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For Maybe in Another World

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Reflection

Each time I see the Upside-Down Man
Standing in the water,
I look at him and start to laugh,
Although I shouldn't oughtter.
For maybe in another world
Another time
Another town,
Maybe HE is right side up
And I am upside down.

-Shel Silverstein

 

Bucky is really excited for Daddy to come back from this mission.

Usually he hates when Daddy’s gone. His nightmares get scarier and waking doesn’t help, because he knows that anything bad could happen to Daddy out there where he throws himself out of planes and elevators. There’s nothing Bucky can do to keep him safe.

This time, though, Bucky’s been absorbed enough in his work that he’s barely had to think about it. And he knows Daddy’s gonna love what he made, because he worked on it when he was big, little, and a bit when he was the Soldier.

He started doing it after the last time Daddy was sad. Daddy tries to hide when he’s sad, but Bucky’s getting better at seeing it, especially when he’s big. He’s tired, or distant, or something—something different. Bucky can’t help feeling awful when Daddy’s like that, knowing how much extra energy it costs to take care of him. He mentioned that to Sam, because Sam’s good at figuring out how to help people that feel bad, and Sam suggested lots of things Bucky could do.

So now, when Daddy’s extra-tired, Bucky and Bucky Bear make sure to give him lots of hugs and kisses. Bucky lies with him on the couch to watch movies and tries not to ask for too much, and sometimes he’ll even read to him. Best of all, at Sam’s suggestion, Bucky’s started a scrapbook as a surprise for Daddy to look at when he feels bad. He hopes it’ll be the first of many.

Bucky Bear’s watching him from the arm of the couch, telling him what should go where. That means there are a lot of bear pictures throughout the pages. And plenty of stickers. And a crayon drawing of Bucky Bear protecting the Tower from threats and giant dogs.

Bucky flips back to the very first page; Sam helped him start it, and it has exactly three pictures on it. One is from the forties, and Bucky has his arm around a much smaller Steve. The second is one of the two of them now, their arms around each other, smiling big smiles and so happy to be back together.

The third picture is of the certificate Daddy got after the trial, the one that says Daddy and Bucky are officially family in the eyes of the law. Daddy said they were really family a long time before that anyway, but he also got all shiny-eyed and huggy when the the certificate came, so Bucky made sure to put it on the very first page. He stuck it there with his bear stickers and Sam said he knows Daddy will love it.

MASTER BARNES, JARVIS says, CAPTAIN ROGERS WOULD LIKE ME TO INFORM YOU THAT HE HAS RETURNED FROM HIS MISSION AND WILL BE WITH YOU SHORTLY, AFTER ATTENDING TO SOME BUSINESS REGARDING THE CARGO RETRIEVED.

“How long?” Bucky asks, bounding to his feet. It’s hard not to be impatient; he knows the mission is important, but he’s been waiting so long to show Daddy the scrapbook and he wants him here now.

THE CAPTAIN IS NOT CERTAIN.

Bucky’s trembling with excitement, so hard he has to get up and pace. Knowing that Daddy is here, in the Tower, is making it all the more difficult to be patient, and Bucky Bear really wants him to come too. Bucky will tell him his bear helped, and Daddy will say what a good bear he is and pat his head and kiss him. And then, Bucky hopes, they’ll all sit down to flip through the pictures together.

Bucky’s just heading back to the couch to get Bucky Bear when the room flickers around him and when it comes back into place, it’s not quite right. It smells different and the couch is different and Bucky Bear isn’t there.

That alone is enough to make him panic and maybe his brain is back to the way it was before medicine, always playing tricks on him because he’s standing on the wrong carpet and Clint’s supposed to be with the other Avengers and definitely not here with him, Bucky was alone and now there’s—

Bucky drops to the ground and squeezes under the coffee table when he sees the other man in the room, before he even remembers what his name is, because that’s the man from SHIELD who lied and was supposed to be dead, that’s the one who talked to Daddy about how hard it is to have him, and Bucky had a twisty feeling in his tummy for days after SHIELD was there and now he’s here and Bucky’s words are all gone. His heart feels like it’s failing.

“Bucky?” He hears Clint’s voice, full of concern, and for a moment Bucky thinks everything will be all right, but then— “Whoa. Arm. Phil, get back. Get back, something’s wrong.”

His voice has changed to sharp and on-guard and Bucky whimpers. Is something the matter with his arm, now, too? Or. Or.

I’M DETECTING AN EXTERNAL SOURCE OF OTHERWORLDLY ENERGY, AND THIS IS NOT THE SAME JAMES BARNES YOU KNOW, comes JARVIS’S voice.

Bucky bursts into tears.

He’s trying so hard not to cry and make noise and make these new people madder than they already are but everything is wrong and he doesn’t know where his daddy is and Coulson is there and he wants Bucky Bear.

“Aw, Bucky, no,” Clint says, and he sounds just like his Clint and that’s really confusing. “Don’t cry. It’s okay.” Clint crouches down in front of the table and ducks his head so he could look at Bucky. His eyes are narrowed with worry.

“Clint, be careful,” the scary SHIELD agent says, voice sharp.

“He’s scared, Phil,” Clint says back. “He’s scared and little.”

“You don’t—“ Coulson sighs.

“Yes I do,” Clint interrupts. Bucky shivers a little. He doesn’t like it when people argue, especially if it’s about him.

SHALL I ALERT CAPTAIN ROGERS? JARVIS asks. Phil and Clint both say yes and Bucky would if he could. He knows this place is different, but if Clint knows he’s little maybe Steve is still his Daddy here? At the very least, maybe he’ll know how to get Bucky home to his world and his Daddy and his Clint.

Bucky, feeling a little less scared, peers out and looks for Lucky. That’s when he notices Clint’s ears. He’s not wearing any hearing aids.

CAPTAIN ROGERS WILL BE UP MOMENTARILY, JARVIS tells them. No words show up in the air for Clint. Bucky doesn’t know what to think about that. Maybe things here are really different, or maybe Clint just didn’t get hurt here.  Bucky wonders why not, what these people did different to protect Clint.

That makes him feel bad though, because it’s almost like he’s thinking bad thoughts about his family and he really shouldn’t.

Bucky’s heart feels less like it’s going to pound out of his chest now, but he still doesn’t really want to come out from under the table, even when Clint asks really nicely. Clint doesn’t get mad though, he just sits cross legged in front of the table.

He says, “S’okay Bucky. That’s a good hidin’ place. Our Bucky hides there sometimes too. Once he hid there during hide and seek an’ Da—Steve didn’t find him for ages and ages.”

It really sounds like the other Bucky was little too, and that makes Bucky feel just a bit calmer and safer. He uncurls a little and immediately wishes for Bucky Bear, who would let him know if it was safe to leave his hidey-hole. Bucky isn’t very good at knowing who or what is safe. That’s Bucky Bear’s job. Bucky is just thinking about edging out when the door opens and people run in.

