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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.

Chapter Text

Steve shifts under the unfamiliar weight of this new Bucky. He’s heavier than either Clint or Steve’s Bucky, but also can’t compare to the combined weight of his two boys squished into his lap.

Steve is trying very, very hard to keep it together, but he can’t get his mind off his Bucky, alone and probably terrified. So far this Bucky has managed more words than Bucky sometimes gets in a day. He’s not only kept it together, but has actively tried to reassure Steve.

Steve’s under no illusions. His own Bucky is not going to do nearly as well. Steve tries not to picture the meltdown his boy is inevitably facing. He knows there’s no point in worrying about it, that it won’t do him any good, or either of the Buckies or Clint, and he needs to just put it out of his head.

It’s really hard, though. His brain feels like a whirlwind, bouncing from one Bucky to another, to Clint, to what could have possibly caused this, to the horrifying thought that maybe they won’t be able to reverse it. He’s infinitely glad for all the practice he’s had schooling his face into a calm veneer. No one is going to benefit if he breaks down right now.

So Steve tries to focus on the comforting weight of a little boy in his lap, on the feel of Bucky’s hair (which is so long ) under his fingers, on the knowledge that someone needs him right now. He flicks his eyes over to Clint, who is hovering in the corner with Phil and Natasha. His hands have already started to unravel the hem of his shirt, which is not a good sign. Steve takes a deep breath and reminds himself that he got through those first weeks with Bucky, when everything was tears and anger and pain, and that he managed to take care of Clint and Bucky despite everything. This can’t be harder than that.

“Is it alright if I ask you a couple questions now, Bucky?” Bruce asks in his softest tone. Steve turns his attention back to Bucky, who’s still tense from the blood draw—Phil and Natasha had insisted. They want to do a DNA test and look for anything that might point to this Bucky being an impostor. Steve doubts that scenario, but he understands the necessity. Didn’t make it any easier to force Bucky to sit through it though.

“Uh-huh,” Bucky answers, voice a little trembly. Steve rubs a hand up and down his arm (the metal one, which is—disconcerting, despite his reassurances to Bucky about it’s safety). His other arm he keeps tightly wound around Bucky’s torso. Most of that is to comfort Bucky. But some of it is that Steve wants to be prepared if this Bucky does melt down, if Steve has to restrain him. He doesn’t want to have to do it, but it’s more important that Bucky doesn’t have a chance to harm himself.

(Steve doesn’t want to know how much damage those metal fingers can do to the soft skin of his stomach).

“Where were you before you arrived here?” Bruce asks gently.

“At the tower,” Bucky answers quietly. He lisps a little, and Steve probably shouldn’t find that as adorable as he does. “I was waiting for Daddy to come home from a mission.”

Bruce shares a significant glance with Tony.

“Do you know what the mission was about, kid?” Tony asks. He keeps his tone light and easy. Tony’s been impressive with the whole thing from the get-go, so it’s no surprise he’s choosing to roll with the punches even now.

“Uh-uh,” Bucky says. “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about that, buddy,” Steve reassures quickly. “Our Bucky didn’t know about the mission either.”

“Okay,” Bucky answers, settling back into Steve’s chest. Everyone gives him little smiles, except for Clint, who glares at the floor. Steve sees trouble brewing, but there isn’t much he can do about it at the moment. He’d send Clint upstairs with Thor, but Thor will need to talk to Bucky, and Steve doubts he can convince Clint to leave if he’s not little and he wouldn’t agree to be little with any of the others.

Steve sighs. Bucky stiffens a little in his arms, looks up with worried eyes. Steve gives him a reassuring smile and squeezes a little, and he relaxes.

“Daddy just got home,” Bucky tells Bruce. “JARVIS told me, but then—” he shrugs and slumps a little.

“That must have been very scary,” Bruce acknowledges.

“Uh-huh,” Bucky agrees, squeezing the doll a little tighter. Thor approaches now, slowly, always aware of how big he is, how intimidating he can be, especially to Steve’s boys. He crouches before Bucky and offers him a smile. Steve can’t tell from where he is, but he thinks Bucky smiles back, judging from the loosening in his shoulders.

“Hello, little one.”

“Hi, Thor.”

“Could you share with me what happened, when you left your world?”

“Um. Everything flickered. Like—like when Tony breaks the holograms.” Tony looks very affronted at that, but the rest of them chuckle. Bucky relaxes even further in his arms.

Steve will inspect Bucky’s familiarity and ease with Tony (and Bruce) later, he decides. It’s a small difference, all told. This Bucky is different in ways that Steve can’t even begin to describe. It’s not just his speech (quiet, but easy, normal) or his coordination (above average), it’s how he’s reacting to all of this—what he is and isn’t afraid of. Not knowing makes Steve nervous, because he doesn’t know how to take care of this Bucky.

He wants to do a good job. He wants Bucky to feel safe and cared for. Steve wants to do right by Bucky, even if it’s not his Bucky. Because he knows, somewhere out there, there is a Steve who is as worried for this Bucky as Steve is for his. He’s going to do his best, and he just has to hope that the other Steve is doing his.

“But it did not harm you or cause you pain?” Thor asks gently.

“No, it was just scary,” Bucky answers, tucking Bucky’s doll up against his chest. Steve mirrors his actions, drawing Bucky closer to his own chest in silent reassurance.

“Yes, I imagine that it gave you quite the fright,” Thor gives Bucky one of those gentle looks he seems to reserve for him. It eases the tight, nervous part of Steve. He’s not quite as alone in this as he was when Bucky first came back to him and that it will make caring for his boys so much easier.

“Do you live at the tower?” Bruce asks. Bucky nods. “Who else lives there with you?”

“Daddy, Natasha, and Clint. Tony and Bruce and Pepper. Thor visits sometimes.”

Bruce and Steve exchange a look over Bucky’s head and Steve catches Phil’s eye. They raise their eyebrows at each other.

“What about Phil?” Steve asks, rearranging slightly so that he can see Bucky’s face. Bucky flinches back and shakes his head.

“Uh-uh.”

Steve frowns a little. The flinch doesn’t make sense—it wouldn’t be the response he’d expect if Phil had stayed dead in the other world, which was before Bucky’s time anyway.

“Bucky?” Steve prods gently. “Are you scared of Phil?”

Bucky’s shoulders creep up around his ears. “He’s ‘kay,” he mumbles, sounding like something is very much not okay.

“Have you met him? In your world, I mean.”

Bucky doesn’t relax a bit. “He came to the Tower once,” he says, “He wanted to talk to Daddy an’ the Avengers about mission stuff. I met some agents, too.”

That still doesn’t give Steve any answers, and he’s wondering if he should send Phil out of the room and whether that would trigger a burst of indignation from Clint. “It’s okay to be scared, buddy. Or upset, or however you feel. You’re not gonna be in any trouble, okay?”

“He’s SHIELD and SHIELD’s HYDRA, and—I heard him say—he said I should—and—” Bucky stops and presses his lips together, ducks his face into the doll. Steve rubs a reassuring hand between his shoulder blades.

“It’s okay, Bucky,” Steve soothes. “Our Phil is very nice. He works for SHIELD but we all made extra sure that there’s no more Hydra in SHIELD, okay?”

Bucky nods tentatively, but doesn’t look particularly convinced. That’s all right, SHIELD is never around anyway. They just have to convince him that Phil can be trusted. Steve takes a quick peek at Clint to find him glowering at Bucky. He tries not to wince.

“How long have you been living in the tower?” Bruce asks, though he looks concerned too. They’re all a bit protective of Phil, what with his temporary death and all of the pain and drama that went along with it.

“Two years? I think?” Steve jerks in surprise. He hasn’t even known Bucky was alive for two years. Bruce’s eyes go focused and intent.

Bucky is tense and worried looking in Steve’s lap, looking around nervously.

“What year is it, Bucky?” Bruce asks carefully.

“2016?” Bucky’s voice is tiny and scared, and Steve refocuses. The difference in timelines is surprising, yeah, but it’s not so surprising that he should be letting Bucky sit there worrying. He strokes a hand through his hair, bounces one knee a little, coaxing the boy to lean back against him.

“It’s only 2014 here,” Steve explains gently, keeping up the light touch to Bucky’s hair and the firm pressure around his torso. “And my Bucky’s only been back a few months.”

“Oh,” Bucky says, a little exhale of air. “Oh, he must be so scared.” Steve’s heart aches—for the truth that Bucky speaks, because yeah, his Bucky is definitely terrified, but also for the kindness and empathy that this Bucky is showing. Bucky sits up a little more, turns to meet Steve’s eyes. “Daddy will take good care of him, I promise. And my family.”

Steve tries to smile, but he feels on the verge of tears. There’s a hundred things going through his mind. Is this what his Bucky will be in two years? Back to fighting weight, his words and coordination both recovered? Shy, but at ease in his own skin? Steve wants that for his boy more than he can possibly say, but it surprises him that this Bucky has managed to achieve them.

Steve stays optimistic for Bucky’s sake, but the doctors don’t think his brain is going to get any better. When they start occupational therapy, maybe Bucky’s coordination will improve. If Bucky ever agrees to see a speech therapist, maybe words might get easier. But—those are all maybes, and Steve doesn’t mind, he really doesn’t. He loves his sweet, needy little boy. He wants more independence for Bucky, but only because Bucky so desperately wants it for himself.

Steve clamps the thoughts down. Already they’ve noted differences, there’s no reason to think that this Bucky is somehow a vision of the future for his Bucky. There’s no reason to get hopeful or worried or anything, really. He takes a deep breath.

“Thanks, buddy. I’m sure your daddy is doing a real good job.” Bucky nods, looking proud and satisfied and a little sad.

“I believe I have a sense of what magic may have caused this,” Thor says thoughtfully. “But I shall have to consult with an expert in Asgard. I am not learned in all manner of magical workings, but I know many who might be of aid.” A little part of Steve wilts, because he was hoping to have Thor’s help in the next couple days. He’ll manage, though.

“Of course,” Steve replies. Thor straightens and turns to Tony, who’s futzing with something on a computer screen.

“Anthony, I shall need to see the device again.”

“Yep! Right this way, Goldilocks.”

Tony and Thor disappear into one of the rooms off Tony’s lab, where they’d settled the device earlier. Phil steps forward. Bucky shrinks down into Steve’s lap, and Phil does that thing where he winces without really wincing. Natasha frowns protectively and Bucky tenses even more, shaking a little in Steve’s lap.

Phil has learned a lot in the last two years, though, and his voice stays gentle and calm without going to that monotone place it sometimes does, when he’s trying to hide what he’s feeling.

“Natasha and I are going to go up to HQ, see if anything related has popped up on the radar.” Steve nods his agreement—he hopes there aren’t lots of miscellaneous people suddenly switched with their doppelgänger from another world. That could get messy fast, and Steve doesn’t have the time or energy to deal with that. Phil and Steve both look back at Clint, who is now fidgeting against the wall, thumb creeping ever closer to his mouth. Phil raises his eyebrow and Steve gives a quick nod. Clint’s definitely staying with him.

Bruce glances from Phil to Steve to Clint to Steve again, and grins knowingly. Bruce has always been the most observant of them.

“Can you just tell me your medicines, Bucky? I’ll make sure you get those and Steve will get you settled in, okay?”

Bucky rattles off a list of medications with stunning ease, only tripping up over some of the more complicated medical names. Bruce easily jots them down, promises to get them just as soon as he can and promptly clears the room.

Steve is alone with the boys for the first time since this Bucky arrived and he’s feeling the pressure. He stands, lifting Bucky to sit on his hip.

“Alright, boys. Let’s go get settled in, okay?” Bucky sends a wide eyed glance Clint’s way. Steve notes it carefully as Clint shuffles over. Steve takes Clint’s hand and Bucky’s eyes go a little wider.

“Are you—is he little like me?” Bucky asks in a tiny voice and Steve’s half formed suspicions fall into place. Clint isn’t little in Bucky’s world, hence Bucky’s surprise and careful curiosity. Clint flinches, always half ready to be told that his little side is wrong or bad.

“Yeah, he is,” Steve answers, keeping his voice calm and easy as he leads his boys to the elevator.

“Oh,” Bucky says, a soft exhale of air. Clint tenses, squeezes Steve’s hand. Steve squeezes carefully back and shoots a reassuring look at his boy.

The ride to Steve’s floor is awkward and uncomfortable and Steve’s not sure what to do to ease the tension. Clint is wiggling—which either means he has to pee or he’s feeling self-conscious and Steve isn’t about to ask him in front of this Bucky.

Steve settles Bucky on the couch, doll still held tightly in his arms. Clint grabs onto Steve’s shirt.

“Bucky, Clint and I are going to go into the bedroom so we can change into some comfier clothes, okay? Will you be good out here?”

“Uh-huh,” Bucky mumbles, pulling his knees up to his chest.

“You can play with any of the toys,” Steve says, smiling and gesturing. There’s a collection of them sitting out, though they’re stacked neatly. That’s one of Bucky’s chores and he tends to do them even when Steve is gone.

Bucky nods his head, but Steve isn’t convinced that Bucky will actually move from the couch without support and coaxing. Steve gently leads Clint into the bedroom, closing the door almost all of the way. Clint is immediately in his arms.

“Oh, lovebug,” Steve murmurs, lifting him.

“I miss Bucky!” Clint wails. Steve sniffs back his own tears. He misses Bucky too. He tightens his grip around Clint, cuddles him a little closer, hums a little under his breath.

Clint wipes his teary, snotty face on Steve’s suit—which he still hasn’t had a chance to change out of—and Steve smiles fondly, if a little sadly. It’s hard to feel okay with Bucky gone. The majority of him is screaming at him to be doing something to get to his boy. He has to forcibly remind himself that there isn’t anything he can do right now but take care of Clint and this Bucky.

“Okay, baby, let’s get in some comfy clothes.” He deposits Clint on the bed, quickly finds his purple blankie. Clint tucks it up under his chin and sucks his thumb, watching Steve a little sleepily. He’s gonna need a nap soon , Steve reminds himself. He wants to get both boys settled in with each other before he puts Clint down for that nap, though.

“What do you wanna wear?” Steve asks as he turns to the wardrobe.

“Umm,” Clint says around his thumb. “Sparkly dinosaur, please?”

“Course, baby,” Steve says with a smile. They hadn’t been able to find any sparkly t-shirts in mens’ sizes (to the disappointment of both boys) so Steve had made some for them instead. He pulls the blue (with purple glitter) tee out and grabs a pair of sweats. He sets them on the bed beside Clint and turns to get a pull-up.

“Daddy, no!” Clint says in a horrified whisper. He shoots a glance at the door, and continues, “He didn’t know I was little and he won’t know—and I don’t want him to find out, Daddy!” Tears drip down Clint’s red face. Steve sighs, grabs the pull-up, and comes to sit next to Clint.

“Clinty, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. And whether this Bucky does or doesn’t know, wearing a pull-up will help keep it private. It’s just in case, lovebug.”

“I won’t, Daddy, please! I’ll go to the potty, I promise!” Steve swallows around a tight throat. It’s been a while since Clint put up this sort of protest against his pull-up or diaper.

“It’s not about that, bud. You know I don’t care if you have an accident or not. But if one does happen, I want you to be able to keep it private.”

Clint whimpers and shakes his head in Steve’s chest. Steve sighs a little, rubs Clint’s back, and tries to come up with the right words for the moment. Clint beats him to it, though.

“Promise he won’t notice?”

“I promise,” Steve says. He doesn’t like to lie to his boys, but he considers this a white lie. He can’t really promise that the other Bucky won’t notice the pull-up, but he doubts it (Clint’s worn it with tighter pants around Natasha and she’s still in the dark, after all). Clint refuses to leave Steve’s lap as Steve dresses him.

Steve tickles him into a giggling mess so that he can change his own clothes—he hangs his uniform over the wardrobe door and grabs a t-shirt and jeans for himself. It’s not till after he’s dressed that he realizes he’s wearing one of Clint’s shirts—a sloth with the saying “don’t hurry, be happy” around it. He shrugs. He’s definitely worn worse. Plus, it makes Clint smile as Steve picks him up.

As expected, Bucky is still curled up on the couch. Steve collects a big box of legos and sits on the rug with Clint.

“Bucky, why don’t you come build with us?” Bucky nibbles on his lip a moment. Clint is settled firmly in Steve’s lap—one hand is curled up by his chin, thumb tucked into his mouth and blankie in his fist. The other hand is picking through legos, probably collecting the blocks he needs for his favorite spaceship designs. Bucky slips off the couch and kneels by the box. He’s very tentative as he reaches in, glancing up and trembling as though he expects to have his hand slapped away at any moment.

Steve tries not to let his eyes narrow, not wanting to scare him, but he makes a mental note about the behavior. His Bucky is shy and tentative, but he rarely acts like he fears punishment. It’s more that he fears rejection—still believes that Steve will get tired of taking care of him, that Clint will decide he’s not fun after all, that Thor will suddenly decide that he’s too needy.

This is not that.

Steve tries not to jump to conclusions. Bucky has insisted that his daddy is a good daddy—maybe this is just how the HYDRA trauma presents itself in this Bucky. Steve prefers to believe that.

“What are you building, bud?” Steve asks Bucky. Bucky’s shoulders flinch up to his ears.

“My room at home,” he says softly and Steve aches.

“Oh, buddy, isn’t that gonna make you sad?”

Bucky shrugs.

“Why don’t you help Clint with his spaceship?” Bucky looks up, a little interest in his eyes, and inspects what Clint has so far. “Would that be okay, Clint?”

“Yuhuh. Um—need a landing pad,” Clint offers, looking up shyly at Bucky. Bucky stares just as shyly back as he reaches for more legos, but it’s a definite start. The boys play quietly for half an hour, barely speaking at all. Clint has started to yawn every other breath.

Steve stands up, Clint in his arms, and smiles down at Bucky.

“My Clint and Bucky take a nap in the afternoon,” Steve explains. “Do you?”

Bucky shakes his head shyly. Steve smiles—he has no reason to distrust this Bucky’s answers. Time will tell if he’s telling the truth or not.

“Okay, bud. You can keep playing out here. I won’t be long, but come get me if you need anything, okay?”  Bucky nods, but watches them with careful eyes as Steve carries Clint into the bedroom.

Again, Steve leaves the door ajar so that he can hear if Bucky needs him. Clint is already most of the way asleep, so Steve tucks him under the covers and reads The Velveteen Rabbit. Clint is asleep before the boy gets scarlet fever.

Steve gently strokes his hair back and lays a careful kiss on Clint’s forehead. He tries to imagine a world where Clint isn’t his beloved little boy. It just doesn’t make sense. How did Bucky decide to be little if he didn’t have Clint? How did he even know that was an option?

But Steve figures Bucky is already having a hell of a day and the last thing he needs is to be grilled about the differences between the worlds. He tables the question for another time and goes back out to join Bucky.

He’s still kneeling, half heartedly working on a second landing pad for the rocket, but he looks up when Steve softly closes the door behind him.

Steve gives him a smile, “Hey, Bucky.”

“Hi, Steve,” Bucky says in return. Steve hurts a little, hearing Steve from one of his boys while they’re little. He has to remind himself that this Bucky isn’t his and is likely scared and uncomfortable, and it’s a good sign that he’s even willing to call Steve by name.

“I was thinking we could build a better blanket fort and read some more books, whaddya think?”

Bucky brightens right up, face creasing into an adorable smile. Steve feels himself relaxing a little. He helps Bucky put the legos away and shows him where the extra blankets are.

They start by laying a thin blanket over the couch and the coffee table, and things quickly take off from there. Steve only briefly pauses to tell Bucky to let him know if he gets hungry or needs to go to the bathroom. Bucky scuffs one foot over the floor and nods, looking shy. Steve doesn’t push—they’ll eat when Clint wakes up and it’s hardly the end of the world if Bucky has an accident.

This Bucky is a self-possessed little creature and seems reluctant to open up to Steve at all. But Steve has had plenty of practice building trust with people who are reluctant to trust anyone at all.

Plus, Steve likes to think he’s a pretty talented fort-builder. They tuck some of the blankets under books and blocks on the shelves, tying them to other blankets so that the cover reaches all the way to the couch, which is soon divested of its pillows. They even make a little curtain for the door.

“What do you think the password should be?” Steve asks Bucky as he arranges a couple couch pillows to make a tunnel for Bucky to crawl through as another entrance.

“Uhm. Bucky Bear,” Bucky says after a moment of serious thought. Steve is starting to get a sense of just how attached Bucky is to that bear. Nearly every other sentence refers to him in some way. Steve really has to get working on that bear for him. He knows it’ll hardly be the same, but he wants Bucky to feel at home and welcomed and safe. If a bear will help, then Steve is going to get that boy a bear.

Bucky’s found a set of of Steve’s Bucky’s playmobil dolls, and has settled down in the expansive blanket fort. He talks quietly to himself as he moves the little dolls around. Steve smiles at the sight and crawls out of the blanket fort. He gets his sewing basket and quickly rifles through his stack of fabric scraps, looking for something appropriate for a bear. He finds it near the bottom. It’s one of the shirts that had belonged to Bucky, Clint, and Steve in equal measure—blue with Steve’s shield on it. They’d worn it into the ground. All the hems are fraying and there are holes in the armpits, but there is enough fabric for a teddy bear.

Steve finds and prints a simple pattern off Pinterest and gets to work. He likes to think he’s a speedy sewer in general, but he’s impressed with how quickly the bear comes together. He has plenty of stuffing, because the stuffing in Bucky’s dolls ends up needing to be replaced at least once a month (because of accidental baths or just the effects of super soldier hugs). When Bucky climbs out of the blanket tent an hour and a half later, Steve is stitching button eyes onto the bear. Bucky pauses, eyes wide.

“What’s that?” He asks, in his shy, cautious voice. Steve offers him a reassuring smile.

“I promised you a bear, didn’t I?”

“You’re making me a bear?” Bucky says, sounding surprised and happy and a little bewildered. He creeps a bit closer and Steve knots his string and snips it, tucks the scissors back into his basket, and sticks the needle into his pincushion. He turns the bear around so that Bucky can see.

Bucky’s eyes go big and then a smile grows across his face

“For me, really?” Bucky asks, though his hands are already reaching out to take the bear. Steve has to admit, he’s really damn proud of how it turned out. He managed to place the shield over the bear’s belly and chest and used some of a white t-shirt to make the pads of the bear’s paws and the insides of its ears. Bucky looks enchanted.

“All yours,” Steve swears. “He can be your best bear buddy until you can get home to Bucky Bear, okay?”

Bucky rushes forward and clambers into Steve’s lap, throws his arms around him. “Thank you! Thank you so much!” he exclaims. Steve cuddles him close and breathes him in. Bucky has the bear in a vice grip in one hand. “He’s perfect!

“I’m so glad you like him,” Steve sighs out. He hugs Bucky a little tighter. For just a moment, everything feels all right. It’s okay—it’s good—that this Bucky is here with him. Steve is able to take care of him, he’s done something to make him happy, something special just for him. It’s not anything that has to do with Steve’s Bucky and that makes Steve feel like he’s really seeing this Bucky, really managing to care for him. It makes him feel like he’s doing it right.

Of course, that’s when Clint starts to cry. Bucky startles a little and Steve just sighs.

“It’s just Clinty,” Steve explains, settling Bucky onto the couch. “I’m gonna go help him wake up, okay? Why don’t you show your buddy the blanket fort?”

Bucky’s eyes light up and he scurries off the couch. Steve watches him fondly for a moment, tries not to compare his Bucky to this one, with his easy movements and casual grace.

Clint is curled up in the middle of the bed, looking smaller without Bucky there to fill up the space with him. Hs cries have died down and he’s just sniffling a little around his thumb. He immediately clambers into Steve’s lap and presses close.

“I dreamed Bucky never ever came back,” he confesses. Steve feels a flare of panic at the thought.

“Oh, baby. Bucky’s gonna come back. We’re gonna do everything we can to get him back, I promise.” Clint nodded and wipes his snotty nose on Steve’s shirt. Steve rolls his eyes affectionately. He quickly checks Clint’s pull up. Finding him (unsurprisingly) wet, Steve gently lays him down on the bed and changes him with deft hands. The motions feel automatic and he’s able to give his full attention to Clint, who has started to babble about what he wants to do this afternoon.

“D’you think Bucky will play astronauts with me?” Clint asks as he wiggles off the bed, pulling his sweats up as he goes.

“You can ask,” Steve says, tossing Clint’s blankie over his shoulder and heading for the door. “But let’s have a quick snack first, yeah?”

“Yuhuh. Can we have ‘nana sushi?” Clint asks as he pushes the door open.

“Sounds good to me,” Steve agrees. He almost walks into Clint as his boy comes to a full stop when he sees the blanket fort.

“Fort!” he hollers and makes to dive in. Steve just manages to catch him around the waist. Once he loses Clint to the blanket fort it will be several hours before he emerges again.

“Snack first,” Steve says firmly. Clint pouts but falls back against Steve’s body easily enough. In a gentler voice, Steve calls for Bucky.  “Bucky, buddy, why don’t you come have a snack with us?”

Bucky emerges a moment later, still gripping the bear tightly. He’s got a content little smile on his face, which makes Steve smile in return. He offers Bucky his hand and leads both boys into the kitchen. Clint quickly scrambles into his usual seat, already reaching for the markers and placemats that lay stacked in the middle of their kitchen table.

Steve takes the time to lead Bucky to a seat and make sure he’s settled.

“Is there anything you don’t like to eat?” he asks as he pulls one of the placemats from the stack.

Bucky nods and mumbles into his bear’s head, “Dairy makes me get sick.” Steve’s eyes go wide. His Bucky has plenty of issues around food, but nothing quite so specific. He makes a quick and firm mental note of the intolerance. The last thing any of them need is Bucky throwing up. Clint’s a sympathetic vomiter.  

“Well then, we won’t have any dairy!” Steve says, trying to hide his surprise. “Clint asked for banana sushi for snack. Have you ever had that before?”

Bucky shakes his head.

“I think you’ll like it, but if you don’t, you let me know, okay? It’s easy to make you something different.”

“Uh-huh,” Bucky says, offering Steve a cautious smile. Steve smiles back and leaves him with a collection of markers and a placemat. As Steve prepares snack he can hear Clint explaining the placemats to Bucky. It reminds him of early days, when Bucky had just come home and was just figuring out he wanted to be little.

“You can color on it,” Clint says. “It comes off. Daddy made ‘em special for me and Bucky so that we can color while he cooks. It’s a lotta fun and Daddy likes to see how we color ‘em in.”

He hears the hesitant noises of Bucky opening a marker and the squeak, squeak of it on the laminated drawing. Steve sometimes forgets how good Clint is at setting people at ease, but he’s always grateful for it.  

Steve foregoes the nutella on the wraps, throws some blueberries in to sweeten it up instead, and rolls them up, slicing them into neat little pieces, which he arranges on the plates in the shape of a smiley face. He fills two sippy cups with apple juice on automatic and brings it all over to the table.

Bucky sits back and watches as Clint messily dives into the snack and Steve is once again struck with an odd sense of deja vu. Bucky tentatively reaches out and takes a piece, nibbles at the edge. His eyes brighten and he smiles. He takes a bigger bite and then sets the piece down on his plate.

Shyly, he turns to Steve. “My bear is hungry too.”

It’s too cute. Steve wants to squish him, but settles for smiling brightly. “What does your bear at home eat?”

“Honey. He eats through os—os-MOS-is,” Bucky determinedly pushes through the long word and sends Steve’s heart tripping with fondness. Bucky picks the bear up and pretends to listen to it. “I think he wants jam, though.”

“Well,” Steve says, turning to the fridge. “We have lots of jam. Would he like strawberry, blackberry, or blueberry?” Bucky ‘listens’ to his bear again.

“Blackberry, please.” Steve sets the jar of jam on the table (after carefully wiping any sticky bits off) and watches Bucky arrange his new bear around the jar.

“Bears have very slow met-ta-bol-isms,” Bucky informs him, “so he won’t eat a lot.”

Steve smiles and sits down between the two boys. Clint is watching the whole encounter with curious and delighted eyes. “Your bear should eat as much or as little as his tummy likes,” Steve says, patting the bear and the boy on their heads. Bucky beams and turns back to his own snack.

“What’s Bucky Bear like?” Clint asks around a mouthful of banana.

“He’s very brave,” Bucky says, looking all too happy to answer the question. “He’s never scared of anything. When Daddy goes on missions, Bucky Bear protects the tower from threats. He always leads the Bearvengers on missions, because he’s a trained agent!"

Steve lets the chatter of two little boys flow over him. It’s distinctly different than the dynamic when his Bucky is here, and Steve feels almost guilty for enjoying it. But the conversation and excitement is bouncing easily back and forth, which only tends to happen on Bucky’s chattiest days.

Snack ends abruptly when Clint suggests that they build a spaceship for Bucky’s bear and Bucky shoots Steve a pleading look. Steve immediately nods his permission and watches them run off. Bucky is two steps ahead of Clint, another thing that never happens in their household. Steve quickly cleans up the kitchen and heads into the living room. The boys have disappeared into the fort, but Steve can hear their voices as they plan and execute a spaceship made out of legos.

Steve feels simultaneously so happy he could burst and like he might cry. He’s worried about Bucky, really, really worried. The separation anxiety has been getting better, but that’s in known situations with known people and plenty of warning. And it had just been three long days of separation too. Bucky’s done three days before, but never big. Bucky’s still not that good at staying big for long periods of time—Annie thinks that it’s a matter of how much neural planning Bucky has to do when he’s big as opposed to when he’s little. Steve doesn’t know about that, but he does know that Bucky is calmer and happier after being little and more anxious after being big.

It’s a thing they’re working on, but a surprise trip to another world is hardly something Steve thinks is going to help. He wonders how badly it’s set Bucky back. He wonders if the other Steve is giving Bucky all the help he needs. It’s clear to Steve that this new Bucky’s headspace is older than his Bucky’s. Will the other Steve be able to care for Steve’s baby?

Steve doesn’t know and that scares him all the way down in his bones.

“Daddy! Look what we made!” Clint hollers, interrupting Steve’s worries as he comes crawling out of the tent. Steve oohs and ahhs over the lego creation (it mostly looks like a plate with the indentation of a bear’s butt on it, but the boys are proud, so Steve is proud).

“Very nice, boys!” Steve says, inspecting it. “We should draw some pictures of your bear—”

“My Buddy Bear,” Bucky informs him with a shy little smile, “Like you said. He’s my buddy.” Steve blinks and then grins.

“You should draw Buddy Bear going on adventures in his ship, whaddya think?”

“Yuhuh!” Clint says, already heading for the cupboard where the craft supplies are stored. “He should go to Mars and Jupiter!” Bucky stays still and looks at Steve for a long minute. His eyes are assessing, but happy.

“It’s fun here,” he finally says. “You play good games.” And then he takes off after Clint, leaving Steve feeling like he’s just gotten the best compliment of his life. He stands up and follows Clint and Bucky inside the fort, where the coffee table is. Clint demands that Steve move it so that they can sit around it to draw and Steve happily obliges.

This activity also soon morphs into one that Steve’s Bucky would never take part in. They start drawing comics of Buddy Bear’s adventures. Clint ties his blankie around the bear’s shoulders as a cape and Steve almost loses it over how cute the whole thing is. Clint does most of the illustrating while Bucky writes in the captions. Steve’s Bucky wouldn’t want to do either of those, too ashamed of his childish fine motor skills.

It’s not that these comics are fine art. They’re clearly made by two over-excited children. And it’s not that Steve thinks Clint or this Bucky would care that much about Bucky’s sloppiness, but Bucky would care so much that the activity would have to end. Once again, Steve finds himself wondering about this Bucky. Why doesn’t he have the same struggles as Steve’s Bucky? Is it just the intervening years or is there a bigger difference they’ve yet to discover?

It almost seems like this Bucky hasn’t got any of the brain damage that Steve’s Bucky does, though he did mention a medication for seizures, so Steve doesn’t really know. Mostly it just worries him, how much more his Bucky needs. What if the alternate versions of the Avengers aren’t equipped to handle him?

“Daddy!” Clint shouts and Steve turns his attention back to where it should be. “I wanna show Thor and Phil our drawins! Can we take ‘em to dinner tonight?”

Steve smiles and gathers Clint close, taking comfort from how happy and content Clint is at the the moment. “Of course we can, lovebug. I’m sure that Phil would love to see them. Thor had to go to Asgard, but I know he’ll want to see ‘em when he gets back.”

Bucky has gotten stiff and uncomfortable at the mention of Phil and Steve internally winces. He’s not exactly clear on what exactly the other Phil had done to freak Bucky out so much, but it’s going to be difficult to manage his discomfort. Clint and Phil are just getting comfortable with being around each other when Clint is little and Steve doesn’t want to jeopardize the progress they’ve made. Clint notices Bucky’s change in demeanor and turns to face Bucky with serious eyes.

“Phil’s a good guy. I promise.”

