The bed’s not empty when Steve wakes up. There’s another person next to him, curled into the curve of his body, pillowed atop his arm, but the bed might as well be empty. Bucky’s eyes are bloodshot and hollow, they’re blankly staring off into space, focused on some part of the wall. The blue-grey that used to be bright is now dull, his eyes are lifeless, and if this happened months ago Steve would have been concerned, but he’s not.
Gently, Steve brings a hand up and cards his fingers through Bucky’s hair. He pushes them through the soft strands, letting Bucky come back to reality on his own. It wasn’t always like this, and he’s not just thinking about before the war, but mere weeks ago Bucky was lively and happy. He was so damn happy and Steve doesn’t know changed.
Bucky raises his head, blinking twice before looking down at Steve, “Morning.” His voice is rough with disuse and the bags under his eyes are a deep purple.
Steve keeps his hand in Bucky’s hair, strands slipping away from his fingers, “Did you sleep last night?” Steve already knows the answer, he doesn’t know why he asked. False hope that Bucky at least got an hour of shut eye.
Bucky shakes his head, placing it on Steve’s chest, “No.” He says it softly, the roughness seemingly disappearing.
“Do you want to try?” Steve asks, hope clawing at his chest as Bucky nuzzles into his bare skin, his breath hot and coming out in little puffs, “I’m awake, I can keep watch.” Bartering and begging is all Steve can seem to do these days when it comes to Bucky and his PTSD. Bartering his own sleep and time for Bucky’s, begging God and Bucky, himself, for some solace on Bucky’s mind. He doesn’t mind the bartering or the begging, he just wishes he didn’t have to do it. Wishes this wasn’t something normal for him to do.
“No.” Bucky answers once more, hot breath evidence of his speaking.
“Okay.” Steve says instead of please get some sleep, for me. He just keeps carding his fingers through Bucky’s hair, brings his other arm around him and holds him close. It’s all he can do, at this point, at any point. He can’t guilt Bucky into sleep and he can’t force him into slumber, he’s never tried either and won’t. He’s not going to betray the trust that’s taken so long to be created.
Bucky’s been through so much and recovery’s been hard on him. Hard pressed by the government and Avengers, and hard on his current mental state. Steve tries his best to be Bucky’s shining light, the thing Bucky can come back to and know is rooting for him, an anchor of sorts, but his own light’s burning out. He so desperately wants Bucky to get better, to get sleep and happiness, but he doesn’t know how to give him that.
Steve pulls Bucky in a little closer to his chest, waiting for Bucky to adjust himself before carding his fingers through his hair once more.
They’ll get through this. He knows they will.
Eventually, they make it out of bed. Steve goes to fix them some breakfast, hoping that French toast will bring some light to Buck’s eyes, while Bucky goes to take a shower, wash away the nightmares and sleepiness.
He can hear the water from where he is in front of the stove. Spatula in hand, eyes focused on the sizzling egg and milk coated bread combination in the pan. With a flick of his wrist, he flips the bread, the satisfying sizzle the only sound on their floor, shower no longer running. Steve presses down on the bread with his spatula, the sizzle intensifying, before slipping the tool underneath the bread and sliding it onto a plate.
Three pieces of bread later Bucky pads in. He’s in sweatpants and a long sleeve shirt, his feet are bare and his hair is a damp mop pulled into a bun.
Steve motions to the plate with four pieces with his spatula, “French toast?”
Bucky gives Steve a small smile, just an uptick of his lips, “Yeah, thanks.” He opens the fridge, pulling out a couple items, and takes his plate from the counter. Lip uptick still there, and Steve counts that as a win.
Steve quickly finishes making his own set of French toast, grabbing two glasses as he heads to the table where Bucky sits, his food untouched, “You could have started eating, you know.”
Bucky looks down at his plate, like he forgot it was there, before looking back up to Steve, “Oh.” He picks up his fork, touching the prongs of it to the bread, “I think I was waiting for you.”
Steve ignores the I think part of that sentence and smiles at Bucky, “Thanks, Buck.” He grabs the carton of orange juice Bucky brought to the table and pours them both a glass, sliding Bucky’s across the table. He still hasn’t touched his food. Steve tries not to frown as he cuts into his stack of bread, just says: “Eat.” Once more before Bucky looks back down, surprised again, and cuts his own fork into the food.
Like with the lack of sleep, Steve doesn’t know what’s wrong with Bucky, he just knows something is. He hasn’t explicitly brought it up, instead asks whether Bucky’s had enough to eat or any sleep. He doesn’t want to step on Bucky’s toes, even if it’s for the better, because he doesn’t want to screw up what they have with his concern. Steve tries to tell himself that Bucky’s a grown man, brainwashed and not brain dead, that he can make decisions and solve problems on his own. He tries to reason with him not bringing it up as a way not to coddle Bucky, to give him space. But they share a bed, they swap spit on the couch, they’ve said their ‘I love you’s already. It’s Steve’s damn job as Bucky’s best friend and lover to help him through whatever he’s going through, even if it means toe stepping.
Steve opens his mouth to say something about the situation at hand, but closes it. Bucky’s eating, albeit mechanically and quietly, he’s eating. Steve lets the other half of his conscience- the half telling him to leave it alone- win this battle.
Bucky’s eating, Bucky’s clean, he might not be sleeping but if Steve says something now what if he disrupts the peace and health in Bucky’s life? He can’t be the one to do that. So, Steve goes back to his food, he cuts his bread into little triangles for each bite, occasionally glancing up at the man in front of him, but leaves him be.
Days pass and everything stays the same.
At first, Steve was optimistic that Bucky would be able to knock off this funk he’s in. That it was just a little bump in the road of recovery, but now it seems like a pothole that needs to be filled. It’s large, obtrusive, with sharp edges that can pop tires. It’s merciless and all consuming. It’s eating Bucky whole right before his eyes and Steve needs to put an end to it before it worsens.
Steve wakes up to the sound of ragged breathing next to him. His eyes quickly adjust to the darkness of the room and he carefully rolls over onto his side to look at Bucky.
Bucky’s eyes are wide, red with lack of sleep, the bags now bruises under his eyes. His chest is heaving in and out, fast and heavy like he just ran a marathon. His body is stiff, all of his muscles and joints strained and locked. Steve can see the sheen of sweat across his body, glistening in the moonlight creeping in from the parted curtains.
“Buck.” Steve says, loud in the silence of the room. He doesn’t dare touch Bucky, not like this, not when a friendly touch to Steve could mean a threat to Bucky. Bucky might be weaponless in guns and knives, but the serum makes every move deadly, and the metal arm is a weapon in itself.
“Buck.” Steve repeats, shifting on the bed so he’s sitting up, beside Bucky, “Bucky, I need you to snap out of it.” He’s not asleep, not with his eyes wide open, and Steve doesn’t know what to do. They’ve never gone through something like this together, “Snap out of it, Buck!”
With a jolt Bucky’s whole body seems to relax from its strained state. His breathing isn’t harsh anymore, but deep and slow like Bucky’s trying to catch it. Instead of his eyes wide and glued to the ceiling, they drift around the room until they land on Steve.
“Steve.” Bucky says his name like a prayer, like he’s a godsend, “Stevie.”
“Hey, Buck.” This time Steve touches Bucky, placing a hand on his shoulder, “You okay?”
Bucky’s eyes keep darting around the room like he’s trying to solidify where he’s at, but they land on Steve when he answers, “Thought I was in the chair.” He licks his lips, frowning, “It felt so real.”
Steve mirrors Bucky’s frown, “Were you dreaming?” He already knows the answer.
Sitting up, Bucky shakes his head, “No, not dreaming.”
“Hallucinating?” Steve asks quietly, watching as Bucky tries to catch his breath, their hands now laced between them.
Bucky nods, loose strands of his hair moving with him, “I haven’t done that in a long time, it’s no wonder I couldn’t break out.”
Steve doesn’t know much about hallucinations. He knows nowadays people like to medically induce them for recreation, that they’re common with people who have PTSD. He knows this hallucination wasn’t just because Bucky’s a trauma survivor, but also because Bucky hasn’t been sleeping for the last couple days.
He ignores the part of his conscience telling him to leave it alone and not coddle Bucky and speaks, “You need to get more sleep, Buck.”
Bucky laughs, humorless, “Do I, now?”
“Yeah.” Steve says his voice still soft but he’s holding his ground, “Without it stuff like this is going to keep happening.” Stuff like nightmares, night terrors, hallucination, loss of appetite, the list goes on and it sounds like the side effects of a really bad medication.
“Don’t you think I know that, Steve?” Bucky says, looking him in the eyes.
Steve sighs, he doesn’t know how to get the words across, “I know you know that.” He does, he really does, “I’m just worried about you, ‘s all.” He looks down at their entwined fingers, breaking Bucky’s stare.
“Don’t worry about me, Stevie.” Bucky deflates, like he was ready for a fight but is giving up instead, “It’s not worth the stress.”
