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Christmas is all around

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Bucky didn't like Christmas. Well, it didn't bother him before, of course; he loved it as a child, and even before he joined the army he always looked forward to it. But then came the mission in the Alps and everything changed from that year. Nothing was the same. Why would he celebrate Christmas in the Winter Soldier leather? How could he celebrate Christmas when he was brought to cryogenic sleep in Wakanda? And then, when he was finally free to start living, Thanos came along and wiped out half of the population in one snap. But nothing was stopping Bucky now. But suddenly he had little appetite for life. His parents were long dead, his sister died, Steve was gone. And although there was a new Avengers team, Bucky felt alien to them. He just didn't belong. He felt like an intruder.

And that's why he was sitting at a table away from everyone, hidden in the shadows, stone-faced, watching the others enjoying themselves and enjoying their time together. He didn´t want to go to the Christmas party, but knowing that if he didn't show up, Samuel would kick him out of his room and keep an eye on him for the rest of the evening. Whereas if he came willingly, no one would care much for him, and so it wouldn't be hard to sneak out of here after a while.

It was ironic. He had wanted this for so long - to be free at last, to have his mind back under control, and to begin to live fully. But now, with nothing to stop him, he suddenly found he couldn't. That... that he doesn't know. He was stuck in a standoff and didn't know where to go next. Whatever. He knew it would be easier if he had Steve here.

Steve. Bucky ran his hand over his face with a sigh. He smiled humorlessly and sipped his whiskey. Could he blame him? Could he have been angry at him for seizing the chance to finally have the happy life he wanted and deserved? Of course not. He was happy for him, he was happy for him, but... But. A person had always been a selfish creature, and so Bucky couldn't blame the feelings fighting in him.

Suddenly he noticed that two persons had entered the room. One was tall, with strawberry-blond hair, and she was holding the hand of a little brown-haired girl. Bucky's stomach turned slightly when he recognized them as Pepper and Morgan Stark, Tony Stark's most beloved wife. Each time, in connection with Tony, Bucky was overwhelmed by waterfalls of remorse, and he suddenly regretted not leaving much earlier.

Bruce Banner immediately got off the couch and headed after Pepper and Morgan. First, he greeted the little girl, who wrapped her arms tightly around his neck, then said something enthusiastically to him before hopping over to Wanda. The redhead was silent and thoughtful for most of the evening, but as soon as Morgan appeared she brightened up and pulled her into her lap for a cuddle. The two of them have developed a strong bond over the past few months. Wanda may have resembled Natasha in some way, and Morgan resembled Wanda´s two sons, whom she had lost. Bucky felt that his breathing was getting harder, and he looked away from them all, his eyes clinging to his half-empty glass, which he held firmly in his left palm. The surrounding voices and music merged together into a kind of unpleasant noise, and the picture before his eyes began to blur slightly. He could feel the icy sweat pouring over him. The pressure on his chest was expanding, and Bucky felt as if he was suffocating. He had to get out of here. There were just too many sensations around.

But before he could get up and stagger to his room, a brown-haired girl appeared at his side. With sincerity of her own, she immediately said, "You know, if you don't let up a little, you're going to crush that glass."

Pale Bucky shifted his lost gaze to her. Morgan shot her brown eyes at him and smiled a little. "You look sick."

"It's . . . it's nothing," the soldier said weakly.

"Maybe I can help," said Morgan happily, and began to pull out of her pockets some small objects she had stacked on the table. Bucky's eyes darted back and forth, trying to put himself together, get control of himself again, and prosecute what Morgan was doing and saying. He wasn't sure this was a good idea. Maybe he should just get up and - "Mommy told me not to bother you, but I need to try something, and you need my help," she grinned, taking the object in her hand and then gently opening the palm of his fist and inserting the thing. "I think I know what's wrong with you. I think it's called a panic attack. Daddy had it, too, you know?"

Bucky just nodded shakily and felt his stomach lurch. Morgan went on to say something, but he focused more on the color of her voice than on the words she was saying. He tried to focus on the object she had placed in his hand, and slowly began to make out a magnet shaped like a llama. Morgan circled his palm with the tip of her index finger, tracing the outline of the magnet as she told him a story.

He was beginning to realize that his stampeding heart was settling down a bit. His ears had ceased to hum, and everything had taken on sharper colors. He fixed his gaze on Morgan, who was humming carols under her nose and fingering the magnets stacked on the table. He suddenly felt exhausted. He leaned back in his chair and studied the little girl with a mixture of reproach and curiosity. He wanted to tell her so much. Explain everything to her, apologies. . . but Morgan was just a little girl. She wouldn't understand it yet. “You look like your dad, you know that?” he said to Morgan suddenly. The girl only smiled but did not look at him. Bucky had no idea why he'd told her. “I'm Bucky,” he said.

She finally looked at him. "I know," she replied with a proud smile, lifting her chin. "Last time I saw you, you had long hair."

Bucky laughed -- surprised himself. "After a while, I was getting uncomfortable. You can understand me, can't you?" he said, as she brushed her hair back from her face and tucked it behind her ear. "It keeps falling in your eyes, and when the wind starts blowing, you can't see anything . . ." Morgan giggled, and Bucky smiled in surprise. Then he glanced at the llama magnet in his palm. “Why magnets?” he asked her, and the next moment he heard a soft click.

"That's why," she replied, as he lifted his head again, noting the eagerness and impatience in her eyes. By the time her fingers tapped his vibranium arm, he was beginning to understand. Another glance confirmed that he was right in his assumption. His left forearm was decorated with a Christmas tree magnet. There was a pause between them - and then Bucky chuckled and Morgan joined him.

"Why don't you sit with the others?" she asked him when they had stopped laughing, and she began to choose carefully what other magnet to add to his arm.

"I'm not much of a party guy. And I can't talk to others," he finally replied, watching his vibranium arm fill up with various magnets and grow more cheerful.

"Never mind. No one should be alone at Christmas. And the Avengers are family. And you're family, too," Morgan said sternly, then took his hand. He didn't even protest. Uncompromisingly, she forced him to his feet. Bucky looked down at her a little apprehensively, but she only smiled broadly. “Soldier Bucky, prepare yourself. A new mission awaits you."

"Is it dangerous?" Bucky asked her, feeling the corners of his lips lift into a smile despite the slight nervousness.

Morgan grinned at him. "Extremely."

And then she dragged him to the others and spent the rest of the evening by his side, keeping an eye on him. And Bucky promised himself that he would look out for her again, protect her, and make sure no one ever hurt her. He didn't get a chance to settle his differences with Tony, he didn't get a chance to apologize. Keeping an eye on his daughter when he couldn't anymore was the least he could do for Tony. And this time he won't fail.