Bucky shrugs and hugs his bear close, mumbles “I know.”

Clint doesn’t look any more convinced than Steve feels. Steve glances down at his watch. The time’s flown and it is nearly time to go down for dinner. Pepper had promised to take care of it so that Steve didn’t have to worry about that on top of everything else, but…

“JARVIS, could you please let Pepper know that Bucky can’t eat dairy?”

Bucky flushes, barely visible in the dim light of the blanket fort. Steve reaches out and pats his knee in what he hopes is a reassuring manner.

CERTAINLY, CAPTAIN ROGERS.

“Why don’t we get ourselves all ready to go down, okay? I think everyone could use a quick bathroom break and we can wash our hands and faces -” Clint still has peanut butter on his nose from snack “and anything else we need to do to be ready.”

“Wanna play more, Daddy!” Clint whines, even as he follows Steve and Bucky out of the fort.

Steve chuckles. “You’re gonna have lots of time to play, buddy. You can even show Bucky your building kit after dinner.” That thought cheers Clint right up and he nods excitedly.

“Bucky,” Steve prompts, turning to look at the other little boy, “Why don’t you go use the bathroom, okay? It’s right through the bedroom, on the right side.”

Bucky blushes beet red and looks almost willing to complain about the direction but doesn’t and takes off on quiet feet for the bathroom. Steve waits until he hears the bathroom door close to turn to Clint. He reaches down and pats Clint’s bum. There’s a familiar and telling squish.

Clint looks up, eyes quickly spilling over with tears. Steve scoops him up and cradles him close. His poor boy hates to have an accident anytime, hates it more when he doesn’t notice it happening, and really, really hates it when it happens around anyone but their little family.

“M’sorry Daddy,” Clint whispers.

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for,” Steve says soothingly. He hears the toilet flush and the sink start to run. Retroactively, he frantically tries to remember if there are any pull-ups or diapers lying out. He doesn’t think there are. He’s pretty sure this Bucky isn’t wearing a pull-up, and because he doesn’t have the same coordination issues, Steve doubts that he has the same continence issues that his Bucky does. Either way, though, he wants to protect Clint’s privacy in this matter.

When Bucky emerges, still clutching his bear, he grows visibly worried at seeing Clint crying.

“Is Clint alright?” Bucky asks, creeping a little closer. Clint tenses.

“Yeah,” Steve offers a small smile and gives Bucky a little squeeze around the shoulders. “I think it’s just been a hard day. But maybe he could have his blankie back?” The blanket is still knotted around Buddy Bear’s neck and Bucky immediately focuses on untying it.  He offers the blanket directly to Clint. Clint takes it with sniffles and wide, wet eyes.

“Thanks, bud. You’re such a good boy. Do you mind waiting out here so that Clint and I can talk quietly for a minute?”

“Uh-uh. I’ll get the drawings.” Steve gives him another affectionate little squeeze and carries Clint into the bedroom, closing the door behind him.

“Sorry I peed, Daddy,” Clint says immediately.

Steve sits down on the edge of the bed and rearranges Clint on his lap so that he can see his face.

“Why are you sorry, bud?”

“Cause—cause—this Bucky’s such a big kid and I should be bigger too, cause that would make things easier for you and I wouldn’t have so many accidents and I would be a better boy—and—and—”

“Oh, lovebug. Shush. It’s all right. It is a little weird that Bucky is bigger than you, huh?” It’s different for Steve too. He’s not used to being around littles any “bigger” than his boys. He doesn’t usually spend a whole lot of time thinking about the headspace of his boys when they’re little, but with this Bucky here they seem younger than ever. They’re really just toddlers, no matter their physical and verbal skills. His Bucky must seem so young to the other Steve.

“Yeah!” Clint agrees, looking up at Steve with a pout. “Bucky’s my little brother.”

“He is. And you’re such a good brother, buddy. Maybe this Bucky can be your big brother.”

“I dunno,” Cint whispers, folding his edges in. “He prolly thinks m’a big baby.”

“I don’t think he thinks that,” Steve says softly, lying Clint down on the bed. He gathers the usual materials and quickly sets about changing Clint into a dry pull-up. “It seems like you guys had a lot of fun together.”

“Yeah,” Clint says reluctantly, reaching for Steve as soon as he’s dressed again.

“Let’s just see how it goes, lovebug. I know it’s different, but you’re being so brave. You’re Daddy’s big, brave boy and I’m so proud of you.” Clint makes a little happy sighing noise.

They find Bucky in the living room, waiting by the front door with the stack of comics. Steve takes his hand and readies himself for dinner with the team.

He can feel the tension building in the elevator. It’s only been a month since the team found out about Bucky and Clint and they’re all still getting used to each other and the new situation. Throwing this other Bucky (who is apparently close with and considers their counterparts family ) isn’t an easy task. Clint still has a tendency towards shyness at the start of any gatherings, though he opens up more and more quickly. Steve’s Bucky is still mostly non-verbal in those settings and requires a lot from Steve. Steve’s not sure how tonight is going to run, how this Bucky will do with the whole group.

Tony and Pepper are arguing lightly over a simmering pot when the elevator doors open. Natasha and Phil are already seated at the table, holding a conversation in low tones. Bruce is crouched over his laptop, probably researching interdimensional travel. They all look up when the elevator doors open. Bucky is tense beside him, but Clint wiggles down.

“I wanna show Tony and Phil our drawin’s!” He chirps excitedly. He reaches a hand out and Bucky hands them to him, using his free hand to squeeze Buddy Bear even closer to his chest. Steve turns and lifts him, keeping an eye on Clint as he weaves through the kitchen, babbling at high speed.

“...and Buddy Bear rescued Bucky Bear from the martians and then Bucky Bear led all the Bearvengers on a mission to defeat the space octupuses and they both got hugs of valor and—”

Steve rolls his eyes fondly and settles Bucky onto his hip. Bucky relaxes a little against him, but still has a death grip on his bear.

“I bet this is pretty overwhelming, huh?” Steve asks as he heads for their usual spot at the table.

“Uh-huh,” Bucky whispers.

“Well, I’m gonna be right here with you, okay? You just let me know if you need a break or want to go eat dinner down in my rooms. Those are both good choices.”

“Okay, Steve.”

Dinner is spaghetti and meatballs, which makes Steve miss his Bucky all over again. It’s Bucky’s favorite meal. Steve keeps Bucky settled on his lap as Pepper serves. He looks distinctly nervous in the face of this food, though he did perfectly fine with snack. Steve decides to keep a careful eye on him. This Bucky is heavier than his and will need more calories than Steve is used to getting his Bucky to eat.

Clint comes rushing back in good cheer and scrambles into his regular seat, caddy-corner to Phil. He sits up on his knees and demands “psaghetti, Daddy!”

Steve laughs a little and serves up a generous portion of spaghetti for him. He takes time to tuck a napkin into Clint’s shirt. Clint whines about it, but Steve has lost too many good t-shirts to the power of tomato sauce to be swayed by Clint’s claims that it’s “no fair!” Clint is easily distracted once he’s actually allowed to eat, though, and that allows Steve to focus on his borrowed boy.

“D’you want some spaghetti, Bucky?”

“Um, I don’t know. Could I—could I…” Bucky trails off and stares at Buddy Bear’s head.

“Could you what, buddy?” Steve asks gently. He checks briefly on Clint—Tony and Phil are keeping him entertained, which means he’s talking through a mouthful about Bucky’s bear space ship.

“Just have a smoothie?” Bucky asks shyly, shoulders creeping up around his ears. Steve frowns a little bit. This does not seem like a request to skip dinner and go straight to dessert, so he’s not sure—

“A protein shake?” Steve asks, putting the pieces together.

“Uh-huh,” Bucky agrees. “My tummy is just a little nervous.”

Steve smiles. “Of course, bud. I wouldn’t want to make your tummy hurt. You’re gonna havta help me out though—my Bucky doesn’t drink smoothies like that.”

“Oh—I don’t have to—” Bucky starts to say as Steve lifts him. “If it’s too much—”

“Don’t worry about it, Bucky,” Steve smoothes. “I know we have stuff to make protein shakes. I just have to make sure it’s safe for your belly, okay?”

Bucky nods. A little rooting around in the cupboards soon reveals a soy-based protein powder and the fridge is always stocked with plenty of fruit. The blender effectively stops all dinner conversation, so it’s quiet when they rejoin the table, Bucky slowly sipping on his smoothie through a straw.

“How’s your first day going, kid?” Tony asks. “Did Clint show you his awesome spaceship!”

“Uh-huh.”

“Daddy and Bucky built the best fort ever while I was nappin’ and we played in it for ages!” Clint adds, grinning and bouncing in his seat.

“Oh, yeah?” Phil asks with a smile. “What did you play?”

Bucky slides a little further into Steve’s lap. Clint leans forward, a happy little blush on his face like there is almost anytime Phil interacts with him while he’s little.

“We played astronaut and we drew comics and we built with legos and planned a mission to rescue Bucky Bear! That’s Bucky’s other bear. He got left at Bucky’s home.” Phil and Steve exchange a fond smile over Clint’s head. Bucky makes a tiny sound under his voice and Steve quickly glances down. Bucky is staring nervously at Phil, eyes wide. Steve runs a hand up and down Bucky’s arm in quiet comfort. Phil also catches the look and gives Bucky one of his softest, more reassuring looks.

It doesn’t seem to do much of anything to ease Bucky’s discomfort. Clint, catching on to the fact that he is no longer the center of attention, is glancing between them with a growing pout.

“Phil is nice ,” he tells Bucky firmly. “He’s the best, cause he loves me when m’little and when m’big, cause he’s my boyfriend!”

That goes over like a sack of potatoes. Bucky’s eyes go even wider and his gaze flies between Clint and Phil. He’s shaking a little in Steve’s arms. Steve turns him firmly, so that he can look at him face to face.

“Breathe, Bucky,” He orders gently. “Breathe.”

Bucky does as he’s told and takes some slow deep breaths, fists clenching and unclenching around Buddy Bear.

“I know it’s different here, bud, and I’m sure it’s confusing. But I promise you, this is a safe place and we wouldn’t let anyone in who would hurt you.”

Bucky just shakes his head, looking completely overwhelmed. Clint is on his knees in his chair, hands clenched into fists, a stubborn and protective look on his face.

“You can’t just decide that this Phil is bad because of the Phil in your stupid world!” Clint hollers.

Bucky flinches back and his lips start to tremble. Steve puts a hand on Clint’s knee, squeezes. Clint’s anger abruptly turns into frustrated tears.

“All right boys, shh. Things are different between our worlds. We all have to remember that. Clint, you need to be kind even when you’re frustrated. You know that. And Bucky, I just want you to try to be open, okay? Phil’s very important to all of us.”

A thick silence falls. Phil’s face is still, apparently calm, though Natasha is steely eyed next to him.

“Well!” Tony claps and stands. “I think that’s my cue to get back to my research! Bruce?” Bruce sends an apologetic glance Steve’s way, but quickly follows Tony towards the elevator.

Slowly Steve stands, bringing Bucky with him. “I think I’ve got two overtired little boys. It’s been a long day. Maybe we needed a little more quiet time than I thought.”

“Leave your door open tomorrow,” Pepper suggests, a kind smile on her face, “It doesn’t need to be all of us at once.”

Steve grins, a little sheepish, and nods. He stoops to swing Clint up into his arms. Bucky starts a little but after watching Clint snuggle in close and bury his head in Steve’s shoulder, does the same.

“I could probably use the extra set of hands,” Steve agrees. His preferred assistance—Thor—is  out of reach, and the dynamic between the rest of them is still new and strange, but his teammates are willing to support him and he really should take them up on that. “I know Clint wanted to show Bucky his building kit, so maybe we’ll come down tomorrow. I need to debrief with everyone, too.”

“That sounds good,” Phil says. He comes up on Clint’s side and offers a quick kiss to head. “I’m sure there are enough eyes that we can multitask.”

Steve murmurs his consent and then his goodbyes and heads once more for the elevator. He’s exhausted. The day has felt never-ending and the mission before that had been fraught with complication. He’d been looking forward to a couple quiet days with Bucky before the weekend. Steve takes a bracing breath.

He tries not to miss Bucky too much. He tries not to worry about where he is and if he’s being taken care of, if he’s been changed and bathed and fed and calmed. He tries to feel confident that he will continue to be able to handle Clint and this new, different Bucky.

He really, really tries.

*

Steve tries not to stare at the gaping hole where Bucky’s arm should be. He tries not to wonder what had happened to it, tries not to imagine Bucky successfully sawing it off, huddled in Tony’s lab, lost to the terrors in his brain.

He isn’t doing a very good job.

Steve swallows and steps into the room where this unfamiliar version of Bucky is sitting on the couch. Bucky Bear has been carelessly tossed to the other side of the couch and the sight makes Steve’s stomach clench. He wonders where his Bucky is. He wonders if he has a bear to hold and if someone is giving him hugs and making sure he eats enough and—

Bucky finally seems to realize Steve’s there, looks up from where his head is buried in his knees, ignoring Sleeping Beauty altogether. His face is wet. He’s been crying. Steve sometimes worries that he isn't any good at this, even with his own Bucky. This new Bucky makes Steve doubt he has any parenting skills at all.

Steve isn’t sure whether he should address the tears or ignore them. If it were his Bucky he would already be over there soothing and hugging, but he’s pretty sure this Bucky can’t want Steve to touch him, not after he’d had to hold him down, left a purple bruise on his wrist. His stomach turns and he thinks he might be sick. He breathes as he’s prompted Bucky to do a million times. Slowly, Steve approaches the strange Bucky on the couch.

He doesn’t think he can begin to count the differences, and it’s hardly been an hour since this Bucky arrived.

“Hi, Bucky,” Steve says, in what he hopes is a soothing tone of voice. “Would it be all right for Bruce to take a look at you? Maybe ask a couple questions?”

Bucky makes an aborted motion with his shoulders, clumsily wipes his face off with his single hand. That’s one thing Steve has definitely noticed—this Bucky is a klutz in a way Steve’s Bucky has never been. He trips over his own feet, misjudges the space between his hand and his face, overbalances at the slightest provocation. Steve can’t help but wonder what HYDRA did to cause the issues with his coordination.

Eventually, Bucky nods. His odd, rubber-looking dog tags thump lightly against his chest. He struggles to his feet—Steve can see the effort and concentration it takes in the narrowed eyes and bitten lip. Even so, Bucky wobbles once he’s standing and he has to steady himself against the couch.  Steve tries not to frown or worry too obviously, but he’s never been much good at that. He moves a little closer and offers Bucky his hand. Bucky takes it easily and without hesitation, and Steve breathes a little sigh of relief.

“We’re just going to go down to Bruce’s lab, alright?” There’s a moment of silence. This Bucky seems to talk even less than his Bucky when he’s nervous and Steve isn’t really expecting an answer.

So he’s a little surprised when Bucky answers with a tiny, “Yuhuh.”  Steve offers him a smile. Bucky gives him a little crooked attempt at a smile in return and on instinct, Steve squeezes his hand. Bucky squeezes right back.

The others have already dispersed as to not overwhelm their visitor. Tony and Thor have gone down to the lab to reinspect the device they’d brought back. Natasha has swept Clint away to somewhere and Pepper is on the phone with the various people they’re likely to need over the next several days—Maria, Cornelius and Miriam…

Bruce is all set up by the time they reach him. He, like the rest of them, knows how Bucky feels about doctors and medical settings. Bruce has gathered a blanket and a book of fairy tales and set them in a quiet corner, just a couple chairs and a table, nothing too threatening or sterile. Steve leads Bucky over and has him sit down, taking the seat next to him.

Bruce takes the seat across, giving him access to Bucky and the supplies sitting on the table.

“Hi, Bucky. I’m Bruce.” Bruce says, in his gentlest tone. Bucky sort of wiggles his fingers at him. Bruce gives him a warm smile. “I’m going to ask you some questions, okay? But first I wanted to know if you had any questions for me or Steve?”

Bucky bites his lip hard enough to draw blood and ducks his eyes down to his knees. Steve shares a concerned look with Bruce over his head.

“Go home?” The reply comes several moments later, in a halting, whispered tone.

“We are going to do our very best to get you home to your daddy,” Bruce reassures. “And until then, this is a safe place, okay? No one is going to hurt you.” Bucky just shrugs at that, which somehow makes him seem even smaller.

Steve’s Bucky has pounds on this one, not even counting the metal arm. This Bucky reminds Steve of Bucky before the war—before everything. Not too skinny, like Steve had been, but slim and gentle looking—none of the musculature of the intervening years. His hair is cropped short too—not as short as before, but much shorter than Steve’s Bucky.

The differences—and similarities—leave him unsettled, to tell the truth.

“We’re going to take good care of you until we can get you home, okay?” Bruce says softly. Steve nods, trying to look steady and reassuring and not worried out of his mind. Bucky doesn’t  respond.

“Do you take any medicines, Bucky?” Bruce asks softly. Steve’s heart starts to pound. He hasn’t thought about that—and what about his Bucky? If he doesn’t have his medicines—Steve tries not to flinch visibly.

The other Bucky nods.

“Yeah?” Bruce smiles in a cajoling sort of way. “Can you remember what kinds?” Bucky’s face falls and he starts to tremble as he shakes his head. He rubs his fist over his chest—sorry, JARVIS projects.

“That’s all right. Don’t worry about that, okay? Do you remember how many you take and what they’re for?” Steve can practically see the gears turning in Bucky’s head as he tries to remember and tell them.

“Uh—I. One-two for sleep,” Bucky whispers. The sentence doesn’t make a lot of sense, but Bruce jots it down anyway. Steve can see 1-2 sleep? on his paper in Bruce’s tidy handwriting. “An—uh. 1-3...brain.” Bucky pauses a minute, forehead creased. He moves the rubber dog tags into his mouth, which Steve has seen him do multiple times since he arrived, and chews lightly on them. After a moment he drops them again and says, a little more firmly, “1-3 seizure. And. 2 t’feel better? 2 and 2 and 2 and 4,” Bucky adds, kind of nonsensically. Bruce frowns a little as he studied his notes.

Steve watches both of them carefully and worries. Bucky meds are critical and he imagines it’s much the same for this Bucky. But if anyone can figure it out, it’s Bruce.

“You take one medicine, but two pills, to help you sleep,” Bruce says carefully. Steve blinks, honestly surprised that Bruce has so easily deciphered the mangled sentences. Steve feels bad for the thought almost as soon as he has it. He’s sure there’s a perfectly terrible reason this Bucky has trouble speaking. He shouldn’t judge.

Bucky nods and even smiles a little, looking relieved. Bruce smiles back and continues, “And that would mean one medication for seizures, but you take three pills?” Bucky nods to confirm. “And two different meds to feel better—would that be an anti-depressant?” Bucky nods quickly in agreement, eyes lighting up like he’s just recalled the word. “And maybe one for your mood?” Bruce asks. Bucky blushes a little and nods again.

“T’even me out,” Bucky agrees softly. That seems like a phrase that he’s repeating and Steve wonders who told him that. It’s not bad, it’s just—well, Bucky should understand that the meds aren’t to change him, they’re to help him.

“That’s good, Bucky. You did a good job,” Bruce praises. Bucky glances over at Steve, who tries to smile. Bucky’s face falls, so Steve probably doesn’t do a very good job.

“I need to draw just a little bit of your blood so we can find the medicine in your body and see what kind it is, okay? Maybe you can sit on Steve’s lap and he can read to you?” Bucky flinches and his lower lip wobbles like he might cry again. Steve really hopes he doesn’t, and then immediately feels bad. Bucky’s a little kid—a traumatized one at that. He’s allowed to cry all he needs.

Eventually Bucky nods, so Steve opens his arms so Bucky can climb up to his lap. Bucky hesitates and when he starts to get situated it’s clear why. He can’t seem to figure out how to arrange his limbs and his arm keeps coming around and knocking into Steve. Eventually Steve just lifts him into place. Bucky settles against his chest easily enough once he’s seated properly. Bruce pulls the table closer and prompts Bucky to put his arm up.

They both hiss when they see it. Bucky flinches hard at the noise, back into Steve’s chest hard enough to rock him.

It was awful seeing Bucky tear at himself the way he had when he first arrived. Steve’s Bucky hasn’t tried to hurt himself in several months, and even then it wasn’t quite the same. It had come with psychotic beliefs, but also words to explain why he thought he needed to. There was none of that with this Bucky, just him ripping away at his own flesh and crying like he might never stop. Steve suppresses a shudder just thinking about it.

There hadn’t been any time, earlier, to process the aftermath of the fit. There had been too many other things to worry about—there still are, really. But.

Five ragged bites march up Bucky’s arms. They’re scabbed over, and in some places they're turning pink as new skin grows in. Steve’s gut churns looking at them. He wonders what possessed Bucky to do that to himself. Steve can see Bruce’s throat working tightly, a very brief tinge of green in his eyes before he calms again.

They both ignore the injuries, not sure what to say or ask or do, and willing to hope that it was just the shock of waking up in a place so similar yet so different and not something they’ll have to see again.

“Okay, Bucky. I have to touch you now, to find a vein. So why don’t you pick a story for Steve to read to you?” Steve picks up the book, turns to the table of the contents. Bucky won’t look at it, instead glancing over to the side.

“Should I pick one?” Steve asks carefully. Bucky nods. Steve turns to one of his Bucky’s favorite fairy tales and starts to read.  Steve thinks he's listening, but the story doesn’t seem to catch his attention, gaze bouncing around the room. He winces when Bruce pricks him with the needle and Bruce swiftly apologizes, finishes taking blood with gentle hands and quickly stows the vials out of sight.

“Good job, Bucky,” Bruce praises. Bucky smiles a shy little smile, which eases Steve’s mind. He feels like he’s doing a pretty terrible job taking care of this Bucky—though not as terrible as when he’d found out about his own Bucky.

“Why don’t we go up to the playroom now, Bucky? We can play for a while?” Steve suggests softly. Bucky does his little shrugging motion, which Steve takes as a yes. He helps Bucky to his feet, having witnessed enough falls or almost falls to be a bit wary. Steve says a quick goodbye to Bruce and Bucky waves and then promptly uses his hand to move those dog tags back into his mouth. Steve admits to himself that he’s curious about them—they have to be soft, but he can't quite figure out their purpose for Bucky.

Perhaps, when Bucky is feeling a little more secure, he’ll ask.

Bucky follows Steve slowly to the playroom, as though he isn’t sure where they’re headed. Maybe the tower is a little different in the other world. It seems like a lot of things are.

Natasha and Clint are there when they arrive and Bucky freezes behind him, trembling. Steve takes his hand and gently coaxes him in. This Bucky seems tremendously shy around people. Or maybe that’s just a symptom of being in a world where everything is simultaneously familiar and strange.  

Natasha, it has to have been Natasha, has brought up all the bears and lined them up on the couch, but Bucky doesn’t seem that interested. And it’s just downright strange that he doesn’t immediately go and pick up Bucky Bear. Instead he edges towards the stacks of paper and crayons. He looks up and gives Steve a pleading little look. How does the other Steve ever say no to him, Steve wonders as he nods his permission. Bucky carefully carries first the paper and then the crayons over to the coffee table. Steve remembers his Bucky carrying an armful of bears.

Steve remembers Bucky sawing away at his metal arm.

Bucky carefully lowers himself down to his knees in front of the table and starts to color. Steve shares a concerned look with Natasha over his ducked head. This Bucky doesn’t seem very engaged, or very with it,  and that concerns Steve. It concerns him a lot, because things like this are almost always HYDRA’s fault and he doesn’t want to imagine any new horrors. He’d thought that they’d finished unearthing the worst of them. Steve lowers himself to the floor on the other side of the table from Bucky.

“Can I draw with you?”

Bucky shrugs without looking up. Worry squirms a little deeper in Steve’s gut. Natasha takes the spot next to Bucky and Clint the spot across from her, beside him. For too long the room is quiet except for the quiet scritch scritch of crayon on paper.

“What’re you drawing?” Tasha finally asks.

“Uh,” Bucky says after a minute. “fr’Annie.”

“Who’s Annie?” Tasha asks, sitting up a little on her knees and catching Steve’s eye. Steve nods. It’s important to note differences between the two worlds.

“Um. She, she’s. Uh, doctor.” Bucky finally answers.

“Like a therapist?” Tasha asks and Bucky gives a tiny little nod.

Tasha smiles, and turns her attention back to Clint, demanding, “Clint, draw Merida for me.”

Clint laughs and nods. Bucky’s head springs up and he looks at the two of them, a little frown on his face. Steve isn’t sure what it is that has this Bucky so tied up about Clint, but it Steve hopes it won’t be a big problem.

“Aw, crayon, no,” Clint mumbles a minute later, when a green crayon snaps in his grasp.

“You’re not supposed to press so hard,” Tasha says, rolling her eyes and handing Clint a new crayon. Clint winks at Bucky. Bucky’s mouth drops open a little, like he might say something, and then he snaps it closed again and turns back to his drawing. Steve leans over to see what Bucky is drawing and frowns.

It’s a picture of a boy surrounded by people with smudged faces and dark clouds. It’s messy and childish, more so than his Bucky’s creations when he’s little. Bucky picks up a black crayon and scribbles over two blonde heads and then tosses the crayon, hard, at the ground.

“Whoa there,” Clint says before Steve can speak. “What’s up, Bucky?”

“Yr’not right!” Bucky says, the loudest Steve had heard him speak. He’s looking straight at Clint. “Wan’my Clint!” Clint flinches back a little as the words appear in the air and he reads them. Bucky’s breath hitches and a couple tears slip down his face. He buries his face in his knees and his shoulders shake.

“I’m sorry,” Clint says. “I know it must suc—uh. It must be hard, but I’m sure your Clint misses you a whole lot.” That just makes Bucky cry harder, and Clint looks at Steve and Natasha helplessly.

“Bucky, sweetheart,” Steve finds himself saying, “It’s going to be okay. We’re going to get you back home just as soon as we can.”

Bucky sniffles pathetically and still doesn’t look up.

“Do you want me to read to you?” Steve offers. “Or watch a movie?”

“Nemo,” Bucky whispers after a pause.

Steve hesitates for just a moment. He and Bucky had found that movie really sad when they watched it, and the last thing he wants to do is upset Bucky anymore, but he requested it, so—

“All right,” Steve answers. “We’ll watch Nemo.”

Bucky does seem to like Nemo, even though he hides his eyes during the scary parts. For the first time Steve notices that Bucky is wearing a t-shirt with one of the characters on it, so it must be a favorite of his at home.

Steve wonders if Bucky might like a t-shirt with Aurora on it when he gets home. Then he wonders if he’ll ever get his Bucky back. The thought makes him wince.

Halfway through the movie, Bucky starts to wiggle. At first, Steve just thinks he’s getting himself comfortable, or maybe getting impatient. But then Bucky starts to pull at his shirt and Steve notices a spreading wet patch on Bucky’s pants.

For a moment, he freezes. He catches Natasha’s eyes and she flicks hers down to Bucky’s lap. A quick glance at Clint shows he’s noticed too.

“I should go take Lucky for a walk,” Clint says suddenly and somewhat awkwardly, standing up. “I’ll see you guys later, yeah?”

“I’ll come with you,” Natasha adds, gracefully getting to her feet and following Clint to the door. Bucky doesn’t look at them, just pulls his t-shirt even further down. It doesn’t really do much. The wet patch has now reached mid thigh.

Steve takes a deep breath. This is not something he knows how to deal with. With very rare exceptions, Bucky’s problems are almost exclusively at night, and he mostly deals with it on his own. Somehow, Steve doesn’t think this situation is going to be quite as simple, especially with Bucky still trying to hide it. He wonders if he really thinks they can't see it.

Steve pauses the movie. Carefully, he crouches down in front of Bucky. There’s a red flush spreading across his cheeks and he looks completely horrified.

“Hey, Bucky. I promise I won’t be mad, but do you think maybe you had a bit of an accident?”

Bucky’s whole body quivers. Tears slip silently down his face. Steve takes his hand and squeezes gently, trying to stay as calm as he can. “It’s all right. Accidents happen. We’ll just go to yo—Bucky’s room and you can get changed.” Bucky just lets out a little heartbreaking sob. Steve feels his eyes heating with tears too—he hates it when Bucky cries. He carefully helps Bucky to his feet and leads him to Bucky’s room. He shows this Bucky where clothes are and where the bathroom is and then turns to leave—

Bucky’s hand shoots out and grabs the back of Steve’s shirt. When he turns around, Bucky’s eyes are wide and frightened.

“I’ll just be right outside, Bucky. I just wanted to give you some privacy.”

“No,” Bucky whimpers. “I—nuh, I need—” he signs something Steve doesn’t recognize, a closed fist moving up and down in front of his chest.

“JARVIS?” Steve requests.

I’M SORRY, CAPTAIN ROGERS, MY DATABASES DO NOT RECOGNIZE THIS SIGN.

Bucky sobs a little harder and repeats the sign with jerky motions. Steve frowns and desperately tries to figure out what Bucky could be trying to say—

“What if you account for the missing arm?” Steve asks suddenly. Bucky nods jerkily.

ONE MOMENT, CAPTAIN. There’s  a minute pause as JARVIS “thinks”. IT COULD PERHAPS BE A MODIFIED TAKE ON THE SIGN FOR HELP.

Bucky nods eagerly and repeats the sign.

“You want help?” Steve asks, a little incredulously. His Bucky would never let him help with something so private. Bucky flinches and wilts a little. He opens and closes his mouth a couple times—takes a break to chew gently on a finger.

“Need help. Cause m’little,” Bucky explains timidly. “My body—can’t.” He flaps his hand, looking a little helpless. “Can’t do m’self.” And then he signs sorry a couple times in a row. Once again, Steve finds himself wondering what exactly Hydra did to this Bucky to make him so—so—broken.

“Oh—okay. I can help,” Steve says. Bucky relaxes a little. He wiggles for a moment.

“Where?” He finally whispers to Steve.

“Um. Let’s go into the bathroom, alright?” Bucky nods and walks towards the open door. Steve pauses momentarily to collect himself and grab a change of clothes for Bucky. When he follows him into the bathroom he finds that Bucky has lain down on the bath mat. He’s blushing fiercely.

Oh, Steve thinks. Is that how the other Steve does it—like Bucky is an—an infant? Steve swallows his discomfort and kneels down. He hesitates for a long moment, not sure where to start. He never touches Bucky like this, would never dare, not after what Pierce did. But this Bucky needs it and is apparently used to it and it will probably be fine—Bucky presses his hips up, using his arm and feet to balance.

Steve takes the cue and reaches out to pull down the sweats that Bucky is wearing.

“Oh,” he says, before he can stop himself. Bucky isn’t wearing underwear under his sweats, but a white pull-up not unlike the ones Steve’s Bucky wore before Tony started making him the customized ones.

Bucky’s face goes bright red and his hips fall back to the ground, hand coming down to cover the protective garment  as much as he can. A horrified little whine escapes him and a new flood of tears course down his face.

“Sorry,” he moans. “Sorry sorry, otha’Daddy.” Steve softens at the expression, at Bucky’s acceptance of him as some sort of Daddy despite everything he’s done wrong since Bucky arrived.  

“It’s fine, Bucky. Lots of people need to wear protection, it’s fine.” Steve hesitates a moment, but forces himself to say “My Bucky wears some at night because he wets the bed sometimes.”

But instead of that making Bucky feel any better, he just cries harder, whole body shuddering with the force of his sobs. Steve doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t know how to calm the onslaught of emotion, doesn’t know how to help .

“Bucky, it’s okay, you’re okay. Can you tell me what you need?”

“Ne’my’Daddy!” Bucky garbles. Unexpectedly, he slips his thumb into his mouth. “Nee’ta g’home!”

“I know,” Steve tries to soothe. He doesn’t dare touch, not with Bucky still partially undressed and already upset. “I know. I’m sorry it’s not the same. I’m sorry I’m not your Daddy.” Steve tries and fails not to cry.

“Scared!” Bucky sobs around his thumb.

“I know you’re scared. That’s okay. I’m staying right here with you, I promise. I’ll take care of you until we can get you home.” Bucky whimpers, a heartbreakingly tiny sound. He closes his lips around his thumb and clenches his eyes tightly closed. Cautiously, Steve puts his hand on Bucky’s shoulder and rubs gently, back and forth.

He sits there helplessly for a few moments, not sure what to say or do. Slowly, slowly, Bucky calms. He blinks his eyes open again and a light pink flush spreads over his cheeks. Steve tries to smile.

“Do you still want help changing?” Steve asks gently. Bucky nods, flush darkening. Steve takes a deep breath and cautiously brings his hands down to the waistband of the protective garment Bucky's wearing. His hands shake a little as he pulls the garment down his legs. At any moment he expects Bucky to gag or panic or offer some terrible and heartbreaking recollection.