He quickly ducks back into safety. But—he can see Daddy’s boots, the ones he wears with his uniform. And then he hears Daddy’s voice. He knows it probably isn’t really his daddy’s voice, but it sounds so similar…

“JARVIS said Bucky is gone ?” Daddy sounds really scared.

“Yes,” Coulson says. “And with no apparent cause.”

The second Daddy makes a hissing sound and then says a bad word under his breath. Bucky flinches a little, thinking maybe he’s in trouble.

“There’s another Bucky here,” Clint adds. “And he’s little.”

“What?” Daddy’s—the second Daddy’s voice—sounds worried and sharp. Bucky flinches a little—he doesn’t know what this daddy is like and he might be mad. Or maybe he isn’t even really a daddy.

A minute later, the second maybe-a-daddy crouches down in front of the coffee table. He looks worried, but he keeps his hands where Bucky can see them and doesn’t try to reach under the table.

“Hey, buddy,” the second daddy says. Bucky tentatively raises his eyes to look at him a little better. Daddy Two smiles a little at him. “I bet you’re pretty scared, huh?”

Bucky nods. His tummy’s aching and he’s worried about Bucky Bear. He is such a bad friend for leaving him behind and now Bucky Bear is all alone and even though bears are very brave, he’s probably so worried.

“I’m sorry you’re scared,” Daddy Two says in a really soft voice. “But this is a safe place, okay? Nobody’s gonna hurt you.” It’s almost like something that Daddy would say, and that helps. “Is there something I can do to make it better?”

Bucky shrugs. He doesn’t want to ask for anything because what if it’s something that isn’t allowed here? What if Daddy Two says no? Daddy Two makes a little humming noise and sits back a little. Bucky’s tummy clenches. Maybe he has to answer out loud? He isn’t sure if he can.

“Would it help if I gave you some choices?” Daddy Two asks. Bucky nods quickly. It’s harder to make a mistake if there are choices—unless it’s a trap, but Bucky doesn’t think Daddy Two would do that. He doesn’t think any version of Daddy would.

“Okay, bud. I could read a story to you, or we could put a movie on, or we could just sit here quietly.”

Bucky thinks about it a moment.

“Read a story, please?” Bucky asks, voice a tiny whisper.

“Sure thing, bud. I’m going to have Clint go get some, okay? Do you have one you really want to hear?”

Sleeping beauty, Bucky thinks, but he doesn’t really want anyone but Daddy to read that to him.

“Uh-uh.”

“Okay, that’s okay. Clint will pick some good ones.” Daddy Two says reassuringly. “He always knows the best stories.” He smiles really big at Bucky and Bucky tries to smile back. He sees Clint and the scary SHIELD agent leaving the room together. Coulson puts his hand on Clint’s back and Bucky wishes Bucky Bear was there to bite it off. He doesn’t want the agent touching Clint.

Once the door closes, Daddy Two starts to talk again. “I bet it’s pretty scary, bein’ here. I know my Bucky must be pretty scared too.” His voice hitches a little, like maybe he’s worried. Bucky wonders if his daddy is worried about him too. “But we’re gonna do our best to get you home. So I don’t want you to worry ‘bout that, okay?”

“Uh-huh.” Bucky murmurs, just loud enough for Daddy Two to hear. It will be hard to stop worrying though—he misses Daddy and Bucky Bear and Tasha and, well, everyone. He doesn’t want to have to stay here. He wants to go back to his family, the one that loves him and takes care of him even though he’s a lot of work.

“Now, how would you feel about me putting a couple blankets over the top of the table to make you a nice, cozy fort?”

Bucky really likes that idea. His daddy makes him blanket forts to hide in when he’s upset, back home. They always make him feel better, and right now he wants nothing more than a little space just for him to hide. Daddy Two doesn’t seem like he’s going to insist that Bucky come out anytime soon, which is a huge relief.

“Yes, please,” he whispers. The other Daddy gives him another big smile and goes over to the couch to grab a couple blankets. The blankets make the space under the table warm and cozy and safe. Bucky Bear probably wouldn’t like that there aren’t many sight lines, but Bucky is too scared to look at all the things that are different here.

Daddy Two is quiet after the fort is built. He just sits quietly at the open side of the table, leaning against the couch. Bucky just watches him for a minute. He looks mostly calm, except for every couple seconds his eyes go really worried and his fingers rub nervously down the front of his legs.

“It’s safe,” Bucky whispers.

“Hmm?” Daddy Two says, looking at Bucky.

“Where I’m from. It’s safe there. If—if your Bucky is there—he, he’ll be safe.”

Daddy Two smiles. “Thank you for telling me that, Bucky. You’re such a thoughtful little boy.” Bucky blushes a little and smiles, feeling good for being able to help. And Daddy Two acts like Bucky is a real little boy even though he isn’t. He treats Bucky like being little is normal. That makes him feel a bit better.

Just then the door opens. Bucky flinches back into his fort. But it’s just Clint with a big pile of books and a black bag. Clint comes over and squats by Daddy Two’s side, setting the books and bag down. They talk quietly for a minute.

“The others are tryin’ to figure out what happened,” Clint says to Daddy Two. “They’re down in the lab. Tony think it might have to do with the device you guys brought in.”

“All right,” Daddy Two says softly. “That sounds like a good lead. Are you up to joining them?”

Bucky doesn’t know why Clint wouldn’t be up to it—he's an Avenger just like the others, and really brave and strong.

“I—yeah,” Clint doesn’t sound sure, though. He sounds nervous and a little scared. Bucky’s never heard Clint sound like that before, not even when his ears got hurt. It makes him scared too. “M’just—worried about Bucky, y’know?”

“Yeah,” Daddy Two sighs. “Yeah, I’m worried too. But we just gotta believe he’ll come back to us, somehow. We’ll figure it out, okay, Clint?” There’s a pause and Bucky thinks maybe Clint nods.

“I just—m’sorry I couldn’t stop it.” Clint sounds really sad. It makes Bucky’s tummy hurt.

“That wasn’t your fault,” Daddy Two says strongly, sounding exactly like Bucky’s daddy. “There’s nothing anyone could have done, okay, Clint?”

But Clint doesn’t say anything.

Curious, Bucky peeks his head out, just a little. Daddy Two is hugging Clint, a big strong hug, and Clint is in his lap. Bucky gapes.

He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand at all.

Clint tucks his head under Daddy Two’s chin. Daddy kisses him. Daddy doesn’t act that way with anyone but him. Could—could Clint be little?  The idea seems so weird. But—Tasha is little, even though she doesn’t like most people to know. There’s no reason Clint couldn’t be little in this world.

Bucky’s never met another boy who’s little before, not really. He mostly plays with Tasha and Crystal. What if Clint doesn’t like him?

Daddy Two hugs Clint for a long time and then Clint gets up and leaves the room, and it’s just Bucky and Daddy Two again. The second Daddy picks up the book at the top of the pile and opens it up.