Steve frowns, moving up the bed closer to Bucky and cups the side of Bucky’s face in his free hand, “You’re worth every damn thing, Bucky.” Steve says, trying to put all the love and care that he can into his words, “I hate seeing you like this, seeing you hurting, so of course I’m going to worry, how could I not?”
Bucky just shrugs, not quite looking Steve in the eye.
Steve untangles their fingers and pulls Bucky into a hug, holding him as close as he can, warmth lighting up in him when Bucky does the same, “We’re gonna’ figure something out, okay? Get you help.”
“Promise?” Bucky asks, his voice rough with emotion instead of disuse.
“Are you sure about this, Captain?” Wanda asks, looking from him to the prop house.
Steve shakes his arms out and grips the strap of the shield tighter, “Yeah, we need to see if you can do this.”
“I can.” Wanda tells him, she crouches slightly, her hands already glowing red.
“On three.” Steve tells her, bending his knees slightly, raising his shield, “One.. Two.. Three!” He can feel her magic surrounding him, engulfing him in a red orb of power. She easily lifts him from the ground and throws him in the direction of the window cutout, effortlessly pushing him through. Steve tucks himself into a ball, rolling a little when he hits the padded mat behind the prop house.
Steve’s grinning when he jogs around the house back to where Wanda stands, “You did it, good job.”
Wanda blushes slightly, ducking her head, “Thank you.”
“Have you tested your powers further than visions and levitation?” He asks, unstrapping the shield from his arm.
Wanda shrugs with one shoulder, “Healing, but only on myself.” She lowers herself to sitting on the padded floor, legs crossed, arms propping herself up.
“Healing?” He follows suit, not wanting to tower over her, and settles himself on the floor next to her.
She nods, picking at a loose strand from her scarf, “Headaches, sleepless nights, sometimes nightmares, I can use my magic to heal it.” A little smile curls on her lips, “It is nice to use the powers that were created with malicious intent for something good.”
Steve licks his lips, an idea coming to his head, “Do you think you could heal someone else?”
“Someone else?” She asks, eyeing him curiously.
“Yeah, do you think you could do the same thing you’re doing to yourself on someone else?” Steve doesn’t want to explicitly ask her to help Bucky, not yet. He doesn’t want to pressure her, or guilt her with that. Everyone knows how much Bucky’s hurting, whether they think he’s dangerous or not, people sympathize him. Steve knows that Wanda likes Bucky, likes both of them since they claimed the roles of being her older brothers, and he knows that she’s not stupid. She probably already knows what he’s trying to ask.
“Like.. Relieving them of pains cause by another?” She asks slowly, like she was trying to figure out the words.
Steve nods, “Exactly.”
“Pains caused by HYDRA?”
“Yes.” He catches her eyes, “Pains someone doesn’t deserve to have.”
“I can try.” Wanda says honestly, the kohl around her eyes making them look wider as she speaks, “But only if he consents.”
“Of course.” Steve says, shaking his head, “I wouldn’t have him do anything he doesn’t want to do.” If Bucky tells him he doesn’t want this, then Steve will drop it. He’s not going to force Bucky to do something even if it might heal him. Bucky’s had too much forceful words in his life, and he’s not about to get any from Steve.
“What if I hurt him?” Wanda asks, looking away, “I’m dangerous.”
“Aren’t we all?” Steve tries to catch her eyes, “Every Avenger is dangerous in their own right. It doesn’t matter where your powers came from, all that matters now is that you’re putting them to good use. You’re helping people.”
She looks up from where she was staring at the ground, “You really believe that?”
“I have to.” Steve says, because he does. Wanda and Bucky aren’t the only ones that came from something with malicious intent, Natasha did too, and he could probably throw Tony in that group. “If I believed that people can’t change then how can I do better for the world? How can I let them do better?”
“You are the righteous man people have claimed you to be.” Wanda says with a grin, “Ask Bucky, then come back to me.” She pushes herself up from the floor, smoothing down her dress, “I want to help him as much as I can.”
Steve nods, “I will, and thank you for wanting to.”
She looks down at him, “Don’t thank me yet, Captain, it might not work.”
“I believe in you.” Steve says with a shrug, “I’ll ask him when the time’s right.”
“Then I will go practice.” She says, nodding to herself, before leaving the room.
Steve stays on the floor for a moment, staring at his shield. He hopes Bucky will say yes, that he’ll at least want to try this, but he’s not going to force anything. More so, he hopes that Wanda’s powers will work to heal Bucky, and other people, for that matter. She’s a strong girl, her magic is powerful, and with more practice she could become stronger than even the likes of Stephen Strange. They have yet to tap into the full capabilities of her powers, to see just how much she can do, but maybe it’s time to test that power.
With a grunt, Steve pushes himself up from the ground and grabs his shield. He looks back at the prop house, a small grin on his face because now Wanda can launch him through windows, before leaving.
He needs to tell Bucky.
It’s the first night in longer than Steve can count on his hands that Bucky actually sleeps.
Steve’s still leaning against the headboard of their bed, tablet in his hands. He’s watching Bucky sleep, head pillowed on Steve’s chest, and Steve doesn’t dare move. He tries to keep his breathing steady, tries not to make any sudden movements or sounds because it might wake Bucky up. Bucky who hasn’t slept in days. Bucky who seems to have permanent bruises under his eyes and is grouchy constantly. Bucky who deserves the world on a silver platter, not this, never this.
Carefully, Steve sets his tablet on the nightstand next to him, “JARVIS?” He calls for quietly, almost a whisper.
“Yes, Captain?” JARVIS’ voice is equally as quiet and soft.
“Could you please cut the lights off?”
The lights dim slowly, then turns completely off, engulfing the room in darkness. Steve brings an arm around Bucky and puts a hand in Bucky’s hair. He sighs softly, holding him close. It’s been so long that Bucky’s slept and Steve wants to relish in it. He wants to take in Bucky’s steady breathing and relaxed body, take in the fact that his sleeping is peaceful and not rigid, he wants to take it all in, so he does. Steve holds Bucky a bit closer to his body, closing his eyes. All he wants is for Bucky to get better, and this might be a small step towards that.
He decides then and there that in the morning he’s going to tell Bucky about Wanda.
Steve watches Bucky wake up with a fond smile on his face.
He wakes slowly, eyes and nose scrunching up before his face relaxes and he blinks. He stretches his body with a groan, some of his joints popping, before settling back into Steve’s hold and looking up, “Good morning.”
“Morning.” Steve says with a smile, fingers once more finding their way back to Bucky’s hair, “Did you have a good night’s sleep?”
Bucky nods, cheek rubbing against Steve’s shirt, “Best sleep in a while, actually.”
“That’s good, I’m glad.” Steve’s so over the moon about this he wants to break out in song and dance like he did back in his USO days, but he won’t. Instead he clears his throat, still looking down at Bucky, “I was talking to Wanda the other day.”
“How is she? It’s been some time since I talked to her.” A little frown curves his lips down at the thought of not talking to Wanda.
“She’s good.” Steve says, “Her powers are getting stronger, too.”
“Yeah.” Steve licks his lips, “Said she could heal people now.”
Bucky raises an eyebrow, “Like stitching together wounds with magic?”
Steve shakes his head, “No, no, like healing mental pains. Headaches, sleeplessness, nightmares..” he trails off, trying to push the hope out of his eyes.
Bucky’s quiet for a moment, his eyes no longer on Steve’s but somewhere off on the other side of the room, he’s visibly biting the inside of his cheek- a nervous tick- before he looks back up to Steve, “So she could try healing me?”
“Yeah.” Steve nods, he brushes Bucky’s hair back, “She could try if you wanted her to. It’s up to you, though.”
“She’d what-” Bucky huffs out a humorless laugh, “-screw with my brain?”
“Buck, you don’t have to do this.” He doesn’t want Bucky to do anything he doesn’t want to do. Bucky’s had someone controlling him, messing with his head, for years now. He doesn’t need another person doing that to him. He doesn’t need Steve doing that.
Bucky shakes his head, “I didn’t mean it as a ‘no’, Steve.” He says with a sigh, looking up, “It was just a question: would she be messing with my head?”
“Yes.” Steve says, right to the point, no tip-toeing.
“Okay, do you trust her?”
“Yes.” Steve doesn’t hesitate with his answer. While Wanda may be dangerous, she’s not evil, there’s not a lick of malicious intent in her. What she did with Ultron and HYDRA was out of naivety and blind following. She had a grudge against Tony, and HYDRA promised his head on a steak for her, just like Ultron did. Not once, during the initial fight between the Avengers and Wanda did she kill someone. Visions? Yes. Killing? No. She’s come so far from where she was that day, far enough that she’s an official part of the Avengers and saves people on a daily basis. He lets her throw him through prop houses, doesn’t worry with her on his six during a mission. He trusts her.
Bucky’s quiet for a moment, biting the inside of his cheek once more, “Okay.” He says. Simple, nothing more than that one word.
