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Winter Morning

Chapter Text

July 4th, 1947

Peggy wrapped her arm around Dawn's waist. July fourth had been hard last year and worse the year before. Everyone had been celebrating. Fireworks and parades did not pair well with the memory of the dead love of one's life. She was glad she didn’t have to spend today alone. A small reunion with her closest friends was better. Howard had left for some gala or other an hour ago, and the 107th was still deployed, but she had Rosie, Ginny, Jack, and Dawn. Their surprise visit was the highlight, not just of her day, but probably of her month. Dawn understood what she had lost, Rosie and Ginny had spent the last handful of hours completely eviscerating her male co workers for doubting her, and Jack as it turned out, made an excellent old fashioned cocktail.

She lifted her glass. It was strange how Steve could be such a huge presence in her life, even after he disappeared. He hung like a shadow over every relationship she had so much as considered in the last two years. On her end because who could really compare to her sweet, loving, and supportive boy. On the part of the men when they discovered who her last suitor had been, because they all thought he was a great hero of myth. Completely missing the things that had really made Steve special. He was a figure in her professional life too. Too many of the men she worked with thought her primary value was her connection to Steve, although never the ones who had met him. Anyone who had worked with both of them seemed to understand that he had loved her because of her competence. She was still working out how to convince the others without getting herself killed. Worse, the person she wanted to talk to about it, was the one person who’s absence had caused all of her strife. “To the ones we love, that are gone.”

“The ones we loved.” The other’s echoed.

Dawn squeezed Peggy as she sipped her drink. If Bucky was a spector in her life, how much worse was it for her friend? At home in Calgary, with Ginny and Rosie to lean on, and no connection to the world they had lived in during the war, she could almost forget what she was missing sometimes. Peggy was here. In Steve and Bucky's hometown, working in the office where the boys probably would have if they had made it home. Not that Dawn knew that officially. They all paid lip service to the idea that she worked at the phone company, even if none of them believed it any more than they thought they could beat Peggy in an arm-wrestling contest.

Steve and Bucky wouldn’t want them to live in the past. She touched the little suns glowing on her ears. They would want their girls to be happy. “And to the future.”

July 4th, 2014

Natasha crossed her legs under her and settled in on Tony’s workbench. One of the robots brought her a green smoothie, extra pineapple, just the way she liked it. Being back in the States was nice. Clint was even supposed to be coming out to visit her in New York. There was also something irrationally comforting about watching Tony dive head first into a crazy inventing project. And this one was particularly crazy. This wasn’t some suit upgrade, or even a fun gadget. No, this was big. “You realize this is a terrible idea.”

“‘S no' a 'errible i'ea.” Tony mumbled around the apple in his mouth. He crunched off a bite, swallowing it faster than was wise. “I’ve done the math. All we need are two fixed times and two fixed locations. We know where and when Peggy will be, we know where and when we are.”

He crunched through the apple and spun the floating wall of equations around so Natasha could read them. Dozens of formulas filled in with the specific variables for the dates and locations he was looking at. Elaborate animated diagrams that shifted and morphed. A mobius strip twisting around and around infinitely. Space time calculations and electrical vectors. There was an entire second panel devoted to the blue prints Tony was manufacturing. “Time’s a flat circle, Red, and plastic enough that it can recover from a minor hiccup.”

“It can recover from losing Carter.” Natasha raised one eyebrow, the math wasn’t the part she was questioning. She was questioning the part where they removed the only obstacle that had stopped Hydra from taking over and the world didn’t fall to the Nazi’s. It wasn’t that long ago that she and Steve and Sam had stopped those same Nazi’s from launching flying death boats and killing millions of civilians. She wasn’t sure she would survive long enough to save the world without the legend that was Peggy Carter protecting her and the rest of Fury’s inner circle.

“Dugan, Jarvis, and Sousa take over. It will work out.” Tony installed a prism in the matrix. The machine was starting to come together. It was big. About the size of an old fashioned phone booth. He wondered if anyone would judge him for painting it blue. It already had an indicator light on the top. “I had Bruce check the calculations. Twice… and we can always put her back."

Nat took a long drink of her smoothie and considered more of the calculations. They all seemed to center around ΔS≥0, which was a basic physics constant. From the not insignificant portion of the calculations Nat could do in her head, it all checked out. “Have you considered how pissed Steve is going to be that you’re defying the laws of time and space?”

Tony waved away her objection with a sprocket wrench. “Steve’s going to be thrilled. I can’t get him Barnes, but I can get him Carter.”

Nat rolled the last half of her drink around the bottom of the cup. The math was good. Tony's experiments usually worked out, although whether that was a good thing or not was occasionally up for debate. And there was no doubting that Steve was going crazy missing his people. “What does it say about our lives that time travel is easier than tracking down one person?”

“Says more about him than us, I think.” Tony took another bite of his apple and rolled his stool around the back of the machine, connecting cables as he went. An hour or so to run some diagnostics and they should be good to go.

Steve crossed his arms and stared at the map on his wall. There were more locations crossed off than circled. The entire continental United States for starters. Brazil. Argentina. Most of Southeast Asia. He was running out of places to look. It was the running out more than the looking that was driving him crazy. The map on the wall had started as a simple way to keep track of geographic locations. Now it was starting to look like the evidence his friends were going to need to have him committed. Red scribbles and notes all over the globe, additional clues and pictures tacked up around the central map, their originally neat border now overlapping and sprawling out to cover most of the wall, not to mention the other stacks of files and reference books that had taken over his kitchen table. One picture hadn't been covered. It maintained a place of importance, right above Alaska on the left hand side of the map. A surveillance still from the Smithsonian. Bucky in a baseball cap, independent thought back in his eyes. It was the only photo of him they'd been able to find since his disappearance. Everything else was second hand inference. A post-it-note covered his chest. Where are you?

Hopefully, Natasha would be back this week, for that matter she might already be back. He hadn't actually left his rooms today to check. She could double check the intelligence he and Sam had compiled, go through it and narrow down the remaining options. He was thinking former Soviat Bloc countries were the most likely at this point. They made sense. Bucky would blend in, and they knew he spoke at least Russian. Eastern Europe was a lot of ground to cover. Especially when they were looking for someone who had a natural talent for avoiding cameras of all kinds.

“Excuse me, Captain Rogers.” A digital British voice emanated from the ceiling. “Mr. Stark has requested your presence in the lab.”

“Tell him I’m not in the mood for a birthday party.” Steve said without looking away from the map. He'd told Tony he didn't want a party at least four times. He'd also brushed off Sam's suggestion that he visit to check out the fireworks. All he wanted to do for his birthday was order Chinese food and go through the intelligence again. It was another one of those days where he missed being able to drink.

Maybe he should have taken Sam up on the offer of his spare bedroom. Not to go to the festivities, but he could have spent the day with Peggy. Even if she didn’t remember him or what year it was, he still loved her, she could still make him feel better.

Silence settled over Steve’s rooms again. He didn’t like music when he was trying to work. It was distracting. Everything was either new and unfamiliar, or it made him remember. Getting maudlin didn’t help him focus.

J.A.R.V.I.S.’s opening charm sounded again a few minutes later. “Mr. Stark understands your reluctance to engage in frivolities given recent events. However, he insists that this will be worth your time.”

The doors to the lab opened with a soft whooshing noise. Steve still wasn't used to the hyper-futuristic surroundings of the tower. The main benefit he could see right now was the transparent doors proved to him that the lab was in fact empty. J.A.R.V.I.S. didn't lie, Steve wasn't sure he even could, but he did occasionally omit important facts.

Empty might be an exaggeration. Nat was back for one thing, perched on the work bench. Less comfortingly, Tony had built some kind of crazy, phone booth looking, contraption. Steve braced himself for some high level insanity. If there was one thing Tony had inherited from his father, aside from questionable dating habits, it was being too smart for his own good. Although, Nat was sitting on the lab table. So it was probably fine.

“CAP!” Tony bounced excitedly next to the humming machine. “I know you said no birthday presents, but I got you a little something.”

Tony swung the door to the machine open. Five figures tumbled out.

Steve froze. He recognised all of them. One of them was slightly more important to him than the others. No offence to them, but he’d never planned to spend his life with Ginny and Jack or Rosie. Even Dawn, the girl who made Bucky light up like she hung the stars, was never going to be the center of his life. But Peggy. She was his pole star. His true north. He had fully intended to make Peggy his wife.

Peggy freed herself from under a groaning Rosie. Oh, to live in a world where these things happen to someone else. She needed to protect the others, she had significantly more combat experience than all of them, including Jack. And certainly more experience in the odder aspects of life. She blinked around the bright serial space. Nothing in this room made any sense. Everything was too smooth, and half of it was glowing. Her eyes fell on the large male figure standing frozen in the doorway. Impossible. She had no idea what was going on, but that especially was impossible. “Steve?”

“Peggy!” Steve pulled her into a rough hug. She fit perfectly against him. Her hands curled against his chest exactly the way they used to. She was here. His Peggy, young and bright, and vibrant. She was here. Against all odds and logic, she was here.

He was either going to kiss Tony or kill him. He'd figured out which later.

Someone else needed kissing first.

If Nat was anyone else, she would have gaped at the tangle of people on the floor. As it was, she had stopped drinking. The plan had been to bring Carter forward. Not Carter and all her friends. Friends who looked worryingly like civilians.

And Cap wasn’t going to be any help. He didn’t look like he was going to come up for air any time soon.

“Told you he’d like his present.” Tony mumbled, unable to look away from the incongruous sight of Captain America full on making out with a girl.

Nat turned slowly to face Tony. Yes, Steve was kissing someone, and it looked like he was doing a better job than when he had kissed her, that was definitely not the biggest issue here. “Are you fucking kidding me, Stark?”

Rosie stood, fixing her hair. “I hate to interject myself into a conversation where I haven’t been introduced, but I’d like to second that question.”

Ginny hauled herself to her feet. “And once you answer that, I have several related questions. Staring with how the fuck? And running through most of the other interrogatives.”

“Personally, I think we should start with where the fuck? But I agree that basically all of them are important.” Jack offered a hand to Dawn to help her to her feet. The floor under them was glass, machines were building other machines with no apparent outside input. He didn’t think they were in Kansas anymore.

“Pegs.” Steve breathed the pet name into her lips. She was here. She was real, and she didn't look like she had spent a lifetime without him, and she was here.

Peggy clung to his chest. He was alive. How was he alive? Did 'how' matter? He was alive and kissing her like they hadn't spent a moment apart. That had to be more important than anything surrounding the fact. “Steve.”

Dawn cleared her throat. “I think perhaps, that…” She made some educated, if slightly insane, guesses based on their surroundings and the fact the woman had addressed the man as ‘Stark’. “Howard’s... son?... can fill the four of us in, while the two of you catch up.”

Peggy took a half step back, so she was no longer plastered against Steve’s body. She smoothed her hair, trying to regain some semblance of dignity. “It would be ridiculously irresponsible for me to leave you until we figure out what is going on.”

“Damn it, Peggy. Stop pretending the world is on your shoulders.” Rosie rolled her eyes. Peggy might be the one with the most eclectic field experience, but it wasn't like the rest of them were wet behind the ears. “Steve, are we safe here?”

Steve managed to tear his eyes away from Peggy to look at his friends, although he refused to move the hand spread over her back. “Safer here than anywhere else.”

“Then get out of here.” Ginny directed, taking her husband’s hand and waving Peggy away. “We can look after ourselves from time to time.”

Steve didn’t need any further encouragement. Ginny and Rosie knew what they were doing. He all but picked Peggy up and carried her back to his rooms. They had a lot of catching up to do.

Chapter Text

July 5th, 2014

Steve trailed his fingers up the soft skin of Peggy’s back, tracing an infinity symbol around the pair of circular scars on her shoulder. He would have to follow up with Tony for more of an explanation, but this was definitely his Peggy. Catching up was taking a while. They’d covered the main points. What year it was. The fact he had survived but been frozen for years. That Tony was in fact, Howard’s son, but even smarter. Peggy going to work for the SSR. But after that, they kept getting side tracked. In his defence, he’d thought he’d never get to kiss her again, let alone everything else.

The details were coming out sporadically now, bookend by kisses and caresses. His heart had broken when she had told him how she had poured out the last vial of his blood. She’d had to say goodbye in a way he never had. They’d taken a long break from storytelling after that. Steve had held her close and lavished her with attention, determined to show her that he had never forgotten her. That he could never forget her.

Once he was sure she felt loved. They'd moved on. His chest felt a million pounds lighter for telling her about S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra. Peggy was the one person who would understand his Bucky obsession.

“He shot you?” Peggy ran her hand over his stomach. There was no evidence of injury there. Not that she’d really expected any, her lovely boy healed fast.

Steve shrugged, catching her hand and pulling it back up to his chest. He wanted to feel her palm over his heart. Peggy's touch was always reassuring. “He wasn’t himself.”

“Obviously." Peggy snorted, nestling her head on his shoulder. "Barnes would never shoot you.”

Steve stroked the back of her hand. Bucky would never hide from him either, but it had been months, and there was no sign of him. Steve kept waking up, expecting to find Bucky sitting on his kitchen counter, eating his leftovers. He never was. Peggy had tumbled back into his life before Bucky had walked.

Peggy recognized her beloved's worried look. Her sweet protective boy. He would do anything for the people he cared about, and there had never been a question in her mind that the top of that list was James Buchanan Barnes. But as part of that, he tended to get reckless when there was nothing he could do. All she could offer at the moment was distraction. She touched his cheek and made him look down at her. "Kiss me."

Steve did. Melting into her. How could he feel lost and directionless with her back at his side? Together they could get through anything. Figure out the future. Find Bucky. Save the world when that inevitably came up again.

“Okay, weird news.” Tony kicked the door to Steve’s room open. “I’ve been doing some-- Hi Peggy-- I’ve been doing some math.”

Steve rolled Peggy closer to his side and pulled the sheets up to her throat. “Tony! We have talked about knocking first.”

Tony glared at him over his tablet. “I’m not here to see what you want for dinner, Sandara Dee. I’m here because there might be two Carters now.”

That shocked Steve out of his irritation. “What?”

Tony shoved the tablet under Steve’s nose. It had started with him trying to figure out how he had ended up bringing forward five people instead of one. That had led to a series of google searches. All of which had shown him that Peggy had still done the things she was supposed to have done. There were biographies and news articles, even her S.H.I.E.L.D. file. All of them looked exactly the same as when he had done his research to find a time to take her from. That had sent him back down a theoretical physics rabbit hole. It had taken hours, but he thought he had figured out where he had gone wrong. He’d left a slightly queasy looking Bruce going over the new calculations.

Steve read the article on the screen. A touching tribute to Peggy Carter in honour of her being presented with an award for a lifetime of service to America. Steve had read it before. It was exactly the same as it had been the first time.Tony might be right. There might be two Peggys.

“It could just be echoes. Maybe history needs more time to reset itself. Or because we have first hand memories we might be holding onto information that way. Or--”

“Hang on. There is an easy way to figure this out.” Steve grabbed his phone off the bedside table, snagging his shirt off the floor at the same time. He dropped the shirt in Peggy’s lap and flipped through his contacts. He really hoped that Tony was over complicating things and they hadn’t accidentally messed up time.

Peggy curled her fingers into the soft fabric, she should put it on, but she was facilitated by the glowing glass rectangle in his hand. Smaller than the one 'Tony' had handed him. When he had picked it up, it had held an illuminated picture of Steve, sandwiched between the red-haired woman from earlier, and a handsome black man who appeared to be taking the photo. Now it looked distinctly like an address book. The image shifted every time his thumb touched the glass. What was it?

Steve double checked the time before he hit call. It was early, but Peggy tended to be more lucid in the morning anyway. Breakfast would be over. That was good enough. “Hello, this is Captain Rogers, would you mind connecting me to Director Carter’s room?”

“Of course Captain Rogers.” The duty nurse said, alway bright and efficient. “She’s having a good day today. She’ll be thrilled to hear from you.”

Steve listened to a few moments of jangly hold music before there was another click. “Steve?”

“Hi, Pegs." Steve did his best to keep his voice level and calm. If there were two Peggys he didn't want to panic the more fragile of the two before he knew what was going on. "Just wanted to make sure they’re treating my best girl right. What did you have for breakfast?”

“Oatmeal again. This insistence on soft food does make one feel like an invalid.” The soft slightly wavering tones of the older Peggy Steve had gotten to know answered easily. The nurse had been right. She was having a good day.

Peggy finally shrugged on Steve’s shirt as she listened Steve continued to chat. The weather in Washington. How Tony was doing. General small talk. All delivered in a softly affectionate voice. And he kept calling the person on the other end ‘Pegs’, the same way he called her ‘Pegs’.

Steve hung up and pressed the phone against his forehead. Tony needed a babysitter. That was the only solution. Tony was not allowed to do anything without adult supervision ever again... And neither was Nat. Or Bruce… That was what this came down to. He was going to personally double Maria's salary so she could follow Tony around with a spray bottle and stop him every time he had a 'good' idea.

Peggy watched him. He was obviously going through something, but she had questions that needed answers. Starting with the obvious. “Was that… me?”

“Sure was.” Steve said dropping the phone on the bed next to him and rubbing his eyes. “Okay Tony. What did you do and how do we fix it?”

“We might not have to fix anything. We got our math wrong. Not very wrong. But wrong. Here look at this.” Bruce waved away most of the calculations on a screen, leaving two rows of deceptively simple calculations.

ΔS≥0, ΔS=205.76/ΔS= -205.76

"The math worked, it just didn't do what we thought it would." Tony clarified, always a little defensive about his work. “The delta constant can’t be overcome, but it can be equalised. We thought we were mirroring the equations, we were actually zeroing it out. When the focal waves couldn't compensate for the quark asymmetry, they modulated the parameters. Instead of transmuting the subatomic particles, the machine took a quantum imprint. We couldn’t transpose the actual material. Instead of reconstituting, it just just constituted. It was built to absorb ambient dark energy from the surrounding area. It absorbed ambient matter. All the individual elemental building blocks were available in the tower.” Tony picked up a coffee mug and brandished it at Steve. “See this? It is .0005 newtons lighter than it was yesterday. I would bet there are dozens-- hundreds of objects around the tower that donated atoms. We probably donated atoms.”

Steve rubbed his eyes. That certainly didn't sound promising. “Simplify it for us slow people, Tony.”

“We made a time fax machine, not a time transporter.” Tony fidgeted with a stylus. Building a time fax machine was still pretty impressive, and might have fewer ramifications than an actual time machine.

“They said a lot of words, and I’m not sure all of them were english.” Rosie muttered looking up at the ceiling. All she wanted to know was if she was going to be attacked by Morlocks. Dawn would be thrilled if they were living in one of her favorite books.

Bruce took in the little group of time travelers. There was a lot less crying and rocking in the fetal position than he would have expected. He doubted he would hold up as well as they were if he was dropped into surroundings as unfamiliar as twenty-first century New York had to be for 1940’s natives. “They are all taking this whole future thing really well.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Spend some time in a Hydra base during the war. At some point you stop being surprised.”

“For the record, I am losing my shit a little. I just don’t want to embarrass my wife by screaming.” Jack said dryly. He leaned forward on the work table and dragged one of the textbooks towards him. He knew he should have paid more attention in physics class. Quantum physics was covered in high school, right? They definitely hadn't touched on it during his philosophy degree.

“And I appreciate your self control.” Ginny rubbed the back of his neck affectionately. His dry sense of humour was comforting in this tumultuous time.

"The good news is, we definitely didn't violate the laws of physics or tear a hole in the universe." Bruce tapped his fingers on his arm. "The bad news is we might need to check the tower for structural abnormalities."

Peggy took a long slow breath. "Doctor -- Banner, was it? From my understanding of your explanation, it doesn't sound like you think we need to fix the fact that my friends and I now have elderly doppelgangers. It sounds an awful lot like you don't think we can fix it."

Bruce shifted nervously. Technically not all of them had elderly dopplegangers. Technically some of them had already passed away. "I wouldn't go that far."

"Well, how far would you go?" It was oddly reassuring to know that scientists were still the same in this century. Peggy was sure there were thousands of other similarities she could find if she just looked.

"We don't know how to fix it, yet?" Bruce answered nervously.

Steve wrapped an arm around Peggy with a sigh. It wasn't that he didn't want his friends here. He just didn't want his friends to be stuck here. "Welcome to the twenty-first century. I promise it is actually pretty great."

The lab didn’t feel like an appropriate place to deal with the fall out from temporal displacement. Steve had brought them all back to his rooms for now. They could sit and talk through something resembling a plan. At least, everyone else could sit. Steve could pace. He’d had a whole team of specialists to help him adapt, and even then it had taken an alien invasion for him to really feel like he belonged here. Would it be better or worse for them? They had other people they could talk to about what was happening, and Steve had broken the trail.

One thing at a time. They didn’t even know if they were staying long term. Right now they just needed to tackle immediate needs. “Okay, looks like you’ll be staying for a while. Tony already has you set up in the guest suites. I--uh-- you’ll need some clothes, I’ll send someone to pick some things up. And phones. We’ll need to get you phones. I think I still have the crash course video for how they work somewhere.” Steve looked desperately at Natasha. What was he forgetting? What was he forgetting?

Nat considered. The same cultural catch-up Steve had received, obviously. But that wasn’t pressing unless they wanted to spend time in the wild. If they were staying, even for a little while, they would need some financial independence. “Hill will get them set up on the Avengers discretionary account for now. But we might need to look into getting them papers. Depending on what decisions we all come to.”

“J.A.R.V.I.S!” Steve exclaimed, smacking himself in the forehead. “They need to be introduced to J.A.R.V.I.S.”

“Who’s Jarvis? And why is he so much more important than all the other people in the building?” Ginny asked, inspecting the strange machine on the kitchen counter. It had a bin full of coffee beans, and it appeared to be plumbed in. It didn’t look like any coffee pot she had ever seen. And there were buttons. So many buttons.

“That would be me, ma’am.” A voice sounded from the ceiling. A blue light glowing from around a panel on the wall. Rosie dropped the book she had just picked up. “Just A Rather Very Intelligent System. J.A.R.V.I.S. Think of me as an omnipresent butler, always there to answer any questions or see to any requests. The residents of the tower also use me to convey messages and check on one another's statuses.”

Peggy stared around the room in a panic. “Why does the ceiling sound like Mr. Jarvis?”

“My voice interface was modeled on the speech patterns of Edwin Jarvis. Mr. Stark found his accent particularly conducive to conveying information in a soothing, non-confrontational manner.”

“Howard wasn’t the best dad. His butler practically raised Tony.” Steve almost whispered, rubbing Peggy’s back. Jarvis and Peggy had been close. So many of her stories were the two of them getting caught up in some crazy adventure or other.

“Steve?” Dawn studied the map and the papers surrounding it. There was a photo pinned to the corner. It was Bucky, but it was new, and it was… different. “What is this?”

Steve looked between Dawn and the picture she was staring at. “You should sit down.”

Chapter Text

Steve was starting to remember why he had been more intimidated by the Canadian nurses than by the enemy during the war. Keeping Dawn away from the door felt like he was putting life and limb on the line. “You can’t just go running off to Europe.”

He was big, but Dawn had an advantage. Steve didn’t want to hurt her, and Bucky had shown her how to properly throw a punch. She didn’t even need to drop him. Just stagger him for a second so she could get by. Once she was out of the building… She didn’t know what she would do, but she would figure it out when she got there. “I’ve walked across the continent before, Steve. I’m not afraid to do it again.”

Nat leaned against the back of the couch, settling in to watch the fight. Dawn was a solid foot shorter than Steve, she obviously wasn't a trained fighter, but Nat knew who her money was on. “I like her.”

“Yeah,” Rosie sighed. Bucky was alive, and the spark of life that Dawn had just been starting to get back had roared to life. “Me too.”

Nat’s head snapped around to look at the blonde. Cute. Conflicted eyes. Had joined the expeditionary forces during the Patriotic War. Interesting.

“Dawn Danielsen.” Peggy said, sternly. “I stopped Steve Rogers from charging in unprepared to rescue that man. I can stop you too.”

“He’s alive,” Dawn felt her lower lip start to quiver. The only thing that had been keeping her from breaking down and blubbering like a child was the drive to go rescue her boy. “He’s alive, and he’s probably alone and scared. And they did terrible things to him all over again. And…. And we could have stopped it if we just looked for him harder.”

Ginny wrapped her arms around Dawn and let her sob into her shoulder. Guiding her away from the door in the process. “How much harder do you want us to have looked for him, lovely? The 107th spent a week scouring that gorge for him. They went back in the spring… You heard Steve. Hydra picked him up within hours, and with the blizzard, there was no way we could have tracked them. You know the boys would never have given up if they knew. If they even thought."

Dawn sniffed and wiped her eyes. “You’re right.”

“There we go.” Peggy rubbed Dawn’s back and eased her away from Ginny. “Now, let’s sit down and go about this rationally. Steven, we’ll need everything you have. And perhaps some tea.”

“I’ll get you started, then order food.” Steve said, gesturing to the table with its stacks of files and overflowing notebooks. He paused before he left to find the takeout menus he had stashed somewhere. “I never stopped looking, Dawn. Once I knew there was a chance he was still out there… People are looking for him.”

Rosie settled on the couch and patted the spot next to her. “Sit down, Dawn. We’ll find him.”

The way Dawn tore through every file that she got her hands on made Steve very glad he only kept the redacted version of Bucky’s past in his rooms. Natasha had declared the details irrelevant as long as they had locations, and Steve couldn’t stand reading about the things Hydra had made Bucky do. He couldn’t imagine how much more they would disturb Dawn’s gentle sensibilities. Bucky would never have forgiven him for scarring her with the full extent of what had happened.

Conversation dropped to a minimum. Everyone absorbed in their tasks. Steve settled in himself, starting by grabbing water for everyone. Then by distributing more files as people finished the one they were working on.

Hours passed in a tense silence, broken only by an occasional request for clarification. Usually about something that had been invented after the time they had been extracted from. The sun outside the tower dimmed. J.A.R.V.I.S. turned up the lights in the living room.

“Alright.” Ginny rocked to her feet and plucked the files out of Dawn and Rosie’s hands. “I’m sending us all to bed. We aren’t going to do him any good if we are falling asleep where we sit and he’s been on his own long enough that one night won’t make a difference.”

July 8th, 2014

The next three days continued in a similar fashion. Everyone gathered in Steve’s room to comb through intelencence and see what clues they could piece together. Dawn relaxed a little once it was clear they were making progress. She was still anxious to go looking for Bucky, but she accepted that blindly searching half a content was a bad idea.

Breakfast in the guest floor's common room also helped relax her. Ginny insisted that none of them were allowed to start working until they had eaten a decent breakfast. And Tony was an excelten host. Always ready with a smile, frequently accompanied by an omelet. From the comments Steve and Natasha had dropped, he was on his way to bed while they were waking up. Either way, he made an excellent breakfast companion.

Steve brushed his lips over the back of Peggy’s neck. There was something about watching her prepare a bowl of oatmeal with fruit that made him feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Something he was feeling a lot lately. Between having her back and having other people taking the Bucky search as seriously as he did, life was pretty good these days. “Have I mentioned I love waking up next to you.”

“Love not having to sneak around to spend the night with me, you mean.” Peggy teased, holding his arms so he wouldn’t leave. She loved it too. She loved everything about this century so far. Sleeping with Steve without questioning whether people would lose respect for her. Working on a difficult intelligence problem with people who didn’t question her judgment and even deferred to her much of the time. Even if it was just the people inside this tower that were so liberal.

Ginny's eyes narrowed. They were back in the early throes of love. The stage where it was all too easy to get carried away. “Rogers, if you impregnate the esteemable Peggy Carter outside of wedlock, I will personally castrate you.”

“I’m not daft.” Peggy flicked her teabag at Ginny. “We used a rubber. And may I say they have improved dramatically in the last 70 years.”

Tony's head snapped up at that tidbit of information. “Hang on. You haven’t left the tower since they showed up.”

Steve cleared his throat, his coffee suddenly fascinating. “I haven’t.”

Tony narrowed his eyes. Steve was… embarrassed... “So either, Peggy Carter is lying, or Captain Can’t-talk-to-women already had condoms in his room.”

“Someone thought it would be funny to buy me a box." Steve stared determinedly into his mug. A box of condoms, accompanied by a note about being happy to be his wingman if he needed help finding someone to practice with, because Nat was convinced she was a comedian. "I never got around to throwing them out.”

Natasha grinned and curled her legs under herself. “Someone was right. It was totally worth it.”

Rosie giggled. It was good to know that these people could take the piss out of Steve. He got too serious without someone to shake him out of his too focused attitude and make sure he maintained perspective. He needed his friends, Barnes, Peggy, the Howling Commandos. People who didn't buy the hype when it came to 'Captain America'.

Steve considered the women on the sitting next to each other at the table. “Hey, Nat. Has anyone formally introduced you to Rosie?”

Peggy looked up at him confused. “We’ve been here for days, why would they need to be formally introduced?”

Steve shrugged. He knew that they wouldn't get in trouble for it now, but years of being cautious about this sort of thing had left him with habits that were hard to break. “I think they might get along.”

Peggy flicked her eyes between Steve, the redhead, and her friend. “Oh. I see.”

Steve winked at her. There it was. God, he had missed having Peggy around. They got on the same page so quickly. “Rosie, Natasha. Natasha, Rosie.”

“Hi.” Natasha leaned forward, elbows on the table.

Rosie offered her a hand. “A pleasure.”

Jack shook his head and went to refill his coffee mug. He clapped a hand to Steve's shoulder on the way past. “We’re staying by the way. So you can tell Tony and Bruce to stop working on a way to send us back.”

Steve looked at his friend, slightly incredulous. That announcement was shocking, and a little out of the blue. “Just like that?”

“Sometimes you have to make bold life decisions.” Jack shrugged. “We’re already not the same people we were when we got caught up. We know too much. Peggy’s obviously not going anywhere.”

“Not on your life.” Peggy curled herself protectively around Steve’s arm. There was another version of her taking care of her responsibilities in New York. She could stay here and do her best to keep the love of her life out of trouble, or at least get into trouble right alongside him.

Jack nodded at her and pressed on with his list. “Wild horses couldn’t drag Dawn away before she knows Bucky’s safe. This century is worlds friendlier to Rosie, even if it’s not perfect. And all Ginny and I have ever needed is each other.”

A warm bubble of affection bloomed in Steve’s stomach. His friends were staying. “Sounds like you thought about this.”

Jack snorted and took a long sip of his coffee. The coffee was good enough that he and Ginny would have stayed just for it, let alone for the friends who needed them. “I have a doctorate in Philosophy, Steve. Thinking about things is what I do.”

The afternoon consisted of another marathon research session. Steve sat next to Peggy, their knees touching under his little kitchen table. Nat took over the other side of the table, using two laptops and a tablet to check any facts and grab any updated intel the others asked for. Instant information was another thing his temporally displaced friends had taken to right away. It was such a change from what they'd had to work with back in the day, when they'd been lucky to have one clue that could be run down let alone the 50 or 60 they had now. Steve had almost forgotten how much better it was in the face of the constant deluge. Having the others remind him had reinvigorated the entire search.

“Romania.” Peggy said definitely, setting down the file she had been pursuing.

Natasha leaned over her notes. “I agree. Probably Bucharest.”

Steve didn’t even bother to check their work. If Peggy and Nat agreed, that was more than good enough for him. “Can we narrow it down further?”

Natasha’s eyes flicked from side to side as she considered her options. “... I’m going to ask Tony to do something. You’re not going to question the legal or moral ramifications of the request.”

Natasha stepped into the hall, returning a half hour later, wearing her cat in the cream expression. "Confirmed Bucharest, we think we have a building."

“All right." Steve steeled himself and turned to the rest of the group. "You stay here. Nat and I will go get him.”

“Like hell you will, Rogers.” Rosie glared and crossed her arms over her chest. She was completely fed up with being left behind. And if the expressions on her friends’ faces were any indication, so were they. "He was important to us too."

"We spent six years being left behind. We're not putting up with it again." Ginny's jaw was set. Her eyes flashing and determined.

Jack leaned forward, elbows on his knees as he looked up at Steve seriously. "I owe Bucky my life. I can't sit by if he needs help."

Dawn's heart warmed. Her amazing, fierce friends, always indisputably on her side.

Peggy set a hand on Steve's forearm. "They're right, darling. This is our fight as much as yours."

Steve cupped her elbow. Peggy's touch anchoring him in the moment. "I can't lose either of you. Not again."

Peggy squeezed his arm. She understood. Steve was strong. But the people he loved were his Achilles heel. And he'd lost Bucky so many times already. Losing her the once couldn't have helped either. "That sounds to me like you're going to need all the help you can get."

Natasha looked up from her phone. As much worry as she ever showed furrowing her brow. "Whoever is going, we'd better get moving. The morally and legally questionable thing we did to track him down may have triggered some alarm bells for other people."

Chapter Text

July 9th, 2014

Dawn stared out the window of the private plane. Hands behind her head, working her stubborn hair into a tight french braid. They were finally on the road to finding Bucky. They would find him. He would be safe. And then… and then she didn't know, but she would figure it out.

The important thing was she wasn't getting left behind this time. She was going to be right there with Steve. They were taking precautions. She was dressed practically, heavy dark pants with half a dozen pockets stuffed with medical supplies, body armor that Steve and Natasha assured her would stop pretty much anything, and in a moment, her hair would be tightly braided down her back and out of the way.

Steve watched Dawn secure her hair and double check the fit of her bulletproof vest. Had she always been so small? A strong breeze could knock her over. They only had a vague idea of what they were going to find inside and Steve would never forgive himself if something happened to Bucky’s girl on his watch. “You’re sure I can’t convince you to stay in the van?”

Dawn zipped her sweater over the chest armour, concealing the uggly grey under lilac coloured fleece. “You can not.”

The margins of the notebook were filled with doodled suns and stars. Snippets of half remembered lines of poetry. Quotes from Steve, not the famous ones. The silly things he said during their down time. A picture of Steve in his new uniform. Dawn smiled sadly as she paged through it. Bucky had always thought the little things were more important than the big. "It's him."

"Why didn't he call? We could have looked after him." Steve asked softly. The apartment was so sad. Peeling wallpaper, a cracked kitchen backsplash, a bare mattress with a sleeping bag on the floor, bookshelf made of old cinderblocks, newspaper pasted to the window in place of curtains, a distinct smell of mold from the cupboard under the sink.

What made it worse was Bucky had clearly tried to make it nice. The bookshelf was full. A throw blanket was draped over the couch. The cheap second-hand dishes were scrupulously clean. A whole page of the journal had been devoted to a meal plan, with the bottom of the page torn out in a way that made Steve think it had been a grocery list.

Dawn patted his arm. She didn't know. They didn't know what facts Bucky was working with. Whatever he knew that they didn't or vise versa, he had to think he was doing what was best for Steve. He had to think he was doing what it would take to keep Steve safe.

Something creaked near the door to the apartment. Steve grabbed Dawn and shoved her behind him protectively.

Bucky stood in the doorway, grocery bag spilled at his feet. Steve was in his kitchen. Steve and someone shorter wearing purple. Probably the same girl as last time. She’d put herself in danger to save Steve then. Bucky had already categorized her as an ally. He could deal with her after he figured out why Steve was here.

Steve took a hesitant step forward. Careful to keep Dawn sheltered behind him. He wanted to know what was going on in Bucky's head before he let him at the largely defenceless woman. “You know who I am?”

“You’re Steve. I read about you in a museum.” He was more than that to Bucky, but that felt like a good place to start.

Dawn hugged the journal to her chest. He was really alive. Really here. His hair was so long, but he’d been eating since the last picture they’d had of him, and his clothes were clean, if a little worn. They’d take him home with them, and everything would be fine.

Steve didn’t like the way Bucky’s eyes had flicked around the room when he had said that. It was a trapped expression, feral. It was also very similar to the face Bucky made when he wasn’t telling the truth. “I know, you’re nervous. You have every right to be. But you’re lying.”

Bucky’s jaw clenched. Bucky had never been able to lie to Steve. Even not telling the entire truth was hard. And the Winter Soldier didn’t tell anyone anything. “I’m not who you think I am.”

Not the answer Steve had expected. He expected explanations or confusion. Not denial. “Who do I think you are?”

“I don’t know.” His friend Bucky. Hydra’s pet killer. It didn’t matter which past life Steve was looking for. They were both over.

Steve was getting more than a little frustrated with this conversation, and the longer they stood here dancing around the subject, the longer Hydra had to narrow down their location. He wanted to get Bucky and Dawn and everyone else safely back on the plane and on their way to the nice secure Tower, where they could figure things out without bullet riddled interruptions. “You pulled me from the river. Why?”

“I don’t know.” It had been instinct. Bucky protected Steve. Bucky had always protected Steve. Even when it cost him everything. He protected Steve.

Dawn stepped out from behind Steve. She didn’t know about a river, but she knew that soft reluctant voice. “Bucky?”

Bucky froze. The woman in purple. It wasn’t the same one from last time. It was… it couldn’t be...

Seeing Steve was bad enough. He’d come to terms with how Steve had survived. Dawn was dead, He had checked. Steve could look after himself. He’d had to be sure that Dawn wasn’t going to be in danger because of him. She had died almost a year ago now. His brain was rebelling. The hallucinations had gotten worse. That was it. Instead of haunting him with people he had killed now they were haunting him with the people he had loved most. “No. no, no, no.”

Dawn edged closer, touching his shoulder hesitantly. It was him. His hair was longer. The smile he had always greeted her with was gone. But it was him. “Bucky…”

He recoiled pressing himself against the wall. If she tried to touch him she would go right through. The same way he went through the other ones when he tried to push them away. He didn’t want to see her fingers disappearing into him. He didn’t want her ghost here at all. “No. You’re not here. You’re dead.”

“Bucky. It’s us. We’re here.” Steve set his hand reassuringly on Dawn’s shoulder.

She reached for him again, her fingers just brushing his right arm. “Bucky.”

Solid fingers. Real, tangible pressure. She was real. Bucky took a step forward and touched Dawn’s face. Tracing the curve of her cheek. Soft, and warm, and everything he remembered in his few, blissful, good dreams. She was real. And she was here. If she was real then it followed that Steve was real too. They had interacted after all.

Dawn covered his hand with her own. It was familiar, even through the leather glove, the same hand that had tucked her hair behind her ear so many times. “We’re taking you home.”

Tears pricked in Bucky’s eyes. He couldn’t remember the last time he had cried. He was sure it had been decades. He pulled his hand away from her face. “I can’t go home, Sunshine. They’re looking for me.”

“If you won’t come with me, then I’m staying here.” Dawn wrapped her arms around Bucky and buried herself in his chest.

Steve blushed and looked away. Giving them this moment.

Bucky looked down at the head of soft wavy hair in confusion. Hands held awkwardly away from their bodies. Does she not know? “Dawn....”

Natasha was surprised by how well the others took to the surveillance van. Ginny and Rosie were sitting on the crew bench with the medkit between them. Jack was in the passenger seat upfront, binoculars out, scanning the street ahead of them. Peggy had taken the seat next to Natasha, listening intently to the noise coming in over the headphones she was wearing, and studying the displays.

“Hey, Cap?” Natasha frowned as she listened to the radio chatter. A new local frequency had popped up a few minutes ago. One that she was not finding comforting. “Remember that company we were expecting?”

“What kind showed up?” Steve's voice came back calm and level.

“The kind that I don’t think are actually local SWAT.” The kind that Nat was pretty sure was a Hyra strike team trying to mop up liabilities. The Winter Soldier knew too much to be left alive. She pulled up a live drone feed and set Tony's targeting program to highlight their opposition. There was a lot of opposition. Hydra may have sent more than one strike team.

“We’re on our way to you.” Steve's voice was still even and determined.

Peggy pursed her lips as she watched the dots Natasha had tagged move across the screen. They were clustering around the entrance, creating a nasty bottleneck. “They’re going to need an exit.”

“Let’s give them one.” Natasha offered her a shotgun. “That roof next door looks promising.”

Peggy looked at the rest of their party, still sitting on their bench, waiting expectantly for orders. Orders from her. “Jack, take the wheel. Rosie, Ginny, be ready. They might need medical attention and we are definitely going to be leaving in a hurry.”

Steve turned back to the couple. He hated to cut their reunion short, but they needed to get moving. “We have incoming.”

“Of course we do.” Bucky sighed. The heavy inevitably of violence settled over him. He carefully extracted himself from Dawn’s hold, keeping his left hand away from her.

"We might be able to talk our way out. Bluff them to avoid the fight." Dawn said. It was an optimistic thought. But she had largely avoided getting shot at during the war, and she would prefer to maintain that record.

"It always ends with a fight." Bucky said, pulling off his gloves. Fighting was what he was made for.

There was an explosion from the bottom of the stairs. Steve and Bucky made eye contact. They were out of time to come up with alternatives. There wasn't even time to get Dawn out.

Feet pounded up the stairs. Something crashed against the rickety door. Once. Twice. It splintered and exploded inward.

Bucky grabbed Dawn and thrust her behind Steve’s shield, moving in with her to cover both of them. He might not be able to get them out, but he could protect them.

A grenade clattered through the door. Steve clamped his shield over it. It detonated with a muffled boom.

Dawn could feel it shake the floor even from behind Steve and Bucky. She wanted to cling to Bucky until the bad people went away. She wanted the fighting to stop. She wanted for there never to have been a faction that thought creating a brainwashed assassin to murder their political opponents was a viable option. Now that it was too late for that, she wanted the remainder of that faction to leave Bucky alone. She wanted the three of them to make it out of her and back to safety.

She wanted everything to be alright. That was the thought that filled her mind as Bucky's broad back moved away from her.

Bucky scooped a hand under the table, sending it flying legs first towards the door. It stuck deep into the wall. The first assailant slammed into it, unable to slow his charge in time. It wouldn't hold them long though. They need to get moving. He hauled his backpack out of its hiding spot under the floorboards. Regardless of what happened with the sudden appearance of Steve and Dawn, he was leaving this apartment and never coming back.

Dawn was too dazed to do anything other than submit as Bucky rushed back towards them and manhandled her into the straps of a ratty backpack. “Bucky what--”

Bucky fastened the strap across her chest with a definitive click. If she was alive, he was going to keep her that way. “Stay with Steve.”

Bucky sprinted out the door before she could say anything, sliding under the table barricade and launching himself straight into the heart of the fray. He had to clear a path. He had to get Steve and his Sunshine to safety.

Steve reached for Dawn, determined to keep her close as they followed Bucky into the hall. Bucky had the right idea. Get moving. Get out.

Dawn grabbed the harness that supported Steve’s shield when it wasn’t on his arm. She could hold on, and he could have his hands free. Steve nodded at her understanding and appreciating her action. He wrenched the table out of the wall and tossed it at the pair of Hydra strike operatives on the stairs.

Bucky was wreaking havoc among the men who had made it all the way to his landing. Whoever had sent them, they weren't prepared to take on the Winter Soldier. One punch was all it took to render his first victim unconscious. He covered the muzzle of a gun with his metal hand, the palm flexing as it absorbed two shots. He twisted the gun out of the man's hand and tossed it aside, breaking at least one finger in the process from the scream the act elicited. The scream that followed that one was longer, drawn out. Less pain, more terror, as Bucky grabbed him by the lapel and flung him into the void at the center of the stairs. Two more screaming men followed him, lashed together with the convenient carabiners on their vests.

Steve knocked out the last squad member with a snake-quick bash from his shield.

Bucky looked around for more targets.

The next squad had made it most of the way up to them. Two floors were all that separated them from Bucky's people. Bucky hurled one of the unconscious bodies down at them. The squad froze, looked down at the body, then up at Bucky. Bucky vaulted the railing, dropping into the middle of the crowd.

Dawn kept her eyes fixed on Steve's back or her own feet as he towed her along. She didn't want to know what was happening. Didn't want to know if the body she had just skittered around was dead or just unconscious. The sound of her pulse in her ears was almost loud enough to drown out the sounds of gunfire and flesh impacting flesh and other harder things around her. She abhorred this kind of violence, and there had been too much of it in her life. To say nothing of Bucky's or even Steve's. Natural talent and chemical enhancement only got you so far. To be as good at this as they were took practice.

She squeezed her eyes closed and huddled closer to Steve's back as something that sounded suspiciously like a skull hit the wall next to her. Why were there still so many guns going off? How could anyone still be standing? Was Bucky hurt?

Bucky threw the last man down the stairs, sending him sprawling into the knot of mooks at the bottom. Untangling themselves would take time, but there was another squad moving in close behind. He could feel Steve and Dawn waiting a few feet away. "We're not going to make it down."

"Out then." Steve said nodding at the door to the apartment next to them. Nat and Peggy were out there. Just one building over. They would have cover fire, and hopefully a clear set of stairs. "We've got cover on the next roof over."

Bucky gave one curt nod. That would work. He kicked in the door. The apartment's occupants were thankfully absent. He did a quick clear anyway, before breaking down the door to the balcony. He could see the red-head who had been with Steve last time and someone who looked a lot like Peggy, holding down a firing position behind the ventilation system. Fifteen feet across the alley between the two buildings, a two story drop. Too far for Dawn to jump on her own, but Steve could get her across.

Bucky looked over his shoulder. Made eye contact with Steve, and launched himself across the gap first.

Steve took Dawn by the shoulders and made her look at him. There was commotion on the stairs again. Their attackers must have found a way past the blockage. He needed to cover their retreat, which meant Dawn was going to have to do this next bit on her own. “When you hit the roof, roll.”

Dawn couldn't stop herself from screaming as the ground disappeared from beneath her. Wind whipped at her. Her stomach dropped. The roof rushed up to meet her, and she twisted in the air. Her shoulder hit the ground. She remembered Steve's direction and let herself tumble instead of skid. She still jarred her left elbow pretty badly.

Then Bucky was grabbing her by the backpack and towing her towards where Peggy and Natasha had taken cover, keeping his left arm between her and the black figures above. He shoved her down behind the ventilation unit. It should be big enough to absorb any stray shots.

Bucky headed for the roof access to make sure the stairs were either clear or blocked off. This roof was an improvement, but not a huge one. Bullets started to pepper the gravel around him as the more intelligent of the men behind them broke into apartments other than the one Steve was holding.

Nat ground her teeth in frustration. Neither of the women had brought weapons of the right caliber to maintain a sustained cover at this distance. They shouldn't have to. Where the hell was Steve? Natasha hissed and clamped a hand to her side as a bullet tore across her ribs, leaving a red ragged gash in her leather jacket. Damn it, Cap. Stop playing hero, we need to get out of here.

Peggy pushed her back with Dawn and took over cover fire. She took her time with her shots. She was running out of bullets for her rifle, she couldn’t afford to waste them. There were several long moments before she finally saw Steve emerge onto the balcony again. Tossing the man who had been firing at her over the railing, before launching himself across the gap, landing on his shield and rolling neatly to Peggy’s feet. Peggy, lowered her weapon to look at him. She had forgotten exactly how attractive he was in the heat of battle. Honestly, Steve tackling her out of the way of a Nazi car had been the moment she had known she wanted to be more than friends with Steve Rogers. Doubly so when he had apologised. “You’re late.”

“God, I love you.” Steve grinned and pushed himself to his feet in front of her. He only had a second to appreciate the moment before another volley of gunfire interrupted. He caught the bullets on his shield and hustled Peggy towards the rest of their group.

Five large heavy objects hit the roof of the van. Jack stuck his head out the side window and looked up. A long haired and wild eyed Bucky looked back at him. As did a stoic and determined Steve.

“Drive.” Steve ordered. He kept a hand on the back of Dawn’s sweater as the van started to move. She was the one he was most worried about falling off.

Nat winced as she lay down on the roof. The graze on her side burned like crazy. She hated getting shot. It was something you never got used to.

Rosie popped the back door open and looked up, straight into Peggy's calm face. "You are way too relaxed."

"Oh, you know how it is, been in one car chase with a hail of gunfire, been in them all." Peggy quipped back, bracing as Jack skidded them around a corner and sped up.

Steve swung the girls into the vehicle, starting with Dawn, she was the least prepared for this, then Natasha, she was injured, and finally Peggy. Rosie and Ginny caught them and made sure they made it safely inside. Finally, only he and Bucky were left on the roof.

Bucky watched their back trail intently. A pair of unmarked black SUVs sped around the corner, jostling their way through traffic to get closer. “They’re still following us… me.”

“Us.” Steve said firmly. Bucky wasn't alone in this. “We’ll just have to draw them off."

Chapter Text

Bucky swallowed. Us. We. It had been a long time since he'd been part of an ‘us’ or a ‘we’. It would be better if Steve went with the girls, but there was no arguing with Steve once he got the bit between his teeth. At least this way Bucky could watch out for him, and he had the shield. They had a better shot at this working if they tried it together.

If he and Steve left the van, Peggy, Dawn and the rest of them had a better shot at getting away. They were the more desirable targets. The lion's share of their attackers would follow them. Maybe even all of the attackers.

Bucky nodded to the upcoming overpass. It would be a good place to split. Force the choice.

Steve nodded back and prepared himself. Ten. Nine. Eight...

Steve and Bucky leapt from the back of the van and onto the hood of the following car. Already falling back into sync. Steve slammed his shield into the roof to anchor them, grabbing Bucky's belt with his other hand. Bucky punched through the windshield and jerked the wheel hard to the left. The car skidded as the driver slammed on the breaks, before accelerating again, trying to shake the men off.

Bucky kept his hand on the wheel as it ground along the guard rail. Poorly maintained as it was, he should be able to break through it and dump the car over the edge of the ramp.

Steve glanced over his shoulder just in time to see their surveillance van zip out of sight among the other traffic. He didn’t see any cars move to follow them. Like he’d suspected, Hydra was far more interested in him and Bucky than in Natasha and a bunch of ‘anonymous Stark employees’.

The guardrail finally gave, sending the SUV plunging towards the ground 20 feet below. Steve took three running strides to clear the falling vehicle, Bucky half a step behind him. They rolled as they hit the road, taking off running in the opposite direction of the van with their friends. The driver was less lucky.

Dealing with one follow car didn’t deal with the threat as a whole. There were still at least two vehicles after them. They had one advantage their pursuers didn’t have. They were on foot. They could think three dimensionally. Bucky’s overpass plan made that an especially valuable advantage. Plunging over the edge with the falling car had been a bad idea. But a controlled drop to the next level down wasn’t. Steve thought he could see a further drop to a tunnel that ran under both levels a little way further down the road.

Steve nudged Bucky’s arm and jerked his head towards the drop. Bucky nodded and they took off running. A quick check over his shoulder told Steve that they were definitely still being followed. Three more vans full of Hydra had pulled up the on ramp and were closing fast. Bullets peppered the asphalt around their feet. Steve vaulted the rail first, dropping and rolling without breaking stride. Bucky landed easily next to him. Together they sprinted for the shelter of the tunnel.

Steve jogged to a stop in the middle of the tunnel. Ahead of them, the cars were all breaking hard. Swerving and bunching up. A few of them had carened over the center divider blocking off the other lanes. He could hear scraping metal and gunshots. It looked like Hydra had gotten around in front them. What they needed was a mode of transportation that would get them through this traffic jam.

Bucky set his eyes on an approaching motorcyclist. Motorcycles were good. Maneuverable.

He squared off right in the rider’s path. If they wanted to protect civilians they needed to get away from the civilians. Which might mean a little collateral damage. What was a broken bone or two in the grand scheme of things.

He grabbed the handlebars with his left hand, shoving the rider sideways off the bike with his right. The rider went tumbling into the median, causing a car to swerve and crash into a pillar. Bucky kicked the back tire, spinning the bike and vaulting onto it in the same smooth motion. He gunned the bike in a tight circle to get used to how it handled.It had power, but the controls were responsive and the brake disks seemed fresh. Perfect.

Steve helped the rider back on his feet. Tucking a business card into his pocket as he did so. “Get to cover. Stay safe. And when this is over call the Stark International toll free line, ask for Maria Hill and tell her Steve borrowed your bike.”

Bucky said something in Romanian. Steve chose to assume he was translating the message, not threatening the poor guy. Either way he nodded frantically beneath his helmet and dashed towards cover.

“You coming?” Bucky asked, revving the motor. This would work. This would get them clear of the mess.

Steve swung his leg over the back of the bike and clipped his shield onto his back. “Why Buck, people will talk.”

“You not been on the internet, punk? People already talk.” Bucky grinned for the first time in years. He’d missed Steve. Even with the world crashing down around him, Steve made him feel like himself. He still would have felt better if the idiot had stayed safely away from him.

Steve snorted and grabbed Bucky around the waist. He had been on the internet. People did talk. People talked and wrote things that made him blush. He’d told Peggy. She’d laughed so hard she cried and made him read some of them to her.

‘Away’ was a more complicated proposition than Bucky would have considered ideal. Hydra had vehicles at both ends of the tunnel now, one side was fully blocked off, black clad men with guns streaming between the cars at that end, terrifying the poor trapped civilians. Bucky aimed for the other end. There was still a gap there, Bucky aimed straight for that gap. The sound of bullets pinging off Steve’s shield oddly familiar behind him.

A second wave of Hydra vehicles was closing in behind the first. An advancing V of reinforcements, threatening to close off their way out. Where do they find them all?

Steve hurled his shield into the hood of the car at the front of the V, lodging it in the engine block and bringing the truck to a skidding halt. The tires of the following cars screeched and metal crunched as they tried and failed to avoid crashing into the stopped car or each other.

Bucky nearly lay down the bike as he swerved close enough for Steve to wrench his shield free. Disabling the lead car caused enough of a gap in the line for them to punch through. He shifted gears, rocked his weight to the side to right the bike, and clotheslined the gunman trying to line up a point blank shot on them with his metal arm.

Two sharp lefts across streets where the traffic was still moving.

A hard right down an alley. Steve caught the corner of a dumpster and pulled it over to block their path.

Another left.

If the driver of the car following them wasn’t a murderous faciest, Steve would be impressed with his ability to keep up. “We need more cover.”

Bucky nodded and banked towards one of the city’s main arterial roads that was almost always packed. Bumper to bumper traffic was where their maneuverability would shine.

Bucky zigaged his way through the traffic. A few shoulder checks told him that his offensive driving still hadn’t managed to shake their tail. Worse when he tried to make a lateral move, he discovered that there were more Hydra following them on the parallel streets. At this rate they were going to get boxed in. Bucky hated feeling cornered. Doubly hated it when he and Steve were cornered and neither of them were armed in any significant way.

He cut hard to the right, jumping a lane barricade onto an on ramp and weaving through the single crowded lane against the flow of traffic. He made another U-turn at the bottom, taking off in a completely different direction from the one they had been traveling earlier.

Steve looked back. There was still a black SUV there, and gaining on them. They weren’t going to shake them this way. He caught a glimpse of shimmering movement out of the corner of his eye. ...That could work...

“Lose them in the river?” Steve called over the combined noise of the engine and the wind.

Bucky took his eyes full off the road to look at him. “How long has it been since I told you I hate your plans?”

“About 70 years.” Steve felt a smile spread across his face. Under fire, time running out, Bucky snarking at him. It was good to be home.

Bucky shook his head, closed his eyes, and laid the bike down right at the edge of the drop. The motorcycle tumbled into the river first, with Steve and Bucky skidding after it. They plunged through the air, shoving away from each other so they wouldn't collid when they hit the river.

Bucky exhaled just before his feet hit the water.

Half a kilometer downstream. Steve broke the surface, dragging Bucky by the collar. He looked around to make sure they really had shaken their pursuit, and struck out for shore. He hauled Bucky onto the bank first, then dropped down himself. It was over. At least it was probably over. He pressed his coms unit to transmit again. "Hey Nat? We could use a pick up."

Bucky rolled over and coughed up a lung full of water. He hated Steve’s plans. He doubly hated when they worked. It only encouraged the idiot.

Five minutes later, Jack rolled the van to a stop on the street above them. Steve helped Bucky to his feet, draping his arm around his shoulders and taking fully half his weight as they stumbled up the bank.

The back of the van swung open. Rosie stood there with towels draped over her shoulder. "Well? Get in. We have a flight to catch."

Bucky blinked in confusion as Steve helped him into the van. Dawn, Peggy, Ginny, Jack, and Rosie. Practically the whole gang. All alive and inexplicably in Romania. Steve’s red-headed friend was laying on her side on the floor, as Ginny stitched her side. Jack was driving, Peggy in the passenger seat. Rosie was still calmly holding the towels. And Dawn… Dawn was sitting on the bench seat along the wall of the van, worried gaze fixed on him.

A small part of him wanted to go to her. To kiss away that worry and fear. Tell her everything was going to be alright. A larger part of him reminded that part that the man she has loved was dead. He was just the killer that had stolen his body. Steve's hand on his shoulder shook him out of his panic. Bucky let Steve guide him to a seat. He draped the towel around his neck, and put his head between his knees, dripping dully on the floor.

Steve squeezed Bucky's shoulder and nodded for Jack to start driving again. It was time to go home.

Dawn reached for Bucky's hand as the jet finally took off. He was safe. They were on their way back to the security of Steve’s home.

Bucky jerked away from her. She had tried to touch the arm. His Sunshine was a pure innocent creature, he didn't want to think about her touching the bloody weapon. Seeing it might make him throw up.

Dawn shifted closer to Ginny. She wasn't sure what she had done wrong. This new damaged Bucky, was going to be a puzzle to figure out. One she wasn’t entirely sure she was up to.

Ginny cuddled Dawn against her side. Glaring at Bucky behind Dawn's head. She didn't care what he had been through, she wouldn't forgive him if he broke Dawn's heart. Her friend had already suffered for loving him. The last thing she needed was more pain.

Steve caught the exchange and rubbed Bucky's back. The same way Bucky had always rubbed his back to help him through asthma attacks. They could figure all this out. There was still hope Bucky could be happy, and at very least he was safe now.

Bucky felt all his major muscles start to quiver. He'd experienced more emotions in the last four hours than he had in the last 70 years. All he wanted to do was curl into a ball, fall asleep, and wake up to discover that this had all been a crazy dream. He hung his head between his knees and took long slow breaths. From this angle, he had a strange upside down view of Dawn leaning against Ginny. A crazy, crazy, dream. Steve kept up his soothing circles on his back, they meant something.

He didn't know what.

Natasha stretched out her side and dropped her belt on the gear table. It ached, and the stitches pulled. She hated getting shot. At least this time she hadn't lost enough blood to need a transfusion. She should probably take antibiotics for a couple weeks. Which would also mean eating yogurt and dealing with Tony following her around with probiotic smoothies and a concerned look.

This was why she had resisted moving into the Tower before the whole Hydra thing. She didn't like being coddled. She would rather deal with things on her own, even if it was a struggle, than be treated like a fragile flower.

Rosie shot the redhead a look as she dropped the still damp towels from the jet in the waiting hamper. "You should get that properly cleaned and redressed."

"Yeah." Nat grimaced. She should. The field dressing was effective, but there was just no way to get things really sterile in the back of a moving van. And given that Ginny had swept Dawn out of the room and away from Barnes as soon as they had touched down, that meant she was going to have to explain how she'd gotten shot to someone else. "I'll call Bruce once I get all this put away."

"I can do it." Rosie offered. It had been a couple of years since she had changed a bandage, but she could dust off the skills.

Natasha raised an eyebrow. Ginny was definitely the medical one of the group. Still, if she didn't have to tell Bruce… then Bruce wouldn't tell Clint, and Clint wouldn't cut what he was doing short to come look after her, and she wouldn't get irritated at the men of the Avengers fretting at her, and she wouldn't snap at them, and she wouldn't have to deal with Steve's 'I'm disappointed and worried about you' look. It was a spectacular idea. As long as Rosie did a good enough job that she didn't get an infection and have to deal with everything she wanted to avoid but five times worse.

Rosie shrugged. It wasn't like Natasha was badly hurt. There had been a period where Rosie had stitched up a cut like hers three of four times a day. "I was a nurse."

Natasha lay on the medical exam table. Her shirt neatly folded by her head, arm stretched above her head to give Rosie access to her injured side. In retrospect, she probably should have taken her bra off too. For some reason, she had been reluctant to. Which was odd for her. Natasha had never been body shy. It was a poor use of mental energy.

It had to be something about Rosie. Natasha watched her as she prepared a swab with iodine. Maybe she gave off the same old fashioned, pure as the driven snow, morally upright, and virtuous aura Steve did. She definitely had a certain gentle and benevolent healing touch thing going on. The very picture of a stereotypical nurse. The kind they used to put on propaganda posters.

She hissed as the yellow liquid stung her side. Okay. Maybe not that gentle. But she did seem to know what she was doing.

"Sorry." Rosie set aside the used swab and reached for the gauze pad to cover the wound. "Worst part is over."

Modern wound dressing was so much more convenient than the old way of doing it. No more worrying about things slipping out of place or big loops of gauze getting tangled with anything that brushed the patient's torso. Rosie smoothed the final strip of tape into place. Although she did have to work a lot harder at not staring inappropriately at the patient in this century. To be fair, she hadn’t worked on a lot of patients that looked like the woman currently on the table… none really. She hadn't considered that detail when she made her offer. Just noticed that Natasha was struggling and known that she could help.

She cleared her throat, racking her brain for some topic of conversation to distract them both. "Ginny did a good job. Especially considering we were moving. There still might be a little scaring."

Natasha huffed, coldly amused. Scaring? From getting shot? Who would have thought. "Wouldn't be the first time."

No. It obviously wasn’t. There was a bullet scar on her shoulder. The shot had hit right below her collar bone, the bullet had probably gotten caught on her shoulder blade before it could exit. Rosie wondered if they had taken the bullet out when they patched her up, or if the lead was still resting there.

A second larger scar marred Natasha’s abdomen. It was longer, almost three inches, and nowhere near as clean. This wasn’t an injury that had been taken care of right away. The shiny livid white rope of knotted flesh surrounded by stark red spoke of an injury left to fester. Shot in the field. Forced to run rather than get help or take care of herself. Rosie stroked the skin under the ridge. A through and through? Or had this one hit bone too? If she reached around, would there be a matching mark on her back. Or would the skin be as smooth and soft as the areas she had touched on Natasha's side. Her eyes slowly drifting to Natasha's.

Natasha had known that Rosie had green eyes. She hadn't realized exactly how bright they were. Big, luminous, eyes ringed with long golden lashes. She sat up very slowly. It wasn't just Rosie's eyes. She had the most amazing lips. Soft pink lips that she had just licked enticingly.

Sitting on the edge of the exam table, Natasha's head was a few inches higher than Rosie's. A fact that Natasha was very conscious meant that standing side by side, or better yet front to front, Rosie would be within an inch of her height. Put her in a good pair of heels… Natasha kind of wanted to see what she looked like in a good pair of heels. Were they the same size? Could Rosie borrow hers? The emerald green peep toes, with a nice cocktail dress...

Wrapping her hand around the back of Rosie's neck wasn't an entirely conscious decision. Neither was tipping her head to the side and matching their mouths together.

Deepening the kiss was. One she made when Rosie's hands curled around her thighs and made a greedy noise.

Natasha hooked her ankle around the back of Rosie's leg, reeling her in closer. How long had it been since she'd kissed someone just because she wanted to? A year, at least. And this. This was a good kiss. She wanted more.

"You're hurt." Rosie whispered into the air between them. Endorphins made people do all sorts of things they wouldn’t normally do.

"Just kiss me." Natasha whispered back, running her nose along Rosie's. She didn't care if she was hurt. While she was kissing Rosie she could almost forget about the pain in her ribs. She could forget about a lot of things.

Rosie could do that. Rosie would be happy to do that. Even if this was just something Natasha needed today, Rosie doubted she would regret it later. It wasn't a desperate, scared kind of kissing. Just a needy hedonistic hungry kind.

There was nothing wrong with seeking a little pleasure to offset life's pain.