It’s Corduroy.

Bucky Bear loves this story. Bucky does, too, but it’s hard to listen to it, knowing he's not here. He feels like a terrible, awful friend for hearing one of Bucky Bear’s favorite stories without him. It makes him miss his bear a whole lot.

By the end of the story, Bucky is crying again.  

“Oh, buddy. What’s a matter?” Daddy Two asks, sliding just a little closer. He puts his hand by the entrance to Bucky’s little fort, close enough that Bucky could reach out and hold it if he wanted. He sort of does.

“I miss Bucky Bear,” Bucky whispers. Daddy Two hears him, though.

“Oh. Is he your teddy bear at home?”

Bucky doesn’t know how to explain exactly what Bucky Bear is to him, so he just says, “Uh-huh.”

Daddy Two hums under his breath and turns to pick up the black bag, “I don’t think we have any teddy bears. My bo—Bucky, my Bucky likes dolls.” Bucky doesn’t know what to say to that. He never really plays with dolls much, except when Tasha wants to play House and recruits Bucky Bear to be the baby.

Daddy Two slides a doll through the opening in the blankets. “I know this isn’t your bear and I’ll work on one for you, okay? But maybe until then you could just hold onto this guy. Maybe take care of him for my Bucky?”

He can do that. He hopes the other Bucky is taking care of Bucky Bear and listening to him and remembering to give him honey. The doll is made to look like Bucky, with blue eyes and dark hair. But—he doesn’t have a metal arm. He doesn't have a left arm at all. Bucky runs his fingers over the spot where it should be.

Maybe this daddy doesn’t like Bucky’s metal arm. Maybe he thinks it’s ugly and gross and bad and he’s punishing Bucky by giving him a doll who’s prettier than he can ever be. Deep down he knows that’s the kind of thought his doctors would call paranoid, but all the same...

His last daddy had hated the arm, had refused to let Bucky touch him with it, and even now, when he stands in front of the mirror, sometimes he can’t help feeling sick and wrong like he wants to crawl out of his own skin and into a body that isn’t all mismatched and patched together with scars. The feeling used to be a whole lot worse, and something painful and ominous starts bubbling up in his blurred memories, the cold, the blood, the buzz of a saw and the vice on the workbench in Tony’s lab when—

A little whimper leaves Bucky’s mouth before he can stop it.

“Bucky? What’s wrong?”

“Where’s his arm?” Bucky can’t help how small and sad his voice comes out.

“Oh—oh . My Bucky doesn’t have his arm anymore. It wasn’t safe. And I made this doll to look like him, 'cause it was real hard for him, gettin’ used to it.”

“Why wasn’t it safe?” Bucky feels scared all over again. What if his arm isn’t safe? What does not safe even mean? Is it making him sick—or, or—can Hydra find him? Or worse, can they control him and make him hurt Daddy even now, after everything? He couldn’t bear it—

“Breathe, buddy, shh. It’s okay. I’m sure your Daddy and Tony checked your arm, hmm? They would have made sure it was all safe for you. Some things are gonna be real different between here and your home, okay? I’m sure your arm is fine. My Bucky—he had to have surgery because the arm had—it had bad stuff, for his body—”

Daddy Two looks like Bucky’s daddy when Bucky talks about memories of HYDRA. It always makes Bucky feel bad—he never means to make Daddy sad—and he wishes Bucky Bear was here so he could offer up a bear hug and kiss. That always makes Daddy feel better. Now Bucky doesn’t know what to do.

“It was really hard for him, learning to do things with the one arm,” Daddy Two says softly, “And he felt so awful about it. So I made the doll for him to help him feel better.”

Bucky understands, suddenly, because that’s the kind of thing Daddy would do. Bucky Bear used to belong to Daddy, but when Bucky wasn’t feeling good, Daddy gave the bear to him, to help. And Bucky Bear did help. He helped a lot. Bucky wonders if the other Bucky is missing his doll as much as he misses Bucky Bear.

Thinking about that, Bucky hugs the doll up against his chest. He’s going to take real good care of him for the other Bucky. He’s just going to have to hope Daddy remembers to take care of Bucky Bear, too.

“Feeling any better?” Daddy Two asks softly.

“Uh-huh.” Mostly he’s just feeling a lot more stable, and not any less sad or afraid. But he doesn’t say that in case it sounds like he’s being rude.

“All right, Bucky, that’s good to hear. I’m glad. Now, I’m not gonna make you come out of there before you’re ready, but there are some things we’ll need to figure out as soon as possible. So how about I just read to you for a little while, and you let me know when you feel up to coming out?”

For the first time, Bucky allows himself to think he might really be okay while he’s here. This Daddy seems to understand how sometimes it just takes time to be able to do something scary, or how to make him feel better in this strange new world. “'Kay.”

So Daddy reads him Corduroy, and for a little while Bucky just closes his eyes and lets himself pretend he’s back home and it’s his own daddy reading to him. He pretends through two more stories, but he knows he can’t stay tucked up safe in his head forever. He’s in someone else’s house and he has to do what they want, or at least eventually. He’s not sure what they’d do if he didn’t.

So by the time Daddy Two has moved on to One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, Bucky eases his head out of the blankets. He keeps his eyes closed, still pretending, and that means that, out of habit, he goes straight into Daddy Two’s lap. He blushes, but Daddy Two doesn’t hesitate for a moment to draw Bucky into his arms. He rocks him and tucks him close and hugs so, so tight. For a while Bucky just breathes against him, letting Daddy squeeze him calm and keep reading quietly, his voice so rumbly and soothing in his ear.

When Daddy Two asks him if he’s ready to go to the lab, Bucky nods against his chest. He’s not sure if they’ll want to do tests on him and he doesn’t think he likes that idea at all—-any kind of tests are hard enough even when Daddy’s holding his hand and reminding him he’s safe in Stark Tower. But the sooner he gets this over with, the sooner they can figure out how to get him home.

Daddy Two picks him up and carries him there, which is nice. He holds him up on his hip, differently from how Bucky’s daddy holds him back home. It means Bucky can hide in his shoulder and not have to see all the things that are eerily similar to the Tower in his world, but just different enough to be jarring. He really, really doesn’t like that.

Daddy Two keeps hugging him tight. It’s soothing and it helps Bucky breathe better, but it’s almost like Daddy Two thinks he’s going to try and escape or something. He’s stroking a hand up and down Bucky’s back, though, so Bucky doesn’t think he’s mad or anything.

The lab is all wrong.

Bruce and Tony don’t rush to greet him, but hang back and converse in muffled voices. There’s no table full of fun science projects like they use to teach him back at home. There also isn’t a blanket corner with fluffy pillows and books all around. It’s all gray and metal and nothing suggests that the other Bucky comes to play in here.

Are the others maybe still mad at him in this world? Daddy Two brought him here, so that’s probably not it—Bucky hopes that’s not it—but why is there no evidence, outside of Daddy Two’s room, that a little boy even lives here? Maybe two little boys, he thinks, remembering Clint in Daddy Two’s lap.