“Okay?” Steve asks, wanting to know a little more than just one word.
“I want to get better.” Bucky says, “I don’t want to be like this anymore- tired, almost feral.” Bucky shakes his head, “I just want to be okay again and if Wanda’s the surefire way to getting me there, then sign me up.”
“You’re sure?” Steve asks, “Positive?” He needs to know that Bucky wants this, and isn’t just putting up a front for Steve. This needs to be one hundred percent Bucky that’s agreeing.
“Positive.” He leans up in Steve’s arms, almost pushing himself up into Steve’s face, “I want to get better, I need to get better, and she can help. Even if she can’t do it, it can’t hurt to try, right?”
“Right.” Steve says, “We’ll talk to her later.” He lets his hand fall from Bucky’s hair, down his chin, caressing his face, “If it doesn’t work we’ll get you better, somehow.”
“Promise?” Bucky asks, his voice quiet, a reflection to the other night.
“So you can help me?”
Wanda looks Bucky over. There’s bruises under his eyes that match the red inside them, his hair is in a messy top knot, and he looks so very desperate, “I can.” She’d do anything to help the man who tries to fill the place of her brother. He didn’t know Pietro, no, but he knows loss.
Bucky visibly relaxes on her couch, he’s holding Steve’s hand like a lifeline, “How would it work?”
She looks between the two of them. The hope in Steve’s eyes, the want in Bucky’s, and sets her mug of tea on the coffee table between them, “You would have to bring one of the happiest memories you can think of to the front of your mind. I will tap into that memory, and spread the happiness through your soul. That should, effectively, kill all the pain and darkness.” When she tried it on herself, all she could think of was Pietro. Her memories were bittersweet, parted between happiness of thinking of him and the sadness of losing him. It helped, thinking of him, but she wonders how much more she could do with a memory pure with happiness from Bucky.
“That’s it?” Bucky asks, “Think of something happy while you have your magic directed at me?”
“Yes, it works on me, so it should work on you.” She’s been practicing more since Steve brought Bucky up to her and now it’s almost effortless. Headaches are no more, nightmares are a thing of the past, she wonders if she could help Bruce..
“And will it alter his personality?” There’s a dip between Steve’s eyebrows, he’s frowning, concerned.
Wanda shakes her head, she pushes stray locks of hair over her shoulder, “No, it does not alter mine so it should not alter his. If he’s in a bad mood-” she grins at Bucky who rolls his eyes, “-it might make it better, but only because he can sleep and rest easy now. He will lift his own spirits.”
“You tired of my attitude, Stevie?” Bucky drawls, letting his head roll on the back of the couch to look at Steve.
Steve shakes his head, looking at Bucky, “Of course not. I was worried it might change who you are.” A small smile appears on his lips, so soft and intimate that Wanda feels that she should leave, “I like who you are.”
Bucky blushes high on his cheeks, “You’re such a sap.”
Steve just grins and Wanda can’t help but smile at the two. She knows it’s taken them a long time to get back to this point in their relationship, but it sees so natural. Their words and emotions are fluid, nothing’s forced or pushed out. It’s just them, this is who they are.
“So, when do we start?” Bucky asks, no longer looking at Steve, but the flush still coats his cheeks.
“We can do it now, if you’d like.” She’s been practicing, she knows he has a good shining memory behind those pained eyes, she can do this.
Bucky nods, “Let’s get to it, then.”
“You’re positive, Buck?” Steve asks, moving Bucky’s face with the tips of his fingers so they’re looking at each other in the eyes.
Bucky gives Steve a sad, uptick of his lips, smile, “I need to get better, for myself, for you.” He shrugs a shoulder, “Rather start on that road sooner rather than later.”
“Okay.” Steve nods.
They kiss gently, and Wanda averts her eyes, gives them this privacy. She hopes, for her and their sake, that this works. In the corner of her eyes she sees them touch foreheads, Bucky’s hand over Steve where it rests over this cheek. She’d joke that they’re not going to war but that’s an all too open wound that she can’t, and won’t, poke.
They pull apart, Bucky looks at her, “Ready.”
Wanda nods, taking in a deep breath, “Let’s start.”
She gets up from her armchair, rounding the coffee table to sit beside Bucky, “I have to ask you to stop holding hands, sorry.”
Steve looks at their hands for a moment, before they untwine them, giving each other half smiles.
Bucky turns to her on the couch, bringing one leg up and under the other, he lets out a sharp breath, “Okay.”
Wanda brings her hands up to the sides of his head, looking him in the eyes, “I need you to think of the happiest memory you can, got it?”
Bucky nods, closing his eyes.
“Tell me when you’re ready.” She says softly. She meets Steve’s eyes for a moment, they’re worried and hopeful, before looking back to Bucky. There’s a dip between his eyebrows, whether he can’t find a happy memory or can’t decide on the one he wants to use, she cannot tell, but she’ll give him all the time in the world.
“Ready.” Bucky says after a few moments, his eyes closed, face relaxed.
Wanda nods, “I’m starting.”
She closes her eyes and lets out a deep breath, relaxing her body. She can feel her power flow through her veins, beat through her heart, the magic she was forced to have is part of who she is now. It lives and grows just like she does, ebbs and flows with mystery, but is hers. Slowly, she feels the magic seep from the tips of her fingers and palms of her. It’s not the same magic she uses when she’s fighting, when she’s causing visions, but something lighter, airier.
When the magic touches Bucky she gasps. She can see the memory. It’s bright and yellow, like yellow daisies, it smells of apples and cinnamon, she can taste sugar on her tongue. The vision itself is of a woman, older, long blonde hair, she’s smiling. Her face is thin, features soft but sharp at the same time, she’s seen it somewhere before. Beside the woman is a young man, a man she can only guess is Steve. They’re all sitting at a table, there’s a pie between them with a large portion missing, that’s where the smell and taste comes from. The plates before them are dirty with bits of pie filling and crumbs of crust. She can’t see Bucky because she is him, she feels his happiness, it’s warm in her core, filling her soul like how warm tea feels going down her throat.
Quickly, before the memory goes away, Wanda shifts her hands. She lets the warmth she feels from Bucky’s memory fill his soul. She lets it coat him, wash over him, fill in the cracks of pain, sleepless nights, and trauma that he still feels. She puts all her power in it, trying to heal him to the best of her ability, when her magic sparks. She frowns, eyes still closed, the magic sparks once more. She’s about to pull away, finish the process, when the magic pouring from her fingers explodes.
It feels as if she’s caught in time, as if time has momentarily stops. The room is filled with the red of her power, like a tint, an explosion. She can see Bucky frozen, leaning back to Steve with a frown on his face from the push of her magic. She can see Steve’s face, his eyes wide, hands coming out to catch Bucky.
With a rush, the red drains from the room back into her hands, bringing her back into this time. She looks from her hands to Bucky, who’s rubbing his temples, and Steve who’s holding Bucky by the biceps. She opens her mouth to speak, apologize, ask if she hurt Bucky when someone else talks.
Wanda slowly turns to the voice she’s never heard before, her hands are shaking. Beside the couch stands the woman from Bucky’s vision. She’s not in the same clothes, but in a baby blue dress with a collar and buttons. Her long hair is parted in front of her shoulders, blue eyes wide.
Wanda’s speechless, she opens and closes her mouth, unsure what to do or say. She’s unsure whether the woman before her is a vision, or if she brought in someone from the past. HYDRA once told her she could do many things with her powers, that she could change the future, but she thought it was all talk. Now she knows it’s not.
“Mom?” Steve says from behind her, his voice is stunned.
The woman smiles, “It is you.”
It doesn’t matter that they weren’t the boys she’d seen just a few minutes ago, it doesn’t matter that they have changed, these two were still her boys.
Steven isn’t the small wisp of a child that she gave birth to. He’s much larger, he’s filled out the frame that matches his attitude. He looks so much like his late father that it brings a mist to Sarah’s eyes, she hasn’t seen his father in years, and Steven never had a chance to meet him. He isn’t thin, no, but he looks so much like the boy she knows in this new body. His nose is still sharp and thin, his lips rosy like her own, his hands large and delicate. She can see that he kept the part in his hair she’d fix each morning, that his eyes were still blue like the clear sky. He’s still her son, even with all these changes.
James, like Steven, has changed but she doesn’t know if it’s for the better. His hair’s long, pulled up into a bun on the top of his head. Instead of a boyish grin on his face he looks tired, stubble coating his cheeks and chin, jaw sharp instead of soft. He still has the same grey eyes, but they’re surrounded by dark bruises and redness. Like Steve, he no longer has a slight muscular frame to his body. He’s broad, wide, almost dangerous looking, and instead of a left arm made of flesh it’s of metal.
She doesn’t know what’s happened to her boys, whether what’s happened is for the better or the worse. She doesn’t know where she is, why one second she was preparing to go to work, and now she’s here in a time that’s very much not her own. She doesn’t know, but she’s not afraid, and she knows she’s here for a reason
“Mom?” Steven’s voice is still deep, stronger than his body once was.
