atlas,” Bucky had commented when she’d mentioned her concern to him earlier in the day. “He would close himself off when he was in the field. Shut it all out - until the mission was done.”

She turned and headed into the hut, looking over at the Satphone rig, wishing he would call - that he’d be able to talk for more than five or ten minutes. Bucky stumbled into the hut, grinning and wrapping himself around her. He was soaking with perspiration after having been cavorting for hours under the hot Wakandan sun.

“Fuck off, oh my god!” she yelled, laughing and swatting at him, for all the good it did her. He shook his head and droplets of sweat flew from the tips of his hair, peppering her face.

“What are you, a dog now?” she snapped.

Bucky laughed, then made a woofing sound before nipping at her neck.

The satellite phone rang and they both froze, looking over at it - as though it might bite. Reese quickly picked it up. Before she could say anything, she knew something was wrong. There was a dreadful silence on the line. Then a hitching breath. Her eyes teared up at the sound of her lover quietly crying. She looked over at Bucky and he immediately took her hand, frowning and looking concerned.

“Baby… Steve… It’s Reese. I’m here - we’re both here,” she murmured softly

“Stevie?” Bucky asked, his voice cracking.

“I can’t…,” Steve stammered, his own voice unsteady. “I need…”

“Tell us what you need, baby. We’re here.”

Steve started crying harder and Reese wanted to kick something. She wanted to tear apart anything that got between her and comforting her companion. She walked over to the bed and sat, trying her best to relax - to just be present for him. To be a safe, non-judgemental shoulder for him to cry on. Bucky sat beside her on the bed, his hand on her knee.

They listened as it all came out - how he couldn’t tell either of them anything else that was going on - muttering something about ‘fucking clearance levels’. He couldn’t share his reasoning for why he was so frustrated and in so much pain and it was causing him an obvious amount of grief.

“What do you need, Stevie? What can we do to help?” Bucky asked, squeezing Reese’s knee.

Steve sounded agonized as he bit it out, “It’s so fucking stupid and weird. I don’t even…,” he trailed off.

Bucky stiffened then, looking irritated. “You’re doing it again, aren’t you?” he asked.

The line was quiet, then Steve replied, “I gotta focus , Bucky. You know that. Nothing until the mission’s over.”

“Well, that sounds like it’s workin’ just fine for you, pal. Great job there - you’re a fuckin’ wreck now, aren’t you?” Bucky snapped, his tone mild.

Reese glared at him and Steve let out an explosive breath and replied, “Fuck, I missed you, Buck.”

Bucky let out a soft laugh and she could see the hint of a smile. “Back atcha, asshole.”

There was another moment of silence, then Reese said, “Can we just… roll that back a little? Are you saying what I think you’re saying? Steve, did you stop jerking off?”

Bucky shrugged and chuckled as if to say, Told ya , and Steve just cleared his throat.

Reese sighed and said, “I’ll take that as a yes.”

No wonder he was at his wits end.

“If you’d seen what I’d seen in the last few days… It doesn’t feel right. So many people are dead and there’s fuckall I can do about it. I can’t…,” he cried out in frustration, “I just sit here and listen and bear witness to this horror, and the only thing I can do is lift a few bodies and heavy equipment around. It’s… fuck…

It sounded like he’d kicked something.

“Buddy, you can only control so much,” Bucky broke in, his tone soft and soothing now.

Steve snapped then, “And you think me jerking off is gonna help that somehow?”

Bucky just grinned and Reese shook her head. Boys.

“Yep,” he replied, popping the p. “You can’t punch anything - and you’re not getting hit, so you’re not getting any kinda release.”

Steve was silent for a few moments.

“Need a little help?” Bucky offered, looking a little hungry now.

Reese looked over at him and he just grinned and shrugged.

There was a groan from the other end of the line, then the sound of something being shifted around.

“I swear ta fuckin’ god…,” Steve grated out as the sound of a door closing echoed out in the background.

“Quit bitchin’. Lemme hear you come, Stevie,” Bucky purred and Reese felt her body catch fire. Her eyelids fluttered as Bucky shifted on the bed to lay down, looking up at her expectantly as if to say, You gonna get in on this?

She heard an excited puff of air come through the line and imagined Steve quickly stripping down in a closet somewhere far away, racing to try to get his dick in his hand fast enough. She couldn’t blame him, really. Bucky’s voice was laced with sin.

“Fuck…,” she heard Steve cry out as she worked to get Bucky’s pants off him.

“That’s right, sweetheart,” Bucky breathed into the phone, his tone low and rich. “Get your mouth on me.”

Steve made a strangled sound and Reese licked a stripe up Bucky’s cock, imagining she was there with Steve. It was only fair, since she was pretty certain Bucky was imagining that she was Steve as well. She sighed as she started sucking him and Bucky let out a throaty groan, his voice trembling a little as he said, “That’s right, Stevie - I can feel your mouth… oh god, you were fuckin’ made for this, baby….”

Reese trembled at the sounds Steve was making in response. The entire scene was just cracking her open and she loved it.

“When you come back here, I’m gonna love opening up on you, Stevie. You remember how good it was, don’t you?”

Steve was panting and gasping and Reese was damn near coming herself, completely untouched and fully clothed. Holy fuck.

“That’s right, take it nice and deep, baby.”

Bucky groaned and bucked up into her mouth and she choked, but kept going, wanting it - needing this. His breath started catching and she could feel him getting close, her own body trembling with need.

Steve was making wonderfully obscene noises and Bucky purred, “One of these nights, I’m gonna fuck our girl and film it - send it to ya so you have something on the road to keep you from getting lonely… Oh, fuck , Stevie… Right fuckin’ there.”

Bucky jerked and let out a loud shout as he came and Steve cried out with his own release - the combined sound of them together sending her over as well as she swallowed Bucky down.

For a few moments, there was just the collective sound of their recovery, then Steve blurted, “Oh my god…,” and let out a heavy sigh. “Oh my god .”

Bucky reached down to pull Reese into his arms, hugging her tight.

“We’re here with you Steve - we’re right here. It’s ok to let go.” Reese spoke softly and Steve started crying in earnest then, as though he was purging something. Steve was babbling something incoherent and Bucky quickly turned to bury his face in Reese’s shoulder, his body trembling as he tried to contain his own emotions.

 

--

 

He was furious at the world. For them to have found each other - to have come so close, only to have him taken away again, and put back into this emotional abattoir that he was going through. Bucky had half a mind to get on a plane and grab Steve by the ear, after punching out everybody in command over there for not realizing that their Golden Soldier was on the edge of breaking apart. God, the sound of him crying - it was enough to break a man.

Reese’s hands on him were comforting as they slowly pet him, soothed him. It broke his heart that neither of them were there to do the same for Steve. It was cruel to have him back in the field so soon - but then, that was the life of a soldier. It was the life Steve had chosen back when he’d decided to serve himself up as a guinea pig for Uncle Sam. To ‘Fight The Good Fight’ - rah rah and all that bullshit.

There was always another war, always another conflict. That wasn’t going to end anytime soon.

“Oh my god, I feel sick…” Steve’s voice echoed out of the phone and then there was the obvious sound of retching.

And there wasn’t a fuckin’ thing he could do about it from where he stood. Not a goddamned thing. 

And that just about tore his heart out.

 

--

 

Steve wiped his mouth, disgusted with himself as he quickly put himself back together and zipped up. Thank god, he hadn’t soiled any part of the uniform. Wouldn’t that be an entertaining thing for Tony to point out? Steve felt himself flush at the very idea of it. He took a deep breath and listened to the sound of Reese’s voice, trying to get himself to some semblance of calm.

“Baby, I’m here. I love you so much. I’m right here,” she murmured softly.

It helped.

“Fuck, I’m a mess,” he let out a weak laugh.

He heard her chuckle and actually smiled for the first time in a while. “I kinda knew that going in, buddy. SO not shocked.”

He laughed then, shaking his head. “You’re such an asshole.” he grumbled, so grateful for her. For them both.

He heard Bucky laugh at that and something seemed to lift from him. He felt… better. Sure, the orgasm had helped - which he had known it would, but he was a stubborn insufferable bastard so he’d denied himself as always in the hopes that it’d help him focus. Spoiler - it never did. You’d think he would’ve learned that by now. 

Bucky had given him no end of shit about it when they were out in the field - mostly because Bucky was always ready to go. Shit, there could be active shelling going on around them and Bucky would still want to fuck him up against a wall. The man was insatiable.

Steve drew in a long, finally relaxed breath, and let it out, then sat down. The acrid smell of vomit was starting to sting his nose and all thoughts of anything remotely sexy or romantic were driven from his mind.

“Thank you - both of you. It helped.”

“Course it fuckin’ did, you idiot,” Bucky snapped, laughing again.

“I need to go - I gotta clean this up…,” he trailed off.

“You need us, you call us. Don’t fuck around with this Steve.”

Bucky’s voice was firm, but warm - and it helped him gain another step towards clarity and focus.

“Yessir,” Steve muttered, cranking out a half assed solute to nobody.

Bucky just made a completely filthy sound, then growled, “Save that for when you get home, soldier. You’re gonna need it.”

Aaaand he was hard again. Fuckin’ great.

Chapter Text

Steve stepped into the conference room and Sam walked up to him.

“We’re getting coffee. Now .”

Sam’s voice was firm. Steve frowned at him, then nodded. Sam then took him by the arm - Sam rarely handled Steve like this, so he was more than a little surprised.

“Then you’re gonna tell me what’s going on with you.”

Steve balked, stopping and letting Sam’s hand drop away. He could feel himself closing down - closing every warm, amiable piece of himself off. This was the last fucking thing he needed.

“And you’re NOT going to do that shit,” Sam barked. Steve was surprised that his friend was actually angry.

“...the fuck, Sam?” he blurted, getting a little irritated himself now.

Sam gave him a mild look then leaned in, “Look - if you won’t talk to me about it, I’ll talk to Tony and have you sidelined.”

What the…? Steve crossed his arms, feeling Cap rise in him.

“Don’t threaten me, Sam,” his tone low and serious.

“Fine. Shut it all inside until you make a stupid mistake and get one of us killed.” Sam took a step forward, merciless.

Steve felt his hackles rise, then stopped himself. It had taken a moment for the verbal jab to hit, but when it did, he reacted as though he’d been punched in the stomach. He took a step back, leaning against the wall. He looked back at Sam and sighed.

“You don’t pull any punches, do you?”

Sam’s expression was careful as he replied, “Not when it comes to my friends and their state of mental health.”

Steve nodded, then started walking down the hallway.

“You comin’?”

 

--

 

“It always tears me apart when he cries. Fuckin’ always…,” Bucky tossed the phone to the foot of the bed.

Reese sighed and continued to hold him, rocking him gently.

“He’s such a goddamned…,” Bucky growled, “Fuck, I’m gonna kick his ass so hard when I see him.”

Reese laughed which then made Bucky laugh. He sighed and slumped in her arms.

“I can’t be angry at him. Not when he’s going through this - not when he’s alone,” he murmured. She ran her fingers through his hair and he sighed.

