"Hey, Bucky!" Clint yelled into the kitchen. "What the hell are you doing in there? Introducing your left arm to the microwave?"
"They're having a death match. Winner fights the coffee machine," Bucky yelled back.
"Maybe he got attacked by the fridge magnets," Tony muttered, still staring at the television. "Seriously, why do we let Thor pick the movies? Ever?"
"Because he has better taste than you do," Natasha said, and Thor gave her one of his typically blinding grins and threw his arm around her, pulling her closer against his side.
"You say that now, Nat, but just wait until they use Windows 95 to take down a whole—"
"We've all seen the movie before, Tony," Bruce said with his typical mildness.
"Shh. I'm trying to watch," Steve said, though he immediately turned his head to shout into the kitchen. "Though it'd be really nice to have some more popcorn!"
"Fuck off," Bucky responded pleasantly. Steve grinned, then heard the beep of the microwave buttons and the hum as it started working. "And I would'a made the popcorn already, but Thor managed to put his hammer right in front of the microwave."
"My apologies, Bucky," Thor said, gently dislodging Natasha. "I didn't intend to set Mjölnir down so carelessly. I'll come move it." He stood up.
"Naw, it's fine. I got it," Bucky said.
"Very well," Thor said, smiling contritely. "I hope you didn't have to move the microwave overly much."
"Nope." Steve heard the grin in Bucky's voice. "Your hammer's lighter than I thought it'd be, though—I put my back into it and almost smashed the damn cupboard. Seriously, Thor, you should warn a guy."
Everyone stopped dead, so the only sounds came from the TV and the popping corn in the microwave. Then everyone turned to look at the kitchen.
"J, kill the TV," Tony ordered, and the screen went dark. He looked at Steve, his eyes very wide. "Did Vanilla Ice in there say what I think he said?"
"I think so," Steve said roughly. "Bucky," he called to him, then had to clear his throat. "Did you just say you picked up Mjölnir?"
"Sure," Bucky said, sounding confused. He walked back into the living room with Thor's hammer in his right hand. He was flipping it casually, like a baton. He blinked at how everyone was staring at him. "What?"
"This is a prank, right?" Tony stood up. His eyes were still huge and he kept swiveling his head between Bucky and Thor. "It's a fake, isn't it? You're punking us."
If anything Thor looked more shocked than Tony. "I assure you, that is Mjölnir. I brought no other."
"What the hell's going on?" Bucky was getting anxious, Steve could tell—his eyes were darting among the other Avengers like he was assessing threats, and he stopped spinning the hammer, changed his grip so he was holding it like the weapon it was.
"Easy, Bucky. It's okay," Steve said. He stood as well and went to him. Steve was trying to smile, but he was feeling so many things at once that he had no idea what really showed on his face: amazement; satisfaction; wonder; pride; joy… And yeah, there was a bit of jealousy there too. Steve couldn't do more than budge the hammer an inch or so; he'd never lifted it. "It's just…" He shook his head helplessly, then gave up on trying to explain and hugged him instead. "I'm so proud of you, Bucky," he finally managed.
"Why?" Bucky asked, obviously bewildered now. He automatically hugged Steve with his left arm, still holding the hammer in his other hand. "So I can pick up Thor's hammer. What's the big deal?"
"You don't know? Seriously?" Clint asked.
"Know what?" Bucky stepped away from Steve. He didn't look like he was expecting a fight anymore, but he'd re-started nervously spinning the hammer around and around in his hand.
"None of us can pick up Mjölnir, other than Thor," Bruce said. He smiled self-consciously. "Steve and I have been able to move it, once or twice, but that's all."
Bucky frowned at him, then down at Mjölnir. "That doesn't make any sense. It's just a big hammer. I've carried rifles heavier than this."
"It's not the weight," Natasha said.
"Indeed it is not." Thor strode forward and clapped his big hands on Bucky's shoulders, beaming at him. "I never imagined I would see anyone of Midgard lift Mjölnir. This is truly wondrous!" He grappled Bucky into a bear hug, laughing over his surprised yelp. Bucky almost dropped the hammer, then looked like he was thinking of fending Thor off with it before finally just submitting to his rib-creaking enthusiasm. Thor was shamelessly teary when he let Bucky go.
Bucky stumbled back a step, then looked around at everyone, a little wild-eyed. "What the hell's going on?"
