He comes to the designated safehouse for help. Natalia will be there, the little black widow he'd taken care of so often over the years, who had pressed her red lips together and shook her red hair and leaned down to take care of him. Feminine hand, fingers wrapped around his metal wrist and two knuckles tapped backward against it. Pause. He'd still be shaking. Tap again. Something deep inside him unraveled, untwisted, and calmed. He stared at her with almost eerie stillness. The tense wire in the line of her body relaxed, and she grabbed a clean rag to mop up the blood.
He comes to the designated safehouse. She was there, he thinks in a mind still reeling from the beginnings and fragments of memory. So often he'd mopped up after her memories, the little spider, the little black widow with the red hair. She was there and he'd shot her, but she'd mopped up after him in Odessa. She'd come to the safehouse, head tilted, body held stiffly, and come to wrap her strong hand around his stronger wrist and tap her knuckles twice against him.
"You're hurt," he'd slurred out. He was hurt too. He hadn't killed her and he would have to go back to more pain than either should have been able to imagine. They were both Red Room operatives under the umbrellas of shadowy organizations they couldn't begin to untangle the relationships of. They could imagine the pain.
She shook her head and lifted her shirt to place his metal fingers gently against the scar and dark bruises mottling her skin. "There's a man," she said slowly. "He takes care of me now."
Her eyes searched his for a long moment. He used to take care of her, his little spider. He reached up to cradle her face with his right hand.
"Is he good to you?"
She stood up and reached for the rag.
He comes to the designated safehouse. His mind is rattled with memories a soldier knocked loose and the imagination of pain to come. He didn't kill him. He's hurt. He comes to see his little spider. He hurt her again, but this is the way of the Red Room, and both of them understand it.
She isn't there.
He comes to the designated safehouse and waits and waits and waits. He shuffles to the window and peers out into the chilly mornings, then breaks open enough rations to survive before looking out in the chilly evenings. No one has breached the security yet. Natalia, his little black widow, would not set off the alarms, but he knows her tread in all the ways it exists. He knows the prickle of tension at his back, the air too still, the silence too deep. He knows the little spider as she has known him.
He comes to the designated safehouse and waits until he feels the tension raise the hair on his arm and clench the metal fingers on his fist. He waits until he hears a silence even deeper than the little spider's and a stillness far more penetrating.
He raises his gun and waits for whoever has not tripped the alarm but breached the security anyway.
A man steps through the front door, glancing up to note everything—the Soldier, the room, the house, the details, the gun. He closes the door behind him, reenables the security, and holds up his weapon for inspection.
"Natasha sent me. I'm Clint."
There's a man. He takes care of me now.
Clint waits a long moment, then sets the bow and quiver on the couch. He hefts the duffel he brought. "Resupply."
The Soldier doesn't lower the gun. He waits, for proof.
Clint holds out his wrist and turns over the knuckles of his other hand to tap. "Love is for children," he says quietly.
Finally, he lowers the gun.
He comes to the designated safehouse for help. Natalia isn't there but the man who takes care of her is. Clint. His name is Clint.
"Do you know my name?" he asks suddenly, abruptly, even as Clint is studying him speculatively as though he can see through clothes.
"Maybe," Clint says in the same way that Natalia would have said it, casually but full of 'yes' in too many flavors to outright pick an answer. "Can you take off your top? I don't think you really cleaned yourself up all that much."
He didn't. He takes off his layers—hoodie, shirt, underarmor, bandages. He waits, agitated and watchful.
Clint doesn't take his wrist. He studies the pattern of the bruises with a straight slash frown and pulls out a first aid kit. "You want me to or you?"
He shrugs. He is mostly all right on the outside, except his arm is hurt and his memory is breaking apart into fragments and histories he doesn't want to remember because he doesn't know how to remember without it bringing pain.
Clint approaches slowly.
Clint studies him for a long moment. "Bucky," he says finally, quietly. "Your name is Bucky."
He comes to the designated safehouse and tells the man who's taking care of him, "I knew him."
"You saved him," Clint says softly.
Bucky peers at him from under hair his handlers didn't cut or order him to cut. 'Til the end of the line, echoes in his head as if it makes any kind of sense. "I—" He pauses, fragments, breathes hard and leans back, waiting for tumult to subside. "I knew him."
Clint curls his fingers around metal ones.
Bucky watches him without moving. Clint is good at this. He knows how to clean up the worst of a mission gone wrong, knows how to soothe the restlessness inside him with his own stillness. Clint holds on but doesn't look into Bucky's eyes or at their hands. He just holds on.
"The Widow—" Bucky thinks there is more to say, but he stops there, leaves it.
Clint glances up, finishes his work, answers. "She's fine." He pauses to look directly into Bucky's eyes, honesty all over his face. "He's fine."
He's fine then. Bucky sags back. He doesn't remember everything, but it matters. It matters somehow that the man on the bridge is fine. "I knew him."
He comes to the designated safehouse and he lets someone else mop up the mess, take care of him for a little while. He lets Natalia's friend, someone she trusts and who knows how to walk in the Soldier's presence, bandage him up and clean his wounds and gently lean his head back over the sink to cut and wash his hair.
It's soothing and improbable, for as often as Bucky allowed the little spider to do these things and as easily as he obeyed his handlers, Clint is not Natalia and Clint is not his handler.
There are questions bubbling up inside of Bucky's chest and nightmares that wake him up screaming, but he does not like to ask them. He lets them settle in his chest and he looks toward the window where Clint is standing watch.
"You're okay. Go back to sleep."
So he does.
He comes to the designated safehouse and spends days, weeks in the company of a quiet man, a sniper, Natalia's friend. They share a few stories, Clint more than Bucky. Bucky does not remember being Bucky, but he remembers the Soldier and the little black widow who stood out from all the rest with her fiery spirit and red hair and stillness and the tense wire in the middle of her body before she struck.
Clint knows Natasha, as she calls herself now, and Steve, and he knows how they are doing, what they fear and hope and dream, even if Bucky only reads the truly personal between the lines.
"Does he still pick on everyone bigger than him?" he asks, question rising out of the broken fragments of memory that shatter him awake each night.
Clint smiles broadly, and it does interesting things to his face. "Still does." He cracks his neck, glances around. "You going to play?"
Bucky broods over his cards for a moment, then plays. "Does Natalia take care of him?"
Clint's face softens, and Bucky likes that look even better. "Yeah," he says. "She does."
He comes to the designated safehouse and meets the man who talked Natalia into becoming Natasha, who walks quietly and hides pieces of himself behind other pieces. Like the widow.
"You don't have to go back out there," Clint says, gesturing abstractly toward the outside. "You can come in."
Come in where? Bucky broods over the thought. The Soldier remembers winter and the cold and the Red Room and blood. He shakes his head.
Clint studies him, nods. He wraps his hand around Bucky's metal wrist and holds on for a moment. "Call me if you need me."
Then he goes back out there.
Bucky watches and waits a little while before following.