But Bucky doesn’t do any of those things. If anything, he looks calmer as Steve takes the pull-up away. There are wipes under the sink, Steve knows, and he pauses momentarily to throw out the soaked pull-up, toss Bucky’s wet pants into the laundry, and grab the pack of wipes.

He’s never actually done this before. He didn’t have any kids back in the forties, and his Bucky is old enough to clean himself up after an accident. Back when he had seizures he often lost control of his body, but the medics who’d attended to him had always taken care of that. He’s not really sure how to do this, but people do it all the time for babies. It can’t be that hard, can it?

He tries not to convey his hesitancy as he wipes Bucky down, but Bucky seems to sense it anyway, especially when Steve pauses for a long moment before getting near his genitals. His own Bucky would never in a million years be okay with this, but this Bucky seems to take Steve’s hesitation as a sign that Steve is disgusted to touch him. As soon as the pull-up has been wiggled up onto his legs (while Steve makes a mental note to have Tony make side-opening pull-ups) Bucky’s curling up into a ball and rolling into the corner, making little noises that sounds roughly like sorry, sorry, sorry.

Steve feels awful. Bucky clearly doesn’t need anyone making a big deal out of this, and of course it isn’t sexual. He carefully reaches over to roll Bucky back to him, pulling him gently into his lap. Instinctively, he hugs him and rocks him, because rocking always helps his own Bucky calm down. “Hey, honey. It’s okay. I’m not mad at you, I promise. I just never helped with that before, okay? You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Bucky keeps saying, and Steve doesn’t know if anything he’s says is getting through until Bucky grips his shirt and looks into his eyes and bursts out, “Sorry, you got good Bucky. M’no good.”

“No,” Steve tries to reassure him, pulling him into a tight hug, “You’re good, Bucky, it’s okay. My Bucky needs help with lots of things too, just not that. It’s not bad, it’s not a big deal. I just have to learn how to do some new things, that’s all.”

Slowly, Bucky’s trembling eases, and he pulls back to look curiously up at Steve. “I learn, you learn?”

“That’s right, buddy,” Steve says, surprised Bucky had understood so quickly. He carefully stands, heaving Bucky onto his hip, where he clings like an octopus. Steve must have done something right just now, because Bucky seems to have taken to him and is now trying to draw as much comfort as possible, gripping tight and pressing close. It seems he has no intention of letting go of Steve again, and is instead trying to fuse with him.

Well, until they get back to the playroom. Then Bucky is wiggling and pointing and making an insistent noise and Steve can’t figure out what he wants until he bursts out, “Dolly!”

Steve has to really scan the shelves before he sees what Bucky’s spotted. He stirs around behind a few puzzle boxes and pulls out a rag doll that Bucky never really plays with. It’s an old-fashioned doll that Crystal sent in a well-meaning attempt to challenge gender roles while providing Bucky with a toy reminiscent of the past. Bucky had politely thanked her and then put the doll on the shelf and kind of forgotten it was there.

This Bucky hugs it tightly to his chest, kissing its bow-tied yarn hair and patting it all over. “Dolly,” he says softly, and relaxes like he hasn’t relaxed since he got here.

He still doesn’t want to let go of Steve, and given how unstable he seems to be, Steve thinks it unwise to let him out of sight anyway. They might as well unwind and try to calm down a bit, at least until they figure out what to do next.

So Steve settles Bucky and the doll onto his lap, and he rocks him and begins to read. Soon, worn out from the day’s stresses, Bucky melts into a warm Bucky-puddle against him and falls fast asleep, sucking lightly on the doll’s shoe. Steve keeps reading and rocking, wondering about his own Bucky and hoping that wherever he is, he’s cared for and safe and not scared.

About half an hour into the oddly comforting task of holding his sleeping friend, Natasha slides in the door. She pauses momentarily, taking in their positions. She almost smiles as she slips into the room on quiet feet.

“Any news?” Steve asks in a whisper. Bucky doesn’t so much as shift in his arms.

“Thor’s gone back to Asgard,” Natasha informs him at the same volume. “He believes one of the scholars there will be able to switch them back.” Steve breathes a little sigh of relief. He misses his Bucky like a physical ache and he feels completely out of his depth trying to care for this alternate version of his friend.

“That’s good,” he says aloud. Natasha nods, a serious look on her face. He doesn’t expect her to show worry, but Steve knows she’s scared for Bucky. They all are. Bucky is the lynchpin of their disjointed family and nothing will feel quite right until he’s back with them.

“Bruce is almost finished with the blood work—except for running his DNA, which he said should be finished by tonight. But—” she gestures to the sleeping bundle in his lap, “—this Bucky does share the same blood type. So far there’s no reason to believe he’s a fake.”

“Wouldn’t make much sense as a plot,” Steve replies. Without thinking, he runs a hand through Bucky’s dark hair. Bucky makes a content little snuffling noise, and he can’t help the little tug at the corner of his mouth.

“No, but we’ve seen crazier.” Natasha’s voice is distant. She’s studying Bucky with careful eyes. “Has he said anything more about his own world?”

Steve shakes his head. “But the way he trusts—I have to believe that they’re good people.”

Natasha makes a thoughtful noise under her breath. The room falls quiet a moment.   

“The incident?” Natasha asks, briefly meeting Steve’s eyes.

Steve sighs, feeling guilty for how bad he’d made Bucky feel about the accident. That hadn’t been his intention, of course, but it’s difficult. This Bucky is so different from his.

“I think—it’s a chronic issue,” Steve says, failing to hide the worry in his voice. Natasha frowns. As with everything terrible in Bucky’s life, Steve assumes this has its roots in HYDRA. He doesn’t really want to know what they did to cause this problem.

“And his clumsiness?” Natasha asks, eyes once again on the sleeping man in his lap.

Steve shrugs. “I don’t know. He still hasn’t said much. Asked for his daddy. Apologized. A lot.” Natasha’s frown deepens. Their Bucky is prone to unnecessary apologies as well, but he doesn’t repeat them with the same anticipatory fear as this Bucky—or, he doesn’t anymore.

“I’ll see if I can get him to open up a little, after he wakes up,” Natasha offers casually. Steve nods appreciatively. They’re all a bit wary, knowing this could still be an elaborate plot of some kind, however unlikely. He appreciates more than he can say that Natasha is willing to try with this person who may or may not be some version of Bucky. And he’s doubly happy for any help he can get, already feeling overwhelmed by the sheer neediness of this Bucky. And he knows that he’s likely only discovered the tip of the iceberg in terms of what this Bucky will expect and require of him. “Do you want me to stay with him? You can go check in with Tony and Bruce?”

Steve wants to say yes, he really does, but his instincts are telling him that letting Bucky wake up without him there might be asking for trouble.

“It’s all right,” he says instead. “I think I should be here when he wakes up.”

Natasha nods understandingly.

Steve smiles and nods his thanks as she disappears from his room. He glances down at his lapful of Bucky and settles back into the chair. There are much worse places to be, really.

Bucky sleeps another hour, during which Steve has JARVIS put the TV on, keeping the volume low. Bucky wakes slowly, shifting restlessly in Steve’s lap and then blinking his eyes open and slowly raising them to find Steve.

He gets one second of a blinding smile before Bucky’s face falls and he starts to cry again. Steve tries not to feel frustrated.

“Hey, Bucky. I know it’s tough, waking up here, but it’s okay. We’re working on a way to get you home right now.”

“Miss m’Daddy,” Bucky mumbles, tears sliding down his face. He fiddles with the doll and then slides her already-chewed left shoe into his mouth. Steve decides it’s probably a good thing that this Bucky hasn’t taken to Bucky Bear. That could only end badly.

“I know you do, honey. And I’m sure he misses you too. Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?”

Bucky’s face creases up and he chews a little harder on the shoe. He looks about to talk a few times but ultimately doesn’t, just shrugs, a light flush covering his cheeks. The dolls falls down into his arm, where Bucky traps it against his chest. Steve sighs a little. Even at his quietest, his Bucky is able to express likes and dislikes. He doesn’t know where to start with this Bucky.

“Do you want to look at some of Bucky’s toys?” Steve suggests, standing up and setting Bucky down. Bucky wobbles dangerously and Steve suddenly remembers the coordination issues and reaches out to steady him. Bucky flushes again, bites his lip and stares down at his bare feet. He wiggles awkwardly, which looks oddly familiar—oh. Oh. He’s just slept. And given that he apparently has issues during the day, Steve wouldn't be surprised if bedwetting is a problem as well.

He tries to frame the question so that he won’t offend Bucky, won’t make him feel guilty for something he clearly can’t help. “Hey, Bucky?” he asks softly, “Do you need a quick trip to the bathroom?”

Bucky’s cheeks go red and his hand clenches around the doll, but he nods. Steve smiles reassuringly. This time, he's sure he’ll do better. He takes Bucky’s hand and leads him to the bathroom. Bucky uses the edge of the bathtub to get down to the floor and then stares longingly at it as Steve gets the wipes and a clean pull-up from under the sink. He glances back and forth between Bucky and the bathtub.

“Bucky, do you want to take a bath?” Steve eventually asks.

The hopeful look on Bucky’s face makes him smile. Maybe, just maybe, he can do something right today. He leans over and starts the bathwater, carefully checking the temperature. He sits back on his heels for a minute and thinks things through.

Bucky will almost definitely need help during the bath, given everything. Steve doesn’t want to assume that it’s okay, though. He can only imagine what kind of horrors bathtime would have brought with Pierce.

“Do you want my help?” Bucky nods quickly, even offers a little smile. He lifts his arm and it takes Steve a beat to figure out what he wants. He reaches out and slowly lifts Bucky’s shirt, keeping his eyes peeled for any sign of discomfort. But once again, Bucky looks at ease with the help. He sets his doll down and pushes his hips up again.

Steve’s eyes fix on Bucky’s missing arm as soon as the shirt reveals it. The shoulder is concave, like the whole joint has been scraped out. The skin is red and irritated in places, so pale it’s almost pure white in others, mottled and uncomfortable-looking. Steve looks away before Bucky can notice, turns his attention back to the task on hand.

He still hesitates as he reaches to pull down Bucky’s borrowed pants. The pull-up isn’t very wet this time, but Bucky seems just as happy to be rid of it. He doesn’t seem that aware that he’s nude, though, and that makes Steve oddly uncomfortable.

Bucky hefts himself quickly to his feet and starts to step into the bath. His foot slips and Steve is catching him before he even knows what’s happening. Bucky looks a little startled but just uses Steve’s support to get all the way into the bath.

Bucky smiles a happy little smile as he sinks into the water. He wiggles his fingers in the water and gently kicks his feet, watching the ripples and splashes with fascinated naïveté in his eyes. Steve watches with wonder. This is a different Bucky than the one he’s seen before. Instead of tense and fearful, he’s calm and smiling. His body looks relaxed in a way that Steve hasn’t seen yet.

Bucky turns to him and gives him a bright smile. “Thanks, otha’Daddy.”

Steve smiles brightly back. “You’re welcome, sweetheart. You like baths, huh?”

“Yuhuh. My favorite,” Bucky answers. He remains quiet and a little stilted, but the words come easier than they have since he arrived. Steve wonders if he should push his luck—try and get some answers, some reassurance, while Bucky seems willing to talk.

“Do you take a lot of baths at home?” Steve asks, trying to start with easy questions. The answers might give him some clue to what this other world is like and if Steve’s Bucky will be safe and well cared for there.

“Uhuh. Wi’bubbles.” Bucky splashes his hand a little harder, eyes bright.

“I can get you some bubbles,” Steve finds himself promising. The smile he gets in return is well worth it. “Does your daddy help you in the bath?”

Bucky nods, uses his feet to make gentle little waves against the side of the tub.

“What does he do?” Steve presses, looking for some evidence of what kind of father the other Steve is.

“Wash me,” Bucky answers. “An’ my hair.”

“That sounds nice.” Steve searches for another avenue of questions as Bucky nods. Baths are clearly a favorite and Steve doubts anything questionable happens there—plus, his Bucky won’t be taking any baths. “When do you usually take your bath?”

“‘Fore bed.” Bucky mumbles. He’s studying his knees as he lifts them in and out of the water. It’s oddly adorable.

“What else do you do before bed?”

“Um. Books? An’ cuddles.”

“Those are good things,” Steve says softly. He stands to grab Bucky’s soap and shampoo and a clean washcloth.

“Yuhuh,” Bucky agrees. He skims his hand across the surface of the water, making a little motor noise. Steve wishes he had some bath toys to offer. They sit in quiet for a moment while Steve gently runs a washcloth over Bucky’s shoulders. Steve thinks over the day so far, of how different this Bucky is from his, or from any other littles Steve has met. I wonder, he thinks.

“How old are you when you’re little, Bucky?” Steve asks. This Bucky presents younger than Steve’s, but that could be the physical difficulties Bucky seems to have. Or maybe the difficulties are because he’s younger. (Steve doesn't want to think about Bucky being littler—five is too little for what Pierce did, already breaks his heart and makes him sick. Any younger and Steve doesn’t know what he’ll do).  

Bucky looks thoughtful, drums his toe on the bottom of the bath.

“Sorta three?” Bucky finally says and Steve’s stomach drops. He’s hardly more than a baby. No wonder he needs so much help. (Steve’s thoughts shy away from why Pierce would have wanted someone so dependent. He doesn’t want to know).

Steve sort of nods and Bucky’s face falls a little, his shoulders hunch and he sinks a little deeper under the water. Steve frantically searches for something to say to return the previous comfort of the bath. Steve gently soaps Bucky’s back and chest and Bucky’s shoulders ease a little.

Three-year-olds need bathing, Steve thinks. Three-year-olds need a lot of things—but he couldn’t list them if he tried. The difference between three and five suddenly feels like an impossible distance. Steve is not prepared for a child this young. He tries very hard not to panic, turns his attention to the one thing he has managed to do right today.

Bucky sits calmly while Steve runs the washcloth over him, clearly used to this. He lifts up his arm for Steve to wash his side and parts his knees so he can wash below. Steve hesitates to be helping with something so private, knowing his own Bucky would hate it, but this Bucky seems perfectly content to splash his toes in the water while Steve washes his thighs and groin. In fact, this is the happiest, most talkative version of Bucky Steve’s encountered so far. He even protests when Steve goes to stop washing.

“No!” he insists, “Not done, otha’Daddy!”

“You like being washed?” Steve moves the cloth back to his legs.

“Toes!” Bucky explains, splashing them against the side of the tub.

“Okay,” Steve can’t help chuckling a little, “Toes.”

Bucky flails and giggles when the cloth touches his feet, splashing around in the tub. “It tickles!” he says happily, a big grin lighting up his face. After his hair has been lathered and rinsed, Steve goes back for another foot-washing with the cloth, just to hear him laugh again.

He thinks there are going to have to be a lot more baths while this Bucky’s here.

The water seems to have opened him up, enough that he even dares to boss Steve around when he comes at Bucky with a towel. “Wrap me up tight!” he demands, “Make a Bucky-rrito!”

He’s cheery and playful while Steve helps him dress, clumsily wiggling into a pull-up and raising his arm so that he can be maneuvered into a T-shirt.

Okay, so there’ll definitely have to be more baths.

As Steve’s helping him balance so he can step into a pair of sweatpants, Bucky glances up at him with a very serious look. “I’ll keep it dry, promise,” he says earnestly, patting the front of his pull-up. “So he can have it back.”

The promise is so childlike and sincere that Steve doesn’t know whether to laugh or hug him. “Oh, honey. You don’t have to worry about that, okay? That’s what protection is for, to help with accidents. It’s okay if—if this happens again.”

A slight blush forms on Bucky’s cheeks, but he doesn’t look half as miserable as he did before. “‘Kay, otha’Daddy,” he says, carefully leaning his head on Steve as he bends down to get the pants up.

Out of the water, he quickly grows less and less lively, but he definitely trusts Steve more now. He still gets a little rocky every now and again, but Steve’s starting to get a better sense of when he needs to be hugged and soothed and just generally reassured that it’s okay he’s here. It helps, having a sense for how “old” this Bucky is and how much younger he is than Steve’s Bucky.. It makes many of the differences seem less alarming. There’s definitely a lot going on that Bucky’s not saying, and Steve’s going to have to work out a good way for the two of them to communicate. That’s okay, though. He’s been down that road with his own Bucky. They can do this.

He takes Bucky down to dinner, far more confident in his caregiving ability.

His own Bucky can be painfully shy, and had trouble warming up to the others at first, so Steve makes sure to let this Bucky know there might be a few Avengers eating dinner with them. Sure enough, when they arrive at the table and see Pepper, Nat, Bruce, and Clint already there, Bucky shoves his face into Steve’s shoulder, hugging tight to the rag doll.

He’s not sure if this Bucky has any dietary restrictions. Pepper seems to have thought of that, though, as a variety of little side dishes are arranged around the table. When Steve asks him if he has any particular preferences for food, he just shrugs, looking uncomfortable. He’s still clutching the doll tightly in his hand, and since he doesn’t have another arm, he’s going to have a really hard time eating. Given how upset he was earlier and how tenuous his calm can be, Steve definitely isn’t about to try and make him put it down.

Experimentally, he loads up a fork with roasted vegetables and Bucky immediately leans toward it. So it’s not just changing and dressing; he’s accustomed to being fed, as well. Steve finds him fairly pliant and willing to eat most of what’s put in his mouth, and he even holds the doll up a couple times to be ‘fed’.

Pepper smiles at that. “God, he’s so cute.”

Immediately Bucky’s wriggling clumsily around to hide his face in Steve, which makes it even cuter. Exhausted and worried as he is, Steve can’t help but chuckle as he rearranges Bucky on his lap. Once he’s situated, he peeks back out at her, and she gives him a small smile and a wave. Bucky ducks his face back against Steve.

“All right, guys, I think that’s the sign he’s all worn out for the night,” Steve says. Really, he’s the one who’s worn out, and he wants to get this Bucky to bed as soon as possible so that he can process everything that’s happened today. Bucky doesn’t protest, though, so maybe he really is in need of some rest.

After all, Steve thinks, he’s been through quite an ordeal today, too. He willingly allows Steve to help him change into a pair of Hawkeye pajamas from his own Bucky’s room. In fact, he seems ridiculously excited about the Hawkeye pajamas from the moment he spots them in the drawer, and Steve wonders if he has a particular connection to his own Clint. It’d explain his outburst earlier, over this Clint not being the same.

Remembering what Bucky told him about his bedtime routine, he reads him a few stories, cuddling him tight. If he seems a little subdued, well, it’s probably hard going to bed without his Steve there to tuck him in. Steve doesn’t even want to think about his Bucky going to bed without a bedtime story from him.

Whatever Bucky’s going through, he’s okay enough to insist, “Not ready yet! Need’ta brush teeth and potty ‘fore bed!”

“Of course,” Steve says, “Silly me. You’re right.”

For all the help he’s needed today, he seems to manage brushing his teeth surprisingly well. Granted, it isn't his own toothbrush, but maybe he’s just too little to care.

He’s also completely unselfconscious about shuffling over to the toilet and peeing with Steve standing right there, but by now Steve knows better than to react. It can do a child serious harm to make them feel ashamed of their bodily functions, he learned that while researching bedwetting to try and help his own Bucky.

He notices Bucky carefully taking off his dogtags and dropping them onto the sink after he washes his hand. They make a soft thumping sound, not a metallic one, so they're rubber, like Steve thought. He kept chewing them earlier—could they be like a pacifier? He wonders if his own Bucky would object to something like that. He has a habit of sucking his thumb when he’s stressed.

It’s weird, tucking this Bucky into his own Bucky’s bed. Steve almost feels wrong about using this room, but most of the stuff this Bucky will need is in here, so he might as well. He lies in bed with him, rubbing his back as he starts to fall asleep. For all his upsets earlier today, he seems pretty willing to let Steve soothe him to sleep.

He does mumble out “Miss m’daddy,” but quickly follows it up with a “Thanks for bein’ a good daddy, Odie.”

“Odie?” Steve smiles.

“Otha’Daddy,” Bucky explains, his eyes fluttering shut.

Steve figures he’s just about soothed himself all the way to sleep, so he eases himself up off the mattress, dropping a kiss onto Bucky’s forehead. He quietly shuts the door and slips out to the the living room. He wonders if he should stay on this floor tonight, just to be nearby if Bucky needs anything else.

He quickly gathers up some spare blankets, the same blankets he uses when he curls up to read to Bucky on the couch, to watch Disney with him, to build blanket forts. There’s the heavy weighted blanket he drapes over Bucky when he tucks him in after a particularly rough day. He doesn’t pray as much as he used to back in the forties, when he went to church on a pretty regular basis, but now he finds himself asking God to make sure that, wherever he is, Bucky’s going to bed safe tonight. That he’s not scared or crying or catatonic, that someone’s got him and is looking after him and has read him a bedtime story and tucked him into bed.

That’s when he finds the scrapbook.

It’s resting on one of the couch cushions. There’s a picture of Steve holding a laughing Bucky on his lap in the prized center spot on the cover, and Steve already aches inside, even before he turns the front page.

The three images carefully angled and pasted there pierce straight through to his heart. Bucky made this for him. Bucky must have been just about to give this to him. It’s perfect, too, showing them together then and now, and the certificate that makes them officially family.

It’s automatic, the brushing-away of the tears Steve’s been holding in all day. He doesn’t want to mess up the scrapbook. Carefully he flips through the pictures, drinking in the images of his Bucky even though it makes Steve miss him like a throbbing ache. He can tell by the way it’s arranged that Bucky put a great deal of thought and care into this. Steve wants to thank him and tell him it’s beautiful. He wants to tell him this is worth more than he can say.

He slowly turns another page.

There are a few snippets cut out from some of his earliest crayon drawings. Back when he’d been struggling with crushing depression and panic and self-loathing, he couldn’t manage to produce a happy drawing for a while, but slowly they began to come, and Bucky had smiled shyly and ducked his face behind his hand when Steve has first praised his artwork.

Another page contains scraps of notes they had written to each other when Bucky was having a particularly bad day. He’d been hiding in his room, awash in shame and panic, and Steve had slipped a bit of paper under the door with the three words, “Want to talk?” Bucky had taken a while to write back, but in the end they’d passed notes back and forth and Bucky had written elaborately detailed things he couldn’t quite make himself say out loud.

As the hours passed, the notes got shorter but happier, filled with teasing and inside jokes. They were punctuated, more and more, with smiley faces, caricatures and stick figures. And by dinnertime Bucky had quietly opened the door, still puffy-eyed but smiling, and Steve had pulled him into a hug and held on tight.

As Steve flips through the scrapbook, he sees that there are a full six pages dedicated to those notes. They’re interspersed with the occasional snapshot of the two of them, and they’re attached to the pages with Disney stickers.

Steve abruptly closes the scrapbook and hugs it to his chest, breathing raggedly. When he finally falls asleep, cheek pressed to the couch cushion, he’s still holding it so tightly, as if he could make his Bucky feel, through the dimensions, his love and his embrace.

Chapter Text

It’s quiet in the elevator, and Bucky wonders if Clint feels as awkward as he does.

He wants to apologize, except he didn’t actually do anything. At least, he doesn’t think he did. But he wants to apologize anyway, because that’s what he always wants to do when things go wrong. He can’t help feeling like it’s always his fault. It’s something his doctors have been trying to work on.

When they get back up to their floor, Daddy Two rests a hand on Bucky’s shoulder. “It seems like we all need some time to calm down, don’t we?”

Bucky nods, looking down at the floor so he can’t see Clint’s reaction.

“All right,” Daddy Two says, “I think that means bathtime." 

“No!” Clint protests into his shoulder, “I don’t want him in my bath, Daddy, please!” 

Bucky startles, both at the renewed anger directed at him and the idea that he’d get in someone else’s bath. “Clint,” Daddy Two says sternly, “I need you to take a deep breath or we’re going to have to take a break to calm down.” 

For a moment there’s just tense silence. Then Clint takes a breath in and huffs it out. 

“Okay,” Daddy Two says, softer now, “Thank you, Clint. Today’s been a hard day, hasn’t it? And I think we’re all working extra-hard to deal with everything we’re feeling. It’s important to take a step back sometimes and remember that we’re all just doing our best to deal with those big feelings.”

Clint’s breathing more evenly now, his face back in Daddy Two’s shoulder. 

“So, Bucky,” Daddy Two asks, “does your daddy give you baths at home?”

Bucky shakes his head really quick, thinking of the bad games he played in the tub with his first daddy. His daddy now has helped him take off his wet pajamas and get in the shower a couple times. Bucky trusts him now and thinks he’d let his own daddy bathe him, but this is a different daddy and a different place, and there’s Clint, too. Bucky doesn’t want to be naked in front of either of them.

“Okay,” Daddy Two says, “Well, I’m going to get Clint in the bath. Can you stay in the bedroom and wait patiently for us to be done? I can give you some books to read, or something else to do.” 

“Yeah,” Bucky says. He thinks he needs a few minutes away from Clint. He’s feeling really hurt because they were playing earlier and Bucky thought they were having fun, but then Clint got mad at him for something he couldn’t even help. He is scared of Phil. He doesn’t think he can ever feel completely okay around Phil.

And the thing about them being boyfriends doesn’t sit well in Bucky’s tummy at all. His first daddy was a guy in charge of a big organization too. And Phil is SHIELD and SHIELD was HYDRA and if Bucky doesn’t trust Phil—well, it’s still probably not the same as his first daddy with him. But Bucky can’t help feeling nervous and bad about it. Phil’s in charge of a powerful organization, too. He can’t help wanting to warn Clint and tell him to keep his distance. 

He can hear Daddy Two talking with Clint in the bathroom while the water’s running. The door’s open, but Bucky sits against the wall where he can’t see them to give Clint his privacy. Daddy Two left him some picture books, but Bucky can’t concentrate on them when there’s so much to think about. He can’t imagine being so okay with taking his clothes off in an open room, but Clint doesn’t seem to care.

“Hey, buddy, good job calming down. Here, want to help me pour in the bubble soap? No, not that much.”

“Aww.” 

“I know you like bubbles, bud.” 

Then there’s a big splash, which Bucky guesses is Clint crash-landing in the tub. It’s immediately followed by a “Careful!” from Daddy Two. 

For a minute, there’s only the sound of splashing, then Daddy Two says, “We do have to talk, really quickly, about what happened before. I think you were a little rude to Bucky just now, and we need to work out a way for everyone to get along.” 

“But, Daddy, he doesn’t like Phil!” 

“And Phil’s really important to you, baby. I know that, but Bucky’s allowed to feel how he feels, just like you are. But what we feel and the words we say about it are two different things. I want you to remember that things are different between our worlds and we’re still figuring that out. Don’t you think you’d feel just as strange in his world as he feels in this one?” 

“I guesso,” Clint admits after a pause. 

“One more thing, bud, and then we’re done. We always have to remember that other people are trying their best, and we have to use kind words and voices. And I know a lot’s going on right now, but I still want you to try and practice those things. Okay?”

There’s another pause. “Okay, Daddy,” Clint says in a small voice.

“That’s my good boy. Thanks for listening so well. Hey, do you want to play with your boats?”

“Yeah! Let’s play pirates!”

Listening to the subsequent splashing, Bucky has a lot to think over. He guesses this Phil is probably okay if Daddy Two lets him near Clint. Daddy Two wouldn’t let anything bad happen to him. 

He still doesn’t have to like Phil. Daddy Two and his own daddy back home have both said he can feel how he feels. He just doesn’t need to be scared of him. And maybe Clint doesn’t really hate him now; he thinks back to his family reunion at the zoo. Lots of little kids got upset and mad and then calmed down really quickly. He hasn’t been around other kids that much, and Clint is littler than him. Maybe that’s just how younger kids are.

When Daddy Two emerges from the bathroom, Clint’s all wrapped up in a towel, resting on his shoulder. “Hey, Bucky, I think we might call this an early night. This guy seems pretty tuckered out, and I know you’ve had a long day, too.” 

“Okay,” Bucky agrees. Even if he can’t sleep, he’d like to lay down for a while. He hasn’t had any time alone since he got here.

It’s probably because his mind has been so busy, or because he hasn’t had to worry about it at home for a while, but he doesn’t even think about the logistics of bedtime while Daddy Two is dressing Clint in the bathroom. Not when he’s coming back to offer Bucky a pair of his own sweatpants. It’s not till Daddy Two leads him down the hall to another bedroom, where a mattress has been laid on the floor and fitted with blankets, that it hits him, jolting him into full wakefulness.

He can’t sleep here. He can’t. He doesn’t have any pull-ups and how awful would it be to wet the bed in someone else’s home? In someone else’s pants? It already felt horrible that time with Daddy. Bucky definitely doesn’t want these new people to see him have an accident. Even this other Clint will think he’s a baby.

But Daddy Two is looking so weary and Clint looks exhausted, slumped on his hip. Bucky’s probably already messing up their night, and they’ll think he’s being so bad.

He twists his hands together and wonders if he could just stop sleeping, but his brain is already going to have problems because they don’t have his medicines right now. If he goes without sleeping he might not be able to tell what’s real anymore. His heart jumps, remembering how scary and disjointed everything used to be.

“Bucky?” Steve says softly, after taking a deep breath and shifting Clint up on his hip. He looks like he’s trying really hard to be calm and patient right now, and Bucky’s guilt soars. “I know this is different and it’s scary for you, but I can’t help until you tell me what’s a’matter, okay? I promise I’ll do my best to help, but you need your rest.”

Bucky nods miserably. “I know,” he mumbles at the ground. “I can’t—I—I—”

Clint’s really staring at him now and Bucky can’t stand it. “Okay,” Daddy Two says, “So can you tell me why you can’t sleep here? Then I’ll do my best to make it better, okay?”

“I—I’ll have an accident,” Bucky forces himself to say, and shoves his hot, red face into his hands. But he has no choice; he has to admit it, or he’ll fall asleep at some point and wet himself and then everyone will know anyway. “Bad dreams, and—I’m—I’m sorry.”

For one horrible moment they’re both quiet, but then Daddy Two softly says “Okay. It’s okay, Bucky, all right? You won’t be in trouble if you have an accident.”

Bucky feels his shoulders relax in relief, even though he really doesn’t want to wet this other Daddy’s bed. Definitely not with Clint here.

“I’m glad you told me, Bucky. I know that was really hard, and I’m so proud of you,” Daddy Two says warmly, sounding like he actually is proud. For some reason that makes Bucky’s insides warm right up and the situation seems a little bit better. “And telling me what’s wrong means I know how to help.”

“‘Kay,” Bucky says, fractionally calmer seeing that not only is Daddy Two not mad, but he sounds genuinely happy to be able to solve Bucky’s problems. His guilt over making stuff hard on other people is a constant weight he’s carried, and he never quite realizes how heavy it is till someone lifts it off him for a little while.

“So you have a couple options,” Daddy Two is saying, “And—well. I don’t want to say anything about anyone else without their permission, but we do have someone who also has trouble at night, like you. So we have something you could wear to bed if you want.”

Bucky risks a glance up, enough to see that Clint’s head is slumping down. His pink cheeks are a total giveaway, and Bucky is really surprised. He’s never known anyone who wets the bed like him. Not even Crystal or Natasha have accidents. He can’t help feeling a little better knowing he’s not the only one who does that. “Yes, please,” he says, and Daddy vanishes from the room before coming back with—

That. That is not like one of his pull-ups, thin and discreet and easy to manage. That’s a diaper, like a baby would wear, big and thick and puffy, and Bucky has a horrible suspicion that no kind of clothes could hide it. “Um. I.” He stammers, feeling bad to inconvenience Daddy Two when he’s trying so hard, but. “Do you have something smaller? Like a pull-up.”

“We do have a few of those, but we’ve found they tend to leak at night, so these work better,” Daddy Two says gently. Clint’s face is so red now. “You can have one if you want. Even if the bed gets a little wet, you’ll never be in trouble. So it’s really up to you.”

Bucky stares. “Tony can’t just make better pull-ups? My Tony does for me.” It’s easier to talk about this with Clint here, knowing he has accidents too.

Daddy Two sounds thoughtful. “You know, I never thought about that before. There’s really no time tonight, but I could ask him—”

“No!” Clint blurts out, “Daddy, no! Please, he can’t know, he’ll find out—”

“It’s okay!” Bucky says quickly, because he remembers how scared he used to be of everyone finding out, how deeply ashamed he was and how he slunk around trying so hard to hide his accidents. “I’ll wear the—the protection you have.”

Clint slumps against Daddy Two in relief, so Bucky goes to take the stupid diaper, except then Daddy Two is setting Clint down and reaching for Bucky’s waistband and, and—

Bucky’s backing away and grabbing at his pants and whimpering, he can’t make himself say no because no is ungrateful and. But those are bad rules. But—

“Okay, Bucky, okay,” Daddy Two says soothingly. He puts up his hands, the diaper dangling like a big white flag, and Bucky feels himself go red all over again. Daddy Two doesn’t try to come closer. “I won’t touch if you don’t want. I’m just used to helping with this, my Bucky—” he stops short, but Bucky understands. His Bucky needs diapers too, and Daddy Two changes him like a baby. It makes sense, because Daddy Two keeps thinking Bucky needs so much more help than he does, but Bucky doesn’t know what to make of that. It’s kind of really uncomfortable.