Chapter Text

July 11th, 2014

Dawn padded through the strange hyper-modern common areas of the Tower. She wasn’t sure how anyone could feel at home here. Everything was too sterile and empty. The guest rooms were better, and Steve’s rooms even bordered on cozy, but out here she felt like she was visiting a scientific institute out of a novel. She hadn’t been able to sleep. Her always too fertile imagination kept running through all the things that had happened to Bucky. She’d gone looking for him, hoping that checking on him and reassuring herself that he was alright would help. She'd thought that if he was sitting awake too, she'd offer to make him tea.

The door to his room had been open, a soft light glowing on the bedside table. Bucky hadn’t been inside.

Going back to her room wasn’t an option. He could be wandering around lost and scared. If he had left without even telling her… She had to find him. She pulled the sleeves of the oversized sweater she was using in place of a housecoat down over her hands. At least the clothes Steve and Tony had supplied her with were comfortingly cozy. Lots of light flowing things and soft fabrics. Leggings were a revelation. She wished she was wearing some right now. Her knees were cold.

She found him. Sitting on the edge of a gravel covered roof, his legs dangling over the edge. She had to go to him. She needed to offer him what little comfort she could. Anything to take away some of the dead look in his eyes.

The only problem was, she had no idea how to get to him.It was roughly level with the lower tarrice, the center of the space dedicated to a ventilation unit. There was a ten foot gap between the roof and the tarrice, too far to jump. At least for her. She chewed her lip and looked around. It was only two stories down from where she was. And there were all those neat little ledges running down the side. All she had to do was climb down to the ledge and then scoot over. She could handle that. Dawn was suddenly very glad she had forgotten her slippers.

She took a deep breath and swung her leg over the railing.

Bucky sat studying his hands, trying to figure out what to do now that they had found him. Staying put them all in danger. But now that they had found him, they were in danger anyway. Even if he left, the people who wanted to use him would figure out that they were his weak spot. They could use the people Bucky cared about as a fulcrum to gain control over him again. Steve could look after himself, but the others, his friends…. His Sunshine… Would Steve keep them safe? Could he do as good a job as Bucky could? Not to mention how traumatic her being in this century had to be in the first place.

Steve was Captain America. He had responsibilities to other people. He couldn't always be hovering around Dawn, keeping her wrapped in cotton wool.

How could Bucky stay? After the things he had done… the people he had killed… He was a monster. He was the Winter Soldier, and his Sunshine belonged to the summer. Her world should be full of light and hope. Not cold gritty realty. Not what he was now.

Dawn whimpered and pressed her face into the wall. This was stupid. This was by far the stupidest thing she had ever done. She'd made it halfway. But now her knees were watery, her bruised elbow throbbed, and her hands refused to move. She couldn't look away from the drop.

A noise made Bucky look up. Not a threat. Something else. A soft, scared sound carried by the wind. The source of the noise was obvious as soon as he looked around. A woman, clinging to the side of the building a story above him.

“Dawn!” Bucky scrambled towards her. How had she gotten up there? Why was she up there?

“Umm… I think…. I think I’m stuck.” Dawn called down. She was very stuck. None of her joints wanted to move. Not moving felt like her best option right now, given that, as far as she could tell, the other option was falling to her death.

Bucky didn’t hesitate. Stepping out onto the ledge that stretched towards her, he started plotting his route up to her. Up was easy. Courtesy of Hydra, he had inhuman strength and agility to get himself up. Down was going to be more of a challenge. The odds of Dawn slipping and falling were too high with pretty much every plan he could think of in the heat of the moment. Get to her first. Get her down second.

“I got you, Sunshine.” Bucky pressed into her back, keeping her safely between him and the wall. He covered her right hand with his and carefully moved it to the next hand hold. “Just follow my lead. We’ll get you down.”

Dawn managed to unclench her fingers enough to grab where he told her to grab. Things seemed a little less terrifying with Bucky’s bulk blocking out the wind.

Her left hand still hadn't moved. Bucky shifted so he could grip her elbow and guide her to the next ledge.

As soon as he was close enough, Bucky leapt back onto the roof proper, dragging Dawn with him. She stumbled, knees still weak, before finding her footing.

“What were you thinking?” Bucky growled, cupping her face between his hands. She could have died. One slip. One gust of wind. A second of weakness. And a perfect ray of sunlight would have vanished from an already too dark world. She shouldn’t be out here. She should be tucked safe and warm in bed.

“I thought you needed me. You got down, I should have been able to.” Dawn curled her hands into his shirt. She was shaking all over. Her heart was beating out of her chest. And Bucky was mad at her. Bucky had never gotten mad at her before. She could feel tears prickle in her eyes.

“Baby girl... Sunshine.” Bucky sighed and smoothed her hair back from her face. He’d scared her. He never wanted to scare her. She had sacred him. Clambering around the side of the building like that. And for what? Him? He wasn't worth that. “You are one of the most thoughtful and stubborn people I have ever met.”

Dawn let out a little sob and buried her face in his chest. He'd saved her. Protected her like he always had. After everything he'd been through she should be the one protecting him. And she hadn't even been able to climb down to a roof.

“Come on, Sunshine.” He kissed the top of her head. She was stubborn, but she meant well, and he'd always been attracted to stubborn people. “Let’s get you back inside. See if we can’t find you some tea. Or there’s no rationing anymore, maybe we can even wrangle some cocoa.”

Dawn rubbed away the tears stinging her eyes. “I’m not ready to climb back up.”

Bucky couldn’t help the smile that curled his lips. Did she really think he would have helped her down, if they needed to get back up? “I didn’t climb down, Doll. There’s an access hatch.”

Dawn’s eyes went huge as her head snapped up. He hadn’t climbed down, but he hadn’t hesitated to climb up and save her.

Bucky went down the ladder first, standing under Dawn while she carefully descended the rungs, then climbing back up to close the door.

Dawn reached for Bucky automatically as they started walking. She had spent the better part of two years reaching for him when she was scared, and another two wishing she could. Now she had him back, and he was back to protecting her like everything hadn’t changed. Slipping her hand into his was more instinct than anything else.

Bucky looked down at the small hand in his. His left hand. She’d taken it without even blinking. Her fingers pale, fragile, and warm, between his. It… it wasn't as horrible to look at as he'd feared it would be...

Cocoa wasn't a struggle. There were single serving packets sitting next to the coffee maker in the guest quarters common room. Dawn took charge of turning the powder into something drinkable. Carefully and deliberately following the instructions on the back of the sachets. The familiar task centered her and helped her get her hands to stop shaking.

Bucky left her to it, and went to track down something to go along with the cocoa. She could use come comfort food to go along with her soothing drink.

It wasn’t hard to find the box of cookies that Steve had stashed in his personal kitchen cupboard. Especially since Bucky had swept Steve's entire apartment for threats while Steve had been filling him in on things he needed to know about the tower. Bucky left a note stuck to Steve's shield to let him know he would need to buy more.

They claimed to be chocolate chip, but at first sampling, Dawn declared that they tasted more like vaguely-chocolate-flavoured wax.

“This is truly sad,” Dawn said with a shake of her head. “I thought the 21st century had better food. I think we had better cookies back at Moose Tracks.”

Bucky grabbed another one out of the tray and crunched into it. She wasn’t entirely wrong. Not that he remembered much about it. “They would be better if they weren’t stale.”

“I wonder if there are any baking supplies in the tower,” She mused, dusting the crumbs from her hands. She could make better cookies, and they could all use the comfort food. Real comfort food. Not cardboard masquerading as something edible. Maybe thumbprint cookies. The jam here was fantastic.

“If there aren't, Stark could probably buy some.” Bucky fished his phone out of his pocket and sent Steve a text to check. Forcibly entering his number into Bucky’s phone had been one of the first things Steve had done when they had gotten back to the states. His instructions had been very specific. Bug me with anything, Buck. Any time. Bucky was still enough of a shit to put that to the test.

“I couldn’t ask him to do that.” Natasha had told Dawn that she and the others had been set up with discretionary accounts for anything that they might need to buy. Goods were more readily available now, but she felt bad spending money that wasn’t truly hers.

Bucky shook his head. Steve’s response already lit up his phone. “Sunshine, Stark is so rich he could buy you your own fully-equipped pastry kitchen and not bat an eye.”

“I… am not even going to think about that.” The very prospect of someone spending that much money on a whim was intensely disconcerting. Someone spending that much money on her? She shuddered at the thought.

Dawn fell asleep on the couch after cocoa. The adrenaline and anxiety from her brush with disaster had worn off, leaving her exhausted.

Bucky grabbed a throw off the back of a chair and carefully tucked her in. There had been way too much excitement tonight. In her last two weeks really. Bucky should be mad at Stark for tearing her away from her happy peaceful life. He couldn't quite manage it. Not when it meant he got to see her again. He got to know she was everything he remembered.

He curled himself into the armchair by her head. He could keep her safe in this new tumultuous world. Besides, a pretty girl like his Sunshine, so sweet, so bright. Once she got her feet under her, she’d find someone to keep her happy in this century. He reached out to tuck her hair behind her ear. That thought wasn’t as comforting as it should have been.

Chapter Text

July 12th, 2014

Tony burst into the guest lounge like he owned the place. Which, technically, he did. He spotted the person he was looking for right away. Ignoring the way Barnes eyed him as he got closer to her, Tony leaned over the back of the couch by Dawn’s head. "Cap tells me that you are looking for baking supplies."

Dawn blinked at him blearily. She was only just waking up. She hadn’t talked to Steve yet today. She didn’t even know where the steaming mug of coffee on the table next to her had come from. Or the blanket covering her for that matter. Let alone how Steve would have found out about her baking designs and managed to tell Tony about them, all before… it couldn’t even be eight am. "Oh, umm, no, no. I just--"

Tony pressed on, ignoring her protests. "He also said that if you had baking supplies that would lead to fresh cookies."

Dawn sat up and slipped her feet into the slippers that had also appeared. "It… it probably would."

Tony rubbed his hands together gleefully. "I would like a plate-full delivered to my lab while they are still warm, please. Preferably with a glass of almond milk.” He bounced away from the couch, waving towards the still-open door. “Bring'er in, boys."

Five staff members trooped into the room, all laden with bulging canvas bags full of foodstuffs, and baking supplies.

Bucky stepped in close behind Dawn as they unpacked everything onto the counter. Did Steve know these people? Who had cleared them to come into the guest rooms? Stark was here. If anything kicked off, he probably had one of those shiny red suits around. He could look after Dawn while Bucky ran interference.

One of them winked at Dawn, setting bags of different kinds of chocolate in a line. Bucky’s jaw tensed, the plates in his left arm rippled as his fist closed. He couldn’t just -- except he could. He forced his hand back open. Dawn could flirt with whoever she wanted, and of course this guy would want to flirt with her. She was adorable, with her hair coming out of its braid and the hem of her nightgown peeking out of her big soft sweater.

He knew what the old Barnes would have done. The old Barnes would have casually draped an arm around Dawn’s shoulder and said something supportive about her baking. Something that made it clear they were together without being overly possessive.

They weren’t together.

Things couldn't be like they had been. He had no real claim on her at all anymore. If you love something let it go. She would always be his Sunshine. But she wasn’t his Sunshine anymore.

Dawn blushed, suddenly very conscious that her nightgown didn’t cover her knees, and that Bucky was right behind her. She mumbled a thank you as the staff finished unpacking.

Bucky managed to relax as Tony and his helpers let themselves out. The flirty one smiled at Dawn again. Bucky reminded himself that he wasn’t allowed to be irritated by that. It only kind of worked. He settled for focusing on everything they had brought instead. That way he didn’t have to see if she smiled back. She should smile back. He was cute, gainfully employed, and he didn’t look like he had ever murdered anyone.

He would much rather think about how luxurious the spread on the counter was. Bucky picked up an apple and bit into it. He closed his eyes, crunching and chewing his way methodically through the fruit. Basic physical needs he could handle. Everything else… everything else was a lot.

Dawn wasn’t surprised that Bucky went straight for the food. She was hungry herself, and more than a little curious what all this was. She felt a little guilty for accepting Tony’s generosity, but she did love presents. She picked up three brightly coloured boxes and compared them. They were definitely different, she just didn’t know what that actually meant. "Did you know there is more than one kind of butter?"

"What are you going to make first?" Bucky asked, picking up a bag of nuts with the hand not holding his apple. There was so much food in this new century. He’d never even heard of macadamia nuts.

Dawn bit her lip considering. "Well, disappointing chocolate chip cookies caused this. Why not make some better ones?"

Dawn carefully set a timer and leaned against the edge of the counter. Fifteen minutes to cookies. Bucky had been quiet while he watched her work, but he also hadn’t left. She couldn’t blame him for being quiet. She didn’t know if she would ever speak again if she’d gone through even a fraction of the things Bucky had. He was smiling at her now, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

“You don’t have to put on a face. Not for me.” She wanted to hug him, but he hadn't responded well to her last few attempts at physical affection.

Bucky sketched a star in the flour spilled over the counter. “What makes you think ‘s a face?”

“I… I read your file.” She confessed, the words leaving her in a rush.

Bucky went still next to her, his expression flat and blank as shame and fear and heartache warred inside of him. Who had shown her? Not Steve. He wouldn’t do that to either of them. And surely Stark couldn’t be that stupid.

“I asked Tony’s Jarvis to show me,” she continued, worrying the hem of the oversized sweater she was still wearing, now with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows. “Steve… told us some when we arrived. Not all, but some.” The rest she had asked for on her own, the night before they left for Bucharest. Steve had been sweet to try to protect her, but she had to know the truth.

“What was done to you was…. Hideous.” That was the closest word she could find to describe it. Even now she felt physically sick over what they had put him through. “And I know… I know it can’t go back to the way it was. Neither of us are who we were back in ‘45.”

You breakin’ up with me, Sunshine? The words were on the tip of his tongue, but they just wouldn’t come out. He thought that was what the old him would have said. But it was just another thing he wasn't sure of any more. Instead he just nodded.

“So… “ Dawn hesitated, then looked up to meet his eyes. If she was going to say this, she had to say it to his face and not to her slippers. “So if you need to take some time, I understand. You should take time.” To rebuild from all that Hydra had taken from him, to find himself again. “Seeing you again… it’s enough. I got my miracle.”

She made herself smile, made herself keep talking even as the conflicted look in his eyes broke her heart. “I will always be your Sunshine. But you can decide what you want that to mean. I can be your pal Dawn. The one who bakes you cookies and finds you good books to read, and who attempts to climb down buildings to sit on the rooftop with you and stargaze when the nights get too quiet.”

Bucky's heart thundered in his chest. She wasn't abandoning him. She was letting him choose. No one had let him choose in so long. She knew what he had done, what had happened to him, and she still obviously wanted him to choose her. She wasn’t offering out of a sense of obligation. Broken as he was, she still cared about him. She still wanted to be with him. Bucky couldn’t quite believe that. She knew what he had done. But did she understand? What could he offer her? Nightmares. A life of being hunted. Hands he could never wash all the blood off… Protection. She wouldn’t need protection if she wasn’t with him.

Before he could form his complicated thoughts into anything resembling words, the timer buzzed.

Dawn leapt away from Bucky's side and hurried to rescue the cookies. She had said her piece. Now all she could do was wait and be the pal she had said she would be. If that was what he wanted, she would be the best friend ever. Starting by making cookies that were good enough for the man who had rescued her last night.

The cookies passed muster. But then, the stale cardboard crumbs weren’t exactly a hard act to follow. It was amazing what one could do with actually decent chocolate. Decent wasn’t even the right word for it. Whatever was in the chocolate Tony had bought it tasted like heaven.

Bucky watched Dawn close her eyes as she bit into the cookie. There was a drip of chocolate right by her mouth. He had another flash of what his past self would do. He would have cupped her jaw to hold her still, crushed her against him and kissed away the smear. The chocolate would taste so much sweeter off her lips. He pictured doing that now. Even the idea of the metal hand deliberately touching her face left him queasy. The phantom taste of chocolate turned to acid in his mouth.

Dawn dropped her eyes away from Bucky. Carefully wiping the crumbs off her face. His stare had gotten so much more intense since she had lost him. All the playful softness gone. She used selecting the six best looking cookies and arranging them on a plate as an excuse for keeping her eyes down. “I’d better get these to Tony, He specifically asked for them warm.”

Silently, Bucky retrieved a carton from the fridge and poured a glass full of creamy liquid. Warm cookies hadn’t been Stark’s only request. The guy had gone out of his way to make Dawn happy, he should get everything he wanted. He shoved it along the counter towards Dawn.

Dawn smiled at him gratefully and added the glass to the plate. It would have to be good enough for their benefactor. Next time she could attempt something fancier. Maybe tarts next, then petit fours and teacakes. "I'll be back."

Bucky watched her go. His stomach felt like it was full of ice. She still loved him so much. How could she? The man she loved was dead. He had fallen off a cliff, then Hydra and the Winter Soldier had killed him.

He sighed and cleared away all the dishes Dawn had used. Most of them could go in the dishwasher, the rest he gave a quick wash and left in the drying rack. The chore didn’t make him feel any better. His eyes moved to the cooling racks still spread across the counter. Maybe one of Dawn’s cookies would.

Steve eyed his buzzing phone nervously. He’d been expecting this call since he had seen their little car chase on the news last night. Honestly, it had taken a lot longer than he had expected.

Sam Willson- Calling

The buzzing stopped and Steve let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. Sam was a good friend. He'd been in on the Winter Soldier hunt from the beginning. He would have questions. Steve didn't know how to answer some of those questions.

His phone dinged once with his text notification.

Sam Wilson: Answer your phone, Rogers.

Steve stared at the message. Maybe he could ignore it the same way he had the phone call. He could tell Sam he'd been busy. He was busy. He was trying to write a letter to the Romanian government. An apology for starting a fire fight in their capital, and a little bit damaging part of their highway system. True, Peggy and Jack had already written a draft this morning, and he was probably just going to alter some of the syntax and sign it, but still. It was an important letter.

His phone dinged again.

Sam Wilson: I know you’re there. Coward.

Steve sighed and hit redial. There was an 80% chance he was bluffing. Better not risk it. He'd already been a bad friend to Sam, without dodging his calls. “Sorry, I missed your call.”

“Seriously, Rogers? Seriously? The one weekend I have a conference I can’t miss. You track him down and leave a trail of destruction through an Eastern European city?” Sam practically shouted down the phone.

“I know." Steve genuinely felt awful for not telling Sam beforehand. He was a bad friend. Things always got a little muddled when Bucky was in danger. "It all happened really fast.”

"Don't give me that 'happened fast' shit. It takes 30 seconds to send a text. You could have done it from the plane." Steve could hear Sam pacing. Mid afternoon on a weekday. He was probably in his office. For that matter this was probably the first break he'd gotten all day. And he was calling Steve instead of eating something. Because Steve was a bad friend. “And who were the other people with you? I can’t believe you would read anyone else in without telling me. We were supposed to be in this together.”

“We were. We are." Steve sputtered. He should have filled Sam in as soon as Peggy and the others had shown up. He definitely should have said something before they left for Romania. Steve could use the excuse that he knew Sam was busy all he wanted. That didn't change the fact that Steve had asked for, or at least accepted, help and then cut Sam out at the end. "Look a lot has happened in the past week.”

“A lot happens in your life every day. So what's with the runaround, Rogers?" Sam never had patience for Steve's obfuscating or trying to take responsibility for things that weren't his problem. It was why he was such a good friend. "We’ve been working on this for nine months. I deserve an actual explanation.”

Steve winced. That was true. He just didn’t know where to start. No. That wasn’t true. He knew where to start. “So, you remember Peggy?”

There was a long silent moment between when Steve finished the story and Sam spoke. When he finally did say something his voice was heavy with concern. “When are you seeing Doctor Lin next.”

Steve should have expected that question. Sam was half the reason Steve had started actually going to a therapist in the first place. Although finding a doctor who wasn't a Hydra plant with a mission to make him doubt himself helped too. “I have an appointment in an hour.”

“Good. Don’t miss it, Rogers. Put on your own mask before helping others.”

“I know, Sam.” He really did. Coping easier to handle with someone to help him unpack his brain. And when his personal coping was easier, he was better equipped to help others. Especially the important people in his life.

“I’m gonna come up there.” Sam said, Steve could hear him grabbing his calendar off the wall. “This week's bad. How's the long weekend for you?"

“I’ll see if we can find you a bed. We’re a little over booked right now.” Steve laughed. Weekends weren't really a thing in his line of work. Holiday weekends even less so. He would either be here. Or he'd find out at the last minute that he really needed to be somewhere else.

Bucky sat, turning one of the perfect golden cookies in his hands. He pinched it between the fingers of his silver hand. It held for a long second, before crumbling into tiny shards. That was what the hand did. It destroyed things.

Steve paused on his way to the door. He was running a little late for his appointment. But Bucky was obviously not okay. Doctor Lin alway booked an extra long slot for Steve so he had some flexibility. He could take a minute to be a friend first. "S wrong, Buck?"

Bucky sighed. Steve was checking up on him. Which would be irritating, if he wasn't the one person Bucky wanted to see. "Dawn said I should take my time. That if I wanted her back, she would be waiting for me, but that she wasn't expecting anything."

"That's sweet of her." Steve leaned against the edge of the counter and waited. Dawn being willing to wait and not expecting anything wasn't news that should leave Bucky this bereft. If he still cared about her, it was good news, and if he didn't he could let her down gently. So why did he look like his heart was breaking?

Bucky brushed the crushed cookie into his hand and dumped it in the garbage. "She shouldn't wait. She should find someone else. Someone who hasn't… someone who's a better fit for her.” Bucky let out an exhausted sigh and looked down at his empty miss-matched hands. “She's summer sun, and I'm the Winter Soldier."

Steve considered. He’d wanted to give Bucky time to get comfortable before he started introducing him to all the elements of life in the tower, but it sounded like he needed to experience some of the less obvious modern wonders. "Come on. There's someone I think you should meet."

Steve led them into a soothing room on one of the office floors of Stark tower. The room behind it was a light airy space, occupying the north east corner of the floor. The floor to ceiling windows were covered with half closed grey blinds to cut the glare from so much sun. A sleek minimalist desk sat in the corner. Two slouchy tan leather and wood armchairs and a grey couch covered in throw pillows, sat around a low coffee table with a sand tray and a water carafe with matching glasses. There was a side table between one of the chairs and the couch, a box of tissues on the top and a taupe throw neatly folded underneath. The walls were decorated with soothing abstract paintings in calming shades of warm grey and gold.

Steve’s shoulders visibly relaxed as he stepped into the room. "Hey Doc. Brought you another one."

A pixie of a woman in her mid 40s greeted Steve from beside the desk. She was a calming presence in and of herself. Dressed in the same soft soothing neutrals as the office, with an open non-threatening smile, and a pageboy haircut. "Good morning Steven. I thought Clint was the one who insisted on bringing home strays."

Steve smiled over his shoulder to encourage Bucky the rest of the way into the room. "He's not a stray. He just got a little lost for a while."

The doctor's expression changed to one of understanding as Bucky shuffled in, back to the wall. "Ahh, you must be James Barnes. Not to be indelicate, but I've heard a lot about you."

"My name is Bucky." He corrected, scanning the room for threats… and not finding any. He almost trusted it less now. Almost every room had some form of threat.

"Nice to meet you, Bucky." The woman accepted the name instantly. “I’m Doctor Lin Mai. Call me Doctor Lin. Everyone does.”

The phone on the desk rang. The doctor frowned at it, before looking up at Steve. "Do you mind if I…"

"No, not at all, we haven't started yet." Steve said, gesturing for her to take the call.

While the doctor was distracted, Bucky grabbed Steve's arm and whispered so he wouldn't be overhead. He was pretty sure he had figured out what was going on here, and he didn't like it. "Steve, I don't need a shrink. Enough people have dug around in my brain."

Steve squeezed Bucky's shoulder. He got that instinct. He really did. "Just stand in the corner and listen. A lot of things have changed in the last 70 years, Buck."

Bucky slunk into the corner. Steve wanted him to listen. He could give him that much.

The doctor finished her call quickly, speaking in a low smooth voice as she scheduled a meeting and promised to call back. When she was done, she smiled at Steve and picked up her notepad. With familiar ease, they each sunk into one of the arm chairs.

She crossed her ankles delicately. "It has been a while, Captain Rogers. Anything specific on your mind today?"

"There's a lot on my mind." Steve laughed. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his neck. "I got my people back this week. Both of them. Out of the blue."

"And how does that make you feel?"

"Happy. God, so happy." Steve turned up his hands. How could he be anything other than ecstatic. Peggy and Bucky. The people he had missed the most. Really the only two people that he regretted not having with him in the century. He had them back. He had his family back. "And relieved. Knowing they're both safe- it's like a mountain has been lifted off my chest."

The doctor waited.

Steve sighed. If it was that easy, he wouldn't have brought it up. Nothing was ever that easy. "But also guilty. Peggy was starting a new life. She was moving on and I stole her away from it. And she's the one I feel okay about."

"Would you like to talk about your feelings around Barnes today?" The doctor asked with a curious glance at Bucky.

Bucky shifted awkwardly in his corner. It sounded like he was a common topic of discussion. He kind of got that. He’d gone and died on Steve. Then come back from the dead, tried to kill him, and disappeared again.

"I should have been able to protect him.” Steve’s shoulders slumped. Bucky was safe now, So why did he still feel so helpless? “They should never have been able to do those things to him and I should have been able to find him sooner. He shouldn't have had to deal with the last year alone."

The woman nodded and made a note on her pad. "You blame yourself?"

"Who else should I blame?” Steve snorted. “I was the reason he was on the damn helicarrier. I was the reason they set him loose in DC. Hell, I was the reason he was on the train."

Slowly, Bucky edged out of the corner and sunk into the empty chair. He didn’t know what he was expecting, but not this. Not something that felt so… safe. He wanted to tell Steve that none of it was his fault, but he also didn’t want to interrupt.

There was a little tray of sand with a tiny rake in it resting on the table. Steve played with it absently as he talked. He liked having something to do with his hands. He spent another hour talking through his feelings on recent events while Bucky looked on silently.

Nat slipped up next to Rosie at the kitchen counter. She was here for lunch, she needed to buy groceries again, but she was also here for something like a conversation. "So."

"So?" Rosie raised an eyebrow curiously. Something told her Natasha wasn't here for the leftovers filling the guest floor fridge.

Playing coy. That was alright. Natasha wasn't one to do this any other way. "I should probably change the bandage on that cut every day or two."

"You probably should." Rosie agreed, carefully arranging carrots next to her sandwich.

"Would you… help with that?" Natasha dipped her eyes meaningfully. It wasn't just help changing her bandage. Realistically, Natasha could do that herself now that the thorough cleaning was done. It was everything that had happened after. For all her skill at compartmentalizing, Natasha hadn't been able to shake the taste of Rosie's lips.

Rosie considered. There was more to that question than just a friend looking for some assistance. Yesterday's kiss had been nice. Rosie had gone a long time since her last kiss that good. More than two years. She wouldn't mind one or two more. "I could be persuaded."

The corner of Natasha's mouth twitched. She really did like Steve's friends. So discreet. "I'll see you in the med lab at say two?"

Rosie smiled and snapped a bite off her carrot. That sounded very much like a date. Or at least an invitation to a liaison. "I can make that work."

Chapter Text

July 19-26th, 2014

After a week of non stop muffins, cakes, and cookies, Dawn was at a loss. She couldn't spend all day everyday baking. That many sweets would be terrible of the tower’s residents if nothing else. Everyone had something. Ginny was in the middle of applying to medical school again. She had figured out how she fit in this world right away. Jack was already enrolled in online classes. Rosie had taken to hanging around with Natasha, learning how to throw a punch, how to rock climb, how to drive like the devil. Peggy had been rolled into Steve’s work right away. Everyone else had something. Even Bucky had found somewhere to disappear to all day. Only reappearing for what Tony called ‘family dinner’ every evening. Where he sat silently across from her, picked at his food, and hardly joined in the conversation.

Dawn was the only one at loose ends. Nothing needed cleaning. The tower was always spotless. She had altered all her new clothes to fit properly. She took to roaming the tower, trying futilely to find something to do.

It was almost an accident when she found it, the library. She had gotten turned around after dropping off a skirt she had hemmed for Pepper. All the halls looked the same. She took a left instead of a right and stopped dead when she saw the room plaque. A peek inside made her knees weak. Shelves and shelves of shiny new books. Hundreds of titles she had never seen, let alone read. It was the closest thing to heaven she had even seen.

Dawn went back the next day.

She found something resembling a routine the third day. Make breakfast for everyone. Then slip away to the library and read away the day. Back to the common room for dinner. Then hide herself in the safety of fantasy worlds until she was almost falling asleep. It was easy to lose herself in the pages, that hadn’t changed at least, and there were so many more books now.

The fourth day, she found a flower in the pages of the book she was reading. Pressed in the middle of the book. A fresh flower, she could still smell the sun on the petals when she lifted it to her nose.

The fifth day, there was a note.

Don’t stay up too late reading.

She tucked it into her pocket. A warm fuzzy sensation filling her chest. The letters were a little blockier than they had been before, and the pen had nearly torn through the paper in places, but it was still the same handwriting.

The seventh day, she fell asleep trying to finish The Fellowship of the Ring.

She woke up in her own bed, blankets carefully tucked around her. Another note was folded on the big bed's other pillow.

Sleep tight, Sunshine.

When she went back to the library, her book was on the table beside her usual chair. A new flower marked the page she had been on when she had fallen asleep.

July 30th, 2014

Dawn tried not to bounce in the elevator. But it was hard to stay still when her arms were full of new fantastic books she hadn't read yet. Jarvis had told her she could take them back to her room if she didn't want to sit in the library all the time. Which meant she would be able to read while she waited for stuff in the oven. She was going to spend her afternoon making sweet but tedious meringues, with lemon curd and fresh summer fruit, all while catching up on what Miss. Marple and Monsieur Poirot had been up to while she'd been… well she hadn't been anywhere, but she still had a dozen new mysteries to read. And without waiting. It was like Christmas and her birthday rolled into one.

She was a little surprised when the elevator stopped, not on her floor, but the one two stories above it, the floor with the Avengers gym on it. The door slid open on an equally surprised Bucky. Something that she couldn't pin down more specifically than emotion flashed across his face, before the indifferent expression he wore most of the time returned and he stepped into the elevator next to her. Pressing a button for several stories below them and moving to stand in the far corner. He did that a lot these days. Stood in corners if he had to be in the same room as people.

"Hi." Dawn said softly, cuddling her precious books closer. She’d hardly seen him since she had woken up in her own bed. She should have said something to him the next day. But dinner had been loud, and she hadn't wanted to draw attention. It was probably too late now.

"Hi." Bucky answered in a low, almost shy voice.

Dawn studied Bucky out of the corner of her eye. He looked a little less lost today. She really did like the long hair on him. It brought out his strong jaw. She wanted to run her fingers through it while they lay in the grass like they used to. "I haven't seen you in a couple days. How have you been?"

"Good. I've been good. My schedule's been…" Bucky trailed off. Did staying up until 3 in the morning then sleeping until noon because you couldn't sleep in the dark count as a weird schedule? He really was busy when he was awake. Steve made sure of it. Making him eat, usually whatever Dawn had whipped up for everyone for the day. Then go for a run, just on the treadmill, not outside, although Bucky knew Steve went for a run outside every morning and there was some temptation there. Then every afternoon, for two hours, Steve made him go downstairs and talk to Doctor Lin. He'd been sceptical at first, even after seeing Steve talk to her. But she never seemed surprised or shocked by what he told her. Even when he had tried to scare her with his past. She just accepted what he said and asked him how he had felt about it then and how he felt now. Or suggested something else he could do. It was… something. He didn't know what, but it wasn't bad. "Steve's got me talking to this doctor."

"Oh? Is that…” Dawn bit her lip. Talking to someone about what had happened. Now there was an idea. She might have to do some research. “Is that helping?"

"Yeah. I think it is." The first day he hadn't said anything, just sat there and waited. She had waited too. Not an anxious scared kind of waiting. Not like she was waiting for something threatening to leave. More like he was a stray dog and she was waiting for him to get used to her before she tried to feed him. It had only taken him an hour to start talking the second time.

He cleared his throat awkwardly as the door slid open on the guest floor. He covered the sensor with his arm. Just to be sure it wouldn't close while Dawn was stepping out. He should say something. Anything. "How are the books?"

Dawn smiled. The books. A lot about the world had changed. But there were still stories. People still fell in love. Good still triumphed over evil. Heroes and heroines still had fantastic adventures in worlds she could only imagine. "They're good. Really good. You'd like some of them."

"Yeah? Make me a list. I'll give them a try." Why had he said that? He should have asked her to tell him about them, maybe over coffee. Or told her he was glad and given her space. One or the other Buck, let her go or keep her. Bucky hated that his conscience sounded like Steve. Bad enough the guy was right all the time in real life. He didn’t need him being right in his head too.

Dawn dropped her eyes shyly and edged past him out the door. Careful not to brush against him. She was trying really hard to only touch Bucky when he initiated contact. He seemed to handle it better that way. Even if it meant she didn’t get to touch him anywhere nearly as much as she wanted to.

Bucky didn’t know why watching her walk away broke his heart. But it did. Every time. All he wanted was for her to look back at him. Which was selfish. If you love something let it go.

"Dawn?" The name slipped out before he could stop himself.

Dawn stopped and turned back to him. Tucking her hair behind her ear nervously. "Yeah?"

Bucky thought his heart might have stopped. She was so beautiful. So untouched by the evil in the world. I love you, but I can’t ask you to give up a future for the off chance I can ever be anything other than a weapon. I love you. Please don’t see anyone else. ...I love you. No. He couldn’t say any of that. "Those lemon muffins today were really good.”

Dawn blushed and looked down at her books. “I’ll make them again some time.”

Bucky stepped past Steve into the doctor’s office. He liked when their sessions backed onto one another. He could trust Steve to keep the room secure. Not that he didn’t do a quick check, but he didn’t have to be as thorough. Today’s check was cut short before Steve was even able to leave the room. Today, there was a blatant anomaly.

A dozen orange and blue cylinders littered the floor around the patient’s chair. “What the hell?”

“Sorry about this, Bucky.” Doctor Lin called, bending over to clean up the debris. “Just give me one second to clean up. Steve was doing some light cognitive retraining today."

Bucky looked nervously over his shoulder at Steve. The phrase 'cognitive retraining' made him think of excruciating pain and being strapped to a chair while all his memories were forcibly scrubbed from his brain. Steve didn't look like he'd been electrocuted.

Steve shrugged. And fished a dart out on his shirt pocket. “I am unfairly hard on myself. Just because I am a super-human, does not mean I have to be superhuman."

The doctor straightened up, beaming at Steve. “Very good Captain Rogers. Keep reminding yourself of that.”

Bucky eyed the... darts, that’s what they had to be, suspiciously. Super-humans didn't have to be superhuman. “Am I unfairly hard on myself?”

The doctor settled back into her seat, sweeping the darts and a neon coloured toy gun into a drawer next to her. “You tell me.”

Very slowly, Bucky sat down. That was a question he had never asked himself. Was he too hard on himself? Steve was. That was obvious to anyone who knew him. But Bucky… Bucky couldn’t be too hard on himself. He had to keep himself from becoming the monster they had made him. “I don’t want to kill people.”

Doctor Lin smiled in that soothing way she did. Crossing her ankles and leaning into the arm of her chair. “An admirable goal, all though not an answer to the question at hand.”

He wasn’t really sure how to answer it, or to explain his own tangled thoughts on the matter. “Did… did Steve ever tell you what the serum did? What it really did?”

It was something they had discussed in a few sessions. And something she had read about in school. “I can’t tell you what Steve has told me during our sessions,” she answered. What the serum did probably wasn’t as relevant to their conversation as what Bucky thought it did anyway. “Why don’t you tell me what it does?”

“It’s not… it wasn’t just physical. The changes. He said once that the scientist who created it -- “ Er-something? “ -- told him it was more than enhancing the physical. The good would become better. The bad would become… “ He trailed off, eyes falling to his left hand, watching the play of light across the metal. Steve had always been a hero. A melodramatic punk and a martyr besides -- he remembered that quite clearly now -- but brave. Good. One of the best men Bucky had even known, even when he was 90 lbs of scrappy stubbornness. After the serum, it was like he was more himself than he’d ever been before. But now that beacon shone bright enough that it had inspired their entire country.

And if that had been what happened to Steve… What did that make him?

Between reading every document Jarvis’s database and Natasha’s contacts had compiled about him, and talking to Steve, Bucky had started to piece together what had happened to him during the war. His division had been captured by Hydra, and he’d been taken by their pet scientist for experimentation. Now he knew why. They had been trying to replicate the super soldier serum. And it seemed, with him, they’d found some measure of success.

"Steve was always the one who fought for a cause. For what he believed in. I fought because I had to." He watched the plates of his left hand shift as he clenched and unclenched his fist. "And I was good at it."

Doctor Lin nodded and leaned forward. "What did you believe in?"

“I believed in Steve.” That if the stubborn, reckless little punk could defy the odds and survive, that he could change the world.

And in the end… He had.

Chapter Text

August 3th, 2014

Dawn knew she shouldn't read and walk at the same time. It was something her mother had lectured her on a million times. It is unladylike, and when you trip you get runs in your stockings. Whatever will we do with you, you fanciful girl. But she was so close to the end of this chapter. With her nose buried in the pages she missed the shoes someone had left on the floor.

She tripped. Her feet going out from under her. Her book went flying.

An arm closed around her waist, setting her back on her feet. Dawn looked up at her rescuer. It was Bucky. Who else could it be? Dawn waited a heartbeat for the sarcastic 'falling for me, Sunshine?'. It didn't come, his face was quiet and still, but then she hadn't really expected it anymore. Dawn set her hand against the center of his chest, curling her fingers into his shirt. "You…"

"You gotta be careful, Sunshine." He ran his hands down her arms, making sure she was secure and not going to trip again. Once he was certain she wasn't going to topple over, he went to collect her dropped book.

Bucky looked at the book as he picked it up and passed it back to Dawn. It had sparked a memory. Vague feelings crystalizing into solid visuals. Dawn's eyes softly lowered, her attention fixed on a page. His head in her lap. A hand stroking his hair. A sweet melodic voice filling the space between them. "You used to read to me."

Dawn turned the book over in her hands. Those had been happy days. "I don't think you ever really paid attention to the stories, but you seemed to enjoy when I did."

"I did." He could ask her to now. She would. He was sure of it. He didn't know if he was ready to sit with his head in her lap, but he wouldn't mind listening to that sweet voice. No. That would be leading her on, not letting her go the way he was supposed to be. "I-- I have to talk to Steve before dinner."

Dawn's chest clenched as he hurried away. He kept rescuing her, then running away. Half the time when she turned around to look for something, he was there, watching her. It was just another thing that left Dawn feeling lost these days. She felt lost a lot of the time. She looked down at her book. An adorable romantic thing that had been irresistible a few minutes ago. She suddenly wasn't in the mood to read about other people falling in love.

August 5th, 2014

Steve always rose early for his morning runs. Maybe a little later now than he used to. Beds might still be a little too soft, but his was much harder to leave now that he had Peggy to share it with. He didn’t lament the change to his internal schedule in the slightest, especially since it meant an extra hour cuddled up with his best girl.

Most mornings he still returned before most of his -- housemates? Tower-mates? -- were up, so he was surprised when he returned to find Dawn in the shared kitchen, perched on one of the stools at the island, hot coffee already in hand.

“Hey,” he greeted her as he moved to the fridge to grab a bottle of water. “You’re up early.”

“Not as early as you,” She replied. How he willingly got up early every day to run was beyond her.

Steve shrugged. It was something he just got in the habit of in the last couple of years. An energy boost for his morning, as well as a quiet moment to think. His life had been a roller coaster of insanity since 1944. Between a world war and a literal alien invasion, it was easy to lose track of things. Running was something that didn’t change. Maybe he could run farther and faster now than he could in the days before Doctor Erskine’s serum, but it was still one foot in front of the other.

“Want some coffee?” Dawn offered, nodding her head towards the coffee maker. It had taken her some time to get used to the workings of the machine, but she had a good handle on it now. And she could love the twenty-first century for its coffee alone.

Steve contemplated for a moment. A very short moment. Water was great after a run, but no morning was complete without coffee. But when he went to retrieve his favourite mug from the cupboard, he found it already waiting next to the coffee maker.

“I… might have been waiting for you,” Dawn confessed sheepishly when he turned back to her in confusion.

Steve frowned. Waiting for him? Why would she be waiting for him? Was Bucky alright? Had something happened to him. Had he left? Had he done something? “What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

“No! No,” She hastened to reassure him. His mind had probably gone the same place hers would have. Too much of both their minds had been focused on Bucky lately. Steve at least had Peggy to distract him. Dawn had books and baking. “Nothing happened. I just… wanted to talk.”

Steve nodded. Okay. That was okay. It must be something serious though, if she’d woken up early to talk to him without any of their friends around. He filled his mug at the machine, then turned to lean against the counter before he took that first blessed sip. “Okay. What did you want to talk about?”

Where to start? Bucky was avoiding her. She wanted to help but was afraid of overstepping and ruining what careful equilibrium he had managed to find. And she kept coming back to something he said. “Bucky said… you had him talking to a doctor. He said it was helping.”

Hearing that brought a smile of relief to Steve’s face. Having someone outside of it all to talk to had made such a difference to him. He was glad to hear that it was helping Bucky too. He’d been worried that it had been too soon, or that it might cause some kind of regression. But if he’d told Dawn it was going well… “I introduced him to Doctor Lin a couple of weeks ago. I thought it might help him to talk to someone who didn’t know him…. Before.”

Before he’d been captured. Before the train. Before the Winter Soldier.

Dawn nodded. It was hard, but she understood. How hard must it be for him to be surrounded by people who knew him before, when he still struggled to remember who he had been? None of them were who they were in 1945, but Bucky had been through more than all of them. “Do you think… I could meet her?”

Steve froze, his coffee mug halfway to his lips. “What? I mean, sure. I’ll ask if she wants to join us for coffee some time.”

“No I mean… like an appointment. Like you and Bucky do.” She kept her eyes on her own mug, afraid to glance up and see her old friend’s reaction. She wasn’t crazy. But if anything was going to drive her insane, it was whatever this new thing with Bucky was.

“Oh. Um… yeah, if you want,” he answered with a small shrug. It was something he should have thought of for all of his friends who had been displaced in time. Hadn’t he struggled enough adjusting to this new decade? He’d been so reticent at first to talk to anybody about his experiences. Therapy in his day had been reserved for people with capital P Problems, and he was doing just fine, thank you very much. But the practice was different now, as were the attitudes towards it.

August 6th, 2014

"Bucky. Lovely to see you as always." Doctor Lin beamed at him as he carefully closed the door behind himself.

Bucky quickly checked out the window for threats. They were 30 stories up, but he of all people knew how little that meant. "Hey, doc. Holding up alright?"

"Fantastically. A new smoothie store opened between here and the subway. They have a kale and mango special on Wednesdays. Say, would you mind holding this for me?" She half dropped an egg into his left hand.

Bucky caught it before it could fall. Closing his fingers around it. "What--"

"Just hold onto it for me for a few minutes." She smiled and settled her notepad in her lap. "Anyway, how are you? Anything you want to talk about today?"

Bucky took a long slow breath. Where to even start?

Once he got started Bucky always found something to say. Always circling closer to the subject he didn't want to talk about. Dawn, and letting her go. He knew he had to do it. He didn't need outside input to push him. There were other more pressing issues than Dawn anyway.

It came back to Hydra. It always came back to Hydra. "They made me a weapon. Everything I touch breaks. Anything fragile and beautiful, irreparably broken."

The doctor nodded thoughtfully. "There is no denying that they made you something you weren't before. But what if we said they made you a tool, not a weapon? Tools can be used for a lot of things, violence and destruction, but also creation. Even a weapon can be used to protect and defend as well as attack and injure. You are free now you get to decide how you are wielded."

Bucky snorted. He decided. Decided what? He hadn't made a decision since he'd dragged Steve to shore. Not a real one. All he'd done was survive from one day to the next. He'd run away and hid in Romania specifically so he wouldn't have to make any decisions. "What if I don't remember how to do anything other than break things?"

The doctor glanced at the clock on the wall. "I think that is enough for today. Can I have my egg back please?"

Bucky looked down. He was still holding the egg, and it was still intact.

He handed it back to her, the rest of his body completely still in shock.

The doctor smiled and cracked the egg into an open glass on the table next to her. Bucky could hear the fresh fracture run around the thin shell, uninterrupted by even hairline cracks. "Same time tomorrow?"

"Same time, yeah." Bucky levered himself out of the chair. He hadn't broken the egg. He broke everything…

Chapter Text

Dawn was pretty sure there was no dress code for meeting one’s therapist for the first time, but nerves had her taking extra care with her appearance anyway. Maybe it was echoes of her mother’s influence, or maybe it was her own way of combating her time’s bias against the need for therapy. There was nothing wrong with needing a therapist, nothing wrong with her for wanting to talk to someone. And feeling put-together in a pretty summer sundress the colour of ripe blueberries gave her a much-needed sense of equilibrium.

She was also reasonably sure that one wasn’t supposed to bring snacks, but she did that too. The thumbprint cookies were an old favourite and if she made them to calm her nerves about her upcoming appointment, well nobody would know that but her.

Besides, maybe cookies would make it feel more like having tea with a friend than talking to an actual doctor.

Time seemed to tick by endlessly. She couldn’t focus on her book, and she made herself push the platter of cookies to the other end of the counter so she wouldn’t end up stress-eating them before the appointment even began. Eventually she gave up and, even though she had more than enough time left, she set out early.

She didn’t want to risk being late. The elevator could get stuck. She could get lost somehow. Stark tower was enormous after all.

And of course none of those things happened and she ended up ten minutes early, pacing the hall and wondering if she was making a huge mistake.

It wasn’t that bad, was it?

Sure she was a woman out of time, thrust more than half a century forward in the time it took to blink. She’d lived five years in the middle of a warzone. And sure she found out that the man that she had been in love with had been captured, tortured, and brainwashed by the enemy, and while he was recovering his memories, she had absolutely no idea how to help him.

Okay, maybe she did need to talk to somebody.

Deep in the rabbit hole of her thoughts, Dawn actually jumped when the door opened.

A small woman with short dark hair stepped out, glancing around the lobby, and smiling when her brown eyes lit on her patient. “You must be Dawn. I’m Doctor Lin.”

She smiled shyly back and nodded as she crossed the waiting room. “Nice to meet you.” She shifted the plate of cookies to her left hand and offered her right to shake.

“It’s good to meet you too. Why don’t you come inside. Would you like something to drink? Maybe some tea or coffee to go with the cookies?”

“Tea would be great, thank you.”

Doctor Lin’s office was not what she expected. Dawn was expecting something much more clinical, but this space looked more like somebody’s living room. There was a large, plush couch with a pair of matching armchairs arranged next to the window on the far side, and everything was done up in quiet, neutral colours. There were heavy built-in bookshelves along one wall, broken up by a small kitchenette with a mini fridge and another of the fancy coffee makers that Dawn recognized from the guest floor.

“Did you make these?” Doctor Lin asked, nodding to the platter of cookies as she set the kettle to boil, and made Dawn smile as she pulled out a pair of mugs patterned with cartoon kittens.

Dawn nodded as she set the plate of cookies down on the coffee table between the couches. “I had some free time this morning. For us, rationing didn’t end that long ago, so being able to have jam like this again whenever we want is wonderful. And the butter. There’s so much of it, and it’s never sour."

“That would be quite a change from what you’re used to.” Doctor Lin poured water over a pair of tea bags.

Dawn laughed as she sat down, smoothing her skirt over her lap. “You could definitely say that.”

“So,” Doctor Lin said, bringing the mugs over to the table and sitting down on the couch opposite Dawn. “Why don’t you tell me what made you decide to come see me?”

“I’m… not really sure where to start,” Dawn confessed. “There’s…. A lot. A lot has happened and… I just… Steve said it can help, talking to someone outside of the situation. And Bucky said… said it was helping. So…”

“I’m glad to hear that,” The doctor smiled, reaching out to take one of the cookies from the platter. It would certainly be a challenge, working with people within the same friend group. Steve and Bucky had been through so much -- soldiers, men out of time -- and she could only imagine what their friends might have experienced. “Why don’t you start by telling me a little about yourself.”

“There’s not much to tell, really." Dawn flapped her hand evasively. She hated talking about herself. It wasn't ladylike and she wasn't exciting. "I am… was... a retired military nurse and secretary. In 1947.”

“And now you’re here in 2014,” Doctor Lin said with a nod. “That’s a big change.”

“You could say that,” Dawn laughed. “When I got here I felt like I’d fallen into Oz. Or an HG Wells novel. There’s no Morlocks but… there is Hydra.” Still, somehow after all these years. Still hurting her friends, still hurting her Bucky. Her hands curled into fists as a fresh wave of anger swept through her.

“You’ve had encounters with Hydra before.” It was a statement not a question. She couldn't say anything, but Dawn's name had come up in conversation more than once. With Bucky, and to a lesser extent with Steve.

“I’ve seen their handiwork,” she bit out. “In Italy, when I was a nurse during the war. We lost a lot of good men to their weapons. Bucky and Jack were captured in ‘43. We thought we lost them. Ginny was devastated.”

The doctor made a short note on her pad. “And how did you feel?”

“Sick. Heartbroken. Bucky and I… whatever we were, we were just getting started, and it was over as soon as it began. He was -- is -- such a good man, and I thought I had lost him forever.” She sighed sitting back against the couch, pulling up her legs to sit criss-cross. “It was exactly the thing I was afraid of when I went overseas. I was most afraid for Ginny. I lost my sweetheart. She lost her husband. She-- she wasn't okay. Getting them back… it was a miracle.” And then she lost him again. And found him again. Was this to be their lives? This endless cycle of loss and mourning and recovery?

“And you went overseas anyway,” Doctor Lin pointed out. “You made these bonds with the people you met there. I think that makes you very brave.”

Dawn laughed, and the sound was more than a little bitter. “I’m not brave.” She was a lot of things, but she didn’t think ‘brave’ had ever really been one of them. “I didn’t apply to go overseas. I was supposed to go to work in a convalescent hospital in Montreal, but there was a clerical error. Next thing I know, I’m on a plane to Italy and discovering that I get horrendously air-sick.”

The doctor looked surprised. “Why didn't you go to the recruitment office, explain the error?”

Dawn nodded. “I was going to go to the office, try to get them to reassign me but… Mama was afraid of how it would look if I backed out.” She was more worried about appearances than her daughter’s safety. Even now through the barrier of years -- decades now, she supposed -- it felt like a disloyal thought. And when the doctor asked how she felt about it, she made herself answer. The point of this was to be honest, to share the things she didn’t feel like she could tell anyone else.

“It sounds like your mother was very critical of you.” Doctor Lin made a small note on her pad.

She wasn’t wrong. Edith Danielson was a woman with strong opinions. She also had the misfortune of an eldest daughter who didn’t turn out at all the way she was supposed to. Nose too buried in books to find herself a beau, who had the bad luck to be assigned an overseas position when she could have been home and safe. She wasn’t brave, wasn’t a fighter. She didn’t belong there, but to save face would have to go anyway.

It was becoming a strange kind of pattern in her life. Ending up places she wasn’t supposed to be, and having to deal with the aftermath. She wasn’t meant to go to the front. She wasn’t meant to be here in the 21st century. But here she was, and she needed to find a place for herself.

August 20th, 2014

Bucky sat on the couch, a glass of ice tea in one hand. If anyone asked, he would deny watching Dawn's reflection in the glass covering the pictures on the far wall. He was reading a magazine. It was open on his knee and everything. The article was an in-depth look at the effects of Chinese investment on developing nations. At least that's what he got from the title and synopsis. He hadn't gotten very far in yet.

Steve stepped out of the elevator, a pair of paper shopping bags dangling from one wrist. He whistled softly to himself. It was going to be a good day. A good, lace filled, day.

Bucky raised an eyebrow, recognising the pink striped bag. It was the larger of the two. Like some hopeless romantic hadn't been able to contain himself. "What you got there, Stevie?"

Steve blushed and cleared his throat. "Peggy needed some more things."

"Sure she did." Bucky grinned and drew out the first word. He was willing to bet that the first round of underwear for everyone had consisted of things that were familiar to them. He was also willing to bet the things in that bag were more modern.

The reflection of Dawn pushed her hair back from her face. Biting her lip, brow furrowed as she tried to decipher the recipe she was reading.

Bucky understood Steve wanting to see his girl in some more modern silhouettes. Women's underwear was smaller these days. More form fitting, more lace, softer. Any rational red blooded male would want to see how it looked on the woman he loved.

Dawn pushed her hair back, smudging flour across her cheek.

Bucky wondered if she could use a more extensive wardrobe too. It would start to cool off soon. Had anyone thought to buy her fall clothes? Or anything to keep her warm all winter. He didn't know if it would get cold in the Tower, but he hated to think of her shivering if it did. Especially at night. She'd need cozy pajamas to keep her warm at night, and somehow, it was very important to him that she was.

Chapter Text

August 24th, 2014

Ginny poked angrily at the transparent screen, clicking through to the next page in the digital catalogue. "Why are none of these measurements consistent? And what on earth is a medium? ‘Medium’ conveys exactly zero information."

"Oh, yeah.” Steve set down his report and looked over at her. “They don't really sell clothes by measurements anymore, well, except men's dress shirts and some pants. But even for pants it's only waist and inseam. The sizes aren’t consistent from brand to brand, and I hear the difference is worse with women's clothes."

"If those two 'size 8's’ you got me are any indication they certainly are." Peggy put in from her place at the table.

"Well that's rather useless." Dawn said furrowing her brow and leaning over Ginny's shoulder. "How are you supposed to know if things fit?"

"Try it on, if it doesn't send it back and try again." Steve shrugged. He still hadn't figured that out. Most people didn't seem to get things tailored anymore either. Which had baffled him until he saw one of the bills for getting his clothes to fit. He knew it was a skilled occupation, but still $70 to take a shirt in? It was more than twice what some of them cost in the first place.

Ginny leaned her head against the back of the couch and rubbed her eyes. "We don't have time for that. Tony's party is in less than a week and none of us have anything appropriately formal to wear. I would have started shopping a month ago if I'd known it was going to be this much of a hassle. God, I need a cigarette."

"Cigarettes cause asthma and are highly addictive." Steve said absently.

That completely distracted Ginny from her shopping delema. She had been taught that cigarettes treated asthma, not caused it. "No! Seriously?"

"Seriously. Lung cancer too.” Steve had been surprised when he found out too. Something the lovely people he was helping film PSA’s were obviously not prepared for. It had been the asthma that really got him, since treating asthma had been the only reason he had ever smoked. He’d needed a solid ten minuets muttering and pacing before he could keep working. “Honestly they are just truly awful for you."

"Really?" Jack turned around in his seat to face Steve. If nice reliable cigarettes were bad for you. What about all the other things they used to use to treat the same things? "What about marijuana?"

"Unclear." Steve shrugged. "Not a lot of research has been done on it since they made it illegal in the 60s."

Jack nodded in understanding. "Well, I suppose once you ban cigarettes."

"No, cigarettes are still legal." Steve would never admit to experiencing schadenfreude but it felt damn good to see someone else go through the same confused journey he had. No one else seemed to understand exactly how ridiculous the situation was. Jack and Ginny obviously knew.

"But if they… why...?" Ginny tried to formulate a coherent question and failed. How could you ban the thing you hadn't done any research on and not the thing you knew caused cancer. The science of it escaped her.

"Racism mostly." Steve said with a defeated sigh. People were people. Regardless of skin colour, religion, or who they were in love with. The last 70 years hadn't done as much to affirm that as he would have liked. "Wait till I tell you about red lining."

"Before your crash course on social injustice over the last century," Natasha cut in before Steve could find his rhythm. It was a subject he was passionate about and he would spend an hour ranting on it if you have him the chance. Which his friends probably would given how enraptured they looked already. "Which you should absolutely give them, I'm not saying you shouldn't, would it be possible for us to take the poor dears to the mall so they can fill out their wardrobes more efficiently? Ginny is right, online shopping is a hassle until they get the hang of sizing."

"Yeah." Steve shook himself out of the funk that had been developing. "I think we have time tomorrow. Unless you have something on the go?"

"Nothing that can't be rearranged." Natasha said, already plotting a safe transit route to and from the mall.

August 25th, 2014

Bucky wished he had a mirror stick with him, as he walked around the perimeter of the car, inspecting it for threats. Steve leaned against one of the garage's pillars flipping the keys and watching indulgently. Bucky refused to be embarrassed. It wouldn't be that hard to break in and plant a bomb or cut the brake-cables.

Okay. It would be that hard. Stark tower security was excellent. Jarvis was always watching. Still.

He stepped back and nodded. The car was clear. Natasha already had Ginny, Jack and Rosie loaded into a second SUV. Peggy was seated firmly in the driver’s seat of their car, looking indulgently amused by Bucky’s paranoia.

Dawn touched his arm softly. He looked so serious and determined. The expression it reminded her of the most was the one he'd had right before he left camp for a foray. They weren't going into combat this time. Just the mall. No one would die if he stayed here. "You know you don't have to come with us?"

Bucky's brow furrowed. "It could be dangerous. There are people who want to hurt Steve and Tony. People looking for leverage over me. People who wouldn't hesitate to use you to get to us."

Steve clapped Bucky on the back. He was going to scare Dawn. And she didn't need to be scared. They would have a team of Stark security keeping an eye on them, and Natasha could handle pretty much any threat that got past the perimeter. Really even Steve tagging along was extra. "That your way of saying you want to?"

Bucky lowered his eyes to the floor. Ideally, they wouldn’t go somewhere as hard to secure as a shopping mall, but he didn’t want to stay behind. "I do want to."

Steve winked at Dawn. "Maybe we can find Buck something to wear other than jeans and sweatpants."

"I like my jeans." Bucky grumbled, passing Dawn into the back of the car and watching as she buckled her seatbelt. They were new, but the safety stats on them were undeniable.

He got in the other side, leaning back in his seat so he would have the best view of the traffic around them. Transit was always the most dangerous aspect of a plan.

Dawn covered the hand resting on the seat between them with her own. "I like them too."

Bucky looked down at their hands. Hers was so small and delicate folded over his. Long graceful fingers, brushing against his wrist. Every time she touched him, it was a shock. Every time it reminded him how much he wanted to touch her. He couldn't though. She wasn't his. He was letting her go. Her pinkie linked around his. Bucky didn't have the heart to pull away. She always looked so startled and he hated to scare her.

Bucky watched Dawn's face fall as the attendant brought her dress after dress. He could see her getting overwhelmed, and he could understand why. None of the outfits the bubbly woman brought her were right for his Sunshine.

Dawn smiled awkwardly as she did a little turn in a ruched green dress, tugging ineffectually at the hem as she did. It did wonderful things for her body, and nothing for her self-esteem. Bucky glanced at the rack of waiting dresses. All more of the same.

He rocked to his feet. This was a solvable problem.

He found what he was looking for on a rack in the back corner. Pale pink lace, a skirt that would float just below her knees, a scooped neckline that would hit right at her clavicle, the back dipped lower than the front, where it would cinch in with a darker pink ribbon. It wasn't sparkly and dramatic, or bold and modern. There was even a delicate little bow at the waist. It was perfect.

Dawn wasn't sure what to do. The girl serving her was so sweet. But Dawn hated everything she brought her. It was like when Dawn had been explaining what she wanted the woman had stopped listening after 'Tony Stark's party'. It was all glittery, or tight, or low cut, or high cut, or the fabric was awful, or all of the above.

It’s not that they weren’t pretty, but they just weren’t her. She wasn’t glamorous or ostentatious or -- what word the attendant used? -- sexy. There was a time when she wished she was, but it just wasn’t her. The few suggested options she tried on made her feel ridiculous or entirely over-exposed. Like she was trying way too hard to be someone else. She was a secretary, not a socialite, and that was just fine by her.

It was bad enough that Rosie and Ginny hadn't struggled at all. Rosie had found a little black dress that was almost completely backless but made her look tall and curvy at the same time. Ginny had settled on the third dress her husband had brought for her, a burgundy silk with a bustier top and knife pleated skirt that fell almost all the way to her ankles. Peggy had struggled a little, but then Steve had brought her a plum coloured dress with a skirt the same cut as the ones she had worn in their old lives. Meanwhile Dawn was twenty dresses in and growing less sure of herself every moment. She had assured the others she was fine and would catch up with them in the shoe department, but her confidence was shaken. What did 'with a figure like yours' even mean? Dawn was a twig. Not a gorgeous bombshell like her friends.

Worse, Bucky had apparently given up on her. He had disappeared while she was changed out of the unnaturally neon dress and into this tiered and sequined gold thing, leaving the chair outside the change room empty. Not that she wanted him to see her looking like a brass chandelier. But it has been nice to know he was there.

She grabbed the next hanger. Stretchy, orange, and woven like a basket. Dawn wasn't even sure what it was supposed to look like on. She didn't think it would be an improvement.

The corners of Bucky's eyes turned up as he slid back into the area around the change rooms. He could hear Dawn back in her room, struggling with whatever garment she was trying to get in or out of. Perfect. Now his pick would be a surprise. She wouldn't feel pressured just because he liked it. He couldn't wait to see her face.

Bucky slipped his hanger into the line up. Right between the teal flounced thing that was next and the crystal covered monstrosity whose slit and lack of back might make his Sunshine either scream or cry. He thought it might be semi sheer too. Why bother even wearing a dress at that point? The only place it would look good was his floor. No. Bad Bucky. Dawn's clothes don't belong anywhere near your floor. She needed to be kept safe, and his bed was the opposite of safe. Even if he would feel safer with her there.

He was just settling back in the chair, when Steve showed up trailing the rest of their group.

Steve bumped his fist affectionately against Bucky's arm. Adoring boyfriend was a good look on him. Waiting patiently with hearts in his eyes for Dawn to emerge. He hated to interrupt. But Nat had plans for the women and they would only be in the way. "Hey, Nat's going to keep an eye on the girls. Come get fitted for a suit."

Bucky hesitated. It wasn't that he didn't think Natasha could handle herself if something came up. It was just he didn't want Dawn to get forgotten if something kicked off…. The attendant added more dresses to the far end of the rack, pushing the dress Bucky had picked out closer to the dressing room. It was mostly that he didn't want her to get forgotten. "What if--"

Steve patted Bucky’s shoulder understandingly. No one doubted Dawn was tough and brave, but she wasn’t a fighter the way Peggy was. "Nat can hold off anything that comes her way, and the panic button on her phone rings mine."

Bucky nodded, but couldn't help looking over his shoulder as he followed Steve. Dawn hadn't had a chance to try on the pink dress yet.

Bucky had to suffer through almost two hours of shopping for himself before they headed back to the cars to meet the girls. The suit fittings were a trial. He managed to avoid freaking out while the tailor bustled around measuring every inch of him. His eyes glazed over during the fabric selection. All the options felt the same, shades of grey or black in various weights. The shirts weren’t any better, white, blue, grey, a couple of other pastels, some neutral patterns. Steve laughed when he picked up another pair of jeans, black this time. He also grabbed more long sleeved henleys in a variety of dark colours and a pack of soft cotton undershirts. New running shoes so he could stop stealing Steve’s. Some other running and workout clothes, including a pair of light gloves. New underwear. Things he needed, but he would rather have kept an eye on Dawn.

He leaned anxiously against the SUV. One foot up, to avoid giving in to fidgeting or pacing. He was calm. The girls were absolutely fine. There was no reason to worry.

Finally the flock of women fluttered into view. Bucky’s chest lightened. Dawn looked so much happier than she had the last time he had seen her.

“Buy anything interesting?” Steve asked, giving Peggy a soft greeting kiss.

“You’ll just have to wait and see.” Peggy pecked him a second time on the lips. Natasha was a delight to shop with. She had all sorts of goodies and surprises for Steve in her bags, along with a generous new fall and winter wardrobe of practical and flattering clothes.