“Breathe, baby,” she whispered, nuzzling his ear.

He turned to look back at her and frowned. “What you did… what you let me do just now… with him on the phone… it wasn’t…”

Reese captured his lips with hers, cutting him off.

“It was ridiculously fucking hot.”

Bucky peered at her, as if not believing it.

“Yeah?” he asked softly.

Reese replied with a dreamy grin. “Fuck yeah.”

His answering smile was radiant as he pulled away and turned towards her. He cupped her cheek and let his fingers skim along the side of her neck. “You were really into it, weren’t you?”

She bit her lip and gave him a slow nod, blushing. She wasn’t entirely sure why she felt shy all of a sudden, but he was just… being so earnest. It was endearing.

He ducked in and kissed her, gently biting her lower lip.

“Ok, come on.”

He pulled away and stood up, reaching down to take her hand. She blinked, then said, “Huh?”

He laughed and pulled her up, wrapping his arms around her.

“I’m taking you to lunch.”

 

--

 

“You know I can’t let you stay, man. Not after hearing this.”

Sam’s voice was soft and comforting, even if it wasn’t what Steve wanted to hear. He finally released the tears that had been threatening as he took a shaky breath. He looked away and quickly wiped his cheeks off with his sleeve.

“You’ve had a lot of heavy duty emotional shit thrown at you over a short time. I should have known it was too soon to get you back in the game - that’s my fault. I’m sorry, Steve.”

“You know what really sucks? I’m actually fucking relieved that you’re telling me to go.”

He shook his head slowly and let out a weak laugh. “And doesn’t that make me a piece of shit.”

Sam shifted in his seat, shaking his head. “How does that make you a piece of shit? This situation is legitimately terrifying. Frankly, I’m surprised I’m not actively shitting my pants every five minutes.”

Steve chuckled, then Sam continued, “ However - I’m actually holding it together better than I thought I would. How the fuck you guys keep it together without literally breaking down every damn day is a mystery to me.”

Steve laughed softly. “Shitty coping mechanisms and Denial?”

Sam cracked up. “Hey man, you said it.”

Steve sighed and there was a brief silence.

“You sure?” he asked. He had to.

Sam just smiled and said, “You need some time to figure shit out, Steve. If we need the shield and those fuckin’ hammer hands, you’ll be the first I call. I promise.”

Steve nodded, then took a sip of his coffee.

“Thanks, Sam. Sorry I was shitty earlier.”

Sam chuckled and shrugged. “If people only knew what a pain in the ass you really are…”

 

--

 

Ada greeted Bucky with open arms and a broad smile.

“You’ve brought my hungry one back to me!” she exclaimed, radiating joy.

Bucky blushed as the woman pulled him into a hug, sighing as he just let himself be held. It was… nice. He felt safe. Ada then pulled away and turned, calling out to the server and waving him over. Ada asked him in Yorùbá what he wanted to eat, and he just told her to bring it all out. The woman let out a loud laugh, pat him on the shoulder and held out a chair for him.

“You sit, na? I’ll bring you some sobolo.”

He looked over to see Reese grinning back at the pair of them. It was… nice to be cared for. To be treated like this. Ada’s generosity of spirit bowled him over every time he saw her, and he felt himself quickly growing quite fond of her.

He sat and Reese joined him, her eyes bright with pleasure.

“What’re you so happy about?” he asked, teasing her.

Reese let out a happy sigh and quietly replied, “Guess I’m still thinkin’ about your cock in my mouth.”

Bucky flushed furiously. He had just taken a sip of water, immediately unable to keep from spitting it out in embarrassment.

“Jesus, doll - keep it down,” he hissed, looking around to see if anybody had heard her.

She just chuckled and crooked up an eyebrow, then bit her lip. He was suddenly, painfully hard and had to shift in his seat to adjust himself. Fuck, she was feisty. It was awful. He loved it.

The server came over and placed his drink in front of him. Bright pink and with a tart, tangy taste, Sobolo had quickly become one of his favorite beverages. He took a sip and sighed as the cool liquid refreshment rolled down his throat.

He watched as Reese sipped at her Café Touba, her eyes fluttering as she swallowed. The peppery Senegalese coffee drink was a bit too spicy for him, but she loved it. It was a daily thing, now. He smiled as she looked back at him, all satisfaction. He was responsible for at least some of that. He preened internally, pleased with himself - that he’d made it good for her. That she… enjoyed being with him. The appetizer, Vetkoek, arrived and he quickly grabbed several of the curry filled treats, setting them on his plate.

Reese watched him, taking another sip of Café Touba before placing the cup down and getting one herself. She knew these were his favorite, so she always let him indulge. The Akara arrived and she pulled the plate to her side of the table, out of Bucky’s reach, laughing when Bucky growled at her.

“Greedy thing. Look at all the food you have over there? You really need to eat it all?” she chided.

Bucky grunted and jammed another Vetkoek into his mouth, damn near inhaling it.

“You know she wants you to enjoy her food, not hoover it up like a damned vacuum,” Reese shook her head, popping one of the Akara into her mouth.

He narrowed his eyes at her and started to slowly chew his food, unsure why he’d reacted that way. Something started kicking up in the back of his mind and he slammed it back down. I’m fucking EATING. That’s happening now. Shitty food related memories can happen later . Fuck off.

Reese looked concerned now. Shit - he hadn’t shut the reaction down quickly enough. She knew something was wrong.

“Bucky - what do you need?” she asked softly.

He let out a grateful sigh. Thank god she hadn’t asked him what was wrong. He collected himself and replied, “I ah… could you please put that plate in the middle of the table where I can reach it?”

He didn’t know why he desperately needed that, but shit - she’d asked, and he really did. The longer the plate was out of reach, the more anxious he got.

Reese nodded and gently set the plate to where it sat equally distant from both of them. She took another sip of coffee as though nothing odd had happened.

He immediately relaxed, his breath coming a little easier now. Fuck, he’d actually tightened up over that. He swallowed his food, then picked up one of the Akara.

“Thank you,” he replied quietly, popping it into his mouth. For some mysterious reason, it tasted like the best food he’d ever eaten. He actually groaned as he chewed it.

When he looked back up at Reese she was smiling back at him, her voice so soft and sweet as she said, “You’re welcome, Sarge.”

 

-- 

 

Reese sighed as she sipped at her Café Touba. God, she loved this fuckin’ stuff. The food was so fantastic here. She wasn’t sure she wanted to leave.

She felt a wave of relief as Bucky relaxed fully then, smiling again while he ate.

Food insecurity - it was a horrible thing. With all the other things HYDRA had done to him, she supposed that it wasn’t all that surprising that he’d react poorly when he perceived food as having been taken away from him. Her heart went out to him and she just wanted to wrap him in a hug, but she knew that it would distract him from his much needed caloric intake, and would embarrass him if she did it now. When they got back home, however, she was going to see if he’d be willing to talk to her about it.

She was happy that it was something that was so easily solved. She was fairly certain that Bucky would have hated it if he’d ended up ‘making a scene’ because of it. She was glad that she’d been able to spare him that.

The rest of the food arrived and Ada sat with them, keeping Reese company while Bucky ate. Steve didn’t seem to mind when he ate in front of her, but for some reason, when Bucky was packing on the calories, it made him uncomfortable if she watched. She was grateful for the woman’s presence - both because she really cared for Ada, and the fact that her presence was putting Bucky at ease.

“So - how is your Captain?” Ada asked, an eyebrow raised.

Reese sighed and frowned. “He’s… rough. I’m a little worried about him, if I’m being honest.”

Ada nodded and leaned back in her chair. “Maybe he comes back sooner than you think, na?”

She rapped the table with her knuckles, as if this was a pronouncement.

“Fuck, I hope so,” she murmured softly.

Ada shifted in her chair. “There is a celebration coming - the full moon is this weekend. It’s the anniversary of King T’Challa’s birth.”

Reese felt her eyes grow wide. “Whoa. I’ve never attended anything related to the birthday of a king.” She was suddenly giddy at the prospect. What an honor to be a part of and to bear witness to such a thing.

Ada smiled and said, “It is an all weekend festival. The streets will be filled with parades, dancers and musicians. All are welcome.”

“Shit, what am I gonna wear, Ada?” Reese cried. Her entire wardrobe consisted of black or grey.

Ada thought about it for a minute, then said, “Come to my house tomorrow. We will see what my cousin has that fits you. You’re just her size.”

Reese was deeply touched. “Thank you Ada. For everything.”

Ada waved it off, sucking her teeth, but then smiling and looking over at Bucky.

“And maybe you come too, na? My nephew N'Baaka has quite the wardrobe as well.”

Bucky blushed as the woman playfully leered at him. He blinked, then said, “Yeah, why not?”

Ada beamed, then rapped the table twice and stood up.

“I will leave you to your meal, and I will see you tomorrow.”

 

--

 

The flight back was quiet. Steve had been relieved that King T'Challa was okay with him returning and Steve had offered to provide assistance with anything that he could be useful for while he was still in the country. He hadn’t called Reese or Bucky - had wanted to make this a surprise, but now he was a little worried. God, it had been so ridiculously hot over the phone with the three of them. His stomach flipped just thinking about it. Would it be better in person? Would Bucky freak out and disappear again? 

Reese had just had an uninterrupted week with Bucky - would she like him better now? Sure, Bucky still had a long way to go, but Steve himself was pretty fragile as well - or so he was just now starting to realize. Would she want to continue to deal with two broken supersoldiers? Would she leave? He stewed in his own insecurities until Sam landed the Quinjet, then stood and gave his friend a shaky hug.

“You got this, Steve. You’re gonna be ok - just… take your time with it.”

Sam’s voice was soft and reassuring. He was one of the most supportive, sweet men Steve knew.

“Sam… I have no words…,” Steve trailed off.

Sam gave him a warm smile, squeezing him a little tighter. “I know man. I know.”

The men separated and Steve looked over at the ramp, frowning.

“It’s gonna get really bad, isn’t it?” Steve asked softly.

“Yeah. I think it is,” Sam replied. “But everybody’s coming in on this. Charles Xavier is getting involved now, and between Nat and that weird ass head machine he uses, we should have a line on actual targets that bleed soon.”

Steve looked over at him, letting out an explosive sigh.

“Let us handle this. You have a different fight to wade into.”

Steve let out a weak chuckle. “Yeah - if only I could punch my feelings into submission.”

Sam smiled back at him. “Tell your girl I said hi.”

Steve flushed and gave him a sloppy salute.

Sam laughed as Steve walked out of the Quinjet.

 

--

 

Steve rucked his duffelbag higher on his shoulder as he crested the hill to the village Bucky was staying in. In the valley below, down in the river, Bucky, Reese and a few local children were playing in the water, splashing each other and generally making a mess. It was delightful. His heart leapt as he stood there watching, the joy at seeing Bucky genuinely happy was almost painful. He watched Bucky grab Reese and toss her into the water and laughed.

God, how he’d missed them both.