He stays frozen and says he doesn’t want help, still clutching his waistband, and Daddy Two’s frown is hard to read. Bucky can’t tell if he knows about the bad games, and it’s making him feel flushed and sick. Daddy Two doesn’t sound mad when he tells Bucky it’s okay. “The tapes can be tricky, though. If you do need help, I’m right here.” Then he’s laying the diaper on the mattress, scooping up his Clint, and backing out of the room. 

The door clicks shut, and for the first time since he got here, Bucky’s alone.

He can’t help feeling deeply relieved, even though the diaper really is hard to do on his own. He ends up having to lie awkwardly on the mattress just so he can get the tapes on straight. He quickly pulls on his borrowed pajama pants and can tell, without looking in a mirror, that he was right about this thing being conspicuous. The thick padding of the diaper forms a clear outline through his pants, and the top comes up on his tummy no matter how high he tugs his waistband. Even alone, he’s beyond embarrassed to be wearing the thing, but at least it’s just Clint and Daddy Two here, and he knows they won’t tell.

He wiggles under the covers and tells JARVIS to get the lights, and then he just lays in the dark.

Alone. In the wrong place, his hands squeezing on the fabric of an unfamiliar bear. Buddy Bear is nice and Daddy Two made him special just for Bucky, but he’s still not the same. Bucky is all alone, not knowing if he’ll ever get his Daddy or Tasha back. He keeps thinking of Crystal and Miriam and Cornelius and Freddie, of Pepper cooking veggie pasta without him and the line of Bearvengers at his headboard, all in a different world. 

A different world.

Bucky lies rigid for a bit, unable to relax, then gets up and shuffles to the door. He doesn’t know if the other two are still awake or if he’ll be disturbing them, only that he can’t stand it in there on his own for one more second.

Maybe he’ll just slip in unnoticed and sleep on the floor. Being near Daddy Two, or any version of Daddy, is better than being alone in the wrong world. If he can even hear the two of them breathing and know they’re there, he’ll maybe get some sleep tonight.

There’s a night-light in their room, and Bucky slips in gratefully. Daddy Two stirs and Clint makes a sleepy noise. “Um,” he says, “Sorry…” 

“Whassamatter, Bucky?” Daddy Two asks, propping himself up, “Need something?” 

“Can I stay with you?” Bucky asks shyly, “I’m scared.”

“‘Course you can,” Daddy Two says easily, “And good telling me how you feel. Good job.”

Bucky slides under the covers. “Thanks, Daddy Two,” he says, then freezes. He’s been thinking of this other Daddy as Daddy Two so much, it just slipped out. He hopes Daddy Two won’t mind. 

“Dadu?” the other Clint mumbles sleepily, and Daddy Two chuckles. 

“Dadu, huh? Go on back to sleep, buddy.” He ruffles Clint’s hair, then Bucky’s, and Bucky sinks into the touch, his face in Daddy Two’s chest.

He squirms up into a tight cuddle, Daddy Two’s fingers carding gently through his hair, and just for now he can drift off to sleep and know that at least he ended up in a world like this, where he’s safe and cared for.

“Thanks,” he whispers again, quietly, and shuts his eyes.

When he opens them again he has no sense of the passage of time, only the memory of the pain of the chair and being held down so he couldn’t get away and—

He still can’t get away. There are arms locked tight around his, pinning them to him so he can’t move at all, and panic flares through him all over again. He can hardly breathe and even when he remembers where he is he can’t stop himself from writhing and gasping out “N—no! No! ” 

The arms don’t let up and his blinding terror shoots into overdrive. “Help! Please! Let me out! Let me out let me out let me—"  

The arms slacken a bit and Bucky immediately flings himself out of them and onto the floor. He huddles there, brushing his hands frantically over himself to remove any lingering traces of his nightmare still lurking there.

Gradually he begins to feel the little bits and pieces of reality coming back. The softness of his borrowed clothes, the wet, swollen padding of the diaper, his own hands running over his skin. He stays frozen on the floor for a while, trembling. It feels like he woke to find his nightmare bleeding over into reality, and it’s left him shaken. 

He slowly looks up to see Daddy Two and Clint staring at him in obvious concern. Now that he’s steadier, he can piece together what must’ve happened. He was probably crying or yelling or flailing around as he woke up, and Daddy Two panicked and grabbed him. But just because he understands it doesn’t mean he’s okay. 

“Hey, bud,” Daddy Two says cautiously, leaning forward, and Bucky involuntarily flinches. “No, no, hey! I won’t hurt you. I’m sorry, Bucky. I made a mistake. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Bucky nods, carefully moving back towards the bed. He feels a little unsteady on his feet from his scare, and now that he can sense his surroundings a little more, he’s aware of how awkward and swollen the wet diaper is, obviously visible and saggy against his sweatpants. His cheeks feel hot as Daddy Two eyes him with a knowing look. He’s getting rid of this thing as soon as possible. 

For now he focuses on making it back to the bed and collapsing onto the mattress. Daddy Two tentatively rubs his back and Bucky presses into the touch. “Sorry,” he mumbles. “Sorry I scared you and—sorry.”

“No, Bucky, I’m sorry. Our Bucky needs help calming down sometimes and I just thought—I didn’t want you to get hurt.” 

“S’okay,” Bucky says quietly, and for a moment they all just sit. Bucky can hear Clint wiggling around on Daddy Two’s other side.

“You know, it’s actually not that much earlier than when we’d usually get up,” Daddy Two whispers, “There’s really no point in going back to bed. I think we’ll just have naptime a bit earlier today.”

“‘Kay, Daddy,” Clint mumbles sleepily, still shifting around on the bed, “but I need, I need—”

“I’ll get you in just a sec, bud. Let me just grab some clothes for Bucky, all right?” Daddy Two ruffles his hair a bit.

When Daddy Two hands Bucky a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, there’s a pull-up sitting on top. “I don’t need that in the day!” he blurts out. And he should know better, but embarrassment is flaring in his cheeks, remembering the time he almost peed his pants in the lab that one time. “I’m not a baby, ” he adds defensively, as if they can hear what he’s thinking. 

Clint sniffles a couple times, then abruptly draws his legs up and buries his face in his knees, and Bucky feels awful. Of course there’s a reason Daddy Two has these lying around, a reason it’s his habit to hand one to Bucky with a change of clothes. “I’m sorry,” he says helplessly, knowing just how horrible he must have made Clint feel. And now Daddy Two will probably be mad at him for making his little boy cry.

But Daddy Two doesn’t yell or frown or scold. He just goes over to Clint and rubs his back. “Hey, bud. It’s all right. You know I always love you.” 

“I am a dumb baby!” Clint wails, which is weird because it’s not like his Clint and Bucky feels horrible for hurting him so bad. “An’ I don’t wanna wear diapers an’ I—I don’t wanna have accidents, an’ I—I—I want my Bucky! I don’t want this one here! I want him to go back where he came from an’ I want my brother!”

Bucky’s seeing the room through tears now and he feels like the worst little boy ever. No wonder Clint doesn’t want him here. No one in the Tower ever made him feel bad about having an accident, not Pepper or Tony or Daddy. Even when Tasha found out, she was the best sister ever. And he already felt so awful about it and he can’t imagine how it would’ve been if they’d shamed him even more.

“I’m sorry,” he says again, scrubbing at his eyes and feeling helpless. He doesn’t know what to say to apologize for this. But Daddy Two does. He pulls Clint up into his lap, rocking, and begins talking in a calm, quiet voice.

“It’s all right, Bucky. Y’know, lots of people have accidents, even grown-ups. Problems with going to the bathroom can happen because of a medical reason or because of something scary that happened. And a lot of people feel very embarrassed about it, and we should always be considerate of that. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it definitely doesn’t make anyone a baby. Some people just have a harder time with it, but that’s okay.”

Bucky nods, red-faced. Even though Daddy Two is talking about Clint, he has a feeling some of those words are aimed at him, too.

“I think Clint will be ready to accept your apology when he’s feeling a little calmer.” Daddy Two gives Clint a squeeze. “Sometimes we don’t think and we say things we don’t really mean.”

Clint looks out distrustfully from under Daddy Two’s arm, wiping his nose. 

“I am sorry,” Bucky says, and then, trying to find more words, “You’re not a baby, I shouldn’t have said that. And accidents don’t make anyone bad or anything.” He’s still trying really hard to believe that, but every so often he remembers his last daddy shoving him on the floor and telling him he’s disgusting.

“It’s okay,” Clint says, a little reluctantly, not quite ready to stop being upset yet.

“That’s my good boy,” Daddy Two says, snuggling Clint tight. It makes Bucky miss his own daddy like an ache to see the way Clint fits easily against him. “You’re my little Clinty and I’ll love you always. But I think you have an apology to make as well.”

Clint hesitates, ducks his head. “Sorry I said that—about you having to go back where you came from.”

“It’s okay,” Bucky says immediately. He understands why Clint said it, he wouldn’t want an outsider to see him in such a vulnerable state either. He desperately tries to come up with a way to make this better. “I can wear protection too if it’ll help.” That’s something Daddy offered to do for him during his trial, and anyway, it’s not like he has any of his own underwear here.

Clint looks a lot less upset at that. “Okay,” he says shyly after a pause, and Bucky feels marginally better as he takes the clothes into the bathroom to get dressed. 

He pauses outside the door and carefully turns to ask Daddy Two if he can take a shower. Daddy Two says yes, but tells Bucky to leave the door open a crack and not lock it. Bucky doesn’t like that. It doesn’t feel safe. Someone could come in and see and touch and - he doesn’t think anyone here plays the bad games but it’s hard to feel sure, especially with Buddy Bear still sitting on the bed. And Clint said that Phil is his boyfriend last night and that means they touch but Clint is little and that’s no good—  

Bucky forces himself to take a deep breath. Daddy Two is a good daddy and Bucky doesn’t think that he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to Clint. 

Bucky waits until the door is as closed as he’s allowed and sets the stack of clothes down on the sink and immediately shucks his pants so he can get rid of the diaper. He purposefully doesn’t look in the mirror. He doesn’t want to know how it looks. Despite what Daddy Two just said Bucky feels so pathetic for needing to wear it. His old Daddy would think he's disgusting—but it doesn’t matter what his old Daddy would say, Bucky reminds himself sternly, and he knows his daddy would want him to wear the diapers so he can sleep.

This tower has a special garbage chute in the bathroom, so Bucky doesn’t even have to worry about anyone finding it. He starts the shower and gets out a clean towel and carefully puts all of his laundry in the laundry chute.

The shower takes away the last remnants of his bad dream and the gross, itchy feeling of having an accident. He tries not to stay in too long, because he doesn’t want Daddy Two to get worried and come in. Bucky likes the way Clint’s special soap smells and the way that this daddy uses the same shampoo as his daddy does.

Once he’s dry, he carefully considers the clothes he’s been given. The pull-up is thicker than the ones he wears at home, but not by a lot. It’s printed with little purple monkeys, which makes Bucky think it’s probably Clint’s. It’s kind of a weird thought to be having. Last night he didn’t really have time to think about Clint also having accidents. Bucky has never met someone who has accidents like he does. And it turns out that Clint doesn’t just wet the bed, he also sometimes has accidents during the day too. It’s weird but it’s also kind of nice. It’s harder to feel embarrassed when he knows Clint, who’s an Avenger and brave and strong, has accidents just like Bucky does. Daddy has always said that anyone could have accidents and it didn’t mean he was bad, but it was hard to believe. But Bucky knows Clint isn’t bad.  

Clint is really, really good.

And he’s been mostly really nice to Bucky even though Bucky keeps messing up and saying mean things. Clint’s shared his Daddy and his clothes and his bed with Bucky. Clint, Bucky thinks, is a good friend in every world.   

Carefully, Bucky puts the pull-up on. He can’t think about it too hard or he’ll start feeling really embarrassed. He’s doing this to apologize to Clint, because he made Clint feel really bad about himself. Bucky just has to keep repeating that in his head. The pull-up doesn’t feel that different from his and it fits fine, so Bucky quickly covers it up with the jeans and t-shirt that Daddy Two gave him. The t-shirt has a picture of a cat in a box on it and says if I fits, I sits. It makes Bucky giggle. When he’s absolutely positive that no one will see the pull-up through his borrowed jeans, he slips back into the bedroom. 

Clint is shrieking with laughter while Daddy Two tickles his tummy. Bucky stares with wide eyes. He doesn’t really liked to be tickled, unless it’s really gentle. All the touching kind of scares him. But Clint is acting like it’s the best thing to ever happen to him.  He’s laughing so hard it almost sounds like he can’t breathe, but in a good way. Bucky didn’t know that could be a good thing. 

Buddy Bear thinks it looks like a lot of fun. He thinks that this Daddy and Clint are really, really good at having fun. Daddy Two looks up and smiles, big and bright, at Bucky.

“G'morning, bud.” Bucky likes that Daddy Two calls him bud and buddy . It makes him feel like they’re really friends, even though they just met each other. He noticed that Daddy Two calls Clint baby and lovebug, but those sound like special nicknames, sort of like when Daddy calls him lamb. It seems like Daddy Two has been Clint’s daddy for a long time. Bucky’s not sure how that happened, because they said that it’s only 2014 and Bucky just came back to the tower.  

It’s also weird that the other Bucky and Clint share a daddy. Bucky’s got Tasha, who’s his sister, but she doesn’t call anyone Mommy or Daddy. This world’s Bucky and Clint are brothers in a different way. Bucky doesn’t know if he could share Daddy like that. 

“You ready for some breakfast?” Daddy Two asks. He tosses Clint over his shoulder and Clint squeals and laughs some more. Bucky smiles shyly at his feet. Daddy Two plays differently with Clint than any daddy Bucky has ever seen before. It’s kind of like Thor, but even more. Bucky didn’t know that was possible. He gets Buddy Bear from the bed and holds him close as he follows Daddy Two and Clint to the kitchen.

Clint is already talking. This Clint talks a lot. It’s weird, because Bucky’s Clint is pretty quiet, except with Natasha. Bucky wonders if it’s different when Clint is big, or if he’s still talkative and the two Clints are just different.

“Daddy Two,” Bucky asks quietly as he sets Buddy Bear on the table. “Could we maybe have pancakes for breakfast?” He doesn’t think it’s bad here, to ask for things, but he’s not sure. But Buddy Bear really wants Bucky to have pancakes for breakfast and he’s very noisy when he wants something.  

“Yeah! Pancakes, Daddy! I want one that looks like a puppy!” Clint says, sitting up on his knees. Bucky’s never had a pancake that looks like a puppy and he’s not sure if he wants one. But then he remembers his Daddy making apple bunnies with omelet blankets and he thinks that a puppy pancake would probably be pretty good.

Daddy Two smiles. “That sounds good to me, boys.” Bucky likes that Daddy Two includes Bucky with Clint, like they’re equal and Bucky matters.

Once Daddy Two has started cooking, Clint looks at Bucky with squinty eyes. Bucky starts to get nervous. Maybe Clint is still mad about this morning. Maybe he doesn’t want Bucky to eat his daddy’s pancakes. 

“You should call him Dadu,” Clint says instead. “‘Cause he’s not actually number two, ‘cause he was here first and there isn’t really a second daddy, but he’d be your second daddy so instead you should just call him Dadu.” Clint nods. He looks very serious. Bucky sneaks a peek at Daddy Two. He’s smiling.

“Dadu?” Bucky repeats, not quite sure. Daddy Two might not like that. Bucky isn’t really his little boy, after all, and he doesn’t know if it’s okay to call Daddy Two any kind of daddy.

“I’d be honored if you wanted to call me Dadu, Bucky,” Daddy Two says quietly. His eyes are very soft and kind when he says it, just like Bucky’s daddy. It’s nice. “But I’m not trying to replace your daddy, okay? You call me whatever is most comfortable for you, whether that’s Steve or Daddy Two or Dadu or Funny Uncle Bob, okay?” 

Clint and Bucky both giggle at the idea of calling Daddy Two 'Funny Uncle Bob'. Bucky thinks about it for a minute. Dadu’s kinda a nice name—he isn’t his daddy, but he is important and taking care of him, even though it’s a lot of work and he doesn’t have to. Bucky’s not his friend or his family, not like he is to Daddy. Daddy Two didn’t get mad that Bucky couldn’t eat dinner last night or that he needs to wear pull-ups or even that Bucky said such an awful thing this morning and Bucky thinks that means he’s a really good daddy. Bucky can’t call him ‘Daddy’, but Dadu feels right. 

“I like Dadu,” he whispers, reaching out to hold onto Buddy Bear. Dadu smiles a huge smile and gives Bucky a long, warm, cozy hug which lasts until Clint tells them the pancakes are burning.

Dadu makes Bucky a pancake that looks exactly like Bucky Bear. Bucky can’t decide if he wants to eat it at all. Dadu laughs a little and takes a picture, which he promises to print so Bucky can take it home. Dadu’s pancakes aren’t quite as yummy as the Commander’s, but Bucky doesn’t say that. It wouldn’t be polite. Plus, they’re definitely prettier.

After breakfast Dadu has to help Clint change his shirt. This Clint is a very messy eater—the messiest eater Bucky’s ever seen. But Dadu didn’t get mad when Clint got his breakfast all over himself. He just rolled his eyes and winked at Bucky, like Clint was just being silly. 

Once Clint isn’t sticky anymore, Dadu asks if they want to play in the fort again. 

“Yeah! Fort!” Clint yells. Bucky startles a little. He’s never been around someone little who’s so loud . Dadu smiles and winks at Bucky again and puts his hand on his shoulder.

“Clint can be a little noisy, can’t he?” Dadu says, quietly, so just Bucky can hear. Clint’s already run into the living room and is yelling at them to hurry up. Bucky would never yell at his daddy like that.

“Yuhuh,” Bucky mumbles, clutching at Buddy Bear. He feels a little nervous about agreeing, even though Dadu said it first. He doesn’t want Dadu to think he’s rude or ungrateful or anything.

“That’s hard for my Bucky too.” That makes Bucky feel a lot better, actually. Dadu puts his arm around Bucky’s shoulders and guides him into the living room. “You let me know if it gets to be too much and you need a break, okay?” 

Bucky nods. Clint pokes his head out of the tent. He’s grinning. Buddy Bear thinks he looks like he’s having a lot of fun. Bucky thinks so too. 

“Clinty, remember to keep your inside voice on, okay?”

“Okay Daddy!” Clint chirps. “Now, c’mon . The pirates are gonna invade the fort and we havta defend it!”

Bucky’s eyes go wide. He’s never played pirates before. He glances over at Dadu. He’s smiling at Clint, and he says, “Well we wouldn’t want that - are the pillow cannons ready?” Dadu gets down to his hands and knees and crawls into the fort.

Bucky hesitates a minute. He doesn’t want to intrude on Clint and Dadu’s special play time, and he’s not sure if they want him to play pirates, and he doesn’t know how, so he might play it all wrong—

“Bucky, c’mon! Buddy Bear’s gonna be the captain!”

Buddy Bear likes the sound of that. And Bucky really, really wants to know what a pillow cannon is. 

It turns out that a pillow cannon is when Dadu makes a big pile of pillows and launches Clint into them. Clint flies through the air and lands in a heap and laughs the whole time. It looks fun, but also kind of scary. What if you landed wrong? What if Dadu tossed too high? There were a lot of things that could go wrong. But Clint pops right back up and runs back to Dadu, hollering, “Again! Again!” 

Dadu seems happy to do it as many times as Clint wants, in between bouts of pretending to be a pirate. Clint wards Dadu-the-pirate off with pillows and blankets, but Bucky doesn’t think he can do that. He shakes, imagining what his last daddy would have done if he hit him with a pillow or tried to tie him up with a blanket. And Bucky doesn’t want to hit anyone, even if he’s just playing.

Bucky mostly stays inside the fort and he and Buddy Bear plan the battles and Clint reports to them. Clint’s really good at coming up with pretend reports about the pirate ships and the different pirates he has to fight and it’s hard not to get caught up in at all. It’s a very exciting game.

Dadu scoops Clint up as he runs at him with another pillow, laughing and spinning around.

“Wow! What fierce little boys I have! Do my warriors want some juice?”

Dadu talks about Bucky like Bucky is his little boy too. It makes Bucky feel confused. A part of him likes it, because it makes him feel less scared and alone. He feels guilty for liking it so much. His old daddy would have been so mad if Bucky let someone else take care of him and part of Bucky thinks that maybe his new daddy will feel that way too. Mostly he knows that Daddy would just want him to be safe and happy, but it’s really confusing and it makes Bucky’s tummy feel weird. 

“Yuhuh! I want apple juice, Daddy! Can I have it in my Einsteins cup?” Bucky crawls the rest of the way out of the fort, which is mostly destroyed. Dadu smiles at him and Bucky remembers how hard Dadu has worked to make Bucky feel safe here. He’s just trying to be a good daddy, Bucky knows that. He’s not trying to take over for Bucky’s daddy. 

It occurs to Bucky that his daddy is probably taking care of the other Bucky—the one who needs so much help and takes baths and gets his diapers changed. Bucky doesn’t like that idea at all, though he’s not sure why. He wonders if the other Bucky is playing bears with Tasha or if Pepper made him vegetable pasta or maybe he’s doing science experiments with Bruce and Tony.

Bucky wishes the fort hadn’t been destroyed so that he could crawl back in it. His tummy hurts and he misses Bucky Bear and Daddy and Natasha and just everyone and he really wants to be back home.

He’s crying, he realizes when Dadu comes up to him, his face worried. “Bucky? Are you alright, buddy?”

Bucky shakes his head and holds Buddy Bear even tighter, so that all his stuffing is pressed flat. Bucky Bear sometimes complains about that, because it's the kind of hug his stuffing has to recover from, but only if Bucky’s not too upset. Bucky Bear is a very good bear and an excellent friend. Buddy Bear thinks the squeezing tickles a little and doesn’t seem to realize that Bucky’s upset at all. 

“What’s wrong?” Dadu says, coming a little closer. He holds his arms open but doesn’t try to hug Bucky. Clint’s waiting right behind—his eyes are big and worried and he’s giving himself a hug around the middle. He looks like he expects something really scary to happen.

“I miss my Daddy,” Bucky admits. He’s worried that Dadu will think he’s ungrateful, or that Bucky thinks he’s a bad daddy. But Dadu doesn’t get mad or even sad. 

He just says, “Oh, bud. Of course you do. It’s very hard to be away from home, isn’t it?” 

Bucky nods. His throats feels tight and there’s a weight in his chest. He’s trying not to cry, he’s trying to be a big boy, but he just misses home so much . This isn’t like spending the night at the Commander’s or Crystal’s. Bucky doesn’t know if he’ll ever get home.  

He lets Dadu hug him. Dadu wraps him up tight and picks him up and rocks back and forth, just a little, and bounces. Daddy rocks him, but not like this. This is how mommies and daddies soothe real babies and Bucky wants to be embarrassed about that, but mostly it feels really calming. Dadu doesn’t tell him to stop crying or be quiet, just bounces him and lets him cry, humming a little to calm him.

When Bucky finishes crying he feels all worn out, but in a good way. It's like he got rid of a lot of the sadness inside him. He still misses his daddy and his family and Bucky Bear, but it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. 

“There we go,” Dadu is saying. “Sometimes we just need to cry, don’t we, Clint?”

“Yuhuh,” Clint mumbles. Dadu is picking him up too. It’s really weird. Daddy only ever carries him at home, and he certainly never carries two people at once. But this daddy does it without even thinking about it. Bucky guesses that makes sense, since he has two little boys instead of one. It’s still strange to look across Dadu’s body and see someone else there, or to put his arm around Dadu’s neck and brush against Clint’s arm too. 

“Let’s get you boys some juice, hmm? Bucky, we’ve got apple juice, grape juice, and lemonade. Which would you like?” 

“Grape juice, please,” Bucky whispers. 

Dadu sets them down at the kitchen table and goes to get juice. Clint is looking at Bucky very carefully. Finally, Clint says, “s’okay to be sad, Bucky. I miss home when I go places too.”

The words make him feel a lot better.

After they drink their juice out of cups with fancy straws, Dadu makes them both go to the bathroom. When he did that yesterday, it made Bucky feel like a baby and he even felt a little mad at Dadu. He can remember to go on his own, after all.

But it makes sense, now that he knows that Clint has accidents in the daytime. The other Bucky probably does, too, now that he thinks about it. Clint just doesn’t remember sometimes and Dadu is just trying to help, because that’s what daddies do. Bucky’s Daddy has brought him to the bathroom before, when Bucky first came to the tower and he was too scared to go by himself. This isn’t so different. 

Clint and Bucky take turns in the bathroom, and then Dadu leads them to the elevator. One of Clint's hands is holding tight onto Dadu’s, but his other is pressed up against his chin, his thumb in his mouth and his purple blanket rubbing on his nose. Bucky blushes a little and looks down at his shoes. Clint just looks so little when he sucks his thumb. Bucky would be really embarrassed if anyone saw him doing that. He’s done it a couple times, by mistake, but even when he’s five he’s too old for that. 

But Dadu doesn’t seem to mind that Clint does it. Bucky knows that his daddy wouldn’t mind, either, but it’s different, seeing a daddy actually being okay with it. It’s just so different from his old daddy, who had so many rules…

Bucky holds tight onto Buddy Bear and reminds himself that this daddy isn’t like that at all. The only scary thing that’s happened, aside from being so far away from home, is that Clint said Phil is his boyfriend. But Bucky is trying not to worry about that too much. Crystal has told him that some people love each other without playing any grown-up games. Maybe that’s how Phil and Clint love each other. That would be...okay, Bucky thinks, except Phil is from SHIELD and he still feels really uneasy about that.

Bucky ducks behind Dadu a little when the elevator doors open. He understands, now, why none of his family seems quite right—the other Bucky has only been here a little bit and they’re still learning. Bucky can only sort of remember that time, because he was trying all sorts of different medications to make his brain work better. He misses home, where his family already understands him. 

“Good morning! Excellent timing,” Pepper says, with a smile. “Bruce just brought up your meds, Bucky.”

That's really good news. Bucky hasn’t been feeling bad, but he knows that when he's not taking his medicine, he could start having problems any second. Bruce puts all his pills into a little bowl and Natasha gets him a glass of water. He makes sure to smile at her when she gives it to him, but her face is still set in a frown. Bucky’s tummy squeezes a little and he looks away. He knows she’s not his Tasha, but it still feels really wrong. He takes his medicine and mumbles a quick “Thank you.”

Clint must see that he’s not feeling very good, because he lets go of Dadu’s hand and comes to stand behind Bucky.

“All these people around can be kinda scary,” he whispers.

Bucky nods, because it is. It used to be scary being around everyone when he first came to the Tower, but now that he’s more used to things, he’s okay with them all. But these versions are a little eerie in how they look just the same as his family back home, but they all act just different enough to make everything feel off. Bucky doesn’t like it. 

Clint squeezes his hand. “There’s a place I go to get away from scary stuff. Wanna see?”

Bucky almost asks if Dadu would be upset that they’re leaving without asking, but then he catches Natasha’s eye and there’s that not-smile again and all of a sudden he just wants to be anywhere else. 

So he lets Clint lead him away while the grown-ups are busy talking. He’s kind of curious about this hiding place, and he isn’t disappointed when Clint points to a vent near the top of the wall. 

But. “Is it dark in there?” He doesn’t like the dark. Really, really doesn’t like it. The Soldier wouldn’t mind it, and he’d be really good at navigating the vent system. But he definitely shouldn’t be the Soldier here. His friends back home didn’t used to like the Soldier, he doesn’t think. It took a long time before they were all okay with each other. He doesn’t even know how these people would react. He thinks of Dadu holding him down this morning and shudders.

“Umm. A little. But there’s light from all the vents in the halls. You can still see. Prob’ly better than me, ‘cause you got super-soldier eyes.” 

He doesn’t want to seem like a baby, and if Clint’s not scared then he can’t act like he is either. It’s not too hard to jump to the vent, not with his super-soldier body, although he thinks a regular person would have a pretty hard time getting in here. There’s more space to move around than he’d thought there'd be, too, which is good, because he sometimes dark tight spaces give him panic attacks. This seems less scary than he thought, though. 

As he follows Clint through the maze of tunnels, he wishes Bucky Bear was here. He'd find this really interesting, especially thinking about how he could use this to strategize his defense of the tower. 

Bucky just tries to remember which way he’s going so he doesn’t get lost. But the Soldier’s better at that than he is, and anyway, Clint seems to know exactly where they’re headed. Sure enough, they come to a spot partway in the tunnel just full of blankets and pillows. It looks like Clint’s been using this place as a hideaway for a while; there’s a box of crackers and lots of packets of gummy snacks in the little nest.

“So you just come in here and hide?”

“Yuhuh,” Clint says happily, “There’re some photo albums an’ a flashlight for when I’m grown-up, an’ I can look at pictures of birds an’ other cool stuff. But mostly I just listen to music or take a nap when I’m here. It’s just good to have a little place that’s all hidden away.”

“Uh-huh.” It is kind of cool, like a whole bunch of secret passages through the Tower. And Bucky definitely knows what it’s like to want to get away from staring eyes and too many people. It occurs to him that Clint might not have shown this to the others and a warm feeling flutters in his chest.  

For a little while they just sit together in the blanket nest, throwing blankets over each other and giggling, and since Clint’s already so fidgety it takes Bucky a minute to realize he’s squirming around in a familiar sort of way.

He doesn’t seem to realize he’s doing it, and Bucky’s not sure he should bring it up. He doesn’t want Clint to be embarrassed, but then again, having an accident in front of his friends is pretty much the most embarrassing thing Bucky can think of.

“Um…” he whispers, cheeks heating a little, “Clint? Do you need to go to the bathroom?”

Clint sits straight up, his eyes widening. “Yes!” He scrambles out of his tangle of blankets, trying to clumsily crawl away with one hand jammed between his legs.

Bucky follows awkwardly, not sure if he can help. Clint pauses a couple times to squirm and squeeze at himself, not meeting Bucky’s eyes. “It’s okay,” Bucky whispers to him, “Even if you had an accident I wouldn’t make fun of you, I promise." 

Clint sniffles, squeezing his legs tight together. “I don’t think I can make it,” he whispers back, “I hafta go really bad, I can’t move.” 

“Um.” Bucky considers. “Could I carry you? Like, on my back?” His daddy back home carries him all the time, and Bucky’s got super-soldier strength just like his. Clint probably weighs less than he does, too.

“M’not sure.” Clint experimentally wriggles up onto Bucky’s back and it’s a little awkward, shimmying back through the tunnels with a squirming body on his back, but when he was the Soldier he had to carry heavier loads through tighter spaces. He can do it.

Clint’s shaky breathing sounds dangerously close to crying. Bucky doesn’t want Clint to cry. He doesn’t want him to feel bad at all. He’s whimpering in Bucky’s ear and Bucky’s starting to feel really concerned. Maybe they shouldn’t have left Dadu after all. 

“You doing okay?” he whispers. 

“Can you go faster?” Clint whimpers, “I’unno if I can hold it.”

“It’s okay,” Bucky says, thinking of Dadu changing him and playing around with him this morning, “And Dadu won’t be mad.” 

“M’such a baby. ” Clint lets go of Bucky’s arm to wipe his nose on his sleeve. 

“You’re not a baby,” Bucky promises, feeling terrible all over again about this morning. “I really didn’t mean it, when I said that.” He thinks about his daddy back home, never acting like the bedwetting made Bucky any lesser in his eyes. “I promise I don’t think that about you. You’re my friend.”

“Okay,” Clint whispers, and then just like that, there’s more light and Bucky can see the exit hole and Dadu’s right there below them, waiting.

He doesn’t look too happy, and if they’re in trouble then Bucky figures he’ll take his consequences if he has to. He shouldn’t have left Dadu without telling where he was going and he knows it.

But right now the important thing is delivering his squirming, tearful friend into his daddy’s arms.

*

Bucky is almost all the way asleep when otha’Daddy slips out of the room. Bucky turns over, so he can see the door and the night-light, and waits for him to come back. Odie wasn’t wearin’ any pjs, and Bucky thinks he probably just went to go change. Or maybe he’s getting a grown-up book to read or a sippy cup with milk for Bucky, in case he wakes up.

But he waits and he waits and Odie doesn’t come back. The room is too quiet. There’s no Clint mumblin’ in his sleep or Daddy making his little wheezy noises. It’s dark and it’s quiet and there’s nothing to remind Bucky where he is. He holds the dolly real tight against his chest. His dog tags are all the way in the bathroom 'cause Bucky doesn’t wear those when he sleeps, 'cause they get all tangly around his throat, which is really scary. He wishes he had them, though, since he doesn’t have a paci. He slips the doll’s foot into his mouth. It’s not the same, but it helps to remind his body he’s not with Hydra and that he’s someplace safe.