Steve laughed and tossed her the keys before opening the rear passenger door for Dawn. Bucky followed Peggy around the other side of the car and slipped back into his seat. Steve took the front passenger seat, and they were ready to go. Bucky relaxed a little as Peggy pulled out of the parking garage.

"Did you find something for the party?" Bucky asked, eyeing the shopping bags piled around Dawn’s feet. It looked like she had enjoyed herself after the dress fiasco at least. There was a full bag from the shoe store, and one with a chunky oversized sweater sticking out. Dawn had managed to collect her own pink striped bag. Bucky pointedly ignored the implications of that bag.

Dawn lit up. After everything, it had been worth it. Her dream dress, that she hadn't even known she needed. "Yes. It is perfect. Pink lace fit for a princess. I don't know why the girl didn't lead with it."

Bucky smiled at her. He wanted to ask if it was the one he had picked, but that would mean admitting that he had picked it out. He didn’t want to tell her, just in case it coloured her view of the dress. "That's good."

Chapter Text

August 26th, 2014

The lazy days around the tower were an odd experience for all of them. Tony kept telling them to watch more TV and movies to catch up, but none of them were used to sitting still for that long. They’d already hit up most of the major tourist attractions in town. Solidly half of their outings descended into chaos when people recognised Steve and to a lesser extent Natasha. Today was shaping up to be another restless afternoon.

Dawn was having trouble getting into her book. Bucky had come back from his therapy session a few minutes ago, and she always found it disconcerting when he sat in the chair behind her with one of his magazines. She was always convinced that he was studying her, not the page, although if she checked he was almost always looking somewhere else.

At the table, Jack was fully aware his wife was trying to study, but it was so much fun to torment her. He tickled her ear with the end of her braid. She responded by batting at his hand, but she blushed, and she didn’t move away. If anything she scooted her chair closer.

Steve sat with his arm around Peggy, catching her up with all the developments and improvements in the intelligence community over the last few years. She was voracious when it came to all the new information. Determined to catch up and get back down to work.

Natasha and Rosie were sprawled on the couch, Natasha annotating a file on her tablet. Rosie staring at the ceiling. Rosie rolled over and draped herself over the arm of the couch, arms hanging over the edge as she considered the other occupants of the room. She was bored. Getting mobbed didn’t sound like fun, and Natasha and Steve both got very edgy about the time travelers going out on their own. An edginess that Rosie appreciated. Between Hydra and the strangeness of this new century, it was probably best that then didn’t wander off unsupervised. It did mean if she wanted to do anything about the boredom, she needed to find some entertainment safely inside the tower. "Did anyone ever teach Steve to dance?"

"No." Steve shook his head. Dancing? In a world without Peggy, without Bucky, it had seemed like such a pointless thing to do. He'd had a life where he could have gone dancing, girl on one side, best friend on the other. It had gotten lost in a mess of snow and ice. "I never found the time."

Peggy cuddled closer to his side. Bucky found his eyes. Steve's chest swelled with warmth. It was starting to feel like spring again. He could see the point of dancing now.

Ginny pushed her textbook away from her. She wasn't really absorbing anything anyway. "Well, let's roll up the rug and have a house party. What are we waiting for?"

It took less than ten minutes to get the furniture cleared out of the center of the main room. The couch turned on end and shoved against the window, the coffee and end tables stacked next to it. The dining room table pushed half into the kitchen with the chairs piled on top, the rug rolled up and propped in the corner.

Bucky vaulted onto the end of the sofa. Leaning back against the glass and watching his friends bustle around below him. In a past life, Bucky would have been at the heart of the mess that ensued. Calling for Jarvis to play specific songs. Claiming dances with all the girls. Teasing Steve for his two left feet and showing him the proper steps.

"Hey, J?" Steve called from the center of the room. "See if Tony and Bruce want to come down. Shame Clint is off doing… What is Clint doing? He'd be a blast."

Natasha made a face. She wasn't about to fall for Steve's trap and give away Clint's location. "Clint dances like what he is, a white guy with an inner ear problem. All our feet will be glad that he's not here."

Steve shook his head amused. He should have known it wouldn’t be that easy to solve the mystery of where Clint disappeared to in his down time. He hadn’t really expected an answer out of Natasha. Whatever the exact opposite of an open book was, that was Nat. She was one of his best friends, but he knew next to nothing about her.

Dawn and Ginny giggled as they made up a bowl of punch from the juices in the fridge. Rosie grabbed Peggy and dragged her off to change into dresses they could both dance in. Steve made up a plate of sandwiches and opened a tin of Dawn’s cookies and fished the date square she had made last week out of the freezer, the Canadian treat was sweet and gooey and reminded him of the best parts of food from his childhood. Together they all filled the bar of the kitchen island with treats.

"Mr. Stark and Doctor Banner are on their way.” J.A.R.V.I.S.’s calm voice sounded from the ceiling again. “I also took the liberty of inviting Ms. Potts."

"Good thinking, J.A.R.V.I.S.” Steve nodded and hitched a newly changed Peggy in against his side. Tony would like that. He was always so pleased when he could do romantic things for Pepper. Especially when those things didn’t leave her shaking her head in exasperation. Which an old fashioned party shouldn’t. “I didn't realize she was in the building."

Steve's new friends joined his old friends in the guest floors living room.

"What's going on, Cap. J.A.R.V.I.S. said something about a party?" Tony looked around the room. It certainly looked like a party. A casual, thrown together, party, but still a party.

"Apparently I need to learn to dance." Steve jammed his hands into his pockets, looking shyly at Peggy. It had been the thing they promised each other they would do after the war.

"Who's planning to teach you?" Pepper asked, deliberately setting her phone down on the table by the door. J.A.R.V.I.S. was right, she needed a break to reset her mind before she tackled the quarterly numbers.

"I think we are, Peps." Tony held his arms out towards her. "At least we can show him how. I find everyone thinks you're a good dancer if you just pick the prettiest girl in the room and then rock in a slow circle." Tony grabbed Pepper's hand and tugged her towards him.

Pepper let him draw her into a ballroom hold. "Who taught you how to flirt?"

"Completely self taught." Tony beamed at her, leading her in a tight circle to demonstrate their dancing technique. "I know, everyone is surprised. I'm just so good at it."

Pepper tried to look irritated and failed, because she always failed when Tony was being sweet. Honestly it was a problem, because Tony being sweet and Tony being oblivious so often overlapped. "I wasn't going to say that."

Tony kissed her knuckles softly. "Didn't have to. I see it in your eyes."

Bruce raised his hand nervously. "I… umm… don't know how to dance either."

"Don't worry about it, Doc." Jack patted him on the shoulder warmly. "We'll teach you too."

Jack grabbed his wife's hand and spun her into his arms. After so many years, they moved together naturally. "Let's start with the basic hold and steps."

Jack and Ginny demonstrated, gliding smoothly through a basic foxtrot. Tony and Pepper mimicked them easily. Peggy walked Steve through them at half speed, his hand warm on her back. Bruce looked a little lost, until Rosie took his hands and gently showed him. Natasha and Dawn danced around the outside of the group, palms pressed together.

Dawn suppressed a giggle at the way Natasha kept sneaking longing glances at Rosie. There really was no denying that Rosie was a beautiful dancer, even with Bruce stumbling over her feet. Her hair shone like gold as she tossed her head and laughed. "If you want to dance with her, you should."

“You think?” Natasha asked, arching one eyebrow delicately.

“Rosie doesn’t get to dance with the people she would really like to often.” Dawn winked and let go of Natasha’s hands. For that matter Rosie had skipped most of the regimental dances. For all Rosie loved to dance, and the little celebrations offered a distraction from the misery of their lives at the front, she had always maintained that it wasn’t worth it to spend the night getting felt up by some GI who thought they were God’s gift to women and couldn’t tell the difference between a girl playing hard to get and a girl who was playing a completely different game. According to Steve, and everything she had read of the subject the last few months, Rosie could play her game in the open and largely without fear. If she and Natasha wanted to dance, they could dance.

Natasha took a moment to consider Dawn as the other woman drifted away from the makeshift dance floor and toward the refreshments. She had seen a lot, but she was still genuinely kind and hopeful. She had thought Steve’s eternal optimism was an outlier. But if these were the people he had been surrounded by, it was starting to make sense.

"Can I cut in?" Natasha's eyes sparkled at Rosie. Steve’s friends were kind, and they were also tough enough to survive in her world. That was a very rare combination.

Bruce offered her Rosie's hand. "Be my guest. You're probably better at it than I am."

Natasha spread her hand wide over Rosie's back. "I know what I'm doing."

Ginny took over trying to show Bruce the steps. Leaving her husband to grab himself a drink of punch.

Jack sidled up next to Dawn at the bar. "Having fun?"

Dawn smiled at him. She missed having a partner of her own, but she was. "It's almost like old times."

The music’s tempo picked up. Jack nudged Dawn with a grin. “Come on, doll. Let’s show these dead hoofer’s how to really cut a rug.”

Jack was an excellent dancer. Throwing Dawn around in time to the beat with almost the same ease he had with his wife. They had danced together fairly regularly in the last couple of years. Part of Rosie and Ginny’s refusal to let their friend wallow was to insist they go out and do something twice a month. Lacking a partner, and largely unwilling to find a new one, Dawn had shared Jack as a dancing partner when their outings took them to clubs. He was putting in a real effort today. Pulling out all the tricks.

Dawn couldn't stop laughing as Jack spun her faster and faster. Eventually she stumbled out of the dance-- and straight into Bucky's chest.

She let out a little squeak of surprise. He'd been sitting on the end of the sideways couch before she'd started spinning. He was so quiet now.

His left hand went to the small of her back. His right closed around her fingers and brought her hand to his lips. "Something slow Jarvis. I'm a little out of practice."

"This is okay?" Bucky whispered, drawing Dawn a little closer as the soft strains of the song washed over them and they started to sway.

Dawn tucked her head under his chin and curled her hand around a fistful of his shirt. "This is perfect."

Bucky was still vaguely aware of the other couples moving around them. It felt like he and the woman in his arms were a world away from them all. They swayed in a small circle. Bucky could have sworn he was a better dancer than this. He could remember the steps, the way to move. Dawn rested her cheek against his chest. All thoughts of more complex dancing vanished from his mind. The rest of the room vanished from his senses. There was nothing beyond his Sunshine and the light she brought into his life. He closed his eyes and leaned his cheek against her hair. She wasn't his anymore. He should be letting her go. This was the exact opposite of letting her go. He couldn’t bear the idea of her being anywhere but right here at this moment.

Chapter Text

August 30th, 2014

Bucky shifted the armchair a little closer to the end of the couch. He wasn’t sure why Steve had called them all into the living room. He did know that Dawn looked lonely sitting at the opposite end of the couch from Natasha and Rosie. Everyone else was coupled up. Nat and Rosie, on the couch. Ginny and Jack, curled together the chair by the window. Peggy, currently alone in Steve’s favourite chair, but sitting comfortably in Steve’s favourite chair. Dawn was alone. Bucky didn’t like that she was alone. She shouldn’t be. She should have someone caring and reliable. Someone who appreciated her sweet, genuine, and caring nature, the way she gave so much of herself. Someone safe and normal to look after her. Someone to keep his summer sun warm when winter came. The loose neckline of her shirt slipped down her shoulder, revealing the straps of her bra and camisole. Bucky resisted the urge to reach across the gap between them and push it back up. Touching her was a very bad idea.

The elevator to the guest floor opened on Steve and a handsome, slightly shorter, black man. “-easier if you meet me. Nobody wants a scene.”

“I’m just saying.” They’d been having this argument since the first time Sam had come to visit Steve in New York. Sam had been half an hour late with no text. Steve had walked across the street to see if his train was late. The online board tended to show on time unless the train was very late. Sam’s train had been on time. But apparently walking across 42st with a duffle bag was incredibly suspicious. Sam had been stopped by a pair of uniformed police officers and had his hands up against the side of the building. They’d changed their tune as soon as Steve had made it clear that he knew Sam, but it had happened again the next time. Steve had started walking over to meet Sam after that. “Let me report it. There has to be some benefit to being me. Calling people out on their bullshit is a very Captain America thing to do. The Police commissioner is convinced we’re personal friends. Let me give him a call.”

“He knows.” Sam snorted. “They were literally doing their jobs.”

Steve looked up at the ceiling and said a silent prayer for patience and mental fortitude. “Not making me feel better here, pal.”

“You gotta pick your battles, big man. This is not the hill to die on. Not now.” Sam hooked an arm around Steve’s shoulders and shook him. “How’s that educational access program going?”

“It’s going.” Steve rubbed his eyes. That was the short answer. The long answer was surprisingly controversial. He really had tried to pick something apolitical to cash in his chips on. He didn’t think there was anything nefarious or unAmerican about wanting kids to have school supplies or full stomachs. A very vocal section of the population disagreed. “I think congress is still trying to make nice after the whole Hydra thing.”

“Good. Make that happen. Then you can tackle criminal justice reform.” Sam shoved Steve back away from him. “Now, let me enjoy my vacation. Hey, J.A.R.V.I.S.”

“Welcome back, Mr. Feathers.” J.A.R.V.I.S. answered brightly. “You’re in the third door down on the left, I have already cued up your playlist.”

“You’re the best, J.” Sam said, dropping his bag with a sarcastic wave at the ceiling. "Still can't get him to stop calling me that, huh?"

“Called me 'Captain Handsome' and Natasha 'Fiona Valpe' for a week last time we tried. Don’t think Tony’s going to change it until you admit his suit is cooler than your wings. Now down to business. Introductions.” Steve said, rubbing his hands together and turning to the expectant crowd in the living room. “Everyone. This is Sam. Wilson, not feathers. Tony changed what JARVIS calls him and none of us can figure out how to change it back.”

“Hello Sam!” The time travellers and Bucky all coursed.

Steve considered the group for a moment. It was hard to decide where to start. The least believable development seemed like as good a place as any. He grinned mischievously at the couple on the couch. “Rosie Waters. She and Nat are inexplicably a thing.”

Sam narrowed his eyes at the redhead. “Since when does Nat have human emotions?”

Natasha gave him her best mysterious smile. Having friends was fun. They teased her about being a robot, but she knew they loved and trusted her. Which was a lot. Nat hadn't trusted a lot of people before them. She was learning to like it.

“It was a surprise to everyone other than Clint.” Steve clapped Sam on the back and turned him toward the next group. “Jack and Ginny Simard. They’re the couple I want to be when I grow up.”

Jack and Ginny waved in unison.

“They’re the couple we all want to be when we grow up.” Dawn smiled wistfully at her friends. There had been a time she thought she was in the same kind of enduring, loving relationship. She missed that. The casual affection. The confidence of knowing someone was there for you no matter what. She shot a look at Bucky out of the corner of her eye. He wasn’t looking at her. His face still turned stoically towards the elevator.

Steve turned to Dawn with a grin. “Dawn Danielson. The sweetest person you could ever have the good fortune to meet. Although she will tear a strip off you if she thinks you aren’t looking after yourself.”

“How hard is it to not pop your stitches?” If Bucky could manage to avoid it in the middle of a literal warzone, surely it could be avoided now, in a theoretical peace time. She'd lectured Steve about it in the past, she wasn't about to change her tune now.

Steve gestured to Bucky next. He was sitting next to Dawn. It only made sense. “Bucky, you’ve kind of met.”

Bucky half stood and offered Sam a hand nervously. Steve’s ‘friend Sam’ was the guy he had torn a wing off of before kicking him off a flying boat. It was good to know that he had survived and didn’t seem to be suffering from any permanent injuries. “Sorry about that, by the way.”

Sam clasped the offered hand warmly. He looked a lot less feral sitting in the living room at the Avengers Tower. He was clearly recognizable as the friend from Steve’s photos and he’d obviously been eating and sleeping better. “No hard feelings. We’ve all had bad days.”

“And this,” Steve beamed at the love of his life. The last person to introduce, and arguably the most important. “Is Peggy Carter.”

Peggy crossed her ankles and leaned forward. “A pleasure. Steve’s told me so much.”

“All good things?” Sam asked, shaking her hand. She looked fierce in photos. In person, she was warmer, but there was an edge to her. He’d thought she’d give off the same aura as some of the high ranking female officers he’d known in the air force. Calm, confident, in charge. She was a lot more like Natasha. Calm and confident, but he didn’t doubt for a second that she could have him on the floor bleeding if that was where she wanted him.

“Quite the opposite.” Peggy said with an evil grin. What she'd heard was he was more than willing to go along with her Steve's 'brilliant' plans. Sam was happy to be right there with Steve when he went off the book and off the rails. Which also happened to be her favourite place to be. “I think we are going to be great friends.”

August 31th, 2014

Six dozen cupcakes filled the communal kitchen. A third of them were already iced, creamy white frosting, dipped in sparkling silver sprinkles. Dawn was quite proud of those. Just like she was proud of the perfectly candied lemon wheels waiting to go on the next two dozen as soon as they were filled and iced. Before that, she had to fill at least two dozen pitted cherries with dark chocolate ganache, make them look intact again, and get them chilling. Vanilla, lemon, chocolate. A good variety for a party. Dawn smiled at Bucky who was leaning against the edge of the island counter. His expression neutral, but a soft neutral, she thought it was a happy expression. At very least, he hadn’t run away or hidden from her all day. He’d stayed in and around the kitchen, and had even made a few jokes. Low rumbling ones, that made her stomach flip and her cheeks heat.

With nothing planned until tonight's party, Bucky had spent most of the day watching Dawn bake, teasing and distracting her any time it looked like she was getting flustered. Watching her bake was fascinating. He’d worried that the ganache she was finishing off wouldn’t come together, there had been long moments when the warm cream and dark chocolate had been split and lumpy. Then, suddenly, everything had come together into a perfect smooth glossy waterfall. It was absolutely mouth-watering. Even as he watched it was thickening into something more spreadable than pourable.

"You know you don't have to make anything right? Stark isn't about to starve his guests." Bucky said for the third time that afternoon. He knew it was an irrelevant point. Dawn wasn't baking because she was worried there wouldn't be enough food. She was baking because she wanted to contribute. The same reason she had hemmed all the girls' outfits yesterday and offered to help him with his suit, before he had pointed out that his suit was custom and didn't need alterations.

"I know, but my mother raised me to be civilised, unlike some people." Dawn swatted Bucky's hand away from the bowl of ganache he was trying to steal a taste from. She would let him, if he would just use a spoon. "You should never attend a party empty handed."

Bucky smiled at her and popped an abandoned chocolate button into his mouth in lieu of the glossy ganache. He liked watching her bake, and it was a lot more fun up close.

A long low whistle alerted them to a new presence in the kitchen. A smiling Steve, and the source of the whistle, Sam. Both fresh from a run.

“You’re back.” Dawn smiled at Steve. He would be just as happy as she was to see how outgoing Bucky was feeling today. Today’s Bucky was so much more like the life of the party she remembered. She knew Steve would see it too. Their happy laughing Bucky was still in there. If they kept him safe and relaxed, maybe they would get to see him more.

Steve had asked Bucky if he wanted to come along on the run, Bucky had said no because he’d already been hypnotized by Dawn mixing cake batter and hadn’t wanted to deal with more people today than he had to. Now, with Sam and Steve looking so relaxed, and Dawn beaming at them, he was second guessing that choice. He wanted Dawn to smile at him like that. He wanted her to be glad he was back.

"Those look amazing, Dawn. I can't wait to try one." Sam moved into the kitchen, inhaling the sweet smell of vanilla and sugar. Steve had said she was a good baker, but these looked and smelled even better than Sam had thought they would.

"Well, you'll just have to try." Dawn fended Bucky's hand away from her bowl again. "Can I get you a water for now?"

"I can get it myself, thanks." Sam smiled and opened the door of the fridge. Where he was confronted by a wall of precariously stacked bowls and trays.

"Oh hang on.” Dawn wiped her hands on the towel hanging off her apron and hurried to help. “I've got lemon curd, and stuff chilling, it's probably completely in the way."

Bucky leaned back on his heels, watching intently as Dawn loaded down Sam and Steve with things she had balanced on top of other things in the fridge so they could get to the chilled bottles of water. All of them laughing and teasing each other. Happy. Uncomplicated. The way her life should be.

"I'm glad the big guy played trouble man for you." Sam grinned and downed half his water. "What else are you liking so far?"

"The museums." Dawn said with a rush of enthusiasm. "I always loved them, and they've gotten so much better. We did the natural history museum last week and the MET the week before. I tried to move into the public library the first time I saw it."

"What about the Smithsonian?" Sam asked with obvious genuine interest.

"You think I'd visit DC without letting you know?" Steve snorted, over the mouth of his water bottle.

Dawn sighed longingly. "I'm dying to go, but we haven't made it out of New York yet."

"Well, that settles it. First really miserable weekend this fall." Sam said, slapping Steve on the shoulder and grinning at Dawn. "You'll come to DC. You'll stay with me. I'll show you all the good stuff."

Dawn beamed at him. That was perfect. Half the reason they hadn’t made it out of New York was Natasha not trusting most of their accommodation options. Staying with Steve’s friend would solve that problem. And while she doubted any winter this far south could be truly miserable, warm weather was always welcome. "That sounds fantastic."

Happy, smiling Dawn. Talking to a sweet guy. Everything Bucky had learned about Sam last night, and in their previous less pleasant interaction, told him that Sam was one of the best guys he had ever met, on top of being relatively normal. The kind of guy who would actually be able to take her to museums. A guy who would be able to protect her and still make her laugh. She shouldn’t smile at him. She shouldn’t be glad when he got back. She should smile and laugh at Sam, or someone else like him. Bucky bumped into the couch in his hurry to back up.

Steve looked up at him. Bucky looked like he had seen a ghost. "Buck? What's up?"

"Got an appointment. I forgot." Bucky muttered, refusing to look at any of the people in the kitchen as he made a break for the door.

Steve frowned as the door swung shut behind Bucky. He was pretty sure doctor Lin had today off. But it was possible she had agreed to come in for a couple of hours for Bucky. He glanced over his shoulder at Dawn and Sam, now chatting about Sam's favourite restaurants in DC and what sushi even was. Or maybe Bucky had just needed an excuse to leave.

Chapter Text

Bucky stepped out of his room, feeling awkward in slacks and shirt sleeves. He was glad he'd opted to wear the suit's vest at least, even if Steve claimed he would be overdressed. He nearly ran into Dawn in the hall. He didn’t know if she was just coming out of her own room or if she’d been waiting for someone. His mind was too focused on her outfit to consider more of the situation.

She was wearing the dress. The baby pink lace beautiful against her skin. Bucky's fingers itched to fix the curl that was falling into her face. Run his fingers up the side of her neck and tuck it back into place. She was wearing the dress he had picked for her, and it was even more gorgeous on her than he had imagined.

"Do you like it?" Dawn asked shyly. She did a little spin, her skirt swirling. She felt like a fairy-tale princess. Any moment now, a magic door would open, and she would be whisked off to a ball, like Cinderella or the twelve dancing princesses.

Bucky moved without thinking. Pressing Dawn against the wall. His hand cupping her jaw, tipping her head back, and crushing his mouth to hers.

Dawn was too shocked to think. Her body knew what to do when Bucky kissed her at least. Her hands pressed against his chest as she melted. His lips were sweet. The hand on her face, warm. Maybe she had fallen through a portal to another world. One where everything was perfect.

With a jerk, Bucky pulled his lips away from hers. He could hear her breathing, shallow and fast. Feel her fingers scrabbling against his chest. What had he done?

"Oh…" Dawn whispered the word. She'd been worried he didn't feel anything for her anymore. That kiss certainly didn't feel like nothing. Her knees were so weak, she had to lean against the wall for a second while she recovered.

Bucky swallowed. It was talking all his will power to not push her back up against the wall and kiss her again. Or pick her up and carry her back to her room. Neither was acceptable. He shouldn't have kissed her at all. Listen to that heart-rate. She was terrified. He needed to leave. To give her space. And to stay away from her for the rest of the week. To stay away from her period. "I have to talk to Steve."

"Okay, when you're done that--" Dawn looked up to find the hall empty. He moved so fast and so quietly these days. She sighed in defeat. "When you're done that, you can help me carry up the cupcakes."

"What was that?" Sam had opened his door to find a slightly lost looking Dawn talking to an empty hall.

She tucked her loose curl behind her ear. Trying to disguise how devastated she was as she turned to answer him. "I was going to ask Bucky to help me carry my cupcakes up, but he disappeared."

"I'll help you." Sam shrugged. It wouldn’t be hard, and he liked helping. Whatever was going on with Barnes, Dawn deserved to enjoy her first modern party, and they all deserved to eat her homemade cupcakes.

Dawn relaxed a little. That was one worry off her shoulders at least. "Would you? I'll end up spending all night making trips otherwise."

"Do I finally get to try one if I help?" Sam winked. That smile was better. He hated to see anyone looking as lost as she had, but especially one of Steve’s good friends.

Dawn beamed at her cupcake saviour. "First pick, all yours."

Sam rubbed his hands together. Even better. "Let's go move some cake."

“Oh thank God.” Pepper bustled across the bar area as soon as Dawn and Sam stepped out of the elevator, arms laden with boxes full of cupcakes. “Dawn you are a lifesaver. The caterers had a bit of a disaster in the lobby and we lost an entire cart full of desserts. I keep telling Tony we need to put an industrial kitchen up here so they don’t have to drag everything halfway across the city at the last minute.”

“Oh no!” Dawn hurried to set her boxes on the bar. “I think I have some of those chocolate almond cookies in the freezer. It will only take me twenty minutes to bake them off. Oh and I think there are a couple dozen of the macarons left. If the boys didn’t eat them all.” With two genetically enhanced super soldiers to feed Dawn tended to make big batches. Steve and Bucky always ate like they were starving, and Bruce had a massive sweet tooth of his own. To say nothing of Jack, Tony, and the women.

“I couldn’t ask you to do that.” Pepper demurred, but her eyes told the truth. She was still a little frantic to make sure everyone had a good time. Tony had gone through five assistants this year alone. He’d been absolutely impossible to wrangle during his surgical recovery, he was a terrible invalid, and then his post convolenent exuberance had scared off two more. Pepper was starting to think they would never find a replacement for her, and pulling double duty was burning her out. She’d leave him to his own devices and the less than gentle handling Maria gave him as the Avengers wrangler, but he really was hopeless. She loved him. He was completely brilliant, but he forgot to eat or sleep if he didn’t have anyone looking after him. He’d tell you he was going to bed, then you’d check on him two hours latter and he’d have an entire jet engine disassembled because he’d figured out a way to make it run smoother.

“After everything you and Tony have done for us?” Dawn set her boxes on the table and folded Pepper’s hands between hers. Pepper worked too hard. Dawn didn’t think she even realised how much of a perfectionist she actually was. Dawn was more than happy to pick up some of that burden for her new friend and host. “Of course you can.”

Pepper relaxed a little. It really was going to be alright. “I have to pay you at least.”

“You already paid for all the ingredients and supplies.” Dawn waved away the concern.

Pepper opened the top box, to find a dozen perfect bakery quality chocolate and cherry cupcakes. “How many hours of work did you put into all this?”

“7 or 8.” Dawn answered honestly. She immediately flapped her hands in front of her face. The whole thing was too embarrassing. Tony had paid for everything, the kitchen was his, the ingredients, even the clothes on Dawn’s back. “It’s nothing really.”

“You worked so hard, and you saved the night.” Pepper dashed off a text with one hand. “Legal will whip up a retainer tomorrow, and we’ll get it settled. It will be good for you to have money of your own too. Tony’s a sweetheart, and he genuinely does want to pay for everything, but I know it can be… a lot. Knowing you don’t need him to, makes all the difference.”

“Oh... I really can’t fight you on this. Not if those cookies are going to be ready before everyone else gets here.” Dawn pointed Sam and Pepper towards the boxes. “You set those out. I’ll get the cookies.”

The cookies came together perfectly in twenty minutes. Dawn added them to the dessert table along with the pretty pastel macarons that she was so proud of.

“Dawn!” Clint passed her a coupe glass filled with a peachy pink drink with a wheel of grapefruit on the rim. “Heard you saved our candied bacon.”

“I don’t know if it’d go that far.” Dawn tucked her loose curl behind her ear. “It’s just a little baking. Anyone could have done it.”

“Are you kidding me? Look at these.” Clint gestured at the table with its luxurious spread. “You’ve got real talent.”

“What are we talking about?” Tony asked, he had an adoring arm around a much more relaxed Pepper and a glass of champagne in his other hand.

“How great Dawn’s baking is.” Clint swiped a macaron and popped it into his mouth,

“And you missed banana nut muffin day.” Tony said seriously. He raised one eyebrow at Clint as he reached for a cookie of his own. “Why did you miss banana nut muffin day?”

Clint sipped his beer mysteriously. “I am a famous international assassin. Sometimes I disappear to do mysterious things. It’s part of my charm.”

“If you’re a famous international assassin, does that mean you’re bad at your job? Isn’t anonymity kind of an important part of being an assassin?” Dawn asked, tasting her own drink for the first time. It was light, fruity, a touch of alcoholic bite, and full of delightfully sparkling bubbles. She didn’t know what it was, but it was delicious. She should find out, she could probably make a cupcake that tasted like it, that could be quite fun.

Tony looked like he had just been told he could open his Christmas presents early. “Have I mentioned that I love Steve’s friends? Because I love Steve’s friends.”

He swore he wasn't looking for her, but Bucky still found Dawn as soon as he stepped into the party, just a few steps behind Steve and Peggy. In his defence, she was very central, standing with Pepper, Tony, Clint, and Sam by the table full of deserts. He ignored the way his stomach tightened as she laughed, encircled by Clint's arms as he pantomimed getting around her to the sweets. She was happy. That was good. All he wanted was for her to be happy. That laugh was still such an intoxicating sound.

He deliberately made for the corner opposite her. He didn't want to get too close. Not with her still looking so breath-taking and his self-control so questionable today. She was managing to enjoy herself despite his boorish behaviour. He wouldn't subject her to any more.

Ginny slipped her hand through Dawn’s arm. “How are we both the youngest and oldest people here?”

“I have no idea,” Dawn laughed. Ginny was right. Everyone here seemed to be simultaneously years older than them and still children. She had known they’d had to grow up fast. She just hadn’t realised how fast. “But it’s good to know that the youngins still know how to have fun.”

“If you say so.” Ginny said drawing her friend further into the party. “They certainly can't dance like we used to back in the day.”

“No, but they laugh more.” And wasn’t that what they had been fighting for? A world where people could laugh. Where everyone could be safe and happy. They hadn’t quite gotten there, but then the world didn’t change over night, at least not for the better, and they were miles closer than they had been.

Ginny squeezed Dawn closer. Her friend was getting all introspective again. Not something that was conducive to a festive atmosphere. “Come meet Pepper’s fashion friends. You’ll like them.”

Dawn glanced over her shoulder. Steve was chatting with Sam and some other people she didn’t recognise, Peggy tucked under his arm, deeply engaged in whatever the subject was, and Bucky hovering as a silent shadow over his shoulder. He hadn’t come anywhere near her all night. She might as well stop walking on eggshells hoping he would, and try to enjoy herself. “First I want to find one of those glasses of champagne.”

Bucky's chest was starting to feel tight. Sticking close to Steve had worked for the first two hours. Now his nerves were starting to wear thin. The room was too small and too hot. Everything was loud and the people were making sudden movements. How could they all stand it? Crowding together. Music pounding. No clear sightlines. He couldn’t stand it. He needed to get out of here.

He grabbed Steve's arm and pulled him closer so he wouldn't have to yell what he had to say. "The crowd's getting to be a little much. I'm going to head down."

"Course Buck." Steve squeezed Bucky's shoulder reassuringly. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to."

Bucky glanced over at Dawn, sitting at the bar, between Sam and Bruce, giggling helplessly as Natasha poured then all bright pink cocktails. "Make sure Dawn gets to bed alright?"

Steve followed Bucky's wistful gaze, just in time to see a laughing Dawn playfully shove Bruce. "What are you asking me, Buck? Do you want me to keep an eye on her because you're just generally worried? Or do you want me to make sure she makes it to her bed without any company?"

"I don't know." Bucky shook his head. It should be an easy question. Dawn wasn't his. He'd answer it right if the blood in his ears wasn't so loud. She could go to whatever bed she wanted. As long as she was safe. "The first one."

And the second one. He was a terrible person for even thinking it. She wasn't his. Dawn deserved a million things he couldn't give her. That didn't stop him from hating the idea of someone else's hands on her. Bucky rested his head against the cold wall of the elevator. He shouldn't have kissed her. Nothing he had eaten or drunk all evening had gotten the taste out of his mouth. The cupcake he'd eaten had only made it worse.

Steve leaned against the pillar, watching the party unfold in front of him. He got why Bucky had been overwhelmed. He’d been overwhelmed the first few modern parties he’d been roped into.

Peggy squeezed Steve’s bicep affectionately. “What are you thinking, darling?”

Steve sighed. What was he thinking? If anyone could help him figure it out, it was Peggy. “Just, Dawn and Bucky… They belong together, don’t they?”

“Almost as much as we do.” Peggy said, cuddling a little closer to his arm. “But that doesn’t mean they have to be together. We would have been just fine if we hadn’t found our way back into each other’s lives. We would have found other people, other ways to be happy. And so would they. They might still find ways to be happy. And isn’t that the important part?”

Steve kissed her temple. He knew she would have been happy. In another life she had been, and so had Dawn. “You always know what to say, Pegs.”

She tipped her head to the other side. Considering Dawn at the bar. There was a beat after every laugh where she looked around and her shoulders fell when she didn’t find who she was looking for. It was also impossible to miss the way Bucky completely changed when Dawn was in the room. When she wasn’t he found the most defensible location, when she was, he sat close to her, but between her and wherever a threat would come from. “That being said. What they’ve been through was absolutely intolerable. They might both need some time to figure out how to be themselves before they can be together. It would be a shame if something were to stop them from having a shot at a second chance.”

Peggy slid her hand down to his and squeezed. “I’m going to chat with Hill for a while. Let me know before you head down to bed.”

Steve kissed her knuckles and held onto her fingers until she was out of arm's length. He loved her, and she was fitting into this world so much better than he had at first. Her confidence at this party was a clear sign of that.

Dawn’s laugh drew his attention back towards the bar. Peggy was right. It would be a shame. It would especially be a shame if whatever or whoever stopped them from having that second chance didn’t know what they were doing.

"Hey." Steve bumped against Sam's shoulder. "Come play pool with me."

"In a second. Dawn here was just telling us about how Peggy owned you at a push up competition." Sam grinned and tipped his beer towards Dawn. This was an aspect of Steve’s new old friends he hadn’t even considered. They had all the best embarrassing stories about Steve before he became a legend. While he became a legend? Either way, these people knew the real human Steve in a way few people did.

"She's lying to you, ya mean." Steve snorted. "Peggy had to cheat to win."

"All's fair in love and war, Captain Rogers." Dawn said, regarding him over the rim of her pretty pink drink. She didn't know what was in it, but it was delicious. It might also be quite strong, she mentally added as the room swayed slightly. "And that contest was a little bit of both."

"Come on." Steve nudged Sam again and jerked his head towards the pool table. "I'll tell you the real story while you remind me the brawn isn't everything."

Sam narrowed his eyes a little as he studied his friend. There was something more going on here. "Yeah, alright."

Dawn waved as they walked away. She was having a lot of fun tonight. She wondered if she could coax Bucky into having another one of these drinks with her. Although, she wasn't actually sure where he was now that she thought about it. He had been playing Steve's shadow or skulking in the corner most of the night. But he hadn't been with Steve when he came to get Sam. Wasn't waiting at the pool table, even though she was sure he would be amazing at pool. And she didn't see him in his corner either.

Sam took three shots before setting his cue on the edge of the table to block Steve's next move. "Alright Rogers. Why'd you pull me out of that conversation? And you have absolutely no poker face, so don't bother with the 'I wanted to play pool with my friend' BS."

Steve sighed and leaned heavily on the edge of the table. Dawn and Bucky deserved a second chance, and Sam deserved to at least know what he was getting into. "Bucky's in love with Dawn. I don't think he knows what to do about it anymore, but he still is."

"And you're still in love with him?" Sam had been trying to get Steve to admit to it since the guy had gotten out of hospital. With very limited success.

"I still love him. I'm not in love with him." Steve corrected. "There's a difference. A big one."

"Yeah? That difference happen to be 5"5' and have curves that would make a racetrack cry?" Sam nodded to where Peggy was deep in conversation with Maria Hill.

Steve smiled across at Peggy, who felt his gaze and gave him a little wave. "Part of it does. She knows I love him, by the way. She's always known. And about my actual… affairs. I don't keep secrets from Peggy."

"Have I mentioned I'm not jealous of your crazy ass life?" Sam set himself up, but his ball didn’t quite make it into the pocket. He was still in a good place for the game. All he needed was for Steve to miss a couple times, maybe even scratch. Either way, it would be close.

"You know, it has come up." Steve snorted and sunk two balls with one shot.

Sam punched him in the shoulder and they turned their attention back to their game. Intently picking their way through their shots. The clack of the balls striking each other taking the place of conversation.

There were only a few balls left on the table when Sam stopped and leaned on his cue again. "So you're telling me, I can't flirt with your only pretty single friend?"

Steve sighed and rubbed his neck. If only it was that simple, Steve would have no problem with Sam courting Dawn. She was sweet and he was kind. Baring all other obstacles, they were a good match. As it was… "I'm telling you she's not exactly single."

Sam shot a look back towards the bar, where Dawn was now tossing caramel corn into the air for Clint to catch. He shook his head and lined up on the cue ball one last time. “Alright, but if Barnes doesn’t make a move on that soon, I’m gonna start really questioning his sanity.”

“Yeah.” Steve watched Sam re-rack the balls. Sweet and understanding as she was, Steve would have thought Dawn was the perfect person to help Bucky move on from the past. “Me too.”

Chapter Text

September 1st, 2014

Bucky couldn’t sleep. He’d spent an hour staring at the ceiling. And nothing. It wasn’t even nightmares. He just… Couldn’t. His mind was too busy. He changed out of his suit, taken a long hot shower, put on comfortable sweats. His thoughts just kept swirling. He needed a distraction. Steve was still up at the party, or tucked in bed with his beautiful girl. Dawn was… still up at the party. She had to be. She’s not yours. She can do whatever she wants. He swung his legs out of bed. He really needed a distraction.

He wasn't about to drag Steve away from the party. All the modern conveniences in this place. He should be able to find something to keep his mind busy. He just needed a little help knowing where to start. He swallowed. That was something else the Tower could offer. Steve asked the walls questions all the time. There was no reason he couldn't. “Hey… Jarvis?”

A blue light blinked to life on the panel by the door. “Yes, Sergeant Barnes?”

Bucky rubbed the back of his neck. Was he still Sergeant Barnes? Did it matter right now? He'd wanted help. Now he had it. “I need something to keep me busy. Ideas?”

“Might I recommend a film, sir?” The bright reply came easily. Like the voice was used to strange requests at all sorts of hours. Which, given how often Bucky ran into Stark when he went wandering in the middle of the night, he probably was.

A movie… actually sounded really good. Aside from the part where if he was in the common room he would spend all night watching the door waiting for the others to come back. To come home. A horrible fantasy flashed across his mind. A slightly tipsy Dawn tumbling through the door dragging Steve's handsome friend by the lapels. Seeing him sitting alone in the dark. And then… he didn't know if it would be worse if she acted like he hadn't seen anything or if she said goodnight and dragged Sam off to her room. No. He didn't want to know what happened with the others for the rest of the night. “I’d rather stay in here. If that’s alright.”

“That’s not an obstacle.” A section of Bucky’s window illuminated, a blue rectangle glowing with a softly pulsing Stark logo against a black too dark to be outside any more.

“Oh. Okay.” Bucky pulled his knees up to his chest. That worked. That worked perfectly. “What flicks you got for me, J?”

“I have access to Mr. Stark’s complete library of films. Over 20,000 titles, in ten languages." Thousands of brightly coloured rectangles flew across the screen. "If you had some idea of what you are in the mood for and I could narrow down my recommendations?”

20,000. Now there was an overwhelming number. “Something light, maybe a little funny. Nothing about the war… or the cold war. But I wouldn’t mind a little action.”

“Perhaps something loosely period in nature?” Hundreds of movie title cards dropped away, leaving a much more manageable Rolodex of options.

Bucky watched the titles flick by slowly. 300, too much. Shakespeare in Love, not enough. Gladiator, Steve had mentioned that one, Bucky could wait and watch it with him. The Adventures of Robin Hood, seen it. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. One just called Robin Hood. How many versions of the same story can there be? A Knight's Tale. Soft colours. Dashing hero. The blurb Jarvis had put up next to it said modern music, so it wouldn't be all fuddy duddy harps and lyres. “That one.”

The rectangle expanded to fill the whole screen, morphing into a black background with yellow introductory words as it did. The image stayed still for the moment. “I believe there are a few cans of soda in the communal fridge, and there are potato chips in the pantry if sir would like an accompanying snack.”

Bucky did want a snack. His metabolism was crazy these days. He was constantly hungry. And maybe something salty would help chase the taste of sugary sweet lemon out of his mouth.

He dashed to the kitchen, grabbed two bags of chips, stuffed a can of pop into the pocket of his hoodie, and swiped a bag of funny candies for good measure. That should tide him over. He hadn’t decided if he was going to join the others for breakfast. With any luck, he would be sleeping. And even if he wasn't… well, he might want to spend the morning in his room.

Bucky threw himself back onto his bed mounding pillows and blankets into a cosy nest. He could get used to watching movies like this. Little glimpses of a childhood spent making blanket forts flashed across his mind. Laying on his stomach next to a tiny kid that could only be Stevie, while someone-- his mother?--, told them fantastic stories.

A wave of loneliness washed over him. He’d gone without friends for so long. Now he had them back and he realized how much he had missed company. Any company. Even non-corporeal company. “Hey, umm… Jarvis. Do you… Do you mind staying and watching with me?”

The light glowed a slightly warmer shade of blue. “I am always here, sir.”

It was amazing how comforting those simple words were. Bucky let himself relax as the movie started to play for real. The hero’s knight master was dead. He talked his friends into the ruse of pretending he was a nobly born knight. He met a beautiful lady and rode his horse into a cathedral. The light that was Jarvis settled to a dim relaxed glow, but never turned off. Buky finished his first bag of chips without realising it, and opened the second one.

“Dawn would love this.” Bucky muttered as the hero fumbled his way through a fake 'dance of his country'. It was funny. It was romantic. The banter between the knight and his lady was bright and quippy. It was everything his Sunshine would want in a story.

Javis' light glowed a little brighter. “I can see if Miss. Danielson is available to join you.”

“No!” Bucky almost fell out of bed in his hurry to sit up. He couldn't imagine what that invitation would sound like. 'Miss. Danielson, Sergeant Barnes is in bed watching a movie and wonders if you might join him there.' Clint had taught them all what 'Netflix and Chill' meant, the better to tease Natasha. The last thing Bucky needed was Dawn getting the wrong idea about his intentions. Not after the kiss. The kiss that he still couldn't get out of his head. The kiss that had left her so scared she couldn't speak. No. He respected her. Cared about her. He wasn't about to invite her into his bed for casual sex. No matter how relaxed people were about it these days. Besides. He was letting her go. Bucky slowly sank back into his pillows. “No. That’s alright. Thanks, Jarvis, but no.”

Half an hour later, and Bucky was only more sure his Sunshine would love this film. There had to be a way to show it to her. One that didn’t involve him invading her space. Or worse, Jarvis inviting her to visit Bucky in his bedroom. He could picture exactly how well that would go down after his behaviour earlier. He’d be lucky if she didn’t sick Ginny on him. But there had to be a way to show her these. Something that kept him safely distant from her. “Say, Jarvis. Does Dawn have a list of movies to watch? She used to make lists of books she wanted to read. Does she have something like that but for now and for movies?”

A thoughtful pulse. Bucky wondered how hard it had been for Stark to program Jarvis with such realistic speech patterns. There was no reason he should need to pause. It felt natural though. “I believe Miss. Danielson has a watch list set up, yes.”

“Could you… Could you add this? And maybe that ‘Shakespear in Love’ one too?” Fairy tale romances. Just what his Sunshine loved. With beautiful people in beautiful costumes.

“Would sir like to attach an explanatory note?” Jarvis asked with what felt like genuine curiosity. No pressure. Just curiosity.

“Ummm… Yeah.” Bucky wracked his mind. What to say? It was kind of invasive. Especially after that kiss. But she didn’t have to watch them. She could ignore the addition. Or even tell Jarvis to tell him to go to hell. “Just. Just tell her I hope she enjoys them.”

“And a valediction?” Jarvis prompted easily.

“Oh. Umm…" How had he signed his letters in the old days? He closed his eyes and tried to picture them. Write soon, punk. All my love, your son. Sincerely. Yours. Regards. No. None of those were how he had signed letters to Dawn. She had signed all of hers Your Sunshine. He could picture that, even through the haze. Maybe scrubbing all the traces of the word Sunshine had been too much for even Hydra. But how had he signed his? There was something special. Something that had just been for her… “Your Bucky. Not yours. Just your,. Is that.... Is that what you mean?”

“That is perfect, Sergeant Barnes.” There was a brief pause while the light that was Jarvis faded in and out slowly. “They have been added to her personal library and with the note appended."

Bucky hadn’t managed to get much sleep. He’d dozed for a few hours, before giving up and heading for the gym. A long run. That was what he needed. He draped a small towel over the provided rail on the last treadmill in the row, dropped his water bottle into the cupholder, and shifted the settings so it would be more than a light jog for him, he had Jarvis play an audiobook on his headphones, well one headphone, he couldn't stand the way wearing two deadened his peripheral hearing. He had started listening to the James Bond series while he was working out. The physical activity stopped him overthinking the stories and he was fascinated to see how well the kid from the war office with the crazy plans had done for himself. Although even fewer of these plans would work, and who held a covert meeting at the table during a poker tournament?

Bucky was two chapters and twenty miles into his run, when the sound of the elevator opening pulled him up short. He stopped the treadmills belt and looked around. It was just Sam. Dressed for a run of his own, and headed for the treadmills. Bucky relaxed a little and turned his machine back on at a slightly lower speed.

“Hey man.” Sam dropped his water bottle and towel on the treadmill next to Bucky's and started adjusting the settings to something human.

"Hey.” Bucky nodded stiffly. Sam looked like he'd had a good night, but not a good night. Bucky refused to admit that he was comforted by that fact.

Bucky and Sam ran in silence for a few minutes, before Steve and Peggy showed up, walking out of the elevator arm in arm. Peggy swung between the ropes of the boxing ring, while Steve wandered over to his friends.

“How are you doing this morning?” Steve asked earnestly. Bucky had bags under his eyes. But he also didn't seem overly jumpy.

“‘M alright.” Bucky shrugged. He was. He’d gotten a couple hours of sleep, and his run was helping.

Steve nodded. That was about what Steve had expected. He turned his attention to his other friend. Just because Bucky needed him the most, didn't mean his other friends didn't sometimes need him too. Sam less than some of the others, but there were funding issues with his job right now, and Steve wanted to be sure that Sam knew he was there to talk if he needed to. “And you?”

“Great, Rogers." Sam smiled broadly. He appreciated Steve checking in. But he refused to worry about anything while he was on vacation. "You know I always sleep like a baby after I whip your ass at pool.”

“That’s not how I remember it.” Steve said, leaning against the end of the treadmill.

Sam patted him consolingly on the arm. “You’re getting old, Cap. Memory issues are common with guys your age.”

“He’s right. Some days I forget my own name.” Bucky put in helpfully, never one to turn down a chance to troll his best friend.

Steve clutched his chest in mock offence. “I’m going to go hang out with someone who actually likes me.”

Bucky looked around the room, face completely serious. “Are they standing behind Peggy?”

Steve threw his towel at Bucky. Bucky snagged it out of the air and threw it right back, catching Steve full in the face.

Steve stuck out his tongue like he was a child again and bounded over to the boxing ring. "Peggy, Bucky's being mean to me."

Peggy didn't look up from carefully wrapping her hands. "I don't know what to tell you, love. You're the one who wanted him back. I would have been happy with a puppy."

Steve vaulted into the ring next to her and kissed her on the cheek. "You want a puppy, Pegs? We can get a puppy."

Peggy smiled indulgently at him. She didn't doubt that for a second. He would get her the moon if she asked for it. Then apologize again for leaving her. "Just now I want to get in a little sparing before you have to go to work."

Steve hurried to wrap his own hand while Peggy stretched. That he could definitely do. Although getting a puppy for the tower wasn't a terrible idea. A puppy might help enforce some sort of schedule on Tony's life and it would be good for Bucky. Something to consider after he finished this workout. Peggy might not be as fast or as strong as he was, but she knew all his moves and figured out what he was going to do before he did.

“He’s doing a lot better these days.” Sam said, nodding at the grinning couple.

“Yeah." Bucky agreed. The longer he spent here, the more Steve laughed and smiled, the less he caught Steve staring blankly out the window. Bucky thought the reason for that was obvious. "Peggy’s always been great for him.”

“I think you can take some credit.” Sam pointed his water bottle at the other man. He wasn't sure Steve would have unwound the way he had if he'd gotten Peggy back, but Bucky was still missing. He was pretty sure it was the combination of having them both in his life that had done it.

“Less than you." Bucky had left as soon as he dragged Steve out of the river. He hadn't stuck around to make sure Steve had done more than survived. Sam had stuck by Steve. Made sure he had a fighting chance at a good life. Helped him with his search for Bucky. Made him start seeing Doctor Lin. All things that Bucky should have done if he was really the friend Steve thought he was. "Thanks for being such a good friend to him.”

Sam laughed and leaned on the hand rail. “It’s easy, I finally found someone almost as reckless as me.”

Bucky shook his head and stepped off his treadmill. Steve had found the Howling Commandos back in the war, it shouldn't be a surprise that he had found more crazy people in this century. “That might be the least comforting thing I have ever heard.”

“So," Sam took another sip of his water. "We gonna be friends?”

“Depends." Bucky started, taking a deep drink from his water to stop himself blurting out the first friendship condition that came to mind. Did you touch my Sunshine? It really didn't look like Sam had. And even if Bucky was wrong about it, he didn't have a say in the matter anymore. "Do you need a babysitter too, cuz I kinda got my hands full with the punk and his girl over there.”

“Nah.” Sam laughed. Steve had never been able to explain why he cared about Barnes enough to forgive him for trying to kill him repeatedly. Sam was starting to get it. The guy was quiet these days, but there was a kind of sarcasm that only developed when you were talking about or to your best friend. “I’m reckless. I’m not stupid. I always take a parachute.”

Bucky considered the various permutations that story could take. All of them involved Steve doing something crazy either because 'it was faster' or 'builds the myth, people respect and are scared of the myth'. Either way, Bucky was going to hate it on principle. “I don’t want to know.”

Sam laughed again and drank some more water. He leaned back to watch as Steve dodged the punches Peggy threw at him. They were cute together. He understood why Bucky thought they were such a good couple. They complemented each other. Although if what Bucky said was true, then they were going to be in a lot of trouble.

“Is Carter really as ‘fight me’ as Cap.” Sam asked, nodding over at the sparing couple. Steve could bench press a truck, but it was cute that he was giving Peggy a fighting chance.

“You have no idea.” Bucky snorted, just as Peggy threw Steve neatly over her hip.

Chapter Text

September 2th, 2014

Dawn was glad to have an appointment with Doctor Lin a couple of days after the party. Upon entering the room she considered just dropping face-down on the couch and staying there for the rest of the appointment, but felt maybe that would be a little too dramatic. Determined to handle this with some kind of dignity, she placed the platter of leftover party sweets on the table before sitting on the couch, drawing her knees up to her chest as Doctor Lin made tea for them.

“I feel like I’m in high school,” she confessed, taking a cookie from the plate when the doctor sat down. “Things weren’t like this even when I was in high school.”

Doctor Lin took a sip of her tea. “How so?”

Dawn looked away, a blush rising in her cheeks. “Um… He kissed me. Bucky did. Before the party.”

“And how did you feel about that?”

“Once I regained the ability to form a coherent thought?” Dawn asked with a crooked smile. “Amazed. Delighted. Confused. Mostly confused. Especially because he just disappeared on me right afterwards.” She sighed, sagging back against the couch. “I don’t know what to do. I want to give him space, let him make the first move. But it’s like… he’ll touch me, then he’ll disappear for days afterwards. He leaves notes and flowers in the books I read, but he barely talks to me. We had a little dance party in the living room, and he actually joined in. With me. And then he kissed me before the party and then just vanished with some excuse about talking to Steve. I don’t…. I don’t know what to do.”

She scrubbed her hands over her face in frustration. “I told him after his first night here that I would let him decide what he wanted our relationship to be, to take all the time he needed to figure things out. But I don’t know if I can do this for much longer.”

“Maybe you should take some time to think about what it is that you want,” Doctor Lin suggested. “From him and your relationship. Have you told him how you feel about this?”

Dawn shook her head. “I don’t want to put any pressure on him. He’s… he’s back and he’s safe. That’s enough for me.” It was all she had prayed for, words whispered into the dark nights when the silence and the memories became too much. It should be enough.

“Dawn…” The doctor weighed her words carefully. This was important. She wanted the message to stick. “You are allowed to want more.”

Was she? Some days she wasn’t sure. “We can’t always get what we want.”

“And if you could? If you could have anything, anything at all, what would it be?”

“I want the last three years to not have happened. I want Bucky to have never fallen from that train. I want him to not have had to go through all that Hydra put him through.” Tears of fury stung at her eyes. She wiped them away angrily. “I want to burn fucking Hydra to the ground, along with anyone who stands with them, for all they took from us.” Not just her and Bucky, but Steve and Peggy and Jack and Ginny and Rosie and everyone they had ever hurt. Everyone who had fought in the war and every life touched by their treachery afterwards.

“Well. If that’s all you want I might have to agree. We can’t always get what we want.” Doctor Lin crossed her ankles. “But those are all pretty high level wants.”

“And the past isn’t something I can change.” Dawn took a sip of her tea and thought for a moment. “I want to find a place here. A purpose. I’ve been helping out however I can but there’s only so much I can do here.”

The doctor smiled and leaned forward. “Now that sounds like something we can work on.”

September 8th, 2014

The Avengers gym occupied the entire southern end of its floor, letting sun stream in morning and afternoon. It made the space cheery and welcoming, at least in Steve's opinion. Not that he approved of Bucky spending all day hiding from the rest of the Tower's population. Which was certainly what it looked like he'd been doing. Hiding and doing chin ups. He was never going to get comfortable around other people if he kept avoiding them. “What have you been up to all day?”

Bucky crossed his ankles and lifted his chin past the bar. He’d been here. Mostly. He’d briefly swung by the library to watch Dawn read. Just as a pick me up. Grabbed some water and a protein bar, and come back. He wasn’t hiding. He was working out and listening to Churchill’s books and speeches. Guy was as good a speaker as Bucky remembered, more racist, but maybe he was just noticing that more. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“I had some errands to run." Steve leaned against the post at the corner of the boxing ring. The hand in his pocket curled around the most important thing he had done today. "Come here for a sec.”

Bucky dropped down and grabbed his towel. “What’s up?”

Steve tossed the pair of flat ovals and their chain across to him. “Got you something.”

Bucky recognised the dog tags for what they were, even in the air. He snatched the chain out of the air, letting the tags fall down and dangle like a pendulum. When they stopped swinging long enough for him to read the words stamped into the metal, deeper realisation crashed over him. Not just dog tags. His dog tags. James Buchanan Barnes. 32557038. “Shit, Stevie.”

Steve shrugged. They were a little thing. A thing he probably should have picked up months ago. “Can’t have you forgetting who you are again.”

Bucky rubbed his thumb over the raised letters. He still wasn't entirely sure who exactly he was these days. He knew who he wasn't, and who cared about him, which might be more important in the short term. “Surprised they don’t say ‘if lost return to Steve Rogers’.”

“You know, I thought about it, but Peggy thought it was a bad idea.” Steve chuckled. It hadn't been a serious suggestion. Just something he had grumbled into a pillow while venting. Peggy had nodded sagely. Told him he was an idiot. And smacked him with the pillow. She really was the best at keeping him from getting maudlin.

Bucky chuckled back. That sounded like Peggy. “She’s smart, your girl.”

Bucky turned the tags over. There was just one error on them; the date etched into the surface was off. His old ones had said 1917/03/10. These ones listed 2014/04/25. “Birthday’s wrong.”

“Nah." Steve shoved his hands into his pockets. He'd put a lot of thought into what date should be on them. Bucky wasn't who he'd been before. The birthday on the dog tags was a reminder of that. "Date’s right.”

Bucky snorted and slipped the chain over his head. Sappy idiot. He’d wear them. Because it would make Steve happy. Not because they felt like an anchor tethering him to reality and himself. Because that would be crazy… And something he should probably talk to his therapist about.

Steve studied his friend’s face. It used to be expressive. Full of life and light. Now it was still. Eerily emotionless most of the time. Steve was getting better at reading him, but he wasn’t wasn’t anywhere near where he had been back in the day where one glance would tell him exactly what Bucky's opinion was and what he thought they should do next. There was still a way to find out. Not always reliably, but he could at least get an idea. All he had to do was ask. “How you doin’ today, Buck?”

Bucky rolled his eyes. He was exactly the same as he was every day. Not okay. Nothing like okay. But worlds better than he had been last year. Or even two months ago. “Gotta stop worryin’ ‘bout me, Cap. I’m out. I’m fine.”

“Sure you are.” Steve shook his head. If Bucky was okay after everything that had happened to him, Steve would worry that he really was the unfeeling automaton they’d tried to make him. “You talking to Doctor Lin today?”

Bucky flicked his eyes to the clock on the wall. His internal timekeeping was good, but it never hurt to check. “40 minutes. Should probably think about showering and heading down there.”

Steve fell into step next to Bucky as he headed for the locker room. Therapy would take up most of the rest of Bucky's day, and leave him emotionally exhausted. What he really needed was something to keep him moving after that. A little mundane pleasure. “Pot roast for dinner.”

Bucky perked up. He was a sucker for pot roast. “With those crazy little purple potatoes?”

A grin broke across Steve’s face. They’d eaten a lot of potatoes before. None of them were anything like the new varieties that were available. He knew the brightly coloured ones especially had become favourites for Bucky. “What else.”

“Shit.” The Winter Soldier’s food hadn’t featured colour. It had been practical, nutritionally balanced, and bland. New food was bright, flavourful, full of colour, and joy. Especially when his Sunshine was cooking. “Looking forward to that.”

“There’s always something to look forward to, Buck.” Steve prompted encouragingly. He knew that sometimes the darkness still ate at Bucky. He just hoped that between them, he and his friends -- old and new-- could bring a little light into that darkness. “Even if it’s just potatoes.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Stevie. You’re stuck with me.” Bucky offered Steve a hand to clasp. He was here. He was staying. If only to keep his friend from getting into trouble.

Steve pulled him and wrapped him in a hug with the other arm. “Till the end of the line.”

“Always, brother.” Bucky squeezed him in return. Clapping him on the back. Steve would never give up on him. Steve believed in him. And maybe he really could be okay.

September 12th, 2014

Bucky hesitated with his hand on the doorknob. If he closed his eyes and focused, he could hear Dawn’s sleepy feminine breathing on the other side. He shouldn't be here. Even if he didn't hurt her, being around him was still dangerous. He should let her go. Let her be happy with some nice safe normal guy. One of the key pieces of advice his therapist had given him was not to isolate himself when he was having a hard time. Jarvis was great and all, but he was a little too intangible for what Bucky needed. He needed someone real right now, and he wanted Dawn. Selfish as that was.

Dawn was nestled deep in a cocoon of blankets, sleeping soundly. She loved the big soft beds of the future. So lovely and warm. Even on nights when she had trouble sleeping she loved luxuriating in it. Tonight she had fallen asleep almost as soon as her head had hit the pillow. The mattress dipped next to her, springs creaking softly. Her eyes fluttered open. Bucky was perched next to her. “Bucky? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, just…” Bucky trailed off, looking at his bare feet guiltily. Just sometimes when it’s dark all I can see is the people I killed. “I don’t like being alone at night.”

Dawn sat up. That sounded like this wasn’t a new thing. Her heart ached at the idea of Bucky alone and scared in the dark. “What have you been doing?”

“Jarvis has been keeping me company most nights. Or Steve, when it's bad.” Bucky rubbed the back of his neck with his metal hand. “He and Peggy are… busy right now.” Bucky had told Steve he was fine around midnight. Told him to go and 'curl up with that girl of yours'. He shouldn't be disappointed by the fact that Steve had done exactly what he had implied. Just because it turned out he wasn't as okay as he had thought he was, didn't mean Steve should give up time with Peggy. They were in love.

“Do you want me to read to you?” Dawn asked, pulling her knees up to her chest.

“Can...” Bucky tucked Dawn’s hair behind her ear. Who was he kidding? He couldn't stay away from her. Dancing with her had been a mistake. The kiss had been an even bigger one. His complete inability to shake the feel of her in his arms and the taste of her on his lips had contributed to his restlessness tonight. “Can I hold you? Can we cuddle a little?”

Dawn slipped her arms around his neck. She would do almost anything to help him. Cuddling him? It was exactly the kind of 'sacrifice' she was good at. “We can always cuddle.”

Bucky felt some of the tightness around his heart ease. He slid into the bed next to her properly, setting his back against the headboard, and tucking his legs under her blankets. He pulled Dawn fully into his lap. The weight of his Sunshine on his legs helped anchor him here in this moment. Holding Dawn was so different from all the awful things he had done. She was soft and warm, her heartbeat like a sweet innocent little bird. She snuggled against his chest. He sighed and rested his cheek against her hair. That was soft too, silky. Nothing about her was a threat, could ever be a threat.

Dawn tried to stay awake with Bucky. She really did. She wanted to be present for him. To give him the support he wanted and needed. It was hard with Bucky's arms around her. He was warm, and she felt safe in a way she hadn't in years. Her eyes drifted closed, and she nuzzled closer to him. His chest was the best pillow. She wouldn’t sleep, she’d just enjoy being held for a moment, then she would… ask what was wrong or something… Any moment now she would...

Bucky could feel Dawn relaxing in his arms, her breathing growing slow and deep. He pressed his lips to her forehead. Her pulse was soft and even. Every indication was that she was completely out again. She was so peaceful in her sleep. Unlike him. She didn’t seem scared or defensive at all. Bucky closed his eyes, humming softly. The song soothed him. He couldn't remember the words, but the tune had been running through his head more and more frequently lately.

Dawn stirred. Making a happy contented noise, but not waking. Her hand curled into his shirt, holding him close.

September 13th, 2014

Bucky threw himself backwards onto the couch as soon as the door closed behind him. He didn't even bother with his usual security check of the room. He deserved to be shot by an assassin. He hoped there was one. "I'm a monster."

"We've talked about using self-deprecating language before." Doctor Lin chided, collecting her notepad and moving to her chair.

"'S true this time." Bucky pulled a throw pillow into his chest. His arms had felt so empty all morning, ever since he had forced himself to leave Dawn sleeping safe and sweet in her bed. "I made the choice. No one forced me. No one even suggested… I shouldn't have done it. I knew it was wrong. And I still did it. That makes me a monster."

"I think this might go better if you start at the beginning." Doctor Lin settled herself in her chair with carefully affected calm. Coming from this particular patient, that could mean anything.

Bucky took a deep breath. “I slept with Dawn last night.”

Doctor Lin nearly dropped her notepad. “You… And Dawn… Had sex?

“What?” Bucky jerked upright. “No! She’s a-- I-- No. I mean, I kissed her a couple weeks ago. But I… Not with her…even before… We never…” He took a few rough breaths to center himself and shook his head to clear the images of a half dressed Dawn from it. He leaned his elbows on his knees and rubbed his neck. “I was having a rough night, Steve was...busy. I asked if I could sit with her. She fell asleep in my lap.”