He saw Bucky grow still, then turn to look directly at him. Bastard had always had fantastic situational awareness. Steve held a hand up, gave a brief wave, then started heading down the hill, his heart in his throat.

Reese let out a whoop, then climbed out of the river and started running toward him. Even covered in mud, she was beautiful. His grin was so broad his cheeks almost hurt at this point. He felt… peace. Comfort. She was home . He looked over to see Bucky watch Reese collide with him, laughing as she leapt into his arms. Steve dropped the bag and held her tightly.

“Well, that’s one outfit ruined,” he murmured.

She crowed with laughter. “Oh fuck off. You’re here! Holy shit!”

Bucky walked up to them, his expression pleased but careful as Steve placed Reese down.

“Hey Buck.”

Steve flushed as his voice cracked a little and he and Bucky were suddenly embracing. Bucky was trembling as Steve held him.

“Fuck, Stevie…,” he trailed off, his voice a little shaky.

They held each other for a few minutes, then Bucky asked, “How long can you stay this time?”

Steve brushed a strand of brown hair out of his lover’s eyes. “Sam put me on Medical Leave. Apparently I wasn’t ready to go back out yet.”

Bucky blinked, then hugged him again. “Thank fucking god, somebody on that team has a lick of goddamned sense in them.”

Steve frowned, pulling away and looking back at his friend. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Bucky gave him a mild look and took a step away from him. “Seriously? I could tell you weren’t ready to go back in the field, and my brains are literally scrambled fuckin’ eggs .”

Steve gave him a look of wonder. “Then why didn’t you…?”

“Say something? Like you’da fuckin’ listened? Yeah. ‘cause that always works.”

Bucky let out a bark of laughter.

Steve sighed. “Why ya gotta be such a smug prick about it?”

Bucky kicked the toe of his boot with his foot. “It’s part of my charm, asshole.”

Steve laughed and looked over at Reese who was just grinning and shaking her head.

“Are you at least happy I’m back?” he asked her, his voice thick with playful sarcasm.

“I’m so fuckin’ happy you’re back, Steve,” she replied, sounding a little giddy. “But, as I’m currently filthy, I’m gonna go get cleaned up and let you boys catch up with each other.”

“You’re just gonna get all sweaty again - remember, we have a soccer match in a few hours,” Bucky called out as she walked back towards the hut.

“A soccer match?” Steve asked.

Bucky shrugged. “Yeah - the kids and some of the adults get in on the game. We promised them a game tonight.”

“You play soccer.” Steve rolled the idea around in his head. It seemed odd for some reason.

Bucky chuckled. “I dance ballet as well, Steve. Get with the program.”

Steve blinked. “You…”

Bucky took his hand and Steve’s heart leapt. “There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me as I am now, Steve. We have a lot to catch up on.”

Steve let himself be pulled along, grabbing the strap of his duffel and hefting the bag over his shoulder.

 

--

 

Bucky pulled him inside the hut, trembling as Steve dropped the bag and advanced on him. Then he was in Steve’s arms and he was being kissed - it was so raw, and rough - and needy .

“I missed you so fucking much, baby…,” Steve hissed, kissing his way down Bucky’s neck, then biting down.

Bucky cried out, his hands fisting in Steve’s hair as sharp pleasure shot through him. “I need it… please , baby…”

Steve was begging him and sparks danced along his synapses as Steve cupped him through his soaked pants, squeezing his cock.

“Oh fuck, Bucky… ,” Steve breathed and Bucky groaned. Steve dropped to his knees, fumbling with Bucky’s belt.

Stevie… ,” he growled as Steve quickly got him out of his trousers and swallowed him down. “Oh fuck, baby boy .”

Tears trailed down Steve’s cheeks as his mouth pulled on Bucky’s dick. Christ, he was harder than he could ever remember being before and Steve always did suck cock like he was going for a fucking medal in it. He watched as Steve clutched at his own cock through his pants, his hand pushing through Steve’s hair as he groaned, feeling Steve everywhere. He was surrounded, engulfed by him. It was a glorious feeling.

And then, it wasn’t. Steve seemed to know that something was wrong and he stopped entirely, looking up. Bucky struggled to control himself as Steve met his eyes, his mouth wide around his cock. That he’d stopped moving had helped somehow. Bucky’s hand trembled as he gently slid his cock in and out of Steve’s mouth, and Steve’s response to it brought the fire roaring back. His lover stayed still, letting Bucky control everything. He didn’t have to feel taken or used - Steve would let him have this, let him be rough - let him get what he needed. It changed everything.

Steve clutched at Bucky’s thighs, holding on as Bucky took what he wanted, choking a few times, but not indicating that he wanted to stop. Finally, Bucky tightened and shook as he came, watching and almost whimpering as Steve swallowed every drop.

“Oh, baby boy - that was perfect. So good,” he crooned, gently brushing his thumb across Steve’s cheek.

Steve was flushed and quietly weeping now as Bucky reached down to help him up and walked them over to the bed. Steve leaned into him and Bucky sighed, ruffling his hair, then holding him.

“I thought I’d fucked up there for a minute.” Steve’s voice was a little hoarse, which just made Bucky want to strip him down and fuck him.

“No, Stevie… you did nothing wrong. It’s my… fucked up issues…,” he trailed off, kissing Steve’s temple.

 

--

 

Reese toweled off and walked back into the hut, stopping as she saw Steve and Bucky on the bed together, hands intertwined, facing each other. When she saw that Steve was crying, she moved to go, but Bucky said, “It’s ok. We had an intense moment there. It’s good now.”

Steve looked up at her and he flushed bright red. He looked thoroughly embarrassed.

“You sure?” she asked him and Steve took a shaky breath and nodded.

From the noises she’d heard while she was washing up, she had a very good idea of what they’d been up to. She was glad that they’d reconnected, even if it had made Steve cry.

“You sure you’re still gonna have enough energy for the game tonight, you geriatric fucks?” she asked tartly, grinning.

They both laughed and Steve gave her the finger as she climbed onto the bed with them, enjoying the puppy pile of cuddling that ensued.

Chapter Text

As Steve changed the sheets - Bucky really had been filthy, and he should’ve known better not to roll around on the bed that way, he grinned and let out a happy sigh. It was the first time in a great while where he finally felt… settled. Comfortable. Safe . While Bucky took his time getting dressed, their eyes kept finding each other.

“Fuck,” Bucky grumbled, pulling on a shirt. “Stop looking so smug, asshole.”

Steve - immensely pleased with himself, chuckled and flushed, finishing up and sitting back down on the bed.

“I think I have a right to be a little smug after a job well done.”

Reese shook her head and giggled at the pair of them. “Christ, you’re like a pair of sixteen year old girls in here.”

Steve rushed her, picking her up and tickling her. She let out a howl of laughter, then yelled, “Stop - stop, I’m gonna piss myself!”

Steve released her and she gave him a playful slap. Bucky laughed as he went to the sink, getting a glass of water and drinking it down.

“So - How are we gonna do this?” he asked, turning to face them, leaning back against the sink.

Steve blinked, then frowned. “You want to have this conversation now?”

Bucky rolled his eyes letting out a soft laugh. “The game, asshole. We obviously can’t be on the same team. Wouldn’t be fair.”

Steve chuckled and nodded. “True. But you know what that means…,” he trailed off. He’d always been competitive as fuck, and whenever he and Bucky ended up involved in any kind of sport that involved either kicking or punching, they’d tended to roughouse.

Bucky laughed and replied, “You’re gonna turn this into a full contact sport with kids involved?”

“I’ll try not to ring your bell too hard, pal,” Steve replied smoothly, a mischievous look in his eyes.

Bucky gave him the finger, dismissing him as he started pulling on his boots.

“You’re gonna run in boots ?” Steve asked, sceptical.

“You see any other shoes around in here?” Bucky snapped back, waving around the room before moving to lace the boots up.

“You could at least get some decent footwear - you’re gonna get blisters in those, Buck…,”

Bucky gave him an irritated look and snapped, “What are you, my mother? Fuck off, Rogers. Worry about your own feet.”

“Oh for fucksakes, is this how it’s gonna be now? You two just constantly snapping at each other?” Reese laughed and tossed a towel at Steve and he caught it, frowning - a little confused.

“It’s ok, Ri - it’s just our way,” Bucky explained softly, walking up to Steve, giving him a soft smile as he reached out to dip his fingers into the waist of Steve’s pants. Bucky pulled him close and kissed him, which set his heart racing. Just as he started leaning into the kiss, Bucky grabbed the towel from him and jammed it down the front of his pants before running out of the hut with a whoop.

 

--

 

“You dick!” Steve howled, yanking out the towel and taking off after him.

Reese blinked and sighed, taking a minute to sit down. It had been such a surprise to see him cresting that hill. She was still a little shaky from listening to him break down over the phone, being unable to be there for him, unable to hold him. He and Bucky would eventually run off their excitement at seeing each other, at being back together, and while it was highly likely that there would be a great deal of sex in the very near future, there were still emotional wounds that needed to be addressed - soothed and healed. Steve was still carrying around the horrors of the war he’d fought - and the lover and friend he’d lost - then found again, and Bucky… that was an entire bag of cats that could take years for the man to recover from. She sat with the reality of it - the enormity of it, getting her own emotions under control so that she could simply enjoy the game tonight and her time with them.

There was no reason to pick at the scabs, but at some point, they were all going to need to do some pretty serious talking with each other.

She lay back on the bed, remembering the first time she’d met Steve - how furious and disgusted she’d been at him - no, at Captain America . And now, here she was - soul deep in a relationship that - while it was challenging, was more fulfilling that any other she’d ever been in. With two men - two supersoldiers , for fucksakes. It was a little nuts. Her entire life had been upended in a matter of months, and she still hadn’t dealt with the repercussions of that. Literally everything had changed. It was a lot to handle.

With Steve gone, she and Bucky had been able to focus on each other - distracting each other in a variety of delightful and supremely filthy ways, but… they hadn’t really talked about anything in depth. Not the way she and Steve had. It didn’t scare her - the impending Big Talk, but she knew it had to happen at some point. She only hoped it happened organically - otherwise, she’d have to be the asshole to get it started, and that would suck.

Both men really needed long term therapy, but they had come from a time rife with so many toxic masculinity traits - would they balk at the idea? Fight back against it? Only time would tell.

“You ok?”

Reese looked up to see Steve holding the curtain of the front door open as he peered inside, frowning at seeing her on the bed.

She smiled and nodded, sitting up. “Yeah - I was just taking a minute for myself.”

He stepped inside then, not entirely believing her. Bucky came in behind him, gently jostling him out of the way.

“Come on, Ri. They’re picking teams.”

She stood up and went to them, heart happy as they both wrapped around her, just holding her for a few minutes.

“Ok - let’s go score some goals.”

 

--

 

Steve was still a little sore where Bucky had tackled him earlier. While they’d gone easy on everybody else, the two of them had each tried to get a shot in on each other, whenever they ended up near each other on the field. He watched as Bucky worked with one of the kids after the game, helping him tighten up his control of the ball, feeling happier than he had in a long time.