"Great question, freeze pop." Tony was standing with his arms crossed, glaring at Thor. "Supposedly ren faire's hammer is a special snowflake that can only be lifted by people it—"
"She," Thor corrected.
Tony rolled his eyes. "She deems worthy. Which has been a grand total of no one except Thor. Until now."
Bucky transferred his wild-eyed stare to Tony. "Worthy of what?"
"Well, that's the sixty-four thousand dollar question, isn't it?" Tony snapped, though he was glaring at Thor, not Bucky. "I was right, wasn't I? This 'worthy' crap is just bullshit to hide the fact that the hammer's genetically coded to you. And you let cold shoulder in on the joke for shits and giggles."
"That is untrue, Tony," Thor started. "It is not—"
"But actually yeah, it is," Tony went on right over him, and now he sounded genuinely angry. "Because, sure. I'm an egotistical, impulsive, semi-alcoholic, barely-recovered war-profiteer and therefore completely unworthy of your precious lady hammer. I get it. Really. I do. But come on--The Winter Soldier?"
"Tony, shut up," Natasha snarled.
Tony just snorted. "No, seriously. We're supposed to just accept that Steve Rogers, Captain thousand-points-of-light, isn't worthy enough to lift Mew-Mew, but red scare is?"
"That's enough." Steve didn't even realize he'd grabbed a handful of Tony's shirt and hauled him up onto his toes, or that his other hand was pulled back in a fist until he felt Bruce's hand on his arm. Steve blinked then dropped his fist immediately, but he didn't let Tony go. "Bucky's the finest man I know. Don't you dare--!"
There was a very loud bang right behind Steve, startling the hell out of him. He released Tony and whipped around.
Bucky had his left hand clamped around his right upper arm, like he'd hurt it. And he was staring down at Thor's hammer, which had taken out a sizable chunk of the floor.
"Save it, Steve. I don't want to hear it."
"You don't even know what I was gonna say."
It was 2:35 AM, and Steve had finally climbed out of bed to go find Bucky. He'd gone to the Tower's gym first, sure Bucky would be there, and he was right. Not that it was unusual for either of them to end up here, depending on what had happened during the day. They both had more than enough bad memories to keep them awake or populate their nightmares. And super soldiers didn't need much sleep anyway.
"Sure I do." Bucky didn't even glance up from beating the trembling heavy bag to death. Sweat had collected in the triangle of his throat and sheened his chest and back, but he wasn't even breathing hard. "You're gonna tell me that being turned into the Red Room's assassin and then Hydra's fucking attack dog for seventy-whatever years wasn't my fault and that Tony was talking crap and you can't think of anyone more worthy to hold Mjölnir than me."
"Well, you're right," Steve said, only barely surprised. "So why the hell are you still down here?"
The look Bucky threw him was too resigned for a glare. "Because we both know that's bullshit. If it were true, I wouldn't've dropped the damn thing 'soon as I found out how it worked, would I?" He jabbed the bag viciously enough that Steve winced for Bucky's right hand, wished the bag would just break so Bucky would have a reason to stop. Unfortunately, Tony had made sure it wouldn't.
Steve put his hands on his hips, huffing an exasperated breath through his teeth. This was far from the first time they'd had this argument since Tony had gotten jealous and shot off his mouth. "You dropped Mjölnir because Tony made you doubt yourself. If you weren't worthy you wouldn't've been able to pick her up in the first place. God damn it, Bucky." Steve raked his fingers through his hair in frustration. "Tony's a good man, but sometimes he's the biggest idiot with the biggest mouth of anyone I've ever met. Half the stuff he says is bullshit, and that's when he's not trying to be a pain in the ass. You know that. So how come you'd rather believe him and not me?"
"Because…" Bucky pummeled the bag that much harder as he spoke, each hit underscoring his words. "It's…not…bull…if…it's…true!" The last hit was from his metal fist and sent the bag swinging like a pendulum. Bucky grabbed it before it hit him on the way back, then held onto it with his forehead against the reinforced leather, panting with far more than just exertion. "It's true," he repeated a moment later. He let go of the bag and finally faced Steve, hands dangling like spent weapons. "It's all true. It doesn't matter if it was my fault or not. It doesn't change a damn thing that I did. And if you're not good enough for Mjölnir, then there's no way in hell a stupid fuck like me is." He cleared the sweat off his forehead with an angry swipe of his right palm.