“That’s it?” Doctor Lin kept her voice level. She wasn’t sure what she had expected. The worst. Or the best. Whichever it was, it wasn’t something so… PG and adorable.

“Isn’t that enough?” Bucky flexed his left hand, the plates grinding and clicking.

“You didn’t… I don’t know…” Doctor Lin gestured vaguely as she searched for a way to say the next part professionally. There wasn’t one. She gave up and settled on the unprofessional way. “Throw her onto the bed and just ravage her?”

Bucky looked at the doctor horrified. His Sunshine was a good girl. A sweet, innocent creature. The kind of girl you married back in the day. Not the kind you ‘ravaged’. For all the animalistic part of his brain was convinced it was an excellent idea.

It took all her professional training to keep Lin Mai from sighing in exasperation. She wasn't supposed to have opinions on her clients interpersonal relationships. Especially not when that opinion was this man needed to seriously make out with one of her other patients. “Okay. So no sex. But you did kiss her?”

Bucky nodded. “A couple of weeks ago. Before Tony’s party. I just… She was wearing the dress I had picked for her, and I couldn’t not kiss her…”

“And between then and last night?” Doctor Lin asked, secretary hoping that the answer was he'd been jumping Dawn every chance he got. There were a lot of hallways and corners up on the residential floors. Plenty of places for a couple head over heels for each other to steal a kiss or seven.

Bucky recoiled again. He shouldn’t have kissed Dawn once. Let alone more than once. “Of course not.”

“You say that like it’s obvious.” The doctor tapped her pen against her lips. “I don’t know that it is. You kissed her. You slept in her bed. You clearly care about her. Did she object to any of that?"

“She was terrified when I kissed her, Doc." Bucky's heart broke at just the memory. His sweet trusting Sunshine, and he had mauled her like some kind of animal. Left her a scared shaking mess. "Heightened senses remember? I could hear her heart racing, and she wasn’t breathing.”

"You're a bright man, Bucky. You really can't think of any other emotion that might cause a similar physiological reaction to terror?"

Bucky could think of a couple. The same ones that had driven him to kiss her in the first place. He didn't think the doctor was right. If Dawn had been… She would have kissed him back. Had she kissed him back? No. She'd put her hands on his chest to push him away. Sweet gentle creature that she was, her push hadn't felt like more than a caress... "Even if… even if Dawn was feeling…That. She wasn't feeling it for me. The guy she loved is dead. I can't be him. She deserves more than what I can be. Someone normal and safe. Not… whatever I am these days."

Doctor Lin propped her chin in her hand. Someday being a third-party outside observer was as frustrating as it was fascinating. Did he really not see the way they were orbiting around each other? “What if that’s not what she wants?”

Bucky was exhausted as he walked back to his room. Who knew talking about your feelings could wear you out so thoroughly. He wanted a nap before he had to face the rest of the Tower for dinner.

He was so tired, he almost tripped over the stack of books someone had left in front of his door.

He scanned the titles. Lord of the Rings, Dune, Jurassic Park, Good Omen, American Gods, Wolf Hall, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Tigana. They all looked great. A note poked out of the top book. He tucked the stack under his arm so he could read it.

Sorry it took me so long to make you a list.

Your Sunshine.

P.S. I loved the movies.

Bucky didn't feel quite so exhausted anymore. Maybe he would skip the nap and read for a while.

Chapter Text

September 15th, 2014

Dawn carefully cut a slice out of her completed cake, deeply satisfied with how cleanly it came out. What she needed now was a second opinion on the final product. Not the visual. She could see that for herself. The crisp white background of the flat icing. The forest of lavender piped around the sides of the cylinder, that almost looked like they were blowing in a breeze.

Bucky wandered through the room, stretching out his right shoulder. He and Steve had spent a solid two hours boxing, before Natasha had shown up and insisted on her own sparing bout. Girl was vicious, and he wasn't immune to pain anymore.

"Oh good. Taste this." Dawn stabbed the perfect bite of cake onto a fork. She was especially proud of this recipe. It was an entirely new creation and it had turned out even better than she had hoped.

"What--" Bucky's question was cut off as Dawn popped the morsel into his mouth. "Sweet mother of God, that's amazing. What is it?"

"Honey chamomile cake with lavender buttercream." Dawn answered, punctuating the name with a flourish of her fork.

Bucky stole the fork from Dawn and cut off another larger bite. “This might be the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.”

“You think?” A warm spark bloomed in Dawn’s chest. “I thought it would be a good flavour for winter. The lavender and the chamomile are both dry so there’s no issue with them being out of season, and it’s a lot lighter than holiday baking spices.”

“For winter?” Bucky pulled the plate towards him. China scraping along the sealstone of the counter’s raised bar. He was eating this entire slice, and another one after this if she’d let him. “It tastes like sunshine on wildflowers.”

Dawn beamed up at him. That’s what she loved about Bucky, he understood her vision. “That’s what I was going for.”

“Nailed it, Sunshine. Absolutely nailed it.” Bucky dug into the cake with gusto. It was so tender. And the icing was so light. Like a sweet buttery cloud.

“You’ve got a little…” Dawn gestured to where little crumbs of cake were clinging to Bucky’s stubble.

Bucky wiped at his cheek. He was eating like a slob. In his defence, this cake was amazing. His Sunshine was brilliant, absolutely brilliant, to have created something so perfect. He didn’t feel anything come away as he tried to clean his face. There had to be something there, otherwise Dawn wouldn't have said anything.

“Let me.” Dawn reached out and carefully brushed away the icing clinging to his stubble. The texture of his cheek was completely different from the smooth shave he’d always worked so hard to maintain during the war. Rough and prickly under her fingertips, she wondered what it would look like around his dimples when he smiled. Her hand drifted up the sharp line of his jaw, disappearing into his hair. That had changed so much too, it was so long. She tucked it behind his ear, the same gesture he used to comfort her so often. “I like your hair like this. It’s a good look on you.”

Bucky tipped his head into her hand. The sensation of her fingers combing through his hair was almost better than the cake. “You think?”

“I think parts of this century agree with you.” Dawn rubbed her thumb over his cheek one more time before she pulled her hand away.

Bucky sat himself at the bar, pulling the rest of the cake towards him. “I still feel…”

“Out of place?” Dawn asked, taking the seat next to him. She understood that. It had been months, and she didn’t feel anymore like she belonged here than she had when she picked herself up off the lab floor.

“Yeah.” The corner of Bucky’s mouth twitched. Out of place was an understatement.

“Out of place, isn’t always a bad thing.” Dawn grabbed a second fork and cut off a fresh slice of cake. She plopped it on the plate in front of Bucky, and stabbed a forkful of it for herself. “Like finding a way to have summer sun all winter.”

The couch in Natasha's apartment was the most comfortable place Rosie had found in the Tower. Low and slouchy, covered in giant oversized and overstuffed pillows. It was soft and squishy, perfect for sinking into and spending all day reading or working. Which, conveniently, was what they had spent the afternoon doing. Rosie had been reading on the couch. Natasha sitting at her desk.

It was nice. Everything about Natasha's apartment was designed for efficient comfort. The space was open and airy. The dark wood floor drawing the eye to the wall of windows, and Natasha's minimalist desk that looked out over the view. The sleek kitchen all but disappeared along the wall that ran perpendicular to the windows. The big rooms one door lead into the immaculately organised walk in closet, which in turn opened on a chicly industrial bathroom. All beautifully practical.

Including what was secretly Rosie's favourite part. The big cloud-like bed tucked behind a paper screen on the far side of the room. Natasha had coaxed her into it a handful of times, and already Rosie wanted to curl up in it and purr like a cat every time she saw it.

Although that was true of Natasha's space in general. Being here just felt right. There was one thing that was a little off about the rooms. It was so… sterile. It felt more like a guest room than the guest rooms did. "Have you ever thought about getting a plant?"

Natasha looked at her confused. "A plant?"

"A fern for the bathroom or something." Rosie shrugged. A fern would make the bathroom feel less industrial. Soften the harsh lines of the concrete and glass fixtures. Add some light to the dark steamy space.

"I don't know," Natasha rolled her stylus between her fingers thoughtfully. "I don't let the staff into my apartment, I do all the cleaning myself. I wouldn't be around to water it, and a dead fern is worse than no fern."

"You're going somewhere?" Rosie felt like she'd missed a step going down the stairs. She hadn't considered that Natasha's time here was temporary. It shouldn't have felt like a surprise. Natasha wasn't one for a 'typical' life. It was one of the things Rosie found attractive about her. Still, the reminder felt like a punch to the gut.

"I--" For the first time in her life, Natasha realized that there was nowhere she had to be. She had spent years on the move. On the run, following orders, following people, looking for things for other people. Jobs that had been known to take months at a time. Months of being someone other than Natasha. That was over. She was too recognizable, and the people who had sent her in those missions weren't in charge any more. She was 'free' and she had no idea what to do with it. "No. I don't have any plans. I used to travel a lot, but most of my trips should be pretty short these days."

"Well, then you should think about a plant." Rosie settled back into the couch, pulling her knees up to rest her tablet on them. It was Natasha's apartment. She could decorate it how she wanted. It was just a thought. "Even a fake one. It would warm things up in here."

Nat set her stylus down. It was suddenly very important that she sit on the couch for a while. Take a break. Clear her mind. She curled her legs under her, wrapping her arms around the other woman's waist. "What are you reading about?"

Rosie nestled into Natasha's hold. "All the things that have happened with DNA since I last heard about it."

“Have you gotten to CRISPR yet?” Natasha brushed Rosie’s hair to the far side of her neck so she could rest her head on the woman’s shoulder and read along with her.

“No.” Rosie flicked quickly to a search engine on her tablet. If Natasha thought it was worth mentioning, it was bound to be fascinating. “What is it?”

September 20th, 2014

Bucky lowered his fork, a bite of porkchop still on the tines. Around him his friends chatted about their days. Inside his brain, old memories swirled.

Memories he hadn't thought about in decades. Pieces of the hazy soup that filled the back of his mind, tangible only as moments of blood and awfulness. Suddenly coming clear, complete with names and dates, instead of their normal fear filled looks and muscle memory.

Bucky licked his lips. A name and a date. And all the violence. The violence was always there. But no context. "Who is Edward Zorinsky?"

The light that indicated J.A.R.V.I.S. was active glowed to life on the wall a black and white photo of a man in late middle ages appearing on the transparent screen next to it. "Edward Zorinsky. Democratic senator from 1976 until his death in March 1987. Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs. Known as swing vote, the republican party courted him to change parties for several years. Would you like more information on his voting record and the bills he sponsored?”

"No thanks, Jarvis.” Bucky poked at his food. The photo was enough. Maybe more than enough. That was definitely the man from Bucky's memory. He'd been smiling the last time Bucky had seen him. Smiling and enjoying a concert. At least until he suddenly wasn't anymore. “I think I killed him."

Steve frowned at his phone. Jarvis had projected Edward Zorinsky's biography onto his screen as well. "According to this he died of a heart attack."

"No. I killed him." Bucky set down his fork completely. He was done eating for the night. “A micro injection to the back of the neck.”

Unpetuped by the revelation, Natasha grabbed the last bun out of the basket. "Probably deserved it."

Steve's had jerked, nearly spilling his water everywhere. "Natasha!"

"What?" In Natasha’s not insignificant experience if a politician was assassinated quietly, it was because they were already corrupt and making trouble. The kind of person who already had ties that would be inconvenient if they came to light during an investigation. Big loud public assassinations, those were the kind that happened to public figures that were on the up and up. At least in the West. The categories got a little hazier when it came to her homeland.

"Why do we try? Why?" Steve looked for an ally in his exasperation. Peggy was holding back laughter, but Bruce bhad always understood that they had to hold themselves to a certain standard if they wanted to call themselves heroes.

"You try, I just do my best to stay on her good side." Bruce muttered back.

Natasha planted a ridiculous kiss on his cheek. "That's why you're my favorite."

"I thought I was your favorite?" Rosie teased on Bruce's other side. That distracted them all with a round of over the top flirting and Bruce trying to hide his suddenly scarlet face in his hands.

Bucky stared at the three of them. He didn't know if Natasha was right and the guy deserved it. Honestly, it didn't really matter. Pretty much no one deserved to die without knowing why. And Zorinsky had been a sitting senator. Who knew what ripple effects his death could have had. Why did no one care?

Dawn smiled reassuringly across the table. "Doctor Lin would say it happened, and you're right to be upset, but all you can really do is not do it again."

"Yeah." Bucky didn't want to do it again. For that matter he hadn't wanted to do it in the first place. At least not the part of him that was him. He'd still done it. Without Bucky interfering Zorinsky could have had another twenty to thirty good years in him.

Dawn dropped her eyes, fidgeting with her napkin. He still looked so lost, and there was nothing she could do for him. Nothing real anyway. She might be able to distract him a little, but that was it. "Do you want to watch my cooking show with me after dinner?"

"Sure, Sunshine." Bucky let a hint of a smile relax his features. It would be nice. She'd curl up on the couch. He'd sit in the chair next to her. One of them would form a completely baseless opinion on which of the dishes being prepared was best so they knew who they were rooting for. But they would agree that all the competitors had done well, unless one of them was a particular asshole. 50/50 Dawn would fall asleep on the couch and he’d have to wake her up and take her to bed. He wouldn't stay, just tuck her in, but knowing she was sweetly sleeping always left a peaceful feeling in his chest. It was the exact opposite of the life he'd had as a weapon.

Chapter Text

September 29th, 2014

Dawn rubbed her face as she padded down the hall to the kitchen. Bad dreams had disturbed her since she had gone to bed hours ago. She was hoping a nice glass of almond milk would help settle her mind. The creamy liquid had grown on her in the last few months, a little sweet, a touch of vanilla, it really was lovely.

She almost ran into Bucky on her way back to her bedroom. He was just emerging from his own room, dressed in pajamas and a hoodie, with a book tucked under his arm. Dawn resisted the urge to smooth out the cowlick missing the back of his hair. “Are you still up?”

“Umm, yeah.” Bucky turned the book over in his hands. It was one of the ones she had recommended. He was planning to take it up to the terrace and read for a few hours. Stark had some really excellent lounge chairs up there. Steve would check for him when he left for his run in the morning, and send him to bed if he had fallen asleep. "Couldn't really sleep."

Dawn bit her lip. She could think of a solution to both their problems, but she wasn't sure he would agree. "Do… do you want to come stay in my room?"

Yes. Bucky would love to fall asleep with Dawn in his arms. She was a better distraction than any book. The question was could he stay asleep and was it good for Dawn in the long run. "I don't know if that's a great idea, Sunshine."

"Okay. I just thought… well I like having you there, and if you were there it would be easy to wake me up if you needed someone, and…" Dawn blushed and looked down. "And I slept really well the last night you spent in my room." The morning had been less fun. She had missed Bucky when she woke up alone and then he'd been too busy to talk all day, this time would be different.

Bucky tucked a finger under her chin and made her look back up at him. Her eyes were so softly hopeful. She had slept better. He had felt more rested than he had in years. One more night couldn't hurt. “You’d really be okay with it?”

Dawn nodded and cupped his hand to her cheek. “You know I’ll help you anyway I can.”

Dawn could count the number of times she had fallen asleep in Bucky’s arms on one hand and still have fingers left over. It still felt like home. So little felt like home in this century. Her Bucky still did. A strange home, but one she could get used to. He was still warm, she could still feel him breathing under her cheek, and he still held her like she was the most precious thing in the world.

Holding Dawn was like finding port in a storm. Bucky pressed his face into her hair. His emotions were still rocky, but he didn’t feel like they were going to swamp him anymore. With her nestled against his side, he didn’t feel like he was going to lose himself. He knew who and where he was. He closed his eyes and drifted off.

September 30th, 2014

Bucky was careful not to wake Dawn as he slipped out of bed. It would be better if he wasn’t here when she woke up. He wasn’t sure what he would do if she looked up at him with big sleepy eyes and her hair all messed up, and he didn’t want her to get any ideas about a future he couldn’t offer her. He wouldn't take advantage of her when he couldn't give her what she deserved. He wouldn't risk hurting her that way.

It was bad enough he’d slept around her at all. One bad nightmare was all it would take to injure her, or worse. Selfishly, he was still glad he let her talk him into tonight. He was better rested than he had any right to. It was the best night sleep he’d had since… well since the last night he’d spent with Dawn.

“Sleep tight, Sunshine.” He brushed her hair back from her face and kissed her softly on the forehead.

Dawn woke up slowly. A soft morning light glowing through her bedroom window. She rolled over, hoping to nestle into Bucky’s side and doze a little longer. Her bed was empty. She touched the place where Bucky should have been. The sheets were rumpled to prove he had been there, but there was no lingering warmth. Her bed was cold and empty. Again.

She curled into a tight ball. The other pillow smelled like Bucky’s cologne. The scent made her so much lonelier.

“What’s with you this morning?” Steve braced Bucky’s punching bag firmly, dampening the recoil. “You look like you got some sleep, so why are you acting like you sat on a burr.”

Bucky sighed and started undoing his knuckle wraps. On his right, they protected him. On his left, the bag. Steve was right. He had slept last night. Deep and dreamlessly. And in Dawn's room. He couldn't keep putting her at risk like that, but he also couldn't seem to stay away. “Do you think Dawn would be better off without me?”

“Sure, but I know who she ends up with in a world where you’re dead.” Steve shrugged coming around the bag. “I don’t think she’ll be happy with anyone else if you’re on the table though. And maybe I’m biased, but I don’t think you will be either.”

“I’m not worried about my happiness." Bucky said earnestly. Despite what Doctor Lin said, he still wasn't sure he deserved to be happy. Dawn did. Dawn deserved nothing but happiness. "Just hers.”

Steve shook his head. And Bucky said he was the self sacrificing one. At least he was willing to let himself be loved. “I know you’re not, Buck. That’s why you got me. I’ll care about it for you.” Not that Steve was going to meddle. He was just going to be there for Bucky and remind him that he was worthy of love.

Bucky rolled out his shoulders. Steve would look out for him, but he would also do what was right, and back Bucky in the moral choice. “She’d be safer with someone else. Someone normal, who could look after her without putting her in danger.”

“Maybe. But safety isn't everything.” Steve looked up at the clock. “Damn. I gotta go. Don’t do anything stupid, like tell Dawn she should see other people, without running it by me first.” He clapped Bucky on the back affectionately. It would be alright. Bucky might just need a little more time to figure out how to be loved again.

Bucky made a noncommittal face and patted Steve's hand goodbye. He wouldn't tell Dawn to date other people. Not because she couldn't do better, because he was selfish and wasn't ready to see anyone else touch her. That was something he should work on. Maybe he would talk to Doctor Lin about it. He inspected his metal hand as Steve left him. Either way, he would give Dawn space today. She deserved better than a broken hunted man. She deserved someone who could give her a real future, who didn't endanger her just by existing.

Bucky’s head snapped up as the actual words Steve had said sunk in. Dawn had had a future. Back when he had been dead and she had been safe in Canada, Dawn ended up with someone else. Someone Steve approved of more than him. “Wait. Who does she end up with? Steve? Come on, you can’t just leave me hanging like that!”

Steve turned to walk backwards onto the elevator. “Can’t stop, supposed to be on a call with the secretary of the UN.”

“Fuck you, Rogers.” Bucky called, very aware of how much muscle memory was involved in the action. He liked that Steve didn’t treat him differently these days. But he would appreciate it if the guy could avoid being and a jerk for two seconds and answer his question.

“Only if you can convince Peggy.” Steve shot back through the closing elevator doors.

Bucky flipped off the elevator. Damn Steve and his need to have the last word, and his interminable ability to be right about everything.

Dawn threw herself into making pies. She liked baking pies. Pastry required you to pay attention if you wanted it to come out right, and fillings almost always required a lot of chopping. Apples were in season, and according to the many articles she had read on the subject, apple pie froze quite well if you took some simple precautions.

By the middle of the afternoon, she had a dozen classic apple pies ready to be stashed in various freezers around the tower, an experiment with apple rum raisin in the oven for dessert tonight, two pear and custard tarts chilling in the fridge, and was working on an apple cake for Steve, because she knew he loved it.

Steve stopped in his tracks as he stepped out of the elevator on the guest floor. A wall of cinnamon and sugar hitting him in the face. Nothing had smelled like this since he’d lost his Ma. It was fall and happiness and home. One lung full and all his worries melted away. He looked over at a flour-smudged Dawn standing in the kitchen mixing a large bowl. She had to be the one to be the one responsible for the heavenly aroma. "It smells fantastic in here."

Dawn smiled at Steve, her eyes flicking away before she could make eye contact with Bucky over his shoulder. "I made pie. And I'm making you a cake, but it needs to rest and the pies in the oven need to come out before it can bake since it needs a different temperature."

"You're too good to us, Dawn." Steve said crossing the room to inhale the baking scents more deeply.

Dawn pulled the cake tin towards herself and started greasing it. She really was. Although she had specifically not made any lemon meringue pie for Bucky. In her defence she wasn’t just being petty. Lemons weren’t in season, and while you could still get them in stores, she wasn’t sure she trusted them.

"What kind of pies?" Bucky asked. He could see the double crusted ones waiting on the counter, they smelled like Apple and spice, and… there was some memory there, but he couldn’t place it, but she had said there were more in the oven.

"Apple and apple rum raisin. And I have pear and custard tarts in the fridge." Dawn answered without meeting his eyes. "I wanted to make a pear frangipane, like the tart we had in Paris, but I'm out of almonds."

Bucky nodded thoughtfully. He didn’t remember sharing any kind of tart with her in Paris, but if she remembered it well enough to want to try and make it four years later, it had to be good. "Those all sound delicious."

Dawn smiled without looking at him and tapped the cake pan to level the batter.

Watching Bucky watch Dawn was just painful. He always looked like he was on the verge of blurting out that he loved her, but he never did. And she always looked like she was waiting for him to, before she made a confession of her own. If Steve hadn’t sworn he wasn’t going to meddle, he would walk around the kitchen banging pots and chanting “kiss” at them over and over.

“Are you going to change so we can do this thing or what?” Steve asked, swiping a fingerful of cake batter out of the scraped bowl. He wasn’t going to meddle.

There was a large bag of blanched almonds on the counter when Dawn went to help Ginny and Jack make dinner.

Remembered you were out of these while we were running errands.

Your Bucky

Dawn smiled reluctantly and tucked them into the pantry. It was so hard to stay irritated at him for any length of time. Every time she thought he was shrugging her off, he did something sweet. Even if he had been out ‘running errands’ with Steve, she doubted those errands had included grocery shopping. She’d made a throw away comment about wanting almonds, and he had gone out of his way to make sure she had them. Because he was still her Bucky. If only he would stop abandoning her.

Chapter Text

October 2nd, 2014

Jack repeatedly poked the screen of his phone as he stepped out of the elevator into the main Avenger's lounge. He had thought he had it pretty much figured out, but now nothing was working. Normally all he had to do was tap the little red X and calendar events he didn't need would go away. This one didn't even have a red X. He should be working on his economics class. Not dealing with this.

The girls crowded out of the elevator behind him. They all had the same calendar invite on their phones too. One by one they had started clustering together looking for an answer which is what had led them up here. Hoping to find someone modern to help them fix their problem. They had been right about finding people here. Steve and Peggy were by the window. Natasha was ensconced in an armchair. Pepper perched on a stool by the bar. Even Bucky was skulking in the corner. Any one of them should be able to give them at least some answers. "Why is there a meeting on my calendar called 'the most wonderful time of the year' and why can't I decline it?"

"Tony's calendar invites are non-declinable." Bruce answered from the couch.

"Why would anyone say no to my invitations?" Tony bounded into the room, a hat shaped like a giant spider balanced precariously on his head.

"Because they have a shareholder call in twenty minutes and could use the time to prepare." Pepper supplied, fingers tapping on the screen of her phone.

"An excellent point, my dandelion. You are dismissed." Tony kissed her on the cheek. "Everyone else, we have plans to make."

"Plans?" Rosie asked curiously. She folded herself onto the arm of Natasha's chair. She and her friends were rarely included in plans.

Bruce made an apologetic face. "Tony goes a little overboard when it comes to Halloween."

"Overboard? I am perfectly on board when it comes to Halloween. See this." He gestured to his hat and skeleton print sweater. "This is exactly the right amount of board, you Grinch."

"Now you're mixing holidays." Natasha snorted. She had her tablet in her lap and was working through the meeting.

Tony flapped at her dismissively and scanned the rest of his audience. "Clint isn't here? Why isn't Clint here?"

Natasha narrowed her eyes and zoomed in on the picture she was studying. It looked an awful lot like her suspect had forgotten he had blueprints on the table before he posted the picture. "He had a thing."

"Tony, explain it for the old folks." Steve dropped onto a couch, dragging Peggy down next to him.

“Halloween is of course the best holiday of the year.”

“Sure," Rosie draped herself across the couch next to Natasha. "Who doesn’t love wearing an old sheet over their head and trudging through snow.”

“We can do a little better than sheets these days. Anyway. Every year I throw a little party for the kids at New York-Presbyterian. The last few years it has obviously been Ironman and friends themed. Kids love a superhero. We wear our outfits, all the kids dress up. It’s a blast.”

Bucky moved closer to the group, perching on the back of the couch at the opposite end from Dawn.

Tony clapped his hands and rubbed them together in anticipation. Halloween really was his favorite, and he was looking forward to sharing it with his new friends. "The obvious big change this year is we have new Tower residents. Let's talk costumes. I thought our lovely vintage ladies could go all out and dress as Cap-ettes. Follow the big guy around waving little flags. That sort of thing."

"You don't think the costumes are a little demeaning?" Steve asked seriously. Fashion had changed during the intervening years, and he'd thought the show-girls' dresses had been risque back then.

"Worried we'll be more popular than you again?" Rosie asked, propping her chin on her fist. She liked the Cap-ette dresses, and she liked to think she had the legs to pull the look off.

Tony was definitely following up on that later. First he wanted to finish laying out his plan. "Then I was thinking we could get the band back together on the Howling Commandos. Sort of a history lesson thing. Sergeant Barnes can go as… well Sergeant Barnes. Bruce and Jack can take their pick from the others. Obviously we'll need a few more players, but I think it will work."

"I'll ask Sam." Steve pulled out his phone to send the text now, before it could slip his mind.

"Happy would probably play Dum Dum Duggan." Natasha added scrolling through a message board looking for codes. The public side of Avengers life was fun, but they still had real jobs to do too.

Tony launched into a detailed itinerary of the day. Which honestly was nearly identical to last year's itinerary, and he probably could have done most of his by email. He was excited, shoot him. He had always loved Halloween, and realizing he could share that love with kids who needed a win had only doubled his excitement. Plus visiting the sick kids was always way more fun than the fancy parties he usually threw. "I'll send out an email with the schedule and associated details."

Dawn smiled. Visiting children who needed cheering up, what a perfect way to spend the day. "We should take the darlings cookies. Ones shaped like little ghosts."

"Great idea." Tony snapped his finger and pointed at her in recognition before scribbling a note on his tablet. "I'll find someone to make them."

"Why? I can do it." Dawn objected. It would be a lot of cookies, but she had a month's notice. She could manage.

"You can't actually." Bruce said. He hurried on with his explanation, aware that Bucky had gone very still when he had questioned Dawn's abilities. "I'm not saying you're not capable. But there are legal considerations these days. You can't bring in outside food. Definitely not food that hasn't been prepared in a professional kitchen."

"True.” Tony tapped his stylus against his chin thoughtfully. “But morning glory has a point. Leave it with me. I might have a solution."

October 6th, 2014

Ginny leaned against her husband's side as he typed on his laptop. Her fingers tangled in a skein of red yarn. Knitting while he worked on an assignment for university was such a familiar thing. They had spent countless evenings like this in their decade together, even more with them both focused on their studies. She had finished off her coursework for the day hours ago, while Jack had been helping Rosie and Natasha with the details they needed to get everyone proper documentation in this time period. Everything was so much more complicated these days… They might also, slightly, be committing immigration fraud. Natasha had assured them it was alright, although she had also followed up with ‘don’t worry Steve with any of the details’. Which made Ginny think not everything was strictly above board.

Feet kicked up on the coffee table, Natasha tapped away on her tablet, working on finalising the details of her third work visa of the day. Her life would have been easier if she could have convinced the newcomers to be from a moderately sized city in the States. When she had suggested that Rosie could have grown up in Cincinnati, she had been met with the single coldest look she’d ever received from the blonde woman. They were Canadian, not American. And Peggy was British, there was no disguising that accent. Which meant extra paperwork. It also meant an extra layer of cover if people questioned why they were missing some basic cultural touchstones, so it wasn’t all bad.

Pepper stumbled into the guest suite lounge. She was tired and hungry, and had only come here instead of the pent house because all the food up there was healthy, and she was in desperate need of some sugary, carby, comfort food, which Dawn could be relied on to supply down here. She kicked out of her shoes, and threw herself into the first armchair she encountered, slumping down exhausted.

She was going to run away and join a commune. That was the only thing for it. Sure, she didn’t like wearing rubber boots, but she did like undyed natural fibbers, and organic farming. Or at least the concept of organic farming. She’d never actually done any farming, strictly speaking. She rubbed her eyes, even though it smeared her mascara. She had pet an alpaca once, and she looked good in a straw hat. That had to count for something.

Natasha set her tablet aside. Pepper didn’t normally let her guard down. Even around the Avengers. "What’s up with you?”

Pepper rubbed her eyes. If she had fully understood what she was getting into when she took the job as Tony Stark’s assistant all those years ago, she would have run screaming the other way. Which unfortunately, seemed to be something everyone they found to fill her old position figured out faster than she had, and before they were too emotionally involved to back out. "Tony drove off another assistant. Or should I say she jumped ship for greener pastures. She got a job with Microsoft. She’s managing their entire hardware development department. Now I need to find him a replacement and I don't have time this week because I've got to review the financial plan so we can make changes before the end of the year. But it has to happen this week because Tony has a full itinerary next week, aside from the Halloween party to finish planning, and he can't stay on track without an assistant."

"I can fill in for now." Jack volunteered, closing his laptop to give Pepper his full attention. He knew what it was like to love some who was a handful. Even if his wife wasn't quite as much of a handful as Tony. She was at least known to work herself to dropping the way Tony was. "I was a teaching assistant for 4 years and a lieutenant for almost 6, how different can it be? Keep your charge on schedule. Make sure they eat drink and don't do anything stupid in meetings. Double check all the right forms get filled in and filed correctly."

"Oh Jack. Would you?" Pepper sat up, hope returning to her eyes. "I promise I'll make him find someone permanent, just as soon as I have a break in my schedule."

"Don't worry about it, Pep.” Jack smiled at her warmly. Pepper and Tony had done so much for them since they had arrived in this century. Jack could manage some genius wrangling to pay them back at least a little. “This gentleman of leisure stick really doesn't do it for me anyway. I’ve got a few hours worth of class everyday, but I can tackle that while Tony’s in the lab."

"In the meantime, do you want to get drunk?" Natasha asked seriously.

Pepper bit her lip. She loved Tony. But some days, she was also completely exhausted by him. "I kind of really do.”

Natasha nodded thoughtfully. Getting drunk here would mean the boys joining them, which would mean Pepper wouldn’t actually relax. She’d be too busy worrying about Tony. "The lobby in half an hour. Wear practical shoes. We’re having a girls night."

The reasoning behind Natasha’s insistence on practical shoes became obvious when they arrived at their destination. Dawn had expected somewhere fancy. Maybe a club like the ones in some of the movies they had watched, loud and full of people ‘dancing’. Or a restaurant made of chrome and glass with some fantastical element, like an aquarium under the floor or curtains of glass bubbles dividing up the room.

Instead they ended up in a grungy dive bar. One that actually reminded Dawn of Steve and Bucky’s favourite bar in London. It was dark, not crowded, but not empty. Everything was made of dark wood, or scuffed brass, the booths around the outside of the room were upholstered in sticky looking red leather. The bartender leaned on the counter chatting with what looked like a regular. The main difference that Dawn could see was a pool table. She supposed that there was less of a risk of Natasha or Pepper being recognised at the kind of place she had originally pictured. Who would look for the Black Widow or The Stark Industries CEO in a working class bar. The same way Steve had liked blending in at the bar in London.

Ginny grinned when she saw the pool table. She knew there was one at the tower, but the boys did dominate it any time they were all hanging out in the Avengers common room. This table was free, and she intended to put it to use. She grabbed Peggy’s arm and dragged her across the room while the others got drinks.

Natasha watched bemused as Ginny worked her way around the pool table methodically clearing all the balls. She’d dominated the table since the break, only giving up a handful of shots all game. Peggy was good, and when she got a turn, she could hold her own. Every time they traded turns, Rosie passed them each a shot of whiskey. The alcohol didn't seem to be affecting her at all, if anything she was getting better. “... and the boys don’t know.”

“Well, Jack knows, obviously.” Rosie had only learned Ginny played billiards at all after they were all back at home. She had agreed to meet Jack and Ginny for a drink after Ginny got out of med school one day, they had ended up in a pool hall just off the university campus, with some of her classmates and a few alumni. Ginny and Doctor Jones had wiped the floor with anyone who challenged them. "It is how she paid for med school."

Natasha tapped a finger against the side of her beer bottle. “But Steve and Bucky don’t. None of my guys.”

“It’s not a skill that comes up often on the front lines.” Peggy answered, leaning on her cue.

“Don’t tell them.” Natasha took a long sip of her beer. Steve and Tony could be hot headed. Knowing something they didn’t had the potential to be very useful. “We can use this.”

“Use this for what?” Pepper asked. Ginny was good at pool. Maybe they could use it to win a bet against the boys, but to what end?

“Not sure yet.” Natasha took Peggy’s cue, claiming the next game. “But something.”

Ginny beat Natasha too, but it was a close game. They bantered back and forth. Calling their shots and trash talking each other. Rosie swatted Natasha fondly on the ass when she finally admitted her defeat. Everyone was relaxed and laughing by the time they tumbled into one of the booths. Another round of drinks was ordered. Ginny proposed a toast when it arrived. All six women raised their glasses to ‘leaving the men behind’.

“So,” Rosie leaned forward on her elbows, studying Peggy’s face seriously. “What was telling Steve about Wilkes and Sousa like?”

“He’s Steve. What do you think it was like?” Peggy snorted. He’d been jealous for a while. Right up until she had reminded him that he had died on her. After that he had been appropriately apologetic. “Really, my love life isn’t very interesting. I want to know what is going on with Dawn and Barnes. Ginny tells me someone’s been sneaking down the hall in the guest wing at night.”

Dawn blushed and looked down at her martini. “He comes. He spends the night. And then he leaves before I wake up.”

“Wait.” Ginny set down her glass with exaggerated care. This was exactly why she had distrusted Bucky from the start. He was too much of a Casanova for a gentle soul like Dawn. She was going to murder him. No. She was going to have Natasha do it. Her skills were better suited to the job. “You have sex, and then he just leaves? I knew I hated him.”

“No.” Dawn shook her head. “We don’t have sex.” They’d never had sex. Bucky had always been so respectful of her boundaries. “He barely even kisses me. He just… holds me… and then disappears like he was never there.”

“Men are idiots.” Ginny said with great conviction and a deep swig of her Manhattan.

“Why do we like them again?” Pepper asked, swirling her very dirty martini.

Rosie snorted and leaned back in her chair. “I’ve been asking that for years.”

“Come on Peps." Natasha elbowed the CEO in the ribs. "Your turn to spill. Tell us all your billionaire playboy philanthropist woes. Make the ladies feel like the poor schmucks they’re dating are reasonable humans.”

“I swear, he’s grooming his assistant’s for new jobs. How else do they find them so fast? He’s hated every one of them since me. Sometimes it’s like he regrets giving me the company when he wasn’t actually dying. Not that he was doing any of the actual running before. My job is miles easier now that all I have to do is make the decisions, instead of make the decisions and chase Tony down to get him to sign off on everything. But he’s bored. Bored like I haven’t seen him since he built his first Ironman suit.”

“What about his Iron Legion project? Is that not enough of a distraction?” Peggy asked. She would admit, she wasn’t entirely sure what the Iron Legion project was, even having read the entire dossier. It was filled with very highly technical jargon, most of which she still hadn’t worked out the details on, even with a dictionary and Jarvis to help her with definitions.

“Apparently it’s not working.” Pepper sighed and ate one of her olives. “Something about J.A.R.V.I.S’s AI not being plastic enough to manage that many variables? I don’t know. He talks, I don’t understand half of it.”

Peggy and Natasha tossed around a few ideas for things they might be able to get Tony interested in. The front runner seemed to be designing new gear for the team. Natasha sketched a pair of electric batons on a bar napkin, while Peggy waxed eloquent about Steve's need for some kind of heads up display like the one in Tony's suit, that didn't require a full face mask. Both ideas received approving nods from Pepper, who also added a few suggestions of her own for things Tony would enjoy building.

Dawn downed another drink. Not understanding your beau's job, she understood. Being jealous of past lovers, she understood. What she didn’t understand was Bucky acting like he loved her, showing her affection in a thousand tiny ways, then abandoning her over and over again. "Why does he leave? Where does he even go?"

"I don't know, sugar." Rosie rubbed Dawn's back affectionately. "Anyone would be lucky to sleep in your bed."

Dawn fumbled her phone out of her pocket. She wanted to talk to Bucky. She wanted to hear him call her Sunshine and tell her everything would be alright… then tell her that he'd be waiting in her bed when she got back, and this time he wouldn't be wearing the shirt he always was these days. "I'm going to call him."

"Okay. That's a terrible idea." Ginny plucked Dawn's phone out of her hands before she could dial. "These things are a menace."

"Give that back." Dawn tried to reach for her phone, but mostly just draped herself across her friend's shoulders. She wanted her phone. She wanted her Bucky. "I love him, Ginny. Ginny... that sounds like gin. WE SHOULD GET ANOTHER ROUND!" Dawn half fell out of the booth as she yelled the last sentence.

Rosie dragged her back into her seat. "I am suddenly reminded why we never let her get drunk."

Nat gaped at the other women. Peggy and Ginny had downed a row of shots each during their game of pool. She and Rosie had split a whole bottle of vodka one night without Rosie’s hands starting to shake at all. "She's had three."

“There is a reason why we only poured Dawn half a glass of whiskey when the rest of us got full ones,” Ginny told her. “It wasn’t because she didn’t want any. It’s because she is one of the cheapest drunks you’ve ever met.”

“I am not!” Dawn protested, sitting back with a pout.

“The first time we ever gave you whiskey, you tried to teach Minnie how to jive and flung her through the tent wall,” Rosie reminded her pointedly. Patching that tear had taken three days, even with all of them working on it. That was the week they had learned Dawn could out stitch them all, and that Ginny was useless at sewing anything other than a suture stitch.

Dawn cringed. They hadn’t let her live that down for months. There had been jokes about a side entrance to the tent and Dawn’s two left feet. But they’d also acted more like friends and less like strangers just stuck in the same place. “In my defense, letting the cheapest drunk try to teach the clumsiest nurse on the Front how to dance was bound to end in disaster.”

“Which is why,” Peggy set a bottle of water firmly in front of Dawn. “You are on water for the rest of the night.”

Dawn made a face, but dutifully sipped at the water. She didn’t want to do anything silly, like fall through a tent wall. She did want Bucky to find his way into her bed again tonight. Only this time she wanted him to kiss her... and to stay. More than anything, she wanted him to stay.

It was supposed to be a relaxing movie night. Bucky couldn't focus. It wasn't that the movie was bad, it actually looked pretty good, but Bucky's mind was miles away. The girls had gone out. Just the girls. Peggy and Nat could handle themselves. Pepper was smart enough to know when to cut and run. But if things went bad would that be enough to keep his Sunshine safe?

Steve passed Bucky a mug of sleepy time tea. "What's got a bee in your bonnet?"

"Shouldn't they be back by now?" Bucky couldn't stop his knee jiggling.

"It's only 11:00." Steve settled next to Bucky with his own mug of tea. It was going to be a long night. At least at the end of it, he knew that Peggy was going to tumble into his bed. Poor Bucky didn’t even have that. He and Dawn were still… complicated. "They've probably only just gotten started."

Bucky tried to focus on the movie. All the colours and noises blurred together. He couldn’t stop thinking about Dawn at the labor day party. The way every guy in the room had been drawn to her. Because how could they not be. She was beautiful, smart, and kind. When she smiled she lit up the room. Her laugh was sweet, impossibly sweet.

Bucky gritted his teeth and slumped further into the couch. He didn't care where they were. None of the guys there would be good enough for his Sunshine. Assuming there were guys. They might be eschewing all male contact. "What the hell is a girls' night anyway? What are they even doing."

"Dancing, dinks, that sort of thing." Bruce answered paging absently through the most recent edition of The Journal of Genetics. He’d seen Shawshank half a dozen times, but it made good background noise for catching up on his scholastic reading.

"Strippers.” Tony corrected, tossing a handful of popcorn into his mouth. “Even money says they bought out a VIP room somewhere and have beautiful oiled men grinding in their lap."

Bucky's mug shattered in his hand.

"Buck, relax. He's kidding." Steve passed Bucky his own mug and went to get a cloth to clean it up.

A very long night.

"Alright." Ginny half carried Dawn into her bedroom. It had been a fun night, but now it was time to sleep off their exuberance. Especially Dawn, who was definitely the worse for wear. "Into bed you. I'll see you in the morning with a bacon sandwich."

"You're the best friend, Ginny." Dawn fell forward on the bed, kicking off her shoes. "You and Rosie. God, Rosie's pretty isn't she? I love you. Almost as much as I love, Bucky."

"We love you too. Now get some sleep." Ginny backed out the door. Dawn really was a lightweight, and absolutely gone for Barnes. Whether that was a good idea or not.

Dawn flopped over onto her back. Moving was hard. Now that she was laying down, she thought she might be stuck there. "Ginny?"

Ginny paused with a hand on the doorknob. "Yeah, boo?"

The world was spinning. Her world had been spinning a lot lately. The ground under her feet shaking like the floor of an airplane. She hated airplanes. Tiny little metal tubes, hundreds of feet above the ground. "You really think Bucky still loves me?"

Ginny looked up to find Bucky standing in the door to his own room, looking down the hall at her worriedly. "I think he still cares about you a lot. You'd have to ask him if he loves you."

Dawn made a small distressed noise. She couldn’t ask him. She was giving him the space to figure out who he was after everything that had happened to him. He would tell her when he was ready. Or tell her he didn’t any more. Which was his choice. She just wished he would tell her which it was. The waiting was killing her.

“Get some rest, lovely. Things never look quite as daunting in the morning.” Ginny soothed, slowly closing the door.

"She gonna be alright?" Bucky whispered. He’d sit with her, if she needed it. If someone needed to keep an eye on her, he would. He’d stay up with her all night, hold her hair, rub her back, mop her forehead, anything she needed.

Ginny frowned at him. He was obviously worried, obviously cared, but he had also been abandoning Dawn in the middle of the night. If they were going to talk about it, it would be better if Dawn had her wits about her. "I gave her water and an aspirin. She should be fine in the morning."

Bucky stared at the closed door. Just a few inches of wood separated him from his Sunshine. His Sunshine, who still loved him, who made him feel like himself… Who would be better off without him. He sighed and let himself back into his room. If Ginny said she would be alright, she would be alright. His bed was fine most nights. He could deal with it tonight.

Dawn rolled onto her side, curling around her pillow. She didn't like her bed. Her bed wasn't comfortable. It was cold and her pillow was too squishy. And just now it felt miles and miles too big. Like she was adrift in a sea of blankets.

Chapter Text

October 6th,2014

The door to Dawn’s room swung open silently. Bucky appreciated that. He didn’t want to wake her up. Just make sure she was still breathing. He should tell her to lock her door. That would be safer. Except then he wouldn’t be able to check on her like this. Like a restless spirit haunting the living. Although, real ghosts visited in the middle of the night, not just after sunrise.

Not that the sun had invaded the sanctity of Dawn’s bedroom. Jarvis was still keeping the window opaque. The computer was better at maintaining a sleep conducive atmosphere than any curtains Bucky had ever encountered.

The interior of the room spoke of someone who’s had something of a restless night. Not a violently restless night like so many of Bucky’s, but restless. Dawn was nested safely in a mound of disarrayed covers. Her hair a tangled halo around her head. She’d shoved one pillow off the bed. Via the bedside table if the detritus littering the floor was any indication. Her current novel, one of the informational pamphlets Steve was insisting they all read, and her phone were spread across the rug. The other pillow was tucked firmly under her arm. Clutched enviably to her chest, like a teddy bear.

Carefully, Bucky picked up the phone and plugged it. Normally she took care of charging it before she went to sleep. He didn’t want her to feel like she had to scramble in the morning. He smoothed the pages of the novel and set it next to the phone on the bedside table, 'implicit bias and you' resting on top.

Dawn stirred and pulled her pillow tighter to her chest. The air had shifted. Not enough to pull her out of her dreams. But enough to soothe her fuzzy mind. Something warm and safe. Almost a caress. She nuzzled deeper into the soft blankets. Peace pushing her deeper into sleep.

He’d let her eat breakfast with the others, give her space to recover from last night then… He wasn’t sure what he’d do then. Find some excuse to be in the library with her probably. It would depend on what everyone was doing today. Steve had said something about plans for the day, but hadn’t actually said what they were. They were ‘waiting on confirmation’ apparently. They’d figure all that out once the rest of the tower was awake.

Right now, he’d go run a couple dozen miles on the treadmill to stop himself climbing into bed with her.

The smell of frying bacon met Steve as he stepped out of the elevator on the guest floor. Jack was responsible for the aroma. Whistling as he tended a pair of frying pans on the stove. Three women sat at the table. Rosie, looking unaffected. Ginny, bleary but upright. And Natasha significantly worse for wear than Steve had ever seen her, face down on the surface, looking like a stiff breeze would knock her out of her chair. She was far from the worst off in the room. Dawn hadn't made it to the table. She was sprawled on the couch, groaning softly.

Steve fluffed Nat's hair affectionately. Poor kid. Someone should have warned her. Still, fun to see her looking human and fallible. “Looking good this morning, Romanov.”

“Your generation is full of alcoholics.” Natasha grumbled into the table. Rosie had said there would be bacon if she came upstairs. So far, there was no bacon and no coffee.

“Pegs drank you under the table, hu?” Steve took the spatula from Jack and started a new batch of bacon and eggs. Peggy would be out of the shower soon, and in need of grease of her own. For that matter. He was starving himself.

Natasha rolled her head to the side to glare at him. “I’m starting to think the serum isn’t the reason alcohol doesn’t affect you. Which only makes Dawn more of an anomaly.”

Dawn groaned without moving. This was why her mother had always said a lady should only drink wine and an occasional medicinal glass of sherry. Gin was evil and she was never touching it again.

“She’s a sweet girl. Not a reprobate like these ladies.” Jack nudged his shoulder against Rosie’s and kissed his wife on the cheek, setting a full breakfast in front of each of them.

Ginny smiled up at him sleepily. She had the best husband. Of course she would have a soft spot of anyone who brought her greasy food right now. But very few of them would have been as understanding about waking up in the middle of the night to stroke her hair while she sipped a large glass of water and nibbled a handful of crackers. Even fewer of them would then have made her laugh so hard she nearly cried while she was trying to get to sleep.

He kissed her temple and left her to eat while he fetched the half dead Dawn from her couch. “Come on.” Jack shook Dawn’s calf gently. “I’ve got breakfast here for you too.”

Steve left a pan of bacon and eight eggs to fry and poured a cup of coffee for Natasha. “You gonna be able to pull yourself together by 11? Bruce is picking Doctor Cho up from the airport as we speak.”

Natasha inhaled the dark toasty steam. Straight out of the machine, it was too hot to drink, but the aroma was working winders. “I’ll be alright to chaperone. Did she bring everything we asked for?”

Steve nodded. “She was a little confused, but it looks like it.”

With Dawn largely upright, Jack set plates in front of her and Natasha. “Any chance you two can stop being mysterious?”

Natasha smirked. Admittedly, they hadn’t been entirely up front about the day’s plans. Getting the time traveler's hopes up had felt like a bad idea. “It’s vaccine day.”

The tower’s new residents were all ready and waiting in the lab. All except one. Bucky hadn't shown up to breakfast and wasn't in his room. After three ignored texts, Steve tracked him to the gym. “Didn’t you get my texts?”

“I did.” Bucky tightened the laces on his running shoes definitely. “I’m not coming.”

“Bucky." Steve did his best not to let his frustration show. Of all the times for Bucky to decide he didn’t want to tag along. This wasn't a trip to the mall or a party. "We gotta make sure you’re--”

“What? Healthy?” Bucky snorted. Physically, he was healthy. His resting heart rate was consistently 32, he could count it himself. It took serious work to get his reparation rate above 16. His body temperature seemed to hang out at the high end of normal, but so did Steve’s. “If there was one thing Hydra was good at it was keeping me operational.”

Steve had to admit that was true. It didn’t change why Bucky should see the doctor today. “You’ve been out for a while now. And as I recall it, getting out involved falling out of the sky.”

“Hey, you’re the one who crashed the boat thing. Nothing to do with me.” Bucky snorted and started wrapping his hands. Steve had spent a couple days in hospital. Bucky had spent a couple days hiding out in a subway tunnel. Bucky knew which he’d choose if they were back in the same situation. The sound of trains clicking over the track was soothing.

“Come on.” Steve followed Bucky towards the punching bag. Bucky was just being stubborn now. But Steve had been dealing with Bucky’s particular brand of stubbornness since before the invention of sliced bread. “Helen’s nice. She and Bruce have been friends for years, and Nat trusts her.”

Bucky shook his head. He didn’t care if Steve’s friends trusted her. He didn’t. “I don’t do doctors.”

Steve sighed. Bucky had every reason to be anxious. That didn’t mean they could just ignore his health. For all they knew, he had some crazy fungal lung infection and none of them had noticed because the serum let him compensate for the visible symptoms. Really, they all should have gotten fully checked out months ago, but there had just been so much to get everyone used to. “Buck…”

“Drop it, Steve.” Bucky growled.

His first punch jerked the bag sharply. His second, a left, made the chains rattle. The canvas felt good against his cloth covered knuckles. Hit after hit. Focus on the form. The strikes were simple. Familiar, if not exactly comforting. This was what he was good at. This was what he did.

“Hey.” Steve stopped the bag with one hand. Bucky wasn’t being stubborn. He was trying to protect himself. Steve was being stubborn, and not a great friend. “It’s alright, Buck. Nothing you don’t want to do. Remember?”

Bucky pressed a palm flat to the bag opposite Steve's hand. He got to choose. Every time. He got to choose. Ideally, and honestly surprising even to him, he wanted to choose spending a couple hours with Doctor Lin talking about why he didn’t like medical doctors. She had Sundays off. With all they put her through, she deserved Sundays off. He was pretty sure she only came in on Saturdays for him. It would have to wait until tomorrow. “Thanks, Stevie.”

The medical suite was basically an alcove off the back of the main lab. The space had originally been intended to act as an observation room for when Tony’s experiments needed space. At least until it became clear that the team needed a private space to deal with minor to moderate first aid. Tony had installed better fume hoods, some retractable blast shields, and outfitted the space with everything they could possibly need.

Doctor Cho moved confidently around the medical bay. She’d advised on setting it up. While she had only visited in person a few times, it felt almost as familiar as her lab in Seoul. “So none of you have any of your vaccinations?”

“We have some.” Ginny brisled. Her family had been very diligent about protecting their children. “Smallpox, diphtheria--”

Natasha cut her off with a raised hand. Explaining would take too long and put them all at risk. “Assume they have anything you would have gotten before ‘55.”

Helen raised an eyebrow. The smallpox vaccine. Who had gotten the smallpox vaccine in the last 30 years? And even if they were older than they looked, who led with the least relevant inoculations. “This is one of those weird superhero things isn’t it?”

Bruce leaned against the edge of the table. In retrospect, they might have wanted to do more prep for this. “Yeah.”

The doctor shook her head and made a series of notes on her tablet. “So, full physicals, vaccinations, anything else?”

“Yeah," Bruce looked at the time travelers nervously. There was one other thing. He didn't think it was relevant. They hadn't detected any in the immediate aftermath of their arrival… Still... "We also need to check them for radiation.”

Doctor Cho tipped her head from side to side. Weird superhero thing. If Bruce wanted to be that through, they might want to check some other things while they were at it. Better safe than sorry. “Call it a full blood work up?”

“Can you do that without bringing in an outside lab?” Natasha hovered at Rosie’s shoulder. She wanted to get started, but she also wanted to clarify exact parameters before their vintage visitors were exposed.

Doctor Cho snorted. One of the benefits of being head of a private research clinic was she could do pretty much everything in house. Tony had made it very clear that that fact was at least half of why he was flying her in for this. “Your friends are paranoid, Bruce.”

“They have a right to be.” Bruce rubbed the back of his neck. None of them had actually figured out how the government would react if they found out Bucky was here. And there definitely weren’t procedures in place to deal with the time travelers.

“Alright,” Doctor Cho patted the exam table. “Who’s hoping up on my table first.”

Your table?” Tony called from the main lab.

“Missed you too, Tony.” Helen called back.

Medical checks for the four of them had taken most of the day. Much of it was waiting. There were observation times between all the vaccines and Doctor Cho had been careful to stagger injections so that they weren’t all in the same stage at any given time. Then there were blood draws, vitals checks, basic screening tests.

Doctor Cho and Ginny had hit it off. Helen was already hinting that once Ginny finished her classes and was ready for residency, there could be a place for her at the clinic in Seoul.

All of them were starving by the time they emerged from the lab. To discover that Bucky had laid the dining table in the event room and covered the bar top with take out containers full of Italian food. The rich smell of garlic and tomato perfuming the air.

Bucky shifted awkwardly. The buffet was less a plan, more a good idea. He hadn’t actually considered what needed to happen at this point. "Thought you'd all be hungry."

“Starving.” Steve patted Bucky’s shoulder. “Thanks Buck.”

Tony grabbed a plate off the waiting stack and spun it between his hands. “You spoil us, Deckard.”

Natasha rolled her eyes. “Deckard wasn’t a--”

“We are not having this argument again.” Bruce cut in, joining the line. “You two get way too worked up.”

Bucky scooted out of the way, backing up to the table while everyone else filled their plates. No stupid questions about why he thought feeding them was a good idea. This was going better than he could have hoped. Resisting interrogation wasn’t his strong suit. Or it was, but it generally ended badly for the would be interrogator.

Dawn gently touched Bucky’s elbow, slipping into the seat next to where he was standing. Her plate was filled with balls of fried risotto, bright leafy salad with an acidic dressing, perfectly seared chicken breast, and pasta in a beautiful red sauce. The steam raising of the plate tickled her nose and made her stomach growl. “Thanks for getting dinner.”

Bucky shrugged and leaned against the edge of the table. Crossing his arms over his chest. He’d needed something to keep him busy, and there was only so long a guy could do pull ups for. Walking a few blocks to pick up dinner was a pretty good distraction. He hadn’t even had to call in the order or wait particularly long after he got to the restaurant. Jarvis had taken care of ordering, made sure to get everyone’s favorites. All Bucky had to do was get himself there and show the kid at the counter the receipt on his phone. It was New York, so he hadn’t even been forced to make small talk while he waited. He’d spent five minutes pretending to do something on his phone while he scanned the crowd in the restaurant and people passing by for threats.

Bucky knew he was being hypervigilant. It was why he’d forced himself to go out in the first place. He just…

He was naked, strapped to an exam table with shackles he could snap if he tried. But if he did, he would be punished. The room was cold. The unpadded table under him leached the heat from his skin. A strip of cloth lay across his hips. Not for his own benefit. To spare the people moving around him discomfort. A figure with a lab coat and clipboard leaned over him. Pinching and poking him. He wasn’t allowed to speak. To object in any way. Even as the figure wrenched his jaw open and stabbed at his gums. Another figure plunged a needle into his thigh. They hadn’t even aimed for a vein. Searing cold liquid spread through the muscle. Excruciating. But he wasn’t allowed to scream.

...He didn’t like doctors.

He was glad Tony was putting Doctor Cho up in the penthouse rather than giving her a room down on the guest floor. He didn’t know what he’d do otherwise. Crash in Steve’s apartment and spend all night worrying about Dawn sleeping around a stranger. She was leaving in the morning. It would all be fine.

Dawn prodded her pasta thoughtfully. There was a tightness around Bucky’s eyes she didn’t like. “I’m going to watch Chopped after dinner. I’ll see you downstairs?”

“Sure, sunshine.” Bucky resisted the temptation to tweak the loose curl by her ear, shoving a hand through his own hair instead. He liked Dawn’s cooking shows, liked watching her watch them more. It would help him unwind from today. Which he needed. “Come get me. I’m gonna do some laundry.”

Steve frowned. Bucky had gone somewhere dark for a second there. He didn’t like the thought that he was going to go hide himself away now. “Buck?”

“I’m okay, Stevie. Just…” Bucky flicked his eyes back at the table. He didn’t do strangers, and he definitely didn’t do strange doctors. Whether they were examining him like a bug under a microscope or just observing from afar.

Steve followed his gaze. It made sense. There had been a lot of stressors on Bucky today. He’d gone out for food. Doctor Lin would say he’d had a very successful day, even without subjecting himself to outside dinner guests. “Text. If you need anything.”

Bucky squeezed the back of Steve’s neck affectionately. He was okay. And he’d be better tomorrow. Toss up whether he would sleep tonight. But he’d be better tomorrow.

October 10th, 2014

Bucky set his spoon back in his oatmeal, moving slowly and with more precision than necessary. He had to have heard Steve wrong. There was no way Steve had said anything that stupid. "You're going to fight what?"

"Cultists. They're trying to summon a demon from another dimension. Something about the people of the earth being unworthy. We're going to stop them." Steve supplied, gesturing between himself and Natasha.

Bucky had heard him right. "The two of you? On your own?"

"Clint is busy, and I don't think we need Tony for this." Steve shrugged. It was actually pretty routine for them all things considered.

"You're not taking back up?" Peggy asked, setting down her fork as well.

"A few of the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents that we rolled into Stark security." Steve was suddenly nervous that he was forgetting something. It had been a long time since he'd been on the receiving end of a 'disappointed in you' look from both Peggy and Bucky.

Peggy looked at Bucky. Bucky looked right back. That made up her mind. These people clearly didn't understand that you couldn't just let Steve go haring off on his own without supervision. He was engenius. He was also a reckless idiot who tended to ignore the consequences once he got the bit between his teeth. The good news was, she no longer had to rely on other people to keep an eye on him. No one in this century was going to say a word about her being right there alongside him. "I'm sure they have something that will fit us in the armory."

Bucky downed the rest of his coffee in one go. It really was the only option. "Bullet proof vests have gotten a lot better. You'll like them."

Peggy chewed her lip, she knew they had, the one she had worn in Romania had been light, flexible, and actually felt like it would do more than turn a bullet into shrapnel. It was the rest of the gear that had her curious. She wasn’t exactly the same shirt size as most of the members of Stark security. She would need some specific outfiting that she wasn’t sure they would just find laying around. "Do you think Natasha has a spare thigh holster?"

"You’ll need an ankle sheath too. Never know when you need a knife." Bucky gestured for her to lead the way. No way either of them was going to let Steve do anything this stupid on his own. They would find something for her to wear.

"I can get you both." Natasha sighed, moving to join them. If they were coming, they would need to be properly outfitted. They would also have to think about getting them permanent custom gear if this was going to be a regular thing. Maybe they wouldn't need to keep coming up with make-work projects for Tony.

It took Bucky and Peggy less than a half hour to select equipment and gear themselves for the mission. In an hour they were standing in the room off the Quinn-jets landing pad, waiting on Steve and Natasha to finish their own arming. Peggy had her hair braided tightly back from her face, a thigh holster with a gun of a respectable caliber strapped to her leg, along with matching guns on each hip, and a leather jacket zipped over a light flexible bullet proof vest that she thought she might love more than Steve. Bucky had a rifle slung over his shoulder, knives strapped to both thighs over heavy fatigue pants coerced in pockets, a black compression shirt with the left sleeve roughly cut off so it didn’t interfere with the movement of his arm under a bulletproof vest of his own.

Dawn rushed to Bucky's side, arms full of supplies. She said a silent prayer of thanks that he was still here. She’d worried that her detour through the infirmary had taken too long, but she was sure none of them would consider contingencies where they were injured beyond what it would mean for tactics. Someone had to look out for them. Maybe next time Rosie would be ready to go with them. Dawn would trust her and Peggy to look after them all. Peggy to get them back, Rosie to make sure it was in one piece. She started stuffing bandages and clotting powder into the empty pouches on his belt. Suture kits, compression bandages, glucose packs to combat shock… she was sure she was forgetting something, but she had no idea what.

"I--" Dawn cut herself off. She had almost said I love you. Those words were taboo between them just now. Maybe once they were both in a better place. But for now, she would settle for doing things because she loved him, rather than saying it. She tested the snap on the pocket with the compression bandages. It was firmly closed. It wouldn't go flying open at an inopportune moment. "Be careful, okay?"

Bucky lifted her frantic hands away from his pockets, lacing his fingers through hers. It was nice to be worried about. "If I am, will you make those lemon muffins when I get back?"

"As many as you want." Dawn nuzzled into his chest, squeezing him tight. The part of her mind that wasn't blinded by fear noted that this jacket didn't smell like wood smoke.

"Back before you know it." Bucky kissed the top of her head. Doing this would be easier, knowing that she was safely tucked up in the Tower. She wasn't in danger here. Not even the vague kind of danger she'd been in at Moose Tracks. Tony and his Ironman suits were here. To say nothing of Bruce and his particular skill set. She would be more than safe while he did what needed doing.

Dawn chose not to even try to go to bed. She was too worried. About all of them, but especially Bucky. She changed into her favorite nightgown, wrapped herself in her oversized sweater housecoat, and curled into an armchair in the living room, a book in her lap. Somewhere that she could sit and read and still see the door. She was sure if she asked, Jarvis would let her know when the ‘away team’ returned to the Tower. She still wanted to wait up.

Focusing on her book was a losing battle. But having it in her lap at least gave her something to do with her hands. She spent more of her time looking at the clock than at the page. It never seemed to be moving as fast as she thought it should.







“Excuse me Miss. Danielson?” Jarvis’ voice made Dawn jump. His control panel glowed to life by the door. “I thought it might comfort you to know that Captain Rogers and the others made it safely onto the jet and have started their return flight. None of the team sustained any significant injuries.”

Dawn pressed a relieved hand to her heart. They were alright. He was alright. “Thank you for telling me, Jarvis. It helps.”

Even with them safe on the jet it would be hours before they were back at the Tower. Dawn considered going to bed. Then remembered all the times Steve and Bucky’s plane had almost been shot down over the Channel. She’d wanted this long. She could wait a little longer. Around three in the morning, Dawn closed her eyes, just to rest them. Knowing they were safe, had lifted a massive weight off her chest.

Dawn half woke up as strong arms wrapped around her, lifting her out of her chair. There was something familiar about the chest she curled into. “Bucky?”

“Shh. Go back to sleep, Sunshine.” Bucky gently cupped her head, shifting so it rested more securely against his neck. “Everyone else is tucked up safe. Time to get you to bed too.”

“My Bucky.” She mumbled and nuzzled into his hold. His arms were so warm, and she felt so safe, even with the rough kevlar of his vest rubbing against her cheek. She closed her eyes. Safe and with him. It was possible she was dreaming. If she was, she didn’t want the dream to end.

When she woke up again she was tucked in her own bed, with morning light streaming through the window. The only sign that Bucky’s midnight visitation was anything other than a dream was a single wildflower on her bedside table. A little worse for wear, the bloom had obviously spent some time in a pocket.

Chapter Text

October 13th, 2014

The communal kitchen on the guest floor had become the living heart of the Tower. It had been Tony’s lab before all of Steve’s friends had moved in. If you wanted to be around people, that was where you went. The lab had been good, Tony tried to make it welcoming, but it was still a sterile atmosphere and knowing all his friends would come visit him had only exacerbated Tony’s tendency to work for days at a time. Now if he wanted to see people, and as an extrovert he did, he had to leave the lab and come downstairs. Which meant someone, usually Dawn or Jack, occasionally Ginny, could make him something to eat and drink and get him to sit on the couch for a while. Where he frequently ended up falling asleep.