Bucky was alive - was here , with him . It still kinda blew his mind and he smiled as Bucky’s eyes met his, the brunet’s grin wild and dazzling. It was a gorgeous night and the scent of flowers on the wind made him a little giddy. He looked over at Reese to see her smiling back at him, before she talked with several of the elder women of the village, laughing and nodding back at them.

In such a short amount of time, they’d built a life here.

It was wonderful to see.

He walked over to Reese and she smiled and introduced him. The women seemed very pleased to meet him and he happily returned their greetings.

One of them handed him a small glass jar of some kind of unguent, and he gratefully took it, looking over at Reese for guidance.

“It’s to help you to keep from getting sunburned. They gave me some when I first got here, and it was a godsend,” she explained.

The women laughed and one of them came up to pat his arm gently. She turned and said something that he couldn’t understand to the other women and he heard a sharp bark of laughter from behind him.

Bucky walked up and replied to the woman in the same language, which made all of them cackle. Steve turned to Bucky and he explained, “She said something along the lines of ‘I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers’.”

Steve flushed, his eyes going wide. He then shivered as Bucky slid an arm around his waist and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll protect you from the ravaging hordes of women who want to defile you.”

Steve burst out laughing, shaking his head.

Bucky said something else that he couldn’t understand and gave Steve’s ass a squeeze. Steve let out a strangled sound and Reese just started laughing. The women waved at them, then turned to head back to their own huts.

“Do I even want to know what you said to them?” Steve asked mildly.

Bucky took his hand and started pulling him back toward the hut and Reese moved to follow, taking his other hand.

“Just marking my territory, is all…,” he trailed off, laughing lightly.

Once they made it to the hut, Steve crowded Bucky up against the outside wall then boldly cupped him through his pants, giving him a brief squeeze, then kissing the daylights out of him.

When he was finished, Bucky’s eyes were dilated and he was breathing hard. Steve backed off and chuckled. “Ball’s in your court, Barnes.”

He headed inside, leaving the two of them staring after him.

 

--

 

The shower was only big enough for one of them, so they took showers in turn. When Bucky walked in, Steve was already in bed, laying on top of the covers reading a book and wearing a pair of purple boxers with… “Are those raccoons doing Kung Fu poses?” Bucky asked as he moved closer, peering at the little characters on the boxers. 

Steve grinned and nodded. “Yeah. Reese got ‘em for me. Like ‘em?”

Bucky laughed and shook his head, then toweled his hair off, tossing his towel into a laundry basket.

“She’s got style, our girl,” he replied, grinning.

Steve placed the book to the side - it had a bright red cover with bright yellow lettering. “That she does.”

Bucky read the title out loud, “The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls… any good?”

Steve looked down at the book, then back up at him. “Oh yeah. Mona Eltahawy is a feminist powerhouse. She's a serious badass. She was arrested in Cairo while reporting on renewed protests in Tahrir Square. They detained her for 12 hours and ended up breaking her arm and hand. It didn't stop her. She's still speaking out for those whose voices need to be heard.”

“Damn. Sounds like a spitfire. I bet she and Carter would’ve gotten along like a house afire,” he mused, grinning. It had been awhile since he’d thought of Peggy Carter. Now, her face loomed large in his mind. There had been a time when he’d been almost jealous of Peggy - of the magnetic pull she’d had on Steve. He’d been fascinated by her, and it had rattled Bucky’s self confidence when he’d seen them interact after his rescue from Azzano.

In the end, though, Steve had made his choice clear. Peggy - although daring and definitely a risk taker, was monogamous - and he wasn’t willing to give Bucky up. She’d been surprised when Steve had come out to her, but she had been respectful and had kept his secret all these years. Their secret.

The only other people who had known about the two of them had been the Howlies, and they got their fair ration of playful teasing from their fellow squadmates.

The image of Peggy in that damned red dress scrambled his thoughts for a moment and he started at the realization that Steve was standing beside him now.

“Buck?”

Bucky slid a hand through his hair, embarrassed that he’d lost the thread for a moment there.

“I… ah… got caught up in a memory - of her, of the guys…,” he explained, meeting Steve’s eyes.

Steve smiled, reaching a hand out, then pausing.

“Is it ok if I touch you?” he asked softly.

Bucky moved into him and kissed him, wrapping around him and holding him tightly.

“Thank you for asking me,” Bucky breathed, his heart racing.

Steve kissed his cheek, then his neck. “Is it better when I ask?”

Bucky shivered, his voice a little hoarse as he replied, “Yeah - it is. I’m sorry, but it helps. It’s different with Reese, but maybe that’s because she’s a dame…,” he trailed off, feeling both awkward and turned on. It was discomfiting.

Steve pulled away and looked back at him. It took Bucky’s breath away the way Steve peppered his face with soft kisses and he relaxed and let out a sigh as Steve led them over to the bed. He crawled onto the bed, looking over at Bucky with a relaxed smile.

“It’s so good to see you, Buck. I missed you so fucking much,” he breathed, laying on his side as Bucky lay out beside him. Fuck - there’s just so much of him now , Bucky thought as he looked Steve over.

A warmth coiled in his belly as Steve reached forward and brushed his knuckles softly against Bucky’s cheek. The brunet leaned into the touch with a groan and then let out a soft cry as Steve kissed his forehead.

“I know I came on really strong earlier… I’m sorry about that. I don’t want to do anything that might cause you to go back to a bad mental place...,” Steve explained, his expression so loving, so earnest.

Bucky sighed - a tangle of confusion and emotion going through him.

“Could we just… would you hold me for a little bit?”

His own voice sounded so small to him. It was so odd, so embarrassing to be asking for something like this.

“C’mere baby. Of course I’ll hold you.”

Steve gently pulled him into his chest and Bucky just sank into the feeling of being loved, being held and cared for. Steve would never hurt him. Steve was alive - and safe , and it was good.

 

--

 

Reese walked into the hut, still toweling her hair dry. The boys - her boys - faced each other and were talking silently, smiling and snuggling each other. God, they were beautiful together. Steve looked over at her and made grabby hands, which made Bucky chuckle. She shrugged, dropped the towel and walked over to the bed, hands on her hips as she looked down at them.

Steve’s eyes seemed to be everywhere at once, drinking in her appearance. Bucky reached out, grabbing her wrist and pulling her down onto the bed with them.

“Oof!” She fell onto him, laughing as they shifted to put her between them.

“Did you tell him about this weekend?” she asked, snuggling into them.

“Oh, yeah! There’s a thing… birthday for the King. They’re having a big party and invited us,” Bucky explained, kissing her shoulder.

“No shit?” Steve asked, kissing her other shoulder.

“Yeah - we’re going to Ada’s tomorrow. She’s gonna get us all kitted out for it. She’ll be thrilled you’re back.”

Bucky started kissing his way up her shoulder, then down her chest, and Steve mirrored his movements. Reese just sighed and relaxed into the feeling. It had been years since she’d been with more than one partner at a time, and she found that she’d missed it a great deal.

“Fuck, I missed her Ẹ̀fọ́ riro…,” Steve trailed off, moving to gently cup her breast. Bucky kissed her nipple, then started sliding a hand down her stomach, slow and easy. She shivered as Bucky replied, “You ate for shit while you were in the field didn’t you?”

Steve laughed and pinched Reese’s nipple, causing her to cry out. Bucky’s finger slipped between her slick curls and she bucked up, unable to help herself.

“Greedy girl,” Steve crooned, nipping the side of her breast.

Her breaths were shallow and quick as she growled, “Hey, you assholes started it. I’m just the willing recipient here.”

Bucky laughed, low and sinful and she groaned, his clever fingers pulling her pleasure from her almost too quickly. Steve moved back to kissing her shoulder, just watching the two of them as jolts of pleasure shook her body. Steve grabbed her breast and squeezed her nipple and that sent her over the edge, crying out.

 

--

Bucky shivered as Reese recovered, a little overwhelmed by it all. She was looking over at him with a look of such wrecked contentment it almost took his breath away. The fact that Steve had been there with them had cranked everything up to a point where he was starting to feel uneasy.

He struggled with his own desire for Reese, as well as a mixture of both discomfort and desire for Steve as well, and it was taking him out of the moment.

Suddenly, he was back in The Room - the light harsh and bright, ensuring that everything was seen - nothing left to the imagination. “Wouldn’t want footage that was too dark, would we?” one of his assailants had laughed before they had started in on him. The memory didn’t have the same bite it once did, which helped, but the numb recall almost made it worse this time.

He became vaguely aware of someone calling his name - soft, but urgent.

He jerked back to awareness to find Reese laying beside him. Steve was no longer beside her in the bed. He sat in a chair at the foot of the bed, watching them silently. Bucky let out a shaky breath, shaking his head and moving to pull her close as tears started. Fuck, he hated crying. He curled in on himself as she held him.

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry…,” he grated, his hands shaking as he moved to grip her tighter. “ Fuck .”

 

--

 

Steve watched them together, his heart twisting in his chest. Shit - had he done something wrong? Had he said something - done something to trigger Bucky? He clasped his hands together in his lap so tightly they ached. He took in a shaky breath as Reese worked to calm Bucky. He shook his head and looked over towards the door. He’d honestly been surprised at how bold Bucky was acting towards him since he’d gotten back - it had thrown him a little. He supposed that it was a small victory that his friend hadn’t thrown up again. He stood to go get some water - anything that could possibly help, then stilled when Bucky pleaded, “Don’t go. Stevie… shit, don’t go. Please .”

There was a loud click in Steve’s throat as he swallowed, looking back over at them, his voice soft and reassuring as he replied, “I was just gonna get some water, buddy.”

Bucky eased down from terrified, blinking quickly and nodding. “Okay…,” he trailed off.

Steve poured him a glass of water, bringing it back over to the bed.

“Is it ok if I sit?”

Bucky nodded, tearing up a little more, then moved to sit up and take the glass from Steve.

He looked over at Reese to see her smiling back at him, nodding in approval. He relaxed as Bucky knocked the water back.

They were ok. They’d get through this.

Chapter Text

Bucky handed the glass back to Steve, his hand shaking. Fuck. This was so stupid. He wrapped his arms around himself and shook his head in irritation. Shame flooded him as he looked over at Reese.

“Would it help to talk about it?” Reese suggested softly.

Bucky let out a harsh croak of laughter.

“I… ah…,” he started, his voice a little hoarse. “I don’t know. I just… fuck .”

He reached up, digging the heel of his palm in his eye. 

Reese leaned into him and he let out a shaky sigh. “You don’t have to talk to us about it.”

She held out a hand and he quickly latched onto it as though it were a lifeline. “But you should talk to somebody. What happened to you - it wasn’t your fault, Bucky. None of it.”

His answering laugh was weak and strained. “Wasn’t it?”

Bucky looked up at Steve. His friend’s expression was shocked - alarmed as he shook his head. “No, Bucky. How could you think that?”

Steve’s voice was soft and tentative and it made Bucky want to hit him. Shit, he wanted to hit anything at this point.