Steve put his hands on his hips and sighed, dropping his head. "I don't think I'm worthy to hold the hammer because I'm just a kid from Brooklyn, Buck. Nobody special—never have been." He started shaking his head even before he heard Bucky's vehement denial. "I was just lucky enough to be picked for Project Rebirth, and then lucky enough to have a bunch of good—worthy—men at my back during the war. And now with the Avengers."
He didn't say, and if I were truly worthy I would've been brave enough to live without you, instead of finding a heroic way to die. Or, if I was the man everyone thinks I am, I wouldn't've ever let you fall. He didn't say it, because some things were too painful to hear out loud, even if you'd been thinking them for years. And because he didn't deserve to listen to Bucky try to convince him they weren't true.
"Don't give me that," Bucky spat. "You've saved the world four times, Steve. Four fucking times. And all I ever did was nearly kill you so Hydra could kill a few million other folks. How can you stand there and tell me that I'm somehow a better man than you? The damn hammer dropped right outta my hand, Stevie! Don't tell me that doesn't mean anything!"
"It doesn't mean anything," Steve said easily. "If you weren't meant to hold Mjölnir, she wouldn't've let you, that simple. That's the only thing that matters."
Bucky let out an angry blast of air, then shoved the sweat-damp hair off his forehead. "It's a hammer, Steve. It didn't let me do anything."
"She let you pick her up," Steve repeated pointedly, glaring, "because she knows what kind of man you are. Just like I do."
Bucky just stared at Steve for what felt like a long time, his face unreadable, then snorted and shook his head. "You know what kind of man you want me to be, Steve," he said finally. "But I ain't him anymore, if I ever was." He turned back to the heavy bag and started punching it again, gritting his teeth over each blow, like it hurt.
Bucky didn't come to bed that night. Steve didn't bother trying to go back to bed either. Instead he ended up wandering the Tower like he sometimes did, when he didn't feel like running himself to exhaustion and the dark corners of his mind wouldn't let him feel safe unless he'd patrolled all the common areas. He'd run into Natasha and Clint doing the same thing more than once, but tonight he was alone.
Thor's hammer was on the coffee table on the Tower's common floor. For a near-immortal alien with godlike abilities, Thor was occasionally remarkably good at leaving Mjölnir lying around like a set of car keys. It was kind of funny.
Then again, Thor could call his hammer to him anytime he wanted, and it wasn't like anyone else could take her away. Not even Bucky anymore.
Steve stood staring at the hammer, hands in loose fists at his sides, but in the end he didn't touch her. He knew there was no point in trying.
"That's it," Tony gasped over their radios, "I am so done with New York. Fuck New York. I'm moving permanently to Malibu."
"Didn't your house in Malibu get blown up?" Clint asked, then grunted as he dodged…something with far too many arms and legs.
"Details. Whoa! INCOMING!"
"On it!" Clint said, and a second later Steve could hear the faint boom over the radio as whatever was after Tony was hit with an exploding arrow.
Steve had re-watched Pacific Rim a few weeks ago—Bucky loved monster movies—so the first thing that came to mind was that the giant thing bearing down on Tony and treating his repulsor blasts like insect bites looked like a cross between a Kaiju and King Kong. If King Kong were hairless and had a tail.
Apparently one of the remaining Hydra cells had begun aggressively trying to recreate the Super Soldier serum, cribbing liberally from the experiments that created the Abomination. Steve had no idea if Hydra considered the results a success or not, or if they'd been let loose on New York on purpose or by accident.
Either way, there were a lot of them. The X-Men had come up from Salem Center to help and the Fantastic Four were somewhere in one of the buroughs, but as usual the Avengers had the lion's share of the fight. Currently that meant at least thirteen of the monsters, including one large enough to resemble a Kaiju. It made the Hulk seem like a green-skinned toddler in comparison.
"Damn it, I'm nearly out of bullets. What does it take to kill these things, anyway?" Bucky groused from somewhere overhead. "I'm with Ironhead. I--Cap! Behind you!"
Steve whirled and lifted his shield in time to keep his head being caved in by the chunk of concrete the purplish octopus thing threw at him. The impact staggered him, but then the Hulk snatched the creature up by two of its legs and spun it into the wall of a nearby building.