It’s not enough, though. Bucky really needs Daddy, or at least, otha’Daddy. He shivers a little and tries not to get scared. But he can’t find his body’s edges and he misses his Daddy and his Clint and it’s hard , he doesn’t want to be here, he wants to be home, where he never, ever has to sleep alone, ever.

Bucky Bear is sitting on the bedside table. His eyes are dark and shiny, but not as scary as before. Now he looks like he’s making sure the room is safe. Bucky doesn’t think the room can be safe unless there’s a daddy in it. Bucky curls up tight under the blankets and tries to pretend he’s at home. 

He starts to cry. Bucky tries to stay quiet, cause he doesn’t want to wake anybody up. He knows he’s a lotta work—a lot more than the other Bucky—and Odie probably needs a break and doesn’t want to see Bucky until the morning. And otha’Daddy’s already been so, so nice—he didn’t get mad at Bucky for havin’ an accident or wearin’ pull-ups or nothin. He even gave him a bath.

Bucky can probably sleep by himself. Probably.

But he doesn’t have his medicine yet and that means he’ll have scary dreams and there won’t be anyone there when he wakes up and there won’t be a daddy to hug all the bad feelings away and give Bucky milk and sing to him until he falls back to sleep. And there won’t be any Clint or Thor either—no Clint with funny jokes and hugs and middle of the night snacks and no Thor with cuddles and snores and his big arms to protect Bucky from bad things.

Bucky’s face is all wet and his body is shaking and his chest feels too tight and he feels very, very alone. He doesn’t mean to scratch his tummy, but his fingers just do it, cause that’s what they do when he feels upset and he knows they shouldn’t and it’s bad but he can’t help it. He’s so scared and lonely and he wants his Daddy real bad.

Bucky jumps when JARVIS asks MASTER BARNES, WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO CALL CAPTAIN ROGERS FOR YOU? Bucky just whimpers. He doesn’t want Odie to come see how bad he’s being but he doesn’t want to be alone and he can’t choose…

The door opens a moment later. Odie is there. He looks real sleepy and his eyes are all red and Bucky woke up him up and he shoulda just taken care of himself like he’s s’posed too. He cries a little harder. 

“Bucky? Did you have a nightmare?” Odie asks. He comes to sit by the side of the bed and turns on a little light that glows red, sort of like the night-light that this room’s got. 

Bucky buries his head in the pillow, doesn’t want Odie to see him. 

“Honey, it’s alright. I know it’s scary being here. Do you think you can take a couple deep breaths?” That’s almost like something Daddy might say, so Bucky does. He breathes long and slow, just like Daddy taught him when he first came to the tower.

“That’s it,” otha’Daddy says, giving Bucky a crinkly eyed smile. “Can you tell me why you got so upset?” 

Bucky doesn’t think he can. His words had been better after the bath, but they feel all knotted up again.

“Can’t sleep ‘lone,” Bucky manages softly. 

Odie’s eyes go big and wide. They look kinda scary in the red light. “Oh.” Bucky hates it when Odie says oh 'cause what it really means is my Bucky doesn’t need that . Bucky curls up tight and closes his eyes. He tries to pretend that Daddy and Clint are just in the bathroom, Clinty’s just takin’ his bath, and then they’ll come lie with him and it will be all better.  

“Do you want me to sleep with you?” Odie asks. Bucky nods. His throat feels tight and his chest is heavy and he’s not sure he really wants that at all. Cause he’s still wearin’ just a pull-up and it’ll prolly leak, even though Bucky ‘membered to go potty. And he’s gonna have scary nightmares like he did before he started to take his medicines. And he doesn’t want to be too much trouble for Odie cause Odie might decide Bucky’s too much work and make him leave and that would be—

Bucky doesn’t want to think about it.

Odie stands up and Bucky’s heart maybe stops. “I’m going to get a couple extra blankets from the couch. I’ll be right back.” He smiles and then just leaves. And even though he said he’s gonna come back it’s hard for Bucky to believe it and his breath starts going all fast and funny—and then Odie’s back.

“Have you ever used a therapy blanket before, Bucky?” Odie asks, sitting on the edge of the bed again. Bucky shakes his head numbly. He feels like a soda bottle that got shook and shook and shook and everything sprayed out and now there’s just a little soda at the bottom that tastes kinda funny. “It’s weighted. Sometimes the—pressure can help people feel calm. Do you want to try it?”

Bucky just shrugs, which Odie takes as a yes. He drapes the blanket over Bucky’s feet and - Bucky can feel his feet and his toes and his legs and where they are on the bed and if he moves them just a little bit, the blanket is heavy enough to tell him where they are, and it’s almost (almost) as good as getting a big, tight squeeze from Daddy. Bucky tries to smile at Odie to show him how much he likes it. Odie smiles back and tucks the rest of Bucky’s body under the blanket. The blanket reminds Bucky that his body is his.

And Odie climbs into bed next to him and gives him a cuddle and a kiss and then everything doesn’t feel quite so scary or bad.

But it doesn’t last, because the scary dreams come to get him. 

First he dreams of Odie and not-Thor and not-Clint and they take him and they put him in a chair and they say that he’s bad and he’s too much work and nobody could ever love him and they’re gonna send him back to Hydra but first they have to put the soldier back in his brain, because he’s no good without the soldier, and Bucky doesn’t want it, he doesn’t want to be the soldier and hurt people. He wants to be him even though he’s broke and he’s bad and he’s hard work and he makes Daddy tired and he distracts him from Clint, it’s better than being the soldier, and he screams and screams and—  

Odie isn’t in bed anymore. Odie’s standing next to the bed, calling Bucky’s name. Bucky curls up tight. Odie’s gonna take him to put the soldier in, he’s sure of it, and he can’t, he won’t—

“Sweetheart, it was just a nightmare. It’s okay, you’re safe here. I’m not going to touch you until you’re calm, okay?” 

Why? Bucky wants to holler. He needs his hug. Bucky sticks his arm out and makes the sign for want. JARVIS makes it into words.

“What do you want, honey?” Odie’s face is all creased up and worried-looking and Bucky did that and he’s—Bucky grabs his dolly and holds it real tight. The scratches on his belly sting and he doesn’t want to hurt himself anymore. Daddy wouldn’t like it.

“Hug,” Bucky whimpers and Odie is immediately hugging him. It’s almost tight enough. Bucky cries into Odie’s shirt, but he doesn’t wipe his nose like Clint does. He wants some milk and another story. His pull-up is wet between his legs, but he doesn’t think he can tell Odie that. He doesn’t even tell Thor that. (Thor checks now, like Daddy does, but that’s too embarrassing to think about). 

Odie hugs him tight for a long time and it helps. It helps a lot.

He even knows to ask, “Do you need to clean up, Bucky?”

Bucky blushes but he nods. He doesn’t think the pull-up will last all the way t’morning if he doesn’t change now. Odie picks him up and carries him into the bathroom. The first time Odie did this, he acted like he didn’t want to touch Bucky at all and Bucky felt like the grossest little boy ever. And the other Bucky doesn’t have problems like he does, that’s what Odie said. He just wets the bed sometimes. He doesn’t have daytime accidents like Bucky and Bucky just felt so little and ashamed and awful.

But the second time wasn’t so bad, cause Odie gave him a bath and helped him get dressed and gave him another pull-up without Bucky having to use his words.

This time is better.

Odie lies him down on the bathmat and helps him take his pants off and gets rid of the wet pull-up and puts on a new one (it has Daddy’s shield on it and even though Bucky usually likes his protection to be plain, he thinks that’s pretty cool). Odie doesn’t even act like it’s gross when he cleans Bucky’s skin. He doesn’t do it the same way Daddy does it, and doesn’t talk to him or blow on his belly or tickle under his knees, but that’s okay. Bucky doesn’t really want anyone but Daddy to do those things anyway.

After he’s clean, Bucky feels good enough to ask, “Milk, please?”

Odie startles a little and looks down at him, eyes big again.

“Milk?” Odie repeats. Bucky tries to make himself a little smaller. Maybe milk isn’t allowed? But he nods, because Odie asked him a question.

He even makes himself say, “please?” again.

“O—okay,” otha’Daddy says, a little funny sounding. But he carries Bucky out to the little kitchen on this floor. There’s some cups with straws in them, which aren’t real sippy cups and Bucky worries about spilling, and Odie fills up an orange cup halfway with milk. He puts the top and the straw on and hands it to Bucky. 

Bucky can feel Odie watching while he drinks, and his skin does a not-good tingly thing. But the milk is good. It makes his throat feel better and it tastes like home and Daddy and feeling better.  

Odie has him finish his milk in the kitchen and carries Bucky back to the bed, tucks him in all careful-like and lies down next to him. Bucky wishes he had a pacifier and that Clint was there. 

And then he falls asleep.

The next dream starts out good. He’s at home, with Daddy and Clint and Thor. They’re finger-painting. At first there are lots of colors, blues and purples and greens, but then they get redder and redder until it’s blood and they are dipping their fingers into Bucky’s body and they’re painting a picture of all the people the soldier hurt and—  

It’s so dark and Bucky’s skin hurts and the world is screaming or maybe that’s him and he tastes blood and he needs Steve and he needs Daddy and he isn’t safe all he wants is to be safe.

Someone is crying.

When Bucky opens his eyes, he’s under the bed. It’s still dark. Slowly, slowly, Bucky listens to his body like his daddy taught him to. His chest is all tight and his heart it beating real fast. There are burny lines of pain on his belly. Bucky sobs. He musta hurt himself when he was scared. Bucky’s fingers and toes tingle in a hurty kind of way and his knees feel like they’re made out of jello. His pull up is wet again. He feels like the worst ever. He’s so much trouble for Odie.

Odie is lying down next to the bed. He's crying and asking Bucky to please calm down, telling him it’s gonna be okay, that nothing is gonna happen to him. There’s light coming in through the door and there are other voices talking all quiet in the hall and Bucky doesn’t like that cause he doesn’t know who’s there and that’s scary cause they could be bad people who came to hurt Odie and him. 

Bucky whimpers. Odie’s head whips around to look at him better. Bucky goes to tuck his thumb up in his mouth—but there’s blood on his hand and on his face and that makes Bucky cry.

“Oh, sweetheart. I was so worried—can—can you come a little closer?” Bucky doesn’t know, but he tries. When he’s squirmed must of the way t’Odie, Odie reaches out and helps Bucky get out from under the bed and then otha’Daddy is lifting Bucky up and cradling him close and Bucky can tuck his face into Odie’s shoulder. Odie smells different than Daddy, but he doesn’t smell like Hydra or blood or ash or anything bad. Odie rocks him back and forth and cries. Daddy doesn’t usually cry unless Bucky’s big or they’re at therapy with Annie. Bucky kinda pats Odie on his back—he feels real bad for making him cry.

Someone comes into the room and Bucky tries to hide in Odie. It’s Sam. Bucky has only met his Sam once because Sam lives in Washington D.C. and can’t be around a lot. Daddy talks to him on the phone every week, though. Tasha is there too, though she stays by the door. Bucky thinks there are even more people outside. Everyone is still wearing their pajamas. 

Bucky wonders how long he screamed. 

Sam sits on the floor a little ways away from Bucky and smiles at him. Bucky pushes back into Odie’s chest. 

“Hi, Bucky,” Sam says softly. Bucky wants the dolly Odie gave him and his dog tags and for his thumb to be clean so he can suck it. Odie rubs Bucky’s arm. It hurts a little—Bucky must have fallen out of bed cause he feels like a big bruise. “Steve says you had a really bad nightmare, huh?”

Bucky doesn’t answer that. He only talks about his nightmares with Daddy and Annie and he doesn’t got to talk about them with anybody else. Bucky stares at his lap and grabs a fistful of Odie’s t-shirt to keep his hand busy.

“Steve also said you hit your head when you fell out of bed. I bet that hurt. Would you mind if I took a look, just to make sure you’re not hurt too bad?”

Bucky sniffles. He didn’t know he’d hurt his head. Daddy always gets real worried when Bucky hits his head. He knows that Daddy would want him to let Sam look, to make sure he’s not really hurt, so he nods. The room’s a little spinny and Bucky holds a little tighter to Odie’s shirt. 

Sam scooches a little closer. He moves so slow it looks like he’s goin’ in slow motion. Sam reaches up and puts a hand on Bucky’s cheek. Sam has warm, dry hands. Sam turns Bucky’s head and looks at the side of Bucky’s head. He presses a little and asks Bucky if it hurts. Bucky just kinda shrugs. Mostly his head just feels sticky and rattly, not hurty.

Sam has Bucky look at a little light and follow it with his eyes. Then Sam tries to ask him some questions. Bucky words aren’t up yet—they’re still asleep, he thinks, and he can’t say nothin’ so he just shakes his head and turns around in Odie’s lap. 

Odie looks down in Bucky’s face. He’s still got tears on his face and he looks real worried, but he asks, “Do you want to take a bath, honey? Would that help you feel better?” 

Sam looks a little surprised, but Bucky nods quickly. He always wants a bath. Odie stands up, lifting Bucky too. Bucky clings tight so he doesn’t fall. 

“He took a bath yesterday,” Odie says to Sam. “It really helped him calm down. He talked a lot more too.” 

“Oh, okay. Just keep an eye on his mental status, would you? I don’t think he’s got a concussion, but I could be wrong. And you know how to look after his injuries.”

Odie nods and Bucky wonders if he has any colorful bandaids. Daddy has lots of good band-aids. But the other Bucky doesn’t hurt himself like Bucky and probably isn’t so clumsy, since he doesn’t have accidents or nothin’. Maybe they don’t need to have band-aids. 

Odie carries him into the bathroom and lays him down on the bathmat. It’s not squishy like the one at home, but that’s okay. But it is a little cold and Bucky shivers while he watches Odie turn the bath water on. Odie looks tired and worried and Bucky feels bad all over again. He’s so much work. 

Bucky sits up real careful and starts to take his t-shirt off. He can help  He’ll be good. But the shirt gets all tangled around his neck and Odie has to untangle him anyway. Odie takes off Bucky’s pants, too, and then his wet pull-up. He’s using so many of the other Bucky’s pull-ups and he shouldn’t, he really shouldn’t be. He should be staying dry, ‘specially during the day. Bucky sighs a little.

Odie is staring at the scratches on Bucky’s tummy. Bucky tries to cover them with his hand. He didn’t mean to hurt himself. He doesn’t even remember doing it. Odie looks real sad and worried about it.

Bucky signs sorry and watches as JARVIS puts it in the air for Odie.

Odie tries to smile. He looks like he’s going to ask a question for a moment, but then he doesn’t. He helps Bucky into the bath instead. The bathwater stings his cuts and the water turns a little red where it touches them.

“Why did you—" Odie says suddenly. Bucky flinches a little and Odie does too. “You don’t have to answer that, I’m sorry.”

But Bucky remembers how much Daddy hates it when Bucky hurts himself. Not cause Bucky’s being bad, Daddy says, but because Daddy loves Bucky so much that it hurts him to see Bucky hurt himself. Odie is a good daddy. Odie gets sad and scared when Bucky is sad and scared. Bucky doesn’t want Odie to feel that way.

Scared, he signs. It takes JARVIS a minute to translate. Bucky signs confused and hurts inside. Odie makes a little hurty noise. He leans forward and hesitates a second.  

“Bucky—I. Can I give you a hug?” Bucky nods. He always wants hugs. Odie hugs good and tight this time. He doesn’t even seem to care that he gets all wet. 

Odie remembers that Bucky likes to have his toes washed and even figures out that Bucky’s knees are really ticklish. He’s very careful when he washes Bucky’s scratches and the owie on his head. It hardly hurts at all. Bucky is real glad that Odie is here to take care of him.

It’s just a quick bath, but Bucky feels lots better. He can even tell Odie “thank you” with his voice when Odie wraps him up tight. Odie gets another pull-up out for him—it’s red and it’s got Thor’s hammer on it. Bucky doesn’t usually like to wear pull-ups with decorations 'cause accidents aren’t fun and he shouldn’t get to wear fun things because he has them. But it doesn’t seem like Odie has any plain ones. The other Bucky must like wearing decorated ones like Clint does.

This time Odie carries Bucky into the bedroom before helping him put on his pull-up. Someone cleaned up the mess Bucky made, which makes Bucky feel a little shy. He’s big enough to clean up his own messes. Well. Most of the time, he is.

After Bucky has his pull-up on, Odie asks, “Do you want to pick out clothes today? You can borrow anything.” 

Bucky gets all cold in his chest and quick shakes his head. “You do,” He tells Odie, in a tiny scared voice. Picking out clothes is hard even when Daddy and Clint are there to help. Odie looks a little confused, but he picks out clothes for Bucky anyway. He even helps Bucky get dressed before Bucky can ask.

At home, Bucky always tries to get dressed on his own in the morning, even if he’s little. But he doesn’t want Odie to see how hard it is for him. He wants Odie to think he’s a good boy that can do lots of things. So he lets Odie help.

When Bucky is all dressed in sweatpants and a plain t-shirt, Odie takes his hand. The other Bucky’s clothes are too big and the pants keep slipping down a little. But Bucky thinks the shirt is prob'ly big enough that it covers his pull-up when the pants fall down.

“Let’s go get breakfast, Buck.”

Bucky has to find the dolly and put his dogtags on before they do that, but Odie understands and doesn’t rush him any. They take the elevator to the kitchen and Bucky gets more and more scared. He’s pretty sure Odie is a safe person, but he doesn’t know if anybody else is. This morning Natasha, Clint, Bruce and Sam are in the kitchen when they get there. Somebody made pancakes.

Bucky really likes pancakes but he’s a little nervous about eating. He doesn’t want to eat too much and get sick. Last night at dinner had been okay cause he hadn’t hadda snack and he was real hungry. 

Odie lets Bucky sit on his lap again and Bucky tries not to look at anybody, 'cause he feels shy and squirmy in his skin, and he doesn’t really wanna know if they’re lookin’ at him. Odie tries to feed him again, but Bucky’s feelin’ a lot better this morning. Daddy only feeds him on real bad body days. Bucky puts his dolly down on the table and reaches for the fork that Odie is holding. He wants to show Odie that he can be a big boy.

Odie seems a little surprised, but he lets Bucky feed himself. Bucky hasta ask for help cutting the pancakes so he uses his sign. 

“You sign!” Clint says, sounding surprised. Bucky peeks his eyes up at him. He doesn’t know if he likes this Clint. He’s not little, Bucky doesn’t think, and he’s not his brother, and that’s really confusing and Bucky doesn’t know what to think about him at all. Bucky presses his lips together and slides back into Odie’s chest. He thinks Odie sighs a little and Bucky feel bad cause he’s so useless, he can’t do anything.  

“He does,” Odie says, and he strokes a hand through Bucky’s hair, which makes him feel a little better. “I think he uses it because talking is hard for him. Is that right, Bucky?”

Bucky nods. Odie’s squeezing and stroking now and Bucky feels brave enough to look up a little. Clint is smiling. Natasha is watching him, but her eyes don’t seem as scary as they sometimes feel in his world. Sam is also looking at him, but Bruce is focused on a tablet.

“That’s a good strategy,” Sam says with a big smile. “Who came up with that?”

Bucky doesn’t want to havta make words right now. But he thinks Daddy and Annie would prob’ly say that he should try even though it’s hard.

“Daddy,” Bucky says, real quiet. Everybody smiles at him and his cheeks get real warm and he has to look down at his lap for a minute.

“Your Dad must be pretty smart,” Sam replies. Odie starts to cut up Bucky’s pancakes, which means his hands aren’t on Bucky anymore, but they are on either side of him and Bucky tries to be brave.

“Daddy’s the best,” He agrees in a whisper. Sam laughs a friendly little chuckle.

“I bet he is,” Sam agrees. “He takes real good care of you, huh?” Bucky can feel everyone watching him real careful. They prob’ly wanna know the answers to these questions 'cause they wanna know if the other Bucky is safe. 

“Yuhuh,” Bucky answers. He wants to be able to come up with some more words so that he can tell them that Daddy will take really, really good care of Bucky, but his words don’t wanna do that right now.

“Oh!” Bruce says, looking up. “That reminds me—I have your medicines for you.” Bucky perks up a little. That’s good news. It means maybe he can keep his body safe today and not hurt himself. Maybe things won’t feel so scary. Bruce stands up and goes over to the counter. Bucky watches as he counts out the pills into a little bowl and brings them over to Bucky. 

Bruce smiles and sets the little bowl in front of him. 

“Thank you,” Bucky whispers. 

“You’re welcome, Bucky. I’m still working on the medicine you take to help you sleep. It doesn’t stay in your system like the others do. Do you remember anything about it? What it looks like, maybe? It’s okay if you don’t.”

Bucky nibbles at his lips and hits his fork on the plate while he thinks. Odie keeps rubbing Bucky’s back while he thinks, just like Bucky’s daddy does to loosen up his words. “S’blue, witha green bottle,” he finally tells Bruce. Bruce smiles even bigger and nods. 

“I think I know which one you’re talking about. I’ll make sure you have it for tonight.”

That makes Bucky feel really good—not just 'cause he ‘membered but 'cause he’ll be able to sleep good tonight, with no more scary dreams.

Bucky works on finishing his pancakes and then Odie asks him what he wants to drink to swallow his pills. Bucky tells him milk and Clint gets up to get it and puts it in a regular glass and Bucky’s gonna make a big mess if he drinks out of that. 

He looks back at Odie with big wide eyes. Odie smiles at him and says, “I’ll hold the cup, okay?”

Bucky relaxes and nods. That’s how Daddy and he do his pills too. He wiggles around on Odie’s lap and opens his mouth so Odie can put the pills on his tongue like Daddy does. But Odie just sorta looks at him and Clint makes a little laughing noise and Bucky snaps his mouth closed and blushes. He trembles a little. He keeps messing up and acting so stupid. But he can’t pick the little pills up. His fingers get all confused and he always drops them and it just works better if Daddy does it, but clearly the other Bucky doesn’t need that and Bucky will just havta do it himself.

Bucky reaches out to get the pills and knocks the bowl over by mistake. He flinches back into Odie and whimpers.

“It’s okay, Bucky, don’t worry about that,” Odie says quickly. “This is just one of those things that I have to learn, okay?” Bucky doesn’t know what to say so he doesn’t say anything. But Odie does pick the pills up and holds them up to Bucky’s lips. Hesitantly, Bucky opens his mouth again. Clint’s prob’ly gonna laugh at him again or Natasha might call him a baby or—

Odie puts the pills one by one in his mouth and lets Bucky swallow them with little sips of milk. They all look the same as the ones at home and soon they’re all sliding down into his tummy to help him be healthy and safe. Odie wants him to eat some more pancakes or a smoothie but Bucky doesn’t wanna just in case his belly decides to be angry. Odie sighs a little and looks worried, but he doesn’t get mad.

Bucky promises himself that he’ll try to eat a little more at lunch time. He drinks all his milk and a cup of juice, though, and Odie fills a sippy cup up with water to bring to the playroom. Natasha and Clint and Sam all come with them, and that feels like a lotta people. Too many, Bucky thinks.

Odie puts him down on the couch and sits next to him. “We can do whatever you like for now, Bucky. In a little while we’re gonna have some people come and talk to you.” Bucky goes really, really tense because he can’t talk to strangers, he can’t, and how many people is some people because he already feels like this many is sorta too much for his head to make sense of.

“Just therapists,” Steve adds quickly, “Two of them. And I’ll stay with you the whole time, I promise. They won’t make you do anything you don’t want, okay?”

Bucky nods, even though it’s not okay, because his brain can’t deal with that and he needs to put it out of his mind right now. He’d ask to watch a movie, but he doesn’t know if words will come and Natasha’s coming over and he real quick hides himself in Odie. Odie hugs him and for a minute he just breathes and listens to Odie’s heartbeat and takes in his not-quite-Daddy smell. 

“Hey,” comes Natasha’s voice, really soft, “I won’t hurt you, Bucky. I just was thinking maybe we could play a little.” 

Her voice sounds different than before and Bucky’s not sure what to make of it. His world’s Natasha has only ever played with him a couple times and she was always kinda weird about him and Clinty bein’ little. He’s not sure how he feels about her, but this Natasha sounds different. 

Bucky’s not sure how he feels about that, so he just keeps hiding in Odie. He hopes he won’t be in trouble; his daddy back home always understands when he can’t do words.

“Careful with him, Tasha,” Odie says gently. “He’s younger than you or our Bucky. Just give him his space and make sure you’re gentle with him.”

For a moment Bucky thinks he misheard, and he peeks out and Natasha with one eye. She gives him a little smile and a wave. “‘Kay,” she says to Odie, “I promise! We could just watch TV, even.”

“She—” Bucky manages, startling Odie, “She’s little?”

“She is,” Odie’s hand runs up and down his back, “She’s a bit older than you, though. She’s seven.” 

He doesn’t know what to think of that, ‘cause his Tasha isn’t little at all and he almost never plays with her. She’s so different and he’s not sure he can make himself feel relaxed around her.

“Is she not little in your world?” Odie asks softly, and Bucky shakes his head. He’s kinda nervous and squirmy now and he drank a lot at breakfast ‘cause he couldn’t eat any food and now he sorta hasta pee only he doesn’t know where the potty is. He can’t make himself ask or even let go of Odie at all.

“We can just color,” Tasha says. Her voice doesn’t sound as happy anymore, but she doesn’t act mad. She and Clint drag a table over to the couch and put out lotsa paper and crayons.

Bucky doesn’t try to draw his family like usual. He’s too nervous and he misses them too much. Instead he just makes little different-colored scribbles all over the paper. It’s kinda soothing, except suddenly he really does havta pee so bad and he remembers just how many drinks he had and he panics. He’s havin’ an accident before he can make the word ‘potty’. He pees a lot and he’s scared the pull-up won’t hold it all but it does. He even double-checks his pants to make sure.

“Are you okay, Bucky?” Tasha asks, and he realizes he froze up. Tasha’s starin’ at him now and he has to duck his head. He nods really fast, because he can’t say he peed himself in front of all of them, he just can’t.

“Here, look. I drew Nemo for you. You like Nemo?” she holds out her piece of paper and there he is, it’s Nemo and Dory and Crush too. Or maybe it’s Squirt? Either way, her drawing’s really really good and she made it just for him.

Tentatively, he reaches out to take it, trying to smile even though he’s nervous and he’s trying to make his hand not crush the paper.

“Thanks,” he whispers, looking down at his lap. 

“That’s really nice, Tasha,” Odie says, “Hey, Bucky, maybe I can hold onto that for you? The therapists are on their way here.”

Bucky freezes up all over again.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Odie says, running a hand up his back, “they won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. I’ll be right there the whole time.”

Bucky doesn’t wanna. He really, really doesn’t wanna. He’s done too much new stuff today and his brain is all worn-out and tired. Not sleepy-tired, like when he cuddles up between Daddy and Clint during naptime, but weary-tired, mad-tired. He doesn’t argue, though, because when he feels this bad he might get upset again and he really, really doesn’t want that to happen right now. He just stays as still as possible so that maybe all the bad feelings will just wash right over him. 

Odie’s asking “Bucky? Bucky, is that okay?” and he doesn’t know, like Daddy knows back home, to just spend a few minutes giving Bucky an extra-long hug when he’s like this. He just needs to not hafta talk or move or nothin’. 

“Maybe he could have a few minutes to think,” Tasha suggests, “Just let him sit for a while before taking him.” 

Bucky nods gratefully. Even a few minutes to just sit really helps, and she puts a warm blanket around him and that helps too. She doesn’t act shocked or upset by the place where his left arm used to be. She drapes the blanket around it just like every other part of him and oh, it’s soft and fuzzy and silky and he just has to duck his face into it and rub it on his cheek. And Tasha gives him a big smile and really quick reaches over to tickle him through the blanket and wrap him tighter. He snuggles into it like a cocoon and happy-wiggles a bit. Maybe Tasha is gonna be a good friend after all.

He’s not even too upset when Odie picks him up and carries him to the elevator, because he’s still wrapped in the soft fuzzy blanket and he keeps all the nervous feelings away by snuggling himself into it. When they get to a room with two other people sitting in cushy chairs, he quick hides his whole face in the blanket and pretends it’s just him and Odie. 

“Like I said, he’s a bit nervous around new people,” Odie’s voice comes from above him as he settles down on a couch across from the doctors.

“Well, that’s all right,” comes a lady’s soft voice from somewhere outside the blankets, “Lots of kids are scared when they don’t know what to expect. We actually just thought we’d bring some toys, and if Bucky feels comfortable he can choose some things to play with.”

He kinda wants to stay wrapped in the blanket, but he’s interested in spite of himself. The doctors brought toys? What kind of doctors are they? Annie never brings new toys or games. 

Slowly, once he’s found his hand and got it untangled from inside the blankets, Bucky pulls the edge of the blanket down, just enough so he can peek out. He gets a glimpse of a tall bald man with shiny glasses and a chubby lady with dark shiny hair and dangly earrings. She smiles at him and gives him a little wave. He kinda wants to wave back, except his hand is too busy pulling the blanket back up over his head. 

Odie pats him through the fabric. “Yeah. I was mostly just hoping you could help me take better care of him. But we’ll just see where this goes. He seems to have a really hard time talking, so I’m a little lost…” Bucky’s face feels hot and he’s sad, because he doesn’t mean to be so hard, “so I was just thinking you could help me figure out where to start.” 

“Okay,” the lady says, still in that soft cheery voice, “It’s all right if he has a hard time talking. Hey, Bucky? You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to. You can just take your time getting comfortable if that’s what makes you feel best, okay? We don’t want you to feel scared with us, so you can just get used to all this at your own pace.”

Her voice is like like the blanket, wrapping around him all warm and reassuring, and for a moment he does feel like it really is okay that he can’t talk much and needs all this help. And she seems to understand that some things just need to go really slow, like getting used to new people or trying hard things.

Slowly, he wiggles up out of his cocoon, resting his head on Odie’s shoulder, and peeks out at the doctors again. He gives the lady a little finger-wiggle ‘cause she waved at him before and she feels easier and safer than the tall man next to her.

She gives him a warm smile. “Hi, Bucky, I’m Miriam.”

He can’t quite make his voice do ‘hi’ just yet, so he wiggles his fingers again.

“And I’m Cornelius,” the tall man adds. “Miriam works in pediatric psychology—that means she helps kids. And I work with trauma victims, to help them feel better when bad things from the past are still hurting them.”

Bucky nods. He definitely has that problem, even if it’s not as obvious as all his other ones.

“So, we’re pretty new to you, and you’re new to us,” Miriam says, “and it’ll take some time to figure out how we’re going to work with each other, so for today I just brought some things for you to play with.”

She’s reaching into a big red bag next to her and pulling out a whole bunch of toys. Bucky wonders if it’d be rude not to go over there and check them out because he kinda just wants to stay in Odie’s lap but then oh—

Miriam is unfolding a big dollhouse out of her bag, there are tables inside and a potty and a bed and little dolls. They’re kinda small and Bucky’s not sure if he’ll be able to make his fingers work well enough to move their arms and legs but he wants to go see—

The next thing he knows he’s spilling onto the floor in a surprised heap. He almost bursts into tears, but then Odie’s scooping him up and holding him close. “Looks like the dollhouse is a success.”

Then Odie carries him over to the house and lets him check it out. Bucky really likes dolls. They’re like people, only smaller, and they can’t surprise you or hurt you. If you need them to stop, they just do . He and Clint sometimes play with their dolls at home, but their dolls don’t have houses and beds and chairs like this.

Then everything’s okay even though they’re talking about him and that makes him tense, because Miriam keeps asking him what he’s playing and how he’s feeling. Sometimes he can answer and sometimes not, but either way she acts like it’s okay. She even comes to sit on the floor next to him and play too, and she can move the little hands and feet that are really tricky for him. 

His words start to loosen up a little after some time answering questions, and he can tell Miriam about the Daddy doll cuddling his baby close and keeping him safe forever. The other kid doll is a girl so there’s no Clint, but maybe there are more dolls she can bring next time. He’ll have to remember to ask.

“That sounds really nice, Bucky,” Miriam says, and Bucky’s insides hum a little with happies. “What do they like to do?”

Bucky shows her by tucking them up into bed together. “They’re watchin’ a movie. Then bath, then story, then bed.” 

“Oh, yeah? Do they do it that way every night?” Miriam’s watching him closely now. Her the look on her face is still open and friendly, so Bucky doesn’t think it’s ‘cause he did anything wrong, but it still makes him a little shy, so he looks back at the dolls and focuses just on them. 

“Yuhuh,” Bucky says, “Mostly just like that if he’s feelin’ little. It makes him feel evened out.”

“Evened out?” 

“Settled, Daddy says.” 

“Okay, Bucky,” Miriam says, “Do you think you could show me the routine they go through every day?”