It’s strange, thinking of a little Clint, but not a bad kind of strange. It’s even a little exciting, because Clint is fun and probably plays a lot of good games.  Is Natasha still little in this world? The thought makes him look around for her. She’s standing in the corner with Coulson. Her face is blank and Bucky shivers a little. Nat always has a smile for him.

He wonders if he’ll ever be given a moment alone so he can ask JARVIS all about this place. Maybe feeling more familiar with his surroundings would help this all be less scary.

They sit down on a workbench, with Bucky still held tight in the other daddy’s lap. He thinks about promising that he really won’t try to run away, but he doesn’t bother. They don’t know him, and it’s not something he would believe if an unfamiliar captive told it to him, back when he was the Soldier. Plus, it’s not so bad being held all the time.

Daddy Two carefully tucks the Bucky-doll into his hand before beckoning Bruce over. He motions for Tony to keep his distance, which is something Bucky can understand in any world.

“It’s okay,” he assures Daddy Two, “I’m used to Tony. He can come over.”

Daddy Two looks surprised at first, but motions them both to sit.

“All right now, Bucky,” Bruce says, very softly, “that’s your name, isn’t it? You’re Bucky?”

Bucky nods.

“Okay, Bucky, we’re just going to start by asking you some questions.” He pauses for so long that Bucky almost thinks he’s done, but then he asks “Do you understand?”

“Uh-huh.” Even though this is a different Bruce, Bucky can’t help relaxing around him. He has the same slow, quiet voice as the Bruce back home and it makes Bucky feel calm.

“All right, and then—and I promise I’ll tell you everything I’m doing before I do it—I’m going to have to take a blood sample.” Bucky flinches. He really doesn’t like the idea of anyone taking his blood, especially not when he’s away from home and he can’t call his doctors. He might forget where he is, like when he thought all his blood got taken away before he was on his medicines—

“My medicines!” he blurts out, distressed. He’d forgotten, but he needs them and if he doesn’t have them he could get really sad or really confused or he could start forgetting what’s real again.

Daddy Two’s arms tighten around him, but Bruce is calm as he asks, “Are you taking any medicines, Bucky?”

“Uh-huh, in the morning and at night. If I don’t have them I could get really bad!”

“We can probably take care of that for you, Bucky, if you know what you’re taking. Can you tell us the names and dosage of each one?”

“Uh-huh,” Bucky says, embarrassed for freaking out.

“My Bucky has to take medicines too,” Daddy Two says softly in his ear, “I hope he can get them…”

Bucky feels worse for his freakout, hearing the worry in Daddy Two’s voice. He’s being so nice and good even though he’s so worried about his own Bucky. “My doctors can probably help,” he offers, “They’re really good, I promise. And the lady doctor, Miriam, she’s a therapist just for kids. So if your Bucky is little too, she can help him feel less scared. She did for me.”

“Thank you, Bucky,” Daddy Two exhales against his hair, “I’m so glad you told me that. It makes me feel lots better, knowing my Bucky’ll be safe.”

“He will,” Bucky promises, “Everyone made the Tower super-safe for me when I got there. They’re all so nice.” He wants to tell Daddy Two about Pepper’s soft voice and her cooking, about Tony ruffling his hair and drawing pictures with Tasha and getting spun and tossed and hugged by Thor, but even thinking about those things makes him want to cry.

“Thank you, Bucky. What a good, helpful boy,” Daddy whispers, and Bucky feels a little better.

“Take my blood first, please,” he whispers to Bruce, remembering what they have to do, “I just want it over.”

“Of course, Bucky,” Bruce says, “It won’t be painful, I promise. It’ll just feel like a pinch, and we only need to take a little bit.”

“Okay,” Bucky whispers, squeezing Daddy Two’s arms tighter around him, “Can you tell me stories while you do it? I—I don’t want to forget where I am.”

He meant Bruce, but when Daddy Two starts talking in his ear he figures that’s okay too. His voice is firm and loud enough to block out the noises and feelings in Bucky’s head when Bruce and Tony start preparing his arm for the needle. He presses his into Daddy Two’s arm to block out the smell of the antiseptic they’re spreading on him, and tries to absorb himself in a recitation of Corduroy.

The needle doesn’t hurt much, just like Bruce promised, but the feel of it brings back bad memories of sitting rigid in the chair, waiting for the clamps to spring into place.

He’s whimpering, completely rigid, not moving at all until Bruce tells him he’s taking the needle out. Then Tony’s wiping the disinfectant off him and sticking on a bandage and Daddy Two is hugging him and telling him he did such a great job. He slumps down, drained and wanting Bucky Bear so, so bad. He squeezes onto the other Bucky’s doll, and it helps even if it’s not the same.

He kisses its forehead, like Daddy would do for him, hoping that, back in his own world, someone’s comforting Bucky Bear and giving him nose kisses. He wonders if the other Bucky has him. He wonders if the other Bucky’s this scared, or misses home this bad.

“They’re gonna help you get home,” he whispers to the doll, “Don’t be scared. I promise it’ll be okay.”

“That’s right,” Daddy Two says softly, stroking Bucky’s hair, “It’s really okay if you feel scared. But you’re doing such a good job, and I promise we’ll get you back home.”

“Okay,” Bucky whispers back, and tries hard to believe it, and doesn’t let himself think about what will happen if they just can’t figure this out, if he never sees his family again.

*

Bucky is trying very, very hard to stay big. But he’s been big for three whole days while Steve, and Thor, and Tony, and Bruce had gone to see some piece of tech that had fallen out of the sky. Or something. Steve hadn’t wanted to leave Bucky without him or Thor there, even though Bucky hadn’t needed to be restrained for weeks now, but they’d both been needed for the mission. So Bucky is staying with Clint and Phil instead. Steve’s back now, but they’re still settling the item in a secure area downstairs. Bucky’s itching to see Steve, to settle back into his own skin again in the way only Steve can help him do.

And he really, really isn’t supposed to be little when it Clint’s looking after him, because of that one time, when Clint had gotten little too and they’d had to go to Thor in the middle of the night and Clint had cried basically til Daddy got home. It hadn’t been good. And Thor isn’t there if they got little this time and even though Phil’s nice, he doesn’t really like to take care of littles very much.

So Bucky’s trying. But Clint put on a movie and they’re eating mac and cheese, and it’s really hard to stay big, even with Phil sitting in the armchair reading. Bucky needs his afternoon nap soon, but neither Clint nor Phil will make him until he asks. Bucky probably will sleep soon, cause he’s feeling all unsettled and kinda ucky. (Plus there’s cheese on his face and his shirt and that’s fucking embarrassing when he’s big, that he can’t keep himself neat. He doesn’t mind it when he’s little—all little boys are messy eaters. But when he’s big, he’s supposed to be able to keep his clothes clean. And he’s wearing one of his favorite t-shirts, too—his “just keep swimming” Dory t-shirt, because, yeah, maybe he’s been feeling kinda little, all right? And he hates getting his favorite clothes messy.)