"Thanks," he said, and the Hulk grinned toothily before leaping off for his next target.
He heard Bucky's breath of relief and was about to remind him to worry about himself. And then Bucky suddenly cried out in surprise and Steve jerked his head up in time to see him flying over the edge of the building.
"I got him!" Tony barked over Steve's howl of alarm, and then shot past in a blur of gold and red to grab Bucky out of the air. Steve saw Bucky reaching for Tony's hand and let out a breath of his own that seemed to kick his heart back into beating.
Above them, a column of lightning blasted down from the sky and swarmed over the largest monster. The creature roared like an explosion and struck out reflexively at its nearest opponent. Right then it was Tony, who'd been forced into its considerable range when he saved Bucky. Tony took the brunt of the blow, but both men were sent crashing through the window of another building.
"I'll help them!" Thor said immediately. The lightning stopped as he spun his hammer to send himself hurtling after them instead.
"Soldier! Iron Man, respond!" Steve hollered into his radio as he ran towards the building. He was listening desperately for an answer but he was still focused on his surroundings, so he saw the creature's vicious swipe that Thor wasn't able to avoid. And he heard the horrendously meaty thump of the creature's car-sized palm connecting, swatting Thor away from him like a tennis ball.
Thor's limp body was speeding like a comet, and he might've been stronger and less vulnerable than any of them save the Hulk, but that didn't mean he'd survive a fall like that.
Steve wasn't willing to risk it. He leapt onto the roof of a car just in time to brace himself—
"'M'right here," Bucky groaned, rolling heavily onto his stomach. "Remind me to apologize a few more times for shoving you through a window, Cap. That fucking hurts. Hey, Erecter Set, you still alive?" he asked Tony.
There was no answer from either of them.
Bucky pushed himself to his knees, shaking his head to clear it. "Cap? Cap! Fuck." He gritted his teeth and staggered to his feet to go to Tony, then dropped hard back to his knees next to him. He tapped Tony's faceplate with his left hand. "Tony. Tony! Wake up!" When Tony didn't react Bucky ripped off the suit's faceplate, letting out a grateful sigh when he could feel Tony's warm breath against the sensors in his metal palm. "Iron Man's out cold, but he's still breathing. Where the hell is Cap?"
"Thor and Cap are down," Natasha said, voice taut with strain. "They'll be crushed if we can't get them out of range. Hawkeye, Hulk, are you closer than I am?"
"Negative," Clint responded immediately, sounding just as stressed as Natasha. "Hulk's fighting like, six uglies. And I'm too far."
"Jesus Christ." Bucky threw himself back to the window, leaning so far over the edge that he almost tipped himself out. He could see thick black and red streaks where Thor's electricity had burned the fuck out of the creature, but it hadn't been enough to put it down. And the monster was maybe one or two giant steps away from crushing Thor and Steve, if it didn't pull a building down on top of them first.
Bucky automatically reached for his rifle but he must've lost it when he got bashed off the roof, and anything smaller had done about as much damage as blowing kisses at the fucking things.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck." He grabbed his last three grenades off his belt and armed them one after the other, then threw them immediately with his metal arm. They all landed exactly where he aimed them, exploding against the monster's misshapen left temple.
The creature bellowed so loudly that Bucky had to clap his hands over his ears and hoped to hell he hadn't deafened all his teammates. But the grenades did the trick: the giant head swiveled towards Bucky, dripping green-tinted blood like slime.
"That's it…that's it, you motherfucker. Come to papa…"
He got ready to grab Tony and run up to the roof, leap a couple buildings away before the monster got to them—
—And then realized that it was just going to slap them down instead.
"Oh, shit!" Instead of hauling Tony up Bucky threw himself on top of him, shielding his body as the monster's giant sequoia of an arm swiped off the roof, sending concrete and steel cascading into the nearby buildings like debris from an avalanche. A chunk of wall smashed into Bucky's side, knocking him off Tony and nearly sweeping him back out into open air. He managed to latch his metal hand around the remains of the window frame as he tumbled past it, yowling at the pull on his battered side. He dangled there for a moment, considering his options and panting in pain. Tony was more-or-less safe for the moment, but Steve and Thor were still down for the count and tall, pulpy and disgusting wasn't interested in the building anymore.