Likewise, coming back to the guest floor after their workouts had become routine for Steve and Bucky. There was almost always something to eat, and if there wasn’t Dawn would whip something up for them. There was definitely food around today. In fact Dawn, Ginny, Rosie, and Jack were all bustling around the kitchen cooking. Bruce and Peggy were sitting at the table, drinking tea and talking about what S.H.I.E.L.D. research facilities used to be like. Natasha was sitting at the bar watching Rosie make a salad. Tony was sprawled on the couch snoring away with half a sandwich on a plate by his head.

“What’s all this for?” Bucky asked, breathing in the scents of roasting vegetables and meats. It smelled fantastic, but also like a lot of work. Even for Sunday dinner.

“Thanksgiving.” Ginny answered, stabbing her knife into a sweet potato to check for doneness.

“Thanksgiving’s not for a month.” Bucky said, grabbing a handful of candied nuts from the bowl next to Rosie. "And 's a Thursday."

“Poor Bucky. 70 years and he still doesn’t know when major holidays are.” Ginny sighed with a pitying shake of her head.

“His brain has been through a lot.” Dawn smacked Bucky's hand as he tried for a fingerful of whipped cream off the pumpkin pie. She was pretty sure he hadn’t actually been trying as much as he’d been trying to tease her. “Maybe we should give him this one.”

“And what excuse do you have for Steve? He seems equally confused about what the proper date is.” Rosie asked julianing an apple.

Steve yanked his head out of the fridge where he'd been highgrading the crudite. He couldn't even argue with her. Not with his mouth stuffed full of cauliflower. Although, Bucky was right. Thanksgiving was next month.

“Why are you all so mean to us, Sunshine?” Bucky set his arms on either side of Dawn and finally managed to snag one of the rolls out of the basket next to her. They were still warm and beautifully crusty.

Dawn’s back bumped against his chest as she passed him the butter and a little dish of pickles. She was more than willing to feed him any time he was hungry. Dinner was still at least an hour away if the thermometer in the turkey was to be believed. A snack would help tie him over.

He kept his arms on either side of her and he turned his bun into a haphazard sandwich, starting with a generous smear of butter, then a stolen slice of the paper thin ham Dawn was wrapping around figs, finished with some of the sweet pickles on top. He watched fascinated as Dawn spread goat cheese on a quartered fig and wrapped more of the ham around it before setting it on a baking tray. A smear of cheese mixed with the sheen of fat on her thumb. The cheese and pork would be so perfect together, with the sweet tartness of the fig… He couldn’t quite shake the temptation to lick her thumb clean. “Any chance I can steal one of those?”

Dawn shivered. He was so close she could feel his voice as much as hear it. It was a heady experience. “They’ll be better once they’re baked.”

Bucky caught Dawn’s wrist as she filled her knife with more cheese. He guided her hand to the top half of his bun. Cheese was alway a welcome addition to a sandwich. “They look pretty good right now, Sunshine.”

Ginny swatted him with a tea towel. If Bucky kept doing that, Dawn might just faint. "Are you going to help? Or just graze around us?"

Bucky took an exaggerated bite of his sandwich. He could do both. "What do you need?"

"The table upstairs set for one thing,” Ginny pointed at a waiting stack of plates on the sideboard. “And a case of wine brought up for another. You boys do go through it."

“Come on Buck. You grab the table cloth and the plates. I’ll grab the wine.” Steve clapped Bucky on the shoulder and nodded at the elevator.

Bucky wiped a smudge off Dawn’s cheek before he followed. “The buns are great, Sunshine.”

Dawn tucked her hair behind her ear with a smile, replacing the smudge Bucky had cleaned with a new one.

Settling down to dinner was a flurry of activity, everyone carrying up a dish, Dawn directed setting out the food and getting everyone seated with the skill of any general. Dessert was laid out on the side board, six pies, three apple, three pumpkin, a dozen butter tarts, and two dozen maple sugar cookies, all of which would probably be gone by the end of the night. The table groaned under the weight of the rest of the food. Tony seated at the head with a gorgeously roasted turkey in front of him. The turkey might be the star, but everything else looked spectacular too. Brussel sprouts, a huge casserole dish full of sage and onion dressing, maple carrots, golden brown buns, prosciutto and goat cheese figs, roast sweet potatoes, crudite, the beautiful pickles Dawn had made earlier, Waldorf salad, thick meaty gravy, and cranberry sage biscuits still steaming softly.

“Now then,” Dawn smoothed her napkin over her lap, finally satisfied that they really were ready for this meal. “Who wants to say grace? Tony? Steve?”

Tony looked at Steve, a little panicked. Family meals had been a rarity during his childhood, let alone ones formal enough to warrant a prayer at the start. Sure, he was the one who insisted they all eat together now, but that was still a casual thing.

Steve suppressed a laugh. This was why he was the captain. Not because he knew what he was doing, because people thought he did. Saying grace wasn’t something he had done often since his Ma had passed, but he still remembered the basics. He caught up Peggy’s hand on his left, and Tony’s on his right, before bowing his head with great solemnity. He waited for the rustling of everyone else joining hands to end before he started on their little blessing. “Thank you, for my family back. For a home full of friends old and new. For the minimal number of people trying to destroy the world this year. And for this delicious meal.”

Bucky looked down at Dawn’s hand, so delicate in his. She squeezed his fingers, and he looked up to find her smiling at him radiently. 'I'm thankful for you.' He smiled softly. Right back at you Sunshine. He was grateful that she and Steve, and the others he supposed, had found him. He'd been alright on his own, but here he was…Good. Maybe even better than good.

He cleared his throat and dropped his eyes again. He shouldn’t stare. He honestly wasn’t entirely sure how he ended up sitting next to her. He should have traded places with Bruce. Poor guy looked a little overwhelmed, sitting between Natasha and Rosie with all their flirting. He could have spent the meal focused on his food instead of blinded by Dawn’s presence at his side. He managed to stop his hands from shaking as he grabbed the bowl of sticky sweet looking carrots.

The buzz and flow of conversation around him was almost enough to distract Bucky from how beautiful his Sunshine was. Her oversized sweater and leggings were cozy and elegant at the same time. She was easily the prettiest girl at the table, which was saying something. Someone should tell her. Someone should make sure she knew. Not him, he was a hot mess, and she deserved better, but someone. He couldn’t quite shake the jealousy he felt as he watched Steve drape his arm along the back of Peggy’s chair, Jack lean over and kissed his wife’s cheek when she was clever, or when Tony insisted they all toast Pepper’s brilliance.

Dawn blushed as Bucky passed her the salad serving bowl, his fingers softly brushing over the back of her hand. The way he looked at her filled her chest with bubbles, floating and popping like champagne. His eyes were so intense, icey blue and smoldering hot at the same time. It was like they looked straight into her soul.

Jack served up after dinner drinks. Whiskey sours, old fashioneds. Slightly tipsy from the wine they'd had over dinner, Pepper and Dawn both opted for ginger ale with a splash of cranberry juice. Tony joined them, proudly adding a neon umbrella to his glass.

"Should we play charades?" Steve dropped onto the couch, Peggy under his arm.

"Or monopoly." Ginny suggested, curling onto the floor next to her husband's knees.

Bucky settled at the other end where he could see the whole room. There were only a few seats left around the sunken seating area, he assumed Dawn would take the one across from them next to Natasha and Rosie. That would be a good spot for her. She could smile and laugh, safely surrounded by her friends. There was nothing quite like Dawn's smile.

"No monopoly." Dawn said definitively. She perched herself precariously on the arm of the couch next to Bucky. "Jack cheats and I still can't figure out how."

Bucky set a hand on Dawn's back to stop her falling off her narrow seat, his other hand shooting out to stabilize her drink. "Careful, Sunshine."

“Charades? Monopoly? Easy there grandpa. Might break a hip with all of that excitement.” Tony teased, holding his umbrella out of the way as he sipped his drink.

“What’s your suggestion, whippersnapper?” Steve laughed, shoving Tony’s knee with his foot.

“I’m thinking…” Tony rocked his head from side to side. Pretending to consider when he already knew exactly what they should do. “Baseball.”

Jack looked at Tony, bemused. “The room’s big, Tony. But not that big.”

“He means a video game.” Steve rolled his eyes. He should have known that was what Tony was going to suggest. He didn’t think Tony even liked the game that much. He just liked watching Steve play.

“Why haven’t we played before?” Peggy asked. Steve adored baseball. If there was a way for them to play without leaving the Tower, she was surprised they weren't doing so all the time.

“Steve’s really bad at it.” Natasha smirked.

"I just don't think the sensors are accurately tracking me." Steve grumbled. "No way I hit that many foul balls."

Peggy smiled and ran a hand through his hair. Her big tough captain was pouting. "We'll, darling, I think we may need to investigate this game for ourselves."

“Set ‘er up, J.” Tony grinned and rubbed his hands together. He loved when they got to do things Steve was bad at.

A compartment opened in the coffee table. A platform with four rectangular controllers rose to the surface level and a screen descended from the ceiling behind Tony. A handful of big headed characters jostled playfully in the middle of the projection. The one with a goatee and sunglasses hefted a baseball bat and punched the air. One of the redheads did a flip, the other blew a kiss. The blonde, who’s frame was more triangular than cylindrical, stared at the ground and kicked the dirt.

“Even you mii looks upset.” Natasha said with mock seleminity.

Steve pointed his controller at her accusingly. “That attitude is why you’re on Tony’s team.”

“Because she doesn’t like to lose?” Tony asked, flipping his own controller into the air and catching it neatly.

Steve rolled his eyes and took his position in front of the screen. “Just pitch the damn ball.”

Dawn licked her lips nervously as she readied for her turn at bat, shifting her grip on the plastic rectangle. She could do this. The first pitch Rosie ‘threw’ was a ball, although Dawn was pretty sure she could have hit it if she’d swung. She swung hard at the next one-- and missed by a mile...

Bucky whistled when she knocked it out of the park on the third pitch. He grinned in response to her embarrassed smile as she skittered back to his side. “Good job, Sunshine.”

“You’re up.” Dawn nodded towards the screen. Her chest filled with molten gold under the heat of his full smile. It had been years since she had been on the receiving end of it, and she was not prepared.

“Better do you proud.” Bucky chucked her under the chin and started for the play area, rolling out his shoulders deliberately.

Bucky’s hand returned protectively to Dawn’s back as they made their way to the elevator. She was reasonably steady on her feet, but there was still a little uncertainty to her steps. If she did stumble, really stumble, someone should be there for her.

He wasn’t sure if it was a stumble, or a trip, or if she was just trying not to take up space in the elevator, but she ended up pressed against him, both her hands on his chest, as they rode the few floors back down to their rooms. He gazed down at her quietly, fingers absently stroking the back of her shirt. She was mesmerising when she got that soft slightly sleepy look about her.

Chapter Text

October 15th, 2014

Bucky was avoiding her again. He’d come into her room the previous night and was gone by the time she woke in the morning. Again. Dawn hadn’t managed to catch a single glimpse of him all day, which could only tell her that he did not want to be found. The guest quarters and private Avengers areas were sizable, but not so immense residents could avoid bumping into each other unless they were really trying.

Dawn wasn’t sure if she was more saddened or annoyed by it. It hurt, more than she wanted to admit. In the middle of the night, he wanted her company, she could tell how much by the way he wrapped himself around her. Then the sun came up and he was gone. Not just from her bed and her room. He disappeared completely.

At least she had Tony’s mysterious surprise to keep her mind off of it as she stepped into the elevator. Only to discover that it was already occupied.

Bucky glanced up as the elevator door opened, freezing in place when he saw her. So much for his plan to avoid her. He was still kicking himself for disturbing her again last night, for his own inability to stay away.

Determined to act normal, Dawn stepped into the elevator. “Hi. Missed you at breakfast this morning. Are you feeling any better?”

“Ah… yeah. Thanks… for last night.” Bucky sounded less put together than he would like. The night with her really had helped. It would have been nice to string together a coherent sentence to prove it.

Dawn nodded and set her back against the wall at the other end of the car from Bucky, staring at the door and deliberately not at Bucky. He could be as grateful as he wanted. That didn’t change the fact he kept sleeping with her and then leaving. She was going to say no next time. She swore she was.

Bucky studied Dawn out of the corner of his eye. If he couldn’t avoid her, he might as well indulge and make sure she was alright. That was the part he hated about leaving her when they shared a night together. Never really knowing how she slept. She looked good, never a surprise, but she was holding herself stiffly.

The elevator car shuddered to a stop. The buttons all went dark. The overhead light flickered, before it went out too. Emergency lights around the floor glowed to sickly life. Dawn let out a little involuntary whimper and clutched the rail that ran around the inside.

Bucky leaned forward and tapped the button for the floor she had wanted. It stayed dark. He pressed the door open button with the same result.

“Hey, Jarvis?” Bucky called. Dawn was obviously anxious. Some answers would help. If this was one of Nat and Clint’s pranks he would skin them alive. He didn’t think it was though. Clint was out of the tower this week and he’d want to be on hand to see the results of his plan. “Elevator just stopped. Nothing’s responding.”

“My apologies, Sergeant Barnes,” The AI responded. A single blue light on the panel illuminating. “Protocol when the Tower’s digital defences are under attack is to lock down all entrances and transportation until the source of the threat has been identified.”

Well shit. Under attack by whom? Hydra? A new enemy? Stark and Jarvis would have everything under control, right? “Any timeline on that, J?”

“Approximately 10 minutes, sir. Potentially less.”

Bucky shot a look at Dawn. Not ideal, but not the end of the world. “Keep us posted.”

“How are you so calm?” Dawn wondered. She was sure he’d normally be clawing at the walls to get out. She was already on edge when she stepped into the elevator, and being suddenly trapped inside was not making her feel any better.

“I feel safe when you’re around.” Bucky said leaning against the wall by the door. He couldn't freak out right now. Dawn needed him. He took a moment to study her more thoroughly. Shoulders around her ears. Rubbing her arms like she was trying to warm herself. She wasn't entirely okay. If she really started panicking he could probably get the doors open and get her out, but he'd prefer to avoid destroying Stark's things if he didn't have to.

"You could have told me that this morning. At least you could have if you hadn't disappeared." Dawn snapped. Acting normal hadn’t lasted very long. In her defence, she didn’t like enclosed spaces.

Bucky frowned. He could only tell her things in the morning if he stayed all night, and that was a terrible idea. "It's better if I don't stay too long. I wake up screaming from my nightmares. It’s not pretty."

"That would be a change. Mine normally just leave me in tears." Dawn grumbled and resisted the urge to pace. She might throw up if the car swayed.

He blinked, surprised. "You have nightmares?" He hadn’t known. How had he not known she had nightmares that made her wake up crying? Were they new? What in her past gave her nightmares?

Dawn hugged herself, rubbing her arm. She was so cold all of a sudden. "Some nights."

"About what?" Bucky slipped his hands into his pockets to stop himself reaching for her.

"Don't be stupid, Bucky." Was he kidding? Or was this another gaping hole in his memory?

Bucky jerked in surprise again. Dawn was snapping more in this short ride than he had ever known her to. For that matter, he couldn't remember her ever snapping at him. "Are you mad at me, Sunshine?"

"Of course I'm mad at you.” Dawn told him sharply, the tight rein that restrained her tangled feelings suddenly snapped. “You left in the middle of the night again. You didn't even wake me up to say goodbye. Did you ever think about how it makes me feel? You show up in the middle of the night. You make me feel safe and loved, like you need me as much as I need you, then you just disappear. You weren't that kind of guy before, Bucky, and I don't like that you're turning into one now."

"I never-- I wouldn't--" Bucky sputtered. He hadn’t taken advantage. He’d been careful to never cross that line. He cared about her. And he would never touch a woman with our explicit consent.

"Never what? Kissed me? Touched me?” Dawn dropped her hands, balling them into fists at her sides. She was angrier than she was cold. “That doesn't make it better. You still used me, even if it wasn't for sex."

Bucky opened and closed his mouth a few times. He didn't know what to say. When she put it like that. The truth was obvious. He'd only been ignoring it because he didn't want to face not having even a part of her in his life. "Dawn…"

She crossed her arms over her chest and hugged herself again. Being trapped in this tight space with Bucky was making her feel a lot of complicated things. "Forget I said anything. Let's just wait for the elevator to restart. Then you can go back to pretending I don't exist."

For a moment there was silence. A heavy smothering silence. The guilt that Bucky felt in breaking his resolve to approach her condensed into a knotted ball in his throat. Had he really made her feel that way?

Hesitantly, he touched her elbow to get her to look at him again. "I'm sorry, Sunshine. I should have thought. I… I want to be with you. But... It's not a good idea. I’ll stop. I’ll find another way to deal with the nightmares. I won’t do that to you again.”

“That’s not what I want. I just don’t want you to disappear on me.” Dawn covered his hand so he wouldn’t take it away. The warmth of it sunk through her cardigan and took away at least some of her sudden chill. “I’m a big girl, Bucky, not some porcelain doll that’s too fragile to do more than look at. I can help if you let me. Just stop hiding and let me in.”

"You don't know what you're asking.” Bucky shook off her hold and retreated back to the far side of the car. No. She couldn't be his. It wasn't safe. “The choice you'd be making. I’m not always myself, doll. That file barely scratches the surface. I could kill you. It wouldn't even be hard."

"Oh, for the love of--" Dawn all but shouted at the ceiling. It was like being in love with an elastic band, just when you thought you were making progress it snapped away. "How am I supposed to know if you won't tell me anything? I did read your file. Even if it is incomplete, I'm not going in completely blind here. Sure you could kill me. So could a car crash. So could a brain aneurysm. So could a particularly determined duck. So could this damn elevator. Are you planning to? Because if you're not, I really don't see the issue."

Dawn leaned her face against the cool wall of the elevator. The hot flash of irritation leaving as soon as it had arrived. Nausea and sadness taking its place. She wasn’t going to cry. She had some pride. "I'm trying, Bucky. I'm really trying to give you the space you need. But it's hard when you don't give me anything to hang on to. You come find me in the middle of the night, you trust me enough to sleep in my bed, but not to tell me why you couldn't sleep alone."

Bucky rubbed his eyes. It wasn't that simple. He didn't have anything to give her. Nothing good anyway. "You don't understand, Dawn. You don't know what it's like to have someone die in your hands and know that it's your fault. Know that if you were a little stronger they wouldn't have had to die."

"I do actually. Or did you forget that I was a nurse on the front lines, and I was there for two years longer than you were,” She reminded him. “It wasn't all skinned knees and stuffy noses. I've seen men die, Bucky. And worse than die. I've had my hands inside them up to the elbow when they went. I know exactly how much blood someone can lose and keep screaming. Some of those men I was never going to be able to save, but some of them died because of things I did."

"You're not the only one with trauma in your past, Bucky. Mine might not be as bad as yours, but my life wasn't exactly charmed." Dawn sighed and turned her face away from him. This argument was exhausting, and she couldn't even walk away from it. "You get to make your own choices these days, Bucky. And I would never take that away from you. But you need to trust me to make my own choices too."

Bucky let the silence fall again. He had no idea what to say to that. How could he explain that she wasn't the one he didn't trust with the choice? They couldn't be together because he wasn't strong enough, not because she wasn't. If anything she was too strong for him. She was doing so well in this world, and he was just holding on.

He wasn't even strong enough to resist looking at her now.

She was shaking. Her eyelashes were damp. Bucky could hear her heartbeat from where he was standing. He hated to see her like this. He had always hated to see her upset. The old Bucky would have done something about it. Maybe the new Bucky still could. He opened his arms and reached for her. “Come here.”

Dawn shoved his hand away weakly. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not. You’re about to hyperventilate.” Bucky pulled her into his arms. She might be mad at him, but hopefully there was still some comfort he could offer.

You're allowed to want things, Dawn. She did want things. She wanted a lot of things. She wanted to go home. She wanted a place that really felt like home to go back to. She wanted Bucky to return her feelings and not push her away. She wanted her eyes to stop prickling. “I want out of this elevator.”

“Shhh. I know, Sunshine.” Bucky held her close, rubbing soothing circles on her back. “It’s going to be alright. I’ve got you.”

Dawn sniffed and rubbed her eyes. If she was going to voice what she wanted she might as well get more than one out. Just a little one. Okay, medium sized. “And I want you to stay when you come to my room. Or at least wake me up before you leave.”

“No more abandoning my Sunshine. I can do that.” Bucky agreed. She really was too sweet for words. He’d betrayed her trust over and over again. And she would still let him into her bed when he wanted it. Still wanted that herself. All she wanted was a goodbye. A goodbye he should have been giving her all along.

Bucky stayed holding her, rocking softly for another five minutes. Running his hand through her hair and making soothing shushing noises as she clung to his shirt and shivered uncontrollably. "I got you, Sunshine. I'm not going to let anything happen to you."

The elevator doors finally opened. Bucky opened his arms, letting Dawn escape into the hallway first. He followed at a slower pace. Careful to give her space now that they were free.

Dawn took three long slow breaths, exactly the way Doctor Lin had taught her to.

Bucky hovered anxiously next to her. Trying not to visibly fret over her. She didn’t want to be wrapped in cotton wool. He would let her stand on her own feet, but he would be there to catch her if she stumbled. “You good?”

“I’m fine.” Dawn straightened up and pushed her hair back from her face. A little embarrassed from her breakdown, but worlds better now that she was out of the box. She was taking the stairs back up. As much as she didn't mind the elevator when it was moving, she needed a little break before she fully trusted it again. “I’m supposed to be meeting Tony. He said he had a surprise.”

“Okay,” Bucky gave her back one more reassuring rub. “I gotta talk to Steve. You need anything, you have Jarvis let me know. Anything at all, Dawn. I’m serious.” He didn't move until she nodded her accent. She would be alright. He'd make sure she would be.

He stepped back into the elevator, hoping she didn’t notice when he pressed a different button from the one that had been lit up when she'd gotten in. He really did need to talk to Steve, it just wasn’t what he’d been on his way to do when he’d gotten in the elevator in the first place.

Bucky ignored the protests of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent-come-Stark employees as he pushed into the command room. Let Maria Hill deal with them. He had bigger fish to fry. He stormed over to where Steve was leaning over Natasha's shoulder, pointing at something on a computer terminal. “What the hell is going on?”

“Don’t worry about it, Buck. We’ve got it covered.” Steve set a hand reassuringly on Bucky's shoulder. There was no reason for his friend to be this agitated, but J.A.R.V.I.S. had said Bucky and Dawn were in the elevator when the attack alert came in. Bucky didn't like to feel trapped. It made sense that he would need a little reassurance.

Bucky shrugged off the hand. He was here, and he wasn't leaving until he got the answers he wanted. “Yeah, that line might have worked yesterday. Today whatever is going on, it left my Sunshine terrified in a stuck elevator for the better part of an hour.”

“It was twelve minutes.” Natasha corrected, reading through the detailed log that J.A.R.V.I.S. had compiled.

Bucky glared at her. It might as well have been twelve hours. Dawn should be able to feel safe here and she hadn't. Someone was responsible. Bucky wanted to know who, why, and what he could do to stop it happening again.

Steve turned Bucky away from Nat before one of them said something they couldn’t take back. It was interesting that Bucky's first instinct wasn't concern for himself, but For Dawn. Steve wasn’t about to leave him in the dark if he was starting to get his spark back. “Hydra tried to get into the Tower’s defence system.” Bucky tensed under his hand. “It’s not what you think. They don’t know you’re here. They’re looking for the tesseract.”

That wasn't nearly as comforting as Steve might think it was. “That damn cube Schmit used to make all his weapons?”

“Yeah." Steve knew what it sounded like. If anyone understood what the cube could do, it was him. "S.H.I.E.L.D. had it, now Hydra is trying to figure out where it is. They think Tony has it.”

Steve was doing a truly terrible job of saying anything comforting. Stark senior had only had extracted energy from the cube to play with, and he'd very nearly managed to flatten a research lab near Bletchley. Tony was smarter than his father, but Bucky wouldn't call him less reckless. “Does he?”

“It’s secure.” Steve raised his hands placatingly. The way the plates on Bucky's arm were flexing and shifting had him worried that his friend was going to do something rash.

"Not an answer." Bucky growled. He didn't want Dawn anywhere near the thing, or Steve for that matter, and he was willing to bet Peggy would feel the same when she found out. Between the two of them they could figure out how to get the people they cared about moved out of the Tower by tomorrow morning at the latest.

"It's not here. We gave it to Thor." Natasha supplied absently. There was an interesting signature in this code. They might be able to narrow down who Hydra was working with. She tagged it for J.A.R.V.I.S. to run against known signatures.

"He took it off-planet. No one is going to use it on earth again." The new Avengers organization might seem like a haphazard enterprise, but they actually ran a pretty tight ship. No one was just leaving cosmically powerful weapons lying around… well, Thor sometimes, but he was the only one who could pick up the hammer so it didn't really count.

"Good riddance." Bucky snorted, relaxing a little. It didn't solve the 'Hydra attacking the tower’ problem but it was something.

Steve shot a look at Natasha, who shook her head subtly.

Bucky waited for them to elaborate on that look. Instead Natasha returned attention to her computer log and Steve leaned against the edge of the desk. Bucky looked between them. It was definitely the kind of silence that said they were going to talk about it more as soon as he left. "What aren't you telling me?"

"There's another one. The sceptre Loki used to control Clint." Steve sighed. He didn't want to worry Bucky, but the location of Loki's sceptre was a problem. One they had been trying to solve with no luck for well over a year now, ever since it became clear that it wasn't on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s books anymore.

"We don't know that it's the same thing." Natasha objected, turning fully away from her screen for the first time this conversation. If Steve was just going to spill everything she at least wanted to make sure he was being accurate.

"We know that it is powerful and it was the only thing that could get past the cube's defences. That's close enough for me."

"Stark has that one?" Bucky was reasonably sure that it was a vain hope, but then so many of his hopes were these days. And who knew, maybe just once things would work out for him.

"We think Hydra has that one." Steve said reluctantly. They hadn't made nearly as much progress on finding the sceptre as he would like.

"It went missing right after the invasion." Natasha supplied. It sounded bad. It probably was bad. But there was always hope that Hydra wouldn't figure out how to use the thing. There weren't a lot of geniuses like Zemo left on their side after all. Not a lot, but not zero either. Damn, Loki was good at causing problems. Even after he had apparently died. "The team that was supposed to secure it in the first place turned out to be Hydra, so it tracks."

"Fucking hell, Stevie." Bucky slumped back against the control panel. Hydra had another relic like the cube. Steve and his friends obviously had no idea where they had it. And this one was known to control minds if you knew what you were doing.

Funny, that had been almost exactly Steve’s reaction when he’d found out about the missing sceptre. Although, he’d punched through the wall at the storage facility where it should have been too. "We're working on it."

Bucky rubbed his eyes. They were working on it. He might need to start working on it too. It wasn't actually the worst idea. The few times he'd gone into the field with Steve had gone pretty well, and he could use something to keep him busy other than working out and reading. He knew how Hydra worked. He might be able to make more progress than the others had. He'd ask Doctor Lin what she thought.

Tony was waiting outside a set of double doors around the corner from the private elevator. He rocking on the balls of his feet, looking around anxiously for her. He visibly relaxed when he spotted an unhurt and reasonably calm Dawn coming down the hall.

“Aurora Borealis! Sorry about that little snag.” Tony said with genuine concern. He opened his arms and held them out. “You’re alright?”

“I’m fine.” Dawn accepted his friendly reassuring hug. She was glad she was out of the elevator but now that she could think clearly there were other worries. “Jarvis said there was an attack. Is everything alright?”

“Everything’s fine, just the nasties who are always sniffing around sniffing a little more vigorously than normal.” Tony waved away her concern. It actually happened pretty regularly, just not normally during the day. They never got anything, but having something they could confirm, like a lockdown, made them think they were making progress, which meant he had more time to track them.

“Okay.” Dawn took a deep breath through her nose and put on a bright shiny smile. If Tony said everything was alright, she would believe him. “So, what did you want to show me?”

“I want to show you,” Tony swung open the double door he was standing in front of. “Cooking nirvana.”

Behind the door was a sparklingly new industrial kitchen. Everything was either shimmering stainless steel or glistening white marble. The lights were warm and bright. The room was a long rectangle with counters and cooking stations running down both sides and a wide island in the middle, half topped with marble, half with steel. The floor looked like smooth concrete polished to a mirror shine, but when Dawn stepped on it, it provided a surprising amount of grip. Cupboards and racks under and around the stations practically overflowed with equipment of all kinds, pots, pans, bowls, spoons in all shapes and sizes, rolling pins, a whole bin of cookie cutters, and electrical gadgets she couldn't even begin to name. One end wall held doors to both a walk in freezer and a walk in fridge. The other was filled with floor to ceiling windows, bisected by a marble counter with half a dozen comfortable looking wooden stools tucked under it. There was a desk with a computer workstation tucked into the corner by the windows. Dawn drifted around the space in a daze. It was beautiful.

Tony followed her into the kitchen. He bounced a little as he watched her take it all in. “I’ve got you booked in a two day course to learn all the new fangled rules of running one of these. Shouldn’t be too hard. Everything I know about nurses tells me you’re a stickler for cleanliness. But laws being what they are, it’s just easier if you’ve got the nice shiny piece of paper saying you know what you’re doing. And after that, this baby is all yours. You can bake cookies for sick kids to your heart's content. And maybe you can throw together something for my little Thanksgiving get together next month.”

“You did all this for me?” Dawn ran a hand along the shining stainless steel counter. It would be so much easier to roll out pastry on the island, no struggling to work around anything or running out of space when she came up against the sink.

“No, no. Of course not." Tony shoved his hands into pockets. "That would be the kind of too big overly generous gesture that makes people uncomfortable. Pepper’s been bugging me about putting one in since we built the place. It's supposed to make it easier for the caterers when we throw a party, but that’s only a handful of nights a year, the rest of the time it would just be sitting empty, unless you put it to good use.”

“Are you just saying that to make me feel better?” Dawn asked, swirling around to face him.

“Does that make you feel better?” Tony countered.

“A little.” Dawn was pretty sure Pepper had mentioned something like that back in September, so Tony wasn't lying just to sooth her. And it would be a shame if this beautiful space was empty all the time.

Tony grinned. He loved when people liked his gifts. “Can I request blueberry muffins as a thank you?”

Dawn smiled back and pulled one of the oversized bowls out from under the island. “I think I can make that happen.”

October 16th, 2014

When Natasha had first suggested that Dawn join her and Rosie on the indoor rock climbing wall, Dawn had only agreed because she had made such a fool of herself clambering around on the side of a building trying to get to Bucky. She had thought she would gain some confidence, learn a few skills, and that would be it.

Now she couldn't imagine skipping her weekly time with her friends. Rosie was already amazing, clambering around like a monkey. Natasha moved like the spider that was her code name. Forget her ability to bewitch and manipulate men. Natasha was the Black Widow because she could stick to anything. And Dawn liked to think she was getting better. Even if she did still use a safety rope, unlike Natasha, even Rosie went without most of the time these days. At very least Dawn was able to join in the banter the other women engaged in without losing her grip on the wall or needed a moment to collect herself at the height. She loved being on the wall now, focusing on moving one hand over the other until suddenly all the little movements brought her to the top of the wall. Loved the chalky hands and the sense of accomplishment.

The rock wall dominated the middle of the Avengers gym. Wrapping around the wall that divided the entrance from the rest of the space. Bucky took a moment in the shadow of the door to appreciate the sight of Dawn clambering confidently up and down the big wall before she had a chance to spot him. She moved slowly, but surely. Testing each hand and toe hold before putting her weight on it. It wasn't second nature, but it was smooth.

Bucky tapped Natasha on the shoulder and nodded curiously at the rope she was holding. Natasha relinquished it with a wink.

Bucky pulled back the slack, jerking her to a stop two feet in the air. He couldn’t help the grin that broke across his face at her little surprised squeak.

Dawn looked around to see why she couldn't move, grateful that she wasn't carrying her own weight when she spotted the reason. Her knees might have buckled, seeing him smiling at her like that. "Bucky!"

He kept the rope taught, leaving her dangling. "You're getting better at that, Sunshine."

Dawn grabbed the rope above her head as she swung, pushing herself away from the wall with one foot. "It felt like a good skill to work on."

Slowly, he let her down the rest of the way. "Do you have a second? Can we talk?"

"Oh, umm. Of course." Dawn hurriedly undid her harness and hung it on the rack. Her hands were still smeared with chalk from her climb, leaving white smudges on her leggings and shirt.

Nat and Rosie were still on the rock wall, but the rest of the gym was empty. Bucky guided Dawn through the maze of equipment to the far corner of the floor. This section of the floor was devoted to gymnastics. Uneven and parallel bars, rings, a balance beam, a vaulting block and a pommel horse. It was out of the way, but not too intimate.

Bucky boosted Dawn onto the end of the vaulting block, leaning against the uneven bar’s support post.

Dawn chewed her lip and waited for Bucky to say something. ‘Can we talk’ was such an ominous phrase. Especially after her demanding breakdown in the elevator yesterday.

"I thought a lot about what you said yesterday, and I wanted to make sure we were on the same page." He'd thought, and he'd had a long chat with Doctor Lin, about boundary and expectation setting, as well as about not having to constantly punish himself for what other people had made him do.

Dawn’s hands tensed and relaxed on the leather wrapped top of the vault. What did ‘on the same page’ mean? He hadn’t come to her room last night. Not that she had expected him.

"I'm not about to start sleeping with you every night." Bucky looked at her seriously, maintaining deep eye contact. This wasn't a spur of the moment decision. He was sticking to it, even if it made her sad.

"That's alright." Dawn didn't need him in her bed every night. She just needed him to not vanish the nights he did spend with her. Even losing the few hours of bliss that was sleeping in his arms would almost be worth it. If it also meant she didn’t wake up so devastatingly alone.

His expression softened. That was his Sunshine, always understanding. She looked a little disappointed, but was obviously trying to hide it from him. "But when I do, I promise I won't disappear on you."

"Okay." Dawn's spirit's soared. She wasn't losing her nights in his arms. He was still going to come to her, and he was going to stay.

"I can't give you anything more than sleep. This arrangement of ours, it's going to be platonic." Straightening up and stepping in between her knees slightly undermined his point. But he never could resist that little rogue curl. He took his time tucking it behind her ear.

"Is that what we are? Platonic?" Dawn leaned into the hand on her face. A tantalizing river of electricity ran from his fingers down the length of her spine. It certainly didn't feel platonic.

Bucky scooped an arm around her waist and pulled her flush against him. 'I’ll be your pal Bucky.' That's what he had said to her all those years ago. The same thing she had echoed back to him when she found him again. If that was what he wanted, she would give it to him. It wasn't. "Not quite." He kissed her softly. He didn't want to just be her pal. He definitely didn't want her to find someone else to be more than pals with. Even if he wasn't sure he could handle much more than nights cuddling and occasional light kisses. It was selfish. It was true. "I just don't want you to get your hopes up."

Dawn cupped his face between her hands, leaving chalky white smudges in his beard. “I don’t care about any of that. Not if I get you.”

Bucky rested his forehead against hers. “You’ve got me, Sunshine. As long as you want me. You’ve got me.”

She slid her arms around his neck, happiness blooming inside her. She was going to wake up next to Bucky. She was going to fall asleep safe and warm in his arms, and then wake up there. It was a dream come true. “And I want to eat breakfast together the morning after.”

“You want me to cook?” Bucky laughed, running his fingers through her hair. It was so domestic. So normal. He didn't hate the idea.

“Can you?” Dawn looked up at him in surprise. If he could it had to be a skill he had picked up over the last year. Young bachelors didn’t cook back in their day, and it wasn’t something Hydra would need from an assassin.

“I can get by.” Bucky shrugged. Living on his own, he’d had to learn. And the activity was soothing, in a meditative sort of way. Even before, he had some definitive memories of making soup.

Dawn pressed herself back to his chest. Bucky had only gotten more modest since his return. 'I can get by' probably meant he was brilliant. “Then we can share the cooking.”

Bucky kissed the side of her head and held her close. He was still more than a little scared by what he had just agreed to. But it was a good kind of scared.

Chapter Text

October 20th, 2014

Dawn had taken extra care with her appearance today. She wanted to look like she belonged in this century, and her mother drilled putting her best foot forward into her since she'd been in pigtails. The loose messy bun she had thrown her hair into was much easier to put together with her wavy hair than any of the elaborately curled styles all the magazines used to swear she needed to wear, but looked better with her face shape, at least in her opinion. Her outfit consisted of a chunky rust orange sweater over a grey plaid skirt that she had thought was scandalously short when Natasha had picked it out. Once she had paired it with dark opaque tights and loose knee-high boots in tan leather, she had changed her mind. Sure there were a few inches of leg visible above her knee, but the outfit was cute, and it wasn't like anyone could see anything anyway.

She popped a tube of 'nude' lipstick into the slouchy tan purse that matched her boots, alongside a brand-new notebook and half a dozen pens, grabbed a camel overcoat and hurried to the elevator. She was running a little later than she intended, but Jarvis assured her that her ride was ready when she was.

Dawn was surprised to find a familiar figure leaning against the SUV in the garage. He was wearing dark jeans, heavy boots, and a leather jacket that looked buttery soft. His hair fell into his eyes a little as he scanned the otherwise deserted garage, twirling a set of keys in his left hand. He was completely unmistakable. The sight of him made Dawn feel warmer than the coat did. “Bucky?”

“Morning, Sunshine.” Bucky shoved away from the vehicle with a grin. He hadn't slept with her last night even though the thought of her warm soft bed and softer arms had been truly tempting when he had woken up around four. He'd managed to resist so that she could have a full, uninterrupted night's sleep. And it had been worth it. She looked amazing, well rested, bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Dawn curled her hand around his forearm. The jacket was every bit as soft as it looked. She was a little tempted to rub her cheek against his shoulder and purr at how touchable it was. She wondered if Bucky would laugh or be confused. “What are you doing here?”

“Driving you to class. What’s it look like?” Bucky swung the passenger door open. Did she really think he was going to let her out of the Tower without someone to look after her? It wasn't the 40s out there anymore. Dawn's sweet open nature made her vulnerable to all sorts of nasty things, and that was before you counted in all the added risks of living with the Avengers and the people who might try to use her for leverage against them.

He squeezed her hand as he passed her into the raised seat. "Don't forget your seatbelt. They save lives."

"I know." Dawn smiled and clicked the buckle across her chest. It was sweet of him to worry, even though she was worlds safer here than she had been during any of their time together during the war. No one was dropping bombs on her, and she hadn't heard even a single gunshot. "That was day two of our acclimatization lessons. Right after 'computers are a thing'."

There was no parking in front of the building where the class was being held. Bucky ground his teeth a little as he circled the block a second time. It looked like they were going to have to walk. Walking wasn’t ideal. Bucky had made sure to leave time for delays, but he hadn’t taken any steps to avoid being followed when they left the Tower. If anyone had been watching and had followed them, the walk would leave them completely exposed. Especially since it looked like he was going to end up having to park at least three blocks down. Intersections were such vulnerable places.

“There’s a lot back on the left.” Dawn said, rubbing his knee soothingly. “Under that bank building.”

Bucky squeezed her hand. There was. It was closer than any of the spots on the street, even if it was an unsecured enclosed structure. He hadn’t spotted anyone following them, and it wasn’t like they were spending all day in the garage. He’d park, get her out of the car and back on the street quickly. It should be fine.

The day passed quickly, more so than Dawn thought it would. It was a novel experience to be in a room full of other bakers and chefs, who saw her as one of them. She’d come out of the class with a recipe for lemon creme brulee that she was dying to try out.

Seeing Bucky waiting in the lobby for her she smiled, breaking into a light jog to meet him by the front door. “Have you been standing there all day?”

“Nah. I took a walk,” Up and down the street in front of the building. “I got a coffee,” From the cart on the corner. “I read the paper,” While leaning against the wall by the door and watching who went in and out. “How was class?”

“It was good. Tony was right, it’s a lot like keeping a surgical theatre clean. Following the rules shouldn’t be too hard.” Dawn resisted the urge to slip her hand into his arm the way she used to when they walked side by side, even if it meant their shoulders did occasionally brush. It was still nice. She liked spending quiet moments with Bucky, even if they didn’t get very many. She deliberately bumped her shoulder against his to get his attention. “Thanks, for coming with me today.”

Bucky wrapped his arm around her just long enough to squeeze her against his side. He’d do anything for her. A day spent in and around a building's comfortable lobby was easy. “Anytime, Sunshine.”

Dawn smiled up at him. It was nice to just... be out with Bucky. She rarely had a reason to leave the Tower these days. The fall was crisp and cool, and there was a light breeze off the water that surrounded the island. Out here it was easy to pretend things were almost normal. A glittering sign across the street drew her attention. “Ooo, Phở. We should get some.”

“What?” Bucky had been distracted by a cluster of people standing by the entrance to the parking structure. They were suspicious, but Bucky didn’t actually have a problem with a junior stock broker scoring a gram of something to impress his date tonight as long as it didn’t interfere with getting his girl safely back to the car. They wanted to rot their brain, that was on them. He'd heard Dawn ask him to do something, but he’d missed what exactly it was.

“We should get Phở. I’ve never tried it, and I want to. Nat says it’s really good.” Dawn blushed and looked down at her feet. She was forgetting he wasn’t her old Bucky anymore. “Unless you need to get back to the Tower.”

“No, I don’t have any plans. Let’s eat some…” Bucky looked at the sign that had caught her attention, surprised to discover that he could read Tai script under the large font of the restaurant’s name. It was always disorienting when he found something that he could do, that he couldn’t remember learning how to do. “Soup?”

"It's soup.” Dawn slipped her hand into his and tugged him towards the corner so they could cross the street. “With noodles."

The inside of the restaurant was a narrow space squeezed between two other larger stores. Most of the back half was occupied by an obviously bustling kitchen, with a narrow hallway leading to a bathroom and a door to the back alley. About half the tables were occupied, mostly by what looked like young professionals grabbing a meal before heading back to work. A bright looking waitress was wiping down the takeout counter near the door. A smile from Dawn got them seated towards the back, near the corner of the kitchen with a straight shot out the back.

Bucky had debated not wearing the flesh coloured glove Tony had made for him today. It was cool enough outside that no one would have questioned his keeping his hand in his pocket. He’d decided that wearing the glove gave him more operational flexibility if things went wrong, without going completely FUBAR. Now he was very glad that he had. Keeping his metal hand out of sight while they ate was one more layer of distraction he didn’t want or need right now. He settled into the chair opposite Dawn, angling it slightly towards the rest of the room so he could watch the movements of the other restaurant patrons.

Conversation was a little stilted while they settled on what to eat. Before the spring rolls even arrived it was clear to Dawn that she was going to have to carry the conversation. She was getting better at reading the slight changes in his expression, but there was no denying that small talk wasn’t his strong suit anymore. Her normal go to topic of the weather fell rather flat. Bucky’s replies were monosyllabic, and his eyes continued to roam the restaurant. It wasn’t until the soup arrived that Dawn launched into a description of her life after the war. That made him look at her, slowly his shoulders relaxed, he started to ask questions, or laugh at little anecdotes about their mutual friends. The meal got warmer and more familiar as it went on.

By the time Dawn started telling him about her decision to leave home, things felt almost normal. “Mama just couldn’t come to terms with my having a career over marrying any one of the ‘acceptable’ candidates she had selected for me and producing perfect little grandbabies. So I left.”

“Moved out of your parents’ house? Just like that?” Bucky was startled. It was a big move, particularly from what he recalled from those days. He let his hand drift to the table, resting it alongside hers in the small space not occupied by their bowls.

Dawn nodded. It was, she thought, one of the bravest decisions she’d ever made. “Jack and Ginny showed up the next morning, loaded all my things into the back of a car, and whisked me away. Next thing I know I’m lodging down the hall from Rosie at Ginny’s grandmother’s house.”

Bucky shook his head and took a sip of his coke, not moving the hand that was now brushing against hers. “I don’t know why your ma was so upset. Secretary to the bank president sounds like a good job.”

“It was perfectly respectable employment for a young woman recently returned from the front.” Dawn said with more dignity than she had managed when she told her mother the same thing. Absently, she turned her hand over, running her index finger along the side of Bucky’s hand. “It just wasn’t finding an acceptable man and settling down.”

Bucky drew a circle around Dawn’s upturned palm. A respectable man to settle down with. He definitely didn't qualify as that any more. If he ever had. “Pretty good stepping stone to that though.”

“A deliberately terrible one actually.” Dawn had taken the job at the bank so that she wouldn’t have to deal with courting from her coworkers. She slipped her fingers through his. She hadn't been anywhere near ready to consider marrying anyone. She still wasn't. “The junior clerks weren’t allowed to marry and all the executives already were.”

He stroked his thumb over the back of her hand. There was no way Bucky would admit to how pleased he was that she hadn’t been looking for a replacement for him. “But the job was good?”

“It was boring, which was kind of like good,” she shrugged. “It was what I needed anyway. And Ginny made sure I didn’t turn into a mushroom. She and Jack took Rosie and me out all the time. Dinner, dancing, the movies. Mostly places where we wouldn’t run into too many guys looking for marriage prospects. I wasn’t ready and of course Rosie is…”

“A confirmed spinster?” Bucky offered.

Dawn giggled at the old fashioned euphemism. “That’s one way of putting it.”

Bucky smiled at her, taking his hand back, so he could drink the last of his broth. Eating with Dawn like this was so… normal. He liked hearing about her life. She really would have been okay without him. A different version of her had been okay, even if Steve still refused to tell him who she had married in that life. And she’d be alright now. Just look at how well she was taking to the new more diverse food options.

Dawn pushed her spoon around her empty bowl, she wasn’t ready for the meal to end. "Want to split dessert?"

Bucky scanned the dessert menu. It was mostly something called 'bubble tea', tapioca pearls with either cold tea or blended fruit over them. The pictures certainly looked interesting. Nothing like the food he remembered from before. "You ever had half these fruits, Sunshine?"

"No. Have you?" Dawn looked up at him expectedly. Bucky had lived more life than her, most of it awful, but he’d also had the better part of a year of freedom in this century before she got here. Who knew what he’d experienced that she hadn’t.

"Couldn't tell you." Bucky shrugged. He hadn’t that he could remember, but he’d spent a lot of time in southeast asia, most of which was hazy at best. Only the bad parts stayed sharp. Bucky shook his head and looked up just in time for the waitress to approach their table. He fixed a friendly expression on his face to greet her. "We're thinking about getting a bubble tea to share. Which one's your favorite?"

The waitress smiled at them. "I would recommend either the classic milk tea with brown sugar or the mango for newbies, although my personal favorite is the taro."

"What do you think, Sunshine?” Bucky raised an eyebrow at her enticingly. “Get two so we don't have to choose?"

Dawn slid her hand across the table to cover Bucky’s. He’d gone somewhere dark for a second there. "Something easy, and something more challenging."

Bucky tucked the dessert menu back behind the napkin holder. That settled it. "We'll have the milk tea and the taro."

As the waitress walked away, Bucky dropped his attention to the fingers gently stroking the back of his hand. His left hand this time. He almost couldn't feel her featherlight touch through his glove. He turned his hand over to return her caress, drawing a soft figure eight on her wrist. He was getting used to her casual touches. The way she never seemed to flinch away from the arm. He did wonder if she preferred him like this, the glove making him look and feel more human again.

Dawn slipped her hand up Bucky's sleeve and stroked the inside of his arm just above the glove. It was smooth and metallic. Not cold, but not as warm as his skin either. She looked up at him through her lashes. His lips were slightly parted in surprise, his eyes fixed intently on her face.

She blushed and went to pull her hand away. Bucky's fingers closed around her wrist before she made it more than a few inches. Her blush deepened as he lowered their linked hands to the table.

The waitress beamed at them as she dropped off their drinks a few minutes later. “You two are so cute together. Is this your first date?”

“Not exactly.” Bucky squeezed Dawn’s hand. It kind of felt like it though. The woman across from him was still his Sunshine, but she was different too. They’d both been through so much in the time that they were apart. Maybe they needed this time to get to know each other again.

The world outside Natasha’s window had long ago faded to a deep twilight, sparkling with the lights of the city. Rosie's eyes were heavy. She was having trouble keeping her eyes focused on the political theory paper she was trying to read. The rain-like sound of Natasha’s nails tapping against her keyboard caused Rosie’s head to nodd. She turned off her tablet screen and stretched as she rolled to her feet. The siren song of her pillows was calling, and she wanted to answer. She wrapped her cozy sweater around her shoulders and padded towards the door.

Natasha looked up as Rosie slipped into her shoes waiting by the door. "Where are you going?"

"Bed?" Rosie double checked the time. No it was just after eleven, a perfectly reasonable time to turn in. Not everyone was an insomniac like her favorite redhead.

"Sleep here." Natasha nodded towards the screen that hid her bed. So far Rosie’s sleeping there had been reserved for nights when they were both worn out after fooling around, but there was no reason she couldn’t stay tonight. The bed was just sitting there. And having someone waiting for her to curl up and cuddle with them might discourage Nat from spending all night working.

Rosie frowned. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to. Natasha’s bed was better than her one on the guest floor for a number of reasons. But turning in for the night as a civilized adult called for more than just collapsing into the blankets. "I don't have my pajamas. I don't have clothes for tomorrow. I don't even have a toothbrush."

All of that was true. Natasha couldn't deny it, or fault Rosie for wanting those comforts when there was no reason she should be denied them. It bothered her that something so trivial was the reason for their peaceful evening being disturbed. "Maybe you should keep some of that stuff up here."

Rosie stepped out of her shoes and wandered back across the room to Natasha at her desk. It was a casual statement, with significant implications if Rosie was reading Natasha right. "Are you offering me a drawer?"

“If you want one.” Natasha shrugged and ostensibly turned her attention back to her typing. When Rosie put it like that it sounded so intimate. She wasn’t proposing, it was just a drawer. "It feels silly for you to be running up and down."

"I'll bring a toothbrush next time." Rosie kissed her cheek. She was so much sweeter than other people thought. Except Clint. He understood. “Climbing tomorrow morning. Get some rest.”

Natasha reached over her shoulder and rubbed Rosie’s cheek softly. Another hour, maybe two, and she’d be done with this summary report. She had a couple emails she wanted to send to contacts, but they could probably wait until morning. Late morning. She didn’t want to miss any of the rock climbing she had scheduled with Rosie tomorrow morning. Not when the other woman was getting so much better at it every day. She was already free climbing like a champion, and her crack work was coming along beautifully. “I will.”

Chapter Text

October 21th, 2014

The second day of Dawn’s course was much the same. She traded her butter tart recipe for one for tiramisu. She made what she hoped would be a real friendship with a sous-chef named Lela who had the most gorgeous sunflower tattoo completely covering her right forearm. Over lunch Lela had shown her how to set up an Instagram and encouraged her to post photos of all her baked creations. Dawn had already posted a few of her favourite photos from her phone, Lela and a couple of her friends had liked them and followed her. She left the class room with a crisp certificate of completion, and could start working on Halloween cookies tomorrow.

And Bucky was waiting for her again. With more bubble tea.

Dawn spotted him as soon as she and Lela made it to the lobby. The corner of his mouth quirked and he waved the creamy purple cup at her. Taro again. He had remembered how much she had loved it yesterday. Creamy and sweet, like an earthier vanilla.

Lela pulled up short, looking between Dawn and the waiting man. “God, is that your boyfriend! I’d eat him with a side of ice-cream and hot fudge, if you know what I mean. You are a very lucky girl.”

“He’s--" Dawn broke off in the middle of her sentence. Bucky wasn't her boyfriend. But what else could she call him. Neither of them wanted to see anyone else, and they shared a bed almost as often as they didn't. "Yeah, I’m lucky to have him.”

Lela raised her eyebrows and gave Dawn a once over. “You and me, we’re getting drinks and you’re telling me all about that hesitation.”

“I wouldn’t even know where to start.” Dawn laughed. They had all agreed not to talk about the time travel thing. And how could she explain what Bucky was to her without explaining what they had gone through together?

“Still.” Lela kissed her on both cheeks. “I’ll text you. We’ll go knife shopping.”

Dawn waved a last goodbye as she hurried the rest of the way to Bucky. The fact Bucky had brought her a drink meant she probably couldn't talk him into dinner a second time. She could at least look forward to a nice quiet drive home with him.

Bucky teased her by moving the bubble tea just out of her reach the first time she tried for it. The second time he let her have it, moving his hand to the small of her back and guiding her towards the exit. She looked happy and relaxed, just the way he liked to see her. Now he just had to get her back to the tower in one piece.

Dawn looked up at him as she took a long first sip of her drink. He looked almost… smug. “You heard all of that, didn’t you?”

“Heard what?” Bucky grinned and held the door open for her. “Come on lucky girl, let’s get you home.”

Dawn leaned back into the passenger seat. Watching Bucky check over his shoulder and move from one lane to another. His movements were so sure and confident. He'd always been good with cars, it looked like that hadn't changed. “Would you teach me how to drive?”

Bucky shot a quick look at her. Her soft earnest face watching him without so much as a touch of fear. She was such a bright presence. “To drive?”

Dawn dropped her eyes to her hands folded in her lap. It was a basic skill these days. She would like to think that her ignorance was only because it hadn't been as common for women to drive in the 40s, except Peggy drove like a race car driver, she was sure Ginny knew how even if she let Jack take the wheel when they went out, and she'd seen Rosie refill the radiator on an ambulance more than once. “My mother didn’t think it was ladylike. If you don’t have time, I can ask Nat and Clint.”

“No. I can teach you.” Bucky braced his hand against the passenger seat headrest and turned right onto the side street that would take him to the rear entrance of the Avengers’ Tower.

Driving lessons for Dawn would take some planning on Bucky's part. Uptown Manhattan hadn't been a friendly place for new drivers in the 40s. Now he might as well just throw her into a pool of sharks and just be done with it. They'd have to go somewhere quieter at least until she got the hang of the clutch. Which meant a lesson would take the better part of the day. Bucky was sure he could figure something out. It just might involve a packed lunch on Long Island.

October 25th, 2014

A long run with Steve in the park had left Bucky feeling amazing. No one questioned his long sleeves of gloves in the cold, and once they were in the park properly no one noticed how much faster they were than the average jogger. Plus, time with Steve doing something physical and not emotional always helped set him up for a good day. The only thing better was waking up next to Dawn. Bucky was trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to limit how often he did that. Waking up with Dawn, centred him. It also left him feeling a lot of complicated physical and emotional things. Especially when he tried to get up while she was still asleep and she clung, his body liked that too much. Cuddles and occasional light kisses were one thing, but he didn’t trust himself to do anything more with her. She was too precious to risk hurting.

He made a point of waking her up enough that she would remember him saying goodbye, but he certainly couldn't fault her not wanting to get up when Steve insisted they did so they could go for their run without an audience. She usually had breakfast either ready or started when they got back. Most of the time. Her breakfast rule had gotten fairly lax on days Steve insisted they run the entire sea wall. He also couldn't blame her for not waiting. Not when everyone else was eating.

Speaking of precious, Dawn and the rest of his friends were gathered in the common living room. All engrossed in different forms of reading. Natasha and Rosie were curled together on the loveseat Natasha working on her tablet, Rosie reading through a novel from the 60s. Jack and Ginny were leaning against each other on the floor, Jack with a book on the invention of computers, Ginny deep in a text book. Dawn was looking particularly adorable, sitting at the end of the couch with her feet curled under her and a look of fascinated concentration on her face.

Bucky’s chest felt warm at the sight. He dipped his head and kissed the back of Dawn's neck. Partly by instinct, partly because he was curious what she was reading. Not one of her usual tomes, some sort of brochure, with shiny pink, purple and blue stripes at the top. "What's that?"

"Steve gave it to me. Part of our twenty-first century acclimatization package." Dawn answered, almost too distracted by what she was reading to notice the kiss. "Did you know there is a whole community of people out there who are attracted to men and women? They call themselves bisexual."

"Yeah, 's nice to have a word for it now." Bucky said, coming around to drop onto the couch next to her. If she was reading, maybe he could coax her into leaning on him while she did.

"Oh.” Dawn looked up at him with big eyes. “I did realize I knew anyone who was…"

Ginny looked up from her own reading, confused. "You realize that--"

Jack set a hand on her shoulder. "Let's just see how this plays out, before we go telling people things that everyone else knows."

Bucky stared at Dawn. Either his memories were more messed up than he thought, or he wasn't the crazy one here. "Sunshine... I was gone for you from the moment Rosie bent down and you almost walked into a pole watching her."

Rosie's head popped up from behind her book. "Since she what the what now?"

"Since she was completely blinded by how good you look bending over, doll." Bucky winked at her. He was pretty sure the old Bucky would have made a pass at Rosie himself if it hadn’t been painfully obvious that she played for the other team. At least for anyone who knew what they were looking for.

“I get that.” Natasha snorted, without taking her eyes off her screen.

“Bucky!” Cheeks flaming with embarrassment, Dawn swatted his arm. “I was not! I was-- “

“Checking her out,” He finished. He slipped his arm around Dawn and squeezed her briefly against his side. He knew she’d been unwaveringly loyal to him. He also remembered that the only person who could have shaken that loyalty was the beautiful blonde with the fierce intelligent green eyes. “You say you weren’t, but I don’t believe you any more now than I did then.”

"No, because that would mean…" Dawn trailed off, dozens of specific memories flashing before her eyes. Her mouth formed into a little ‘o’ as she turned towards Ginny. "I think I was in love with Rosie. I might still be."

Ginny gaped at her, confusion growing on her face. "You didn't-- oh dear God you didn't." She whipped around to Rosie. "I swear I would have handled the last two years differently if I'd known she didn't know."

"I can't-- she didn't-- I thought-- I gave you Sappho's poems for Christmas last year!" Rosie looked desperately at Natasha. "You know right?"

Natasha looked at her softly before drawing her into her arms. "I know that I am attracted to the woman I have been sharing a bed with, yes."

"Oh thank god." Rosie clung to her. "I'm attracted to you too by the way. Like… very attracted. So you know."

Natasha just laughed and turned Rosie's face up so she could kiss her.

Bucky: It was fucking ROSIE!

Bucky: You knew it was Rosie and you didn't tell me?!?!

Steve: Knew Rosie was what?

Bucky: Don't play innocent Rogers. I might occasionally forget my own name, but I will always know when you are bullshiting me.

Steve: Still not funny when you make jokes about forgetting who you are.

Bucky: Stop dodging the question.

Steve: I'm not dodging anything. I AM in a meeting with the director of the CIA and probably shouldn't be texting.

Bucky: Did you or did you not know that Dawn married Rosie after I died?

Steve: 60 YEARS after you died, but yeah. I knew.

Bucky: And you didn't think that was something I might want to KNOW?

Steve: Say, you know who might be able to help with this and ISN'T in the middle of something classified? Your therapist.

Bucky: Jack is my new best friend. I want you to know that.

Steve: Yeah. Good luck with that. Ginny is going to be a lot less understanding about your lack of boundaries in the middle of the night.

Bucky: You're an ass.

Steve: Love you too. Go bother Doctor Lin.

"So," Tony settled at the head of the table with a flourish. "What did everyone get up to today? Come on, family meal, that means you have to share."

"Just a lot of revelations about sexual identities." Ginny laughed, filling her water glass.

“Steve confessed to all the ‘sugar’ he was getting before he and Peggy got together?” Tony waggled his eyebrows at the couple teasingly. A little disappointed when their only reaction was to trade knowing smiles with each other.

“Peggy’s the first girl Stevie ever really kissed.” Bucky said, adding more vegetables to Dawn's plate. It was hazy, but Bucky remembered Steve laying on his cot repeating 'She kissed me. She's amazing, Buck, and she kissed me' until Bucky hit him in the face with a pillow.

That made Tony perk up. “Wait. Does that mean Steve has only actively kissed one person?”

Steve rolled his eyes. He would never understand how his love life had become such an object of fascination. “I have kissed other people.”

Natasha made a noise of objection, halfway through a sip of her water. She waved to hold the place in the conversation while she swallowed. “I don’t count. That was a distraction to save our lives, not a real kiss. And I was your first kiss since you came out of the ice.”

Steve sighed. It was like people these days though he had taken some kind of vow to protect his chastity along with truth, justice, and the American way. “I keep telling you, that wasn’t my first kiss since 1945.”

Natasha dangled her glass between her fingers and waved it at him. “But you wouldn’t tell me who you kissed and I’m just not convinced you’re telling the truth.”

Tony shook his head in mock dismay. “I really don’t see why you would lie about this Capsicle. We could auction off your second kiss for charity or something. Always assuming the good Agent agrees?”

Bucky narrowed his eyes at Steve. He was a little out of practice, but he was pretty sure Steve was telling the truth. He had kissed someone after Peggy, and he was a little proud of the fact.

“She sees a few issues with it.” Peggy said, smirking mysteriously into her wine.

“Do you think that would make any money?” Natasha asked, studying Steve thoughtfully. “I mean being his second kiss doesn’t have the prestige of being his first, and you can’t expect him to be good after only kissing one person.”

Tony leaned back in his chair considering. “Yeah, but he’s cute, and I bet people would want to prove that they’re as good a kisser as Peggles here.”

“It could be a fun addition to the Memorial Day carnival." Natasha tapped a finger against the rim of her glass. There was actually a lot of potential there if you really thought about it. Steve had the sweet ingénue thing going on. That was more than marketable. "Captain America kissing booth. $50 a smooch. We could split the money between the VA and the Children’s hospital."

Steve almost choked on his mouthful of chicken. He was absolutely not going to do that. He had no intention of kissing anyone other than Peggy now that he had her back, let alone a whole string of other people. If this was what being discreet got him, it wasn't worth it. “THOR! I kissed Thor. Okay? Can we leave it alone now?”

"You kissed Thor? About yay tall, solid wall of muscle and blonde hair all wrapped up in a cape for added drama?" Ginny asked, miming playing with a very tall man's hair. “Forget kissing him. Climb that man like a tree.”

“Wife!” Jack objected, looking at her with wounded pride. “You are married!”

“Steve’s not.” Ginny answered readily. She slipped her hand into Jack's and squeezed affectionately. There were a lot of pretty people around these days, but none of them were her person.

"It wasn't a big deal." Steve shrugged defensively, his arm slipping around Peggy's shoulders. "It was the night after the Chitari, we were both a little worked up up. We made out. It didn't click. We're better as friends."

“I’m hurt.” Tony said in mock dismay. “You had all of the Avengers to chose from for your first gay experience, and you didn’t pick me.”

Steve shook his head and focused on the contents of his plate. He was reasonably sure he didn’t look like a priest. But then people in the twenty first century always seemed surprised to discover that sex and sexuality had existed ‘back in his day’. He would have thought the fact Natasha and Rosie had shacked up as quickly as they had would dispel the idea, but evidently not. “It wasn’t my first gay experience.”

Peggy reached over and slipped her fingers through Steve’s. Poor dear. No matter the time, his friends never would just let him be. At least he wasn't on the receiving end of Dum Dum's song about missing things with his shield anymore. The number of people he had kissed was a lot less embarrassing than missing a Commandant by two feet and having to jog after his shield while it rolled to a stop. “He kissed Liam White when he was fifteen.”

Bucky perked up. He knew that name. “You kissed Liam? I kissed Liam.” And more importantly, he remembered kissing Liam, which meant it had to have been a pretty good kiss.

“I know,” Steve shrugged. “You're the one who set us up.”

Bucky nodded sagely. That made sense. He draped his left arm along the back of Dawn’s chair. Always better to keep these things among friends. Less chance of getting arrested that way. At least there used to be.

Tony opened and closed his mouth like a stranded fish. "Everything I know about history is a lie."