Sarah smiles, she stretches out a hand, “Steven.”
Instead of Steven accepting her outstretched hand it’s James. He quickly gets up from the couch, squeezing his legs through the narrow opening between the girl on the couch’s legs and the coffee table. He’s gentle when he pulls her into a hug, aware of his own strength, she supposes.
Sarah wraps her arms around him, rubbing his broad back. It’s a slightly awkward hug, seeing as he towers over her, but she holds him to the best of her ability.
“Mrs. Rogers.” James says, it’s broken, but his voice is strong, “I thought I forgot you.”
She doesn’t know the context of this, what’s actually going on, but she just holds him closer, “I’m always in your heart, James, always.”
He nods into her shoulder, saying nothing more but holding on. With the hand she has on his back she outstretches it, looking past James’ shoulder to where her Steven sits, and thankfully he understands.
Steven rounds the couch, he’s tentative as he comes to her. There’s hope in his eyes, hope and sorrow, but eventually he folds himself into her hold. She wraps her arm around him to the best of her ability, and when James notices her struggle he moves to pull Steven in between them. His hold on Steven is gentle, almost like with hers, but there’s something different underneath it. Something she’s suspected but never could question.
She holds her boys as both of them sniffle, trying to keep their crying quiet. She feels as if she could cry, but not out of sorrow or mourning, out of happiness. She knows her days are marked, that the tickle she’s been feeling in the back of her throat isn’t nothing. Her lies to Steven about being well are spreading thin, but she can’t worry him, lest his illnesses spark up.
Wherever she is, why ever she may be here, she knows she’s going to relish in this. In seeing her boys grown, giving them all the bits of happiness she can before she leaves.
Eventually, they all pull away. James is wiping his eyes with the back of his flesh hand, Steven’s looking down at her with a sad smile on his face, and she smiles.
“My boys, all grown up.”
Steven nods, “Yeah.” He sniffs, wiping his eyes once with the back of his hand, “We’re all grown up, Ma’.”
The girl from the couch rises. She walks over to the three of them, eyeing Sarah curiously, “You are the woman from his vision.” Her accent is thick, her voice rough like a gravel sidewalk, “What time are you from?”
“Nineteen-thirty six.” Sarah says, she looks over to Steven when he flinches away from her, only slightly.
The girl touches her arm, “You are real, not a vision.”
“No.” Sarah says, she remembers what she was doing before she appeared here, “Not a vision.”
“Did you bring her here, Wanda?” James asks, his voice is rough, but his eyes are clear.
The girl- Wanda, Sarah supposes- frowns, she brings a hand up to her mouth, nails coated with black paint tapping her lip, “I do not know the extent of my power.” She starts, “But with it and the pureness of your memory, it is possible I brought her here from the past.”
“How can she go back?” Steven asks.
Wanda touches her arm again, closing her eyes as she does it. After a moment she opens them, “When she is ready.” Her blue eyes are wide, “She has been brought here for a reason. I brought her here for a reason.”
“What reason is that?” Sarah questions, looking at the three of them.
Wanda’s eyes drift between the three of them before landing on James, “To heal him.”
James shakes his head, “No.” He purses his lips and lets out a sharp breath, “You need to send her back, Wanda, she doesn’t want to help me. I’m-” he shakes his head again, “-I’m dangerous.”
Sarah turns to look at James, “You are no such thing.” No matter what he’s been through, who he is now, he will never be dangerous to her.
“Buck.” Steven says, his voice sad, “You’re not dangerous.”
“But I am.” James shakes his head again, his voice is tired, “I don’t want to hurt you, or anyone.” He turns to Sarah, “You don’t need to be here for me.”
Sarah presses the tips of his fingers to James’ arm, “I want to be here for you.”
“So this is two thousand sixteen?” The world looks magical from the window. Everything is glass, chrome, and sleek. There’s small boxes that play movies a reel would take. There’s flat, magazine like pieces of technology that can show her the world.
“Sure is.” James is standing next to her by the window as they stare out to the city below, “Never thought I would have been here, much less you or Stevie.”
Sarah hums, watching as sleek cars drive below them, as the sun reflects off the tall buildings, “And how did you two get here?”
James sighs, “It’s a long story, and it ain’t a nice one, either.”
“I’m willing to hear it, if you’re willing to tell me.” She looks over at him, at the tiredness that coats his features.
“I don’t want to mess with the future.” He says softly, “It might not be pretty, but-” he looks back at Steven, “but I got to be with him in the end.”
She glances back at Steven, who’s talking with Wanda, another woman, and a man, “You love him.” She says, she does not ask because it is not a question.
“And he loves me.” He says it with a small chuckle, “That’s the best part.”
“He’s always loved you.” Sarah tells him. She remembers the light in Steven’s eyes when he’d talk about James. She remembers the hurt when James would take another dame as his significant other. She’s always known that they’ve loved each other, and she came to terms with it. Steven’s her son, James is close enough, she’ll always love them. No matter whom they love.
James ducks his head, smiling, he looks back up, out the window, after a moment, “That’s why I don’t want to tell you, might accidentally mess this up.”
“I’m dying, James, you know that.” She says it softly, admitting it doesn’t hurt her. She’s a nurse, she knows the signs, and she knows how to be realistic.
He nods once, “I do.”
“Then you also know I won’t change any of this, not if you have some semblance of happiness now.”
James sighs, still looking out the window, “It started with the war..”
She listens as James tells her the story of what happened. He was drafted into a second world war, able bodied and unwilling. His group of men was taken by a malicious organization, but they chose him to be tortured and tested on. Steven, now bigger, now Captain America, saved his life. Throughout the war he, Steven, and a group of other men- all dubbed the Howling Commandos- went on numerous missions, one didn’t end so well. He was captured by the malicious organization, tortured, given a metal arm, further experimented on, and was placed into a program of highly trained men and women, him being the only survivor. It wasn’t until two years ago that he broke conditioning- after fighting Steve, himself- and turned himself in. Here, he is now.
His eyes stay glued to the window, “Now, do you see that I’m dangerous?”
Sarah shakes her head, she places her hand on his metal arm, over the chipped red star, “No. I see that you’re hurt and tired. I see that you need healing. I see that you’re my James, and you need me here, so here I’ll be for as long as you need.”
James looks down at her, his eyes misted over, “What if I hurt you?”
“How are you so sure?” He asks, broken.
Sarah looks back out the window, “Because you would never hurt another Rogers ever again.”
“From the past, huh? You’ve probably heard of my father, then.” The man walking towards her has a goatee, he’s wearing orange tinted glasses, and a very flamboyant suit.
“Your father?” She doesn’t know anyone that resembles him, nor does she know this man’s name, so she can’t say who she does and doesn’t know for sure.
The man taps at what she’s been told is a tablet for a moment before looking up at her through his glasses, “Howard Stark, technological extraordinaire- not better than me, of course.”
The name does ring a bell, not a big bell, but a little chime, “I think I’ve heard his name on the radio.” She looks over to Steven who’s been leaning against a white counter, arms crossed over his chest, James dozing against his shoulder, “Have I, Steven?”
“Yes, Ma.” He says it softly, trying not to wake James, “He was the one who tried to make a building run off the sun.”
She thinks on it for a moment before nodding, “Yes, I do remember him, did he succeed in that?”
“Nope.” The man says, he has a new contraption in his hand, “I did, though.”
Sarah smiles at the man, “What should I call you?” He still hasn’t told her his name.
The man rolls the contraption across her forehead, pulling it off and looking at it, “Tony, and what do I call you, ma’am?”
“Sarah. Nice to meet you, Tony.” She watches as he moves to another table, pulling a small white box out.
“The pleasure is all mine, meeting the fine woman who raise this strapping gentleman.”
Sarah sees Steven roll his eyes out of the corner of her own, but makes no move to speak or shift due to the sleeping James.
Tony looks over his shoulder, back at the bed, “No comeback, Cap?” Steven just sets Tony with a look, “It’s a great day to be alive if there’s no come back from ol’ Cap, here.” He opens the box and pulls out a syringe, “I need to draw some blood.”
“Is that necessary?” Steven asks.
“It’s fine.” Sarah says, “I’ve been stuck before.” She extends her arm out to Tony, elbow down.
Tony wraps a tourniquet just above her elbow, tapping at her skin until a vein raises. He gently inserts the needle, slipping a tube into the syringe before pulling it out and repairing it once. He places a bandage over the puncture, wrapping it.
“That was the quickest blood draw I’ve ever seen.” She looks down at her wrapped arm.
“Medical technology is great during this time.” Steven says, she looks up at him, “If I were born now with all the problems I had back then, I could have probably lived a very healthy life.”
She thinks about Steven living his life to the fullest. Being able to run around Brooklyn without fearing of an asthma attack or further damaging his back and it’s scoliosis. Not having to worry during the coldest winters or the hottest summers. Having the ability to be a kid like he was supposed to, not kept inside because the medicine was too expensive or the weather was too bad.