"We're okay!" he yelled into his radio, because Clint and Natasha had seen what happened and were both clamoring to know if he and Tony were alive. 'Okay' was probably overstating it, but Bucky figured it was close enough. "I'm going to Cap and Thor," he added and let go of the window.
He stabbed his metal fingers into the concrete as he fell, which was just fucking unpleasant, using it to slow his descent until he was close enough to the street that he could just drop the rest of the way. That didn't tickle his side much either, but he ignored it as he pelted to Thor and Steve. They were both still lying among the wreckage of the buildings and the cars and the street, scraped and bruised and bleeding and looking like wreckage themselves. Bucky couldn't tell if they were even alive, but he was standing in the monster's building-sized shadow like he was in the fucking Valley of Death, and he didn't have time to check for a pulse.
He didn't have time to carry them to safety, either. Not one at a time. And he couldn't carry them both and evade the wreckage. But whoever he left behind would die.
Bucky made a wordless noise of frustration and fear, looking around wildly for something, anything at all, that he could use to protect his teammates. He couldn't see Steve's shield, not that it would protect all three of them from a thing that size anyway. But Thor was still holding his hammer.
Bucky dove for it and grabbed the short handle with both hands and heaved.
No. He wasn't worthy; he knew that. He wasn't a good man or a hero and he sure as hell wasn't a god. And if Steve wasn't good enough there was no way in hell Bucky would ever be.
But he'd lifted it before, when he didn't know what that meant. And if he couldn't use it now two of the best people he knew—one who he loved more than his own life—were going to die.
He changed his grip on the handle, begging to a god he hadn't believed in for years and then couldn't even remember for decades. Please. I know I'm not good enough to wield this, but I have nothing else. Please, please help me save them.
Then he hauled with every bit of strength he had, bellowing in effort. And he yanked Mjölnir up in time to swing it with all his might into the monster's bus-sized foot before it squashed all three of them.
Bucky heard a crack like a dry boulder and the monster bellowing like a foghorn. It staggered back, flattening an already-crushed line of cars and collapsing another building. And something besides the shockwave of the hit reverberated up Bucky's arms. It felt like…approval. Like what he'd felt when he was a kid and his parents had been proud of him. Or like how he felt when Steve looked at him like he was the center of his universe, despite all the things he'd done.
That was strange. Not bad, just. Strange.
But stubbing the flesh-tower's toe wasn't going to take the thing down. He needed to burn it, the way Thor had.
Bucky had no idea how the hell to call down lightning, but gritted his teeth and lifted Mjölnir in both his hands. He pictured lightning pouring out of the sky and turning all the monsters to char before they could hurt anyone else.
Clouds began to gather.
The streak of blue electricity that came crashing into the hammer was almost enough to throw Bucky off his feet. He could feel the spillover of sheer power like barbed wire, rolling down his arms all the way to his toes. It hurt. The shock of it stole his breath like diving into freezing water, but he planted his feet and stayed standing. He felt the same warm approval again, and then knew exactly how to direct the lightning at the monster. It was very satisfying, watching the bolt blast out of the hammer and right into the creature's head. It screeched like a train wreck and backed away, shaking its head like a dog.
"Yes. Die, you fuck!" Bucky snarled at it. But one measly bolt wasn't enough. Thor had brought down a goddam barrage of lightning before it'd really damaged the thing. So Bucky grimaced and raised the hammer again, thinking that he needed a storm.
A really, really big storm.
The clouds thickened and darkened until the sky went from grey to near black. The air around him got so cold so quickly that Bucky didn't even notice it until he realized his breath was misting. Snow fell, hurtling down on the lash of a sudden wind that turned it to ice far above the ground. The pellets stung Bucky's exposed skin like needles and his shoulder and back hurt like hell where they were attached to his metal arm.
And then the clouds split open and unleashed the lightning.
If a single bolt had felt like barbed wire, an entire blizzard's worth felt like glass shards stripping the skin off his bones. Bucky couldn't help the scream that ripped from his throat like the lightning ripped through the hammer and then though him: a yowl of triumph that bled into pain as he pointed Mjölnir at the monster and released the storm. The creature was electrocuted, and then it was burning. Even through the wind and the freezing rain the stench was unbelievable, but it wasn't dead. It wasn't going down, and Bucky had to finish this, had to kill it before it hurt anyone else. But he wasn't Thor; he wasn't anywhere near a god or a good man. And he was cold like he was back in cyro, cold like death, and the lightning blazed through him like he was strapped down in the chair again, helpless to do anything but tremble and scream as it tore him apart—
Steve's shield smashed into his raised arms as fast and brutal as a bullet. Bucky felt a bone in his right wrist crack and then the hammer jerked out of his loosened grip and the sudden lack of pain blacked out the world.