One minute, Bucky’s getting up to get himself something to drink, hoping it will help settle the uncomfortable, wiggly sensation in his skin, and the next he’s somewhere else completely.

He doesn’t know where he is.  And Clint isn’t here, or Daddy or Thor or even Phil, and Bucky’s scared. He scrambles off the couch he’s sitting on—it looks sorta like the one on the common floor—and falls to the ground with a loud thump. Someone, somewhere, says his name but Bucky’s too scared to listen. He ducks under the coffee table and stays there shivering, biting on his lip so he doesn’t cry. He doesn’t know this room—he doesn’t know that rug or those shelves or anything and he doesn’t know how he got here so he must have forgot and Bucky doesn’t like to forget, he can’t forget, he doesn’t want to anymore.

He needs his Daddy. It’s not safe.

Daddy daddy daddy he cries in his head while he tries to get his dogtags out without making too much noise. But someone’s coming into the room and calling his name. It sounds sort of like Pepper but Bucky’s not sure.

MISS POTTS, PLEASE STAY BACK. THAT IS NOT MASTER BARNES. That’s JARVIS, which would make Bucky feel a little safer, but he says that Bucky’s not Bucky and that makes him want to cry and scream and—his nails bite into his palm, long enough to break skin even though Daddy had trimmed them before he left for the mission.

“What? Who is it?” Maybe-Pepper says. Bucky can see her feet backing up, like maybe Bucky is dangerous. But he’s not, he isn’t bad anymore, not like that, he doesn’t hurt people on purpose.

I AM NOT CERTAIN. AN UNKNOWN ENERGY EXCHANGE OCCURRED. MASTER BARNES VANISHED AND WAS REPLACED BY THIS MAN. I HAVE ALERTED MASTER STARK AND CAPTAIN ROGERS.

“Daddy,” Bucky whimpers. He can’t help it. The ice is tingling all up and down his skin and he needs it to stop, he needs to be warm, or he’ll disappear and forget who he is, he’ll forget Daddy and Clint and baths and bedtime and his dollies and Thor, and he wants the ice to go away.  Pepper makes a little sound in the back of her throat.

“Does he have any weapons on him?” She asks. Bucky shivers. He doesn’t like to hold things that can hurt people, not at all.

MY SCANS SHOW NO WEAPONS, MA’AM, JARVIS answers. Bucky curls up tighter. JARVIS can scan him? Can he see him? And inside his body and all the broken parts and what about his pull up, can JARVIS see that? Will he tell?

Bucky wants his Daddy really, really bad.

Maybe-Pepper leans down and ducks her face so she can see him. Her eyes go wide and her mouth opens a little. Bucky hides his face in his chest so she can’t see all his tears or how his lip is bloody or nothin’.

“Hi, honey,” Pepper says, in a really soft voice. Bucky’s Pepper never talked to him like that before. He doesn’t spend a lot of time with Pepper. She’s not one of his safe people. He doesn’t know her, not really, not yet. “What’s your name?”

Bucky can’t talk, he can’t. His brain’s a big knot that gets more and more tangled every second, and he doesn’t want to try and talk to Pepper, cause she won’t understand. He needs his Daddy. Daddy always knows what to do. He curls up a little tighter. He doesn’t like her looking at him.

“It’s all right. This is a safe place, okay? You don’t need to be scared.”

But the door bangs open and Bucky is so so so scared. The ice creeps all the way up his spine and he hasta pee and he isn’t gonna be able to hold it if he gets any more scared. Pepper stands up and then she’s talking in a really quiet voice to other people. Bucky could try to listen but his brain’s too busy being scared. But then he hears Daddy’s voice.

Daddy will make it better.

“Daddy?” Bucky whimpers. “Daddy?” He pokes his head out from under the table. Daddy is standing there, next to Tony. He’s wearing his uniform. He probably just got back from the mission and he’ll be able to explain what happened cause Daddy knows everything. Bucky scrambles up to his knees.

But Daddy frowns. And he’s holding his shield, like maybe Bucky might be dangerous. And he isn’t hugging.

Instead, he says, “Where’s Bucky?”

The ice splits in half and shatters and Bucky’s falling, 'cause isn’t he Bucky? He’s Bucky, right? He hasta be. He’s Bucky and his Daddy is Steve and his brother is Clint and they all love each other and Daddy takes care of him…

Bucky grabs the first thing he can find, a water glass, and throws it at them, because he can’t be his Daddy. His Daddy would never forget or say anything like that and Bucky is really mad and really scared and the feelings are too big and what if this is his Daddy, what if he doesn’t know Bucky anymore, what if he doesn’t want him anymore, what if he’s gotta go back to Hydra and never have Daddy or Clint or Thor or nobody ever again.

And they’re gonna be so mad because Bucky’s not supposed to throw things, he’s supposed to be a good boy, he’s supposed to use his strategies to feel calm and not hurt people, but it’s hard and he needs help.

“Bucky—” Someone’s saying. “Can you tell us—“

No, he can’t tell them, he doesn’t have any words, Hydra took them all and locked them away and it isn’t his fault and he needs help and he’s so angryscaredsad and—

“I don’t think he’s listening, Cap,” Not-Tony says as he ducks the book Bucky threw at him.

“I know,” Not-Daddy snaps. “But my Bucky doesn’t ever do this, I’m not sure—"

Of course the other Bucky doesn’t cause the other Bucky is probably perfect and grown-up and does everything by himself and doesn’t need any help and never gets mad or sad or scared, cause he’s brave and big and everything that Bucky can never ever be.

“Bucky, please,” Not-Daddy almost sounds like he’s crying and Bucky doesn’t want him to cry, he doesn’t want anyone to cry, but he can’t stop. The feelings are too big and his body isn’t his and he needs Daddy or Thor to make it better.

Bucky throws and rips and kicks and nobody holds him.

Why aren’t they holding him down. He needs it. He needs Daddy’s arms to tell him where he is because he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know anymore and he’s so scared and why isn’t Daddy making it better, Daddy is supposed to make it better always. Bucky bumps up against the wall and slides down and he bites the side of his arm over and over and over until he’s bleeding and then he scratches his face and his belly and he pulls at his hair because he doesn’t know where his body is, why isn’t anyone helping him find his body, it’s lost, he’s lost.

“He’s not gonna stop!”

“I know! I know, but I don’t know what to do!

“Holy—he’s gonna rip his skin off, Cap! Hold him down!”

“I don’t want to scare him!”

“Forget about scaring him, let’s keep him in one piece!”

The voices are so much and so confusing and nothing’s the way it usually is. It isn’t the same and everything’s different and all the ice is back and broken and melting under his feet and he doesn’t know which way is up or down or nothin’ and he’s cold cold cold. And then there’s a strong hand around his wrist, pinning it down on the floor. Bucky kicks out with his legs and some other hands pin those down too.