Chapter Text

October 31st, 2014

Dawn wasn’t sure why she had agreed to do this. She tugged nervously at the neckline of her bodice, making sure that it was straight. She felt ridiculous and entirely exposed. The cap-ette costume might not have been considered particularly revealing here in 2014, but between the halter-style neckline of the bodice, and the skirt that did not reach her fingertips… It was a lot for a woman from the 40’s to take in, at least one who had been brought up to be 'proper' and not a performer.

She had the brief thought, as she pinned the little cap in place in her hair, that her mother would be horrified. That in itself brought a rebellious little spark, and she couldn’t help but smile as she did up the buckles of her sparkly silver shoes. It was silly, really. She was long past the time when her mother’s opinion on what she wore mattered. It was an advantage to having moved out officially shortly after returning from the front. But it struck her, once in a while, what her family might think of this strange and wonderful future.

She straightened, brushing her hands over the skirt to smooth out any remaining creases, then moved to her vanity table to start on her makeup.

That was another thing that had certainly improved over time. Not only the quality, but the sheer variety of colours available. She didn’t wear it often here -- what was the point if she wasn’t going to go anywhere? -- but had spent enough time playing with what had been purchased for her to figure out what she liked. The red lipstick she wore today was bolder than what she usually wore, but she couldn’t deny that seeing it gave her a bit of a thrill.

Not that the kids at the hospital would care at all. But if she was going to do this, she might as well go all-in, right? It was just a costume, after all.

At last satisfied, Dawn gave her reflection a playful salute and left the room.

The first thing she saw was Ginny, in a dress identical to hers, standing next to Jack dressed exactly like Jaques always had. She couldn’t resist bounding over and pushing his flat cap over his eyes. "Look at you! You look ready to jump out of a plane and sabotage a Hydra factory."

Jack made a face. "I'll keep my feet on the ground thanks. There is a reason I stayed with the Canadians, and it's not because Steve didn't ask."

Bucky scrapped his hair away from his face, trying to get it to lay nicely as he tied it back. He felt pretty good about today. There was something comforting about being back in the jacket he had worn as a commando. Or a version of it anyway. He wasn’t overly worried about security, not with all the Avengers in one place and all the security associated with a hospital. All he had to do was stay cool, be Steve's best friend, and make some kids who needed a win smile. He could handle it. He practiced smiling as he made his way into the living room.

Bucky's mouth went dry. His eyes travelled up the length of Dawn's legs following the seam of her stockings, over the short flirty skirt, to the expanse of her bare back. He should stop staring, staring was rude. He should join the group, Natasha and Rosie were talking about.. Something… he could probably form coherent sentences with them. Why is breathing so complicated?

Dawn's neck prickled. She turned around to find Bucky standing stock still in the entrance to the hall. He was wearing a jacket painfully like his old blue one, his hair pulled back from his face, and his eyes fixed on her.

“Bucky!” She bounded over to him, completely unable to resist curling her hands around the edges of the quilted chest panel the way she used to. "You look amazing."

"So do you." He ran his fingers along the edge of the low back. There was just so much skin. Soft, luminous, naked skin. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Dawn’s back before. If he had he didn’t remember it. He traced the line of her spine. He was pretty sure he would remember. "You're not cold?"

Dawn blushed and looked down at her pretty sparkly shoes. She was anything but cold with him touching her like that. "I'm alright right now. I'll let you know if I start to get cold."

Bucky nodded. He was still stroking the space between her shoulder blades. It was just so temptingly soft and warm under his fingertips. She wasn’t pulling away either. Her hands had slid down the front seems of his jacket to somewhere around his waist instead of at chest level, but she was still holding on tight.

Steve burst through the door from the stairwell, Peggy thrown over one shoulder. "--making his heroic escape with the lovely Betty Carver!"

Peggy struggled in his arms. "I swear I will smother you in your sleep."

"But wait!" Steve exclaimed, tossing her into the air and catching her again. "More Nazis! Will they recapture the fair nurse? Can Captain America save her this time?"

Peggy’s glare was somewhat undermined by her blushing and leaning back into Steve’s side as he set her on her feet. “I hate that show.”

“What show?” Natasha asked curiously. She hadn't actually paid that much attention to Steve's history as a vaudeville star. It was far from the most interesting thing about him, really more of a curious footnote than anything. His service and life before the serum were both more interesting, and more relevant to his personality most of the time. It was only now that she was realizing that she didn't actually know what happened in any of the stage shows or even most of the film's.

“The Captain America radio drama." Rosie struggled to stop herself breaking down laughing. She didn't know what Peggy's problem with the show was. The whole thing was hilarious. "They got Peggy and Dawn conflated and somehow ended up with a love interest that was significantly less capable than either."

"She was a nurse in constant need of rescue." Peggy determinedly straightened her hat. "I never once needed rescuing."

Rosie’s eyebrows disappeared into her hair. "What about that one time in Alsace?"

"I had that under control." Peggy fluffed her curls and studied the ceiling innocently.

She did not.” Ginny mouthed at Natasha.

"Alsace aside," Jack cut in diplomatically. "Betty Carver was a far cry from our sweet Dawn, who knew how to stay out of trouble, or our amazing Pegs who once shot a Nazi in her pyjamas."

"How he got in her pyjamas, we may never know." Steve finished with a perfectly straight face.

Dawn giggled uncontrollably. She loved the Marx Brothers. If Jarvis had their films in his system, they should definitely watch some of them. It had been ages since she had seen Duck Soup.

Bucky managed to use the distraction to pull his hand away from Dawn. It felt like dragging his palm away from a giant magnet. All he wanted to do was keep his hand on the soft expanse of her back all day.

"Looking good, Barnes." Sam called, striding down the hall from his room.

"I remember how to carry it off." Bucky shrugged. ‘Remember’ might be a strong word. He knew what it felt like. Even if most of the exact memories escaped him. He shook off the complicated feelings that came with not remembering his past clearly. "You don't look half bad yourself."

"Thanks." Sam grinned and adjusted the belt full of pouches. He hadn’t played dress up since he was a little kid. It was a lot of fun. Although next year he was going to vote for being allowed to go as Falcon. "I'm already dying in this hat."

"Well you're a dead ringer." Dawn assured him, fixing his collar. Happy had always worn his down.

"Little short, but not bad." Bucky agreed, unsure exactly what to think as Dawn backed into his chest and then just stayed there. A distant confused part of his mind told him he should put his hands on her waist. He wasn't sure if that was because it is what the old Bucky would have done, or because he wanted it to be clear that she was his. Which she wasn't. Not really. He kept his hands at his sides.

"Little short he says. Look who's got jokes these days. Just for that, I call dibs on Dawn as my story time buddy." Sam teased, pulling Dawn over to his side of the conversation and wrapping her in a friendly hug.

"Story time?" Bucky looked around for Steve. He didn't know what they were talking about, but Steve would.

Dawn smiled, fixing the stubborn curl that had escaped styling again. "We're going to read to the kids. Tony sent out an email."

That explained it. Bucky mostly ignored the emails that showed up on his phone. If it wasn't from Steve or Maria Hill, it usually wasn't important.

"Buck's with me for that." Steve said, joining the conversation with Peggy under his arm. "I'm reading that one about our enduring friendship."

"I was going to read this really cute one about a witch giving a whole bunch of animals and monsters a ride on her broom." Dawn had read all of the suggestions Tony had sent her, before picking one about being friends with everyone.

Sam grinned and rocked Dawn from side to side. It looked like Barnes was starting to pull his head out of his ass, but hadn’t quite made it all the way there. "Great. I can turn the pages."

Bucky swallowed a jealous growl. It was just a hug. There was nothing wrong with a hug. "You really should have a sweater for the car at least."

"You're probably right." Dawn sighed, and slipped out from under Sam's arm. "I'm not sure where my good zip-up disappeared to, though. Pretty much all my other ones either pull over or shed fluff."

"I'll grab one of mine." Bucky ignored the part of his mind that purred with happiness at the idea of Dawn wearing his sweater. He took a moment to actually fix her loose curl, securing it with one of the many Bobby pins in her hair, before heading to his room in search of something to keep his Sunshine warm.

He came back to the entire gang assembled.

Happy frowned at his reflection in the microwave, poking at a strip of ginger hair glued to his upper lip. "It just doesn't feel very dignified for the head of security."

"You have to wear it, Happy. The moustache is an integral part of the costume." Natasha said, fixing her lipstick in a hand compact.

Bucky offered Dawn the caramel coloured sweater he’d found and checked his watch. “Shouldn’t we get moving?”

The kids in the hospital were a delight. Inspiring, but also snarky as all get out if you caught them right. Bucky had a long chat with a little girl who was going to lose her arm to bone cancer. He even shared the secret of his metal arm with her, and reassured her that her friends wouldn't care. His didn't, they had proved that to him time and time again over the last few months. When he left her room, he caught Dawn watching him. She smiled, winked and went back to showing the group of kids she was with how to make paper bag jack-o'-lanterns.

Around one in the afternoon they grabbed a quick lunch on the roof terrace. Bucky draped his jacket around Dawn’s shoulders. There was a breeze up here, she'd left his sweater carefully folded in the car, and he didn’t want her to catch a chill.

Bucky slipped into the back room to watch Dawn and Sam's story time. Sam lived up to his promise and turned the pages, Dawn read out the adorable little tale complete with voices, the gathered kids giggled and jostled each other playfully. Something warm and soft purred deep in Bucky’s chest. He understood why this was Tony’s favourite event of the fall season. This… this felt like doing good, in a way that shooting at people never did. And his Sunshine was especially brilliant at it.

Bucky lifted Dawn fully off her feet as they tumbled through the door to her bedroom. The first kiss in the elevator had been innocent. Just a sweet peck on her lips to congratulate her for how well her cookies had gone over. The kiss she had given him in the hall had been less so. She’d dragged his mouth down to hers and kissed him hard, even going so far as to bite his lower lip. Her fingers had tangled in his hair and she’d pressed her full length against him.

He’d been gone after that. A starving man presented with a perfect feast. What could he do other than devour her? And be devoured in return. Dawn’s mouth had opened almost before he’d licked curiously at her lips.

He kicked the door shut behind them. Swirling Dawn around trapping her between him and the wood. She gasped, hands sliding down to clutch at his jacket.

“Say my name, Sunshine.” Bucky growled. He kissed along her jaw and down her neck. The deep V of her flirty little costume had been drawing his eye all day, almost as much as the flippy hem of her skirt. A dark part of his mind told him that the top was only held up by one little hook in the back. A flick of one finger and she’d be bare for him. He curled his hands around fistfuls of her skirt instead.

“Bucky.” Dawn breathed, melting into his touch. It had been so long, and she had missed him so much. She had dreams just like this, it was hard not to when she fell asleep with her mind swimming in the masculine spice of his cologne and the heat of him.

He clamped his lips back to hers. Working their mouths together until he could feel her knees growing weak. Then he switched to kissing her jaw and neck while she caught her breath. As soon as she did she chased his lips again. The longer they kissed, the more Bucky let his hands roam. Sliding them up her back and over the smooth curves of her waist. Eventually he let his fingers find the hem of her skirt, pushing it up to expose her perfect legs. The entire drive back from the hospital, he’d been tormented by thoughts of what she would look like in all sorts of compromising positions. He blamed Jack. He'd dropped his hat in the parking lot and Dawn had bent over to pick it up.

Dawn sighed as Bucky’s hands slid up the outside of her legs and closed around her hips. The skirt that had seemed short when she put it on, now it felt like it was exactly the right length.

Bucky jerked his hands away from her like she’d burnt him. What was he doing? Visions of broken door handles and shattered mugs flashed through his mind. His hand crushing a hundred things less valuable than his Sunshine. He took a stumbling step back from her. His breath shaky and rough.

“Bucky.” Dawn whimpered and reached for him again, needily. She wanted more. To keep kissing him. For him to put his hands on her again. To put her hands on him in return.

“I can’t, Sunshine.” Bucky’s voice cracked. “I’m sorry. I’m just… I’m not ready.” He didn’t know if he’d ever be ready. He hoped he would be. Someday, maybe, he’d feel confident that he could touch her without hurting her. Tonight it wasn’t going to happen.

Dawn rested her head against his chest. She ran just her fingertips up and down his arms reassuringly. He had always been so good about giving her time when she had been the one that needed it. She could give him time in return. As much as he needed. That didn’t mean she was ready to completely give up on their suddenly romantic evening. There were other ways to be romantic. Other ways to keep his arms around her. “What if we changed into pyjamas, made some cocoa, curled up in bed, and watched a movie?”

“That I can do.” Bucky pressed his lips to her forehead. “I’ll get the popcorn, you slip into that cosy grey nightgown of yours.”

The heather grey nightgown wasn’t the one Dawn would have chosen. Waffle textured cotton that fell to her knees, with long sleeves, and three buttons that kept it closed almost all the way to her throat. It was, to put it mildly, a touch dowdy. But if that was what Bucky wanted her in tonight, it wasn’t an outrageous request. She fished it out of her drawer and padded into the bathroom to change.

She caught sight of herself in the mirror. The little hat was barely clinging on to her hair, hair that could only have been mussed like that by the fingers of a large masculine hand digging into it. Her lipstick was smeared from Bucky’s kisses, the lips underneath felt bruised. The bodice of her costume was rumpled. She was a dishevelled mess. A sexy dishevelled mess.

With a little smile for herself, she unpinned the hat and set it on the counter. She could get used to looking like this. She sat on the edge of the tub to undo the tiny buckles on the sparkly shoes, then shimmied out of her dress, and scrubbed her face clean. She could also get used to falling asleep with Bucky and a cup of cocoa. Which meant she couldn’t linger too long musing over where Bucky’s hands had rested on her hips.

Bucky was already in bed, changed into loose cotton pyjama pants and a Stark Industries tee-shirt, with a tray full of snacks resting by his knee when she came out of the bathroom. Dawn clambered in next to him. Curling her legs under her and nestling her head against his neck. His arm wrapped around her and pulled her closer. Any potential rejection she might have felt when he’d broken off their kissing earlier, was buried by a wave of warm affection. “What are we watching?”

Chapter Text

November 3rd, 2014

The penthouse lab was such a surreal environment. At least in Bucky's opinion. The glass floor above the robotic production line was disorienting. Still, he'd put aside that anxiety and dragged himself up here. If he was being honest with himself, he should have come to see Tony a week ago. As hard as he'd tried to ignore how uncomfortable his arm had been getting, it was impossible to deny that it had gone too long without being serviced. It needed cleaning, lubricating, and basic maintenance regularly and he just didn't possess the skills required. Change the oil in a car? Sure. Rebuild an engine? He wasn't fast, but he could do it. But a functional mechanical arm? I was a little beyond him.

It wasn't beyond Stark. He'd leapt at the chance. He'd bundled Bucky out of his shirt, onto the work bench, and gotten started investigating the arm right away. Unlike his father would have been, he was also very conscious of how what he was doing felt to Bucky. He checked in every few minutes, and every time he changed which plates he had pried apart.

Tony threw himself into cleaning, straightening, and looking for any damage to the mechanism of the arm. A quick scan from J.A.R.V.I.S., compressed air, swabs with an enzymatic cleaner, liberal amounts of oil, a few taps from a tiny hammer, a couple screw tightened. He still didn’t see anything beyond cosmetic damage. It was possible that half a dozen minor issues combined with accumulated grime was causing the sensations. “Give ‘er a try now. I think we got it sorted.”

Bucky rolled his shoulder and clenched his fist. “I don’t know. It still feels like it’s pulling.”

Tony poked at the articulated scan J.A.R.V.I.S. was projecting. Rotating and expanding some of the more complex areas. “I don’t know what to tell you, Robocop. There's nothing in the servos, your cables aren’t fraying, and all the gear teeth look good.”

Tony tapped the screwdriver handle against his lips. If it wasn’t the gears, cables, or servos, what else could be causing the pull? “Is the alloy magnetic? Could something be holding a charge?”

Bucky shrugged. He couldn’t remember anything ever sticking to it. But him not remembering didn’t actually mean anything. “Can’t say I’ve gone around sticking my metal hand to magnets. Fridge magnets don’t go flying across the room towards me if that’s what you mean.”

Tony held up a finger and rolled across the room to rummage in his miscellaneous tool drawer. He had a neodymium magnet in here somewhere. That would answer the question faster than anything else he could think of. If the metal was magnetic, and one of the gears or cables had somehow been magnetized or even partly magnetized, it would explain why Bucky felt like something was catching, even though everything looked intact. Actually, one of the cables made a lot of sense. If only a section was attracted to the rest it would misalign and 'pull' exactly like Bucky was describing.

Bucky stretched his arm over his head, flexing and clenching his fingers. He rolled out his neck, sighing as the vertebrae popped. He was glad he'd come to Tony. His arm was still bugging him, but at least moving didn't feel gritty anymore.

“Tony, Jack says you missed lunch. So I brought you a--” Dawn pushed backwards through the door, balancing a tray with a sandwich and a small bowl full of apple crisp. She turned around. Her eyes immediately found Bucky. Shirtless Bucky. She’d always found it hard to talk around shirtless Bucky. “Oh.”

Bucky's head snapped towards the sound of her voice, his hand dropping back to his side. Of all the people who could wander into the lab, she'd been low on his list. “Sunshine.”

Dawn’s cheeks heated and she forced her eyes to the floor. Just because she hadn’t seen Bucky in any state one could call undress in… years, didn’t mean she could go around gaping at him like a loony. It was just that the last time she had… The last time, he’d been shirtless around her had been their one night together. The night she’d fallen asleep with her head on that bare chest. “I’m sorry. I didn’t…”

Tony rolled his stool back across the room, bumping against Bucky's knees. “Why is morning lark acting like she’s never seen you without your shirt.”

“Probably, because she hasn’t seen me without since I got back.” Bucky rubbed his flesh hand through his hair. She hadn’t seen him without a shirt since he’d been her handsome intact beu. Not a scarred and tormented guinea pig patched together from scrap metal. He’d worked so hard to avoid showing her this ruined version. He’d been scared to see the loss and disgust in her eyes. Which… hadn’t been the emotions he’d seen before she looked away. At least, he didn’t think that’s what he had seen.

Tony looked up at him confused. “I thought you were sneaking into her room every other night.”

“What of it?” Bucky growled. He was grateful for Tony's help, but if the man said anything even remotely disrespectful about the way Dawn let him lean on her at night, they were going to have a problem.

Dawn's blush deepened. She hadn't realized everyone in the tower knew about their arrangement. Which was silly. It was Tony's house, he probably knew everything that was going on in it.

Tony looked between the two of them and bounced up from his stool. There was a lot of subtext hanging in the air between them. Especially since neither of them was actually looking at one another. “You know what. I’m going to take my sandwich and give you two the room.”

He snagged the tray out of Dawn's hands and pushed back into the lounge. He was going to enjoy his lunch in peace rather than acting as the peanut gallery for Bucky and Dawn's little soap opera.

“It’s not a very pretty sight.” Bucky shrugged his shirt back on.

"What are you talking about?" Dawn asked, taking a few concerned steps closer.

"They’ve made a lot of improvements since their initial model,” He told her by way of explanation. “But their first graft was a bit of a mess.” That had been putting it mildly. Wiring the damn arm into his nervous system had been a long and excruciating process. Experimental at best. And if he was what they had considered a success, Bucky had no desire to see their failures.

It took a moment for the pieces to fall into place. Dawn reached out, setting her hand against his arm. When he finally met her eyes, she stepped in between his knees. Her grip firm on his metal arm. “Bucky… you don’t have to hide this from me. You don’t have to hide anything from me. Nothing that has happened, nothing they’ve done, will change how I see you.”

He glanced away, unable to meet her eyes. He didn’t know how she could say that. What they’d done to him… what they’d made him do… How could she not see him differently? A patchwork creature of flesh and circuitry.

But he couldn’t make himself pull away.

Dawn traced her fingers over the ridges, she could feel them clearly even through the thin shirt. She had felt them before. She just hadn’t known what she was feeling. Parallel lines in sets of three or four. All fanning out either downwards, or horizontally. These weren’t artefacts of the arm being installed. Bucky had done this to himself. Whatever they had done to give him this replacement had caused enough pain that her boy had tried to claw off a part of his body. "Did it hurt that badly?"

"Yeah." Bucky covered her hand with his, pressing it flat over his heart. Dying would have been easier. And until recently, he would have called it preferable.

Dawn looked up at him. His face was so unreadable. She wished she had some idea, any idea, what he was thinking. "Does it still hurt?"

Bucky shook his head. "Not like that."

The first few years, the thing had tried to kill him pretty regularly. His body hadn't appreciated the invasion of so much foreign material. The arms circuitry had shorted out at semi-regular intervals, sending paralysing electricity tearing through him. Even the weight of the thing had dragged at him, leaving his skeleton aching all the time. It hadn't helped that they hadn't fed him enough in those early days. He'd been on short rations for years until they'd figured out how to use him.

It still ached sometimes. A dull throbbing in place of the old sharp lancing pains. But his body was used to it. And, thanks in no small part to his Sunshine, he always had more than enough to eat.

Dawn wrapped her arms around him, hugging him as tightly as she could. "I'm sorry they hurt you."

"'M alright, Sunshine." Bucky held her close. And with her holding him. He kind of was.

Bucky stroked Dawn's hair softly, keeping her head cradled against his chest. Softly he started to humm. He could feel how quickly it relaxed her. How she melted against him, her posture already less rigid.

“You used to sing to me. When I was upset. ” Dawn whispered, curling her fingers into the back of his shirt.

“Did I?” Bucky tucked her hair behind her ear, tracing her jaw to make her look up at him. “I don’t remember that. What did I sing?”

“Lots of things. Mostly our song.” The fistfuls of fabric felt good in her hands, the heat radiating off him warmed her all over.

“Sing it for me?” Bucky stroked her hair.

Dawn lowered her lashes. “My voice isn’t as good as yours.”

Bucky cupped her face between his hands and kissed her forehead. She was adorable when she was feeling shy. “Sing it anyway.”

Dawn pressed her cheek back against his chest. He had asked her to sing, so she would. Even if she was petrified of singing in front of people.

The other night dear, as I lay sleeping

I dreamed I held you in my arms

But when I awoke, dear, I was mistaken

So I hung my head and I cried

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine

You make me happy when skies are gray

You'll never know dear, how much I love you

Please don't take my sunshine away

I'll always love you and make you happy

If you will only say the same

But if you leave me and love another

You'll regret it all some day

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine

You make me happy when skies are gray

You'll never know dear, how much I love you

Please don't take my sunshine away

You told me once, dear, you really loved me

And no one else could come between

But now you've left me and love another

You have shattered all of my dreams

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine

You make me happy when skies are gray

You'll never know dear, how much I love you

Please don't take my sunshine away

In all my dreams, dear, you seem to leave me

When I awake my poor heart pains

So when you come back and make me happy

I'll forgive you dear, I'll take all the blame

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine

You make me happy when skies are gray

You'll never know dear, how much I love you

Please don't take my sunshine away

Bucky stroked her cheek. “It’s so sad.”

“It can be.” Dawn agreed. She had cried every time she had heard it since he had died. “But It was ours.”

Bucky nodded. Theirs. Somehow it was very important that they had something that was theirs. Even just a small thing that linked them. The song had been theirs. And maybe it still was. It was about love, and loss, and clinging desperately to hope. If that didn’t sum them up, what did.

“Are you still making out or is it safe to come in?” Tony asked, poking his head through the door, one hand clasped over his eyes.

“It’s safe.” Dawn said, extracting herself from Bucky's hold.

"All right." Tony dropped back onto his stool and spun around once, rubbing his hands together. "J and I have been brainstorming. We're going to scan the arm again. This time looking for magnetic signatures. J.A.R.V.I.S. is also going to try and get a read on what the metal content of the alloy is. Apparently it doesn't read as any of the usual suspects."

“I’ll let you get back to it.” Dawn squeezed Bucky’s forearm. He'd be alright. She might whip up a quick lemon loaf as an after dinner treat for him.

“Stay?” Bucky asked gently. He wanted her here. Part of him had wanted her here from the start. He should have known his Sunshine would never be disgusted by him.

Dawn ran her hand back up his arm. His eyes had gone soft and warm as he said the word. It felt like he was her Bucky again. Not the same person he had been, but the frayed tie that had held them together through the years felt less tenuous. “If you want me to.”

“I like having you around, Sunshine.” Bucky scooped her into his lap, carefully balancing her on his right knee. "She gonna be in the way here, Stark?"

"You're sickeningly adorable. Seriously. I'm gagging here." Tony rolled his eyes. He wouldn't admit it, even under torture, but he loved it.

Dawn cleared her throat awkwardly. It had been a long time since Bucky had tossed her around like this. She'd forgotten what it felt like. "If I'm in the way, I can sit somewhere else."

"Nah." Tony waved away her embarrassment. He understood being nervous about medical stuff. If treating Dawn like a teddy bear helped, and she didn't mind, there was no reason Bucky couldn't cuddle her to his heart's content. "You're good. Arm out, Inspector Gadget. Let's see if we can figure out what the Soviets were thinking."

Chapter Text

November 4th, 2014

Dawn threw her full body weight into kneading a batch of bread dough. The comforting smell of flour and yeast filled the industrial kitchen. Normally baking bread for the tower residents was one of Dawn’s favourite chores. They went through enough of it that it had to be done every other day, and Dawn took great pleasure in experimenting with different flavours and techniques. Her sourdough starter was her pride and joy. There was nothing like dropping a basket of warm buns on the dinner table and seeing everyone’s faces light up.

Today, it wasn’t relaxing her the way it normally did. Today, she was deeply distracted.

Ginny had sat her down earlier to have a serious conversation. Ginny was pregnant. She and Jack were moving into their own apartment in the tower. Something better setup for raising a child.

It was great news.

Dawn was ecstatic for them. Ginny and Jack would make wonderful parents. She was sure Tony was already devising creative ways to baby proof the apartment he was outfitting for them, and having Jarvis around would be better than a nanny. Ginny had already made it clear that she wanted Dawn to be one of the Godparents.

She dumped the dough into a bin and carried it into the fridge to proof overnight.

There was just one thing worrying Dawn. Something she didn’t think Ginny had considered. Peggy had moved into Steve’s apartment. Rosie essentially lived in Natasha’s. If Jack and Ginny moved into an apartment of their own, Dawn and Bucky would be alone in the guest rooms.

November 5th, 2014

Peggy stretched as she shuffled out of the bedroom. It was a rare morning that she got to wake up lazily next to Steve. Today she had. Largely because he and Natasha had been out until the wee hours of the morning, and then she had kept him up even later with an enthusiastic welcome home. She had declined his invitation to join him in the admittedly spectacular shower, in favour of starting her lazy morning with a nice cup of coffee before they went upstairs for breakfast.

It was not a rare day that she discovered a depressed Bucky laying face down on the couch.

“Steve, your mistress is here.” She called back in the direction of the bathroom. Poor Barnes looked particularly pathetic this morning. “Hello darling, would you like a coffee.”

“If you’re making a pot.” Bucky’s words were muffled by the pillow he was hoping smothered him.

Peggy poured two mugs, setting one on the coffee table by Bucky’s head and shoving his feet onto the floor so she could sit with her own morning drink. They had this conversation every time. Bucky demurred, Peggy assured him it was no trouble, the both ended up with a morning cup of coffee. “It’s on a timer dear, it makes itself.”

Bucky rolled into a sitting position, slumping into the corner of the couch limply. “You’re not going to ask why I’m here?”

Peggy blew delicately on her coffee. She wasn’t. “I assume something ridiculous like you had a dream where something terrible you were involved with happened to Steve or Dawn and now you’re trying to convince yourself that you’re a monster who doesn’t deserve their love.”

Bucky curled his hands around his mug and frowned into the dark liquid. Steve and Dawn were two of the best people he had ever met. Why they even associated with him any more was beyond him. “I don’t.”

Peggy rolled her eyes. She wasn’t about to let him get away with that kind of self depreciation. He deserved the affection of all his friends. And they would remind him every time he forgot. “See. This penchant for dramatics is exactly why Ginny always called your Romeo.”

Bucky sighed. Ginny was the reason he was here. Or at least part of it. It wasn’t that he didn’t want his friends to live their lives and grow… but did they have to grow and move on in a way that left him and Dawn so exposed? “Jack and Ginny are moving into their own apartment. Ginny’s pregnant.”

“Well they have been together ten years and married for what-- five now? That sort of thing does tend to happen.” Steve emerged from the bedroom, wearing sweatpants and towelling his hair. “Hey Buck.”

Bucky looked up at him desperately. Steve at least had to understand what he was going through. “I can’t be alone with Dawn.”

“Oh?” Peggy took a cautious sip of her coffee. Still a little too warm for comfort. “And why not?”

Bucky shrugged. He didn’t need to be embarrassed around Steve and Peggy. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t. “‘S hard to keep my hands off her with Ginny and Jack across the hall, what am I supposed to do when it’s just us?”

“Good God.” Peggy set her mug on the coffee table with a deliberate click. “Are you telling me you’ve been sneaking into her room every other night, following her around like a puppy during the day, and generally doting on her, but you haven’t been sleeping with the poor girl.”

Bucky scrubbed his metal hand over the back of his neck. She didn’t need to remind him. He, and more pointedly his body, was very aware that he and Dawn spent most nights next to each other without it ever going beyond that. When he was away from her it felt stupid. When his sweet Sunshine was in his arms, he was reminded of exactly how delicate and fragile humans really were. “Sleep’s not really the issue.”

“I should say not.” Peggy snorted. It would be one thing if one or more of them wasn’t interested in a physical relationship, but they clearly both were.

Steve rubbed her shoulders absently. He understood Bucky's fears, even if he was reasonably sure they were unfounded. They had been in his case. “He thinks he might break her.”

“Can we not talk about my sex life like I’m not in the room?” Bucky grumbled, glaring at his coffee.

“You’d have to have a sex life for us to talk about first, and it sounds like you don’t.” Peggy shot back. “No wonder the poor dear is so energetic in the kitchen and on the climbing wall. The frustrations she must have to work out.”

“I get the feeling you think I should more than sleep with Dawn.” Most people were scared of Bucky's scowl. He knew his eyes went cold, that people could see he was a killer. He used it to clear whole rooms in the recent past. It was irritatingly ineffective against Steve and Peggy.

“It would hardly be my place to say.” Peggy fished her phone out of the pocket of her robe and dashed off a text one handed, she was getting better at it all the time.

“What are you doing now?” Bucky was starting to think he shouldn’t have come down here this morning. He’d expected a heck of a lot more sympathy than he was getting. Did no one see what a bad idea it was for him to have Dawn in such a vulnerable position. He broke things all the time. How many mugs had he shattered? How many door handles? Dawn was fragile as a porcelain doll, and completely irreplaceable if anything happened to her.

“Seeing if the others would be interested in another girls night." Peggy answered innocently. "I think some of us could use a drink.”

Peggy’s reservation had brought them to a different quality of restaurant than Natasha’s. She had chosen a Spanish tapas place in the Village. Peggy hadn’t had Spanish food since ‘41 and she doubted Ginny and Dawn had ever had it. She was absolutely salivating for Patatas Bravas, Pan Tumaca, and Octopus a Feira. She would die for some good octopus. The booth in the back corner of the restaurant and the distance from the Tower were more than sufficient to maintain their anonymity. Natasha was the only one of them who was recognisable tonight anyway.

"Dawn!” A woman with undercut hair dyed in bright pinks and purples and a spiked leather jacket thrown over one shoulder waved and made for their table with long confident strides. Lela was glad she wasn’t under dressed. She’d worried that the washed out grey tank top that showed off her favourite neon purple bralette would be too low key for Dawn and her vintage chic vibe. Most of the other women at the table had a similar look aesthetic, but Dawn was wearing an oversized hoodie over her dress, and everyone else was just as casual. “I was starting to think you had forgotten all about me. Loved that sourdough picture by the way, that wheat slashing was fabulous."

"You must be Lela." Peggy passed her a glass of sangria and poured a second one for herself. With Pepper unable to join them, Dawn’s new friend had seemed like the obvious way to round out their party. Plus, an outside perspective always helped. "Get that into you, we're commiserating tonight."

Lela took the glass and tapped it against Peggy’s before downing half of it. She loved any party that welcomed a girl with a strong drink and a goal. "What are we commiserating?"

"Dawn not getting any." Ginny answered, delicately slipping her agua fresca. She rather resented not being able to drink. The sangria looked delicious. Damn scientific breakthroughs. Ruined all her fun, even if they did also mean no more polio or children losing their sight and hearing the measles.

"What?” Lela rounded on her friend in surprise. “What happened to lobby guy? You know, ruggedly handsome, looked at you like you hung the stars, walked you to class in the morning, was waiting for you after, pretty sure he bought you a smoothie. I didn't get his name."

“Bucky.” Dawn blushed and looked down at the dark liquid in her glass. “And it was bubble tea.”

"He is the reason she's not getting any." Rosie supplied. Lela’s tattoo was spectacular. That was an aspect of modern life Rosie hadn’t considered. She could get a tattoo. Maybe not a big one like Lela’s at least not to start. Something small and cute. A violet on the arch of her foot? That could look quite good.

"I don't get it. Why are you not licking chocolate sauce off his, I assume spectacular, abs every night?" Lela pounded the flat of her palm on the table to emphasize her point. "And what kind of name is Bucky?"

"It's a childhood nickname.” Dawn said defensively. She loved Bucky’s name. It was the perfect name for her teddy bear of a man, certainly a better fit for him than James. He wasn’t boring or stuffy or proper. He was sweet, and he used to be playful. He still could be. “And it's complicated."

"It's not complicated. You have the patience of a saint and he doesn't deserve you." Ginny sniffed, pressing her shoulder back determinedly. She'd said it before and she would say it again. About any of her friends' significant others. Including Natasha if she strung Rosie along the way Bucky was stringing Dawn.

“He’s been through a lot,” Dawn insisted by way of explanation. “He’s not ready. I need to respect that.” As he had for her when they had been young and trapped in the middle of the war.

"We're not going to spend the night arguing about whether Bucky is good for Dawn. We are going to distract her." Rosie said definitively. Dawn deserved someone who thought the sun rose and set with her, someone who would be gentle with her, and there was no denying that Bucky was both. "Now, Lela, Dawn tells us you're pastry chef. What's that like?"

“Exhausting, the pay sucks, the hours are terrible, my boss is a jerk.” Lela finished her glass of sangria and poured herself a new one, just in time for the first round of dishes to arrive. “And I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

“Best story?” Peggy asked playfully. Angie always had great stories about the patrons she served. She doubted customers had gotten any better in the intervening years.

Lela launched into the story she always trotted out at dinner parties. The one about Regis Philbin and the molten lava cake.

Dawn didn’t actually notice when she poured her third glass of sangria, they were all too busy sharing stories. Somewhere around the start of the fourth the pieces started to click into place. “No. You guys. It’s so obvious! I will just call him, and tell him…” Hang on. She knew this. It was important. She wanted to tell Bucky...“...that I am not afraid of his penis.”

“And that sound means it is time to take your phone away.” Ginny moved Dawn’s sangria out of reach, swapping it for a glass of water with limes and strawberries floating in it, like her own. “Seriously, we have got to stop letting her drink.”

“Are you?" Peggy asked curiously. "Scared of his penis I mean.”

“I don’t know.” Dawn moaned slumping over the table. “Bucky’s is the only one I’ve ever wanted to touch, and he’d never let me.”

"Wait. Never never?" Rosie’s attention snagged on Dawn’s words. Not that she’d ever been interested, but Peggy and Ginny both swore by the things and she’d rather assumed that Dawn had indulged at least a few times. Especially since Bucky regularly looked at her like she was a glass of ice water and he was dying of thirst, then and now.

“We were waiting and then…” Dawn drifted off. The pain of losing Bucky crashing over her again.

“Everything?” Peggy supplied, knowing what was going through Dawn’s mind better than anyone else at the table.

“Everything.” Dawn agreed solemnly.

Lela leaned sideways until her shoulder was almost touching Nat's. "Do I want to know what 'everything' is."

"Everything' is deeply tragic and in no way Bucky or Dawn's fault." Natasha answered smoothly. "The details probably aren't important"

Ginny narrowed her eyes at Dawn. Something wasn't adding up. “I distinctly remember you being all dreamy after our little excursion in France. You said, and I quote, ‘He ruined me. He absolutely ruined me. I can’t imagine any other man ever making me feel like he does.’ Am I mis-remembering that?”

“No. I was there for it too.” Rosie leaned back in her chair. Dawn had been a ball of hopelessly romantic mush for a month after that weekend. Spending all her down time sighing and gazing off into the middle distance dreaming of the pretty boy in the blue jacket. It had been nauseating. And adorable.

Dawn turned the colour of her confiscated drink and murmured something none of the others could hear.

“What was that, Sunshine?” Rosie teased. She had a reasonable guess for what it had been. Bucky seemed clever enough to find a way around the risks associated with 'traditional' intercourse. She respected that in a person.

“He used his hands, and it was magical, and nothing has ever felt as good before or since. And love him so much.” Dawn blurted it all out in a rush. It was absolutely mortifying. But that night had only solidified her belief that Bucky was her future.

“Dawn…” Ginny’s mind raced as she did the math. The deeply distressing math. She was a terrible friend for not realizing earlier. “France was three years ago. Have you really not had-- fun-- in all this time.”

Dawn nodded and hid her face in her hands. She hadn’t wanted anyone else to touch her, and touching herself had always led to memories of being touched by Bucky.

Natasha blinked several times. She had known Dawn and Bucky were having issues, but not that it was this bad. Dawn was one of Rosie’s best friends. They couldn’t leave the poor girl in this condition. "Okay ladies. We're buying Dawn a vibrator. This is happening. She absolutely can not wait for Bucky to pull his head out of his ass to have another orgasm."

Rosie turned to face her girlfriend. "You want to take a tipsy Dawn to a sex shop?"

Natasha propped her chin on a fist. When Rosie said it like that, it sounded like a bad idea. "Do you have a problem with that?"

"No.” Rosie downed the last of her drink and stood up. “Just getting a feel for our mission parameters."

Lela barely suppressed a wave of giggles as she looked around the group. First one of the best restaurants on the island, not one of the most expensive, but Xavier was an inspired chef who cared about the food he was making. Nat had dropped two hundred dollars in cash on the table after paying their bill on a card and tipping 10% that way. And now they were going to a sex shop. She was pretty sure she had just found her new best friends.

The bolt from Bucky’s rifle skittered over the edge of the staging room work table. His left hand flashed as he snagged it out of the air and set it back on the felt mat it had escaped from. He grabbed a bottle of solvent with his other hand to clean out the gunk that had accumulated in the slide. His movements were smooth and efficient, despite the surprise discovery that one of the table's legs was shorter than the others, meaning that moving too fast unbalanced everything. He’d talk to Tony about how best to fix the table later. Given that it was mostly used as a platform to drop large gear on when suiting up, not for finicky detail work like Bucky’s current project, it wasn’t an urgent repair.

Cleaning and maintaining his rifle had sounded like a good way to keep himself busy when Steve had first suggested it. It was only kind of working. For all he could disassemble and reassemble a rifle in his sleep, there was something meditative about the actions. Not that the space around him was quiet or serine. The staging room was filled with the sound of clanging and occasionally the hiss of a welding torch. Across the open hangar, Steve and Tony were tinkering with some improvements to the quinn jet landing pad. Or more accurately, Tony was tinkering, Steve was holding things for him.

Steve’s phone buzzed on the workbench next to Bucky’s elbow. Bucky glanced down at the screen, not overly surprised when it showed a new message from Peggy. “Yo Cap. Your girl sent you a message.”

“Check it for me?” Steve called from his position bracing a strut.

“They’ve been drinking. Sure I’m not about to see a saucy picture?” Bucky shot back, carefully finishing reinstalling the bolt before he set down his gun.

Steve’s head fell back as he laughed. “I’m sure, Buck. They’ve only been out for a couple hours. Pegs won’t be that drunk yet.”

Bucky wiped the grease off his hands and flipped the phone into his hand. He’d known Steve’s pass code from day two, and probably would have been able to guess it if Steve hadn’t told him. Peggy’s birthday. The real one. Not the one on her enlistment form. Because of course both of them had lied to get into the army. The damn adorable couple.

Peggy: It was their idea to come here, and they have been completely distracted from the mission at hand.

It was followed by a picture of Natasha and Rosie comparing the details on two boxes containing…. Bucky’s eyes went wide. What on earth were they comparing?

Peggy: Think I should pick up a treat for us? 😉🍆💦🍑😛

Bucky shut down the screen and shoved away from the workbench. Three messages and a few things were completely clear. Firstly, he would never let Steve live this down. Second, he didn’t want to know what the girls were doing on their night out. Third, he was in no way qualified to deal with that string of emojis.

Steve looked up when Bucky vaulted onto the scaffolding next to him. If the girls had ended up at a strip club they weren’t crashing. Or if they had decided to go to a paint night. Nat had dragged him to one of those before and it had gone surprisingly badly… That might have been because of the Yakuza members who had also gone to that particular paint night. The world could be so small sometimes. “What’s up?”

Bucky flipped the phone across the last couple feet between them. “You promised it wouldn’t be dirty.”

“Hu,” Steve unlocked the screen and looked at the photo. “Wonder what that is all about.”

He tapped back a quick message.

Steve: Whatever you want, doll. Put it on my card.

Peggy: 😘😈

Bucky hadn’t missed that Dawn was in the background of the photo, also looking at a bright pink box. He wanted to ask Steve to find out why they were in a place like that. He also really didn’t want to know.

He wondered if Steve and Peggy’s guns needed cleaning. They probably did. That might just distract him for another couple of hours. He needed a good distraction.

Bucky froze in the door to Dawn’s bedroom. He’d heard her come in and had wanted to make sure that she was alright and say goodnight. Now that he was here, a more pressing question was driving everything else from his mind. Dawn was sitting on the side of her bed, already dressed for sleep, a fuchsia paper bag at her feet, and... “Is that my hoodie?”

“Yes, sorry.” Dawn hurried to shrug out of the caramel coloured sweater. She had been wearing it all night. She knew she should have asked, but they’d left in rather a rush and she’d just grabbed it off the chair in the corner of her bedroom. She wasn’t sure whether he had left it there, or if it had been there since Halloween, but it had still smelled like him when she pulled it on in the elevator. “I needed something and I wanted something less structured than my jacket.”

“It’s fine, Sunshine. You can borrow it anytime you want.” Bucky accepted the sweater from her. Tucking it under his arm distractedly. She could wear it all the time if she wanted. Anything to make sure she was comfortable, and if her wearing his sweater also happened to give other guys the idea that she was off the market, well, that was just a happy side effect. “Did you… have a good night?”

Dawn cleared her throat and nudged a paper bag further under the bed. Given what had ended up being the main entertainment for the night, she wasn’t sure she wanted to give Bucky a detailed account. “It was… very interesting, thank you for asking.”

“Right. Well. I’ll just…” Bucky shoved his hands in his pockets and nodded towards the door. He wasn't quite sure why he'd thought saying goodnight like this was a good idea. He hadn’t actually had a plan for it beyond getting eyes on her. If he hadn’t had the hoodie to use as a conversation opener, he didn’t know what he would have said. Still. He’d seen her. She was alright. That was what he’d wanted to confirm. Now that he had, there was no reason for him to hang around.

Dawn was struck again by how much she hated watching him walk away. “Bucky?”

He looked back up at her. She was still blushing like her cheeks had been sunburned. “Yeah, doll?”

“You can sleep here tonight. If you want.” Dawn scooted into the middle of the bed. Vacating the side of the bed he always took when he slept with her.

Bucky dropped his eyes to the floor and shuffled over to sit on the edge of the bed. Whatever the girls had gotten up to, she still wanted him in her bed. “I’d like that.”

Dawn nestled down in the blankets, warming all the way through as he stretched out next to her. One of his legs slipped between hers, his arms pulling her in against his side. Forget the bag of toys Nat and Lela had helped her pick out. This was what she needed more than anything else… Although she was going to further investigate the toys tomorrow.

Chapter Text

November 12th, 2014

"What?" Bucky was moments away from breaking something. They should have known that they were being watched. Not just the Tower, but the Avengers themselves. Things had been so comparatively peaceful that for a time they had wondered if they had been overcautious. They had started taking risks.

They should have known that it would only be a matter of time.

The situation that had arisen in Australia that seemed serious enough that every Avenger in the Tower gearing up and racing for their gear, including Peggy and Bucky. Bucky was second guessing that evaluation now. Not that some Hydra dregs trying to take over Pine Gap hadn't been an issue. They'd been a challenge, and having two snipers had made a difference, to say nothing of Peggy pulling Steve out of at least two tight corners, one literal. But had they really needed everyone? Bruce at least could have stayed behind… it was hard to say if that would have improved the situation in New York or not, but he could at least cause one hell of a distraction to give the non-combatants time to get away. Give his non-combatant time to get away.

He needed to get back to the tower now. Sooner if possible. If anything happened to Dawn while he was half a world away... He'd never forgive himself, and whoever hurt her would regret it.

At least briefly.

Steve held up his hands placatingly. He wouldn't say he understood exactly what Bucky was going through. But he did get the urge to protect the people you loved at all costs. He also knew that there was nothing Bucky could do right now, and the last thing they needed was him worrying himself into a dissociative state. They needed to stay calm, and think about this rationally. Nat already had the jet flying back there as fast as it could go. And Tony was in his suit moving even faster. Dawn and the others would just have to hold on until they got there. It wasn't like they'd left them completely vulnerable. The tower had armed security. "Just a minor security breach at the tower. J.A.R.V.I.S. and the on-site team can handle it."

They should have been able to handle it, but Hydra had come prepared. Tony’s security force had bought them enough time to retreat to the lab, but from the live feed that Jarvis was streaming in, the team was being overwhelmed. They'd been doing alright up until Hydra had somehow gotten control of the security command outpost in the lobby. Rosie had serious questions about how that outpost interacted with the main control room on the 78th floor, and why there weren't more breaks in the stairwell to stop them using ropes and motors to bypass all the climbing and circumvent Jarvis locking down the elevators. She was also very curious how they got a key card that Jarvis didn't seem to be able to override.

Frustrated, Rosie pushed herself off of the stool that she had been sitting on and paced the lab restlessly. “We have to do something.” All the work that she had been doing with Natasha, and here she was hiding. She could help. She couldn’t just stay tucked away here when people were dying. Not again.

Jack unwrapped his arm from around Ginny and pushed to his feet. “What’s the plan, Ro?"

Rosie pursed her lips. A plan. Right. She should think of one of those. “Jarvis? What do we have in here for gear?”

“While Mister Stark does keep a supply of experimental armour and weaponry stored here in the lab,” Jarvis responded. “I would not advise leaving the secured area. Mister Stark would be most upset if you were to be hurt. As, I believe, would Captain Rogers and Sergeant Barnes.”

“We can’t just sit here” Dawn argued back. The helplessness had been one of the worst parts of being a non-combatant. The full camp route in Italy came flooding back to her. The terror of Bucky loading her into a truck, and her leaving him behind. She didn’t want to be helpless. She wanted to help. She should be able to help. “We don’t have the numbers to fight them off, but we can at least try to save some of the injured.”

Ginny nodded fiercely in agreement. “And if Stark even thinks of locking us in here, he will be very sorry.”

There was silence for a moment, then a number of panels opened up on the floor with a hydraulic hiss as a number of heavy black boxes rose from the floor. A drawer in one of the work tables opened up as well, revealing a number of earpieces.

“Mister Stark says to use these,” Jarvis told them. “And if you die before they get back, he will never forgive you.”

All of them took an ear piece. Together, Dawn and Ginny tipped over one of the work tables to create a barricade just inside the door. Jack and Rosie outfitted themselves with a pair of what Jarvis informed them were bullet proof vests, as well as palm mounted blasters and glasses that provided them with Jarvis's heads up display.

Dawn took one of the larger blasters for herself. The strategy for who did what was obvious. Jack was a soldier and, thanks to Natasha, Rosie was combat trained, if untested. They made sense as the forward team. Ginny was their best medic, as soon as Jack and Rosie brought her some patients, she would have her hands full. She already had all the medical supplies in the lab, and anything that could conceivably double as a medical supply, laid out in the med bay. Which left Dawn to play guard. Dawn took a deep breath. She could do this. She'd watched Natasha and Rosie on the shooting range. Bucky had walked her through some of the theory. All she had to do was stay calm and keep her eyes open. She gave herself exactly four heartbeats to wish Bucky was here, before crouching down behind the table and nodding to let Jack and Rosie know that she was ready when they were.

Jack set his back against the wall by the door. It had been a while since he psyched himself up to launch an assault. The familiar rush of adrenaline took him back to a place he had hoped was behind him. He looked across at Rosie. She was a mirrored image. If anything, she looked more prepared than he did. "How is this going to work?"

Rosie’s eyes flashed. They could do this. They would save lives, or at very least not stand around uselessly while people died. "We have something they don't. Jarvis. He can steer us around anything too hot for us to handle."

"Fire suppression." Dawn blurted, Rosie's 'too hot to handle' triggering a memory. "The tower has a nitrogen based fire suppression system. The same kind they use in museums. It drives all the oxygen out of the room. If Jarvis can trigger it ahead of you, it might be enough to distract them at least."

Rosie whipped around. She knew Dawn was smart, but she was always such a sweetheart, that Rosie hadn't considered she might have solid strategy suggestions. "Dawn! You're a genius!"

"What about the injured men?" Jack asked seriously. There was no point in doing this if they were going to hurt the people they were trying to rescue more.

"They aren’t in every room." Ginny answered, obviously already thinking hard on the problem. “If we can clear the rooms where no one needs rescuing without putting you in danger, that’s another point in our favour.”

Jack’s hand tightened on the grip of his weapon. That was his wife. Always on top of things. “And we need all the help we can get.”

"Alright, J.” Rosie steeled herself. She had seen combat before, even if she hadn’t strictly speaking been in it. How different could it be? With all the skills she and Natasha had been working on, this should be well within her abilities… She hoped. “Lead us in."

Trying to keep Bucky from climbing the walls was more of a challenge than Steve had prepared himself for today. Even with Peggy to help, there was no stopping him from pacing restlessly, back and forth across the narrow open space in front of the exit ramp. Peggy had coaxed him into putting down his gun at least. Although, Steve was honestly more worried about the way he kept checking for his knife.

A beep in Steve's ear signalled a new channel opening. Tony cleared his throat awkwardly down the line. "Hey, Cap?"

Steve took a couple steps away from Bucky before he answered. That was not a comforting opening. "What's with the private channel?"

"Just didn't want anyone to panic.” Tony answered, voice strained. “You know how high strung Natasha is."

Steve flicked his eyes back at Bucky nervously. He really doubted Nat was the problem. At least not the main one. "How bad is it?"

"Turns out people who are best friends with Captain America aren't huge fans of huddling in fear while other people put themselves in the line of fire. I had to give them access to the prototypes, otherwise they were going to go charging in empty handed."

Steve's stomach dropped through the floor of the jet. No. His friends wouldn't be good at sitting still and staying away from trouble. He wouldn't say he wasn't proud of their bravery. He was absolutely terrified for them. It definitely wasn't going to help with Bucky freaking out.

"Steve?" Peggy curled her hand around his elbow. He’d gone all stiff and serious. She knew that look, although she hadn’t seen it since they’d gotten cut off from the rest of the commandos in Bavaria. And that had ended with him opening a tank like a can of sardines.

"They're fighting back." Steve whispered. Keeping his voice low to avoid provoking Bucky. Or Natasha for that matter. Tony had a point, she didn’t look all that relaxed either. Which was fair. He wouldn’t be alright if Peggy was under siege in New York and he was somewhere over Utah, any more than they were alright now.

"Bloody hell." Peggy mumbled, mirroring Steve's nervous glance back at Bucky.

“J.A.R.V.I.S. is streaming the security footage to my heads up." Tony cut in again. "Jack and Rosie are holding their own.”

Steve steeled his jaw. That was something at least. Jack was a good soldier, and Rosie had been training to keep up with Natasha for months now. Even if she wasn’t up to Nat’s standard, half as good as the Black Widow was still better than most operators. If they could keep themselves intact just half an hour longer… “Send it to my phone. I want to see what we’re walking into.”

The footage didn’t help Steve feel better. Neither did the way Peggy’s hand tightened on his elbow. She saw it too. Their friends were in more than a little trouble.

Playing guard had seemed like a good place for her when Dawn had taken on the post. That was before Rosie and Jack had disappeared down the stairs and for the second time, leaving behind a pair of injured men.

Dawn hated guns. Hated the sound. Hated the echo. Hated the stink of burning that accompanied them. Five years of them as a constant companion on the Front had been more than enough, thank you very much. The weapon in her hand was smooth, and smelled vaguely of ozone when fired instead of gunpowder, but it was still very much a gun.

She had never wanted to be put in a place where she would cause a person deliberate harm. Unintentional harm had been bad enough. But this… she had to protect her friends. Had to keep Ginny and the injured security guards safe until their friends could return.

An ugly part of her mind, one she did not want to acknowledge, pointed out that once again it was Hydra that had invaded their home. The very organization who had imprisoned and tortured her Bucky. Who had caused them all so much pain. But there was no joy, no satisfaction in what they were doing.

Footsteps sounded from around the corner, heavy and purposeful. Not the soft-soled steps of Jack or Rosie, not the familiar footsteps of their Avenger friends.

Dawn shifted her grip on the weapon as a pair of black-suited figures rounded the corner. She could not let them reach the lab.

She took one slow breath, then another, Bucky’s soft instructions whispering in her thoughts. Eyes on the target. Take your time. Pick your shots. Squeeze the trigger slowly. Fire as you exhale.

Her first shot went wide, fracturing the wall behind the soldiers. She’d closed her eyes at the last second. Her second shot struck the foremost figure, throwing him back into his compatriot with a pulse of energy. They hit the floor with heavy thuds.

Practically, it wasn't that different from shooting cans. Emotionally...

Cans didn’t cry out when you hit them.

They also didn’t try to murder your friends.

More footsteps. Slower, shuffling. Jack came around the corner with a wounded guard leaning heavily against his shoulder. Rosie, rifle raised and at the ready, guarded their backs.

And from her position on the floor, Dawn shifted her grip upon her own rifle and prepared to cover them.

Steve tightened the chin strap on his helmet. Five minutes out. Time to put his Captain face back on. “Alright kids, this is a big one. They’re in our house, and I want them out. Tony, Clint, top down. The lab is the most important target. That’s where our people are. That’s where anything these guys might be looking for is. That’s what we have to take back first. Bucky and I will spearhead from the ground up. Nat, Peggy, you’ve got the basements. I don’t know if they’re interested in the arc reactor, but I’d rather not risk it.”

Nat rolled her spine to limber up. The tower was a target rich environment. If she was launching an attack, she’d have a few primary goals and a lot of secondary ones. A veritable laundry list of things to pick up if the resources to get through the parameter were already outlayed. “We’ve got some hard copy files in the interrogation rooms down there too. Old stuff from S.H.I.E.L.D. waiting to be digitized that we needed to store somewhere out of the way. Who knows what’s in there.”

Steve nodded sharply in agreement. That was another possibility. “Watch the escape routes and be ready. Nobody gets away. Bruce, stay in the plane.”

Getting to the first of the injured men was easy. Getting them back to Ginny and her makeshift field hospital had gone smoothly. Rosie and Jack knew what they were doing. They could handle a little chaos. Even their second pass had been reasonably straight forward. Even if it had ended with a minor skirmish on the floor devoted to Avengers support staff.

It was the sustained assault that was causing real issues. In any five minute stretch, Rosie and Jack were a match for a small team of Hyrda. But they'd been holding them off for an hour now and there was only so much the two of them could do.

They were being pushed back. Hydra had breached the elevator shaft on the robotics manufacturing floor. With them coming up the two stairwells as well, there weren't a lot of options for Rosie and Jack to cut them off or get around them.

They'd be completely screwed if they didn't have Dawn and her cover fire helping to hold the line outside the lab.

As it was, the members of the security team that had been retreating towards them were pinned down with two members bleeding out.

Chapter Text

The police had a parameter set up around the base of the tower. Three teams of SWAT readying to storm the lobby.

Bucky ignored all of them. He was the tip of the spear, and he was stabbing straight for the heart. Vaulting the barricade and bowling a smoke grenade through the shattered glass door to the lobby in one smooth move. He ducked behind the support pillar, counting to three slowly. Exactly on count the grenade exploded, obscuring the entire room with thick white fog.

Four disoriented invaders were hardly a challenge. Two he downed with rabbit punches. One he hogtied with zip ties.

The fourth caught Steve's shield in the jaw, sprawled full length on the ground, and stopped moving. He stepped up next to Bucky. Nodding stiffly. He was right there with him. Charging in to save their friends, Peggy and Nat behind them. They could do this.

The elevator doors the invaders had been trying to pry open parted smoothly. A blue light flashed happily on the control panel. “Welcome home, Sergeant Barnes, Captain Rogers. Floors 2 through 72 are clear.”

Steve set his jaw. That made sense. Those were the public floors. Rented office space. Nothing on them would be of interest to Hydra. That left the servers, the Avengers’ offices, the private labs including the robotics floor, and... “The residential floors?”

“Secure, Captain.” J.A.R.V.I.S. assured him. “Under complete lockdown. Minor attempt at entry on floor 81, successfully rebuffed by the security team."

Bucky shifted the grip on his gun determinedly. “Floor 73 then J.”

The next few moments were cognitively disconcerting. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Steve as the elevator moved smoothly and silently upwards. It was too familiar. Too much like any other day. Bucky's jaw ached from how tightly it was clenched. This wasn't any other day. Today his Sunshine was in serious life threatening danger.

Steve clapped him on the shoulder. Squeezing once before he dropped to a knee in front of the doors. Shield up, toes braced, in position to cover Bucky for his first volley, ready to launch himself into the fray as soon as there was a break in the shooting.

The sound of Rock music filled the vestibule outside the lab. Jack pressed his back harder against the pillar he was using for cover and shot a nervous look at Rosie. She was busy staunching the bleeding on a security team member who had managed to get himself shot in the leg getting out of the elevator. So whatever was going on, it wasn’t her.

What would be really useful --even more useful than figuring out where the music was coming from-- would be getting the wounded man stable enough to move him the couple hundred meters to the relative safety of the lab proper. Preferably without bringing their newly acquired Hydra friends with them.

A streak of shining red and gold crashed through the window.

Jack's stomach swooped. If that was what he thought it was, their day just got a lot better. "Tony?"

The suit landed with a deafening clang.

Three pen sized missiles spiralled through the air, targeting the Hydra agents. "Miss me?"

The corner of Rosie’s mouth twitched in a wry smile. So much for being pushed back. "That's one way to put it."

In an incongruous moment of things going reasonably well, the elevator doors didn't open into a hail of gunfire. The small glass walled vestibule outside the server room was empty. It would have looked as innocuous as it did any other day, if not for the smashed out door and pulsing light of the alarm. J.A.R.V.I.S. had already shut off the audible alarm throughout the tower.

From what Steve had seen on the video feed during the last leg of their journey, Jack and Rosie were using it as something in the same family as a flash bang. J.A.R.V.I.S. would set it off just as they breached a room, distracting and disorienting the teams inside and giving their side a chance to retreat. Here, with no targets in their immediate sightline the alarm stayed off. Leaving Steve and Bucky the element of surprise.

As the dividing line between the public levels of the Tower and the areas devoted to the Avengers and the Stark residence, floor 73 was completely full of servers. Past the vestibule the sightlines were broken up and blocked by row upon row of blinking racks of electronics. Steve stayed covering Bucky as they edged into the first narrow passage. Their breath turned to coiling clouds of steam as they passed into the highly cooled area. The soft hum of electronics filled the air.

Bucky strained his ears for other sounds. Moving as one they pressed deeper into the maze. There was a maintenance terminal on the east wall. That was the most likely focus of any invaders on this level. Discretion was their ally at the moment. Charging in guns blazing would lead to chaos and damage. Damage to Stark's secure servers could lose millions of dollars and countless man hours worth of research. Including a not insignificant portion of the investigation into what had happened to the sceptre.

The sound of combat boots moving stealthily along the aisle behind them made Bucky whip around. A commando in all black gear had crept around the end of a bank of servers, the barrel of his rifle aimed straight at them.

Two shots hit their attacker in the chest before he even realized he had been caught.

Bucky stepped deliberately around the pooling blood as he moved past the body slumped on the floor. The dark red liquid was freezing already. He didn't need anything that would compromise his traction. Not now that they had an accurate direction and the other side's attention.

The rest of the attacker's squad had assumed a defensive position around a technician trying to gain access to the server. Steve had to wonder if they'd made it past the firewall and were trying to buy enough time for the tech to relay what they were looking for to one of Hydra 's satellites, or if this was just a desperate last stand.

Bucky shot out the laptop in the technician’s hands. Whatever he was doing, they'd all be better off if he didn't finish.

Steve flexed the arm holding his shield. All eyes were on them now. Seven pairs looking down shaking sights. One petrified pair belonging to the technician who may have wet himself. "This is the part where you lay down your weapons and surrender. Otherwise things go very badly for you."

Six rifles clattered to the ground. The tech threw himself flat on the ground, hands behind his head. The seventh commando levelled his still slightly shaking gun at Steve's chest. Bucky landed a bullet between his eyes before he could pull the trigger.

With Bucky standing guard over him, Steve got the survivors fully disarmed and restrained. A pile of side arms and knives on the floor just out of reach. Zip ties around wrists and ankles, then connecting them together in a kind of Gordian knot that would be nearly impossible to untangle without outside help.

Steve dragged the mass of humanity back to the vestibule and shoved them all into the elevator. J.A.R.V.I.S. could deliver them to the police waiting in the lobby. He and Bucky could take the stairs to the next floor.

Once the doors slid shut, Bucky lowered his rifle back to the rest position. That was the server room clear. Three floors to the residential levels. Five secure enough that they didn't need to worry about them. Then another five to get to the lab his Sunshine was in.

As they progressed higher in the tower, their surroundings started to show more signs of combat. There were bullet holes outside the security office on the floor above the servers. Bloodstains in the stairwell above that. Packaging from triage bandages littered the lobby of the archival floor. It looked to Steve like Jack and Rosie had managed to evacuate the wounded men from here. At least if the hand print by the elevator was any indication.

Bucky swept ahead of Steve as they moved into the floor with the offices for the Avengers support staff. This floor was different. The destruction was more chaotic. Less directed. Hydra had panicked. Something had thrown them off their game. Forced them to retreat off this floor. What worried Bucky was he couldn’t figure out what.

The wall of windows on the north side was missing. Shattered. Bucky nudged the shattered glass on the floor. Shot out, not in. Deliberately too. Tony's windows could take a stray round or two without doing more than spiderwebbing. This level of destruction would take sustained fire. Whoever had done this had thought the 80 story drop was better than the wall of glass. He didn't see rope anchors. They hadn't used the gap for egress. There were no marks on the opposite wall or the floor in front of the window to show someone shooting from that position that would require taking down. It just didn't make sense. "Why break the window?"

Air circulation? He sniffed experimentally. He didn't smell gas or nerve toxin, both of which he'd recognize. It smelled fresh. Like air-conditioning. "Why risk the drop?"

"Don't try to understand where the Nazis are coming from, Buck." Steve clapped him on the shoulder. This floor was secure. Time to get moving. "You'll only drive yourself crazy."

Steve poked his head out the broken window. Two more floors of bad guys. Nothing the girls couldn’t handle. It was the entrenchment outside the elevator bank on the manufacturing level that was an issue. Although, Steve doubted they would be looking for anything from outside. Not with Tony accounted for on the floor above. This was where that lateral thinking everyone was always praising him for came into play. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”

Bucky leaned out to get a handle on what Steve was looking at. A sheer smooth vertical expanse. A straight shot up to where they really needed to be. “Are you thinking your plans are all terrible?”

Steve snapped his shield onto his back. That wasn’t a no. “Come on. Age before beauty.”