He came to shivering and for a long, awful moment he was sure he was back with Hydra, wiped and refrozen, and now he was going through the slow, terrible process of thawing after cryostasis.
"Shh. Shh. You're safe, Bucky. You're in the Tower. You're all right."
"S-Steve?" The hand rubbing his back was almost painfully warm, and now that he was aware enough to notice Bucky realized he was cocooned in layers of blankets, curled up on his side. The air in the room smelled of the antiseptic they used in the Tower's medical suite, not metal or sweat or blood. And he could feel how warm it was every time he pulled in a breath. But he couldn't stop shivering.
"Yeah, it's me. I'm right here." Steve kept rubbing his back though the blankets. It kind of felt like he was being ironed. "I'm okay. So is Thor and everyone else," he added before Bucky could ask. "Clint got a little too cold during the storm you made, but he's fine now too. You're the one we were worried about."
"Storm?" He wasn't shivering quite so hard anymore, but Bucky still felt ridiculously cold. He curled up tighter, wishing he had even more blankets despite how he knew intellectually that he couldn't possibly be chilled, not between his metabolism and the warm room and all the blankets he already had.
"Yeah. The blizzard you made. You remember? Aw, Buck," Steve said before Bucky could shake out an answer. "You're still shivering like a leaf. Hang on." He walked around the bed and climbed in behind him, then hauled Bucky against his chest, blankets and all. The beds in the medical suite were larger than regular hospital ones, but it was a tight fit anyway. Bucky didn't care. "You were borderline hypothermic when Thor took Mjölnir back—I guess you're brain hasn't quite caught up to you being warm again yet. Is this okay?"
"Yeah," Bucky sighed. He straightened out of his coil so that as much of him as possible was fitted against Steve. He started warming up a little. He did remember the storm now, not to mention his wrist, which twinged a bit but he could tell was almost healed. "I remember the blizzard."
"Good." Steve's breath ruffled the few tufts of hair poking up above the wad of blankets wrapped around Bucky's ears. "You dropped like a brick the instant the hammer was out of your hands. And I know how Hydra… Well, I was worried."
It took a second for Bucky to parse that out. "You mean, you figured I'd managed to wipe and stick myself into deep-freeze by accident? Well, you and me both, pal," he said before Steve could do more than make a miserable noise of agreement. "But I'm pretty sure my brains aren't any more scrambled than usual." He smirked tiredly. "Which isn't saying much, I know."
Steve smirked as well, then dropped a kiss onto the back of Bucky's head. "You know what you did was amazing, right? I only caught a few seconds of it, but…you looked like Thor, Bucky. Like the hammer was made for you."
"And then you realized I'd managed to freeze-dry and electrocute myself."
"And then I realized it was hurting you, yeah," Steve said. "Thor was really sorry about that, by the way. I'm sure he'll tell you himself when you see him. It was because—"
"—I'm not worthy enough," Bucky finished for him, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice. He knew he didn't have any right to it, considering Mjölnir had allowed him to use her at all. "I know damn well that she just let me pick her up to save Thor's ass. I shouldn't've tried to do anything fancier than just belting the critter before it stepped on you."
"Actually," Steve continued pointedly, "I was going to say it was because your left arm's conductive—at least when it comes to Asgardian technology. And the temperature dropped by something like 80 degrees Fahrenheit in less than five minutes, and you were banged up even before that. It's pretty remarkable you survived at all, considering. Which I've been trying very hard not to think about." He hugged Bucky more tightly.
"Sorry," Bucky said.
"Don't," Steve ground out. "Don't apologize for saving Thor's life. Or mine. It's just…I almost lost you again." His next breath came out kind of ragged. "I can't lose you, Bucky."