It’s not the way Daddy holds him and Bucky fights it, but finally it starts to help. He can feel the wall on his back and the floor under his legs and the long lines of pain on his face and belly and the bite marks on his arm. His wrist and his ankles hurt where hands hold him down. He opens his eyes to see whose hands.

Not-Daddy has his wrist. Probably-not-Thor holds his legs down. Bucky starts to cry. His body hurts, and he wants his Daddy, and his pull-up’s wet and icky, and he wants a hug and to be changed and to take a bath and for someone to put band-aids on his ouchies. The not-people are talking, but Bucky’s brain is still real fuzzy and it takes a minute for the noise to start sounding like words again.

“—energy exchange when Steve touched the device,” Tony is saying.

“It may have triggered this,” Not-Daddy says.

“It is possible that the device caused two universes to converge and brought about the exchange,” Thor adds. “I would need to consult with an Elder to be certain.”

“Yeah, okay, so that’s a theory, but what are we gonna do about Bucky Two?” Tony asks. All the eyes turn back to him. Bucky whimpers and tries to push further into the wall. The hands tug and Bucky gasps, cause it hurts a little. Not-Daddy lets go right away and then so does Thor. Bucky pulls his knees right into his chest and wraps his arm around them to hug them closer. Maybe if he makes his body really small he’ll slip right back to his world, where Daddy is.

They’re all still staring at him.

Bucky doesn’t like that, not at all.

“I think we’re overwhelming him,” the other Pepper says. “Steve, maybe you should take it from here?”

Not-Daddy nods, but he looks reluctant. “Send Natasha in, would you? She’s better at—" Not-Daddy waves his hand over Bucky. Bucky’s chest hitches. He’s causing so much trouble. And he doesn’t know if they're good—just 'cause they look like his good people doesn’t mean they’re good too. They can still hurt him. And they took him from his daddy.

They brought him here where everything is not-quite-right and he hates it, he wants to go home . He stares at the not-Daddy. Not-Daddy sits in front of him, but not too close, and looks right back. His eyebrows are all frowny.

“Did you hear all that? About you being from a different world?”

Bucky nods ‘cause his words are still all tangled. He curls his toes, just to check if he can. He isn’t wearing shoes or socks, cause he’d been at Clint’s apartment and he didn’t need shoes to go there and socks are slippy and make him fall. He wonders if Clint’s worried about him. He wonders if the other Bucky went to Clint and Phil.

“My Bucky—he probably ended up in your world.” Not-Daddy sounds worried. He’s probably scared for his Bucky. Bucky wonders if Daddy is scared for him, if Daddy is looking for him, if he knows where Bucky is yet. “Is your name Bucky too?”

Bucky nods. Not-Daddy nods back. His face is still all frowny though.

“Were you in a safe place when—” Not-Daddy gestures at the room. Bucky guesses he means when Bucky came here. He nods again. Not-Daddy relaxes a little. For a long minute, not-Daddy just looks at him.

Bucky wiggles uncomfortably, wondering if Not-Daddy can tell he’s wet. He doesn’t want to be wet, he wants to be dry, but he doesn’t have any pull-ups or undies to change into and he can’t tell anyone here that he hadda accident. They’ll be even madder at him then. The door opens again and Bucky flinches back up against the wall. It’s Natasha. Or. It’s not-Natasha.

She stops by the couch and picks up a stuffed bear. Bucky wants his dollies. And his paci. And his daddy, he really, really, wants his daddy. She sits down in front of him, next to not-Daddy.

“Hi,” she says. “I’m Tasha. What’s your name?”

She isn’t like his Natasha at all.

Bucky tries to make his name happen. He can probably do that.

“Bucky,” he whispers. It’s really, really quiet. Natasha smiles anyway.

“This is Bucky Bear,” she holds up the stuffed bear. He has a red nose and a little black mask. Bucky doesn’t like things with masks. He likes seeing faces. Faces are real important. “Do you want to hold him?”

Bucky shakes his head. Not-Natasha and not-Daddy sorta blink a little and look at each other.

“Pepper said you were asking for your Daddy before,” Not-Daddy says softly. “Is that right?”

Bucky’s throat closes up and tears push at his eyes and he hugs himself a little tighter. He nods.

“Who is your Daddy?” Natasha asks. She puts the bear down next to her. His little black eyes are watching Bucky. It makes him feel shivery all the way down in his tummy. Bucky tries to turn his attention back to the question and making his mouth work to answer.

“Steve.” Not-Daddy’s face gets all soft then, which just makes Bucky miss his Daddy even more.

“Steve is our Bucky’s Daddy,” Natasha says. Bucky’s eyes go wide. The other Bucky is little too? Bucky peeks up at not-Daddy. He isn’t Bucky’s daddy but he is a daddy. That’s good, that’s  really good, cause Bucky needs someone to help and daddies are the best helpers. “He can take care of you until we get you home.”

Other-Daddy nods and smiles at Bucky. It isn’t the best kinda smile, cause it looks kinda tight and squishy, like the other-Daddy doesn’t have enough space to make a smile happen.

“Will your Daddy take care of our Bucky?” Natasha asks. Bucky nods quickly. Daddy will take care of anyone who needs it, even if they aren’t little. Natasha and Other-Daddy relax.

The room falls quiet then, like the grown ups don’t know what to say or ask next. Bucky wiggles again and blushes, ducking his face into his knees. He wants changed, but maybe the other Bucky doesn’t have accidents or wear protection. He is probably better and bigger than Bucky. Most people are. Not-Natasha and other-Daddy turn to talk to each other for a minute, standing up and moving away a little.

“Thor will need to talk to him,” other-Daddy says softly. Natasha nods.

“We should probably Bruce take a look at him, just in case.” Natasha adds. Bucky winces. He hates people looking at him and touching him.

“And we should call Cornelius and Miriam, too.” Bucky doesn't know any Cornelius or Miriam and he hates meeting new people, 'cause they’re scary and a lot and Bucky doesn’t know what they might say or do and that made the whole world feel a little cold and tingly. Not-Natasha nods.

“I’ll get Thor,” she says softly. She glances back at him. Bucky ducks his head so she won’t see him looking. He doesn’t know what’s allowed or what would get him in trouble or nothin’. The whole world feels upside down and scary. Bucky shivers. He can’t feel his toes or his fingers anymore and his body is getting looser and further away and he hates that, 'cause he needs to be able to run and hide and do things by himself 'cause he doesn’t have Daddy or Clint to help him and no one else will know how to help him and—

“Bucky, you need to breathe,” other-Daddy coaxes. Bucky takes in a big, shaky breath. His fingers are all trembly but he reaches up for his dog tags and slips them into his mouth. He chews a little and then looks up at other-Daddy. He has Daddy’s worry eyes on, all squinty and sorta sad looking. “How can I help?”