He can. He starts with waking them up, and the daddy doll picking clothes for the little boy. The next part’s kinda embarrassing but he does it because it’s true, with the daddy doll checking his boy’s diaper and changing him into a dry one. Miriam asks him some questions here and there, but mostly she just watches Bucky play. She asks a lot about how the baby feels and how the daddy feels, and Bucky’s starting to understand how her work is like Annie’s. Annie talks a lot about feelings too.

Bucky hesitates about the next part of the game, because it doesn’t happen every day and because he was enjoying playing. This part isn’t fun at all.

But he does it, because when the little boy gets upset and falls on the floor and screams the daddy holds him tight and safe and he misses his Daddy’s arms around him so much.

“Hey, Bucky, can I ask what’s happening right there with the dolls?” Miriam asks. Her voice hasn’t changed but Bucky senses something different about the way she’s asking and getting upset is so bad and it takes a minute to find his voice.

“The boy,” he mumbles, his face all hot, “he got upset and couldn’t stop yellin’. He hit. Daddy hadda hold ‘im safe.” 

“Oh,” Miriam says, “Can you tell me a bit about that?” 

His hand tightens around the dolls, his face heating even more. He can’t think about getting upset too much or he’s gonna do it, right here, and then Miriam prob’ly won’t like him anymore and he really, really wants her to. It’s just that everything is so much right now and— 

“It’s okay if you don’t want to,” Miriam says, very gently, and her hand is on Bucky’s shoulder, squeezing a little, “Don’t worry about that. I only wanted to make sure the daddy wasn’t hurting the boy, but you said he’s keeping him safe?”

Bucky nods, squeezing his eyes against the sudden tears.

“Would you like to take a break from questions?” Miriam asks, and Bucky nods again. He needs it. And the little boy dolly needs it too. During the whole break the daddy has to hold him safe.

Bucky’s startin’ to get how this game is s’posed to work, so when he’s ready to be done with his break, he makes the daddy doll let go of the boy and carry him over to the couch.

“He’s tellin’ the boy it’s okay,” he whispers.

“What’s okay?” 

“The boy’s sad ‘cause he was bad an’ upset an’ hit,” Bucky explains, “an’ the Daddy’s sayin’ he’s not mad and....sayin’ the little boy isn’t bad.”

“How do they each feel?” 

“Both sad,” whispers Bucky, “Daddy sad his boy hurted himself. An’ the little boy still feels bad. He couldn’t stop.”

Odie and Cornelius have just been watching them play, but now Odie scoots closer and rests a hand on Bucky’s shoulder. “Hey,” he says, his voice real soft, “Is this like what happened this morning? And when you got here?”

Bucky hunches down and nods a little bit. 

“I was actually really hoping we could cover that today,” Odie says softly, “Is it okay if we do that now, Buck?”

“No!” Bucky whines, because he doesn’t wanna talk about it at all and he just wants to play in the dolly world with Miriam where it’s safe. And then he feels bad ‘cause Odie’s just trying really hard to help him. “Umm. Yes,” he mumbles.

“Is that a no or a yes?” Miriam asks. She doesn’t sound mad at all, so Bucky mumbles another yes.

“Sorry for yellin’,” he whispers after a pause.

“We accept your apology,” Miriam says, “Hey, good job calming yourself down just there. I bet that was really hard, huh?” 

Bucky feels all good and warm inside and he smiles a little bit. It was hard, but most people don’t realize that and it feels real good that Miriam does.

“So, Steve,” Cornelius says, “Did something happen similar to what Bucky’s just demonstrated with the dolls?” 

Bucky’s smile drops right off his face. He drops the little plastic dolls and fumbles around for the cloth dolly, dropped sometime while he was playing, and then someone’s pushing her against his fingertips and he hugs her tight. Odie’s pulling him into his lap, which is warm and safe and nice, except it makes his pull-up squish and remind him he peed a little while ago and he should really tell Odie he needs a change. 

Except he can’t, he can’t make himself do that while they’re talking about him getting upset, he just can’t. This is gonna be really hard already.

“He got really upset,” Odie begins, one hand absently petting Bucky’s hair. It feels nice and reminds him that Odie isn’t mad and he just wants to help. “Once when he got here, and once after a nightmare last night. He—” Odie looks at him and seems to be choosing his words pretty carefully, and Bucky finds himself chewing nervously at the rag doll’s shoe. He’s leaving teeth marks on the other Bucky’s toy and he shouldn’t, but he can’t stop. He really doesn’t wanna hear Odie describe this. 

“Lost control,” he mumbles around the shoe. It just slips out; it’s something Daddy says sometimes, to remind him he knows it isn’t Bucky’s fault. 

“He was crying—screaming. He was hurting himself. We had to hold him down—and, Bucky, I’m so sorry, I know you were scared, I’d never have done that if I didn’t think you’d get seriously hurt.” 

Bucky doesn’t know how to explain that he needs it. The problem was that Odie didn’t do it right .

“That’s not uncommon,” Miriam says, and she doesn’t sound mad or shocked or nothin’, so Bucky feels a little better, “many children with emotional difficulties have a hard time stopping themselves from reacting to those acute feelings. Is that true for you, Bucky?”

“Uh-huh,” Bucky mutters. Sometimes it happens when he’s not even little, but he’s too embarrassed to tell them that. It helps a little, though, that Miriam says there’s other kids who do it. She sounds kind and sympathetic like she knows just how big and how much his feelings get sometimes.

“All right,” Miriam says gently, “and I’m guessing that since you call it ‘losing control’, just telling you to stop won’t help you to stop. You can’t help it. But are there any ways to help prevent it, or to help you calm down?” 

“Yuhuh,” Bucky says, eager to talk now that he’s sure the doctors understand and he isn’t in any trouble, “tellin’ me breathe. Squishin’ play-dough. Hugging pillows. But if it gets real bad, then only holding safe.” 

“Holding safe—like what you did with the dolls just now?” 

“Yuhuh,” Bucky does it with the rag doll, to show them. It’s hard to do it right with just one hand, but he pulls her close and kisses her hair and rocks her. “Shh, dolly. Love you. S’gonna be okay, dolly. Shhh. I got you.”

He gets a little caught up in hugging his dolly and so he almost misses Odie’s frown. “I don’t like the idea of just—of holding him down,” he says slowly.

“It looks like what he’s demonstrating is a standard safety restraint technique,” Cornelius says, “It’s meant to be safe for the person being held. Bucky, is this what your Steve does with you at home?”

“Yuhuh,” Bucky mumbles. It’s just another thing he needs that the other Bucky clearly doesn’t. And Odie doesn’t wanna do it, which makes Bucky feel bad for needin’ it. His skin feels all wiggly and uncomfortable just thinkin’ about it. 

“And we just want to get this straight, because it’s very important that everyone respects your boundaries, do you understand what that means?” 

Bucky nods. Daddy talks about boundaries at home a lot too, except he calls them nos and yeses.

“And this is something you’d be okay with Steve doing here, to help keep you safe?”

Bucky nods again. He’d really rather Daddy and no one else, but he’s gonna need it while he’s here, probably. It’s better if Odie knows how to get him calm again.

“I just—the restraining. My Bucky would hate it, he’d be scared, and I just—oh, Bucky. Don’t cry—I didn’t mean to upset you.” 

He tries to stop, he really, really does, and he’s probably just bein’ a dumb baby about it, but he’s so sick of the other Bucky and he hasn’t even met him. He’s better and has more words and doesn’t pee his pants in the day and Odie likes him more and Bucky can’t even blame him. If the other Bucky went back to his world, Daddy and Clint are probably having so much more fun with him and what if no one wants Bucky back after this? What if he’s the bad Bucky and there’s no place for him anywhere?

Odie’s hugging him and rubbing his back and he’s crying too. He’s not as loud, but Bucky can feel him shake. He feels helpless and scared and mad, and he puts the doll’s shoe back into his mouth and sucks and sucks and tries so hard to stop his tears.

“This is clearly a difficult adjustment for both of you,” comes Miriam’s soft, soft voice around Bucky like a blanket, “and we’re here to try and help you both get through it. And Steve, I’m going to suggest you keep in mind that this Bucky is not the same as your Bucky, and he will need different things.”

“I know,” Odie says, his voice all shaky, “I do know that, it’s just hard to do anything that I feel like—would be something that might hurt him.”

“Well, maybe you two can practice when Bucky’s feeling calm? I think that would establish a safe space between the two of you, and it would mean you’d know how to do it should the need arise. You could also talk about it with him during a calmer moment. Establishing some understanding could really help both of you.”

“Yeah—yeah, you’re right,” Odie says thickly, “Yeah. I’ll do that.”

“And try not to get too down on yourself, all right?” Miriam says kindly, “we know this is new, and it’s why we’re here. And that goes for you too, Bucky, okay? You’re different from the Bucky we know, but that’s okay.” 

Bucky doesn’t know how to say it doesn’t feel okay, but Miriam sounds like she really means it.

“And we definitely have a lot more to discuss, but we’re almost out of time and I think we should take these last ten minutes and just give Bucky some space to calm down, maybe talk a little about how he’s feeling right now.” 

Bucky can’t do words, even though he tries, and Miriam says that’s okay. She keeps pulling tissues out of a pack in her bag and handing them to Odie to dab at his cheeks. He forgets how to blow his nose for a minute and screws up his face trying to remember, and that makes Odie smile a little through his tears and Bucky feels a bit better. 

“Feel sad,” he finally says, “I d-don’t want to be bad. Or yell or hit. Can’t stop—the feelings get in all of me. I wish I could be like the good Bucky, Odie.” he shakes his head, “I’m sorry I—I’m sorry. Can try.”

“Oh, Bucky,” Odie’s breath all comes out in a rush, and he holds him really, really tight. “I’m sorry I made you feel bad. You don’t have to try to be like my Bucky. It’s okay.”

“You’re definitely not bad,” Miriam agrees, “and we know you don’t want to have these episodes, and we’re going to do our best to help you. We don’t want you to feel ashamed—and lots of people do have these problems, Bucky, and lots of them feel great shame about it. But it’s not your fault, and we promise we’re here to help in whatever way we can.”

Bucky nods, feeling so much better just knowing she understands. It really helps him to hear he’s not the only one who’s like this.

“And, Bucky,” she continues, “we don’t want you to be too down on yourself. We think you’re good just the way you are. I think next session we should make a list of all the things that make you good, and just some things that make you you. and you can help us. I’ll start right now—you’re very good at playing dolls.”

He smiles and blushes a little, at that, even though he’s not sure being good at dolls counts.

“All right. Good-bye, Bucky, we’ll see you again in a couple days. Great job today. You worked really hard and you’ve really helped us understand more about how we can help you. That’s great, Bucky, it really is.”

Great. He did something not only good, but great. He has to hide his face in Odie for a moment, but he makes sure to give the doctors a wave before they head out the door.

Odie tells him all the way to lunch how good he was in therapy, and the sads and the mads go away and also lunch is sandwiches, that’s awesomesauce because using his silverware and his fingers can be real hard sometimes, but with sandwiches you just pick ‘em up in your whole hand and eat them. Bucky still has a lot of happies in him from doin’ a good job with the doctors, so he manages to eat a lot of lunch. Daddy sometimes says happies make hungry monsters and then Clint roars and chases Daddy around. It always makes Bucky laugh.

Bucky doesn’t have too much time to get sad missing his family, because just then a whole bunch of people come into the room. Tasha’s there, and Clint and Pepper and Tony, all talking to each other, so Bucky has to hide in Odie for a little bit while he gets used to all the people.

When he comes out to eat, Tasha smiles at him. “Hey, Bucky, wanna go back to the playroom after lunch?”

He’s not sure. He’s already done a lotta talking today, and anyway, he was up early from his nightmare. He thinks maybe he just wants his nap. But his mouth is fulla sandwich and he’s learned the hard way that if he tries to talk with food in his mouth, sometimes it all falls out in his lap. That gave Clint the giggles the first time it happened, but Bucky was really embarrassed. So he just shrugs.

That’s when he feels his pull-up gettin’ all warm and soggy and all his happies go right out the window. He didn’t even know he had to go this time.  

Then the wet gets on his leg and he remembers this pull-up already got all peed before. He panics and freezes and tries real hard to hold it, but he can’t stop and all he can do is hope the leak isn’t bad. It seems to be just a little, on his bum and his leg. He’ll just have to figure out how to stay sitting until he can just talk to Odie alone—but what if Odie gets up with everyone else? He misses his Daddy, who always reminds Bucky to go potty and knows when he needs changed and never, ever makes him feel bad for havin’ an accident. 

He squirms a little but then he hasta stop real quick ‘cause that makes more pee leak out and he’s gettin it all over the other Bucky’s pants.

Tasha comes over and smiles at him. It’s still a little weird ‘cause his Natasha isn’t little at all. Also, she was real upset at Clint for being little at first. She’s okay with it now, and she’s real good at playing dolls, but she’s definitely big and the two of them don’t feel quite settled with her yet. But this Tasha is full of smiles for Bucky, and it’s just a little strange.

“Let’s go play bears!” she says, tugging a little on Bucky’s sleeve. Bucky doesn’t want to get up. But—but the wet spots aren’t very big—maybe they won’t notice? Slowly, he gets to his feet. The pull-up is puffy and wet and a little more wet leaks out of it when he stands up.

And Tasha sees. He can tell when she does, how her eyes go down to his legs and get real big and her lips part a little.

“I’ll be right back!” she says. Her voice is soft, like her eyes, and Bucky feels like crying. She does come back in just a sec, and she brings Odie, who notices right away. Tears start sliding down Bucky’s face. 

“Why don’t you go play with Clint for a little bit, Tasha. We’ll be right with you.”

“Okay,” Natasha says, and she runs towards the other room to get Clint.

Odie gives Bucky a very soft look. “Bucky,” he says, “It looks like you had a little bit of an accident. Is that right?”

Bucky thinks about saying no. He thinks about saying he just spilled his juice during lunch. He’s so embarrassed . He never ever has this many accidents. And he doesn’t like that people can see. At home, Daddy always changes him before he can leak. Bucky just shrugs and his tears start coming a little faster. He’s such a stupid baby. He should havta wear a diaper all the time. He can’t even go t’the potty like a big boy.

“You’re all right, honey. Accidents happen. Let’s go get you cleaned up and then you can play with Tasha, okay?” What Bucky really wants is a nap and a cuddle, so he doesn’t say anything. Maybe he’s not allowed a nap, or maybe he hasta wait til later, but he’s already being such a hassle he doesn’t wanna ask right now.

Odie picks him up and Bucky whines and wiggles. “Get you wet,” he protests. Odie just holds him a little tighter.

“Don’t worry about that, Buck. I can change.”  Bucky doesn’t have the energy to fight Odie about it, but Bucky is already getting the other Bucky’s pants wet and icky. He shouldn’t be messin’ up Odie’s clothes too. Odie takes him to the other Bucky’s floor and right into the bathroom. Odie takes a minute to find all the things he needs—clean pants and a new pull-up and wipes. He makes sure that Bucky’s got the dolly. He rubs a little circle on Bucky’s tummy and Bucky relaxes a little.

Odie is getting a lot better at this. He’s not as good as Daddy, but Daddy’s been changing little boys for years and years, so that’s okay. Odie only started yesterday. Odie hums a little as he changes Bucky and then scoops him up again and they go and sit on the bed together. Bucky thinks maybe he’ll get to nap after all. 

“Bucky, would it be alright if I asked you a couple questions? It’s okay if they’re too hard to answer.” Bucky sighs. He doesn’t wanna. Why do they always want him to talk so much? It makes Bucky’s brain all tired. But he nods anyway, because he’s trying to be good for Odie.  

“The questions will help me take better care of you,” Odie explains, moving Bucky so they can look at each other. Bucky guesses that’s okay then, so he nods a little stronger. Odie squeezes his shoulder and looks almost proud. Bucky’s insides do a tiny happy little wiggle. 

“When you had your accidents—” Odie starts, speaking slow. Bucky blushes, not sure how Odie knows that he had more than one. He’s such a baby. Bucky stares down at his hand wrapped around the dolly and tries to hang onto his words. “Did you know you had to go?” 

Bucky blushes even harder. “Sorta. B-but—I didn’t know,” Bucky has to stop for a minute and chew on his dogtags. Odie is very patient. “Didn’t know where the potty was.” 

“Oh!” Odie says. His breaths puffs against Bucky’s cheek. “I’ll show you where all the bathrooms are, okay, Buck?” Bucky nods, but that’s not enough. He knows it’s not enough. He doesn’t wanna keep talking but he should be good and try and tell Odie and maybe then Bucky won’t have so many accidents. 

“Don’t have a lotta time - just gotta go .” Bucky tries to explain. His words don’t want to say what he wants them to say, though. Odie’s eyes get a little squinty.

“You don’t get enough warning?” Odie asks. Bucky nods. He doesn’t say that sometimes he doesn’t get any warning at all and his body just pees. This is embarrassing enough. “That’s okay, Bucky. If you can’t make it on time, that’s all right.” Odie doesn’t offer to help, though. Sometimes Odie doesn’t realize he can help with things. But Bucky’s not sure he wants Odie to help him get to the potty anyway. Sometimes he gets real wiggly and he has to grab his privates to try and hold it and sometimes he has little accidents even though he’s almost there. Those things are sometimes more embarrassing than having somebody change him. ‘Cause then they know that Bucky can’t control himself, and he knows he looks like a baby when he's trying to hold it. At home, it’s okay, 'cause Clint does it too. Daddy calls Clint “jitterbug” when Clint gets all dancy 'cause he hasta potty.

Bucky doesn’t think the other Bucky ever does that.

Odie looks like he’s trying to get brave enough to say something else now. Bucky knows what that feels like, so he tries to wait all patient for him.

“Sweetheart, it can’t be nice to have a wet pull-up.” Bucky blushes bright red and has to hide his face in his hand. Odie rubs his back. “You can always tell me if you need a change. You don’t have to stay like that.”

Bucky whimpers out, “S’hard t’tell somebody.” 

“Oh,” Odie says, sounding like he’s thinking. “Do you have a sign for that, at home?”

Bucky nods a tiny little nod. He glances up at Odie. He looks calm and patient and kind, so Bucky moves his hand away from his face, lowers it to his hip, and does a little pinching motion. Odie watches carefully and copies him. Bucky nods and then tucks his face into Odie’s chest 'cause this is just so embarrassing.

“Do you think you can use your sign to tell me when you have an accident?”

“Can try,” Bucky mumbles into Odie’s chest.

“That’s all I can ask. You’re being so brave, honey.” Bucky relaxes a little at that, feels a little better. Maybe Odie doesn’t think he’s just a bunch of trouble. 

Bucky bites his lips, tries to get some more words together. He wants to explain that he isn’t usually so much trouble. That he can be better. “Don’t usually—not usually so many,” Bucky whispers. “Get ta’the potty more, at home.”

“That makes sense, honey. There’s a lot going on right now, of course it’s a little harder. But—you don’t need to be worrying about it, okay? It’s all right if you never make it to the ba—to the potty.” 

It isn’t all right at all if never makes it to the potty, but it makes Bucky feel better that Odie said it is. Maybe Odie really doesn’t mind that Bucky has so many accidents. Maybe. But Bucky still feels really bad about it—it’s not Odie’s job to havta help with it. He doesn’t wanna, not like Daddy does. Bucky’s daddy feels better when he can help Bucky, he knows so ‘cause Daddy told Annie and him.

“M’usin otha’Bucky’s pull-ups all up,” Bucky mumbles and promptly shoves his dolly’s shoe in his mouth.

“Oh, honey! Don’t worry about that. Tony will just make some more. It’s no big deal.” 

Bucky’s belly gets all nervous and tight. Tony makes them? Does that mean he knows?  

“Tony?” Bucky whimpers. Odie looks down at him, looking a little confused for a second. And then his eyes go wide.

“Does Tony not make your protection in your world?” 

“No!” Bucky huffs out. “Doesn’t know !”

“Ah—well, our Tony found out that Bucky was having problems when he first came to the tower. He makes Bucky’s protection special, to help with leaks.” Bucky blushes. He’d leaked through it today. His body is so stupid and broken that he leaks all the way through special pull-ups.

“Know ‘bout me?” Bucky asks in a tiny little voice. Odie sighs and cuddles Bucky a little closer. 

“Yes. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that it would be different from your world and I thought it would be okay. I told him so that he could make pull-ups that fit you a little better.”

The otha’Bucky’s are kinda big, Bucky thinks, not as tight as the ones he wears at home, and sometimes they slip down his bum a little. But still, the idea that anybody but Odie knows that Bucky has accidents is no good. It makes him feel squirmy and uncomfortable all the way inside. Odie seems to know that and gives Bucky a little hug.  

“Thank you for telling me all that, Buck. I know it was hard.” Bucky tries to smile at Odie. Odie smiles back. He has Bucky sit on the bed while he changes his t-shirt (he borrows one from otha’Bucky’s dresser).

“Let’s go up and play with Tasha now. We wouldn’t want to keep her waiting.” Bucky wilts. He doesn’t wanna. He wants to take a nap. He looks longingly at the bed as Odie leads him away. 

Tasha and Clint are waiting for them in the playroom. And Tasha smiles at him when he comes in and she doesn’t act like he’s icky even though she saw him pee his pants. Bucky wants to hide at first, just because of that, but then she takes his hand and brings him to see all her toys and it turns out she really has lotsa good ideas for games and maybe he can stay awake for a little bit longer.  

Tasha’s kinda bossy, but it’s okay because she never gets mad when he can’t do what she says. She plays stuffed animal games with him, and that’s kinda fun, because the animals do missions and stuff to save the world. Except they’re saving the word from all kinds of silly stuff, so it’s not too scary. 

Then she says they’re going to play house, and the dolly is going to be the baby. Bucky’s never played House before, but Tasha’s games are fun and he’s happy to let her do all the choosing. He’s not really up to figuring out what he wants. Choosing is hard. 

“Me and my Bucky didn’t give her a name,” Tasha pats the doll, “Do you have one for her?”

Bucky thinks for a bit. He can tell she’s impatient to play from the way she’s bouncing up and down, but she doesn’t rush him. He doesn’t know a whole lotta girl names. All the ones from the past dance around in his head and then out of reach, and if he thinks too long about how he can’t remember it just makes him sad. There’s Angelina Ballerina, but that’s hard to say a lot so it’s not good for playing. 

He glances up at Clint and remembers his own Clint’s favorite movie. The dolly even has red hair. “Merida?” It comes out kinda soft and kinda shy, but Tasha smiles big. 

“Yeah! I have a Mor’du bear in my room, we’ll have to play with him another time.” She pats Merida a couple times. “All right, she’s the baby and I’m the mom and you’re the dad, okay?”

Bucky doesn’t know how he feels about that, but saying so’s too many words and she’s been really nice so he nods. And it turns out that being the dad doesn’t actually mean he has to do too much since Tasha seems to enjoy rocking Merida and singing to her and giving her a pretend bottle. A few times she holds her out so Bucky can give her a kiss or wrap a blanket around her, but other than that he has some time to just sit back and think, and that’s good. It makes him feel more of what Annie would call ‘grounded’ and Daddy would call ‘settled’, and he hasn’t felt a whole lot of that since he got here. Since Daddy left on his mission, even.

It also means he has some time to watch the other Clint for a bit.

He hasn’t done that since he got upset yesterday and yelled, cause he’s been too nervous, but now he sneaks a couple peeks every now and again.

This Clint’s real quiet and he doesn’t say a whole lot, just does what Tasha tells him to or gets stuff when she asks. He hasta remind her to say ‘please’ a lot, but he never gets mad, which is always good to see. No one’s got really really mad at him like they did when Bucky was with HYDRA, but he always feels so much wonder whenever someone does something wrong and it’s just okay, and their daddy or whoever just reminds them what to do next time.

Clint catches him peeking and Bucky ducks his head down real fast, but the next time he looks up Clint wiggles his fingers in a wave. Bucky shyly waves back.

He’s still not sure he’s okay with this Clint not being like his, but then again, no one could really be just like his Clinty. He’s the bestest one. 

“Sorry,” Bucky whispers to him through his hands. “Yesterday. Sorry I yelled at you for not bein’ my Clint.”

“Hey, it’s all right,” Clint says easily, not sounding mad at all even though Bucky knows he made him sad yesterday, “I get it. You miss home. We all say sh—uh, stuff we don’t mean sometimes.” 

Bucky buries his face in his knees and nods. It sounds so much like something his daddy always says and he hasta squeeze his eyes so tight to stop the tears.

“Hey,” Tasha’s hand is on his shoulder, “It’s okay. We’re right here. Clint, go get him a blanket. Please,” she remembers to add. Bucky hears Clint getting up and walking away, then Tasha’s rubbing his shoulder. 

“Hey, I know,” she says softly, “you can be the baby for a while and let us take care of you, okay?”

He wants to argue that he’s not a baby, except from the way Tasha was hugging and kissing Merida, maybe she doesn’t think being a baby is such a bad thing. And anyway, everything is too much and having other people just take care of him sounds so good right now. He wants it bad.

“Okay.”

And it’s nice, it really is. They wrap him up tight in blankets and Tasha tucks Merida into his hand. She even sticks one of his dogtags in his mouth without him asking. Sucking on the tag and cuddled up between them while Tasha sings a lullaby in Russian, Bucky remembers that he was feeling kinda sleepy even before they started playing. And he’s so warm and they keep squeezing him and stroking his hair and giving him kisses on the forehead and he can’t help drifting down, down… 

When he blinks awake he’s a little confused about where he is, but not in a bad way because he’s soft and warm and wrapped in piles and piles of fuzzy blankets. It’s the first time he’s slept here with no nightmares or accidents and he still feels all warm and happy, inside and out, the memory of being loved and cuddled still in his head.

He thinks he’d be okay with never moving from this spot again.

He can hear Tasha and Clint talking softly from across the room, but he’s not really awake enough to trouble himself with what they’re saying. He just snuggles down into the blankets they must have put on him when he was sleeping.

He feels all fuzzy and happy and he wiggles his toes and nuzzles his face into one of the blankets. Maybe this world isn’t gonna be quite so bad after all.

Chapter Text

Steve’s going to have to have a word with Clint about vanishing into the vents, and especially with another kid in tow. It hasn’t been a consistent problem since they set up Clint’s nests, but Steve knows that Clint still likes to wander around up there from time to time. Bringing Bucky along has never been an issue—there’s no way that Steve’s Bucky could get up in the vents. Steve just doesn’t like the idea of any of his boys being up there where he can’t easily get to them if they need him.  The other Bucky could get lost or freak out in there; his own Bucky definitely would.

At least he can more or less track where they are. Every so often a clanging sound resonates from inside the walls and Steve can follow it and keep a sharp ear out for signs of problems. Bucky’s metal hand keeps making noises against the vents. That’s why, when he hears a rapid shuffling sound moving around in there, he’s able to figure out exactly where the boys will emerge. Maybe the other Bucky had a panic attack. Maybe the space was too tight or maybe he felt lost. If he starts to really freak out, maybe Steve can guide him from outside; he wants to be there to offer comfort and hugs.

But when Bucky finally does emerge from the vent shaft, he’s not crying or panicking at all. Instead, he’s got a teary-eyed Clint riding on his back. Steve can’t help marveling over the way he sticks his landing with perfect balance, easily accommodating the extra weight piggybacked onto him. Bucky shuffles over to Steve and thrusts Clint at him. “He needs the bathroom!” he blurts out by way of explanation.

The lecture can come later. Steve hurries Clint along to the nearest bathroom, knowing how upset he’ll be if he doesn’t make it. He deposits Clint by the toilet and turns to close the door. Clint plops himself down and looks up at Steve, tears sparkling in his eyes. “He saw.”

“Oh, lovebug,” Steve says softly, “It’s all right.” He quickly checks his boy’s pull-up and finds it damp, but it seems that for the most part the accident has been avoided. “He helped you get here, didn’t he? He won’t say anything mean. And if he does, you come tell me.”

“He’s gonna think I’m a baby,” Clint moans, “An’ I still peed a little on the way here!” He buries his face in his hands. “He doesn’t have accidents in the day.”

“That’s okay,” Steve pets his hair. Clint is trying so hard to impress this new, older Bucky, and his accidents embarrass him so much as it is. “It’s always okay if you have an accident, you know that. Plus, you’re littler than him and you need different things, just like you need different things than our Bucky. You’re my perfect little lovebug—“ he gently tickles Clint’s tummy— “and you should be just as big or little as you feel. And hey, this doesn’t really count as an accident, does it? Just a couple little leaks.”

Clint’s face is flushed really red, but he’s not crying anymore. “Bucky helped,” he mumbles, “Else I woulda peed all the way ‘fore I got to the potty.”

“It doesn’t sound like he’d make fun of you, then,” Steve says softly, removing the damp pull-up and slipping a pack of wipes out of his pocket, “It sounds like he wanted to help.”

“Yeah,” Clint mumbles, standing up so Steve can clean him up, “But I really really wanted him to think I was big an’ all. I was gonna try so hard an’ not have any accidents.”

“Y’know,” Steve says, hefting Clint up onto his hip, “I don’t think you should put that kind of pressure on yourself, baby. You’ve been under a lot of stress these past couple ‘a days, hmm? Makes sense that you might have more accidents.”

“Yeah,” Clint hides his face in Steve’s shoulder, “I guesso.”

“Don’t worry too much about it, then. Come on, we should stop by my floor and grab another pull-up for you.”

“‘Kay, Daddy.”

Bucky’s waiting for them out in the hall, just outside the bathroom. It occurs to Steve that Bucky probably has the same super-senses he does and might have heard all of that, but he seems pretty absorbed in making Buddy Bear fly all around, talking quietly to himself. Still, Steve makes a mental note, just to ensure privacy in the future. He’d forgotten all about the necessity; there aren’t any secrets between his boys.

He doesn’t say anything about what just happened, but he does zoom Buddy Bear over to give Clint bear kisses all over his head. Steve can hear Clint start to giggle, tears forgotten.

He’s completely perked up again by the time they reach Steve’s floor, and Steve is highly relieved. All things considered, the morning went better than he’d thought it would. The boys seem to have smoothed over the rough patches that kept plaguing them earlier. He asks Bucky to wait for them in the living room so that Clint can have some privacy getting his new pull-up on.

Clint impatiently wiggles himself into his pull-up and back into his pants, eager to get back to Bucky, but Steve stops him with a hand on his arm. “Hey, Clinty, we gotta have a quick chat before we go play, okay?”

Clint makes an impatient little huffing sound, shooting a longing glance at the door, but says, “Okay.”

“Listen, I’m not mad, but it was very dangerous taking Bucky into the vents with you,” he says, trying to stay firm even as Clint’s face falls. “I know everything’s different right now and you’re excited to show Bucky around, and all this new stuff makes it hard to think about safety and rules, but this is important stuff to remember. Can you listen really well for just a few more minutes?”

Clint fidgets, but nods, biting his lip.

“It’s important that you don’t run off without telling me where you’re going, especially up in the vents.” Steve tries to keep his voice soft—Clint is often prone to tears when he realizes he’s done something wrong, especially if he thinks Steve will be mad.  “It’s not safe up there where I can’t get to you in an emergency, especially since you had Bucky with you. I was so worried earlier that one of you might get scared up there and I wouldn’t be able to help. No more sneaking up in the vents, okay?”

Clint lowers his eyes and shuffles his feet, but he doesn’t say yes.

“Clint,” Steve says sternly.

“But, Daddy, he likes it up there!” Clint bursts out, wringing his hands into his shirt, “and it’s my safe place and he was so nervous bein’ around everyone an’ I showed him where to go if he wanted some quiet!” His eyes are shiny with tears. “Please don’t take my vents away from me, Daddy, please!”

“Okay, okay, baby. Hold on.” Steve didn’t realize Clint was spending so much time in the vents that he considered it his safe space, or that it meant so much to him. He wants to ask questions, but Bucky’s still waiting for them outside. “I think we should talk more about this later, bud. I don’t want to take away something special to you, but I need you to promise not to sneak up there when you’re little. Especially not when you have someone else with you. That’s gotta be the rule so I can keep you guys safe, okay?”

“‘Kay,” Clint whispers, his hands still twisted up in his shirt.

“Need a hug, baby?” Steve rubs his arm. He nods and flings himself against Steve’s chest. “Oh, buddy, Daddy loves you. Daddy just wants to keep you safe, okay?”

“Uh-huh.” Clint burrows into his shoulder and Steve rocks him a little, rubbing his back until he calms. “Sorry, Daddy.”

“It’s okay, bud. I want you to remember that you have your nests, too. I bet Bucky would like those a lot.”   

“But—Bucky didn’t want anyone else t’ be able to find him,” Clint mumbles, “He was scared from bein’ looked at.”

“All right, I understand that. But that’s something you need to tell me about, too, all right? You know I won’t be mad if either of you needs a break, but I need to know where you’re going to be, all right?”