"I know. Me neither." Bucky wasn't shivering anymore, but the idea of Steve dying was worse than any memory of cold. Bucky shoved and shuffled, ignoring Steve's confused protests until the mess of blankets was half off him and half flipped backwards onto Steve, and Bucky had rolled over to face him and hold him loosely in his arms. "When I saw you lying on the ground like that, about to get smashed…" He couldn't help the shudder that had nothing to do with being chilled. "I'm just glad Mjölnir let me use her. Even if it almost killed me."
Steve frowned. "You still don't get it, Bucky. She didn't allow you to use her only because you wanted to save Thor. You—you don't think you're a good person, but you are. You always were. Mjölnir… I don't know how it works. But you wouldn't've been able to even budge her if you weren't worthy of it. That's why you were able to pick her up at all, before Tony made you think you shouldn't be able to."
"Then why can't you?" Bucky shot back, mostly because it was easier than arguing. Steve had been stubborn as a brick wall long before he was built like one, and Bucky knew he'd never be able to convince him of anything he didn't want to hear.
"I'm working on it," Steve said, and maybe his smile was more self-depreciatory than genuine, but Bucky knew he couldn't expect more than that. "But we're talking about you."
"You're talking about me. I'm not talking about anything."
Steve's look was so unimpressed that Bucky grinned. "Bucky…"
"All right, fine," Bucky said on a huff of air. "I'm worthy of Thor's lady hammer, all right? Happy?"
"I'd be happier if you meant it, but…" Steve made a face, then just sighed and rolled onto his back, tugging Bucky with him so he ended up laying on Steve's chest and the crumpled blankets with Steve's arms wrapped around him. The bed creaked a little with their combined weight. "I just wish you could see yourself the way I see you. The way we all do."
"Yeah, well, likewise." Bucky hugged Steve back as best he could considering the limited space and the mass of blankets. "Like Tony said—if I'm worthy of Mjölnir, then you gotta be."
"He didn't really say that," Steve said, like that was somehow the point. "But yeah, okay. I'll try. As long as you do."
"All I can ask," Bucky said. And he knew it didn't mean anything, not really. But then again, it wasn't like Bucky had much to say different.
And hell, sure. He could try too.
"So," Tony said. "I may have it on good authority that I can occasionally be a bit of a dick."
Bucky blinked slowly up at him from the couch. He was wearing his moose hoodie and sitting next to Steve with Steve's arm across his shoulders, soaking up his unbelievable body heat. Bucky felt a bit like he was in a big, soft oven. It was awesome. "No. Really?"
Tony rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes, I know—big shock, who knew et cetera." He had his hands shoved deep in his pockets, looking for all the world like a guilty kid in the principal's office. "But seriously. I know I said some shitty stuff recently, and then you nearly died saving all our asses. And I just want you to know that, well, if anyone's going to be two-timing Thor with Mew-Mew, I'm glad it's you."
"Thanks, Tony. That was…exactly the kind of thing you'd say," Bucky said, but he grinned at Tony and stuck out his hand, and Tony grinned back and shook it. And it wasn't like Bucky'd really been mad at him before, but it was nice anyhow.
"Great!" Tony clapped his hands together, looking incredibly relieved. "So, what are we watching tonight?"
"The Matrix. Provided you stop standing in front of the screen so we can actually see it," Steve said.
"The Matrix?" Tony's eyes widened in horror. "First it was unbelievably stupid time-travel, then last week it was anatomically ridiculous aliens with impossible tech-interfaces, and now it's The Matrix? Seriously, what is wrong with you people? Are you trying to drive me crazy? Is that it?"
"Would it get you to stop talking all the way through the movie? Because if so, then, yes. Yes, we totally are," Natasha said, walking in with Bruce and Clint. Thor was following just behind and carrying Mjölnir. She gave Bucky a slow blink. "You do realize it's impossible to take you seriously in that."
Bucky grinned. "C'mon, the antlers are completely serious."
Natasha rolled her eyes, but Steve chuckled then kissed Bucky's temple, his lips another press of warmth through Bucky's hood.
"I like The Matrix," Bruce said, though Bucky was pretty sure it was just to make Tony's eyes bug.
"Wouldn't being crazy just make him talk more?" Clint asked. "Hey, guys." He nodded to the three men already in the room. He glanced at the screen. "We're watching The Matrix? Awesome."
"I hate you all." Tony flopped dejectedly on the far end of the couch.
"Thor chose it," Bucky said, because it would piss him off.