Bucky pulled away from Reese and releasing her hand, his expression closing down.

They made me beg , Steve. They broke me,” he admitted as he turned away from them, the guilt and shame of it washing through him, making him choke.

“I couldn’t… ,” he cried in frustration and he felt tears stream down his face.

Christ, how fucked was this? His emotions were all over the place and suddenly, nausea crashed into him like a freight train. He ran for the trashcan, violently throwing up into it. He stared down at the mess, then quickly looked over at the kitchen, not wanting either of them to see him.

“The first time? I was eight.”

Reese’s voice brought him up short. He turned to see her looking over at him, her expression calm. She took a deep breath, then continued “He said the same shit child rapists always say, and I believed him. In the beginning. My sister did too.”

What . Bucky wiped his mouth then sat, stunned. Then a cold, quiet fury rose in him. “Who was it?”

“My uncle.” Her eyes blazed as she replied, then made a motion as if spitting on the ground. Her expression was thick with disgust.

“He still alive?” Bucky’s heart raced as he remembered what happened to the girls who… the red room. He… trained them? But when they were no longer of use to HYDRA, the men… God - how bad had it been for her? He’d made them bury one of the bodies after, just to see if he’d react. He did as he was told, but inside he was screaming. The memory shook through him and he watched as a cold, cruel smile curved her lips. “No.”

“Good.” He spat, his right hand clenching and unclenching. He wasn’t sure whether he was disappointed that the asshole was in the ground, where he couldn’t exact his own brand of justice for what the man had done - or if he was disappointed at how grateful a part of him felt that wouldn’t have to kill again.

“I put him in the hospital. He never touched either of us again.” Reese’s voice was calm, her expression empty now as she stood and walked over to him. Her eyes were soft as she crouched down, then sat across from him.

“Did talking about it help you?” His own voice sounded so small.

“Actually, yeah.” Reese sighed. “I fuckin’ hated it at first. Called the nice lady every word in the book for the first few sessions - but then… something broke, and it all just starting pouring out.”

Bucky reached out then and she took his hand with a sad smile.

“And then, she helped me find a way through it.”

He shivered. The very idea that somebody had hurt her… that had Done That to her… it was fucking unacceptable. And the fact that he couldn’t fix it? That he couldn’t help?

Almost as if she could sense him getting wound up about it, she gently squeezed his hand.

“Hey - that’s my fight, Barnes. And I fuckin’ won it. That shitbag has no hold on me now. I’m on the other side of it. I’m ok.”

Bucky pulled her into his lap, hugging her for all he was worth. He watched Steve move to sit on the bed, watching them carefully. Reese hugged him, nuzzling into his neck.

“You can get through this, Bucky. And we’ll be with you every step of the way.”

Bucky let out a heavy sigh, then nodded. Reese was one of the strongest women he’d ever met, aside from Peggy - well, and Steve’s mom. The fact that she’d gone through that - that someone had… and she’d come out on the other side? And felt no shame about sex? She was actually happy? It gave him hope.

He looked back over at Steve then gently pushed Reese away.

“Lemme clean my mouth out, willya?” he snapped.

Reese chuckled and helped him up, walking back over to Steve and sitting beside him. Bucky walked over to the sink and rinsed the bitter, sour taste out of his mouth, then turned back to face them.

“Is it gonna be a huge pain in the ass if we just… sleep tonight?”

He hated how unsure he sounded.

Both of them nodded and smiled.

“Where do you need me, Buck?” Steve asked. He hated that he’d put that anxious note in his friend’s voice with his reaction.

Bucky ran his fingers through his hair and replied, “You know this isn’t about you, Stevie. Right? That I’m not… that it’s just my fucked up head?”

Steve nodded, still careful. “I know, Buck. I just… I want you to be… shit, I just don’t want to make things worse…,” he trailed off.

Bucky laughed. “Yeah, pal. Same here.”

Steve chuckled softly and Bucky’s heart eased as he watched his friend’s expression relax.

“Can I call middle?” he asked, hoping he wouldn’t freak out in the middle of the night, but really needing the physical closeness of the two of them right now.

 

--

 

It took a little shifting, but finally the three of them got settled in the bed - Reese curling around Bucky, spooning him, while Steve let Bucky curl around him in turn. As it turned out, Bucky no longer snored. When they were in the field, Bucky was nearly quiet, but get him into an actual bed and it had been almost oppressive. Steve had forgotten about it until now.

He’d woken with the need to hit the bathroom and gently worked to extricate himself from the tangle of limbs he found himself in. When he came back to the bed, he found that Bucky and Reese had changed positions - he was now spooning her, and it left him with a dilemma.

He watched them sleep for a few minutes, then Bucky grumbled, “Just get back in bed, Steve. I’m not gonna bite.”

Steve grinned and slid in beside Bucky, willing his body to calm the fuck down and Bucky sighed as Steve snugged up to his back, placing a hand on his hip. Thankfully, he was asleep within minutes.

 

--

 

Ada greeted them with a huge smile and a knowing look as she shook a finger at Steve, then hugged him.

“You staying longer this time?” she asked, her tone playful.

Steve chuckled and nodded, blushing. “Yes ma’am. No place I’d rather be.”

Ada waved to the server, who just nodded and darted back into the kitchen as Bucky and Reese moved to sit at the table. He watched as they picked at each other, grinning. It was so good to see them both happy and at ease.

“You have a great weight on your mind, na?” Ada asked, pulling him out of his thoughts.

He blinked and frowned, but Ada just sucked her teeth at him. “Better for you to be here. Your friend is not the only one who needs healing.”

She placed a gentle hand on his arm. Steve nodded and sighed.

“Every soldier needs to rest, na?” she asked softly.

Sure - the idea of that resonated with him. He’d just never really considered that it would apply to him. He still felt such a large obligation to Erskine - to all the men and women who were responsible for making him the man he was today - and to simply opt out to recover? The idea had been beyond him, until Sam brought it up.

“My cousin - she is a very good listener. War is an abusive, wretched thing, and it twists people - no matter which side you fight on. She has helped many of the men from her country who have sought her out for advice and assistance. When you are ready, you come to me and I give you her number - but only when you ask, you understand?”

His mouth was suddenly very dry but he nodded. “Thank you, Ada. For everything.”

Her smile was bright and open as she pat his shoulder. “And now, it is time for you to eat some of my Ẹ̀fọ́ riro, na? Missed it, did you?”

He laughed and placed a hand on his stomach. Oh man, had he ever missed it.

“You go - sit and eat. Then I come find you and we get you proper dressed.”

 

--

 

“You don’t think they’re a little… tight?” Steve turned to look at his backside in the mirror, scandalized. The pants were smooth and clung to him like a second skin. At least with jeans, the addition of pockets seemed to help him maintain the illusion of dignity - but these? He flushed as he turned facing the mirror.

“Oh, they’re just right. Trust me,” Bucky replied with a dark, hungry chuckle.

He turned back to see Reese nodding with approval, her grin wicked.

“Guys, I don’t know… I’m pretty sure I’m gonna have to wear a cup...,” he complained, feeling completely on display at this point. For fucksakes, you could clearly see the outline of his cock through the fabric. It left literally nothing to the imagination, in his opinion.

Bucky’s image in the mirror stood and Steve’s jaw tightened as he watched his friend and lover casually pluck out another pair of pants, stripping down entirely and pulling them on.

Ada let out a whoop and Bucky just laughed as he tucked and adjusted himself, then walked up to Steve, snaking an arm around his waist.

“Fuck. You don’t play fair,” Steve grated. His eyes darted down to his own crotch and he was horrified to see the obvious reaction to Bucky’s appearance. He quickly covered himself and said, “No. I can’t…,” he trailed off, flushing furiously, wanting to cover his face as well. God, he was ridiculous.

“Hey, it’s ok. I know this sorta thing makes you uncomfortable.” Bucky gently bumped his hip. “You don’t hafta.”

Steve glared back at Bucky’s reflection. “But - you’re wearing them, right?”

Bucky laughed and bit his lip, then looked back at his own reflection. “Fuck yeah, I’m wearing them. Why wouldn’t I?”

Steve stammered, “But what if you get an… I mean…”

“Erection?” Bucky laughed, shrugging. “Then I guess everybody gets an eyeful.”

Steve shook his head, utterly embarrassed, keeping a hand over himself while he looked for another pair of pants. He sighed with relief as he pulled out a pair of dark mudcloth drawstring pants with dark red and yellow designs on them. He quickly went behind the changing screen and switched the pants, letting out a sigh of relief as he walked back out. They were far more comfortable, in his opinion.

Reese was grinning back at him. “You’re so fucking adorable.”

Steve looked over to see Bucky checking out his own ass in the mirror, then shook his head.

“Fucking peacock,” he grumbled.

Bucky chuckled and smoothed the fabric over his ass. “Hey - not my fault I don’t mind showin’ off.”

Ada laughed and said, “You are certainly going to be popular - lots of dance partners, I think.”

Steve moved to sit beside Reese. “If it’s one thing Bucky never lacked - it was dance partners. The ladies lined up for him.”

Bucky turned to face him, his grin wicked. “Yeah, but I still always came home to you, didn’t I?”

Steve felt his cheeks grow warm and he couldn’t help his answering smile.

“There is that,” he replied smoothly.

Fuck. Bucky really did look amazing. Scandalous. The man was sex on wheels. Always had been. It was good to see him confident and comfortable again.

“Wanna dance with me, Stevie?” Bucky crooned, cocking a hip to the side.

Steve sighed and leaned back into the couch. “There’s no music.”

Then, suddenly, there was. Bucky grinned over at Ada, who simply shrugged and smiled back at him. Steve’s jaw dropped as Bucky let out a joyous laugh and started dancing in the most provocative manner he’d ever seen.

Reese and Ada whooped and clapped, but Steve was spellbound.

“Who knew a white boy had such moves?” Ada crowed, whistling, then Steve watched as she moved to match him - and he was scandalized again.

Bucky pulled Ada into him and the pair laughed and danced practically on top of each other. What was Bucky thinking?

“You should really pick your jaw up off the floor. You’ll draw flies.” Reese murmured.

Steve looked over at her, stricken, then looked back over at Bucky and Ada. They moved really well together, but the dance was just so… suggestive. He felt himself blushing furiously and cursed his own biology for showing his embarrassment so clearly on his face.

“Where did you learn to dance like this, Òjìji ?” he heard Ada ask.

Bucky shook his head, following her moves perfectly. “I guess I picked it up at some point.”

Steve stilled, then relaxed when Bucky looked over at him and winked. The two of them spoke in what Steve assumed was Yorùbá, and Ada beamed, then stepped away from him, fanning herself.

“I haven’t danced like that in years. I am afraid I am not as in shape as I used to be,” Ada begged off, moving to sit and take a sip of water. 

Bucky chuckled softly, then asked, “Mind if I play something?”

Ada shrugged and leaned back in her chair, “Too much sauce for the Captain, na?” she laughed.