“You would have been a happy boy.” She says, finally, dreams of Steven being healthy as a child floating through her head.
“I was happy.” Steven says, a small pout on his lips, “I had you, Buck, and the occasional gust of oxygen in my lungs.”
Sarah sets Steven with a look, “You were about as happy as a wet cat.” She remembers his sour puss attitude, the almost permanent scowl on his face. He was always angry at the world- whether it be because he was sick or being someone did something lacking morals, the scowl wouldn’t come off. That’s not to say he didn’t smile, because he did, he laughed and grinned and had some happiness, it was just that his little rain cloud never left from above his head.
He rolls his eyes, a slight grin crossing his lips, “I think I was a little bit happier.”
“I’d say you were a damp cat, then, but you weren’t a dry one.” She knows her son well, and saying he was as happy as a dry cat would be a flat out lie.
Steven narrow his eyes before rolling them once more, “I’ll take it.”
“Don’t mean to interrupt this little family gathering,” Tony says, he’s leaning on one of the tables, staring at a holographic image, “but your results are back and..” he trails off, a struck look crossing his features.
Sarah already knows what he’s going to tell her, so to save him from giving them the bad news she speaks, “I’m dying.”
Tony looks back to her, his bubbly attitude deflated, and nods, “Sorry.”
She shakes her head, “No, it’s fine, I already knew.”
“You knew this early on?” Steven asks, his blue eyes are wide.
“Yes.” Sarah nods, “I didn’t want to worry you, though, I still don’t.” She doesn’t want Steven killing himself to try and get her medication, she doesn’t want James roped into doing the same when he has parents and siblings of his own.
“We can heal you!” Tony says, he turns back around looking at the hologram, “Yeah, all this stuff we have medication for, you can go back super healthy, live another forty years.”
“No, thank you.” Sarah says softly, “I don’t want to mess up the future.” She doesn’t want to hold Steven back from going to war, from being Captain America, from saving James. As much as she’d love to see him grow up, have so many more years with him, she can’t do that. Not to him, not when he’s so happy now.
“I hate time travel.” Tony says, he sits himself on a stool, pouting, “It really sucks.”
Steven nods, gentle as to not wake James, “It sure does.”
“How are you feeling, James?” She soothes his hair back with a hand, letting him lean against her on the couch.
He sighs softly, pushing his head into the hand, “Better, whatever Wanda did helped, and because you’re here.”
She hums, “I wish I could stay here forever, James, but I can’t.”
“I know.” He shifts, folding a leg under himself, “Just this helps, though, and if you could stay a few days that would be great.”
She nods, leaning her head against his, “Tell me what happened to you, that might help.” Talking always helped her patients in the hospital, so it might help now.
“It’s an ugly story.” He says, flexing the fingers of his metal hand.
Sarah places her hand atop his, squeezing gently, “Tell me.”
James breaths in deeply, letting the air out slowly, he takes a moment before speaking, “When they captured me, the second time, they conditioned me with torture to comply to their every word.” He licks his lips, still leaning against Sarah, eyes fixed on the coffee table, “It took them a while to get me to comply fully, but when they did I was at their disposal. They stripped me of my memories, of my identity, to the point where I didn’t know who I was without them.”
“They were your structure.” She doesn’t flinch at anything James tells her, but everything is horrible. Everything seems like it came right out of a science fiction novel.
He nods, “And they wanted it that way. I was malleable. Anyone they thought was an enemy, I thought it too, anyone they wanted dead, I’d kill. I was their weapon, and I don’t remember ever trying to leave because the fear of a life without structure was too much.”
She can’t imagine it, not really, being so completely helpless that one would have to stay with the people that hurt them. She knows James is capable, is strong, but this is how he is now. She doesn’t know how he was before, how he was with the people that captured him. Strong? Undoubtedly, but having the ability to think on his own? She doesn’t know. She can’t imagine it, and it hurts to do so with James in place of a faceless person.
“But you’re here now.” Sarah says instead of holding him closer to her heart because they hurt her boy and she doesn’t know how to cope with it.
He nods, “It took me some time, but I’m here now.”
Sarah rubs James’ back, soothing herself as much as him, “And you’re getting better.”
He sighs, “And I’m getting better.”
She smiles and continues rubbing his back, he is.
“You sure you’re gonna be okay sleeping down here, Ma?” Steven asks, walking into her new room with a stack of sheets.
Since Steven’s floor didn’t have a spare mattress, or space to put one in, she’s sleeping in one of the guest rooms on the common floor, “I’ll be fine.” She’s in apparently one of the most highly protected buildings in the world, a robot in the walls that she can talk to, her superhero boys upstairs, and other superheros around. She’s fine.
He’s still frowning as he fits the bed with sheets, “And you’re fine in those clothes?”
They gave her a set of cotton pants and a cotton shirt to wear with undergarments after she showered, they’re much more comfortable than the ratty nightgown she has at home. She walks over to where Steve’s fluffing the pillow and puts a hand on his shoulder, “I’ll be fine, Steven.”
James walks in a moment later with something in his hand, he raises and shakes it, “If you need anything just hold down the number three and it’ll call us.” He sets it down on the bedside table, “You good?”
Sarah nods, “I’ll be fine.” She pulls Steve in and kisses his cheek, doing the same with James, “Now go to sleep you two.”
“Fine, Ma’, but if you need anything-” he points to the phone, “-call us.”
“I will.” She pats James twice on the arm, “Go and have a restful sleep.”
They both nod and say their good nights before leaving the room, closing the door behind themselves.
Sarah cuts off the small lamp beside the bed and settles herself under the covers. It’s been a whirlwind of a day, seeing her boys all grown up and in love, seeing this new world, it took a toll. She’s content, though, glad she got to see them and their new life because she wasn’t going to be able to back in her time. She’d love to be selfish, to get cured by technology from this time, to let her boys know what’s going to happen when she goes back, but she can’t do anything. She won’t. It’s not her future she’ll mess up if she does, it’s theirs, and even though they went through a lot to get there, they have some semblance of happiness.
With that thought in mind, Sarah closes her eyes. She prays, silently, that she’ll still be here in the morning, that James will have a sleep without nightmares, and that her boys will be okay when she leaves. It’s all she can do without messing up the future.
Sarah wakes up with a parched mouth, she usually leaves a glass of water beside her bed, but since she’s in the future it must have slipped her mind. With a sigh she pushes herself up from the very comfortable bed, pushing her hair back with a hand before getting up.
Quietly, because she’s on the common floor, she leaves her room. Walking across warmed tile floors to the kitchen she had dinner in last night with the boys, Tony, and Wanda. She doesn’t startle when she sees someone sitting on the counter with a bowl in her hands, just smiles and asks, “Where are the glasses?”
The woman lowers her spoon from her mouth, green eyes boring into her, “First cabinet to the right of the sink.”
“Thank you.” Sarah replies, going to the cabinet she was directed to. She doesn’t know this woman, hadn’t met her earlier today, so when she’s done filling her glass she turns back to her, leaning against the sink, “Are you a friend of Steven and James?”
The woman’s lips quirk, a small uptick, “I am with Steve, yes.” She shrugs a shoulder, setting her bowl beside herself on the counter, her short and sleek red hair swishes when she moves, “I wouldn’t call James and myself friends.”
Sarah frowns, sipping at her water, “Why?”
The woman shoots her a look, a blank stare, as if Sarah’s question answers itself, “I don’t take being shot by someone lightly.”
“James shot you?” Sarah asks, making sure to include his name, and not the persona the malicious group made him out to be. James is a special case, he may not be himself from her time, but he certainly isn’t this killing weapon like people want to frame him to be. He’s something in the middle, between those two, neither one nor the other.
“Yes.” She says simply, “Twice that hit me, and multiple times before that didn’t.”
Sarah sets her cup down, there’s a rage in her stomach that’s starting to bubble, “James shot you. The man upstairs who’s finally getting sleep? The man who’s been through so much and got little back in return?”
The woman doesn’t break her stare, she fully gives it back, “Yes. You might not be able to believe it, but he’s dangerous. He may be hurt, he may be broken, but that doesn’t cover up the fact that he was made to kill.”
“James wasn’t made to do anything but love.” She snaps, keeping her voice cool and calm, “Did you know him from before, the way I and Steven knew him?”
She keeps her stare blank, “Of course not.”
“Then how do you know what he was made to do? He wasn’t made to do those things, he was forced, his hand was pushed to pull the trigger, and his brain was conditioned to listen to each and every word his handlers told him.” She shakes her head, unbelieving to the gall this woman has, “Everyone in this building should know that.”
The woman doesn’t say anything as Sarah drains her cup, washing it quickly before putting it on the drying rack. She doesn’t look at the woman as she leaves, feeling as if her metaphorical hackles are rising at the woman’s blatant disregard for what James went through.