Bucky rolled his eyes, slung his rifle over his shoulder, and swung out the gap. Steve’s plans were terrible, but they worked.

Scaling the outside of the building was relatively simple, if not exactly easy. At this point the surface was made entirely of sheets of glass and polished metal. For anyone else it would be impossible. Bucky wasn’t just anyone. The arm was good for one thing. A punch to make a handhold. Shift. Push up. Reach as high above him as he could. Punch. Switch hands. Brace toe in his last handhold. Repeat. He could feel Steve working his way up below, using the same holds.

The window they needed was obvious. Bucky could count how many feet there were between stories in his sleep, and up close the mirroring on the glass was largely ineffective.

Steve smashed through the window with his shield.

Bucky fired two shots over Steve's shoulder even as the glass fell away. The men at the control console dropped. One dead. The other clutching his thigh. He’d live. Assuming he maintained pressure on the wound.

The pair guarding the elevator as they scrambled to orient in the unexpected direction of the threat. Steve was on them before they could fully turn. The shield ricocheted off the first man and into the second’s skull. They both collapsed, unconscious. Steve zip tied their hands and feet in case they woke up while he and Bucky finished up.

The small Hydra contingent who had managed to find a foothold on the party floor had been more of an inconvenience than a real threat once Tony had arrived. With that level and the lab locked down, Tony had been able to turn his attention to the digital aspect of the attack, while Clint made sure everything above that point was cleared out too. Clint bounded down the stairs from the landing pad. There really wasn’t much they had to do other than hole up and look after the injured men.

Clint considered the rest of his comrades on this floor. Ginny was working on the last casualty Jack and Rosie had brought in. Jack and Rosie were sitting close together on the edge of a workbench, working their way through bottles of water and looking reasonably intact. Dawn was still standing near the front doors of the lab with Tony’s suit, her gun clutched to her chest, her hands only shaking just a little. Tony sat at his desk poring through screen after screen of data, repairing the damage from the digital attack and chasing down the digital fingerprints of the people who had led the attack.

They were in an okay place. The rest of their team was more of a question. Clint tapped his radio to transmit. "Hawkeye to Widow."

"Go for Widow." Nat answered back right away.

Clint patted Dawn on the shoulder and nodded for her to let him take up the sentry position. She’d be more useful helping with the wounded. Or at least not breaking down crying in the middle of the lab entrance. "We secured the lab."

“Lovely.” Nat’s voice cut off, replaced by the sound of her firing out of cover. “We have a small delay in the reactor control room, but Steve’s on the way up to you.”

Chapter Text

Tony and Clint had the floor with the lab secure.

That was the first thing Bucky saw when he stepped out of the stairwell. It took him less than a heartbeat to register the fact and move on to the details. Ginny was kneeling over an injured man. Clint had a group of invaders restrained and waiting. A ragged group of already triaged security guards sat in a collapsed pile by the door. And standing near them, a Stark made weapon dangling incongruously from her hand, the only person he was looking for in this moment. Let Steve worry about everyone else. He was frantic to ensure his Sunshine's safety.

"Are you okay? Are you hurt?" Bucky grabbed Dawn by the shoulders and looked her over frantically. She was here. He didn't see any bleeding or bandages. No bruising or obvious limping.

"I'm fine, Bucky. Really." Dawn curled her fingers around the shoulder straps of his bullet proof vest. He was steady as a rock. She hadn't needed him to rescue her this time. But he had come for her. He would always come for her. "Just a little shaken up. The men I shot. Are they dead?"

Bucky pulled her in against his chest. Cradling her protectively, left hand covering the back of her head, right arm holding her close. She should never have been in a position where that was a question. "Don't worry about them, Sunshine. Your hands are clean. None of what happened today was your fault."

Across the room, a newly arrived Natasha was running through a similarly frantic inspection of Rosie. Checking her limbs were solid. Making sure Hydra hadn't broken her in any way.

Bucky stepped back. Dawn was alright. Now he just had to keep her that way. A cold certainty chilled his blood. He could keep her safe. If there was one thing the Winter Soldier was good for, it was this. "Jarvis! I want all the security footage from the tower and surrounding buildings for the last three days, all the sensor data from today, especially the initial breach. All the chatter about Pine Gap, if you have recordings from the strike teams coms, add those too. Throw it all up on screens in the control room. We are going through it with a fine toothed comb until we figure out exactly how this happened. And hold onto those stable Hydra agents. I want to have words with them."

Steve whistled sharply. Cutting Bucky off before he could get the bit too much between his teeth. "Belay that J.A.R.V.I.S. Right now we are going to get the last of the civilians out, finish the medevacs, turn the Hydra agents over to the FBI for processing, and put the tower into a hard lock down. Then we are all going to shower and get some rest. And in the morning we will review what happened. I want us looking at this with clear heads. Fatigue and anger won't help us make good decisions about how to prevent a repeat."

"And we are going to let a third party do the questioning." Peggy added, gently resting a hand on Bucky's shoulder. She wasn't sure who. Between them, Steve, Tony, and Natasha would have contacts. She was sure they were too close to the situation to get good information.

"I'm trained to do interrogations." Bucky growled. And he wanted to. He wanted to use the skill set Hydra had given him on the people who had scared his Sunshine. He wanted to know what they knew, and he wanted to leave marks that would make them think twice about ever doing something like this again.

"You're trained to torture people for information. It isn't the same thing." Steve corrected. They didn’t need the Winter Soldier right now. They had the skills to take care of this without him. But Dawn would probably need Bucky. And Steve would rather have his friend here, vs a mindless killing machine.

Natasha was filled with barely contained rage herself. These people had come into her home. They had been a threat to her chosen family. She wanted to skin them alive, but that wouldn't achieve what they really needed. Ensuring this never happened again, was more important than visceral revenge. Thankfully, they had friends and allies with enough distance to be rational and enough affection for them to go above and beyond. The FBI would be fine with bringing at least a few of the Hydra agents back for interrogation, and she knew exactly who could do those interrogations. "I'll call Rhody and Sharon. They can handle it."

Bucky looked back at Dawn. Her eyes were still wide and her hands were shaking. "Alright, but I want that hard lockdown hard."

"Nobody in or out once we get the last of the wounded taken care of." Steve agreed. They’d get all the nonresidents somewhere safe, and they’d firm up the perimeter. Tony could set all his suits to sentry mode. With all of the Avengers in residence and a police cordon still in place at ground level, that would be enough to deter most intruders.

Steve scrubbed the back of his neck. The shower was helping him feel more human.

Peggy slipped into the shower and wrapped her arms around him from behind. She could see how shaken he was. Even if no one else would recognize it. She knew how horrible it was when the nastier realities of their lives invaded your home. She’d lost two flats in London to the blitz, before Leviathan had sent their assassin in New York and she’d lost her roommate, Colleen. It still struck her every time, just how fragile and fleeting even a modicum of peace was.

Steve rubbed her arms softly. She was cold even in the steam of the shower. “Do you want to stay somewhere else tonight? We can get a hotel.”

Peggy shook her head against him. Leaving the familiarity of their apartment wouldn't help. “Here is fine, as long as you're here too.”

Steve turned in her hold, the better to cradle her in return. “I’m not going anywhere, Pegs.”

“Good." Peggy straightened her spine. It was hard to feel truly awful when she was with Steve. "You do get yourself into trouble without me. Gods, and aliens, and Zola as a computer. It’s all simply outrageous. No, there really is nothing for it, I shall just have to be the reasonable one. Again.”

“You’re always the reasonable one.” Steve squeezed some shampoo into his hand. Massaging it first into Peggy’s hair, careful to comb it all the way from roots to tip to wash the smell of smoke out, then roughly scrubbing the remaining suds over his own scalp. Getting rid of the lingering signs of combat would help.

"Obviously. I would never climb up a sheer glass wall with no safety net or back up plan." Peggy glared at him through her lashes. She’d come through the door from the elevator just in time to watch the love of her life disappear through a broken window.

"I'm sorry I worried you." Steve tipped her head back. Kissing her forehead tenderly before he started rinsing out the silky foam.

Peggy let out a long slow breath to center herself, and reached for the soap. She really did need a shower. And she couldn’t just let Steve do all the work. “Will the rebuilding be hard?”

Steve shook his head. Cleaning up always took longer than making the mess. But the Avengers had it figured out these days. “Tony keeps a reconstruction team on payroll. They’ll be here first thing tomorrow. Cleaners first, then the repairs. He’ll use it as an excuse to revamp and redecorate. He likes to redecorate."

Peggy worked the bar of soap around the curves of Steve's shoulders. “You act like this has all happened before.”

Steve shrugged. It had. “The aliens thing did a number on the Tower. And he sends them any time we do any real damage during our work. We’ve been lucky the last few months. No real structural damage.”

Peggy tucked herself back against his chest. It had been a very long day and she was exhausted.

Steve cupped his hand to shield her eyes and rinsed out the last of the conditioner. "We've been through worse."

"True," Peggy sigh, shoulders slumping further. "But it does add up doesn't it?"

Steve scooped Peggy into his arm. It did add up, especially at the end of a long day. A good night's sleep would help them both. Well, a good night's sleep, therapy, and a carefully regulated course of medication.

Brushing her hair had always been how Rosie relaxed for the night. 100 strokes with a soft brush every night. It meant her work was over. It meant things were under control. It meant she could braid her hair back, fall asleep, and wake up on a brand new day. She had to admit this was a day she was particularly ready to be over. At least the residential floors had escaped unscathed.

Well relatively unscathed. They had tried to pry open the elevator doors to Steve’s floor badly enough that he and Peggy had to take the stairs from the guest level below, but he was the only one.

Rosie was choosing to ignore that detail in favour of being grateful that her bed was intact and secure. She had a clean nightgown made of satin and lace, a warm soft bed -- the door from the bathroom opened, Natasha drifted out rubbing a towel over her damp hair, steps silent as alway-- and someone special to share that bed with.

Natasha tossed her towel in the laundry hamper. She hadn’t realised how much she wanted someone to come home to, until there had been a risk of losing it. Rosie didn’t look worried. On the other hand, Rosie would be well within her rights to pull up stakes and go looking for someone who wasn’t a major risk to spend her time with. "Are you sure you're alright?"

Rosie found Natasha's eyes in the mirror. Smiling softly as she set down her brush and reached for the ribbon she used to tie off her hair. It hadn't been that bad. Almost more invigorating than terrifying. But there was something heady about having the redhead worry about her. "You know, if you keep this up, people will start thinking you really do care."

Natasha shrugged and perched herself on the bench next to Rosie, laying her head on the other woman's shoulder. "Maybe I do."

Rosie kissed her forehead. "Don't worry. Your secret is safe.”

Natasha rubbed her cheek against the skin of Rosie's shoulder, soft and smooth from her nightly moisturizing. "Maybe you should come with us next time."

"Ahh,” Rosie snorted. “The perfect way to make sure no one shoots at me. I can stand next to the guy dressed like a flag and carrying a target. Then they can shoot at him."

Natasha made an amused humming noise. It was an excellent point, well made and well taken. "I was thinking you could stand next to me. Then I can shoot them instead. Or you can. You are an excellent shot."

It was a charming idea. The two of them against the world. Rosie could very well believe it had been a fantasy of Natasha's for some time. A partner who could match her particular set of skills. The flaw in her plan was Rosie was very much aware of her skills and they were not the same level as the infamous assassin cuddled against her.

"Would you be making this offer if we weren't…" Rosie hesitated over the exact word to use. They hadn't really talked about what they were. Just accepted that they were. Labels weren't particularly important to Rosie, but lacking them did occasionally lead to a great deal more circumspection than she would normally prefer. "Together?"

Natasha shrugged and tugged Rosie towards the bed. "You're good. Better than a lot of the members of our back up teams."

“Bucky?” Dawn edged nervously through the door to Bucky’s room. His sweater wrapped tight around her. The door had been unlocked, but she wasn’t seeing him anywhere. His room was perfectly tidy, the only thing out of place was a red and black flower sitting on the dresser. He’d brought her a wildflower again. She touched the stem tenderly. There was an incongruity in the token surviving the day. And a softness in it existing at all.

“Sunshine?” Bucky poked his head out of the on-suite bathroom. His stomach suddenly in knots. He'd thought she was tucked up safe in her own room. He'd walked her there and made sure she was alright to get herself cleaned up. Now she was here, damp haired and nervous in his sweater and a night gown. Was she okay? Had she been putting on a brave face earlier? Thank god he’d finished his shower before she came looking for him. He wouldn’t have taken a shower at all if he’d known she wasn’t okay.

Or maybe he would have, he had been covered in dust, soot, and blood, none of it his own. Not exactly the best stated to be in when you were trying to comfort someone. Not that being shirtless like he was was ideal either. At least he’d pulled his pajama pants on before her arrival.

Scanning his bare torso for new injuries, Dawn pulled her hands back inside her sleeves to stop herself making her visual appraisal a physical inspection. There were no obvious injuries at least. No bruises or mysterious bandages. She still worried. He always pretended to be alright for her. “Are you alright? Did your mission go okay?”

Bucky relaxed. She was alright. Just worried about him, because she was all sweetness and light. He leaned against the doorframe, wiping the back of his still damp neck with his towel. “It went fine, doll. Steve and Peggy got everything under control right away.” A bit of an overstatement. It had taken the better part of an hour to get through the barricade Hydra had erected, but they’d stopped Hydra from ever getting into the main building which was the important part.

“Can I…?” Dawn nodded hesitantly towards his bed. He didn’t always want to share right after a mission. And they almost never slept in his room. She kind of wanted him tonight though. After the day she’d had, she wanted the safety of Bucky and everything he represented.

The ghost of a smile touched Bucky’s lips. He reached back to grab his shirt off the bathroom counter. His bed was a good place for her after today. His bed was secure. “Climb in, Sunshine. I'll keep the boogie men away.”

Dawn curled up with her head on Bucky’s pillow. The warmth of the blankets and the smell of his cologne on the sheets relaxed her instantly. She blinked sleepily a few times and closed her eyes. Not moving until she felt the dip of the mattress next to her. She nuzzled into his side. A deep sense of comfort and protection washing over her as his strong arms held her close.

"I got you, Sunshine." He kissed her forehead and pressed his cheek to the top of her head. He was glad she was sleeping in his room tonight. It was one thing when he was keyed up after being in the field, those were the nights that his dreams were the worst. It was another thing when she was the one who had been in danger. He was sure he would have worried himself sick if she’d wanted to sleep alone. At least with her here, he could be sure she was safe. Her fingers curled around a fistful of his shirt. He tightened his hold a fraction. “I’ve got you.”

Chapter Text

November 13th, 2014

Coffee in a travel mug was a far cry from the gourmet breakfast Natasha had gotten used to since Dawn had started feeding them all. It was all she had managed to grab so far, between when she had left her apartment to help scan through security footage and when Sharon had called to say she was at the police parameter and needed someone to come get her cleared through.

Sharon had a coffee of her own. The side of her travel mug decorated with the CIA's shield and eagle logo. A corner of the decal was starting to peel. Sharon toyed with it distractedly. She had questions, but Natasha seemed too tense to interrogate at the moment. Instead they stood shoulder to shoulder in silence as the car moved smoothly down.

The doors opened, with a soft ding. Natasha was just about to start talking Sharon through what they knew so far, when she spotted the second blonde walking towards them.

Natasha blinked in confusion. She’d thought Rosie was helping Maria with reconstruction. Which by default should have kept her safely away from the prisoners if they tried anything dramatic to escape. Instead she was here, in the hall between the interrogation room and all the exit routes. And she was unarmed from the looks of it. “What are you doing down here?”

“Checking in with Steve.” Rosie indicated the roll of blueprints she was holding. “Hill thinks we should put in a couple more offices since we’re renovating anyway.”

Sharon reached past Natasha. There was no point in waiting for Romanov to make introductions. Peoples names tended to fall under ‘need to know’ if you weren’t working with them directly at least in the Black Widow’s world. “Sharon Carter, nice to meet you.”

“Rosie Waters.” Rosie accepted the handshake. Another Carter striding around with a gun like she was set to conquer the world. Rosie wouldn’t be surprised to discover that the tall blonde was related to her Carter. They carried themselves the same. Confident and too busy for people’s shit.

“Were you at S.H.I.E.L.D.? I feel like I would remember meeting you.” Sharon would never get used to the way all of Natasha’s friends were almost painfully attractive. ‘Rosie’ was especially gorgeous, with her huge doll-like green eyes and pin up girl hair. Arms full of blue prints and papers, she was giving off strong sexy librarian vibes. There was also something familiar about her. An instinctive recognition.

“No.” Rosie shook her head and shifted her documents to her other arm. “I never worked for S.H.I.E.L.D.”

“We brought in some outside contacts. A few people that we knew were clean to act as outside eyes.” Natasha found herself almost tempted to set her hand on the small of Rosie’s back protectively. That was what Steve or Bucky would have done.

Sharon raised one eyebrow and snorted in amusement. "Asking for help? You?"

"If you don't want to help, you don't have to." Natasha answered smoothly. She knew when she needed help. It was just that most of the time she didn't.

"I'm teasing. I'm glad you called." Sharon fixed the collar of Natasha’s jacket where it had flipped in. She hadn't last time. Just grabbed the one person around she thought she could trust and made a run for it. Which had been a fair assessment given the situation. Calling now was a huge show of trust. As close to an apology for not enlisting Sharon during the Hydra incident as she was likely to get.

“Thanks,” Natasha rubbed sharon’s arm. She was glad she had called too. She really was too close to this to conduct the interrogation effectively. Sharon was good. Between her and Rhodes, they could get to the bottom of this. “You go ahead. I’ll be right in.”

Sharon smiled and tucked her hair behind her ear. She hadn’t seen Natasha or Steve since S.H.I.E.L.D. had collapsed. The fact the two of them had thought of her when they needed help, she wouldn’t lie, it felt good. What had happened here yesterday was terrible, she was still glad they had called her.

Rosie hadn’t missed the intimacy of that exchange. “She seems nice.”

“Is someone jealous?” Natasha teased. She had never considered that Rosie might have an old fashioned possessive streak in her.

Rosie tipped her head to one side curiously. “Should I be?”

Natasha shrugged. In truth there wasn’t much to be jealous of. She and Sharon had been two people with similar interests working the kind of job that made it hard to date traditionally. They had occasionally leaned on each other when they had both needed to blow off steam. But it had never been more than a friends with benefits arrangement. “We went out a few times.”

“I see.” Rosie straightened her spine and tossed her hair. “I’ll let the two of you get on with your interrogation then. Hill and I have chairs to order.”

“Hey, Ro.” Natasha called before Rosie could disappear into the elevator.

Rosie stopped, her hand hovering above the call button.

Natasha followed her. As soon as she was close enough, she ran her hand down the inside of Rosie's arm and tangled their fingers together. She didn't mind a little jealousy. She did mind that Rosie's eyes had gone dark and her neck had gone stiff. “She and I never had what you and I have. She never even saw the inside of my apartment.”

Rosie tapped her forehead against Nat’s temple. She supposed it didn’t really matter who had shared Natasha’s bed in the past, she was the one sharing it now. “Seriously. Steve’s going to need you to help reign in Bucky. He would have killed anyone who scared Dawn like this before Hydra did all that stuff to him. Now...”

Natasha suppressed a laugh. Now indeed. Barnes was completely devoted to his sweet Canadian. She understood, she was pretty fond of her own. Even if hers was less Disney princess and more warrior princess. “I’ll see you for dinner.”

Sharon let herself into the observation room, eyes on her notebook as she reviews the first draft of questions. Steve was already there talking to Rhody and a woman she couldn’t quite see behind Steve’s bulk. “Hey Cap, do we know where they were using as a base of operations? Natasha’s briefing was a little sparse on details.”

“Yeah, sorry about that, Sharon.” Steve rubbed a hand through his hair and turned to face the newest member of their group. If Sharon was here, Natasha should be right behind her. Bucky had texted to say he was on his way down from the control room with the security camera stills they needed, so they could start as soon as he got here. Steve wouldn't lie, he was anxious to get this over with. “Whole thing is kind of a rush job.”

“I have our preliminary notes here.” Peggy said with her usual brisk efficiency. She and Bucky had spent a couple of hours running through all the intelligence they had trying to sort the wheat from the chaff.

"Oh my god." The impossible was pretty much par for the course when it came to working for S.H.I.E.L.D. let alone the Avengers. Sharon expected aliens and robots. She hadn't expected, couldn't have expected, her great aunt to try and hand her a preliminary report. The most important influence on her life. And the person she'd had lunch with two days ago in Washington.

Only this woman wasn't in her 90s. She was young, fit, and healthy. Standing next to Steve like she did in the oldest photos.

Sharon's knees went weak. “Oh my god.”

“Okay,” Steve caught Sharon’s elbow and guided her into one of the room's chairs. “Let's sit down for a second.”

It wasn't someone who looked like her. It was her. “She’s…”

“Yeah.” Steve should have thought of this when Natasha had suggested calling Sharon last night. She was one of the best most trustworthy members of S.H.I.E.L.D. they hadn’t brought over to Stark Industries with them. She was also one of Peggy’s closest family members. Peggy had functioned as a grandparent to her. She knew all Peggy’s best stories. And had grown up with Peggy’s photo albums as bedtime storybooks. Of course she would recognise Peggy. “Still not entirely sure what Stark did, but she is.”

“Steven?” Peggy touched his shoulder. She didn’t recognise the woman, although there was something familiar about the eyes, but the poor dear looked like she’d seen a ghost.

Of course Steve would be in charge of explanations. He was the only one here who knew what was going on. Even if that was giving Steve a lot of credit for knowing what was going on. He knew the broad strokes of it at least. The important points that were why Sharon was working hard not to hyperventilate. “Peggy, this is Sharon Carter. She’s Michael's granddaughter.”

“Oh." Michael had a granddaughter. His granddaughter was here. His granddaughter was a highly trained S.H.I.E.L.D. agent that Steve and Natasha trusted enough to conduct this interrogation. "I think I may need to sit down myself.”

Rhody shuffled over to stand next to Natasha who had just slipped into the room. “Do I want to know?”

“Tony did something nice for Steve." Natasha answered levelly. "It might also have had some questionable effects on the space time continuum. So far it seems fine.”

Rhody rubbed his eyes. Yeah. That sounded like Tony. “You could have just said no.”

Natasha bit her lip. This wasn’t the kind of interrogation Rhody could do alone. If Sharron was as shaken as she looked, someone else would have to step in. She would have to step in. Technique had trained drastically since Peggy’s last go on the other side of the mirror and none of the boys were qualified for this for a variety of reasons. “Sharron, if you need to tap out here, we’ll understand. We should have warned you.”

“I can handle it. Just give me a second here.” Sharon took a deep steadying breath. Her friends and her favorite Aunt had been attacked by the dregs of Hydra. Aside from the personal angle, she had a strong professional interest in the matter. Part of why the CIA had taken her on was to help clear up that particular disaster. If she could get useful information out of these Hydra agents, she would be well on her way to a promotion. Maybe even command of her own bureau. “So. Time travel.”

“Of a sort. Stark said something about a fax machine.” Peggy sat up as straight and confident as she could, rubbing Steve’s shoulder for a little extra reassurance. “Michael isn’t dead.”

“Well. He is now. He passed about 30 years ago." Sharon didn't have a lot of memories of her great grandfather. And most of the stories she heard after he died trailed off mysteriously. "But he survived the war. It was a whole… Thing.”

Peggy considered the ‘things’ that had led to Steve and Bucky both surviving. “Yes, there is rather a lot of that going around.”

Steve squeezed her calf. There had been so much going on he hadn’t even thought to tell her that her brother hadn’t died when she thought he had. “You gonna be okay?”

“The Carter women are made of stern stuff, Steven. It will take more than discovering additional family members to throw us off our game. We will have quite a bit of time to catch up after we stop the facist taking control of the world.” Peggy tossed her head. She definitely wanted to learn more about Michael's great granddaughter and her life in this century, but she also wanted to sleep without worrying that a second wave of invaders was going to storm the tower. “Isn’t that right, Sharon?”

Sharon shoved herself to her feet. If there was one thing cutting her teeth at S.H.I.E.L.D. had taught her, it was how to take a hit out of the blue and keep moving. Something Aunt Peggy had drilled into her too. Clearly, this Peggy subscribed to the same theory. “Let’s interview some suspected Hydra agents, shall we.”

Steve gave his phone a quick check. Bucky was on his way back down, and had found something very interesting when he was compiling dossiers on the men they had captured. “Do you still have to call them suspected if they have the stupid skull and tentical logo tattooed?”

Rhody’s head snapped up. “No way they can be that stupid.”

“I mean…” Natasha scrunched her nose. While Hydra as an organisation was a threat, and the ring leaders had to be geniuses to have flown under the radar for so long, but she couldn’t say she thought much of their grunts. “They joined a fascist organisation bent on destroying the world.”

“It is strong circumstantial evidence if nothing else.” Peggy leaned over Steve’s shoulder. Yes. That was exactly what she was seeing. A bright red ring with a skull and tentacles tattooed on a man’s chest, captured in the mug shot the former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents had taken last night. They were up against idiots. And the idiots were inexplicably winning.

"Alright then." Sharon rubbed her eyes. How these people thought they could take the Avengers fortress in the sky of a tower was beyond her. Hopefully, she could figure it out by the end of the day and they could transfer everyone to permanent custody. "Colonel Rhodes?"

"Please.” Rhody opened the door and stepped aside. From what he knew about Sharron Carter, this interrogation would consist largely of the two of them sitting silently side by side with an incriminating photo on the table in front of them while they waited for the prisoner to break and spill everything. Or maybe good cop, bad cop. He’d met her at a couple of parties, but he wasn’t exactly an expert on the woman. For example, he hadn’t realised that ‘Agent Carter’ and ‘Director Carter’ were related, until Sharon had tried to faint at seeing her. Not that he’d realised the dark haired woman acting as Steve’s left hand today was the famous Director Carter. Really, the Hydra agents better have a story. Otherwise they might very well be the least interesting part of his day. “After you."

Chapter Text

Bucky prowled across the guest floor’s entry hall. Watching the interrogations from behind the one way glass was just frustrating. The pair Nat had called in were good. Even he couldn’t deny that. Although he could have done better. So could Natasha for that matter. If they hadn’t had to deal with Steve and Peggy glaring at them sternly and taking notes. Steve hadn’t even let him access this ‘Rhody’ guy's earpiece directly. Any additional questions he’d wanted to ask had to be filtered through Steve. Which was unfair. Natasha got to talk to ‘Sharon’.

In the end, Peggy had banished him from the observation room too. Apparently his teeth grinding was making her jaw hurt. He appreciated that she hadn’t complained about the fact he’d dented the metal back of the chair he’d been leaning on. He was pretty sure that was the real reason she’d told him to take a walk.

Which was fair. He hadn’t wanted to listen to the mook in the other room explain how they were going to take out all the non-combatants in the tower and secure the contents of Tony’s lab anyway. Not when he wasn’t allowed to do anything about it.

At least his Sunshine was alright. He’d asked her to stay in the guest rooms while he dealt with the interrogations, and asked Jarvis to let him know if she needed anything. She had taken his request to heart. Wrapping herself in a sweater and curling up on the couch with a novel. He’d kissed the top of her head when he’d left earlier, and she was still there now. Significantly further into the book than she had been, but otherwise unchanged.

He crossed to the wall of windows, looking down on the bustling city below. There was nothing suspicious going on, at least not that he could see from this angle. He could go down though. Take the secure elevator to the ground floor, check the perimeter, and be back up in an hour. Maybe an hour and a half. The secondary loading dock had a row of dumpsters that created a ton of hiding places. There were sensors, but sensors could be bypassed. A visual inspection would be more reliable. At least it would be if he was the one doing the inspection.

There was a maintenance team on the roof of the train station. It could be a coincidence. Bucky hated coincidence. “Jarvis? What’s our situation?”

The blue light that was the computer’s avatar glowed brighter on the wall. “Agent Barton conducted a parameter sweep approximately an hour ago. He found nothing amiss. Mr. Stark has been actively monitoring my sensory input for the last few hours and detected no anomalies. Captain Rogers asked me to remind you that if anyone is watching the tower, making your presence here known will only increase interest.”

“Steve’s right.” Dawn fingered the next page of her book. “Peggy says they still aren’t looking for you here. That they think you’re in a safe house in Georgia. But if you go out there while they are trying to figure out why their attack failed, they’ll figure out that you aren’t just some friend of Tony’s that he gave an apartment to.”

“Steve’s always fucking right.” Bucky grumbled. If they were watching the parameter, they’d be checking everyone they saw against facial recognition. And when they figured out he was here, they’d have a whole new reason to try to get in, and a whole lot more resources would become available to whoever they sent. He needed to stay inside. He needed to stay on the private floors. Away from the rebuilding, from the loading docks, from the security weak spots on the public floors. He probably shouldn’t even go back to the interrogations. The wrong question at the wrong time and one of their prisoners would figure it out. They’d find a way to get a message to their employers once they were in outside custody. Their employers would make sure of it.

Dawn frowned. He wasn’t normally vulgar around her. Between that and his irritated tone, she had a sneaking suspicion that there were more layers of stress on him than just yesterday’s incident. “Did you sleep last night?”

Bucky shook his head. He’d dozed. Combat sleep to rest his body without turning off his mind to the world around him and any threats. With Dawn passed out on his chest, he hadn’t wanted to leave her vulnerable in any way. And now he was worrying her. “I don’t need much sleep, Sunshine.”

Dawn set her book down on the table. She should have known. He’d probably done that broody waiting and watching thing he did when the dreams were bad. “Come here.”

Bucky threw himself onto the couch. Dawn’s invitation was too tempting to pass up. If he was staying in, he’d rather stay close to her. He dragged her down under him and burrowed his face into her stomach. Cuddling with Dawn was calming. Centring. She smelled like fresh bread and citrus, and something floral… lavender tea? He couldn’t place the scent in the moment, but he knew what it was as a whole. She smelled like safety.

“There,” Dawn combed her fingers through his hair soothingly. Yesterday had been a hard day. It made sense that he would need a little comfort. “That’s better, isn’t it?”

Bucky made a noise somewhere between a low rumble and a purr. It was better. Dawn safely warped in his arms. The tower securely locked down. Answers on the way, even if he wasn’t the one getting the answers. Tower repairs already in progress. All things considered, it was a pretty good day. It would be perfect once the strange work crew was out of the building and he could be sure Dawn’s safety wasn’t a temporary situation.

Her fingers continued their slow rhythmic stroking.

Bucky rubbed his cheek against the soft knit of her sweater. There was something about her when she lost herself in her reading. A wondrously excited sparkle in her eyes. A subtle parting of her lips and she soaked in the words. It didn’t even matter what the story was. He wanted to be part of that escape. “Read to me?”

Dawn bit her lip. Picking the book back up without dislodging them from the couch was no easy task. Having put it down before Bucky had repositioned her, the book was now . She knew she wouldn’t fall. Not with Bucky’s arms around her, anchoring her to the couch. That didn't mean she could reach.

She just managed it. Coaxing the book back towards her with her fingertips, until she could lift it properly. She didn’t bother restarting the book, or even the chapter. When they had done this before, Bucky had insisted she just keep going. He’d ask questions if he had any. The sentence she had been on was as good a place as any to start from. She gently cleared her throat and read out the first paragraph.

Bucky’s eyelids felt heavy. Dawn’s voice was soft and warm. A blanket on a cold afternoon. Somewhere between one breath and the next he drifted off.

When he woke up again, the sun had dipped low outside the window. Dawn was still lost in her book. Her hand still running over his hair. She may have stopped reading aloud, but she had never stopped her reassuring petting.

He sighed and held her a little tighter. At this moment, he wasn’t entirely sure who was protecting who or from what. "We've been here all day."

“For a few hours.” Dawn agreed. She’d rather enjoyed her afternoon of reading with Bucky acting as her blanket. He absolutely radiated heat. And while he had never let her go, he had been alright with her shifting in his hold once he’d fallen asleep. She’d been able to spend the time working her way through her novel, calmly stroking his hair. Completely certain that if anything happened, he would be there for her, and from the rhythm of his breathing, equally certain that his dreams were peaceful.

Bucky propped himself on his elbows to look at her better. He could go all day on just the protein bar he'd eaten in the morning. But she couldn't. And realistically, just because he could didn't mean he should. "We should start thinking about dinner."

As if on cue, her stomach rumbled.

Bucky kissed the offending area. Normal life went on. She needed food, and there was no reason it shouldn't be food that made her feel good. After yesterday, they both deserved to feel good. “What are you hungry for, Sunshine?”

Dawn tipped her head from side to side considering. She wasn't in the mood to cook. Or move for that matter. “Would it be terrible if I wanted to order in? Maybe phở?”

Bucky tensed a little. It was a risk. They would have to let a stranger in, or one of the residents would have to go out. And then there was eating food prepared in a space they couldn’t control.

But if that was what his Sunshine wanted… “Delivery. We get the same thing. I’ll taste it. Then we wait, ‘bout half an hour. If I don’t feel any effects by then, it should be safe. And only if Nat agrees to go in with us and pick it up from downstairs.”

Dawn giggled and curled herself around his head. Protective to a fault. But determined to please. “Can we get the one with pork and shrimp? The spicy one?”

Bucky made a low rumbling noise in his throat. He hadn’t realised she liked the spicy one. He did too. The heat was nothing like the bland nutritionally efficient food they used to feed him. “And maybe some extra satay. As a side.”

November 20th, 2014

With the offices under heavy construction, to fix the damage and to renovate things so the newest members of the team had offices of their own, and the office staff all on paid vacation while they figured out what had happened, the Avengers had gathered in the bullpen to work. Steve and Peggy had the largest desk in the middle, a mix of new blueprints and intelligence reports spread across the surface. They moved around each other with ease. Bucky sat one desk over scanning rapidly through the chatter coming out of the major government agencies, close enough that when he found something they needed to see he could just print it and reach back to add it to their pile, the only route into the room on his left. Bruce stood in front of the rooms largest screen, brow furrowed as he poured over the raw code from the computer hack that had accompanied the invasion. Clint had his feet up on the desk he had chosen right in the entrance, reviewing the security footage of the invasion looking for clues. Natasha had claimed a whole bank of monitors to chase down leads of her own.

Rosie and Maria were one floor up overseeing the construction, with Tony bouncing between them, the bullpen, and lab repairs he refused to outsource to anyone else.

Rosie: Does Thor really need a corner office? I've been here for close to 6 months now and I still haven't met him.

Natasha: He's a founding member of the team.

Rosie: I'm putting him along the south wall. He's not here, and if Peggy and I are going to share an office, I want the North East corner.

Natasha: You don't have to share you know.

Rosie: We do if I want to justify a corner office. Besides, you know she'll be in Steve's most of the time.

Natasha: Devious. I love it.

Natasha smiled as she tucked her phone away and turned her attention back to the break through she had just made. Playing the new found footage back at half speed a couple of times confirmed her suspicions. This was big. This was real progress. “You know how we couldn’t figure out how Hydra got a hold of an administrative key card?”

“It’s the biggest question.” Bruce answered. And the one he was currently trying to make heads or tails of. Tony might be better suited to the task, but he should be able to at least get somewhere with this data. It just didn't make any sense.

“No one on the strike team knew, they’d just been given the card with their briefing package.” Peggy tapped her pen against her lips. Irritated by the memory. She had nearly joined Bucky in storming out of the interrogation room when it became clear that that particular line of questioning was a dead end. “Compartmentalization and all that.”

Natasha pushed off from her desk, rolling her chair across the room to where Bruce was sitting so she could steal the big screen. “It was Hill’s.”

“Hill turned on us?” Bucky asked, incredulous. She hadn’t been on his suspect list. From where he was standing, she was completely loyal to the organisation. She’d helped take down S.H.I.E.L.D. She and Natasha were thick as thieves. She had access to everything the main team did. If she couldn’t be trusted, they needed to go back to square one on every employee.

“No.” Natasha assured him efficiently. If Nat had even the slightest doubt about her, Rosie wouldn't be standing next to Hill and a wide array of power tools. Hill was as solid as they came. She flicked her tablet at the main screen, projecting what she was seeing for everyone. “Watch this.”

Slightly grainy security camera footage played. A packed subway platform. Maria waited for her train near the back of the crowd.

A scuffle broke out.

Hill reeled as a wild elbow from one of the men struck her in the chest. She put the man who had struck her on the ground, followed by the other three who had been fighting.

Transit police hurried to look like they were doing something and take statements from everyone involved, including Maria.

Natasha paused and zoomed in on the man who had elbowed Hill. He was looking down at his phone, which showed a loading bar.

It was obvious, as soon as Steve saw it. He was a little mad at himself for not seeing it from the start. “They cloned her card.”

Bruce frowned. If it was that simple, they would have known right away. Although… He flicked through the security data on his own tablet, looking for the jumbled and corrupted code that had seemed so opaque when he’d last looked at it. The string of apparently random bits made sense now. “Then modified the code to bypass the biometrics.”

Steve resisted the urge to bang his head against the desk. They'd known about the fight, but it had been weeks ago and since the badge had never left her person, they'd only swapped out Maria's encryption, rather than mess with the entire system. He should have known they were cutting corners.

“What do the cards do?” Peggy rolled her pen between her fingers. If they could be copied that easily, they were a serious gap in security. Possibly an unnecessary one, since none of the core team used them regularly. She forgot hers half the time, she wasn’t even sure Bucky knew where his was. Her thoughts were interrupted by the realization that Natasha and Bruce were both looking at her blankly. “I’m genuinely asking.”

Bruce chewed his lip. The badge system was fairly basic. It was actually one of the programs Stark Industries offered for commercial licensing. Which was probably where Hydra had picked up the basic code they manipulated. "Track checkpoint access. Act as secure keys. Control access to restricted areas. Monitor employee attendance. That sort of thing."

“Jarvis does all that,” Bucky crossed his arms over his chest. He thought he saw where Peggy was going with this. “And it would take a lot more work for someone to hack into him.”

Peggy nodded. That was all the confirmation she needed that there was something to this idea. It would be the same as having Rose memorise everyone who was cleared to enter the SSR offices in New York rather than have the agents show ID. The scale was different, but that was where the evolution in technology came in.

“You want to go completely badgeless?” Bruce looked at them in surprise. It wasn't that the adjustments to J.A.R.V.I.S.'s programming would be that hard. Tony could probably do them in his sleep. It was just that there were additional factors to consider.

“I think it is an option we should at least entertain.” Peggy leaned against the edge of the console. It was Occam’s Razor. Or at least as Occam’s Razor-like as anything involving a hyper intelligent computer that she was convinced was slightly sentient, no matter what Tony said.

“I don’t want to be the one to tell Happy.” Natasha muttered, bumping her shoulder against Bruce’s. Although she definitely wanted to be there when someone else did. Poor Happy was having a hard time adjusting to two new reality of the Avengers all being part of Stark Industries. In his defence, it had to be hard to have pretty much your entire department co-opted by what had previously been a completely separate organization. It was just that between her, Steve, and the improvements to J.A.R.V.I.S., head of security had become something of a symbolic title. Recent events aside, they had everything pretty covered. Add Barnes and his paranoia to the mix and she wasn't sure what Happy had to do outside of enforcing badge wearing.

Chapter Text

November 27th, 2014

Dawn hadn't fully appreciated the scope of what she was signing up for when Tony had casually suggested she take charge of the dessert table for his 'little get together' next month. Thankfully Pepper and Rhody had filled her in with enough time to prepare. And to have a minor meltdown that she only made it through thanks to Doctor Lin. Apparently, Tony's Thanksgiving extravaganza was the fundraiser of the year. All the who's who of New York stopped by to drop mind boggling amounts of money, both in the form of direct donations, and as part of the silent auction. Over 300 people would be through the newly repaired tower for the buffet lunch and afternoon snacks, not counting the 80 people who would be joining the residents for the six course dinner afterwards.

Twenty six pies, four layer cakes, eight dozen cupcakes, more tarts than Dawn would care to count, and enough cookies to feed a small army, a forest of autumnal sugar leaves. It was a satisfying spread. Dawn was very pleased with her work. Not that everything was on the carefully arranged table right now. ⅔ of the baking was waiting in the walk-in catering fridge downstairs. Lindsay, the lovely paid intern that Pepper had assigned to her for today, would be making periodic trips to keep everything full. Dawn turned a box of chocolates slightly so it sat at a jaunty angle. She hadn't made those. She had bought them in. But they were delicious, and really helped fill in the gaps.

Bucky set the last crate of wine down and leaned casually against the end or the bar. “Looks good, Sunshine.” Almost as good as she did. Her dress was deep green velvet patterned with big pink flowers. He loved the full tea length skirt and long slightly puffed sleeves. Gold sunbursts sparkling at her ears. She looked timelessly elegant. The earrings looked especially good on her.

Dawn half danced towards him, ending by draping her arms around his neck. The way his hands closed around her waist filled her with love, and if she was being honest with herself, something a little naughtier than love. Her desert table was a success and the victory was already going to her head. “Sure you won’t stay? You can scare people away when they try to take more than two of the blood orange tarts.”

“You can be plenty scary yourself.” Bucky squeezed her proudly. She was going to be a hit. He knew it in his bones. “And I have a date with Jarvis and some boxer named Rocky tonight.”

Dawn smiled up at him. She'd miss him, but she accepted that he wasn't a fan of crowds anymore. He wasn’t dressed for a party anyway. She loved him in jeans and a t-shirt, but the ‘pearl clutching contingent’ as Steve called them, probably wouldn’t approve, and he never wore short sleeves around anyone who didn't live in the Tower. “Tell me all about it after?”

Bucky cupped her face between his hands and tipped it up towards his. He was happy to tell her about the movies, even if she would probably get a better idea what they were about by just watching them herself later. She was the one doing something important tonight. Her Labour Day rescue had been just that, a rescue, by definition a hasty thing. Her cookies for Halloween had been brilliant, but kids were a pretty forgiving audience when it came to baking. Tonight's desert spread was a beast of a different nature. Dozens of ravenous party goers were going to descend on her table, judging everything she presented, separately and as a whole. As sure as he was that it would go well, his Sunshine was in for an adventure. “Only if you’ll do the same.”

Dawn laughed and curled her fingers around his wrists. She held onto him as he kissed her softly. She could feel his pride in her through his lips. It was a heady thing, having someone believe in you so much. It made her feel like she could fly.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was a hectic blur for Dawn. She did manage to find a few minutes to eat a hot pressed sandwich and text Bucky to check in and let him know that both she and Steve were alive, if both slightly overwhelmed.

He texted back a selfie of himself in the gym. One earbud in, shirt off, as he hung from one of the rings. Along with the caption Ian Fleming never met a lesbian in his GODDAMN life.

Dawn saved the photo. Purely because Bucky was obviously having a good day and there weren’t a lot of photos of him feeling like himself. No other reason.

It was nearly midnight when Dawn finally let herself back into guest rooms. She was tired. She regretted not wearing flats. Everyone had raved about her baking. Well, except for one woman who had wanted something sugar free, gluten free, nut free, and paleo friendly. Dawn had made sure she had something that met all of those dietary requirements individually, and even some that met two of three, but nothing that met all her demands. That one outlier aside, everything had gone as perfectly as she could hope. There were only about a dozen cookies left. Lindsay had happily packed them up to take home when Dawn had told her she could have them. She’d been even more excited when Dawn slipped her the dozen butter tarts she had set aside as a special thank you.

Most excitingly Bucky was waiting for her in the kitchen. Forget all the glamorously dressed people she had met and talked to upstairs. There was nowhere she would rather be than here with Bucky in his low slung pajama pants and a worn out tee-shirt with holes around the neck and hem.

Bucky silently flicked on the kettle for tea. His Sunshine looked exhausted. But happily exhausted. He curled his hands around her hips and boosted her on a stool at the bar. He’d help her unwind a little, then make sure she made it safely into bed. Maybe even tuck her in all snug and warm. “Fun day, Sunshine?”

“It was.” Dawn pulled the pins out of her hair, and fluffed out locks with a contented sigh. Her scalp tingled as it relaxed. That felt miles better. "How were things down here?"

The corner of Bucky's mouth twitched. That was his Sunshine. Always worrying about other people. About him specifically. "Lots of punching.”

“Is that good?” Dawn asked, watching Bucky make tea.

“It was alright.” Bucky set a mug in front of her, the string of a sleepytime tea bag trailing over the edge. He didn’t take the stool next to her. Instead he leaned his elbows on the counter, watching her and rolling his own mug between his hands.

Dawn bit her lip. He was waiting for her to say something about her night. Most of it had been a blur of accepting compliments and answering questions about dietary issues. There was one, minor, little, insignificant little incident that Bucky might find interesting. It was nothing, but he’d find it charming. "A lady asked me what my prices were and if I do smaller parties."

Bucky tossed his tea bag into the sink with the garburator and took a first sip of his scalding beverage. "What did you tell her?"

Dawn looked up at him, eyes wide. "I panicked. Lindsay asked for her card and told her I was on retainer for Mr. Stark through the holidays, but would get back to her with my price list for the new year."

Bucky nodded thoughtfully. Preparation was the key to a successful operation. A month and a half, a little help from her friends, Dawn could put together a solid business plan. He wondered absently if Jack could be roped into helping with her books. And maybe taking orders, Jack was good at that sort of thing. Although Dawn could probably muddle through with her secretarial background. "You'll have to do some research on what people charge for this sort of thing these days. You don't want to under bid."

"Don't be ridiculous." Dawn flapped her hands in front of her face. It was too much. The woman had been looking for a fancy caterer. Not someone who did a little baking on the side. "I'm not doing it. I'm going to write her a very polite letter thanking her for her interest but explaining that I'm not a real baker."

"Okay." Bucky sipped his tea. If she didn’t want to, she didn’t want to. "You could be. You're good at it."

Dawn blushed and looked down at her mug. “You think so?”

Bucky blinked. Was that even really a question? Dawn was brilliant. “I think you would be good at anything you put your mind to.”

Dawn found herself absently tracing patterns on the back of Bucky’s hand as they sipped their tea. She didn’t know what was more surprising, the fact she hadn’t noticed, or the fact he was fine with her casual touch. She knew he was getting more comfortable with her, but he still kept her carefully at arms length. And so much of their touching these days was platonic. She'd go in for a hug, and it was a quick squeeze before he stepped away. She offered her lips and his kiss landed on her forehead. Not that she didn’t like touching Bucky platonically, but she did miss the way he used to sweep her off her feet and kiss her silly every chance he got. The little pecks on her hair or cheek or even her hands weren’t the same. She wanted him to kiss her like he used to. Like he had the night of Halloween or Tony's Labour Day party. She wanted him to touch her the way he had the one night they had spent together in France.

She would settle for falling asleep while he held her. “Sleep in my room tonight?”

“You sure you want me there, doll?” Bucky stroked her hair back from her face tenderly. “You had a long day and I wake you up with my nightmares.”

“You don’t always.” Dawn wrapped her arms around him and pressed into his side. And she would rather he wake her up than feel alone when he was terrified. “And Jarvis keeps it so cold in here at night." She was cheating. Bucky was horribly paranoid about her being cold. "I like when you sleep in my bed.”

“Alright." Bucky kissed the centre of her forehead. "If you want me.”

“I do, Bucky." Dawn snuggled even closer. "I really do.”

Chapter Text

November 28th, 2014

Bucky rolled over to find Dawn smiling at him through half open eyes. He propped himself on his elbow to get a better look at her. He loved her first thing in the morning, when her hair was a mess and her eyes seemed to have a hard time focusing on anything other than his face. He loved the way her voice would be a little horse when she said 'hi' because he was the first person she talked to. He loved the sleepy way her fingers would brush against his wrist. He loved… he loved her. And there was no reason he shouldn’t act on that love.

This him. The new him. He loved her. And not just because of who they had been to each other before. Because of who they were now. She had changed too. She had been uprooted and was trying to find her way in a strange world just as much as he was. He traced the curve of her cheek, fascinated. There was no reason she shouldn't be his. She already had his whole heart after all. And kept trying to give him hers.

"Hi." Dawn whispered into the early morning air. She couldn't place what was going on in his face as he looked at her, but she liked it. It made her feel… valued, and valuable.

Bucky dipped his head. Slowly, very slowly, and deliberately, he kissed her. Not an instinct. Not because it was what was appropriate in the situation. Because he loved her. And he wanted to kiss her.

"Hi." He twisted that stubborn piece of hair, the one that always slipped out of place and needed tucking behind her ear, around his finger.

Dawn ran her hands over his chest. The cotton of his shirt soft under her palms. Like this it was hard to tell which ridges were wrinkles in the fabric, and which were the lines of his scars. "Bucky?"

Bucky worked his fingers deeper into her hair. "Yeah, Sunshine?"

Dawn blushed and looked up at him through her lashes. "Kiss me again?"

Bucky did. Wrapping his left arm around her waist, right hand cupping her head more firmly, and rolling her on-top of him. Her hands found their way into his hair in return as she deepened the kiss, melting against him.

As much as Dawn would have liked to spend all morning in bed, exploring Bucky's new found willingness to kiss her and investigating exactly how far that instinct to ravish her went, Steve had made plans for all the 'expats', as Natasha euphemistically called them, to spend the day together. He had sounded excited when he told them he had a surprise. Besides, Bucky's kisses had been steady lingering things this morning. Not the rushed frantic moments they had shared the last couple times. As long as he felt as confident in them as she did, they could pick things back up in the evening. Or again tomorrow. Or any time really. They had all the time in the world to figure each other out. And now that it didn't feel like Bucky was sacred and hiding from her, the figuring out would be a pleasure.

With that surety in mind, eleven thirty found Dawn and Bucky, showered and dressed for the day, making their way hand in hand down the hall from the bedroom.

Bucky resisted the urge to glare around the living room. He was a good friend. That was the only reason he was out here when he could be firmly ensconced in Dawn's bed with his girl in his arms. He had forgotten how sweetly pliant she went when he kissed her. Now that he remembered, he wanted to keep her in that soft blissful state indefinitely. But Steve wanted them all to do something together, and Dawn had been the one to remind him of that fact. He couldn't disappoint either of them.

Everyone else was already here, so he couldn't even grumble at Steve for interrupting a fun morning with his 'plans'. Which might actually be a blessing in disguise. Steve probably would have just laughed at him and reminded him how many 'fun' moments he had interrupted over the last five months. Still. “What’s all this about?”

“Today, I am going to show you all the coolest thing that happened in the last 80 years.” Steve piled more snacks onto the coffee table in the common room. The assortment of Bruch and snack foods should keep them all satisfied through what he had planned. They were all going to love it, he was sure.

“Cooler than the steam shower?” Rosie asked, curling herself into an armchair. One that just happened to be within arm's reach of the platter full of cinnamon buns.

There was a collective sigh from the time travellers as they thought about the luxurious steam feature they’d discovered in the bathrooms of their suites. They were a world away from cold sputtering camp showers. Or even the drippy unreliable ones from home.

“Much cooler. Today folks…” Steve paused for dramatic effect. “We watch the moon landing.”

Ginny’s head snapped around. “I’m sorry, the what?”

“Oh yeah, I heard about that.” Bucky poured Dawn’s coffee before his own. "The Russians were pissed. Pretty sure I helped with a purge after."

“Pretty sure you did.” Steve agreed. He’d worried about that, but he hoped it was far enough back that Bucky wouldn’t feel it too much. He’d made a point of not including any of the Russian footage in what they were watching today, just in case. “At least based on what Nat put together.”

“Guess we’d better see what all the fuss was about.” Bucky winked at Dawn and carried their mugs to the couch.

Dawn cuddled in happily under Bucky’s arm, her legs curled beneath her. His metal fingers were cold, and they tickled as he stroked her neck. She looked up at him through her lashes and he smiled back. She wasn't sure what had changed this morning, but everything felt different. Softer, like some of the veils between them had fallen away. It felt like she had her Bucky back. Not exactly the same Bucky she had lost, but undeniably hers.

She leaned into Bucky and sipped her coffee, significantly more enthralled by Bucky’s teasing touches than the rocket that filled the screen. He’d moved on to absently tracing the cabling on the arm of her sweater. It really was spectacularly distracting, in the best possible way. She rested her free hand lightly on his knee, heart warm and happy.

Jack frowned at the narration. He was sure he was missing something. He almost always was these days. Things had moved fast in the intervening years. Thankfully, his time in the war had taught him how to fake his way through having no idea what was going on. This was big though, and it just refused to make sense. “So wait, they just landed on the moon right away.”

Steve shrugged. It was complicated, but looking back it felt pretty inevitable. “I mean, they started with sending up satellites first. Then a few manned orbital flights. Then they landed on the moon. A couple of times actually. Then things just sort of fizzled out for a decade or two. No one has been back to the moon since, although the international space station is pretty damn cool, and they've got a rover on Mars.”

“I can’t believe America just dominated space like that.” Ginny pursed her lips. What had their country been doing while their neighbours to the south built giant missiles to conquer the sky? Manifest Destiny was such an uncomfortable thing to live next to.

“Actually it looked like Russia was going to win the space race.” Steve was starting to think he should have included more of the build up before the main event. He’d wanted to start with a bang. While it was less relevant to day to day life than the stuff they’d been catching up on, the moon landing was a major cultural touchstone.

“Really?” Rosie asked, fascinated. How had she missed all of this in her reading?

“Yeah, first animals in orbit, first man in orbit. It helped that Yuri Gagarin was a crazy son of a bitch. Although you've met test pilots, they’re all like that.” Steve said with a chuckle. Sam and Rhody definitely were. He was pretty sure if he told them one of them could be the first man on Mars, they would get into a fistfight to decide who got to go first.

Bucky’s brow furrowed. “I know that name. Why do I know that name?”

Steve propped an ankle on his knee, running through all the details he could remember about the Winter Soldier during the space race. “You might have met him. It looks like you did a lot of bodyguard work for Khrushchev around then. Guy was paranoid someone was trying to kill him. Which to be fair, they were.”

Bucky nodded thoughtfully. Running his fingers absently up and down Dawn’s arms as he tried to fit the desperate pieces of his memory together. Having her close to him like this helped. It was easier to remember who and where he was with her under his arm, looking up at him with calm confidently reassuring eyes. He could definitely remember standing behind a short balding man while he shook hands with a handsome man wearing orange. Then a slightly later memory of kissing that same handsome man, although he wasn’t entirely sure if that one was real or not.

“Can we get back to the space thing?” Rosie asked. Bucky had killed a lot of people, and stopped a lot of other people from being killed. Interesting as it was, it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the fact that people had gone to space.

“Right.” Steve turned his attention back to the rest of the group. “The Russian’s dominated right at the beginning. Their satellite Sputnik beat the Explorer 1 by close to five months.”

It was like someone flicked a switch in Bucky’s head. One moment he was looking down at Dawn’s face as she suppressed a giggle. The next moment his world went black.

Dawn clapped her hands to her mouth to stop herself screaming as Bucky slumped to the ground and started shaking.

Ginny lept into action. Shoving the coffee table away from Bucky’s prone form and rolling him onto his side. She slipped a throw pillow under his head to stop him bashing it against the floor. And waited. At this point that was all they could do.

Peggy grabbed Steve’s arm when it looked like he wanted to lunge in and help. Ginny was the most prepared of all of them. Well, all of them in the room. “Is Bruce in the building?”

“Already calling.” Jack confirmed, phone held to his ear.

Eventually, the shaking stopped. Bucky lay limp and still on the floor next to the couch. Dawn dropped down next to him. Pulling his head into her lap and gently stroking his hair. She was desperate for his eyes to open. For him to smile at her and tell her he was alright. Still they stayed stubbornly closed. His face slack and expressionless. “Please. Bucky. Don’t do this to me.”

Chapter Text

November 29th, 2014

The world was fuzzy as Bucky slowly came back to himself. He wasn’t sure where he was. But it was soft and warm and there was a distant soothing voice that made him feel safe. Something wrapped around his face, blowing clean fresh air into his nose.

Another voice interrupted the first, a low counterpoint to the soft alto. Bucky managed to make out the last few words. “--Change. You should get some rest.”

“I don’t want him to wake up alone.”

“I’ll sit with him. You’ve been awake all night.”

Bucky forced gritty eyes open. He knew those voices. “Steve? Sunshine?”

“Bucky!" Dawn's book tumbled to the ground as she leapt to her feet. He was awake. His voice was a little rough, but he was awake.

Steve hurried to Bucky's bedside. “Buck! How are you feeling?”

“Like I fell down a flight of stairs and landed in a snowbank.” He tried to push himself into a sitting position with his right arm. His joints all screamed and he fell back against the bed. “And then that snowbank was pushed off a cliff.” He could say that from experience.

"Not funny." Steve said, glaring at him coldly.

"A little funny." Bucky shoved himself up in the bed again, managing to make it into a half sitting position against the pillows this time, even with the cannula tangling in the sheets and dragging at his face. "I'm not cuffed to the bed, so I assume I didn't hurt anyone?"

"You just collapsed and…" Steve went pale and trailed off. And Steve had been pretty sure his heart had stopped.

"You had a seizure." Dawn whispered. Thank God Ginny had been there to help. Dawn had recognized it for what it was after the fact. She knew what to do for a seizure. She'd just never had to deal with some she loved being the one convulsing. It was a lot easier to count the seconds when the person on the ground, or in her experience, in the cot, didn't have her whole heart in their hands.

Loving Bucky, having no idea why the convulsions were happening… she had been absolutely frozen with fear.

“That’s alright then.” Bucky closed his eyes and said a prayer of thanks to a god he wasn’t sure was real anymore. He hadn’t hurt any of his friends. Maybe it wasn’t a full blown miracle. But it was something.

“Alright?” Steve gaped. Bucky had collapsed, almost brained himself on the coffee table, been unconscious for the better part of a day, and that was alright?

Bucky opened his eyes to look up at Steve. It was alright. A seizure and a few hours unconsciousness was the best case scenario when it came to Bucky not remembering what had happened. “S long as I didn’t hurt anyone, yeah.”

Dawn curled her fingers around Bucky’s. His metal hand was cool, not alive exactly, but his thumb came up to hold her back, and she could feel the same electric connection she always did in his touch. “You didn’t. Well, you clipped Steve in the ribs with your elbow on the way down, but it wasn’t your metal arm or anything, so he’s alright.”

The corner of Bucky’s mouth twitched. If he had a dollar for every time he’d elbowed Steve, by accident or on purpose, they wouldn’t be living on Stark’s charity. He could live with one more. “Stevie never did learn how to dodge.”

“Fuck you, Barnes.” Steve rubbed his hand over his jaw. Bucky was alright. His personality was coming back already. “I’m going to let everyone know your alright. You get out of that bed before Bruce and Ginny give you the all clear, I will personally break your knees so you can’t.”

“Not sure that would help with my recovery.” Bucky grumbled. He knew Steve was exaggerating. The big guy would never hurt him. He also knew that Steve had a point. He needed to stay in bed and recover properly. As much as he hated it. He stroked his thumb over the back of Dawn’s hand. “Have you really been up all night?”

Dawn nodded shyly. She had spent the last eighteen hours alternating between reading to him and watching quietly. Ginny had brought her cups of honey tea and made her eat something. Steve had been in and out, pacing or perching on the edge of Bucky's bed, unable to stay still for long.

“Come here.” Bucky tugged on Dawn with his left hand. That side was working properly at least.

Dawn crawled into the bed, careful not to jar her poor boy. She nestled gently under his arm, resting her head on his chest. The chest under her cheek felt strange. Bucky normally preferred she sleep on the other side. And now she could feel why. The edge of his artificial arm left a hard ridge. She could hear his heart though. Slow and steady. He was alive. That was all that mattered. "You scared us."

"I'm sorry, doll." Bucky stroked her hair softly. Sensation through the arm was always a little strange. It did temperature and pressure a lot better than texture. Her hair baffled its sensors, yielding and light, not warm, but not cold either.

“Steve was worried you wouldn’t remember us when you woke up.” Dawn held him a little tighter. She had been worried too. It had taken all her willpower to stop herself spiralling into despair at all the terrible things that Bucky collapsing the way he had could mean. Especially when it had taken him so long to wake up.

“It would take more than that to make me forget you again.” Bucky kissed her forehead softly. His eyes were getting heavy again. “I’m still tired. Will you stay with me if I sleep a little more?”

Dawn rubbed his chest reassuringly. “Of course.”

She swung her legs out of the bed as his eyes closed again. She would curl up in the chair as long as it took for him to feel alright. Weeks if she had to.

Bucky’s arm tightened around her waist. He didn’t need to see to feel what she was doing. If she thought he’d let her get back into that little rickety chair when there was a perfectly good bed for her to lay in, she was sorely mistaken. “With me, Sunshine.”

Dawn blushed and snuggled back against his side. “I’m with you Bucky.”

November 30th, 2014

Doctor Lin’s office was always a calming environment. Bucky liked the hours he spent here on the days when he was in the Tower. All of it, from the relaxing warm neutrals of the furnishings, to the soothing abstract paintings on the walls, made Bucky feel comforted and safe. He leaned back into the couch, waiting for Doctor Lin to start. She'd been good about that since he'd confessed to anxiety around being the first one to speak.

He was especially enjoying the sense of control after yesterday. They’d probably talk about what had happened eventually, but he was hoping they would ease into it.

Doctor Lin smoothed the top sheet of her notepad, pen poised and at the ready. "How's journaling going?"

Bucky smiled at his knees. Definitely easing in. Nice soft ball, right down the line. Doctor Lin had been thrilled about his journals since he had first mentioned them. It was nice to know he was doing something right. "I've been writing, but it hasn't been doing a lot to help me organize some of my thoughts."

"No?" Doctor Lin tipped her head to one side curiously.

Bucky shrugged. He wasn't sure how to explain it, but then, that was why he was here. "Things just feel too complicated to go down in black and white."

The doctor made a note. "What sort of things?"

Bucky tucked his hair behind his ears. What indeed. The thought that had been running through Bucky’s mind for weeks. And he’d been worrying it like a canker sore. Because it was a terrible idea. But he wanted it. He wanted it a lot. And Dawn… He hadn’t asked Dawn. He didn’t want to get her hopes up. Or get shot down…

But he’d kissed her, and she’d kissed him. And his body had filled with liquid sunlight. He’d been so happy. So at peace.

And then his brain had betrayed him again.

He still wanted it. "Should I be sleeping with Dawn?"

Doctor Lin looked up at him with a slight frown. "I thought the two of you had negotiated some sort of arrangement for sharing a bed when you needed additional security."

"No, not-- I sleep in Dawn's room about half the time. More than half. She hardly even wakes up if I sneak in after a nightmare. Just cuddles in so she can hold me." If he focused, he could almost feel her wrapped around him even when she wasn’t there. She was a touchstone that brought him back to himself every time. His light against the darkness.

Doctor Lin nodded. The pieces started to click into place. "And you want to know if you should stop doing that?"

"No. I love it.” Dawn snuggling in against his side when he climbed in with her. The feel of her heartbeat against his hand when he held her close. Waking up with his face buried in her hair. The sleepy way she stretched and blinked at him first thing in the morning. The delicate brush of her hand against his cheek when she thought he was asleep. The fragile life that ran so close to her surface… A life that it would be all too easy for him to snuff out when he wasn’t himself.... “Unless you think I should?"

Doctor Lin smoothed a hand over her notepad. She didn’t have unprofessional opinions about her pacients sex lives. "I think we may have lost track of your original question."

"Right. Not should I sleep with Dawn. I like sleeping in her room and I think she likes having me there. She says she does.” Big blue eyes looking up at him through long lashes filled his mind. His Sunshine, cheeks blushing a delicate pink, lips parted ever so slightly. Her hand resting on his chest, a silent invitation to do more than kiss that tempting mouth. “Should I be sleeping with Dawn?"

Doctor Lin tapped her pen against her lips. Promising. Very promising. “Do you want to ‘sleep’ with Dawn?”

“I do.” Bucky looked down at his hands, real and artificial. What he was now, and what he had been before... “But I also don’t want to hurt her,”

Doctor Lin leaned forward intently. "Let's dig into that."