Bucky actually blushed and Steve’s heart thumped painfully in his chest as he watched Bucky scroll through something on his phone, then Glenn Miller’s In The Mood started playing.

“You remember how?” Bucky held a hand out and Steve stood, nodding. Yeah. This, he knew.

 

--

 

Reese watched as Bucky led, her eyes leaking a little as her men began to dance. She’d never really seen anybody jitterbug in real life, but the boys tore up the floor, grinning and matching each other move for move. It was transcendent. She looked over to see Ada smiling and clapping happily, whistling and cheering them both on.

“This was a lot easier when you were a hundred pounds lighter, pal,” Bucky quipped.

Steve laughed and shrugged. “Guess you’re just gonna have to work for it then, aren’t ya punk?”

Bucky pulled Steve in against him, then Steve squawked as he briefly ground against him, then spun him quickly.

“You’re a horrible person, and you do horrible things,” Steve snapped.

Bucky cackled and swatted him on the ass, then fell back in step. Seeing the two of them matching each other, joyously, made her heart ache. She sipped at her tea as she watched them, genuinely impressed with their ability to know each other’s movements so well.

When the song ended, they both hugged each other, their matching grins incandescent.

“Where did you learn to hoof like that?” Reese asked.

Bucky looked over at her and chuckled, “Look who’s catchin’ up on our lingo.”

They walked over and each sat beside her on the couch, Bucky wiping his forehead sweat on her cheek.

“What’s buzzin’ cousin?”

He laughed as she smacked him. “Hey, don’t snap your cap, doll.”

She looked over to see Steve sighing with a fond grin. “There was a… special bar where we could go and dance together without worrying about anybody lookin’ at us funny. You remember, Stevie?”

“Oh my god, Frannie’s. Yeah, I remember.” Steve bit his lip, mischief dancing in his eyes. “Was the only place where I ever actually got asked to dance by people other than Bucky.”

“The ladies didn’t know what they were missin’, Stevie,” Bucky rumbled smoothly.

“They really fucking didn’t , baby. You have NO idea ,” Reese agreed emphatically.

Bucky chuckled and kissed her shoulder. “She would know, Rogers.”

“Bein’ I’m a girl and all?” Reese snapped back, grinning.

Bucky just smiled, then rolled his hips and waggled his eyebrows. Reese rolled her eyes and stood up.

“Guess I should find something to wear now, eh?” Ada smiled and stood, then waved her to follow.

 

--

 

Bucky shook his head as he watched Reese walk off.

“How did we get so fuckin’ lucky, pal?” he asked, his tone reverent.

Steve chuckled as Bucky met his gaze. “I don’t know what the fuck I did right, but… she’s just so…,” he trailed off.

“She’s the full fuckin’ package, is what she is,” Bucky cut in with a sharp grin.

“She is that,” Steve replied, watching as Bucky scooted over to sit beside him. “I can’t believe you’re gonna wear those fuckin’ pants in public .”

Bucky laughed, shaking his head. “Stevie, I’m just fuckin’ with you. These are one step away from being ballet tights.”

Steve gave him a fierce side-eye, then looked over at the rest of the collection of clothes that Ada had given them to go through. “So - decided on anything?”

Bucky stood up and walked over, bending down to rummage through them, and Steve had to admit he had absolutely no complaints about the view. He smiled and sighed, then Bucky turned and glared at him.

“You gonna keep ogling my ass, or are you gonna get up here and help me look?”

 

--

 

The dress fit Reese surprisingly well. The fabric was a deep, rich green and black, the neck coming up into a choker that then came down in a thick line to meet the top of the dress. The dress made the tattoos that were uncovered pop, and there were slits in the dress that went up to mid thigh on both sides.

“This is the one,” Ada said, nodding with approval.

Reese smoothed down the sides of the dress and just marveled at her reflection in the mirror. There was a low whistle from behind them and the ladies both turned to see Steve and Bucky watching them. The men were both smiling, their hands clasped together.

“Please… just don’t tell me I need to wear heels,” she begged as she looked over at Ada.

Ada laughed and turned her to face the men.

“Does she not look exquisite?” she asked softly.

“She looks killer diller,” Bucky breathed, staring back at her with a slowly widening grin.

Steve stood in the doorway, with a broad, appreciative smile. “What he said.”

Reese rolled her eyes and replied, “Aren’t you boys sweet.”

She was blushing furiously. Dresses really weren’t her style, but she had to admit, she did look amazing in it. It softened her look in a way that went with it instead of aggressively trying to tone it down. She turned to look back at herself in the mirror, smiling.

“Yeah. This is the one.”

Chapter Text

The size of the festivities were almost overwhelming, the decorations so lavish and enormous. It covered the whole city. There was so much to catch the eye, Reese had a difficult time knowing what to focus on initially. Everything was so bright and colorful and with Master KG’s song Jerusalema echoing through the streets surrounding the palace she found herself bouncing to the beat. The streets were near packed, but people had left enough room for people passing through the crowd to easily get where they needed to go.

Although it was blazing hot - even with the sun setting, everybody was singing and dancing. Joy echoed out on so many faces it was almost dizzying. Children ran around in happy groups, holding hands and excitedly darting through gaps in the crowd, wanting to get closer to the palace.

For a moment, Reese felt a thread of fear for them. In New York, kids could take care of themselves, but the street could be vicious to the unwary. Here, nobody seemed to worry or mind, and she eased down a little.

Everybody here seemed truly happy and at peace. In Wakanda, there were no dangerous alleys, no dangerous parts of the city, because poverty didn’t exist here. It wasn’t because this was some sort of magical place, but more due to the fact that the government here actually worked for the betterment of all Wakandans. No citizen was left out of the loop. All had what they needed to thrive, and consequently they all treated each other with respect and support; as an enormous family.

It made her heart hurt thinking about home - how truly savage the US could be to its citizens, all while wearing a false cloak of “By the people, For the People’ and crowing about patriotism while many citizens struggled to work three jobs just to get by, and sometimes they still starved. And that was if they could find work.

She sighed and looked over to see Bucky dancing with a beautiful dark skinned woman, her smile seeming to light her entire body up as they both grinned and moved to the rhythm of the music winding through the streets.

It was so good to see him happy.

There was a gentle bump at her shoulder and she leaned into Steve, looking up to meet vibrant, blue eyes. His smile was radiant as he leaned down to kiss her forehead.

“This is amazing,” he breathed, pulling her back into his embrace. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

She placed her hands atop his arms as they rested around her waist. “Thank you so much for bringing me here.”

He gave her a gentle squeeze and brushed his lips against her ear, his breath warm and his voice soft. “Thank you so much for coming, Reese.”

She heard the sound of Bucky’s laughter and looked over to see the pair of them looking up into the sky. Then, she noticed that everybody around them was now looking up.

A blaze of light danced in the sky, the images flowing like water, a river rushing around a likeness of the monkey god Hanuman, a woman in Egyptian royal garb with the head of a cat and then, finally, a rearing panther whose roar shook the skies. The display was breathtaking.

The assembled crowd cheered in approval and joy as King T’Challa stepped out onto the palace steps, joined by a large man in purple robes carrying a spear, then followed by Queen Ramonda and Shuri. Dora Milaje flanked them.

Reese felt a rush go through her and found herself grinning and crying at the same time, caught up in the enormity of the moment, overwhelmed with gratitude to be present to bear witness to this - to be a part of it was just such a deep honor.

Bucky moved closer to them, reaching out to hold her hand as they listened to the King of Wakanda give a speech filled with love and praise for his people.

The response from the surrounding Wakandans was a profound, grateful silence, their hands to their hearts as the leader of their country spoke to them. She looked over to see tears shining on Ada’s cheeks, her smile bright and her face damn near glowing.

“He’s giving his blessings to his people, telling him how much he loves them - how much they are all a part of each other,” Bucky explained, his smile full of wonder.

Steve gave her a gentle squeeze and she looked up, surprised to see tears on his cheeks as well.

“Just when I thought I’d lost my faith in humanity’s ability to govern without corruption,” he murmured softly.

King T’Challa then started to walk down the steps to join the crowd below. The crowd roared approval, but nobody crowded him as he walked among his people, greeting them personally, all smiles.

The music started up again and Bucky pulled Reese to him, leading her as they danced together.

 

--

 

Steve watched the pair of them, his heart overflowing with gratitude and joy at seeing the two people he loved best in the world laugh and smile. He took a minute to take in the surrounding crowd and let out a sigh. He wanted so badly to be able to relax and let go of his own stress, but his thoughts kept going back to his teammates and what they had to be going through. How bad had the outbreaks/attacks gotten at this point? He wanted to check in, but knew that it would only end up frustrating him. Instead, he pulled his Stark phone out and started recording the festivities, the Wakandan people around him smiling and waving at the camera. The image on the screen settled on Bucky and Reese and the pair gave him the finger, laughing and hugging each other.

Okoye stepped into view and he started, smiling back at her.

“I would’ve thought you would be on duty today,” he called out.

Okoye grinned and held a hand out. “We are on rotation today so that all the Dora Milaje can enjoy the celebration. Dance with me, Captain?”

Steve stopped recording and slid the phone into a pocket.

How could he say no?

 

--

 

Bucky giggled as he watched Steve try to match Okoye’s moves. It took a few minutes, but Steve eventually got it, and then the two of them were dancing as though they’d been doing it for years.

“How the fuck does he do that?” Reese shook her head in disbelief.

“It’s stupid, right?” Bucky replied, chuckling. “He’s always been a really fast learner.”

Bucky felt the warmth in his chest spread as he watched his best friend slowly relax and actually start enjoying himself.

Steve Rogers had always been an odd bird. A hissing cat, raging at the world and its iniquities; as a boy he had been stiff and not always the easiest to get along with. His hard headed and, at times, foolhardy persistence in the face of his illnesses and various bullies who had wiped the floor with him throughout the years, was one of the things Bucky found most attractive in him - his inner strength was damn near incalculable.

Then, once he’d blown up like a damn balloon after choosing to be a goddamned guinea pig for the government, he’d been unstoppable. Literally.

Bucky had learned many years ago that there wasn’t anything Steve couldn’t do, as long as he cared enough to apply himself to the task.

Fela Kuti’s Swegbe and Pako echoed through the night air and Bucky spotted King T’Challa heading towards them, slowly dancing to the beat, his grin wide as he stepped up to them.

“May I, as you say, cut in?” he asked, holding a hand out to Reese who flushed and nodded, grinning as she took the King’s hand.

Bucky chuckled and watched as Reese and the King started dancing around each other. He loved how she took life as it came, taking big bites and finding joy in things that surprised him.

At the touch of a hand on his shoulder, he looked over to see Steve looking at him with a somewhat bashful expression.

Bucky felt his pulse quicken as he said, “Sure you can keep up, old man?”

Steve laughed and took Bucky’s hand in his own, pulling him in and fitting their bodies together, moving against him.

Bucky nodded appreciatively and they danced the rest of the night away.

 

--

 

The three of them stumbled into the hut, thoroughly exhausted from the night’s exertions. Reese giggled as the three of them quickly stripped down and climbed into bed, pressing into one another.