Bucky doesn't know. He needs lotsa help and he can’t just ask a mostly stranger for all of it 'cause it’s embarrassing and a lot and even Daddy gets tired doing it sometimes and Daddy is the bestest. He needs help getting up 'cause he’s stuck 'cause his body is very far away and he needs help changing his pull up, 'cause it’s really icky. He needs a paci and a big hug and a bath, to help him remember where his body is. He’d just eaten lunch and his stomach is kinda twisty like maybe he might be sick and he needs help gettin’ to the bathroom before he pukes and, and, and...  

Bucky starts to cry all over again. He tucks his face into his knees. The crying isn’t helping his belly at all.

Other-Daddy scooches a little closer and asks “Is it all right if I give you a hug?”

Bucky nods as quick as he can. The room spins a little and he swallows tight so he doesn’t get sick. Other-Daddy comes in on his side. He’s holding the bear, who looks at him like he can see everything, all the messed-up, broken things inside Bucky. Other-Daddy puts one arm around Bucky and gives a little squeeze. It isn’t enough and Bucky’s scared and tired and even though it isn’t Daddy, it isn’t Steve , other-Daddy’s the only person there and Bucky doesn’t wanna be alone. He turns his body and presses close as he can. He isn’t quite sure what his legs are doing and other-Daddy makes a funny oofing noise and goes very, very still.

Bucky cries harder. He can’t even give a hug right. Other-Daddy’s arms come around him, all gentle like. Bucky misses his daddy and his big strong hugs, the ones that squeeze all of Bucky’s bones back together and let him know exactly where his body is.

Bucky cries on other-Daddy for a long time, until he feels all dried up and emptied out. He feels like when Daddy has to take all the stuffing out of his dollies to wash them.

“Bucky, we need to talk to Thor now. Can you do that?” Bucky shrugs but pulls away from other-Daddy. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to make words happen, everything is all confused and jumbled. Other-Daddy stands up and offers his hand. Bucky swallows hard. His body isn’t right, half tingly and half wiggly. It takes too long getting his arm up and then other-Daddy is pulling him and Bucky can’t—he’s falling—and his feet wobble and he can’t stop and he’s tripping and other-Daddy isn’t ready like his Daddy would be and he hits the ground with his knees and his shoulders start to tip towards the ground, but other-Daddy catches him just in time. Bucky tries really hard not to cry again, because he’s been such a big baby, just crying and crying, but his knees hurt and sting and his legs ache all the way up to his hips.

Other-Daddy crouches down next to him, face all worried again. “Bucky?”

Bucky tries really hard to make his tears go away, but it’s hard. Really really hard. “Uppa, uppa,” he whimpers like he would have if Daddy were there. Other-Daddy hesitates.

“Do you want me to pick you up, Bucky?” Bucky nods. Other-Daddy picks him up real gentle and Bucky wraps his arm around him. Other-Daddy carries him to the couch and puts him down, which isn’t what Bucky wants. He wants to be in his lap. Instead, other-Daddy sits next to him. He doesn’t look at Bucky’s knees to make sure he hasn’t really hurt himself. Bucky curls up tight and chews on his dog tags. A paci would be better. He thinks about sucking his thumb but he isn’t sure if other-Daddy will let him. He seems nice, but that doesn’t mean anything, not really. Clint told him that even daddies could be bad and hurt you.

Bucky scooches into the corner of the couch. The door opens and Bucky flinches a little, but it’s just not-Natasha and not-Thor. Not-Thor is smiling.

“Hello, dear one,” he says, crouching down in front of the couch. Not-Thor looks a lot like Bucky’s Thor. He even smiles the same way. But Bucky’s Thor doesn’t call him dear one, he calls him little one, and he always ruffles Bucky’s hair when he sees him. Bucky puts his face in his knees.

“May I ask you some questions?” Not-Thor requests. Bucky shrugs and kinda nods his head a little. Not-Thor nods back. “Do you recall where you were and what you were doing before you arrived here?”

Bucky nods again. He knows not-Thor probably wants him to tell him where he was and what he was doing but that’s a lot of words and it feels too hard to try. He nibbles on his dogtags to try and get his mouth warmed up to say real words. He starts untangling the words in his head as much  as he can, trying to put away words that don’t really matter right now and focus on words that not-Thor can understand.

“Wi—uh.” Bucky stops. His voice is so quiet he can’t hardly hear it. Thor leans closer to hear. “With Clint?”

It comes out a question even though it isn’t really one. Bucky knows he was with Clint and with Phil. He isn’t confused about that. He doesn’t want Thor to think he is. But Thor just nods and smiles. He has the same big smile as Bucky’s Thor, the one that makes it seem like the sun is coming up. Bucky tries to smile back, but it’s hard.

“And what were you doing?” Thor prompts.

“Lunch, movie.” Bucky whispers. Thor glances over at other-Daddy and Natasha. The grown ups have a conversation with their eyebrows that makes Bucky feel like he’d probably said something wrong.

“What about your Daddy?” Other-Daddy asks. Bucky bites hard on his dog tag and wiggles. The words are so hard. His tongue feels like a big knot in his mouth.

“Way.” Bucky says. Then he shakes his head. “Away,” he corrects in the same tiny whisper from before. “Mis—uhm. Mission.”

Other-Daddy and Thor both nod and smile, the smiles they smiled when Bucky was havin’ a hard time doin’ something. His Daddy would know how bad Bucky’s words are, he wouldn’t ask Bucky to say anything right away. Even if he had to ask questions he would hold Bucky in his lap and rub his back to help loosen up his words. Even Thor knows how to help Bucky untie his words. He sighs a little.

“You’re doing really well, Bucky,” Other-Daddy says. Bucky really isn’t, but he doesn’t say that. He shifts and feels all the places his body hurt—his knees and legs, and where he scratched himself, and the bites on his arm. The blood is starting to dry and itch and Bucky really wants a bath and some pink band aids. “Do you know what the mission was about?”

Bucky shakes his head. He doesn’t know that much, and even if he did, his words wouldn’t be able to tell them. Other-Daddy and Thor sigh a little and have another conversation with their faces. Bucky knows he wasn’t very much help. He wants to be able to help, he really does.

Bucky firms up his face and words, trying to say somethin’ that will help them. He wants to help them 'cause they’re the only people who can get him back home to Daddy and he really, really needs to get back home to Daddy.

“Home tonight,” Bucky whispers. Their heads turn toward him. Other-Daddy smiles at him. Bucky kinda blushes and ducks his eyes. It’s hard to be looked at by people he doesn’t know. It’s just a lot, to know people are lookin’. For a long time nobody had really looked at him at all and now it could feel really scary when people did. (People ripped his skin away with their eyes the way Hydra did with their knives.)

“That’s good to know, Bucky. Thank you. Can you stay here with Tasha for a little bit?” Other-Daddy asks.  Bucky’s insides freeze right up and he shakes his head hard. Other-Daddy and not-Thor are not his Daddy or his Thor and they aren’t safe people, but they are safer than Tasha, who he doesn’t hardly know at all. His body starts to shiver a little.