Tony tumbled into the common room, a pen behind his ear and a box of electronics in his arms. “Steve I need to see your shield.”

Steve set down the report he was reading. “What’s up Tony?”

Tony dropped the box on the table. Eyes gleaming with enthusiasm. “You know the magnetic retrieval system I knocked up last year?”

“Means I don’t have to awkwardly bend down to pick up my shield, so yes.” Steve was good at flicking the shield off the ground and catching it. But the magnets helped if he didn't get the angle right or if he couldn't get his feet in position. The magnets on his harness had been a revelation. Not having to fidget to get things to sit right before he started moving saved precious seconds in an emergency.

Tony bounced on the balls of his feet. It was simple really. Obvious, now that he had thought of it. “I figured out how to extend the range and make it work on two polarities.”

“Tony, darling. You know I adore you, but sometimes you are so far ahead of us we can’t even see you.” Peggy unfolded her knees from under her. She wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but it sounded promising. The magnetic catches on Steve’s shield were engenius. Any improvement on them Tony could devise would be welcome. If that improvement made it more useable, not just for Steve but for her… There was no denying that the young Stark was a genius, above and beyond his father’s wildest dreams.

“Okay,” Tony flicked his wrist over the table and J.A.R.V.I.S. pulled up a hologram replay of Steve and Peggy in combat. “Steve keeps throwing the shield to protect you, then you have to throw it back, either because he’s the one getting shot at, or just so he can carry it. Sometimes it just sits on the ground because you threw it at something and it didn't bounce back in the right direction for either of you to pick it up.”

"True." Peggy nodded along, she was with him so far.

"And I think we can all agree that a shield laying on the ground isn't ideal." Tony said seriously. The playback changed to a shot of Steve trying to duck out of cover to get close enough to retrieve his shield.

Steve leaned back in his chair. He thought he saw where Tony was going with this. If it worked, it could change everything. “Walk me through it.”

Tony flicked his hand one more time and the hologram transformed into an exploded blueprint. “Okay, there’s a little more hardware to add to the strap housing. I also want to add new mounts so Peggy can carry it comfortably and actually bend her arm. You might have noticed your arms are a little longer than hers. Once it’s running, you just have to flip this switch to toggle who it’s attracted to. Up is Steve. Down is Peggy. Hit the switch and it will take off to the other person. Hit the button I’m going to add to the half of the mounting that actually attaches to your arm, and it will come back from up to 150 meters.”

“This is such a brilliant solution.” Peggy muttered. Reading deeper into the details of how the magnetic mechanism worked the more obvious the solution seemed. She would never have thought of it, but now that she saw it, she had no idea why they hadn't been using it from the start. "You're terribly sweet for thinking of me."

Tony shrugged. It was nothing. A logical extension of tech that they’d been using for years. "You have to be used to it. You worked with my dad for years.”

Peggy swiped deeper into the written details. She had worked with Howard. He’d been her friend. That didn’t mean he was perfect. If pressed, she would admit to thinking the son was a better person than his father. "He was a genius. But he could also be completely oblivious to anything beyond the science."

Steve snorted derisively. “That’s an understatement.”

“Come on Steve.” Tony rolled his eyes. “He invented a flying car in the 40s. His repulsor technology is what makes my suit work. Hell, he figured out the atomic structure of Badassium --patent pending-- and saved my life, not to mention the breakthrough it has been for green energy. He just didn’t have the tools to synthesize it.”

"His brains were never my problem with him." Steve shrugged. No one would ever deny that Howard was brilliant, or that he had earned the right to be a cocky bastard about some of the things he had done.

Tony frowned and looked back and forth between Steve and Peggy. "You had problems with him?"

"The guy I knew wasn’t the same as the guy who was your father. The happy stable family man with a loving wife and a kid. I only knew him before. When he was young and stupid.” Steve rubbed the back of his neck. He wasn't sure how to explain. Howard was Tony's father, and he had been a good friend to Steve. Just because they had very different philosophies on somethings didn't mean he could destroy Tony's childhood memories. “You know what you were like before you figured out you're crazy about Pepper? Howard was worse. And worse than that, because society was horrible about women expressing their sexuality back then. ‘Slept with a rich playboy’ wasn’t just a kind of embarrassing story you could eat out on. It could mean getting fired, getting evicted, being disowned by your family."

"He couldn't even break up with the women himself." Peggy pursed her lips at a memory. She had been furious at Howard for a number of reasons that week. "He sent Mr. Jarvis with a sparkly trinket to buy them off."

"Hands up if you ever slapped Howard Stark." Ginny called, thrusting her own hand into the air. Peggy raised her hand, mouth set in a stern line. Dawn lifted hers more hesitantly. Jack and Steve raised theirs.

"Really Rosie?” Jack looked at the only woman in the room had met Howard Stark but hadn’t raised her hand. “I would have thought you were just his type."

Rosie's expression was stormy. She was, and 'no' wasn't a word Howard was used to hearing. "Technically, I never slapped him."

"My girls got a mean right hook." Natasha kissed Rosie proudly on the cheek.

Tony dropped onto the couch next to Rosie. “Is anything I know real?”

Rosie patted his arm sympathetically. She had been doing a lot of historical reading lately. She knew how he felt. “Very little.”

Chapter Text

December 5th, 2014

Tony danced around the common room hanging Christmas decorations. Not the fancy elegant decorations he would have to put up before his New Years party. The ridiculous kitchy decorations that he secretly loved. Tinsel, bobbles, multi coloured lights, and a Santa that laughed when you poked his belly.

Decorating was a lot more fun with people to decorate for living in the tower with him. Clint and Natasha both threw their hands up in protest when he walked between them and the TV. Loudly, if good naturedly, complaining that he had made them crash in the racing game they were playing. Rosie jostled him playfully when he positioned a stuffed reindeer with its nose right in her ear as she tried to read. Dawn giggled when he popped a piece into the puzzle she was working on with Bucky. Ginny leaned forward over her knitting so he could swap the throw pillow she was leaning on for one emblazoned with HO HO HO in bright sequins. Steve took a break from helping Peggy review an intelligence report to help him hang garland across the window. All that was missing was Bruce, Jack, and Pepper, who were all busy working. He was sure they would be excited when they saw all his hard work later.

He set a family photo on the mantle. The last one he and his parents had taken together. The one in the sterling silver holly berry frame that he only broke out this time of year because it made him sad most of the time. They should think about doing Christmas family photos as a group. Everyone could wear ugly sweaters. They could stick antlers on Barnes. That would be amusing with the scowl he always wore in pictures. The photo of his parents would look less lonely with a bunch of other smiling snapshots surrounding it.

Bucky stretched and got up from the table where he has been sitting with Dawn for the last couple hours. He needed to move, get his blood flowing again. Maybe think about lunch. He started with absently inspecting the bits and pieces Tony had put out. He didn't think any of them would be dangerous in any way, but it never hurt to check. And Doctor Lin was always encouraging him to investigate new things. He was allowed to ask questions.

Tony maneuvered his way around Steve and Peggy. Hanging a clump of glittery mistletoe above them as he did. “So I’m thinking, secret Santa this year. There’s so many of us in the tower, and it will be a lot of fun to guess… also Nat is not allowed to guess, and Clint is not allowed to look at her while he guesses.”

“I can’t make it to Christmas." Clint jostled his shoulder against Natasha's, trying to throw her off so he could pull ahead in their digital race. "I have plans.”

Natasha shoulder checked him back and gunned her car towards the finish line. “I’m actually supposed to be joining him for those plans.”

“Are you two running missions without telling us?” Tony narrowed his eyes at them. Natasha's face rarely gave anything away, but Clint had tells if you knew where to look.

"No." Natasha answered, beating Clint by a full two car lengths. "We just have things in our lives that predate you and aren’t related to our work as Avengers.”

Tony swivelled to face Rosie. “Do you know about these plans?”

Rosie looked up from the show on her tablet, regarding Tony blandly. “Yes.”

Bucky frowned at the photo on the mantle. It was a much later portrait of the man than the one Tony had in his lab. Bucky recognised this man. And the woman next to him. But from where?

Tony propped his chin on his fists. Natasha and Clint might be able to resist all forms of interrogation, but Rosie didn't have any of their training. “Care to tell us what they are?”

“No.” Rosie answered, returning her attention to the screen in her lap.

Tony edged closer. “Does Clint have a girlfriend?”

The corner of Natasha’s mouth twitched with a suppressed smirk. “No.”

“Does Clint have a boyfriend?” Tony nudged Rosie playfully.

Clint made pointed eye contact with Natasha to make sure she didn’t laugh. For someone who could lie their way out of any situation, Nat had a terrible poker face around her friends. “No.”

Tony stared at them for a long minute before accepting their answer and turning back to the rest of the room. “Okay. Nat and Clint are out for secret Santa. I still think it is a good idea. I hate price limits, you all have black cards linked to the discretionary account anyway, but I’m thinking size limits, like it has to be something between the size of a bread box and oh… the new Audi Q5 in cosmic blue.”

Steve chuckled. “That’s a very specific size suggestion, Tony. Any chance you’re dropping hints because Pepper said you’re not allowed to buy a new car?”

Tony clutched his chest in dismay. “I would never.”

The pieces clicked into place. A road through a forest. A car crash. Bucky’s stomach dropped. The man had recognised him. Had called him by his name… “I killed Howard. And his wife. I’m sorry. I don’t think I ever knew her name. But I killed them. I tried to be gentle. To make it fast. I couldn’t really resist the programming though. I--”

Tony blinked rapidly. “You…. You killed my parents?”

Dawn still wasn’t 100% confident with her cell phone. She liked being able to send her friends messages any time she wanted, but there was so much else it could do that she never used it for. It was usually easier to just ask Jarvis. This felt like a phone call she needed to make herself. “Hi, Doctor Lin. Would you mind terribly popping up to the main Avengers common room? I think we need a little help with some conflict resolution.”

“Damn it Tony.” Steve growled trying to restrain his friend without crushing him. “It wasn’t Bucky. It was Hydra. They just used him.”

“She. Was. My. Mother!” Tony spat out each word individually, straining against Steve’s hold. He was an idiot for not wearing the bracelets that summoned his suit today. Even Cap wouldn’t be able to hold him back if he had them. And he’d be able to make the traitor pay.

Dawn's hand tightened on her phone. This had the potential to get messy. “And could you maybe hurry?”

“He’s not going to hurt you, Bucky. Just stay calm.” Peggy pressed her palms to Bucky's chest, trying to walk him backwards and failing. He was rooted like a brick wall. His eyes were fixed on Tony and Steve and he had gone unnervingly still. She didn't think he was a threat to Tony. At least as long as Tony didn't hurt Steve. She had no idea what Bucky would do then.

“Now, I think it is important that we address the elephant in the room.” Doctor Lin pressed her palms together to keep herself steady. There was a lot of tension in the room. “Or maybe elephants is a better word. Tony has been living with the pain of losing his parents for a long time. They died at a very vulnerable time in his life and there were always a lot of questions surrounding the loss. Likewise, Bucky struggles with the nature of the things he did while under Hydra’s control. While he was not in control of his actions, he still feels responsible.”

Bucky stayed completely still.

He hadn’t actually moved since Dawn and Peggy had ushered him into a chair. He wasn’t even sure he could move. At least not without that movement being violent. Steve was standing protectively behind Tony’s chair opposite. Who exactly he was protecting was a mystery, even to Bucky. Doctor Lin seemed to be the only one not moments away from snapping. Bucky always appreciated that about her. Never phased by the craziness. She was just calm. Notebook on her knee, as calm if this was just another day in her office.

“What does any of that mean?” Tony grumbled.

Doctor Lin crossed her ankles delicately. It meant it would have been nice to have a heads up that two of her most problematic patients had traumas that were so intricately linked. “It means that while you hold Mr. Barnes responsible for their deaths, and interestingly so does he, ultimate responsibility lies with the people who sent him. Not with him. If they had been shot, you wouldn’t hold the gun responsible. You’d blame the person who pulled the trigger.”

Tony eyed the therapist sceptically. “Are you seriously trying to argue that guns don’t kill people, people kill people?”

Doctor Lin drew a circle on her notepad. “Well, I think we can all agree that not everyone can be trusted with that kind of power. Certainly we don’t want people going around creating genetically advanced assassins left right and centre. But we have talked about the weapon not being responsible for how it is ultimately used, nor is it’s creator. Evil people corrupt good things all the time. That is why we have the Nobel Prizes, and why you stopped making and selling weapons.”

“He’s been living in my house!" Tony exploded out of his chair. Barely restrained by Steve grabbing his shoulders. "Eating my food!”

Doctor Lin set her pen on her notepad determinedly. “Tony, if you’re not going to be calm, I will have Agent Romanov sedate you.”

Bucky looked at Doctor Lin intently. Sedated sounded like a good idea. Not for Tony. For him. They’d tried a couple of times, with a little help from Bruce. So far they hadn’t been able to replicate whatever Hydra had used to knock him out. A couple hours of oblivion sounded perfect right about now.

He glanced across at Steve with his worried protective expression and Tony with his hurt angry one. No. He couldn’t zone out on the world right now. He needed to engage and talk through the situation. For Tony’s sake as much as his own.

He focused his attention on Doctor Lin’s voice. It helped. Over the last few months, Doctor Lin had talked him through some of his darkest moments. Letting her guide them through this disaster just felt natural. With her help he and Tony talked through what had happened, how they felt about it all. Bucky was surprised by how much detail Tony wanted. And how cathartic talking about it really was. By the time they both fell silent, Bucky felt pleasantly drained. As if he had been overflowing with the suppressed memories and all that pain and guilt had been washed away. It wasn’t gone exactly. He still knew how terrible it all was. He also knew it wasn’t his fault.

Tony had to admit, Hydra wanting his father dead and his mother getting caught in the crossfire made a lot more sense than a random car accident. He'd never really believed that something so mundane could kill Howard. One of the most talented assassins of the last century with all the resources of the world's shadow government taking him out to steal his research and perpetuate the cold war sounded a lot more like the truth. Felt closer to the truth.

He just wished his mom hadn't been collateral damage.

Doctor Lin considered her two patients. They were definitely getting to the end of their endurance. “I think we are all starting to look a little emotionally exhausted. Why don’t end this session here for now.” She flipped through her day planner deliberately. “I have individual appointments with both of you over the next two days, but I’d like to see you together, let's say…. Tuesday.”

Tony and Bucky both nodded in agreement. J.A.R.V.I.S. would set a meeting that worked for all their schedule.

“Try not to kill each other before then.” Doctor Lin hesitated with her hand over the elevator call button. With normal patients, she would have just left it there. A casual little joke about the conflict. Very few of her patients had been normal since she’d accepted this position. “I have my cell phone on me if you need anything.”

“You heard the doctor.” Steve glared between his best friends. “Make nice.”

“It wasn’t your fault.” Tony held his hand out towards Bucky.

Bucky accepted the offered hand. “I’m sorry. For everything.”

Tony dropped Bucky's hand after one up and down. “Me too.”

Tony took two steps towards the elevator. He’d go up to his apartment. Have a nap, talk through today with Pepper, maybe call Rhody. He’d calm down, and things would go back to the way they had been this morning, when his biggest problem had been figuring out how to convince a house full of genetically engineered super soldiers to wear stupid hats for Christmas.

Yeah. It wasn't that simple. Whatever Doctor Lin and the others said. Responsible or not. Barnes had still killed his parents. Tony wasn't about to take that laying down. He whipped around and planted his fist on the hinge of Bucky’s jaw.

A shooting pain lanced through Tony, shooting from his second knuckle all the way up his arm.

"Is your hand okay?" Bucky asked seriously. It had been a hard punch. He’d almost had to take a step backwards to maintain his balance.

Steve grabbed Tony around the waist and carried him bodily to the penthouse. They were clearly done for today.

Chapter Text

December 6th, 2014

Tony knocked, but didn't wait for an answer as he pushed into Bucky's room. He'd calmed down since yesterday. Taken the time to really think about what Doctor Lin had said and reread the Winter Soldier dossier to remind himself what all had happened to Bucky. Talking to Pepper had helped too. He'd come to terms with what had happened… or at least he was coming to terms.

“You missed breakfast.” Tony set a plate on the dresser. Just a bagel with cream cheese, they weren't at the omelet stage yet. There was no obvious reason for Bucky to be hiding from them. At least no reason beyond wanting to give Tony space after yesterday. From what Tony could see he was just doing laundry to fill the time.

Bucky looked at the food. It wasn't necessary. He'd grabbed a protein bar earlier. “You don’t need to feel guilty. I have some money of my own. Not a lot, but some. I’ll find a place somewhere in the city to make it easier on Steve. You’re not going to make Dawn leave are you? I haven't told her what my plan is yet. She’s safer here than anywhere else.”

Tony narrowed his eyes at the bag on the bed. He might have miss-judged the exact nature of what was going on. “Sorry, what are you doing?”

“Packing.” Bucky answered, carefully folding another shirt. “I figured I’d take the clothes since they won’t fit anyone else here anyway. I left everything else.” He gestured to the phone and other odds and ends on the bed. The pistol was the thing he was saddest to leave behind. Getting a new one without ID would be difficult, but not impossible. He'd pay through the nose for something with the serial numbers filed off, that hadn't been maintained. Thankfully rebuilding a gun was well within his skillset.

He'd debated the running shoes, but in the end they really were too valuable, and unlike the clothes they would be easy to resell. He would be fine with just his boots until he could buy sneakers of his own. He was taking the toothbrush too, although that hardly seemed worth mentioning.

“Yeah," Tony grabbed a stack of folded shirts and transferred them back to the dresser. "You can stop that.”

Bucky stopped with a pair of sweats halfway to the bag. "You want me to leave the clothes?"

"No. I-” Tony rubbed his eyes. He didn’t know how to explain the thoughts running through his head. He was still mad, not at Barnes specifically, but mad. That didn’t mean he wanted Bucky to leave. He wanted…The world to be fair? Bad things not to happen to good people? Something. The same something that was why he'd built the Ironman suit in the first place. “I'm not going to make you move out."

"It is a reasonable thing to ask." Bucky shrugged. The Winter Soldier had killed Tony’s parents. Bucky was the Winter Soldier. He wouldn’t want him living under his roof either.

"Yeah." Tony shrugged. People complained about him not being reasonable all the time. Maybe this time it was a good thing. "But it wasn't your fault. And you at least told me, unlike Steve and Nat, who have apparently known for months and didn't know how to break the news."

"They probably would have done a better job than me." Bucky snorted. He'd thought Tony at least knew his parents death hadn't been an accident. Someone he trusted murdering them, coming right on the heels of the revelation that they had been murdered, it was no wonder he'd reacted badly.

"You've got a whole radical honesty thing going on.” Tony flapped a hand to encompass Bucky and everything about him. “People find that charming."

"Nah. They just say that.” Bucky snorted. He’d seen enough of the world to know that ‘the truth’ was never as simple as people wanted it to be. And most of the time they didn’t want it at all. “People like the comfortable lie."

"See. That's exactly what I mean." Bucky told it like it was. Most people might not appreciate it. But Tony did. It was why Rhody was his best friend and Pepper was the love of his life. He’d spent years with people feeding him the comfortable lie, and it had landed him in a cave in Afghanistan. He pushed the plate with the bagel into Bucky’s hand. He and Bucky were going to be friends. Possibly friends who’s main form of bonding was insulting each other. But friends. "We're good?"

"Yeah, Stark. We're good." Bucky took a big deliberate bite of the bagel. Tony was being way more generous about this than Bucky deserved. “How’s the hand?”

Tony looked down at the ridged black glove-like structure encasing his right hand. “Fractured my metacarpal. Ginny says I need to wear a brace for the next couple weeks. Then threatened to really break my hand if I try to cheat.”

“Ma always said I had a hard head.” Bucky snorted. “Remember to aim for the soft bits next time. You don’t have an arm like mine.”

“Will do. Sticking magnets to that arm later." Tony said already halfway out the door. Just because he was willing to forgive Barnes didn't mean he wasn't going to milk this at least a little. He really wanted to figure out how that arm worked.

Bucky took another bite of the bagel. Magnets on his arm were the least he could do given the debt he was repaying. Besides, it was still pulling.

December 10th, 2014

Bucky jogged to a stop a few yards outside the little craft market. He'd largely been ignoring the stalls since it had popped up along the route he and Steve ran in the morning. As early in the day as they were normally out, there wasn't much to look at, everyone was just setting up. They had started their run later than normal this morning. Steve had insisted on dragging Tony out of the lab before they left no easy thing when Tony had ‘just one more thing’ left to finish before the upgrade on his suit worked. The market was up and running, the low buzz of people shopping filled the park. The people weren't what had made Bucky stop, a table in the middle had drawn his attention.

It looked like a sparkling wildflower explosion. Petals in dozens of sizes and colours, yellow, pink, red, purple, and blue. Flashes of silver and gold scattered throughout.

Bucky kept his eyes and ears peeled for anything suspicious as he approached the table. The jewelry was even prettier up close. Vibrant pressed flowers, trapped inside a crystal like substance as clear as water. It wasn’t just jewelry either. There were blocks filled with flowers and twinkling lights, coasters, picture frames, paper weights, bookmarks, even little boxes. All of them moments of pure natural beauty frozen in time.

Bucky touched a pendant with deep purple and yellow pansy trapped inside. “How much?”

The vendor smiled at him welcomingly. “Twenty dollars for a small pendant, thirty for a large, earrings are twenty five. Everything else is priced as marked.”

Steve peared over Bucky’s shoulder as he perused the vendor's wares. “What are you doing, Buck?”

“Getting a Christmas present for Dawn.” Bucky narrowed his eyes, carefully considering all the options. Daisies, and corn flowers, ferns, and delicate dandelions, rose petals and bachelors buttons. They were all lovely, it was just a matter of picking out the perfect one for his Sunshine. “You should get something for Peggy.”

"We're doing secret Santa, I got Bruce." Steve said, looking out at the rest of the market. This was his favorite part of living in the city. It was just so alive. So full of normal people with normal problems. It reminded him why they did what they did. He especially liked it when they were anonymous, like they were now.

Bucky stared at Steve for a moment. Was he really such a bad wingman that Steve didn't understand the basics? "Your girlfriend doesn't count when it comes to secret Santa." Speaking of. He pulled out his phone and typed in a number from memory. “I’m standing in front of a street vendor that sells resin and flower jewelry. They have earrings with violets, want us to grab them for you to give to Rosie?”

“Why violets?" Natasha answered, over the sound of shuffling paper. "Wouldn’t roses make more sense?”

“Trust me, violets are the right choice. They’re how lesbians used to recognise each other." Bucky narrowed his eyes at a pair of yellow daisies done up as earrings. Something about them was triggering a memory, but it refused to solidify into anything coherent. Just a vague feeling of warmth. He shrugged the feeling off. Dawn had earrings. She could use a necklace. "Plus they're Rosie’s favorite flower.”

“Okay, make it happen.” The sound of a stapler punctuated Natasha’s agreement.

Bucky picked up three pieces. The violet earrings for Rosie, a light blue hydrangea pendant for Peggy, and a cluster of forget-me-nots in a heart for his Sunshine. “We’ll take these.”

The stall keeper tucked the three pieces into a small paper bag, while Bucky fished four twenties out of his wallet. He shook his head when she offered him her change. Artist needed to eat. And if Steve was any indication, they tended to undervalue their time.

Bucky tucked the little bag into the inside pocket of his jacket.

"So...” Steve jostled his shoulder against Bucky’s. “Buying her jewelry, again."

Bucky zipped his jacket all the way up against the wind. Steve's ‘again’ was reassuring. He'd thought he'd done it before. He just couldn't remember what he bought her... or when... Not that it really mattered. Dawn deserved something pretty and he could give her that. "What of it?"

Steve took two jogging steps so he was in front of Bucky walking backwards. "Seriously? You're gonna make me ask?"

Bucky just stared at him blankly. He really had no idea where Steve was going with this. Why wouldn’t he buy Dawn jewelry? They were together. Or at least not not together. No. They slept in the same bed two out of three nights. That was definitely together. Getting her something special for Christmas just made sense.

Steve rolled his eyes. There weren’t a lot of ‘Dawn and Bucky’ related questions. "Are you and Dawn having sex yet?"

"What is this? Highschool?" Bucky snorted.

"How?” Steve threw his head back. Questioning the heavens as much as Bucky. “I'm really asking. How do you sleep wrapped around her night after night and never even think about fooling around with her?"

"I never said I don't think about it.” Bucky grumbled. He thought about it all the time. When he fell asleep holding her. When he woke up with her head on his chest, her nightgown falling off her shoulders and rucked up around her hips. When she threw herself into his arms and squealed with delight as something good happened. When she looked up at him through her lashes, lips slightly parted, an unspoken invitation hanging in the air between them. It was all he could think about. And he still couldn’t convince himself that it was an entirely good idea. “And cold showers."

Chapter Text

December 24th, 2014

The whole beef loin resting on the counter was intimidatingly large. The meat had been marinating in wine with garlic and rosemary for two days. Dawn had spent the last hour painstakingly studying it with more whole cloves of garlic, and getting it properly situated on the sword-like skewer it would cook on. All she had left to do now was hang it in the convection oven to slow roast overnight. There were sides to do in the morning but she’d prepped most of them already. She washed her hands thoroughly to get the raw meat off, running through the timing of everything that was left. It really wasn’t all that much. She should have lots of time to spend with everyone tomorrow.

Bucky slipped into the kitchen. Tucking his hands into his pockets as he loafed across the room towards her. His mind buzzed with a mix of nerves and excitement. The small box in his pocket felt heavier than it had any right to. "Can I steal a second?"

"Sure.” Dawn beamed at him, drying her hands on the towel hanging next to the sink. Even if She’d been busy, she would have made time for him. If she was very lucky, she might be able to coax him into staying with her while she finished up. Cooking was always more fun with Bucky’s rumbling commentary to keep her entertained. “What's on your mind?"

"I got you something." Bucky leaned against the edge of the island and smiled at her sheepishly.

"Oh, Bucky.” Dawn took a few shy steps closer. “I didn't get you anything."

"You didn't have to." Bucky set the box on the counter and pushed it towards her. He'd agonised over the bow. Trying again and again until he'd managed to get the deep green silk ribbon to form perfect loops. "Besides, 's not much."

Dawn smiled and blushed at him shyly as she picked up the little brown box with its beautiful bow. It was a present from her Bucky. It could be a rock he had picked up on the street and she would love it.

A little tug undid the ribbon. Dawn carefully tucked the lid under the body of the box. Inside, nestled in a bed of bright white tissue, sat one of the most beautiful necklaces she had ever seen. A cluster of delicate pale blue flowers with soft cream and yellow centres, preserved in clear crystal. The little heart glinted in the warm overhead lights, the silver of its twisted chain glittering. "It's gorgeous!"

"Help me put it on?" She pulled her hair over one shoulder and turned around so he could link the delicate chain behind her neck.

Her pure joyous enthusiasm warmed Bucky’s heart. He took the necklace from her. Carefully looping it around her neck and fastening the tiny clasp. Dawn craned her head, looking down at the pendant where it sat just below her collar bone. She fingered the crystal heart, turning it so it caught the light. A soft delighted expression lighting up her face.

Bucky stroked the back of her neck, from the glinting chain to her hairline and back. He was glad he’d picked right. There was nothing quite like that smile to make him feel like himself. "Merry Christmas, Sunshine."

Dawn shivered as his fingers continued up and down her neck. There was absolutely no mistaking his touch for anyone else. The knuckles of his metal hand were smooth. The pressure feather light, his strength held back by iron control. It turned her head like strong drink.

“Sorry, Sunshine.” Bucky tried to kiss away the goosebumps, his hands dropping to her waist. “I know the hand is cold.”

“No. That’s not--” Dawn blushed and hid her face in her hand. “I’m not cold.”

“Looks like you are.” Bucky brushed his lips over the side of her neck. One hand sliding up to hold her ribs. His other arm slipped around her waist, pressing her against him. He hated thinking about his Sunshine being cold. And she was quivering like she was freezing, for all the skin against his lips was warm. Almost hot. And flushed, such a pretty shade of pink. He closed his eyes and nuzzled her behind the ear. He wanted to keep her warm. Warm, and soft, and in his arms, that was the best place for her.

Dawn closed her eyes, leaning back into his hold. He’d been freer with physical affection over the last month. Hugs and gentle kisses were delightfully common now. But this… Moments like this were still fleetingly rare. Her skin tingled everywhere his lips touched. A storm of butterflies made her stomach flutter. “Bucky…”

“Am I interrupting?” Natasha’s voice broke into their little bubble. She’d made it all the way into the room without disturbing them. She leaned casually against the counter, not even trying to hide her amused expression.

Dawn cleared her throat and shifted away from Bucky. “No.. umm… we were just…”

Bucky stepped back up next to Dawn, spreading a palm wide across her back. “Gave Dawn her Christmas present. I was helping her put it on.”

Natasha leaned on one elbow. Christmas present. Right. That was definitely it. No way were they about to indulge in some heavy petting in the middle of the kitchen. The Winter Soldier’s hands obviously hadn’t been wandering anywhere naughty. Whatever they needed to believe. “Clint and I are taking off. Thought you might want to join in on the send off.”

“Right.” Dawn tucked her hair behind her ears to centre herself. “Umm...”

“We’ll be up in a sec.” Bucky rubbed a small circle between Dawn’s shoulder blades. “Soon as we get the beef in the oven.”

Lela: Merry Christmas Eve! Hope you're not working to hard. I just finished a 12 hour shift (yes I know it is 3 in the afternoon, trust me, my math is right) to get all the orders the restaurant needed for tonight and tomorrow done, and am on my way home to fall into bed and not move for several hours.

Dawn: OMG. I was just about to text you. I was prepping Christmas dinner and Bucky came in to give me my present early and we... we kind of got carried away and Nat walked in on his hand basically up my shirt.

Lela: Lol

Jack glared at the ceiling. Maybe it was the three glasses of eggnog he’s had this afternoon, or the fact that he’d been up since five with Ginny’s morning sickness, but the festive music was starting to get to him. Or not all the music, just one specific song that kept playing. "I thought Jarvis didn't play ads when he plays music. He's not the radio, it's more like a record."

"He doesn't play ads." Tony tucked his screwdriver behind his ear so he could twist a pair of wires together. The first iteration of the shield modulator hadn’t worked the way he’d hoped. With any luck the new electro regulator would solve the delay in the polarization shift.

"Yes he does.” Jack objected. His drink sloshed dangerously. “He's played versions of the same one every like two hours all day."

Tony set down his work. J.A.R.V.I.S. definitely didn’t play ads. He’d been broadcasting Tony’s holiday playlist all day. Just Christmas classic after Christmas classic. Nothing even resembling an add. "What are you talking about?"

"Rudolph!" Jack gestured at the offending speaker. The jingle itself had played a bunch of times, but the stupid reindeer had also been name checked in even more. "I don't know why your AI wants us to shop at Montgomery Ward so badly, but he keeps playing it."

Steve practically fell off the couch laughing at Jack's righteous fury and Tony's complete bemusement. "Thank you! First time I brought it up, everyone thought I was crazy."

He’d been stuck in a S.H.I.E.L.D. stake out van listening to a surveillance feed from a mob safe house and had nearly thrown his head set across the room. Rumlow specifically had looked at him like he’d lost his mind. He’d spent so much time trying and failing to explain himself that they had almost missed their target. Although in retrospect, that might have been intentional.

December 25th, 2014

Tony leaned over Steve's shoulder trying to figure out what was important enough for him to spend Christmas morning reading it. "The news? Really?"

Steve flipped to the next page of his newspaper app. It wasn't quite as satisfying as the real thing, but it was easier to manage without setting down his coffee. "It is important to stay up to date on current events."

"It is Christmas." Tony grabbed Steve by the shoulders and shook him. Captain Stick in the mud needed to learn to be festive. "We should be eating food that is bad for us, day drinking, and exchanging presents with the people we care about."

Steve looked down at the plate by his elbow, a sticky bun that was at least a third butter by volume, and half a dozen strips of bacon. And this was just his grazing plate. When they'd sat down for breakfast earlier, he'd had a plate of eggs Benedict, two slices of French toast, and something that Ginny had called tropical fruit salad, but he was pretty sure was just honey grilled pineapple with pomegranates and mango. His other hand held a steaming Irish coffee, his second today, not that he could get drunk regardless. "Is this you trying to hint that you want to open presents?"

Tony shrugged innocently. "I mean, I don't want to push if no one else is ready…"

Steve rolled his eyes indulgently. “J.A.R.V.I.S. Let everyone know we’re going to do presents in ten.”

J.A.R.V.I.S. made a happy chiming sound. “Right away, Captain.”

Steve’s call had everyone assembled in the living room inside his timeframe.

J.A.R.V.I.S. projected a holographic Christmas tree over the coffee table and they all dropped their packages around it’s glowing base before settling into the couches.

Pepper tucked herself against Tony’s side, pleased to see that there were no oversized stuffed animals this year. She patted the seat next to her in invitation to Bruce. She suspected he had a hand in talking Tony into a more reasonable gift.

Dawn didn’t even hesitate before nestling herself under Bucky’s arm. Today he was bright eyed, clean shaven, and smiling. He was undoubtedly her Bucky. And she was his. She had the necklace glittering around her neck to prove it.

Rosie perched herself on the arm of the couch between Ginny and Jack, and Dawn and Bucky. She’d spent so many Christmas with her friends, she couldn’t imagine the festivities without them, although it would have been nice to have her own person to curl up with. For more than one reason.

“Okay, before we start on presents, there is something very important we need to address.” Rosie whipped around to face Bucky. “What on earth is on your head?”

“Tony said they were traditional.” Bucky adjusted the antlered band perched on top of his head. The whole assembly chiming softly thanks to the bells dangling from the ends of each prong. He was about 80% sure Tony was bullshitting him. But looking a little ridiculous seemed like a reasonable concession for all Stark had given him. Especially considering the extenuating circumstances around their relationship.

“Be nice.” Dawn reached across Bucky to swat her friend’s knee. “I think they’re cute.”

“Oh, they’re adorable.” Rosie snorted. She flipped her phone into her hand and snapped a picture to send to Natasha.

Nat: ‼️🤯‼️🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

Nat: Clint says he will give you a thousand dollars for a video with sound.

“Leave the Bicentennial Man alone.” Tony tossed a throw pillow at Rosie. She was being a spoilsport. It was Christmas.“At least he’s trying to make an effort.”

“Yes,” Peggy clapped her hands together. “Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Who should go first?”

Guessing who the gift giver was broke down pretty fast. Tony had banned Natasha from guessing when he’d thought she’d be here because she was too good at reading people, but he hadn't considered that Peggy had all the same skills and was intimately familiar with the tells of more than half the room. Once she correctly identified who had given her a vintage makeup compact already filled with pressed powder and lipstick in her colours (Pepper), Rosie the history of Stonewall (Bucky), Bucky a new Dodgers baseball cap (Jack), and Ginny the laser scalpel she was immediately enamoured with (Tony), Tony called an end to the game. Leaving Steve to pass Bruce the red wrapped package with his name on it without any subterfuge.

Bruce ran his hands over the plush fabric. They were so soft. Softer than any towels he’d ever owned. He’d never really considered that if you shopped around, spent the money on higher quality, they really would be higher quality. For that matter, he doubted Steve had considered the fact either. For all the gift was allegedly from him. Bruce would lay good money on Peggy having had a hand in the selection.

Steve leaned back, crossing an ankle over his other knee. “There should be a snack subscription in there too. You can use it to get those weird Brazilian chips you like. A crate a month should be enough.”

Bruce rummaged through the fluffy folds in search of the card. “Salgadinhos aren’t weird. They may be the perfect food.”

Pepper laughed at the long running disagreement and selected another random package from the stack. “This one is for…” She flipped the tag over. Dawn’s neat curling handwriting greeted her, all swoops and loops. “Jack.”

Jack couldn’t actually move as he held the contents of the gift Dawn had gotten him. Two books, the Odyssey and the Iliad. Not themselves surprising or overwhelming. He’d done a lot of work with the Greek Classics, they were what Mount Royal had hired him to teach. But these ones… These ones had his name on the cover. They were translated and annotated by him. They had published his work. Not just published it. These were new additions. People were still using his work, 60 years after he’d apparently gotten it published...

Ginny kissed her husband’s temple. He might be out of commission for the next little while. It was okay, they could move on without him. She grabbed Steve’s present and tossed it into his lap. “Probably best we stopped guessing. You would have figured me out right away.”

Steve clapped his hands together. Inordinately pleased with his new set of knit mittens with their matching hat and scarf. Everyone got him either red white and blue stuff or sober 'mature' neutral colours. Orange and red stripes were a welcome change. "Thank you, Ginny."

"Lucky boy, she doesn't knit for just anyone." Peggy teased, smacking Steve in the cheek with the tasselled end of the scarf.

Grinning, Steve looped the scarf around Peggy’s neck and reeled her in for a kiss. Warm and versatile. “A perfect practical gift. I love it.”

Bruce set a palm sized box in Tony's hands. Looked like it was their turn. "Pepper vetoed the car. I got you this."

Tony knew what it was before he even opened the box. An addition to his watch collection. Tugging off the ribbon revealed an Omega Seamaster 300, Military Issue with a T Dial. It was a beautiful timepiece. One he’d been trying to find for his collection for years. “Thanks, Bruce. This is great.”

Ginny beamed as she set the small but heavy package in Dawn's lap. She knew what was inside, and her friend was going to be very pleased. "Peggy was rather proud of herself for thinking of this one."

Carefully folding back the holly printed paper, Dawn gasped. It was the most beautiful book she'd ever seen. Peacock Blue linen binding, gold embossed title, gilded pages, marbled endpapers, and illustrations. So many beautiful illustrations and illuminations. Almost every page had a brilliant splash of colour or an intricate black and white print.

Bucky leaned over Dawn’s shoulder to see what was so fascinating. Tristan and Isolld. He touched the woodcut illustration on the title page. A knight and his lady, both full of sorrow and longing. A different image swam up to fill his mind. Dawn, a crown of flowers on her head like a fairy princess, a small cloth bound book held in her lap. Warm sun. The soft hum of bees. A deep sense of peace and rightness. “You had a copy of this.”

Dawn blushed. “It was one of my favourites. I held onto it all the way through the war.”

Bucky nodded and tucked her a little more firmly under his arm. His Sunshine loved her knights and princesses. He couldn't remember the plot of any of the stories, but he could remember the soothing liquid of her voice pouring over him, and the shine of romance in her eyes.

Just one more. Rosie passed Pepper the orange and brown box she hadn't bothered to rewrap after she'd picked it up from the store. Pepper had been very patient, possibly because it had been obvious which one was for her. "This should match your wardrobe a little better that the tan thing you usually carry."

Pepper pulled open the bow. The cream Kelly bag with gold hardware. She'd wanted it for months, but picking it up had felt too decadent when she already owned her caramel everyday bag and the lime green one she never carried. Not to mention four Birkin bags, and a number of other luxury purses that she liked, but didn't love the way she loved this one. "Rosie! How did you know?"

"Jarvis said you drool over it sometimes when you're having a hard day." Rosie shrugged. Those hadn't been the computer's exact words, but the sentiment was there.

Pepper laughed and cuddled the bag in her lap. J.A.R.V.I.S. was wonderful, but she always forgot exactly how closely he tracked their internet activity. She was grateful today. It was the best Christmas gift she'd gotten in a long time.

Jack leaned back in his chair and sipped his coffee. He was still a little overwhelmed by the books, but he could break down when he was alone with Ginny. Just now, they were enjoying Christmas morning, and he and his wife still had a surprise up their sleeve. "There's one more there for you, Tony."

Tony looked over at the base of the tree hologram. Jack was right. There was one more, slightly lumpy, parcel waiting on the table. It looked an awful lot like the one Ginny had given Steve, only larger.

The paper fell back, leaving Tony holding a hand knit sweater in red and gold. A sweater with his face on it. Well, not his face. The Ironman helmet. But the difference was negligible. It was still him and for him. And not just a quick screen print or something that could be whipped up in an afternoon, or sold as art for enough money that it didn’t really matter how long it took to make. This wasn’t a high end luxury knit or a production sample. This was a labour of love. He didn’t even think it followed an existing pattern. Ginny would have had to draft one herself. And J.A.R.V.I.S. hadn’t added anything to the ‘to be copyrighted/patented folder, so she either hadn’t written the pattern down, or didn’t plan on selling it.

Ginny pursed her lips. She hoped it would fit. She had asked Jarvis for Tony's measurements, but it was hard when you couldn't have the person try on the sweater. She was more than a little convinced it would be baggy across the back. "I know it isn't quite the quality you're used to. The sleeves aren't symmetrical, and I'm not happy with how the eyes came out."

"Perfectionist." Jack chuckled, kissing his wife on the cheek. The sweater was lovely. "We wanted to get you something no one else could. I hope you like it."

"It's alright." Tony's voice cracked and he held the sweater a little tighter. "I just need to step out of the room for a second. Because I think I got some sweater fluff in my eye. No other reason."

He clutched the sweater to his chest and just barely managed to stop himself sprinting for his lab.

Pepper followed Tony, making sure the door closed firmly behind them. It looked almost like he was having a panic attack again, but she hadn’t noticed any of his usual triggers. "Are you alright?"

Tony blinked again. He really did have something in his eyes. "They like me."

Pepper rubbed Tony’s back soothingly. "Of course they like you. You're very likable."

Tony wrapped his arms around Pepper and sobbed. He knew people like him. He was smart, fun at parties, generous to a fault. He also knew that most of those people forgot about him when he wasn't in the room. Almost none of them would go out of their way for him without wanting something in return. They certainly wouldn't go as far as designing and hand making a sweater just to thank him. "No, but they like me."

Pepper held Tony and rocked him softly. She forgot sometimes exactly how few people understood exactly how wonderful Tony really was. It had been just her and Rhody for so long. He had more real friends now. The Avengers, and their little band of time travellers. There were people who loved him and would support him no matter what.

Bucky had offered to tidy away presents while everyone else settled in to play a few rounds of Wii Sports. Steve swore he was better at some of the other games, but from what Bucky had seen, he was kind of a disaster at those too. His plan was to store all the gifts in the living room on the guest floor for now. They could sort everything out tomorrow when they were in a lazier, less festive mood.

Dawn had wanted to duck out for a few minutes and finish up some things for dinner, so he had company on his mission. He watched her out of the corner of his eye as she wafted around the kitchen, mixing butter, powdered sugar, and a splash of rum in a bowl as part of her desert preparations.

One of Steve’s mittens slipped off the top of the pile. Bucky caught it before it could hit the ground. The wool was soft. Familiar. Bucky carefully set the rest of the gifts on the counter.

He turned his focus to the mitten, turning it over in his hands. There was a memory there. Or part of one. The pieces didn’t want to fit together nicely. They never did when it was a happy memory. He’d never owned a pair of mittens like this. But he had a feeling, not quite a real memory... but something like one... of warm hands that had also warmed his heart. Ginny had never particularly liked him. It wouldn’t make sense for her to put so much effort into something for him. But the mittens still stirred the thought.

His brows knit together. He could work through this. He just had to start with what he knew was true. “Ginny never knit me anything.”

“No.” Dawn dropped her gaze to her bowl.

The picture snapped into focus. Not perfect focus. But clear enough that he could make out the shape of it. Gloves. They didn’t have fingers… So he could still shoot in them. Another detail crystallised. A sun embroidered inside the cuff. “You did.”

“For your birthday.” Dawn whispered. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from the hard sauce she was making. If she looked up… Well, she wasn’t sure if she’d cry, or drop the bowl, or something else equally embarrassing.

Bucky set down Steve’s mitten. He hadn’t taken them with him that last day. It had been cold. But he hadn’t wanted to lose them. “What happened to them?”

“They were in your gear. Monty… Monty sent them to your family. Your mother sent them to me…” Dawn’s voice caught in her throat. They’d been in her bedside table in Calgary. She’d only brought them out on the coldest nights last winter. Wearing them had kept her warm, but they’d also made her heart ache.

Bucky set his hands on the edge of the counter to either side of her, resting his forehead against the back of her hair. She was shivering. Fear this time he thought, not cold. It was easier to protect her from the cold. But he’d try. He could do that much at least. “It’s okay, Sunshine. I’m okay. I’m here now.”

Chapter Text

December 28th, 2014

Tony had holiday parties he was expected to attend every night between Christmas and New Year’s, as such, family meal had been switched from dinner to breakfast. Dawn had found and adapted half a dozen overnight recipes to feed their little army. From cinnamon buns and oats, to something the internet called a ‘wife saver’ that was basically a savoury bread pudding. There was a large bowl of fruit, a chafing dish of scrambled eggs, and platters of bacon and sausages to go with the baking. Not quite the feast Rosie and Ginny had helped her make for Christmas morning proper, but a nice little treat for Natasha’s first morning back.

Dawn smiled shyly as Bucky slipped an apple onto her plate. It was a habit he had picked up at some point in the last month. She wasn’t sure exactly when or why. But she liked it. She had always loved his little presents. The little gifts he gave her so she knew he was thinking of her.

Peggy set her tea cup in it’s saucer with a definitive click. A nice cup of tea with cream and sugar was exactly what she had needed to fortify herself this morning. Coffee was always wonderful, but in her mind, tea was what you had before a serious conversation, and today, she needed to have a serious conversation. She’d been putting it off really. With so much going on in this new world it was easy to procrastinate. But if they were ever going to get on with their lives, this conversation really had to happen.

She had waited patiently and Steve had refused to bring up the elephant in the room. There had been a promising moment when he had handed her a jewelry box before they joined everyone for Christmas morning. She'd almost fainted before realizing it was a necklace. A beautiful necklace. One that she fully intended to wear most days. But it still failed to address the question.

She would have to do it herself.and the limbo that was the days between Christmas and New Year’s was as good an opportunity as she was likely to get. “Steven.”

“Yeah, Pegs?” Steve looked up at her as he mopped up the last of his eggs with a slice of toast.

“Now I realize a lot of things have happened in the last few years.” Peggy straightened her spoon deliberately. Her love was smart. There was a distinct possibility he would figure out where she was going with this before she laid it all out. Hopefully when he did he would have an explanation.

Steve smiled at her. That english gift for understatement was always a joy. “You could say that.”

“But there is something very important, that you didn’t tell me then and still haven’t told me now.” Peggy looked at him intently. Any moment now, the pieces would click into place.

“What’s that?” Steve racked his brain. Something he hadn't told Peggy. That didn't sound like him. He told Peggy everything. And for her to bring it up like this it had to be big.

“I packed up your footlocker, Steve. You really can’t think of anything I might have found in there that may necessitate a conversation?” Peggy gave him one last chance to figure out where she was going with this and come up with an explanation.

“Tell her the dirty magazines were Dum Dum’s.” Bucky hissed. He wasn’t sure if that was it. Hell, he wasn’t even sure if Steve had had any dirty magazines in his foot locker. But the joke made Dawn giggle and cover her mouth, and that made it worth it.

Peggy waved Bucky down. She was pretty sure they were actually his, but even if they had been Steve's they were hardly the issue. Given how rarely they were together it was understandable that her boy would find another way to take care of his needs. “Not those. I’m not a delicate flower. It would take more than that to shock me. I’m thinking something smaller.”

Natasha leaned towards Rosie. “What is she talking about?”

Rosie looked between Steve and Peggy. She looked deeply irritated, he looked like a spanked puppy who didn't know why he was in trouble. There was only one thing she could think of that would warrant that kind of displeasure. Honestly, Rosie had assumed it had come up before, in private. “I think she’s finally going to chew him out for the ring.”

“Ring?” Bruce asked on her other side.

Rosie refilled her coffee mug. This could be very interesting. “If I’m right you’ll see. If I’m wrong I’ll tell you later.”

Steve shot a glance at them out of the corner of his eye. The… oh shit. The ring. "I can explain that. See the thing was… is…"

Peggy didn't give him a chance to get his story straight. “What were you even thinking?”

“I thought it would look good on you?” The words came out as a question. It sounded like an excuse even to Steve. It was true. He had thought the ring would look good on Peggy. But it also wasn't the truth. The truth was he'd been high on the sensation of having money, crazy in love, and more than a little convinced that he was going to die before he could do anything about either. So he'd done something about both… and then chickened out before he finished the job. No. Not chickened out. He had died… or at least tried to.

“It was three carats, Steven.” Peggy half yelled. “That isn’t a trinket you pick up on a whim.”

Bucky leaned back in his chair, propping an ankle on his knee. Peggy Carter was a force to be reckoned with. He had told Steve to talk to her before buying the ring. At least once, and he was pretty sure more than once.

He looped an arm around Dawn's shoulders and drew her close. He was glad his Sunshine was a very different force of nature. Softer, but enduring.

Peggy was up and pacing now. "Do you know what it was like to find it after losing you? It would have been impossible if I'd had some warning, but to just have it sprung on me like that. I wept, Steven. Collapsed and couldn't move for an hour. Duggan found me. He had to fetch Dawn and Ginny before I could function again."

“What do you want me to do?” Steve turned in circles, trying to stay facing Peggy as she stormed around the room. Bucky had said don't spring it on her. And clearly he shouldn't have. Because in the end he hadn't been there to spring it on her. He left her the shock without any of the joy.

He was starting to think it was a miracle she had taken him back as readily as she had.

“I want you to tell me what on earth possessed you when you decided to buy the thing!” Peggy threw her hands in the air. Steven really was the most frustrating man she had ever met. As soon as she figured out why she was so infuriatingly in love with him, she was going to stop. She swore she would.

“I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you!” Steve knew he sounded a little desperate as he said it. He didn’t really care. Getting Peggy back had been the best thing to happen since he had defrosted.

“So did I!” Peggy yelled back.

That… that actually made things pretty easy. At least in Steve's mind. He wanted to spend his life with Peggy. She wanted to spend hers with him. Steve stilled. The anxiety draining out of him, replaced by a calm certainty that he knew the right thing to do. “Well okay then.”

“What?” Peggy pulled up short. She knew that tone. She adored that tone. That was Steve's 'I have a plan' tone.

Steve turned to face her properly. Peggy. His Peggy. The only woman to ever completely capture his heart. It was so obvious. “Let’s do it.”

Peggy took a half step back. “Rogers are you--”

“Yeah. I kind of am.” It wasn't the direction Steve had expected the conversation to go. But then conversations with Peggy almost never went how he expected them to go.

“Oh. I--” Peggy blushed, her hands landing on Steve’s chest as he stepped into her space.

Steve set his hand in the middle of her back and drew her close. He still wanted her, if she'd still have him. “Not right away. There's no rush these days, we can take our time and still be together. But I still want to.”

"I…” Peggy rubbed her palms against Steve’s shirt. She loved Steve. She’d loved Steve almost since she had met him. Accepting that their future together was gone had been one of the hardest moments of her life. And it wasn’t true any more. “Yes, alright then."

"I love you," Steve cupped her face tenderly. "So much, Pegs."

"You really are impossible, Rogers." Peggy sighed and stepped out of his hold before she did something ridiculous. Like throw herself into his arms and kiss him until he fell over. Or start crying.

"So," Steve looked around at his friends. His face couldn't decide between being ecstatic and being stunned. Neither could the rest of him. He was glad they'd been here. Although that could have gone smoother. Still it was the result that mattered. And the result was better than he had any right to hope for. "That happened."

Bucky couldn’t do anything other than shake his head and sigh. “Pretty sure, I spent a week and a half, helping you craft the perfect proposal, and that is what you end up going with?”

Steve blushed and punched Bucky's shoulder. “Shut up. You fell off a train. It messed up a lot of plans.”

Bucky shook his head. It had. He knew it had. It also had nothing to do with Steve not being good at talking to girls. “Why am I friends with you?”

“Be my best man?” They’d have to get a new ring. This time he should probably take Peggy with him... and maybe get something more modestly sized… He’d ask Pepper where they should look.

“Obviously.” Bucky snorted and shoved back from the table. Like anyone else could get Steve down the aisle without the punk getting himself into trouble. It was a problem they would have to deal with later. “We’d better hurry. We promised Hill we’d be there by ten and it is already nine fifteen.”

Peggy checked her watch. “Oh dear. You’re right. I completely lost track.”

“I’ll shoot her a text and let her know we might be late.” Steve pulled out his phone, even as he wrapped an arm around Peggy’s shoulders.

Bucky bent down and kissed Dawn on the cheek. "See you in a couple hours, Sunshine."

The three of them headed for the elevator, already talking about the plan for the day, rather than the morning’s revelation.

Tony blinked rapidly. “What just happened?”

“Steve and Peggy got engaged. Bucky is going to stand up for him.” Ginny said without looking up from her textbook. How had anatomy changed this much during their missing years? “Pass the marmalade?”

“Wait what?” Tony shook his head. He had no idea what had just happened. One minute Steve and Peggy were yelling at each other, the next...

“They’re going to get married.” Rosie grabbed another piece of toast and slathered it with butter. “About that marmalade?”

“WHAT?” Tony’s jaw hit the floor. Engaged. Sure they’d been living together for months. But engaged? Just like that?

Ginny put her text book down. “Two people who love each other are going to get married. I don’t see what is shocking here. Seriously Tony, you’re the only one who can reach it.”

Tony couldn’t be the only one who saw the problem here. “Steve admitted he was gay a month ago.

“Bi. It’s not the same thing.” Jack stood up and leaned all the way across the table to grab the jar for Ginny and Rosie. “They gave us a pamphlet. Did you not get the pamphlet?”

Bucky flopped onto the couch next to Dawn. She had that worried little crease between her eyebrows, and despite the book in her lap, he hadn't actually seen her turn a page in the last five minutes. "What are you thinking, Sunshine."

Dawn chewed her lip. She was thinking it was time to do something bold with her life. She had put a lot of thought into her plan, but she was still more than a little scared. She wanted to share it with Bucky, but she had only said it out loud inside her therapist's office. If she voiced it out loud here, it would suddenly become a lot more real. "I'm going to do it. I talked it through with Doctor Lin, and she thinks it's a great idea, and…And I want to."

Bucky smiled and tucked her hair behind her ear. He had no idea what she was talking about, but she was gorgeous when she was nervous and excited. "You're going to have to be more specific, doll. What are you going to do?"

It was a good idea. And with the skills and resources she had a completely achievable goal. If she believed in herself, there was no reason she couldn't succeed. "I'm going to start a catering business."

Bucky lifted her into his lap and covered her face with celebratory kisses. "You'll be brilliant, Sunshine."

Chapter Text

December 29th, 2014

Breakfast was the obvious time for Dawn to announce her news to the rest of the tower residents. Everyone was together. They would already be eating her food, so they would remember exactly how good she was at this, and hopefully she would too. That thought didn't help as much as she would have liked. Despite waking up extra early to make danishes and taking the time to do her hair and makeup, she was still more nervous about this than anything she could remember.

Dawn pushed her chair back with a loud scrape. “Umm. I have an announcement.”

Her nerves eased a little as Bucky slipped his hand into hers. His fingers warm as they wrapped around hers. The calloused pad of his thumb rubbing over her wrist. She gave the hand a squeeze before she continued. “I’ve made a decision about my future.

“Are we making it a double wedding?” Tony teased. He wasn’t sure exactly how far the love birds had gotten, but they certainly seemed much more relaxed with one another these days. No one could doubt that Bucky was devoted to Dawn. Or that she was equally devoted to him. Given their past, and the speed at which Steve and Peggy were moving, he wouldn’t be surprised.

“No.” Bucky answered levelly. They weren't there yet. And if they ever got there again, Dawn deserved her own day.

Dawn took a deep breath. “I’ve decided to start a bakery. Specifically specialising in custom desert orders for special events.”

Tony nodded thoughtfully. That sounded like a good match for her particular skill set. She would keep using the Tower kitchen, obviously. She could pay rent in breakfast pastries. Which did raise an interesting question. “Does this mean I’m going to have to start paying you for my parties?”

Dawn blinked at him in confusion. “Pepper, has been paying me from the beginning.”

December 31st, 2015

Song of Ice and Fire was a good series so far, but Bucky wasn’t sure his Sunshine would enjoy it. She liked magic and adventure, but this much pointless violence and cruelty might be too much for her. Too real. He’d give it another few chapters tonight while everyone else was at the party, see if things got any happier in Clash of Kings. He settled back against the pillows of his bed, crossing his legs at the ankle.

Dawn shuffled into Bucky's bedroom, clutching the bodice of her new evening gown. "Bucky?"

"Yeah, Sunshine?" Bucky let his eyes roam over her. She was stunning. Light floating layers of semi-transparent fabric in soft petal pink folded into a full rippling skirt. Knife fine pleats crossing the bodice and emphasising her curves. Delicate straps crossing her shoulders. And at her ears, the little golden suns that warmed his heart.

Dawn blushed and turned around. "Zip me up?"

Those delicate straps framed a low open back. In reality not quite as low as it was currently, the zipper was only half closed. Bucky leavered himself off the bed and approached slowly. He saw her shoulder blades all the time. Most of her nightgowns were cut below them. So why were they so much more tempting peeking out the V of her unzipped dress? He couldn't resist the urge to drop his head and kiss softly down her neck. His fingers brushed over the skin of her back through the zipper's slit. She was silky-re than the fabric of her dress, warm and soft and just begging for him to run his hands all over her.

Dawn's breath caught in her throat. She loved when he touched her like this and it happened so rarely. The last time had been Christmas Eve, and Natasha had put paid to that moment quite thoroughly.

Reluctantly, Bucky withdrew his hands. He forced himself to carefully hook to top of the closure and slide the zipper up. All the ideas running through his head were bad ones. "You'll be the best looking dame at the party."

Dawn managed to laugh breathlessly and turn around in his arms. "You're probably the only person who'd think that."

Bucky tucked her curl behind her ear. "I know that. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Well, maybe Steve. He’s gone all love blind since Peggy agreed to marry him."

Dawn cuddled herself against his chest. She wished he was coming tonight. She understood he didn't like crowds, and she would never ask, but she would miss him. Especially at midnight when all her friends had someone beautiful to kiss and all she would have was a glass of sparkling cider.

Bucky pressed his cheek to the top of her head. Sensing that something was wrong and guessing what. "I'll be here when you get back."

Dawn squeezed him tight. She knew he would. She would still miss having him at her side. "I'm making lemon muffins for breakfast."

"My favourite." Bucky beamed at her. He pressed a kiss to her hair and opened his arms. "Go on, Sunshine. I don't want to make you late."

Bucky paced restlessly. He shouldn't be anxious. He wasn't anxious. At least not his usual kind of anxiety. He'd tried to read his book, and had made it half a page before giving up. He wasn't absorbing the plot, and he wanted to know what was going on. Jarvis had suggested half a dozen movies. None of which had held his attention for more than a minute.

He didn't want to sit around and read. Or go over intel. Or watch something vapid. Or go up to the gym. Or even sleep.

He shoved open the door of his closet. He knew what he had to do, and there was just enough time left to do it.

Dawn stepped away from the dancefloor. She really was having fun tonight. But it was five minutes to midnight, and time for her to find an out of the way corner to tuck herself into until the big hoopla was over.

She skirted around the crowd listening to Rhody's stories, and walked straight into someone's chest. She stumbled and her victim had to grab her elbows to stop her falling. The words of her apology died on her lips as she saw who she had collided with.

Bucky. And not just Bucky. A cleaned up Bucky. With his hair pulled back from his face and his perfectly fitted grey suit emphasising his shoulders and making him look like a modern fairy-tale prince. Her knees went weak, and she melted against him a little more.

"Falling for me, Sunshine?" Bucky asked in a low base growl. He shifted his hands from her elbows to her waist, keeping her close to him. Maybe not all of his ideas were bad.

Dawn pressed her hands to his chest. It felt like a dream. Only he was terribly solid and real under her touch. "What are you doing here?"

"You need someone to kiss at midnight." Bucky tucked her curl behind her ear. It would never just stay in place. He loved it. "Dance with me?"

Dawn nodded shyly, slipping her hand into his. He'd worn the flesh coloured glove tonight. The texture was strange, but under it she could feel the firmness of his fingers.

Bucky had made a deal with Jarvis while he was in the elevator. As soon as they hit the dancefloor the music changed. Dawn looked up at him with big surprised eyes. Bucky's chest swelled with love.

Dawn lit up, gazing up at Bucky with wide eyes full of wonder. The first strains of You Are My Sunshine washing over her. “You remembered.”

He still didn't have any memories of the song from before. But he remembered her singing to him the day Tony repaired his arm, and the way she hummed the song to herself in the kitchen. He remembered getting the melody stuck in his head and the way it made his heart swell. He remembered loving Dawn. “I remembered.”

The dancers around them started to drift away. Everyone else clustering at the windows to watch the fireworks. Dawn tugged Bucky in the other direction. She doubted he would enjoy pointless explosions. Instead, they positioned themselves at the end of the bar, Dawn still tucked firmly against Bucky's body.

The whole party counted down the last few seconds of the year. All cheering as the first fireworks when off exactly on cue.

Dawn beamed up at Bucky. It had been a very odd year. But in the end it had been a wonderful one. She couldn't wait to spend the next one with him.

Bucky tipped her chin back and kissed her long and slow. "Happy New Year, Sunshine."

Dawn nestled into his arms. It would be. As long as she had him, it would be.

January 1st, 2015

Soft light trickled through the window. A warm glow creeping from the foot of the bed towards the dozing occupants. Jarvis had reduced the tint on the window so they could wake up gently. Bucky appreciated being eased into the day. It had been a good party. Spending the night swirling his girl around the dancefloor had been worth the crowd, and a peaceful night with her in his arms had left him relaxed. Relaxed, but somehow not quite content. He should be content. Dawn’s head was still resting on his chest, her arm wrapped tight around his waist. He could feel her string against him, waking up herself.

Bucky ran his fingers up and down Dawn’s arm, watching the light grow brighter. First sunrise of the new year, and Bucky could already tell it was going to be a big one. Maybe that was what had him on edge, the anticipation of everything that was about to happen. Steve and Peggy were getting married. Dawn was starting a business. She was moving on with her life and he wanted to be right there with her. They were living next to each other, but not with each other. In borrowed rooms rather than a space of their own.

A space of their own… The idea blossomed in Bucky’s chest. Coming home to Dawn. Not just waking up next to her in one of their borrowed beds. Waking up next to her in their home. Somewhere his Sunshine could leave her books next to the chair she liked to read in, instead of tidying them away every night. That they could decorate to suit them, with softer lines and richer colours. "What if… what we asked Stark for an apartment? Like the one he gave Jack and Ginny. We can't keep taking up his guest rooms forever, and I… I want to be close to you, Sunshine."

"I--” Dawn’s breath caught in her chest. She knew people moved in together all the time these days, and that they practically lived together anyway, this still felt momentous. This was Bucky inviting her to share his life in a way she never thought she’d be allowed to again. “I think I'd like that."

"Two bedrooms. Because I…” Bucky hesitated. They were getting more infrequent, but there were still times he couldn’t bear to be around anyone, even here. Nights when all he could do was scream and flail. Times he wanted to protect her from. “Well, I'm still not great."

"Maybe…” Dawn traced the Stark Industry logo on Bucky’s chest. He wanted his own space. Somewhere he could go when he needed to be alone. She completely understood that. She wanted to be close to him too. More than anything, she wanted to balance both needs. To find a compromise. “Maybe adjoining bedrooms? And you're always welcome to sleep in my room, Bucky."

"Yeah. Adjoining rooms would be good." Maybe a Jack and Jill bathroom. He wouldn’t mind running into Dawn as she washed her face in the morning. Or kissing the back of her neck while she tried to get ready for bed. Or, and he knew exactly which part of his brain was responsible for the thought, discovering her when he got out of the shower.

Bucky pressed his lips against her forehead and closed his eyes again. A home and a life with his Sunshine. It was more than he could ever have hoped for, or deserved, but he was starting to think he might just be able to earn it. "Love you, Sunshine."

Dawn blushed and nuzzled closer. It was the first time he'd said it in this century. It felt... It felt like home. "I love you too, Bucky."