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fragile, lost

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He remembers his hand around the man's neck.

Left hand.

Man's fingers scratching, scrabbling at his wrist until the first time the man's head hit the concrete floor and then the odd crunching give of bone cracking skull fracturing and then the second time the head hit the ground the first spatter of blood as skin ruptured, split, tore, and again and again and again as bone shattered and everything else spattered and smeared: blood, skin, muscle-tissue, cerebral matter, all of it.

Again and again and again.

Remembers the eventual command to stop that he can't (doesn't want to) disobey , the distant dry accented remark of well that's certainly an excellent demonstration of both your influence and the remaining potential for violence; now you will just have to find another trainer.

The voice the world turns around replying, That won't be a problem.

And breathing. Blood under his hand, his knees, other hand still wrapped around the man's throat. And the order, not to him - clean it up.

He remembers it like a recording that loops over and over in the back of his head no matter what else he's doing - making coffee, rinsing the cup, bathing (washcloth, tub filled only shallow, not risking even the falling drops hitting skin), dressing, brushing his teeth.

Convincing Steve to go, to get the fuck out of the condo, because otherwise he'll be watching and worrying the whole fucking day.

Not interested.

Get out, go do something, have a God-damn life already and eventually Steve gives in and goes. And the condo would be empty, just him.

Except for the tiny, fragile baby thing in the box-nest on the bedside table.

Leaning against the counter in the kitchen, listening to the faint buzzing hum and splash of the dishwasher going, Bucky scrubs his right hand over his face and thinks taking her is probably up there in the stupidest things he's ever willingly done.

He's already fed her once, when he first woke up - fed her, put her in the litter, and otherwise left her in the box with the heat pad under it on low. Now, at the hour most sane people start their day, her noises turn on an edge of distress instead of just noise, endless baby call and answer. So he digs out the washed bottle and the stuff the vet student gave him and goes to pick her up.

The nest-box was easy: one of the boxes the protein bars come in with the wider side cut off, lined with the soft blanket Bucky'd accidentally torn almost in half (and then they'd kept, out of the kind of ingrained habit that these days mostly left grandchildren with a hoarder's mess to clear out and clean up after gramma or grampa finally dropped dead), and then all of it stuck on top of the heating pad Bucky'd always felt bad didn't work for him.

She isn't the world's most adventurous kitten: once put in it, she hadn't really tried to get out. Now, though, she waddles her way to the edge of the box and sniffs at his fingers before rubbing her face against them. Bucky sighs and picks her up, fitting her neatly in the palm of his hand. "You," he informs her, "are probably a mistake."

She tilts her head back almost enough for the top of it to touch her spine and mews and flails her forepaws. He sighs, puts her on his left shoulder where she digs her claws firmly into his shirt, and takes her back out to the kitchen.

Her eyes are goopy again and she really doesn't like having them wiped, trying to squirm back out from under his left hand as he holds her still to clean them with a warm wet cloth and then seriously objecting to him prying her eyelids open long enough to put the drops in, even if her attempts to swat his hands and bite his thumb are the most pointlessly ineffective in the history of her species.

"Shut it, cat," he tells her this time. "Unless you want your eyes to need cutting out." She wails a little and paws at her face and rubs it onto his left knuckles like she's trying to get the drops out.

She's not much good at cleaning herself, yet. He wipes down the rest of her and then sticks her in the improvised litter-box while he mixes the formula, watching her dig around for probably a lot longer than she needs to before she uses it and, despite her best efforts to dig the litter over it, completely fails to cover her mess. He sighs and crouches down beside her.

"You're a disgrace," he says. She turns around again, figures out she hasn't managed to cover her mess, tries again, and makes a noise at him. Bucky flicks some of the litter over with the scoop and then picks her up.

He ends up wiping her down again, mostly from distaste at the smell of the litter itself - there's something sharp and chemical to it that he wonders if cats can smell, and if there's an alternative. This time when he tries to feed her, she can't seem to decide if she wants to eat or climb his arm, so he also ends up holding her against the front of his shirt while she gets little spots of formula on both of them.

"You know," he says, "even if your mother hadn't died, you'd probably have got eaten by a dog. Or maybe a rat. You're lucky humans have a thing for useless furry animals."

The kitten ineffectively tries to get the milk off her face. Bucky wipes it away with his thumb and puts her in the littler one last time.

She's more or less falling asleep by the time he picks her up out and wipes the litter smell off her again; when he tries to put her back down in the nest-box, suddenly baby-claws are trying to stick like inefficient velcro to his sleeve and she protests.

Bucky stares at her for a minute, while she tries to climb up his arm to no real effect, since he's holding her around the middle; he pinches the bridge of his nose and closes his eyes for a second. It's a mistake: memory and the smell of blood paint themselves across the inside of his eyelids and he grimaces.

"Fine, you fucking useless twit," he says, and sticks her up on his shoulder again.

She comes close to falling off about five times between being put there and the point Bucky has more coffee, the alarm on his fucking phone has gone off and he's dragged out a protein bar, and managed to line up an episode of Eye of the Void on the damn youtube feed to the television. He kicks the latch to flatten out the futon, because his upper back's starting to fucking stab him and the best answer to that is lying flat.

Then he takes the unsteady, half-asleep baby cat off his shoulder and drops her on his upper abdomen after he lies down.

She flops down in the curve where his ribcage meets his sternum, and squeezes her eyes more shut than normal. She purrs like a fucking car with a broken muffler when he strokes her head with his thumb.

"You're completely pathetic," he tells her.

His phone buzzes, a text. It takes a minute to crawl out of Russian, to make the Latin characters coalesce into meaning - specifically into Steve asking about cat supplies, the two words book-ended by question marks. Bucky drags English back into his head and manages the name of the formula, something about a litter that doesn't have a faint smell of poison and then ends up staring blankly at the feline on his stomach and finishes with fuck if I know otherwise doesn't Elizabeth have a cat?

Then he tries to drag his head from English to Korean and doesn't really notice his hand is still resting lightly on the kitten's back.

When Steve ends up coming back in much later in the afternoon with two bags of general cat stuff - toys, bells, catnip, a tunnel that makes a rustling noise, a ridiculous fluffy cat bed, porcelain feeding bowls nicer than what a lot of people eat out of - in addition to the canister of the formula and the bag of a litter made from old newspapers, plus a large box that turns out to be something called a cat-tree once the pieces get put together, it occurs to Bucky that was a stupid note to leave it on. But by then the stuff's already bought.