Tony groaned. "Of course he did."
"Bucky lies. It was he who chose tonight's entertainment," Thor said. He grinned hugely at everybody. "But I for one am pleased to watch it."
Tony gave Bucky a look of such utter betrayal that Bucky burst out laughing.
It was weird, though—nobody else seemed to have noticed that Thor hadn't put his hammer down somewhere annoying like he normally did. Thor noticed Bucky noticing, but all he did was give him a small, conspiratorial smile.
Right before he ordered, "Bucky, catch!" And tossed the damn thing directly at Steve.
Bucky reached across Steve's body and snatched the hammer out of the air. He leapt up, shoving the coffee table aside with his foot and switching his grip on Mjölnir to make it easier to beat Thor's goddam head in. "What the fuck was that for?"
"Peace, friend," Thor said, spreading his hands. He was still smiling though, with an almost-but-not-quite smugness that made Bucky really want to throw the hammer at him. "I only wished to prove to you what you should already have known."
"What?" Bucky demanded, then realized what he meant. He looked at the hammer, still in his hand like she weighed nothing. Like she belonged to him.
He hadn't even thought about it. He'd been too scared for Steve, and then too angry at Thor—hell, he was still angry at Thor—and he hadn't thought about it. But now he was, and the hammer still weighed nothing.
"Oh," Bucky said. He put Mjölnir carefully down on the coffee table, then flexed his fingers as he stared at her. Part of him still couldn't believe it, and probably never would, but he couldn't deny it anymore. He'd held Mjölnir three times now; he'd called down a storm with her. She'd approved of him, if that feeling he'd had meant anything.
He didn't think he'd ever feel worthy, or that he was good enough for the honor it represented. But somehow, he had to accept that he was.
It felt…pretty damn good, actually. Not that he still wasn't fucking pissed at Thor.
Bucky glared at him, crossing his arms. "And what if you were wrong, huh? How the hell could you be so stupid? You could'a killed him!"
Thor shook his head, still smiling. "Nay. Steve was in no danger. I knew you would catch Mjölnir. But if you somehow did not, I would have simply called her back to my hand."
Bucky opened his mouth to let Thor know exactly how much faith he had in that unbelievably stupid plan, but he felt Steve's hand on his arm.
"It's okay, Buck," Steve said when Bucky looked down at him. "I knew he was going to do that."
Bucky whirled on him. "WHAT?"
Steve shrugged, unrepentant. "I knew you'd catch her. And you did."
Bucky scraped his fingers through his hair, gaping at him. "I don't…I can't…Jesus Christ, Steve! What the fuck is wrong with you?" He clenched his teeth, so frustrated he couldn't even find words. "'Swear to God, the only reason I'm not using the damn hammer to beat you to death right now is 'cause there's an audience."
"Oh, hey, don't hold back on our account," Tony said.
"Tony…" Bruce sighed.
"Shut up, Tony," Bucky growled at him. "Seriously," he said to Steve. "What the fuck were you thinking?"
"That you'd be able to catch Mjölnir. And you did." Steve was beaming up at Bucky like nearly getting his head smashed in was the best thing ever, and Bucky kind of wanted to kiss him and punch his stupid face at the same time.
He kissed him. Because it was Steve, and who was he kidding? Bucky would never hurt him. Not ever. Not again.
But, "This doesn't mean I'm not still mad at you, Rogers," he said once they broke apart because he'd gotten sick of Clint's gagging noises.
"I know," Steve said, still beaming at him.
Then Bucky had to put up with everyone congratulating him about the fucking hammer until Tony started whining about watching the movie already.
So Bucky volunteered to make the popcorn again, partially just to get away from everybody for a few minutes. It wasn't that he didn't believe them—he had to, didn't he? Even if Thor's lady hammer had really lousy taste—it was just…
They were his friends. And he trusted them. But they could get kind of…loud, sometimes. Well, not Natasha. But, a few minutes alone would be good, after everything.
Besides, it also meant he could do this:
Bucky casually grabbed the hammer as he walked to the kitchen, like he was going to give her back to Thor. But instead Bucky spun around, yelled, "Head's up!", and tossed the hammer at Steve.
And just before she left his hand, he felt that same sense of approval that he had during the fight. Like she thought it was a good idea too.
Steve yelped but caught her, of course. Just like Bucky knew he would.