“I—okay.” Clint rubs his nose on Steve’s shoulder and scrubs at his eyes. Steve rolls his eyes fondly and reaches into his pocket for a tissue, holding it to Clint’s nose to blow.

“Hey, how about we all have a snack? I bet you’ll feel better with some food in your tummy.” It’s been a while since breakfast this morning and Clint always gets a little moody when he’s hungry.

“Yuhuh, Daddy.” Clint sniffles.

“Come on, let’s go. You can help me pick the snack, okay?”

“Cheesy frogs?” Clint’s eyes are already wide with hope. Whenever he’s allowed to pick a meal, he can usually be counted on to ask for the same thing. They don’t usually have it as a snack, but they’ve all been dealing with some stress. Maybe they could benefit from some comfort food.

“Sure, buddy. We’ll make some cheesy frogs.”

Bucky’s sitting right where they left him. He doesn’t seem particularly impatient, just focused on his bear. So focused that it actually takes him a minute to realize that Steve’s calling him into the kitchen; at least until Clint shouts, “Bucky! Snack!” and he startles. At some point, Steve will have to figure out what the deal is with this Bucky and his bears.

“What are we having?” he asks, tucking Buddy Bear under his arm

“I wanna show you how we make cheesy frogs!”

“Cheesy frogs?” Bucky already looks excited, and Steve tries not to worry about his own Bucky back home, who’s always apprehensive of trying new things. How’s he doing right now? Has he managed to eat anything? Is he getting any sleep, or has he been having nightmares? Is he lying awake, wet, but too afraid to tell anyone he needs to be changed?

Another concern snaps him out of his thoughts. “Oh, Bucky—we use mac n' cheese to make them. You can’t eat dairy, right?”

“I can eat mac and cheese, just not too much,” Bucky explains. “I’m not allergic, I’m just—my tummy still can’t have a lot of dairy. Like a glass of milk, or ice cream.” His eyes seem to darken at that last word, but then he keeps going. “I’ve had mac n' cheese before. A little is okay.”

“Okay,” Steve makes a note to keep an eye on how he’s doing, just in case the cheese does make him sick, but he seems to know his own limits pretty well.

Steve could make cheesy frogs in his sleep, if he needed to, but it takes more energy to supervise Clint and Bucky cooking. Bucky is as hesitant about this as he seems to be about everything, peeking up from under his lashes to glance at Steve every so often, as though seeking his approval or permission. Steve fondly remembers when Clint introduced their Bucky to the process of making cheesy frogs, how eager Bucky had been to help with every single step once he was sure Clint wouldn’t make fun of him for spilling or needing help.

“Cheesy frogs was one of the first things Clint shared with our Bucky too, once he decided to be little.” Steve says it idly, standing beside Clint as he pours the pasta into the boiling water. It makes him think, though. Clint is clearly not little in this Bucky’s world and Steve just can’t put it all together. If Clint wasn’t little, Bucky would never have known that being little was an option, probably would never have gotten into age play at all. Hell, Steve wouldn’t even know anything about it without Clint. “Bud, how’d you decide to be little? ‘Cause in our world, Clint already was little when Bucky came to live here and that’s how he figured out he wanted to be little too.”

Bucky flinches, wraps his arms around his stomach in a little hug. He doesn’t answer at first, and that makes Steve worry more than anything. This Bucky, so far, hasn’t had any trouble talking, even about things that upset him. “I—I didn’t—”

Maybe it was like when Steve found out about Clint, the result of Bucky hitting rock bottom or a passing chance, something he’s embarrassed to talk about like Clint’s accidents?

“I didn’t know. I didn’t—decide,” Bucky mumbles, and what really has Steve concerned now is that Bucky’s eyes are wide and scared. His enhanced hearing can actually pick up Bucky’s heartbeat, it’s pounding so loud.

Steve’s wondering if he should drop it—it’s obviously something Bucky’s not comfortable talking about—but he’s so scared and Steve just wants to be able to put his mind at ease. Steve hates leaving his boys alone with their fear—better to just get it out there, that’s the best way to purge it from their systems. “What do you mean, you didn’t decide to be little? Were you always little, even before HYDRA?”

Bucky shakes his head vehemently. “My last daddy made me do it,” he whispers miserably, “To—be bad—only now I do it in a good way, to be better.” His fingers twist at Buddy Bear’s fabric.

Steve’s stomach sinks—that does—does not sound good. Clint’s eyes have gone wide and nervous. Steve scoops him up, decides this isn’t a conversation he wants to have standing over the stove. He wants to shift this conversation over to the table, but he’s not sure how to get Bucky there. Instinct has him wanting to rub his back or rest a hand on his arm, but he’s hesitant to touch Bucky in a moment like this. Whatever he’s working up to say, it clearly upsets him, and Steve has already noticed that this Bucky is a lot warier of touch than his own Bucky is.

So he carries Clint over to the kitchen table, pats the seat beside them invitingly.

“You had another daddy? Did you not come straight to your daddy from HYDRA?” Or—no, his daddy made him do bad things, he said. “Or was he in HYDRA?”

Bucky nods, eyes averted.

Steve’s heart aches. That sounds horribly traumatic—but why would they want a child fulfilling their missions? And what HYDRA member would even commit to being a caregiver? He doubts the agents were allowed to develop any emotional attachment to the Soldier. And then there’s just the work it takes to be a daddy. He can’t imagine being able to do that unless his heart was one hundred percent in it and so was his Little. Unless—unless—

His mind flashes to an Internet page he’d stumbled across while doing research for Clint. He hadn’t looked far into it—he was aware that some ageplayers took their roleplay in that direction, but it wasn’t ever something Clint or Bucky had been interested in, so he hadn’t looked further. But now that he thinks about it, there’s only one reason anyone could really want to force someone to play out that role—someone who couldn’t say no. Who would obey their handler’s every command.

Bucky meets his eyes, sees the understanding there, and hangs his head low.

Steve goes perfectly, utterly still. His mind refuses to process aside from an icy fury that is rushing through his veins. That someone could take something so pure and innocent and pervert it into something so—so—

Steve doesn’t have words for the anger and horror that fills him. His hands tighten into fists and it takes every ounce of patience and calm he’s learned as a caregiver to loosen them, to keep his reaction tamped down so that he can try to help.

Fuck. He doesn’t know how to help .

“Daddy?” Clint asks. “Daddy, I don’t understand. What’s goin’ on?”

Steve’s throat works. Clint’s eyes are anxious—he knows something’s been exchanged, but he doesn’t know what and Steve doesn’t want to tell him. This is Clint’s safe place and he doesn’t want this to touch it—doesn’t want it to touch his boy at all. He cradles him closer, tries to find the words.

“My—my last daddy—” Bucky swallows visibly and his hands clench impossibly tighter around Buddy Bear, “he was a bad daddy.” Bucky squirms as he says it, glances behind him as if expecting someone to be there, listening.

Clint shudders in Steve’s arms, which tighten reflexively around him. Clint has experienced too much abuse, knows too much about the ways one human being can hurt another, but not this, he’s been spared this.

“My pa was bad too, and my ma. And a lotta my homes after that.” Clint confides. “They hit an’ yelled and stuff.”

Steve doesn’t know if Bucky’s even hearing him. He holds Clinty tighter because it’s all he knows how to do. He wasn’t prepared for this. He never had any experience with this.

Bucky’s crying silently, clutching Buddy Bear to his chest. His shoulders shake, and Steve knows he never should’ve pushed this conversation. He tries to figure out what to do next, how to move on from here. He’d been feeling like he had a handle on taking care of this Bucky, but now—

Steve stamps the insecurity down as quickly as he can. He hadn’t handled child abuse before Clint, or torture before Bucky, but he learned and he can learn now. They’ll go slow, they’ll figure it out. The first thing, he knows, is to reassure Bucky, to get him calm.

“Bucky—” Steve says slowly. “I’m so sorry you had a—” Steve doesn’t want to call this HYDRA creep a daddy, but that’s the term Bucky’s using, so, “—a daddy like that. And that he hurt you. And I’m sorry I made you talk about it. If you don’t want to talk about it anymore, that’s okay. But if you do, that’s okay too, okay bud?”

Bucky just keeps crying, face hidden in his bear, and Steve is so, so glad he made Bucky that bear. Bucky’s clinging to it the way Clint is clinging to his blankie.

Steve tries to gather everything he’s learned, through two years of caring for Clint and then Bucky, and then working with Annie and Isaac. “I want you to know this doesn’t change anything, okay? I don’t think any differently about you and I still care about you.”

Bucky peeks up, lashes clumped together, eyes watery. His lips are parted and Steve wonders if he uses a pacifier.

“Daddy,” Clint whispers. “Daddy, I don’t understand. What happen t’Bucky?” Steve looks down at Clint, swallows nervously. He’s not sure what to say, how to explain. As much as he doesn’t want this to touch Clint, he can see the building panic in his boy’s eyes, knows that Clint will just work himself up imagining possibilities. Steve looks back to Bucky.

“Bucky, is it okay if I explain to Clint?”

Bucky trembles, looks like he’s about to say no. Finally he nods his head shakily.

“Bucky—Bucky had a daddy who,” Steve hesitates, starts again. “Bucky’s first daddy touched him in a way that Bucky didn’t say yes to.”

Clint’s eyes go wide. Steve doesn’t have to say any more, he can tell. Clint and he had, long ago, discussed the fact that some people engaged in sexual activities in their age play. It had always been a clear part of their boundaries that their relationship was not to be sexual in any way. They had talked about consent. Fuck, Clint, Phil, and Steve had even talked about the consent issues implicit in Clint’s multiple headspaces and how that affected his and Phil’s sexual relationship.

“When they took me to the Tower I didn’t really know—I was so confused, all the time, or Id’ve never tried to—I didn’t know—that my daddy now didn’t want me for those games,” Bucky whispers, eyes to the table, “He was so upset. And I got doctors and my family and they taught me I didn’t have to play those games, but I still get so worried.” His words are all coming out in a rush now, tangling together, and he sounds like he’s begging for some kind of validation. “Because I didn’t choose this and my daddy now didn’t either, I’m not like you guys and other littles and I shouldn’t be around them, I—”

He shakes his head and cuts himself off, curling around Buddy Bear.

It feels like a confession, like Bucky’s trying to cleanse himself of his sins and it makes Steve sick to his stomach.

“That’s not true!” Clint says fiercely, sitting up on Steve’s lap. “It’s not—that—that was just a bad thing that happened to you. Bad things happened to me and my Bucky and I made Steve be my daddy anyway!” There are angry tears dashing down his face.

“Clint,” Steve quickly interrupts. “You didn’t make me do anything. I love being your daddy. And Bucky—” Steve hesitates, wanting to say what he needs to say exactly right, “You might not have gotten to choose, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. If being little helps you, if it makes you feel safe and better, then that’s all that matters, okay? As long as you’re communicating and everyone is taking care of themselves it’s good. D’you understand me, bud?”

“It’s—I’ve done so many dirty things, my little side comes from that. I let him do it. He told me to want it and I did.” Bucky whispers, as though he’s trying to make Steve see that surely he doesn’t belong here. It’s almost like he’s trying to get Steve to throw him out and say he has no business being anywhere near his little boy. Sort of like when Clint pushes boundaries because he needs to hear that Steve won’t get sick of him. The comparison helps, centers him back in the moment as opposed to the rage roiling through his system.

He’s sure there’s some way he’s supposed to respond to all that, but right now he’s just working with what he knows. “Just because something comes from a bad place doesn’t mean it’s all bad,” he says, as soothingly as he can. “Clinty’s parents were not very nice people and he came from them, but he’s not bad, is he? It seems like being little now is a good thing, that it’s a happy part of your life. Is that true?”

Bucky jerks out a little nod, then hiccups and brushes at his eyes.

“Well, that’s great, then,” Steve says, trying his best to sound sincere, to focus on Bucky and not the bag of walking scum that did this to him, “It sounds like your family’s helped you turn a bad situation into a good one. Do you feel happy with your daddy now?” You love him because he’s good to you and not because he tells you to?  Steve holds that back; no need to make this any darker or overload Bucky with questions.

Bucky nods again, fractionally calmer. “I just—I worry. Sometimes. Daddy says he loves me. And he likes playing with me and reading me stories and making me happy. And I know he’s not lying ‘cause one time we got in this fight and he was really sad when he thought I wouldn’t be little anymore. It’s just, the first time he found out, I—he—” Bucky flushes and promptly hides back in Buddy Bear.

Steve can’t be sure exactly what happened, but he has a pretty good idea. He can’t imagine he’d know how to react if he’d gotten his Bucky back and found out that had been done to him. It was hard enough, the way things had gone down. Steve doesn’t know anything about sexual abuse, but he knows enough about abuse and torture to know that recovery is difficult and complicated and confusing. He’s going to have to tread carefully.

With a sudden flash of insight, Steve thinks back to last night, when he’d gone to help Bucky with his diaper. Bucky had gone white as a sheet, clutching his pants and trembling all over. Steve hadn’t known what to make of the behavior—now it makes a terrible sort of sense. God, Steve must have scared him so bad.

And then, Bucky whispers, “Why didn’t my old daddy do—do—that—to your Bucky? Did I do something to make him—?” Steve’s heart breaks into a thousand pieces and he can’t help the distressed little noise that escapes him.

“No, Bucky,” Steve says firmly. He softens his tone when Bucky flinches. “No. I don’t know why that didn’t happen to my Bucky, but the only person who’s responsible is the person who hurt you. There is nothing you could ever do that would make that okay. He hurt you because he’s a bad person. That has nothing to do with you.”

Bucky’s full-out crying now and Steve can’t stand it anymore. He gets up, a very sniffly Clint still curled close on his hip, and carefully approaches Bucky. “Bucky, bud, can I give you a hug?”

Bucky nods tearfully and Steve wraps him up tight. Bucky tucks his face into Steve’s neck.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers. Steve feels shattered by the revelations, not sure how to move on from this.

“You have nothing to be sorry for Bucky, nothing at all. I’m glad that you felt safe enough to tell me all that.” Bucky pulls back a little to rest his head on Steve’s chest, so Steve lifts him, cradling him close. Holding his boys always makes him feel like he’s doing something right, and he desperately needs the simple reassurance of having Bucky close in this moment.

The timer on the stove interrupts the heavy silence, making all three of them flinch.

“Oh—let me get that before our pasta gets too cooked. Bucky, do you still want to pour the cheese in?” Steve settles both boys down, uses his sleeve to wipe teary, snotty faces.

“Uh-huh,” Bucky says shakily. Steve smiles back at him as he drains the pasta and empties the colander back into the pot. He waves Bucky over as he find the package of powdered cheese.

“Clinty, would you get the milk from the fridge for me?”

Sometimes, Steve thinks, you just have to keep moving. Bucky and Clint are quiet—wrung out—as they load the mac n’ cheese into the roasted peppers. Steve slides the tray of cheesy frogs back into the oven and looks over at Bucky and Clint. They’re sitting at the table together, Clint’s chair pressed close to Bucky’s, but not so close they’re touching. Bucky is hiding in his bear and Clint’s got his blankie pressed close and Steve mentally revises his plans for the day. An early nap will do Clint a world of good, and maybe Steve can even convince Bucky to at least rest for a little bit. Steve could really use the time to process.

“My daddy when I was a kid was real mean,” Clint murmurs hesitantly, like an offering of comfort or maybe just an attempt to get on common ground. “My mama was kinda scary too.”

“I don’t remember much of my family from when I was really a kid,” Bucky answers back, seemingly able to talk now. Clint really is good at getting people to feel comfortable. “I remember a little. My first family was pretty good. Just my daddy with HYDRA... Pierce. ” Steve can just hear the shudder in his voice.

So. It was Alexander Pierce himself who did this to Bucky. Steve thinks of the many people who looked up to and respected the man, at least in this world, then puts the thought aside. Too much to process already.

“My pa yelled an’ hit,” Clint says lowly, “And me an’ my brother didn’t hardly have any toys.”

“Mine hit too, when he was really mad,” Bucky says. He’s stroking Buddy Bear and holding him close for comfort, but he’s managed a couple quick glances up at Clint. “I had a few toys with him. But if I forgot to say thank you for anything he’d be really upset.”

“When Ma was feelin’ real bad we didn’t have food either, except school lunches,” Clint says, “an’ I’d be hungry all night. A couple times at school I stole food outta the garbage for later. But then one time I got real sick doing that, and then I had to stop.”

“My daddy made me eat food and I had to thank him, even though I didn’t want it. I don’t think I was really supposed to have lots of solid food—steak and gravy and—and ice cream was the worst. My tummy really didn’t like it but he’d get mad if I got sick, so I had to keep it down.”

That’s awful, and Steve shudders at the thought. How did this Bucky turn out as well-adjusted as he seems? How is he not at least as bad as Steve’s Bucky? Steve reminds himself that there’s a two-year gap, that he needs to be grateful that this didn’t happen to his own Bucky.

“The worst thing was—was accidents,” Clint says in a quiet, nervous voice, glancing up at Bucky to see his reaction. Steve checks the timer on the cheesy frogs, reminding himself to tell Clint, later, how brave he is to talk about all these things that are so hard for him. “Pa an’ Ma hated me when I had accidents. My foster moms an’ dads too. And it was so, so horrible and I hated myself for so long ‘till Daddy started taking care of me.”

“It’s not your fault,” Bucky says quickly, like he knows just how much Clint still struggles with this, and maybe he does. He has a bedwetting problem too, after all. “It feels really bad when your daddy’s mad about it, but it—my doctors told me—it isn’t your fault.”

“Was your daddy mad too?” Clint asks quietly, and Bucky twists uncomfortably in his seat and ducks his head before answering. Steve aches for his boy, knows how much he hated himself. And while having their Bucky around helps, Bucky doesn’t have the experience of caregivers punishing him for his accidents. It will be good, Steve thinks, for Clint to bond with someone who has similar memories.

“He was so mad. It was so bad and I was—I thought he’d never love me again.”

There are tears shining in Clint’s eyes. He doesn’t say anything more, just leans over to rest his head on top of Bucky’s. Steve strokes calming hands down both their backs.

“What do we say about loving each other, Clinty?” Steve asked.

“If somebody really loves you it doesn’t matter what you do, they’ll still love you,” Clint murmured, slipping his thumb into his mouth.

“That’s right. And accidents are no big deal here, okay? It’s okay if you wanna handle it all on your own, but it’s also okay to want or need help.”

“Okay,” Bucky whispers, though his cheeks turn a bright red. He fidgets in his seat and pulls his shirt down, as though he’s suddenly trying to hide the slight bulge of his protection. It’s not really evident—Steve can only tell it's there because he knows what to look for.

“Okay,” Steve repeats. He settles the boys back into their individual seats. They keep their hands clasped and Steve smiles sadly at the sight. He wonders how his Bucky is doing without another little to keep him company, especially his big brother. He fetches the cheesy frogs from the oven and loads them onto plates. He has to stop himself from automatically cutting up Bucky’s into bite-sized pieces.

This Bucky eats slowly, while Clint tears through one frog and then slows down for the second. About halfway through Bucky’s first frog, Steve makes sure to ask, “How’s your belly doin’, bud?”

Bucky glances up shyly. He finishes chewing, another radical difference from Clint, and says, “I’m okay. These are really good.”

“They’re the yummiest!” Clint agrees enthusiastically. “They’re yummy in my tummy!” Both boys giggle a little at that and Steve smiles.

“Um, Dadu?” Bucky pipes up during a lull in the conversation. “Buddy Bear needs his lunch too.” He holds his bear up to demonstrate his point and Steve can’t help the fond smile that takes over his face.

“Of course! Silly me. Would he like blackberry jam again or another type?”

Bucky contemplates his bear seriously for a moment. “Strawberry, please.”

“You got it, Buddy Bear!” Steve fetches the jam and helps Bucky arrange his bear in his own chair (perched up on a box, so that he can see over the top of the table). This snack has turned into more of an early lunch, but that’s all right. Maybe he can get the boys settled for a nap, or a rest at the very least. With that in mind he makes some sleepytime tea as the boys finish their frogs. He puts Clint’s in a sippy cup and loads it up with milk. Bucky’s he keeps plain and in a mug. He’s not sure if Bucky even likes tea. His Bucky doesn’t like tea, always makes a face when he drinks it. But this Bucky accepts his mug with a little smile.

“Why don’t we read for a little bit, boys?” Steve asks after he’s whisked away the dishes. He leads them out to the couch. He’s not going to announce his plans for a nap, just set up the environment and hope that Clint crashes. He settles a boy on each side of him and gets JARVIS to dim the lights. There’s a stack of books waiting for them on the table. The one on top is one of Clint’s favorites, How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You ? Steve thinks he could probably recite this one by heart.

Clint is snoozing halfway through the third book and Bucky’s eyes are fluttering. Steve doesn’t want to move Bucky without his consent, not after all he’s learned today. “Bucky,” Steve says in a whisper, “I’m gonna put Clint in bed for a quick nap. I think it would be good if you laid down with him and just rested your eyes for a little bit, okay?”

“Uh-huh, Dadu,” Bucky agrees sleepily. Steve lifts Clint and leads Bucky into the bedroom, gets them both tucked under the covers. He’s glad that Bucky offered to wear protection this morning—one less thing to worry about right then. He sits on the side of the bed and strokes Bucky’s hair gently. It’s long and slightly tangled. Steve wonders if someone, at his home, brushes it for him. He combs his Bucky’s hair, and shaves his face, and on occasion, helps him brush his teeth. But this Bucky needs so much less. Steve’s pretty sure there’s no dyspraxia or aphasia or TBI troubling this Bucky.

But that’s clearly not because this Bucky has suffered less. Steve swallows back a wave of nausea and considers the sleeping boy in front of him. It’s not fair. It’s not right. Steve doesn’t have words for the horror and anger and despair he’s feeling. He thinks he’s handled it all right. He’s sat through both Clint and his Bucky’s horrifying recollections of abuse and torture and trauma. But the shame that had been written all over Bucky as he’d shared—

There are too many cruel people in the world, people who will hurt innocent people so badly that they think they deserved the hurt. Steve sets his head in his hands. He thinks of Clint, apologizing for keeping food in his underwear drawer, of his own Bucky, panicking when Clint accidentally splashed water in his face, of this Bucky, and his pale, frightened face when Steve went to help him with his diaper.

Quietly, as to not wake his sleeping boys, he cries.

*

Steve’s happy to find Bucky in a calm, content mood when he wakes up from his nap, even if he refuses to leave his blanket cocoon and his hair is tied up on top of his head with a little ribbon. He absolutely doesn’t feel a pang at the thought that, once again, Natasha has been better able to parent a Bucky than himself. Not a bit.

Natasha’s already taken pictures of the cocooned Bucky peering sleepily up at her from the couch. “It’s just in case we’re able to establish communication before we can actually open up a portal,” she explains, “The other Steve will probably feel better if we can send him proof that his Bucky’s all right. Plus, it’s cute.”

Steve says nothing, already wishing he’d thought of that, and Nat frowns up at him. “I know that look,” she says quietly, “Rogers, what’s up?”

“It’s nothing,” Steve mutters. Natasha sends him a steely look. “It’s just been a long day.”

And it really has been. This morning was horrific, waking to Bucky’s screams, to his friend gouging long, bleeding marks into his own skin. Even after Bucky had calmed, Steve felt shaky with the aftermath, with how afraid and helpless he’d been. Meeting with Miriam and Cornelius had helped, but has also left him feeling daunted. This Bucky just needs so much and Steve doesn’t feel at all prepared to provide that level of care.

Then again—he had similar feelings when he first agreed to take on the role of a daddy for his own Bucky. He's not sure if that means he can learn to do anything, or if it just reflects poorly on his capabilities as a parent and a friend.

He glances over at Bucky again. He’s blinking sleepily over at them. Clint is sitting next to him, gently rubbing his back through the piles of blankets. They seem to have gotten over their initial tension. Steve sighs, rubs the back of his neck.

“Steve,” Natasha says warningly. Steve looks down at her.

“It’s just—a lot,” he finally says, guilt worming it’s way deep inside.  This Bucky is a lot of work and he hates that he feels that way. It’s not Bucky’s fault that he needs so much help. Steve had once thought that his own Bucky was a lot of work—still feels that way, on the worst days. But he’s never been as needy as this Bucky. Steve already feels exhausted, already needs a break from being the main caretaker, but this Bucky is so wary of the others and so prone to emotional outbursts that Steve doesn’t think it’s a good idea to leave him with anyone else for too long.

Natasha makes a thoughtful humming noise and looks over at Bucky. They watch him together for a moment.

“You said he’s younger—how old?” Natasha asks.

“He said around three,” Steve admits softly.

“That's much younger than you’re used to. Give yourself time. It’s not like you’ve ever looked after a toddler before.” This is true. Steve can’t even remember the last time he was in the same room as a toddler. And since Bucky has trouble with words, it’s not as if any guidance is coming from that arena. “I bet JARVIS and Pepper could help you find some articles on taking care of toddlers—maybe that would help.”

It’s not a bad idea, Steve admits to himself, which only serves to make him feel worse. Natasha always seems to know just what to do for Bucky. It used to be that Steve was that way, that he and Bucky knew each other inside and out, and he can’t help feeling just a little bit jealous. Natasha reaches over and squeezes his arm, smiles. He tries to smile back.

“Thanks for taking care of him for a bit.”

“Anytime,” Natasha promises.

“Odie!” Bucky calls, surprising Steve. Bucky looks a little frantic, trying to get out of his tangled blankets. He makes his sign for help and then the sign for bathroom. Steve hurries over and dislodges Bucky from the nest of blankets, remembering what he had said that morning about not getting a lot of warning when he needs to go. Steve scans the area for the nearest bathroom, hurriedly carrying Bucky in that direction. As soon as Bucky’s on his feet he’s scrabbling with his pants. Without thinking, Steve reaches out to help. Once the pants and pull-up are out of the way, Bucky quickly seats himself on the toilet, a red flush building on his face.

Steve turns to the side to give him some semblance of privacy. Once the sound of pee hitting water has stopped, Bucky carefully says, “Thanks Odie.”

Steve turns, smiling, to find Bucky pulling up his pull-up and pants with careful motions.

“You’re welcome, Bucky. Thank you for telling me and letting me help.” Bucky blushes at the floor and Steve softens a little. This Bucky is a lot of work, but he’s also adorable and sweet. He shuffles over to the sink and turns the water on.

“Help wash?” Bucky asks—and yeah, Steve hadn’t even thought of that, but it must be pretty hard to wash up with just one hand.

“How do you do this at home?” Steve asks as helps soap up Bucky’s hand and run it under the warm water.

“Daddy put brush in the sink,” Bucky mumbles.

“That was a good idea,” Steve says, wondering if he’d have ever thought of it.

“Daddy found on the ‘puter,” Bucky says, which, perhaps unreasonably, makes Steve feel a lot better.

Bucky dries his hand on his own, while Steve says, “I was thinking we could go visit Pepper this afternoon.”

Bucky tenses and Steve frowns despite himself. Pepper is one of his Bucky’s favorite people and has been since the early days. He likes to visit her. But this Bucky has curled his body up and is biting his lip. “‘Kay, Odie,” Bucky says, even though Steve can plainly see that it is not okay. He pulls Bucky into a hug.

“Our Pepper is very nice. She’ll probably have some tea and cookies,” Steve says in what he hopes is a coaxing voice. He wants to see Pepper because he hopes she’ll have some advice on how to take care of a kid this young or, at the very least, will be able to keep Bucky engaged while Steve does some research.

“Should we bring Natasha and Clint?” Steve offers. Bucky seems okay with the two of them now. He’s not sure why this Bucky is so uncomfortable around people, and Pepper especially, but he knows himself well enough that he can’t do this without help, even if it would make Bucky feel more comfortable. That probably makes him a pretty terrible parent, but he knows his friends. They’re kind and good and Bucky will be fine. Without them, Steve will not be fine.

Bucky shrugs in answer to Steve’s question and Steve can’t hold back a sigh. Bucky flinches like Steve shouted.  Steve can’t help his frustration, so he just lifts Bucky and carries him back to the playroom, where Clint and Natasha are perched on the couch, speaking in soft tones. Steve tries to put a smile on.

“Bucky and I are going to visit Pepper for a bit, do you want to come? You could bring some crayons and paper?” Steve hopes it’s clear that this is more request than invitation.

“I actually have to go walk pizza dog,” Clint says apologetically, “But I’ll come find you guys after that.” He comes a little closer, smiling at Bucky. Bucky ducks his head shyly into Steve’s shoulder. Clint reaches out and pets Bucky’s hair. Bucky presses into the touch and Steve once again aches with inadequacy.

“I’m going to bring Pepper Bear and Maria Bear,” Tasha said, gathering up the bears in her arms. “They like tea parties.”

“Dolly likes tea parties?” Steve can’t tell if it’s a question or a statement.

Natasha just chirps, “Yeah!”

They take the elevator to Pepper’s floor, Steve asking JARVIS to let her know they’re coming. Bucky goes quieter and quieter, pushing in closer to Steve’s body as they get closer. He slips the doll’s shoe back into his mouth and sucks. Steve can feel Bucky’s heart pounding and the trembling of his limbs and wonders again why Bucky is so scared of everyone on the team.

Pepper’s waiting for them, a friendly smile on her face and tea and cookies already waiting on the coffee table. Steve tries to set Bucky down on the couch, but he just clings tighter, whimpering in his throat. Steve suppresses a sigh and sits down with Bucky in his lap, instead. Pepper lifts her eyebrow, offering him a concerned and sympathetic glance. Tasha is setting up the bears’ tea party, narrating for Bucky’s benefit.

“Would you like some tea, Bucky?” Pepper asks. “I’ve got some here that’s all cooled off for you.” Bucky just shudders in Steve’s arms. Steve looks up hopelessly at Tasha and Pepper.

Natasha comes over and takes a seat next to Bucky and he on the couch.

“I’m going to touch your back,” she warns. She rubs firms circles on Bucky’s back. “Is it alright if we talk about you a little, Bucky?”

Bucky peeks up at her, frowning a little. Natasha smiles warmly at him. “You’re younger than our Bucky,” she explains. “We’re trying to take care of you, but we don’t know that much about kids as young as you.”

Bucky blushes and hides his face in Steve’s chest again. He shrugs. A moment later, his hand comes up and he signs okay .

“Thanks, Buck,” Steve says softly, relieved to have his permission for this discussion.

“How old are you, Bucky?” Pepper asks. They have to wait a minute before Bucky’s hand comes up, this time holding up three fingers. Pepper exhales softly.

“Goodness,” she says, “I don’t know what Natasha and Steve are talking about. You’re quite the big boy, aren’t you?” Bucky gives a little wiggle in Steve’s lap, turns to face Pepper and shoots her a shy smile. He nods, just a bit.

“Not a baby,” Bucky whispers haltingly.

“Oh, of course not!” Pepper exclaims, face more animated than it usually is. “You’re a big boy. Just not as big as Bucky or Tasha, is that right?”

“Yuhuh.”

“I think Natasha and Steve just want to learn how to take good care of you. Does that make sense?”

Bucky’s expression turns thoughtful. Steve tries to wait patiently as Bucky processes. “Like talkin’ t’the doctors?” Bucky asks, voice cautious.

“Exactly like that!” Pepper assures. She, like Natasha, seems to have a knack for setting Bucky at ease. Steve sinks a little lower, not convinced he’ll be able to do a single thing right trying to take care of this Bucky. “So we might ask JARVIS to look up some information on three year olds, and how to take extra-good care of them. And maybe we could ask you some questions too?”

Bucky pulls back sharply into Steve’s chest, shrugging.

“It’s okay if you don’t have answers for our questions,” Natasha promises. Bucky looks up at Steve, eyes wide and anxious. He’s chewing on his lip again—it’s a little bloody. Steve slowly reaches for the dogtags around Bucky’s neck, holds one up to his mouth. Bucky leans forward automatically, replacing his lip with the rubber tag.

“I try,” Bucky says around the tag, eyes still fixed on Steve’s face. Steve squeezes him, ever so gently. This Bucky just seems to much more breakable than his own—maybe it’s the lack of metal arm or how thin he is, but there’s also a vulnerability in the way his body moves that makes him look like a baby giraffe.

“That’s all we can ask,” Pepper replies with a smile. She turns to Steve, asks, “Do you have any questions for Bucky, Steve?”

Steve has had hundred of questions for Bucky over the past twenty four hours. Given the chance to actually ask them, his brain goes blank. The urgent questions he does have—about the fact that Bucky has only made it to the toilet twice since he arrived or how clumsy Bucky is—he doesn’t know how to phrase it so he doesn’t trigger or shame Bucky. The last thing he wants to do is make Bucky feel bad. Steve takes his time formulating his questions.

“Do you have a doctor at home, like Miriam and Cornelius?”

“Yuhuh. I got Annie. We talk ‘bout feelings, like today. I also gots Isaac.” Bucky speaks slowly, with many pauses to chew on his dog tags, but it’s more than he usually says in one go.