“That’s fine, really, that’s fine, Bucky,” Other-Daddy rushes to assure. Bucky can’t stop his shakes though. It’s hard being away from Daddy, the world too big and scary and confusing, and other-Daddy’s the only reason it’s even a little okay and if he tries to leave everything will fall apart and be so much scarier and Bucky just can’t. Bucky whines a little in his throat and reaches out for Other-Daddy. He comes closer right away, which is good. He gives Bucky one of those gentle little hugs that aren’t right but are better than nothing.

“We have to go down and talk to the others,” Other-Daddy explains. “But you can come down and watch some TV if you want?”

Bucky doesn’t respond. He isn’t really supposed to watch too much TV when he’s little, but it’s different here, and he doesn’t wanna argue with other-Daddy.

Bucky stands up, wobbly and shaky and follows other-Daddy and not-Thor and not-Natasha to the elevator. Other-Daddy holds his hand, but he doesn’t squeeze the right amount, he just holds it loosely. Bucky feels like he could slip out and fall and fall and fall any second.

There are more people when the elevator doors open - not-Tony, not-Pepper, not-Bruce, and not-Sam. And then, from behind a corner, there’s Clint. Bucky’s mouth makes a little noise without him meaning to. Other-Daddy looks down at him, eyebrows frowning again, and follows Bucky’s gaze to Clint.

“Do you want to see Clint?” Other-Daddy asks. The words show up in the air and Bucky gapes at them. Why are Other-Daddy’s words in the air? Who put them there? Bucky glances around, to make sure everyone else can see them too. Clint is looking at them, and then he turns and smiles at Bucky.

There are purple things in his ears . Bucky stares. Clints’ smile goes away. Bucky looks up at Other-Daddy, worried. Other-Daddy is frowning again which makes Bucky feel like he has done something bad. He hunches backwards, into his shoulders. He reaches for his dog tags again and sucks on one while his fingers play with the other.

“Does Clint wear hearing aids in your world?” Other-Daddy asks. Natasha goes over to not-Clint and takes his hand. Bucky shakes his head, making the dog tags flop a little back and forth. Clint makes a flinchy movement that looks like it hurts when the words come up in the air. Bucky stares at the ground. Everything’s so confusing here—'cause Clint is deaf and he’s reading and he isn’t hugging Daddy even though he’s sad. And Bucky is making him sad. Bucky never wants to make Clint sad, even if he isn’t his Clint.

“Clint hurt?” Bucky asks other-Daddy. Other-Daddy frowns and looks sad too. Bucky’s making everyone sad. He moves so his arm presses up against his body and hurts.

“Yes, Clint got hurt,” other-Daddy says. Bucky frowns at the floor. Daddy is s’posed to keep Clint from getting hurt, Clint isn’t s’posed to go on missions where he might get hurt bad, 'cause Clint gets scared on missions and he can’t protect himself as good as before. Bucky wants to know why other-Daddy let Clint get hurt, why he went on a mission where someone could take his ears away from him. Bucky shudders. Maybe other-Daddy isn’t a very good daddy after all.

The room gets real quiet, like nobody knows what to say. Bucky tries to stay still but his body is wiggly and out of control. Tony clears his throat and Bucky thinks the grown ups are probably having another eyebrow conversation.

“Bucky, why don’t we go wash your face and then we can watch Sleeping Beauty, okay?” Pepper asks, voice soft. Bucky grips at other-Daddy’s hand but makes himself let go a minute later. He walks over to Pepper. His body is wobbly and he almost trips a coupla times and everything around him feels pretty spinny. Pepper isn’t big enough or strong enough to help Bucky stand up right so he has to put his whole brain on his body. People are maybe talking, but Bucky’s brain can’t understand words and make his body work right.

It hurts his head.

Pepper shows him where the bathroom is, but she doesn’t go in with him. When he looks in the mirror he realizes there’s blood on his Dory t-shirt, which makes him want to cry. He thinks about maybe taking his pull-up off, cause it’s icky and cold and he doesn’t want it touching him anymore, but there’s just a regular trash can where someone could find it and he doesn’t have another one to wear and if he takes it off he might have a’accident that everyone can see and that would be awful.

There isn’t a brush in the sink for Bucky to wash his hand, so he just squishes the soap in his fist. He makes a big wet mess when he washes his face—he tries to be neat, but his hand isn’t really cooperatin’ very good. The towels hanging in the bathroom are white and Bucky doesn’t want to mess ‘em up, so he can’t even dry off.

Except when he opens the door, Pepper tsks and gets one of the really white towels and gives it to him anyway. He dries his face and hand and there’s blood all over the towel and he can’t even apologize good. He makes a fist and rubs it in circles across his chest, feeling helpless and stuck.

“Oh!” Pepper said. “You sign!”

Bucky blinks. He hadn’t known she would understand him. He looks at her with big wide eyes. She smiles at him, looking very kind and soft and good.

“We all know a little sign, for Clint. But you had said that Clint wasn’t deaf so I assumed—” she shakes her head, sending light red hair flying back and forth. “Does signing help you?”

Bucky bites his lip and nods, feeling a little—something. He’s never signed with anybody but Daddy and Clint before. Thor only knows a coupla signs because Daddy doesn’t usually leave Bucky with Thor if his words are so bad he can’t ask to eat or drink or go potty. That only happens on really bad days or with strangers.

“That’s good,” Pepper says with another smile. This one is big and bright and it makes Bucky feel a little better. “We all understand a little sign. JARVIS and Clint can translate if we don’t understand, okay?”

Bucky nods again. Pepper offers her hand to him. He kinda stares at it. He’s never even touched his Pepper, let alone this strange not-Pepper who other-Daddy had left other-him all alone with. Pepper’s smile falters a minute and she pulls her hand back. Bucky’s belly goes all twisty and he stares at the floor. He’s messin’ everything up today. He follows after Pepper. She takes him to a couch and once he sits down she puts the bear in his lap and turns on the TV and tells him she’ll be right next door and then Bucky is all alone.

He’s never all alone when he’s little. Never, ever. He doesn’t like it. He moves the bear away from him cause he’s afraid he might hurt it if he gets any more scared. It feels like the bear’s eyes are sad and mad and Bucky’s whole body shakes. He grabs a pillow and hugs it tight and tries to watch the movie. He can sorta hear the grown ups talking, but it would make his head hurt to try and understand.

He wonders if someone will come soon so he can have his nap. He wonders if someone will come soon so he doesn’t have to be alone.

The longer Bucky sits there, the more scared he gets. There are tears going down his face, and they make his scratch sting even though it’s already starting to heal up and it feels like all his bones are made of ice and they might melt any minute and he’ll disappear completely.

The ice crawls into his spine and chest until everything feels crackly and far away and hard. Everything is ice again and Bucky wonders if he’ll ever see Daddy and Clint again.