Sarah closes her door softly, slipping back under the covers. If there’s one thing herself and Steven have in common it’s to fiercely protect James, and apparently Steve hasn’t been doing his job at protecting him correctly.
Closing her eyes, Sarah now knows what she has to do in the morning: give Steven and earful about his “friend”.
When she walks on to Steven’s floor it’s closer to eight then it is nine. She usually gets up much earlier than this, closer to sunrise, but since she’s in a new time without duties to attend to, she figures she could sleep in. Now, though, she’s awake and ready to talk to Steven.
The man in question is sitting on the couch, looking all like the son she left in the thirties except with more definition and muscle. He’s got a sketchbook open in his lap, pencil in hand, and a little purse to his lips where he’s concentrating on what he’s putting down paper. As to not disturb his work, Sarah gently settles herself beside him, slightly looking over his shoulder to see what he’s so focused on.
The sketch is of Steven, James, and herself. James is on her left, Steven on her right, their arms thrown over her shoulders in a half hug, all of them smiling so wide it could be mid laughter. She smiles down at the image, wishing she could take it home with her to keep always and think of the future, “That looks lovely, Steven.”
He grins, small and boyish, “Thanks, Ma.”
She looks away from the image, letting him fill in the shadows without her curious eyes making him anxious, and glances around the room, frowning, “Where’s James?”
“With his therapist, he’ll be there until about ten.” He doesn’t look up from the sketch, his pencil scratching against the paper.
“Oh.” She doesn’t know how to bring up Steven’s friend from last night or if she even should. She doesn’t want to start problems between Steven and his new friends, but if they’re not treating James- Steven’s significant other and best friend- correctly, then he should get them to. Steven should protect, care, and love James at all costs. She doesn’t doubt the love Steven has for him, it’s glaring and bright, but she knows how James can be with trying to protect and defend himself.
“I met one of your friends last night.” She says, after some consideration on phrasing.
“Did you now?” He looks up from the sketch, placing his pencil on the page before shutting the book, “Which one?”
She meets his eye, “I didn’t get a name, but she had short red hair and green eyes.”
Steven grins, “That’s Natasha.”
Sarah hums, letting her eyes drift away for a moment before looking back, “She’s under the impression that James is, and has always been, terribly dangerous.”
Steven’s grin falters, he looks to his lap where the closed sketchbook us, pushing at the cover nervously with his thumbs, “She’s had a bad background with him, he shot her twice and almost shot her a lot more times than that.” His grin has now turned into a frown, “She doesn’t forgive easy, and I don’t know if she ever will.”
Sarah nods, she can understand that, but.. “You need to make her, and your other friends, understand that he wasn’t always that person.”
“But you haven’t enough.” Sarah says, cutting him off, “You need to enforce that, you need to be the protector he didn’t have- don’t coddle him protect him.”
Steven’s eyes stay on the sketchbook, “I tried, I did, but when she- or they- get an idea that someone’s bad, it’s not easy for them to take it back. It happened with Wanda, too, but Bucky and I made sure to take her under our wing.” He looks up from the book, eyes set and determined, “I thought after they saw Wanda and how good she’s doing, that it would get better.” He shakes his head, sighing, “And maybe when I’m in the room it did, but I guess when I turn my back he’s still the same cold blooded killer to them.”
She brings a hand up to Steven’s face, cupping his cheek, “He needs you Steven, I won’t be here for much longer, maybe a day, before I leave again. He could be getting the best rest in the world, but if you’re not there to have his back in any way or form, then all of this is for nothing.” She rubs her thumb against his skin, taking in the warmth and health of him, “Be his crutch when he needs it, be his shield, be his dagger if you have to. Just be there for him.”
Steven takes her words in for a moment, looking down at the cushion between them, before nodding, “Okay, Ma.”
She smiles, “Good, now take me to the downstairs kitchen, I’d like to cook breakfast for everyone, god knows how long it’s been since I’ve done that.”
There’s bacon sizzling on the stove, Steven’s flipping blueberry pancakes on the grill, coffee's being made, and Sarah’s cutting more fruit than she’s ever eaten in her life. The kitchen is swirling with all the delicious scents, making her stomach rumble quietly as she takes a few cubes of fruit here and there. Beside her Steven’s hard at work, setting each pancake on a large serving platter before covering it back up so it doesn’t get cold. The bacon’s basically cooking itself, popping in the pan until it becomes dark and crispy.
They need to make enough food to feed almost a dozen people, with nine of those servings going to individual bodies and the other two going to Steven and James with their accelerated appetites. She doesn’t mind cooking all this food, since the only times she gets to do this is for Thanksgiving and Christmas- but even then there’s maybe three stomachs, including hers, and not a lot of money to make a huge feast. It’s calming, chopping the fruit, mixing it into a bowl, checking on the bacon as it sizzles, being next to Steven in a setting that isn’t worrisome or slightly concerning.
“What’re you guys up to?” Comes a voice from behind them.
Sarah look back, the knife still piercing the fruity flesh of a pineapple, “Making breakfast, would you like to help?”
James nods, pushing the sleeves of his sweater up, he moves between her and Steven, picking up the spatula and poking at the bacon.
“How was therapy?” Steven asks, flipping a pancake.
“Good.” James nods, he flips a piece of bacon, “Better than usual, opened up about more stuff.”
Sarah smiles at the fruit, “Did you sleep well last night?”
“Yeah, actually.” She can hear the smile in his voice, “I was out like a light, you just being here and whatever Wanda did really helped.”
“That’s real good, Buck.” Steven says, plating another two pancakes.
James leaves from between them, coming back with a napkin layered plate. He scoops the bacon out of the oil, letting it dry on the napkin before putting another package of the pork into the oil, “I feel lighter.” He says, pulling apart the bacon with the spatula, “Like the world isn’t on my shoulders, or something.”
“I’m glad.” Sarah tells him, picking up the cutting board to scrape the cut fruit into the large serving bowl, “Do you think it’ll stay that way when I leave?” She sets the knife and the cutting board down, looking over at James. She knows she has to leave soon, but she’d like to know if he’s going to be okay when she’s gone.
He nods, slowly, still pulling the bacon apart from each other, “Yeah. I think because I focused on a good memory when you came, and the fact that I had someone just know me and not who HYDRA made me, helped.” He shrugs, setting the spatula to the side of the burner, just watching the bacon sizzle and the oil pop, “That one good day of being with you, talking with you, really helped me.”
Sarah smiles, resting her hand on his back, “I’m glad I could help you so much.”
James leans back into her hand, bringing his left one up to pull her into a side hug- much like Steven’s drawing from earlier- “You did a lot more than help me.. Do you know when you’re leaving?”
She holds him a little closer, not wanting to give this up just yet, “Not now, but soon.” She brings her free hand up, touching her sternum, “I can feel it in my soul.” She feels another arm brush hers and looks to see Steven leaning in, a sad look on his face. Sarah rests her hand over his arm, “I’ll always be with you boys, know that, it may not be like this but in your hearts and watching over you.”
“We’ll meet you up there one of these days.” James jokes with a wet laugh, “Talk to you about all the shit you watched us get up to down here.”
Her own eyes are glassed over with tears, but she keeps a smile on her face, “I will not eagerly wait for you two. I want the both of you to live your lives to its fullest, take this new time as a second chance and do something with it. Go visit the Grand Canyon, go west, like we all always dreamt of.” She shakes her head slightly, “Don’t dedicate your life to a cause you’re not fully committed to, devote your life to each other.”
“Might have to use those for wedding vows, Ma’.” Steven jokes.
James looks over at him, “Really?” His voice is full of awe, like he could never imagine a world where Steven would marry him.
Sarah can see the blush on Steven’s cheeks and grins.
“Yeah.” He says shyly.
“You wanna’ make a husband outta’ me?”
Steven shrugs, “Why wouldn’t I?”
James grins, “I expect a ring, ya’ know?”
Sarah leans forward, trying to catch Steven’s eyes, “Did I give you mine and your father’s set?”
He nods, “Sure did, might have to ask the museum for them back, though, get it resized.”
“I’m glad I was here to see this.” Sarah says after a silent moment of the three of them grinning at each other. She’s always known they’ve loved each other, she’s just glad that they’re going to officiate it now.
“Didn’t plan it this way.” Steven mutters.
“Oh, you had a plan?” James asks, grinning and slightly bouncing like an excited puppy, “Do tell.”
Steven shrugs again, “Nice dinner out to that fancy place Pepper took us once. Maybe a drive to Coney Island after, like old times.”
“I’ll still take that version.” James says, his voice soft, “But now I have a little heads up before you get down on one knee at the pier.”
“Yeah, you do.” Steven says, his voice equally as soft.
They all continue with their smiles- her’s is more of a grin, theirs is soft- until they smell something burning and remember the hot food in front of them.
“Shit!” James says, extracting his arms from their shoulders to poke at the bacon.
Steven reacts the same with his pancakes, hurrying to flip them but realizing it’s a lost cause and throwing them away before greasing the grill once more and putting on more batter.