She sighed as Steve fit himself against her back, with Bucky taking her hand in his.

“That might just be the best party I’ve ever been to.”

Bucky chuckled. “Oh man, I need to sleep for about three days.”

Steve laughed lightly and kissed her shoulder.

“Yeah. Maybe four,” Steve murmured.

Reese clucked, “As the only non-enhanced human in this bed, I’m probably the only one who actually will sleep for about four days.

The boys laughed and then she was out like a light.

 

 

Bucky woke to Reese groaning beside him. He turned to see her brow furrowed, as though she might be in pain. A nightmare, maybe?

“Hey, sweetheart..,” he reached out and gave her shoulder a gentle shake.

Reese’s eyes flashed open and he was shocked to see only the whites of her eyes.

“Shit,” he muttered, sitting up and quickly checking her over. A medical checklist sparked to life in his mind and he slowly went through it - pulse solid, respiratory a little higher than normal - he was pretty certain she was having a seizure. He gently turned her onto her side, giving a quick look around to ensure there was nothing near the bed that she could either bang or cut her arms or legs on, then checked his watch, marking the time.

At some point, he noticed Steve watching him with a curious expression.

“Pretty sure she’s having a seizure,” he muttered, a little scared. “You seen this before?”

Steve shook his head and shifted to a more comfortable position, so they could brace her in case she began convulsing.

“She didn’t say she had a history with them, but then that’s not really something that comes up in casual conversation, so…” Steve trailed off, wincing.

“So - also pretty sure that the thing with her eyes? That’s not anything I’ve seen before, and trust me - that’s sayin’ something.”

Steve frowned, then reached for his phone, dialing out a number on the keypad.

“Who you callin’?” Bucky asked, curious.

“Shuri,” Steve replied, then ducked his head, wincing as he looked away.

Shuri was probably tearing him a new asshole for waking her up. Bucky shrugged - he couldn’t blame her, but he didn’t know what else to do, who else to call.

“It’s Reese. Buck thinks she’s having a seizure, but it’s like her eyes are just… empty white.”

Steve nodded and moved to hand the phone to him. Bucky went over the checklist in his head with her and he heard her suck her teeth in frustration.

“She couldn’t wait ten more hours?” Shuri snapped, but she didn’t sound truly irritated.

Bucky laughed. “If I could wake her, I’d ask her to make an appointment.”

Shuri sighed, then said, “Let me make a call.”

 

--

 

Reese’s mind was a swirl of numbers, letters and images - none of them easily interpreted. She was suddenly alone in a vast field of stars, floating. Something pressed against her skin, fluid and soft when she moved. It was almost as though she were somehow underwater, but not drowning. She turned to see nothing familiar - none of the familiar constellations she was used to seeing in the night sky were anywhere to be seen. A calm silence surrounded her and she watched as a strange figure came into view.

Was that… a jellyfish?

It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen - a large translucent creature with a bright splash of color dangling beneath it. Vibrant blues and purples shimmered through its arms and rainbows of color danced along the lines of its tentacles. The crown itself was a storm of colors that swirled within. It regarded her for a few minutes, then reached out with one of it’s oddly fluffy looking oral arms. Reese reached out to touch it and gasped as something rushed into her, filling her - overwhelming her.

She screamed, then all went dark.

 

--

 

“Ada?”

Steve frowned, a little confused as their friend came into the hut.

“I am here at the request of Princess Shuri,” she walked over to the bed, pulling a large furred bag from her shoulder as she moved to sit beside Reese.

The woman placed her hand against Reese’s forehead, then her cheek. She made a tutting sound, then she dipped her hand inside her bag, pulling out a smooth, blue stone. He listened as she murmured something in Yorùbá , her voice smooth and soft. Ada brushed a lock of hair off her forehead and placed the stone on it.

He had so many questions - he had no idea what was happening, but he didn’t want to distract her from… whatever it was she was doing.

Ada nodded and let out a sigh as Reese’s eyes slid closed. He watched as Reese slumped, her breathing now coming smooth and easy. Ada deposited the stone back into her bag and turned to face him.

“She needs to rest. She will need to sleep for a few days.”

Ada pulled a small black bead out of a pocket in her dress, giving it a gentle squeeze, then dropped it back into her pocket.

“She’s going to need to be fed intravenously during this time.”

Steve frowned, shaking his head. The woman sounded as though this was all normal and to be expected.

“Ada, I don’t mean to be rude, but…”

Bucky cut in with, “What the fuck’s happening with her?”

Ada sucked her teeth and glared over at Bucky, who had the good sense to look embarrassed.

“Sorry ma’am,” he murmured, his voice soft.

She placed a hand over Bucky’s, giving it a reassuring pat.

“She will be fine. She is now in the Teaching Place,” Ada replied, as if that explained everything.

“...the teaching place?” Steve asked, feeling completely lost.

Ada looked up at him and smiled. “It is not a bad thing, ọmọ aja.” She shifted to place a hand on Reese’s leg. “From time to time, the universe needs to teach an individual a great deal in a short amount of time. This is usually in response to a larger crisis in the world that needs to be addressed. When awake, our minds question too much and therefore the process takes too much time. The subconscious is far better at accepting and absorbing information, so the recipient of this knowledge usually drops into a deep sleep.”

Steve looked over at Bucky as he spoke up. “Is this like what Shuri did for me?”

Ada paused, seeming to think about it for a moment, before replying, “No. This is different.”

She stood and eyed Steve. “Tell me when she wakes.”

Steve nodded, his mind racing as he watched her walk out of the hut. He tensed as Bucky reached out and touched his arm.

“Buck...,” he croaked, then Bucky gently said.

“I'd ask if you wanna go for a run to blow off some steam, but...,” he trailed off.

“I don't want to leave her alone like this,” Steve replied, so quiet it was almost a whisper.

Bucky nodded, then shifted to lay back down.

“Tell me a story, then,” he moved to make room so that Steve could lay beside him.

Steve sighed, then started telling him about the invasion of New York until they both dropped back off to sleep.

 

--

 

Steve looked around, taking in the surrounding devastation. So many bodies - some whole, some in pieces distributed generously around the area by mines the soldiers hadn’t seen before they'd stepped on them. He walked through the charnel forest, a grey mist crawling along the ground, snaking around the bodies at his feet.

A bullet whipped past him and he spotted a fortified bunker ahead. Holding the shield up, the bullets ringing out as they struck it, he sped towards the building and made quick work of everybody inside.

The sound of a man screaming out in pain caught his attention and he quickly headed off in that direction.

The soldier was just a kid - couldn’t be more than nineteen years old, and his guts were splayed out around his side. Steve knelt and met the kid’s eyes.

“C-C-Captain America?” the kid sputtered.

“What’s your name, Soldier?” Steve placed a gentle hand on the kid’s shoulder.

“Jimmy, sir. Jimmy Dalton. Is my unit ok?” the kid’s eyes were wildly looking around and he winced as he tried to sit up.

Steve gritted his teeth and lied outright as he gently pushed the soldier back down. “Yeah, kid. They’re all fine. You just rest until the medic can get here, ok?”

The kid coughed and blood spattered on his cheek. He didn’t have much time left.

Steve steeled himself and softened his tone. “You did real good, kid. Gave those Nazis what for.”

The kid smiled, a tear trailing down his cheek. “Yeah?”

Steve nodded and smiled, desperate to make this soldier’s last moments positive. Sure, he could tell the kid that he was minutes from death and that his entire squad had been chewed to hamburger amongst the trees, but how would that help him?

“Thanks Cap. Means a lot.”

The kid stiffened, then seemed to deflate as he stilled, his last breath hissing out.

Steve waited for a few moments, said a silent prayer, then closed the kid’s eyes.

He was suddenly awake and bathed in sweat, clutching at his chest, the covers pooling around his waist.

“Bad one, eh?” Bucky asked softly.

Steve looked over and nodded, his jaw tight.

“Yeah,” he croaked.

“C’mere,” Bucky reached out and pulled him into a hug. “It’s over. You’re safe, Stevie. I’m here.”

Steve trembled, then took a shaky breath and slumped into Bucky’s touch.

“Fuck, I hate this,” Steve spat.

The memories would never fully go away, and he didn’t expect them to. He’d been touched too deeply by the horrors of war, only processing them after the fight was over. And he didn’t really even have time to actually process them in a healthy way until he started talking to a therapist about 6 months after being out of the ice.

Reese’s presence in his life, and the purgative drawings he did shortly after meeting her, helped a great deal as well. She’d seen what lived in his memories and hadn’t judged him - hadn’t flinched or looked away from him after seeing the worst of the images.

He kept hugging Bucky and looked over at Reese, letting out a shaky sigh.

“You remember the kid at Ardenne?” Steve’s voice was soft.

Bucky held him tighter. “Yeah, I do pal. You’re not there anymore. Be here. Be with me. Ok Stevie?”

Bucky then shifted and lay down, pulling Steve’s back against his chest, spooning him, holding Steve while he wept. For all the lives he couldn’t save - especially the one that mattered most to him. For how grateful he was to have Bucky back in his life, alive - and holding him. Comforting him.

“I love you Buck. So much,” Steve breathed, his voice trembling.

Steve went almost boneless as Bucky started slowly carding his fingers through his hair. He let out a long, shaky sigh and Bucky kissed his shoulder.

“I love you too, Stevie.”

Bucky slowly started kissing his way up Steve’s neck and Steve shivered, letting out a groan.

“Buck, you gotta stop that. I can’t do this in the same bed as our girl when she’s laid up like this. Don’t feel right.”

Bucky quickly got to his feet, reaching a hand down to Steve, who looked up at him in confusion.

Bucky gave him a bland look and said, “Seriously? Ya gonna make me beg here?”

Steve blinked, then quickly took Bucky's hand, brushing against him as he stood.

“Are you sure?” he breathed, his pulse racing.

Bucky leaned into him and Steve felt his breath on his neck as Bucky said, “Steve?”

Steve stilled, then murmured, “Yes, Buck?”

“If you don't shut the fuck up and come with me right now, I'm getting back in bed and you can go jump in the river.”

Steve felt his cheeks flush and giggled. GIGGLED. Which then prompted Bucky to chuckle. Soon, they were both laughing like idiots

“Ice officially broken?” Bucky asked, still laughing.

Steve shook his head and wiped at his eyes. “I'd say so.”

“Good.”

Bucky damn near dragged him out of the hut. Steve almost – ALMOST balked. After all, they were only in their underwear. Reese had been out a few days and had monitoring machines connected to her that would signal the kimoyo beads around their necks if she so much as stirred. Bucky squeezed his hand and smiled over at him. Steve wobbled and Bucky quickly moved to steady him. 

“Why, Steve Rogers – are you actually swooning over me?” Bucky laughed.

Steve glared back at him, then flushed. Holy shit. He totally was. Yeah, well. It wasn't as though he hadn't done it before.