Sarah just leans against the counter, watching her boys make breakfast together. She can feel warmth in her soul- whether it’s because she’s happy or because she knows they’re going to be alright, she can’t tell. It fills her body, leaving a small smile on her face, leaving her content for her own passing because she got to see her boys all grown up and in love.
I can pass in peace, now. She thinks, watching them, Everything’s going to be alright.
Bucky grins as he watches Sarah interact with the other Avengers. Right now, she’s having an animated talk with Pepper about classic music, both of them spewing their favorite singers as they eat their breakfast. Most of the other Avengers are engaged in the conversation, listening to every word that comes out of Sarah’s mouth, not interrupting her for anything.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Pepper says, slightly waving her fork in the air, “I can appreciate this generation’s music, but music from your time is just amazing.”
Sarah nods, “I remember the music from the twenties and it doesn’t match anything we have right now. Swing was nice, it was fun, but it wasn’t..” She trails off looking for a word.
“Smokey.” Bucky offers.
“Yes!” Sarah points at him, “Smokey, like a dim dancehall.”
Bucky leans back in his seat, grin still on his face but not as large. He looks at Steve when he rests an arm over his shoulders and leans in, “You havin’ fun?”
Steve nods, watching his mom with lit up eyes, “Yeah. I’m glad she’s here.” He says softly, free hand fiddling with his fork.
“You’re gonna’ miss her when she leaves?” Bucky asks, looking up at Steve. He knows he’s going to miss her. He was as closer to her than he was with his own mother- his mom had to take care of his dad and little sisters, it made sense. Sarah did more for him than he could ever appreciate. She gave him a roof when his own got a little too crowded, food when there wasn’t enough at his own home. She literally gave him Steve, without Steve he doesn’t know where he’d be right now. Dead or completely brainwashed, he supposes.
Steve nods again but this time with a shrug of his shoulder, “How could I not? I thought I was never going to see her again.”
Bucky brings his hand up to the one that rests over his shoulder, giving Steve something to hold on to, “But she got to see you- us- all grown up, and she’s going to go back home knowing that we made it out alright. That we’re going to be alright now.”
“I know.” He says, a small pout on his lips, “I just-” he lets out a sigh, trying to keep what he’s feeling away from prying ears and his mom, “-I’m just gonna’ miss her, just got her back and now she has to leave.”
Bucky understands, he does, but he’s partly the reason she was brought here, so he needs to take care of Steve, “Remember what she said in the kitchen?”
“That she was happy we’re getting married?” Steve jokes, laugh falling short.
Bucky shakes his head, “No, that she’ll always be here. In heaven and in our hearts.”
“I remember.” Steve says with a short nod, looking down at his crumb filled plate.
“Just keep that in mind.” He squeezes Steve’s hand once, “‘Cause it’s gonna be hard when she leaves, I know it’ll be hard for me, too.”
Steve squeezes his hand back gently, “We’ll get through it together.”
Bucky leans closer to Steve, “We always do.”
They get three more days with Sarah. Three days of watching Disney movies (“My favorite has to be Tangled.” Bucky says, it’s already dark outside, their faces illuminated by the rolling credits from Brave, “I resonate with the little chameleon.”
Steve snorts, still munching on the popcorn, “My heart is sold to Fantasia, the art is amazing.”
“I thought Lady and the Tramp was cute.” Sarah says, shrugging her shoulders.
“Everyone thinks it’s cute, people still try to do the pasta thing.” Bucky says, stealing the bowl from Steve, “Now, which movie next?”), talking about their future wedding (“Will the both of you be in white or in your Army uniforms?”
Bucky looks over to her, the three of them are on he and Steve’s bed, Steve and Sarah up against the headboard, him laying at the end of the bed, his head pillowed on Steve’s ankles, “I don’t think I even have a uniform, or if they’d make me one.” His would be bare in medals compared to Steve’s, he doesn’t even know how the Army’s formal uniforms look in this day and age.
Steve rolls his eyes, “They’d make you one.”
“But would you want to wear it?” Sarah asks, pulling the fleece blanket they gave her to cover her arms.
Bucky thinks about it for a moment. Wearing it would be nice, yes, but he doesn’t think he wants the military to invade their wedding night via clothing and pins, “No.”
“Then it’s settled.” Steve says, setting his tablet down on his lap, “We’re both in white.”
Sarah smiles, “You two will look very handsome in white.”), and just talking (“Sometimes I wish I could just be that kid from Brooklyn again, ya’ know?” Bucky tells Sarah, they’re both drinking coffee, sitting at the little breakfast nook that overlooks Manhattan.
“But you are.” Sarah says, she places her hand over his metal one, “You’re still him.”
He looks down at the hand, the skinniness of it, the familiarity, “I know I got a little of that boy in me, but I also have the Solider, and I can’t be me anymore without either of them.” It’s an odd balance. The quiet, feralness of the Soldier, mixed with the bubbly charm of the Boy, but it makes up who he is now. He can’t be one without the other, but he can’t be just one any more. He thinks it would be easier on his mind if he was just one of them.
“But this person you are now, do you like him?”
Bucky frowns, looking at the steam rising from his cup. He’s never been asked that before, and he’s never thought of it. It might be easier to just be one person, but he isn’t one person- not anymore- and he’s come to terms with it, “I think so.” He says it slowly, looking up at Sarah, “My default person would be the Soldier if I’m not who I am now, and I don’t want to be him.” He looks over to the hallway leading to the bedroom, Steve’s on a run with Sam, “Stevie ain’t the same either, and I think this person that I am balances him.”
She nods, taking a sip of her coffee, “Time changes people, no matter how much time it is. The Steven and James I know back home don’t have any drops of who you two are now, but it’s okay. The changes you’ve been through were out of necessity, whether it be for protection, out of war, or just because the time’s changed, it’s all okay.”
Bucky gives Sarah a small smile, she always gives the best speeches, he thinks it’s where Steve got it from, “Thanks.”
She returns the smile, “No thanks necessary.”)
“James, Steven!” Sarah yells from the living room.
Bucky jumps out of bed, almost tripping over the blanket, and runs into the living room. Steve’s already sitting by Sarah, holding her hand, “What’s wrong?”
Sarah presses her hand to her sternum, “I think I’m leaving.”
Bucky looks her over, he can see the couch through her, “Does it hurt?”
She shakes her head, “Rapid heartbeat, is all.”
“We’ll see you over there.” Steve says, “Let it take you, don’t push it away.”
Bucky walks to her, kneeling down in front of her. He brings his hands up to cup her face, “I’m good here.” He tell her, smiling softly, there’s pricks behind his eyes, “I got Stevie,” he flicks his eyes to Steve, “and I got you in my heart.” He pats his chest, “You can go home now.”
Steve rubs her back, his hand visible through her, “Go back to me and Buck from back then.” He swallows back visible tears, “We need you.”
Sarah nods, “Okay.” She brings one hand to Bucky’s face, the other awkwardly to Steve’s, “I’m glad I got to see you two, this old, now. It makes it all worth it.”
“Go.” Bucky says softly, “It was good seeing you.”
“Love you, Ma’.” Steve says, choking slightly.
“Love you two.” She says, letting out a long steady breath before disappearing completely.
Bucky sits back on his heels, his hands falling onto the sofa.
They both stare at where Sarah once sat, both of them completely speechless. He can hear Steve taking in ragged breaths, trying to calm himself, and makes himself snap out of his speechless daze. Bucky moves up to the sofa, sitting in Sarah’s place, he pulls Steve into a hug, holding the man tight as he cries, rubbing his back.
He knows Steve probably feels sad, and he gets it. Steve just got his mom back and now she’s gone, but Bucky- Bucky lets out a deep sigh and he feels like a weight was just lifted from his chest. He feels lighter, he feels like the two parts of the man that he is- the Boy, and the Soldier- can be whole, some day. He doesn’t feel upset that Sarah’s gone, because he knows that his old self will see her. He’s not upset because he got to see her again when he thought he never would. But Steve, Steve’s different.
Sarah’s his mom. He’s her son. He saw her go down in the dirt almost a century ago, and to see her again? It was both a miracle and salt in the wound. So, he holds Steve. Holds him as he cries tears for both seeing his mother and watching her leave once more- having to let her leave again. He rocks him softly, humming something old and sepia toned into Steve’s ear.
They lean back into the couch, Steve curling into him further. Bucky holds him as close as he can, keeping the humming and the back rubbing up until Steve’s crying slows into hiccups, “How’re you feeling?”
Steve shrugs, not ready to talk yet.
“Okay.” Bucky nods, kissing the top of his head, “Okay, I got you, Stevie.” He’ll hold him close for as long as he can. Until the sun sets, until the end of the world, through and through. God knows Steve’s done it for him.
Time passes, it gets darker outside before Steve pulls back. He rubs his eyes, taking in a shaky breath, blowing it out slowly.
Bucky rubs Steve’s arms, giving him a soft smile, “Feeling better?”