Bucky led him around the hut and up a hill, walking them up to a large tree with thick, intertwining roots that crawled along and through the grass. Steve briefly found himself wanting to capture its likeness on paper. Bucky backed up to the trunk of the tree, pulling Steve into him and kissing him, and any other thoughts fled his mind.

Steve's heart thundered in his chest as Bucky lifted his hips, his breath catching at the feel of Bucky's length along his skin, hot through the thin material of the boxers.

“Fuck,” Steve groaned, dropping his head to Bucky's shoulder as his lover ground his cock against his hip with a hiss. He grabbed Bucky's hips, his breath stuttering as the man let out a wicked, low laugh.

“Yeah, baby. You know how much I like it when you zone the fuck out,” Bucky murmured. “Fuck, I've missed this.”

Bucky's body shook and Steve leaned in and smiled. “Wanna mark me up, Buck? Show me how much you missed me, sweetheart.”

Bucky's movements stuttered and the man cried out, stiffening in Steve's arms.

“Yes, baby, oh fuck yes,” Steve breathed and his voice sounded tortured as he asked, “Can I, Buck?”

Bucky shivered and nodded, “Stevie, you can do anything you want to me. I trust you.”

Steve pushed Bucky to his knees and pulled his cock out. “Get your mouth open, sweetheart.”

The vision Bucky presented, his mouth open and his eyes adoring as he looked up was enough to wreck him completely. His body jerked and he painted Bucky's face and shoulders in white stripes, then pulled him up into his arms and kissed him, tasting himself on Bucky's lips and tongue.

Bucky laughed then, actually laughed.

Steve held him tightly. “What're you laughin' at, Punk?” he teased.

“You couldn't even get your dick in my mouth, Steve. Talk about a hair trigger,” Bucky chuckled.

Steve grinned and shook his head, “You're one to talk, comin' in yer boxers like a teenager.”

“C'mere, you.”

 

 

Much later, Bucky lay back against Steve, his heart overflowing. He had almost too much gratitude that he could finally be with the man he'd loved his entire life again. This was real, they were getting a second chance. It was almost too much.

“Thank you, Buck. I... just...,” he sighed. “Thank you.”

Bucky snorted out a laugh. “Cut it out, Rogers. It's not like you're a charity case or anything.”

Steve's ridiculously enormous arms wrapped around him – the man's entire body actually made him feel small, and with that came the feeling of safety – something he hadn't had in a lifetime, it seemed. “It ain't like you didn't put yer back into it either here, Stevie,” he murmured, melting into Steve's embrace.

He felt Steve nuzzle the top of his head, placing a gentle kiss against his hair, before moving his hand up so that he could run his fingers through Bucky's hair. Not entirely certain that he wasn't actually a liquid at this point, Bucky damn near crooned as Steve pet and kissed him. He felt as though he were a tender, precious thing – something to be protected and loved softly – which was entirely bizarre, he thought as he slipped deeper into the feeling.

“Sweetheart, you know I love it when you get all sweet and soft,” Steve murmured, his voice full of fondness.

Bucky took in a slow, shaky breath, a languor slowly bleeding through his limbs. “You're so good at putting me here, too, doll.”

Steve chuckled softly and Bucky felt himself drifting off to sleep.

It was still dark when Steve looked around, feeling a little disoriented. They must have fallen asleep at some point.

“Buck...” Steve breathed, gently jostling him.

Bucky was immediately alert, sitting up and quickly assessing everything around them before turning back to Steve.

“Sorry – I didn't mean to startle you. It's just that... we're both naked at this point, and we should probably clean off and go back to bed, in an actual bed.”

Bucky blinked, then looked down and winced. They'd made quite a mess of themselves. Steve handed him his boxers and grinned, giving a little shrug.

“Punk.”

“Jerk.”

 

--

 

Reese opened her eyes, finding herself alone in the hut. She frowned, wondering why the boys were gone - then looked around, frowning. Everything around her seemed to be overlaid with a ghost image of a number of tiny, almost imperceptible threads. They were in various colors and seemed to pulse with light from time to time - tiny flashes of light speeding along the hairlike threads.

She rubbed at an eye and tried to sit up, gasping at a pain between her legs as she flopped back down. She looked over to see a bag with yellow liquid in it attached to the leg of the bed. Somebody had put a foley catheter in her? She then noticed the fact that she was hooked up to and IV drip as well, the bag hanging from a nail on the wall over her head.

She recognized a kimoyo bead on the table next to the bed. It was flashing a bright red and she almost had to shield her eyes against the glow.

Suddenly, both Steve and Bucky were inside. In a moment, they were both at the bed, sitting on either side of her.

“Hey, sweetheart. How are you feeling?” Steve asked, his tone careful and soft as he placed a hand on her knee.

She held up the arm with the IV cannula in it. “I’d feel better if this fuckin’ thing came out.”

Bucky leaned forward and made quick work of removing it from her arm, gently massaging the spot after placing the cannula on the table.

“Are you feeling ok, doll? You had us pretty worried.”

Reese looked up at him, blinking as she saw a thread between the pair of men. She watched a small flash rush back and forth quickly along it from Bucky to Steve as they looked at each other. She frowned and reached out to touch the thread and as her finger pressed against it her head was suddenly full of a conversation that her ears couldn’t hear.

Think she’s ok? Fuck if I know, but don’t scare her, asshole. What, I’m the asshole now? Come on, Steve, you totally freaked out. So did you!

Reese quickly pulled her hand back, holding it up. “Guys - somebody wanna fill me in on what happened?”

Steve blurted, “We were starting to think you might not wake up…”

Bucky snapped, “Way to reassure her, pal. Lemme handle this.”

Reese listened as Bucky explained that she had been asleep for a week - which explained the cannula and the catheter.

He explained, “Ada said something about you being in a teaching place? I still have no fuckin’ idea what that means.”

She shifted her hips and winced. “Could somebody get this catheter outta me?”

Bucky nodded and worked to remove it, careful to be as gentle as possible.

Reese looked over at Steve and placed her hand over his. She then noticed a thread between herself and Steve, as well as a separate thread between herself and Bucky.

“I’m sorry I scared you guys,” she murmured softly.

Steve gave her knee a squeeze and leaned in to lay a kiss on her forehead. “How are you feeling?

Bucky finished up his work, then took the gear to the kitchen and washed his hands.

She sighed and her stomach growled loudly. “I’m ravenous. I really want to eat something.”

Bucky called out from the kitchen. “I’ll reheat some Ẹ̀fọ́ riro.”

Reese sat up, groaning. There were a few aches and pains, but nothing too bad.

Steve turned on the light on the bedside table and she cried out as the bright light seemed to stab into her eyes. She quickly shielded them and he turned the light off.

“Kinda light sensitive, huh?” he asked. “I’m sorry. We’ll keep the light out.”

She let out a sigh of relief and turned to face him.

“I don’t know what’s wrong. The light just… hurts.”

“Ada’s on her way,” Bucky sang out.

Steve nodded and asked, “Do your muscles ache?”

“Yeah, a bit. My back is pretty stiff,” she replied, twisting to try to stretch out a little.

“We’ll get some food in you, then I’ll give you a rubdown, see if that helps?”

He smiled and she raised her hand, placing it on his cheek.

“That sounds amazing.”

Bucky came back over to the bed with a bowl of hot Ẹ̀fọ́ riro and a spoon. Reese was actually salivating as he handed the bowl to her. She starting jamming food in her mouth as quickly as she could get it chewed and Bucky said, “Might wanna slow down there, champ. Ain’t it too hot?”

Reese shook her head, but continued to eat. It was almost as if she couldn’t get the food in fast enough.

 

--

 

Steve watched her eat, looking over at Bucky and raising an eyebrow. Bucky shrugged and got up to get her a glass of water. Steve followed him into the kitchen, keeping his voice low as he asked, “That seem odd to you?”

“Yeah.” Bucky reached out and started filling a glass with water. “You’d think she had our metabolism, with the way she’s wolfing it down.”

“...can I please have more?”

Reese’s voice echoed out.

Bucky blinked, then pulled out a bigger bowl, filling it and popping it in to reheat.

“A healthy appetite can’t be all that bad, can it?” he asked Steve, looking a little concerned.

“As long as she doesn’t immediately throw it all up after, I guess.”

The sound of a vehicle pulling up had Steve walking to the door. He pulled the cloth to the side, relieved to see both Ada and Shuri. The women hurried inside, giving him a nod as greeting as they passed by him to see to Reese. The three women spoke in hushed tones, but he could still easily hear them. He walked back over to Bucky who was pulling the large bowl of food out, trying to give them the privacy they needed by focusing on Bucky as he placed the bowl down and looked back at Steve.

He whispered, “Should I give it to her now?”

 

-

 

Reese placed the empty bowl on the table beside her as the two women walked over to the bed.

“Ọmọ obinrin, how are you feeling?”

Ada’s voice was soft and soothing as she sat down beside Reese, digging her in bag and pulling out a blue stone.

“I feel… strange, but I think I’m ok.”

Shuri clipped a small machine to her finger, tapping at the controls on an almost translucent display that hovered above her kimoyo beads.

“I warned you about those Springbokkie shots,” Shuri chided, sucking her teeth then grinning up at Reese. “You Americans really can’t hold your liquor.”

Reese chuckled and made note of the thread between her and Shuri. Pulses of light raced along the thread as Shuri added, “Your vitals are all good.”

Ada reached out with the stone and placed it gently against Reese’s forehead. She felt a strange, almost gravitational pull toward the stone just before it touched her skin. A soft, comforting feeling swept through her body and she slouched a little. She felt an odd, almost tickling sensation where the stone pressed against her.

Ada looked over to Shuri and said, “There is something significant here, but I do not want to alarm her.”

Shuri sucked her teeth as she collected the small monitoring device from her finger and replied, “It’s obvious she’s been altered, but how do we tell her that when we don’t even know how yet?”

Reese cut in with, “Guys, I’m right here. You don't have to talk like I can't hear you.”

The women looked back at her in shock. Ada narrowed her eyes and looked her over.

Shuri slowly started with, “Your  Yorùbá has gotten really good, Reese. You must have been studying a great deal.”

Reese blinked and said, “What? I don’t speak Yorùbá.

Ada met her eyes. “Reese, you are speaking it right now.”

Reese stilled and frowned. Bucky came around the corner and asked, “Is this enough, doll? I wanna make sure my girl is fed.”

She smiled and nodded. “Yes, oh my god, thank you.”

Bucky looked at her strangely and breathed, “Since when do you understand Romanian?”

“What are you talking about?” she asked, bewildered.

 

--

 

Bucky switched to German and Reese replied back to him, her accent matching his exactly. He then said something in Japanese, and the same thing happened.

He looked over at Ada and said, trying to keep his tone casual, “So - how does somebody become a polyglot overnight? I mean - more than that, her accent matches mine perfectly.”

Steve walked into the room and sat on a stool at the foot of the bed.

“...can I eat now?” Reese asked, looking over at the bowl as her stomach growled.

Bucky quickly handed her the bowl and Reese made quick work of her meal.

Ada and Shuri stood, then said, “Can we talk to you and the Captain outside?”