Steve nods, “Yeah.” It comes out cracked, “Yeah, sorry.”
Bucky shakes his head, “You got nothin’ to apologize for.” He taps his shoulder with a finger, “Hey, look at me.”
Steve drops his hands, looking up, his eyes red.
Bucky grins, “There you are, now, how are you feeling?”
“Shitty.” Steve says, honest.
Bucky nods, “That’s what I wanted to hear.” He drops a hand down to Steve’s own, tugging it, “Let’s go to bed?”
Steve nods, “Yeah.” He rubs his eyes with his free hand, sniffs, “Yeah, let’s go to bed.”
That night it’s Bucky who holds Steve. Who keeps him warm, who tries to keep his sorrows at bay, who tries to keep the tears away with kisses and tight hugs. Usually it’s him who needs this, who needs someone to just hold him for a moment because it all feels too fragile, because it all feels like it’s going to break at any moment. But now, it’s Steve that needs that, and Bucky’s here for him. He always has been, in some way or form, but now, after Sarah and Wanda, he thinks he can be here completely.
Sure, there’s still holes in his memory, there’s still things he’s unsure of, and things he doesn’t know about himself yet, but he feels better. What Wanda did, and Sarah being here, it wasn’t a quick fix, he’s not complete yet. But he’s better, and that’s all that matters.
“How about silk?” Tony says, spinning around the stool in his lab.
“Silk is too delicate for the arm.” Pepper says, not looking up from her laptop, “No offense.”
Bucky shakes his head, watching as Steve flips through the wedding magazine he picked up from the store, “None taken.”
“Red, white, and blue?” Tony asks, he’s stopped spinning, but stares at the ceiling.
“God, no.” Steve says, finally looking up, “This isn’t Captain America’s wedding, it’s Bucky and I’s.”
Bucky grins, “Our wedding.” It sounds nice rolling off his tongue.
Steve matches his grin, line for line, “I can’t wait to marry you.”
“Hey!” Sam yells, walking into the lab, “Shoulda’ called me when your ma was here.” He plops down on the seat in front of Steve, pulling the magazine towards himself, “I’m the best man, right?”
Bucky rolls his eyes, “Natasha already called it.” After Sarah left she’s been more open to him. Not exactly spewing secrets and telling him her fears, but talking to him. Little words here and there instead of icy silence. He doesn’t know what happened, between Sarah and her, but it changed their relationship for the better.
“On whose side?” Sam asks, flipping through the magazine.
“Mine.” Steve says with a shrug, “I let her.”
Sam looks up from the magazine with a squawk, “You let her?”
Steve nods, leaning back against his seat, “She kinda’ had me pinned down with her knee to my jugular when she asked. Not like I could say no in that position.”
Bucky chuckles, he remembers the sight. Tiny Natasha dropping Steve like a rock onto the padded mat, her knee coming up to his throat in one swift motion.
“And you?” Sam motions to Bucky, “Who’s yours?”
“Well,” Bucky drawls, “I was gonna’ ask you, but you’re so eager to be Steve’s best man so--”
“No, no, I’ll take you, you’re the next best thing.” Sam says, grinning wide, “Ma’s gonna’ be so proud when I tell her you guys are finally hitching. She’ll want to be there, you know?” Sam’s face becomes completely serious, “She’s very invested in your relationship.”
Steve smiles, looking up at the ceiling, like Tony, “I like your mom, she treated me normal and gave me really good food.”
Bucky shrugs, “Never met her, but if she’s anything like you, she should be great.”
Sam rolls his eyes, grinning wide, “Smooth talker, I can see how you got Steve to marry your ugly mug.”
“I asked him, actually, need to go to the museum and ask for the rings back.”
“What rings?” Tony asks, now looking at them.
“Rings?” Pepper says, not looking up.
Steve nods, “The museum took Ma and Pa’s rings from the old apartment.” He sighs, “I need to get them back, get them resized, and get one to Bucky.”
“We’ll get them back.” Pepper says, now looking up, nodding.
“If not I can steal them.” Bucky says off handedly. He can break into anything and everything, including a museum. So if the douches don’t want to give Steve the rings back, then he’ll just steal them. What’s Steve’s is his, anyways, and what’s theirs is in the museum when it’s rightful place is on his finger.
“No.” The four of them say in unison, and Bucky rolls his eyes.
“Fine, do it the legal way.”
“And suits? What’re you two wearing?” Sam asks, looking between Steve and Bucky.
“White?” Steve says, it comes out as more of a question though.
Bucky sits back as the four of them chatter on about what type of fabric to wear. Steve complains about the lack of men’s apparel in the wedding magazine, and how wedding magazines are geared towards females and heterosexuals when men also take a part in the ordeal and gay/lesbian marriage is on the rise. Sam asks about the wedding cake- which they haven’t discussed- and demands to be invited to the cake testings since he’s now a best man. Pepper pulls up a spreadsheet of their wedding, getting up from her seat to stand in the middle of dozens of wedding related holograms. Tony asks if he can officiate the wedding, being completely sincere, and they all give in to his goatee and puppy eyed look.
He’s completely happy. There’s a small smile on his face as he watches most of his friends and his fiancé talk about their future wedding. He doesn’t mind letting himself tune them out, leaning back in his seat, gazing at the four of them and the blue holograms floating around above him.
It’s been a week or so without Sarah. Steve took a day or so to grieve, opting to stay on their floor and decidedly not look at the pair of clothes she left, and Bucky let him. He held Steve when he wanted to cry some more, he made sure to cook his favorite meals, he did everything Steve would do for him. Bucky didn’t grieve over her absence, just took it in, accepting that nothing was ever infinite, accepting the fact that she put a boost on his healing. He made sure to thank Wanda, talk to her about his time with Sarah, ask her about her own week since he didn’t see much of her, and agree to let her be their flower girl despite the fact that she was more than ten years too old. Most importantly, he made sure to take care of himself.
Before Sarah and Wanda, he didn’t have much of a care about his physical appearance or mental stability. Sure, he showered, did all his proper hygiene, but he wore what was in the closet, he only ever pulled his hair up or let it hang loose. Now, though, he cares about what clothes he puts on his body, he buys whatever appeals to his tastes. He puts products in his hair, pampers himself with nice soaps and baths. It’s not much, but it’s something he does for himself, a little bit of the Boy from before than the Soldier coming back to him.
Instead of draining himself mentally, letting himself waste away until Steve brought him out, he takes a moment to breathe. He lets himself sleep if he is tired, cry if he is sad, punch a bag if he is upset. He doesn’t bottle anything in, doesn’t let it simmer until his emotions sky rocket out of his body. He’s aware now, of how much he used to hurt himself without knowing, and he’s trying to fix it.
“You okay, Buck?” Steve asks, letting the others talk about their wedding for a moment.
Bucky pulls himself out of his thoughts, giving Steve a genuine smile and taking his hand, “Yeah, I think I actually am.”
Steve grins, his eyes bright like the sun, “That’s good, Buck, I’m glad.”
“Me, too.” Bucky replies, squeezing Steve’s hand, “Me, too.”
There’s still a long road ahead of him. One that’s full of potholes and crappy lanes, but one he knows- with Steve and friends- that he can handle. One he knows that he will handle, because God knows that he deserves some happiness in his life.
“Lemon.” Bucky says, looking at Pepper, “One layer of the cake should be lemon.”
She pauses, mid-sentence, but nods, walking to her laptop and typing in the word ‘lemon’ to the spreadsheet under the Cake column, “Got it.”
“That was Ma’s favorite.” Steve says softly, only to Bucky, “Did you just remember that?”
Bucky shrugs, because he didn’t remember it but he also doesn’t know it, “Guess she really is watching over us.”
Steve smiles, it’s genuine, “Yeah, she definitely is.”
Bucky squeezes Steve’s hand, returning the smiles, and turns back to where Pepper stands. He’s happy, and there’s nothing out there- not HYDRA, nothing- that can change that.
Sarah smiles down at her boys, holding John’s hand, watching as they talk about their future wedding.
She’s now watched their life play out before her eyes, how they got here, where they didn’t go. She’s seen herself before she passed helping them like a mother duck to her babies. She’s seen them through thick and thin care for each other, before her passing and after, with the knowledge that they were always going to end up here, that they were always going to be alright.
She grins once more, turning to John, “They’re so happy together.”
He grins back at her, picking her hand up to kiss the knuckles, “So much like us when we were young.”
Sarah nods, “But with a better life ahead of them.”
John hums, turning back to look at his son and future son in law, “But with a better life ahead of them.” He repeats, his blue eyes fixed on the son he never got to see grow.
Sarah looks back to the sight below them, happy she could help even when there was so much she didn’t know.
Her boys are happy. They’re healing, coping, dealing with their problems, and there’s nothing in the world she could ask for right now, nothing in the world that could make her feel better.
“The wedding’s going to be beautiful.” John says quietly.
“Yes.” Sarah nods, watching as they flip through suit designs, “It is.”