“What kind of doctor is Isaac?” Steve asks.

“OT,” Bucky says. The term sounds familiar, but it takes minute to click.

“You see an occupational therapist?” Steve confirms. Bucky nods, glances shyly around the room.

“‘Cause my body.” Bucky mumbles.

“What about your body?” Natasha asks, leaning forward. Bucky shrinks back a little.

“Um,” he whispers to his lap.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to tell us,” Steve hurries to assure him, “or if you don’t know the words. That’s okay.”

“I—I, um,” Bucky pauses, chews a little harder on his tags, brings the doll up to his body in a tight hug, “Dun’ wanna talk ‘bout it. S’okay?”

“Of course that’s okay,” Steve quickly reassures, though he admits to himself that he really would like to know more.

“It’s new,” Bucky explains, voice a little pleading, as though he still expects them to be angry. “Still learnin’.”

“That’s okay, honey. Maybe we can talk a little about three year olds? What can we do to take good care of you? Is there anything we can get you?”  Bucky shrugs, ducking his chin and flushing a little.

“Dunno,” he mumbles, bringing his doll up and starting to suck on her shoe again. He keeps his eyes downcast. Steve hesitates. His Bucky has a really hard time asking for things, even after all this time, and there’s no reason to think this Bucky would be any different.

“It will help us to take better care of you,” Steve coaxes gently.

Bucky slides the mangled shoe out of his mouth and looks down at it for a second. “P...pacis?” he says shyly.

“Pacifiers?” Pepper says encouragingly. Bucky blushes and nods. Steve hides his surprise as best he can. His own Bucky would be appalled at the suggestion that he use a pacifier, gets embarrassed if people see him sucking his thumb. Steve reminds himself, again, that this Bucky is a lot younger and is used to different things. “Okay, I think we can do that for you.”

“Sippy too.” Bucky chews lightly, then corrects himself. “Sippy cups. So I don’t spill.”

Steve had noticed Bucky was having trouble holding cups on his own. “We can get that too. You’re doing so well, Bucky.”

Bucky actually smiles at that, wiggling his fingers and blushing. “I...also...sens’ry toys? Like play-doh?”

“Sensory toys?” Pepper seems to know what that means, though the term is only vaguely familiar to Steve. “What kind do you like?”

“Squishy balls...spiky balls too, an’ play-doh, an’ fuzzy things,” Bucky says, on a roll now, “an’ toys with water in ‘em like glitter jars. Chewies.”

“Okay, great,” Pepper says enthusiastically, “That’s so helpful, Bucky, I think I can get you most of those things. You’re doing a great job, sweetie.”

“Great job,” Steve repeats, rubbing Bucky’s back. “Oh, one question. The pacifiers you use at home - are they regular pacifiers from the store, or does your daddy get you special ones made for grown-ups?”

Bucky goes still, chewing. “I—I’unno,” he says, looking a little nervous, “Daddy never said.”

“That’s all right,” Pepper reassures him, “We’ll just get you a couple of each, it doesn’t matter.”

“Oh, Bucky,” Steve says, and then remembering how Bucky seems to respond to baths, “Would you like a few bath toys?”

Yes! Bath toys!” Bucky exclaims, bouncing in Steve’s lap. Then, quieter and a little sheepish, “Yes, please, Odie.” Steve laughs. Bucky is really very cute. The fond smiles on Pepper and Natasha’s faces say they think so too.

“Odie?” Pepper asks, an amused lilt to her voice.

Bucky flushes, wiggles a little, making Steve briefly wonder if he needs to use the bathroom again. “Otha’daddy,” Bucky explains shyly.

Pepper smiles broadly, and Steve finds himself pinking slightly. He’s still not quite sure what to make of the nickname, though he is flattered that Bucky’s given him a special name. “That’s a great name,” Pepper adds. She and Natasha exchange looks and Steve’s cheeks go a shade darker. He has the sense he’s never going to live down the title.

“Is there anything else you need, honey? Or anything you need us to do differently?” Steve asks, only in part to get the attention away from himself. Bucky chews thoughtfully on his doll’s shoe and Steve thinks that they really can’t get those pacifiers too soon.

“I—I can’t be—not alone,” Bucky whispers into his doll. “Please, not ‘lone.” Steve can’t help the surge of guilt, remembering how upset Bucky had gotten the night before, when Steve had left him alone in bed.

“We won’t leave you alone,” Nat promises, voice serious but soft. Bucky nods, though his face is still hidden in his doll.

“Thank you so much for telling us all this, Bucky. I know it wasn’t easy, but it helps a lot.” Pepper’s voice is genuine and sweet and Bucky peeks up over his doll. Steve wants to wrap him up in a blanket and keep him safe from anything that might hurt him. There’s so much innocence in his eyes, but so much fear too. Steve won’t ever get used to seeing that much fear on his friend's face, no matter how many times he experiences it. He wonders what this Bucky is like when he’s big, if the trouble he has moving and talking carries over. Does the Soldier have the same difficulties? Steve can’t imagine that he does, but without knowing more about the specific issues, he really can’t know.

“You’ve done a lot of talking,” Steve says, rubbing Bucky’s back. “Do you need a break?”

“Yuhuh,” Bucky mutters, flashing grateful eyes up at him.

“Do you want to watch a movie?”

Bucky bites down on his doll’s shoe, lips twisting, and brows folding over his eyes. “Um. M’not s’posed to watch lots.” Steve startles slightly. He doesn’t have any rules for his own Bucky, unless bedtime counts as a “rule.” That sort of thing isn’t a part of their usual routine or relationship, and Steve certainly never limits the amount of time Bucky spends watching TV. That's never really been a problem.

“I think, just for today, your daddy will understand,” Pepper reassures. She’s got an amused glint in her eyes and Steve has to admit, it’s kind of sweet that Bucky is still trying to follow his daddy’s rules even now. Or, well. Steve hopes it’s sweet, hopes it’s not sinister or fear-based. “Do you have a favorite movie or TV show?”

“Peep?” Bucky requests. Steve doesn’t know that one and from the looks on Pepper and Nat’s faces, neither do they.

Do you mean Peep and the Big Wide World? JARVIS asks helpfully and Bucky nods, a little smile tugging at his lips.

“M’favorite,” he explains.

“I’ve never seen Peep,” Natasha sounds rather vexed about it, which is more Tasha than Nat.

Shall I queue up an episode? JARVIS recommends.

“Yes please, JARVIS. That sounds wonderful. Steve and I can order the things Bucky needs while Tasha and Bucky watch Peep. How does that sound?”

“Good!” Tasha chirps, bouncing on the sofa cushions. Pepper gets up—presumably to get her laptop—while JARVIS turns on the TV. Steve watches the opening of the show curiously. It’s clearly aimed at kids younger than his Bucky and Natasha’s usual headspaces, but that makes sense. Bucky is immediately sucked in, even hums along with the theme song. He points out each character to Natasha, voice quiet, glancing at her shyly out of the corner of his eyes.

“I like Chirp most,” he tells her. Tasha smiles.

“I’ve never seen this show, but it’s good!” Bucky blushes at that, wiggles a little in his seat. Slowly, tentatively, he pushes a little closer to Tasha, not really looking at her. Tasha pretends she doesn’t notice until his leg is pressed to hers, when she places an arm around his back. Bucky curls into her like she’s not half his size.

“He seems sweet,” Pepper says, surprising him. Steve glances at her.

“Yeah,” he agrees, “he is.”

Pepper offers a reassuring smile and puts one of her dainty hands on his arm. “It’s hard to take care of another person’s child. You’re doing the best you can.”

Steve nods, though he’s not sure he believes it. They take a seat together on the other chairs and Pepper opens up her laptop.

“Let’s start by ordering the things he asked for?”

“Yeah, sure,” Steve agrees, leaning over to see the screen. They’ve collected a couple websites and companies that they like to order from, for toys and supplies for Bucky, but Steve doesn’t remember seeing any pacifiers or sippy cups on those sites—they were aimed at older children. It takes them a little clicking around to find websites that sell what Bucky asked for, but once they do it doesn’t take them long to make the purchases. They spend what is probably an absurd amount of money, given that Bucky will (hopefully) not be here permanently, but Steve wants him to be comfortable and happy and taken care of while he’s here. Money doesn’t need to be a consideration in that.

“Do you have any experience with kids as young as Bucky?” Pepper asks, as she places the last order, putting everything on rush shipping.

Steve shakes his head. “No. I mean—I don’t have much experience with any kids beyond our Bucky. They had me take pictures with kids back when I was doing USO tours, but I never felt like I was any good with them.”

“I don’t either,” she says, “But I have my niece and nephew, and I remember a little bit from when they were younger. I can ask him a few questions when he’s done with his show.”

Despite his earlier insistence that he’s not allowed to watch too much TV, now that he’s started, he’s very reluctant to be pulled away, and Tasha’s not exactly helping.

“One more episode!” she keeps insisting, and Bucky looks at Steve so pleadingly that he agrees. He’s not sure he has it in him to deny Bucky anything he asks for right now. It also allows him more time to just watch Bucky and try to figure him out a bit.

Bucky never sits completely still, Steve notices. He looks as relaxed as he’s ever been, but he still absently kicks his legs and wiggles a bit and nuzzles his head into Tasha. She looks content to let him, squeezing him closer each time he does it. He seems to like the squeezing a lot—his face turns blissful each time she does it, and Steve envies her for her skill with people, her ability to read this Bucky and respond with ease.

The mood is broken by a loud gurgling growl that seems to come from Bucky’s stomach. He looks a little startled, then embarrassed.

“Are you hungry?” Tasha asks, “We could get you a snack.”

It takes a minute for Bucky to answer. He stares down at his own stomach, as though asking it whether or not he is in fact hungry. “Yeah. Snack, please.”

Steve isn’t sure if there’s anything in particular that he likes, but Pepper disappears for a minute and returns with a platter of cheese, crackers, and grapes. Bucky doesn’t seem to object to any of these, though Steve figures their first question should be what foods he likes.

He demolishes the cheese and grapes, and eats most of the crackers. He spills cracker crumbs down his shirt as he eats, but it doesn’t seem to bother him too much, and Tasha, ever the little helper, dutifully brushes him off when he’s done eating. He blushes a little, but she smiles at him and that seems to put him back at ease.

“So, Bucky,” Pepper begins, “We just have a few more questions to ask you, okay?”

He bites his lip and nods, though he doesn’t seem to happy about it. Tasha has both of her arms around him now, with him reclining back fully against her, so maybe he’ll be okay.

“Can you tell us some foods and drinks you like?” Steve begins.

Bucky relaxes a little, like he’d been expecting worse questions. “Asketti—um, pasketti an’ meatballs. Milk. Oatmeal for breakfast, but need help to eat it.” He chews lightly on his thumb, thinking. “Nanas are good. Mash’potatoes, I dunno. Oh! Daddy always says get my vegetables!”

“That’s very good, Bucky!” Pepper beams, and Steve notices Bucky wiggling again. He considers stopping for a bathroom break, but Bucky’s on a roll with the questions, and after all, he is wearing protection. Steve should definitely get in the habit of asking him, though. One more thing to remind himself. “Do you have any vegetables that you like?”

He shrugs. “They’re ‘kay. Cooked is better ‘cause don’t like crunchy.” He makes a face like his mouth is full of slime, and Steve makes a note to avoid crunchy things.

“Okay,” Pepper says, “Now, what’s your bedtime, if you have one?”

“Um—nine if little. If m’big, I pick.”

So he is big some of the time. Steve had wondered if he never came out of this headspace, but it’s not surprising that he hasn’t seen it. His own Bucky often regresses during times of stress. The thought makes him wonder if his own Bucky is little, off in this other world, or if he’s been big, or maybe even if the Soldier’s made an appearance.

“Do you have a bedtime routine that you usually follow?”

“Um, yeah. Medicine-bath-jammies-story-bed.” He recites this with such ease that Steve knows he’s said it before.

“Okay. One more thing—we have other questions, but those can wait. You’ve already done so well. Now, this might be a little personal, but I’m only asking so we know how to take care of you.”

Bucky tenses up, but Natasha squeezes him tight and he relaxes back against her.

“Are you potty-trained? Do you need anything, like maybe at night—” but Bucky’s already jerked back into Tasha, blushing fiercely. He hides his face in her shoulder, twisting away. It’s a dead giveaway, even though he doesn’t answer. “Oh, sweetie. It’s okay. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.”

“Pepper’s nice,” Tasha soothes, trying to rock him as though he doesn’t weigh more than her. “She won’t make fun, promise.”

Bucky gives a little wail into her shoulder, and Steve quickly moves to sit beside her in case he needs to be held the way the therapists showed him this morning. He doesn’t want Bucky to hurt himself in his distress.

But Bucky just slumps down between the two of them with a little sob, his hand over his face. “Don’t tell,” he whispers. “Please, not anyone .”

“Of course,” Pepper quickly says, “Don’t worry, Bucky, it’s all right. I’m just trying to get an idea of the supplies you’ll need. Lots of kids need this stuff.”

Steve rubs Bucky’s back. “Actually, Pepper, this is something I did discuss privately with Tony, and he’s going to take care of it.”

“Not a baby, ” Bucky says, peeking at her over his hands. “I know how t’potty, just—sometimes—need help.”

“That’s all right,” Pepper says smoothly, “Lots of kids are like that. I know you’re not a baby, sweetheart. You’re a very brave boy and you’ve done a wonderful job answering our questions.”

He peeks at her again like he’s trying to determine if she means it. She smiles reassuringly.

“We’ll try to keep things as private as possible, if that’s what you want,” Steve promises, “And we’re definitely done asking questions now. I’m really proud of you, Bucky.”

And there’s the wiggle again. “Actually, should we take a b—a potty break now?” The word—potty—makes him a little uncomfortable. It’s just so young and childish, and his Bucky would be so embarrassed if he used it with him. It feels a little demeaning, honestly. But this Bucky consistently calls the bathroom the potty and Steve is determined to use familiar terms with him. Every little bit helps, he figures. He wants Bucky to be comfortable here.

Bucky blushes but allows Steve to help him up off the couch. He seems a little weary from all their questioning—he stumbles a little on the way to the bathroom and leans heavily on Steve, but otherwise he appears to be fine.

At least until Steve helps him pull his pants down and settle onto the toilet, at which point Bucky looks up at him, puts his face in his hands, and bursts into tears.

“Honey…” Steve falters, then kneels to put his arms around Bucky. He hesitates, because his own Bucky certainly would not want to be touched when he’s in this position. This Bucky leans into it, however, and allows Steve to comfort him.

“It’s really okay. You’re doing so well, Bucky. I know it’s hard, but I can see you’re trying. I’m so proud of you.”

Bucky doesn’t respond, but Steve is learning that if he waits a little while, Bucky seems to find it easier to talk to him, as if he’s taking the time to build all the sentences. Sure enough, Bucky whimpers, “They saw you take me potty. They know.

“Sweetheart,” Steve says softly, “I’m so sorry.” He thinks back to his own Bucky, after the ducklings pulled his pants down and saw his pull-up. “I know you wanted to keep this private.”

“Se-secret!” Bucky agrees on a sob.

Steve rubs Bucky’s back, considers what to say. When the ducklings found out, Bucky was horrified. Their acceptance had made it tolerable, but only just. Bucky doesn’t even know how long the others have known about this issue, because they all know how private and sensitive he is about it. None of their family have ever judged him for his bedwetting, would never judge this Bucky for his accidents, but Steve knows it’s not as easy as just telling him that.

“It’s going to be okay,” Steve murmurs, holding Bucky close, “They understand. They’re not going to tell anyone if you don’t want them to.”

“M’not a baby,” Bucky whispers. He slips his thumb into his mouth, which doesn’t exactly help his argument. Steve is struck, again, by how little this Bucky is, and again by an overwhelming hatred for Pierce.

“I know you’re not. Pepper and Tasha know that too.”  Bucky doesn’t look convinced. He pulls back a little. Steve grabs a tissue and gently mops Bucky’s face. It takes Bucky a moment to blow air out of his nose instead of his mouth and Steve suppresses the urge to ask more about why Bucky sees an occupational therapist. “Why don’t you go potty now and then we can go out and play with Tasha? You can drink your tea, or some milk?”

Bucky sits up a little, nodding and sniffling. He blushes and asks, “Turn ‘round, please?”

Steve smiles and does so, giving Bucky his privacy, however limited it is.

When Bucky finishes, Steve helps him arrange his pants and wash his hand. It’s starting to feel comfortable, routine. They’ll get there, he thinks. He has a better idea, now, of what Bucky will need to feel comfortable here. There’s still some loose ends to tie, and he’s sure there are issues that will crop up, but he feels significantly better than he did this morning.

Bucky lifts his arm to be carried, so Steve cradles him close. Before they leave the bathroom, Bucky leans up and presses a sloppy kiss to Steve’s cheek, mumbles, “Thanks Odie.”

Steve smiles broadly. He can do this.

Chapter Text

Bucky wakes suddenly to the phantom sensation of hands on him and Pierce’s voice in his ears. He shudders and sits up quickly. He dislodges Clint, who mumbles and rolls over, fast asleep, and abruptly remembers where he is. There’s a part of him that really just wants to be little again, not to have to deal with this shitshow from an adult perspective. But this Steve has been really good to him and he’s earned a little bit of a reprieve and maybe some grown-up answers to the questions Bucky’s sure he has.

Bucky slips out from under the covers, grimaces when the wet pull-up presses up against him. First things first, then. He pads over to the bathroom, sure to be quiet so he doesn’t wake Clint. Which is—well, a whole other thing to process now that he’s an adult again. Bucky closes the door, takes satisfaction in locking it behind him, and quickly strips out of the sodden pull-up. He’s not sure if it’s okay if he takes a shower now, which is what he would really like, but a little rummaging unearths a package of wipes and a few spare pairs of clean boxer shorts. He might have been willing to wear protection to make Clint feel better when he was little, but he’s got to draw the line somewhere.  

All of the boxers he finds are luridly printed with various cartoon characters. The least offensive pair has Mickey Mouse on them, but he’s worn worse. The sweatpants and t-shirt he was wearing earlier are serviceable, though he’d rather trade the sweats for some jeans.

Dressed and at least somewhat clean, Bucky grabs his new bear off the bed and heads out to the living room. He pauses in the door. Steve is sitting on the couch, hunched over a laptop, eyes focused and eyebrows furrowed. He looks up when he hears Bucky and immediately puts down the laptop, pasting a friendly grin on his face.

“Hey buddy, how’d you sleep?”

“I’m not little,” Bucky explains, his face a little pink, “But I slept okay, thanks. Clint’s a bit of an octopus, isn’t he?”

Steve’s face does something odd, eyes showing surprise, and then sorrow, and then longing, and then settling on something that might pass as calm had Bucky not known Steve Rogers his entire life. Bucky may not be quite the man he used to be, but he knows Steve. Still, this isn’t his Steve, so he doesn’t call him on his bull.

“He is,” Steve says with a forced smile. “He’s very cuddly.” There’s an awkward pause as Steve rubs his hands down his pants and glances carefully over Bucky’s body. “Do you need to change?” Steve asks finally, voice calm. Bucky can’t help the blush that rises on his cheeks.

“Fuck, Steve,” he mumbles, not quite believing that he just got asked that. Steve’s face stays stubbornly set, though, so Bucky finally admits “I found a pair of boxers in the bathroom.”

“Oh, good. Lemme know if you need anything else. I don’t think my Bucky’s clothes will fit you,” Steve gives him another assessing glance, which makes Bucky want to squirm away from his gaze, “But you can borrow anything of mine or Clint’s.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Are you hungry? Want anything to drink?” Steve asks, closing his laptop.

“Nah, I’m good,” Bucky says. Somewhat hesitantly he sits down on the other end of the couch, holding tight to his new bear and wishing, not for the first time, that Bucky Bear was here to help him deal with this. He’s still not sure of his footing here. It’s clear that this Steve is a good guy. He’s taken great care of Bucky thus far. Bucky blushes a little, thinking about it. This Steve hadn’t batted an eye at anything Bucky needed—not smoothies or protection or a stuffed bear or jam for that same bear. Bucky wonders if he’s similar to the other Bucky, and that’s why it’s gone as smoothly as it has.

Of course, it’s clear he’s not exactly the same. The other Bucky was never abused by Pierce, at least not with perverted sex games. The thought makes him almost angry, certainly jealous. The other Bucky got to choose to be little.

“How are you?” The other Steve asks, voice gentle. Bucky looks up.

“I’m all right,” he says. He doesn’t know if he is, really, but he’s in a safe place and not actively freaking out, and that’s pretty close to “all right” given the circumstances.

“Is there anything I can do to make this any easier?” Steve asks, expression earnest.

“No. I mean, you’ve been great, really. It’s just—it’s kinda weird, isn’t it?” Bucky forces a chuckle, 'cause yeah, this situation is weird and kind of uncomfortable. But it’s not like they really have a choice in it, so…

“Yeah, it definitely is,” Steve agrees, hands running nervously down his legs. “Are things here very different from your world?”

Bucky thinks about that a moment. “Yeah, I guess they are. I mean. Clint’s not little in my world and we’re a whole two years ahead of you. And it seems like me and your Bucky aren’t the same in a lot of ways—we might’ve had pretty different experiences.”

“You have,” Steve says. His voice is sad. Bucky studies him a minute. Usually when his Steve looks that way, Bucky knows he’s thinking about HYDRA and Pierce and—Bucky pushes the thoughts out of his head, stamping them down. Bucky’s trying not to feel jealous of the other Bucky—the one who got to choose his little side, who wasn’t abused, who’s probably relatively whole and unfractured. But maybe that’s not fair. He doesn’t really know anything about this other Bucky.

“What’s your Bucky like?” He asks, his curiosity getting the better of him. Steve looks up, eyebrows rising with a little surprise, like he didn’t expect Bucky to ask that. “I guess I’m just curious. I mean, obviously things with HYDRA were different for us.” Bucky doesn’t say anymore, but from the grief and anger that passes over Steve’s face, he knows that Steve gets what he’s referencing.

“Oh. He’s…” Steve hesitates, glances to the side, face going a little stormy. “He’s got a lot of issues from HYDRA still. It hasn’t been long, for us.”

Bucky nods carefully. He remembers Steve saying it’s only been a few months. A few months into his own recovery  Bucky had been complete mess. He can only imagine how awful it would have been to end up in alternate world like this when he was still in that state.

“And obviously he didn’t experience what you did—” Steve pauses again. “But they tortured him. He has some brain damage.” Steve’s voice hitches, but he goes on. “And some physical limitations. Aside from his arm, I mean. The doctors say that stuff won’t heal.”

Bucky swallows tightly. He studies the floor for a moment, processing that. Bucky’s got issues. He’s got a lot of issues. But he heals, physically at least. And brain damage—well, that’s a term that’s been thrown around about him, but not like that, not so concrete, not the first thing people think of when they list his issues. Of course, the first thing they think of when they list his own issues is still pretty awful, he thinks, remembering his trial with a flush of heat to his face.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly. He’s still nervous around people, never sure of what to say like he used to be, but Crystal’s always been so empathetic when she’s comforting him. He tries to say something she would. “That sounds like it’s hard. Just hard for you to see all the bad things that happened to him.” He stops himself, anxious that he’s making Steve feel worse, but he knows his own Steve feels awful every time he’s reminded of all the things Bucky went through. In the beginning he had to keep promising it wasn’t Bucky’s little side that was making him sad—that he just felt bad Bucky had gotten hurt.

Steve shrugs and mumbles, “We do all right, nowadays. But—I’m worried him being away, without anyone he knows. He needs a lot more help than you do.”

Bucky pauses, processing that. He’s used to feeling so goddamn needy all the time—like he asks for way too much from his family. He feels pretty incompetent most of the time. It’s hard to imagine a version of him that needs more help than he does. But this Steve does seem to expect Bucky to need help with really simple things like changing clothes and bathing, stuff Bucky does on his own even when he’s little. Still, he knows that whatever this other Bucky needs, his family will do the very best to make sure he gets it.

“I’m sure my friends are taking good care of him,” Bucky assures Steve. “I mean—they’re great, they’re really, really…” his throat hurts a little and he has to swallow, thinking of all his friends and everything they’ve done for him and how much he just misses all of them. “Back at the beginning I was a complete mess, y’know, and they didn’t bat an eye. I mean—everyone gave me a lot of support. They were really good to me, better than I can say. I’m sure they’ll take good care of your Bucky. And...whatever stuff he needs, they’ll try really hard to help. They never, ever gave up on me.” He swallows again and falls silent, not trusting his voice to be steady if he goes on.

Steve smiles at him, but doesn’t look all that reassured. Bucky’s not sure what else he can say and an awkward silence falls. Steve’s leg bounces nervously and Bucky’s not sure what to do to ease the tension any. Luckily, at that moment, Clint opens the door and wanders in, still half asleep from what Bucky can tell. Without pausing, Clint clambers into Steve’s lap. Steve gives a real smile and rearranges him. Steve’s whole body posture has changed. Where he was anxious and tense, now he’s relaxed and affectionate. Bucky wonders at it, that Clint can make such a difference with just his presence.

“Hey sleepy boy,” Steve says softly, pressing Clint’s hair back and kissing his forehead. Bucky suddenly feels as though he’s intruding on a very private moment.

“Daddy, m’not sleepy anymore. I napped.” Steve laughs and kisses Clint’s cheek and Bucky shifts, uncomfortable.

“Yes you did. I guess you’re all ready to play now, huh?” For the first time, Clint peeks over at him, a little blush on his face.

Clint leans forward to whisper in Steve’s ear and Bucky pretends he can’t hear when he says, “Need ta’ change, Daddy.”

“Okay,” Steve says in a quiet tone. And then, louder, addresses Bucky, “We’ll just be a minute. Make yourself at home.”

Steve carries Clint back to the bedroom and closes the door, so Bucky gets to his feet. He’s curious and wants to do a little poking around while he’s alone. Bucky Bear would call it recon. He can hear murmurs behind the closed door, and if he focused he’s sure he could make out the conversation going on inside. Instead he opens cupboard doors and peruses book titles.

The most damning thing he finds is a somewhat dusty pacifier stashed behind some legos. It surprises him, and he won’t lie, makes him feel just a little weird, but he’s the last to judge somebody for their coping mechanisms. He wants to check out the rest of the apartment, but he hears Steve and Clint approaching the door so he returns to his seat instead. Clint pads out on his own, this time, clutching that purple blanket he likes so much. Absentmindedly, Bucky checks for Buddy Bear.

Clint is watching him with curious, wary eyes and Bucky figures that Steve must have said something about his mental age. Bucky feels a little uncomfortable. He’s never been big while someone else was little before, and it makes him feel strange in a way he didn’t expect. Bucky doesn’t know what this Clint is like when he’s big, but he doubts that he carries around a purple blanket or sucks his thumb.

Is this what it’s like for people when they look at him? Does it feel unsettling to see a boy in a man’s body? It makes Bucky want to look away and pretend he can’t see. He hopes that’s not how his family feels every time they look at him.

“We’re going to have a snack, Buck. Would you like to join us?”

“Sure,” Bucky finds himself saying, fingers twisting Buddy Bear’s ears. He picks the bear up and makes to follow Steve and Clint into the kitchen. Instead he’s surprised by Clint sidling up to him and taking his hand—his metal hand. Bucky looks down at the press of metal against fragile flesh and is surprised by a strong surge of protective instinct that comes over him.

Clint looks so young, soft around the eyes and thumb tucked into his mouth. Carefully, Bucky wraps his metal hand around Clint’s. He squeezes, just a little bit, and smiles.

It’s kind of cute to see Clint get all fascinated with the metal hand, fingers tracing the joints. It reminds him of all his great-grandnieces and nephews when he met them all for the first time. He smiles and demonstrates for Clint how his arm plates can flare out to reveal the arm’s inner workings or constrict smoothly like scales. Clint’s eyes go wide with wonder, so Bucky does it a couple more times, careful so the plates don’t pinch Clint’s fingers.

“One time I got this hand caught in my hair,” he confides, and is rewarded with a giggle.

Steve makes them fruit cups and toast, and Bucky wishes he could use knives so he could show him how to make rabbits out of the apples. He’s pretty sure Clint would love apple rabbits and turtles and swans, given how much he liked the fun-shaped pancakes Steve made for them earlier. Except he’s not sure he wants to eat apple rabbits made by anyone but his daddy. It’s probably a stupid thing to tear up over when he’s not even five, but he’s hit by a wave of longing for his Steve and his eyes sting a bit. He shoves a slice of orange in his mouth and pushes the thought of apple bunnies out of his head.

The afternoon passes slowly. It doesn’t get any less strange, being around someone who’s little like him when he’s not little too. There are things that Clint does that remind Bucky of things that he does when he is little and retroactively make him terribly embarrassed.

Clint climbs without shame into Steve’s lap. He drags his ragged purple blanket everywhere and when he briefly can’t find it, cries. He asks for help for simple things, like separating two legos or finding a preferred book. Bucky squirms and blushes and tries not to remember when he’s done those exact same things. Does he seem so helpless and needy to his family? He knows that at one point, helpless and needy was all he was, but he’s moved so far on from that point and he’s never really been big when someone else is little. There’s something about it that’s jarring.

Of course, Steve never blinks an eye, sometimes even anticipates the help Clint’s going to want and never fails to provide it. Still, the whole situation makes him feel uncomfortable. There’s just something about it that’s difficult for him to wrap his mind around. It makes him feel a little angry with himself, if he’s perfectly honest. Everyone in his life has been so accepting—so welcoming and supportive of his five year old mindset. But put into a similar situation, Bucky can’t seem to do the same.

He’s never judged Tasha or Crystal, has never thought it weird that they want to be young sometimes. He hadn’t always understood it, of course. And it’s not that he’s judging Clint now. He just feels—weird. He’s not at all prepared when Steve turns to him with a gentle smile and asks, “Bucky, would you mind watching Clint for a few minutes while I shower?”

“Oh, uh—sure. Yeah, I can watch him.” Bucky’s not exactly sure why Clint needs watching. Bucky and Tasha spend plenty of time alone when they’re little. Clint is littler, Bucky reminds himself. He’s not clear on exactly how much younger Clint is but he knows that Clint’s younger than him. Maybe he’s young enough that he needs somebody to watch him.

“Thanks, bud. I appreciate it,” Steve says with a warm smile.

Bucky smiles and nods, feeling glad that he could do something to help Steve out after all the Steve has done for him. Steve heads for the bedroom, leaving Clint and Bucky alone.

There are a few moments of awkward silence, Clint glancing up from under his eyelashes at Bucky and Bucky not quite sure what to do with himself.

“Wanna play trains?” Clint asks, sounding a little shy.

“Sure,” Bucky agrees easily, slipping off the couch and joining Clint on the floor. Clint grins at him and quickly heads over to one of the many shelves. He pulls out a large box of train tracks and trains and drags them over.

“I like’ta play trains with m’Bucky,” Clint says happily, already starting to set up a track. Bucky joins him cautiously. He’s never played like this when he’s an adult, isn’t quite sure what to make of it. “And when Natasha comes over we play trains and UFOs. She’s the best at that game cause she’s so sneaky!”

Bucky’s curiosity is piqued. This world’s Natasha is distressingly distant. And it doesn’t seem like she’s little or even all that close to this world’s Bucky and Bucky really just can’t imagine how he’d have managed without Natasha’s love and support.

“Oh yeah?” He asks carefully. “How often does Natasha come over to play?”

Clint sort of shrugs, making little engine noises as he pushes one of the trains on the tracks he’s made. “Only sometimes. She didn’t usta like to, but now she does. Daddy helped us be friends again,” Clint explains, though his eyes never leave his trains.

“Why weren’t you friends?” Bucky asks. He really can’t imagine what could possibly break apart Clint and Natasha’s friendship. Clint’s shoulders hunch in tight, making his body look small and compact.

Bucky’s about to take the question back when Clint starts to talk. “Cause scary things happened to me and then I was—uhm, I was havin’ accidents and stuff and I didn’t want her to know so I made her go away. And then cause she didn’t know if me bein’ little was a good thing cause she was scared.” Clint’s cheeks have gone pink and Bucky can feel an answering warmth building in his own cheeks. At the same time he can’t help but feel honored at the way Clint is trusting him—being honest with things that Bucky knows aren’t easy to talk about.

But there’s also some sadness there, and some worry. Because, well, why hadn’t Natasha been sure that Clint being little was a good thing? The Natasha he knows had been the first to understand his little mindset, the first to reach out and offer support when everyone found out what had been done to him. She’s never questioned his little side, never made him doubt her willingness to stand by him, big or small. Even when Steve was falling apart, Natasha held steady and stayed by his side.

“Oh,” he says softly. He doesn’t know what else to say.

“S’better now,” Clint says, voice just as quiet. He looks up at Bucky, eyes plaintive and worried. “She’s real nice—she gave me a real nice present. I wanna show you!” Clint’s eyes brighten, all of a sudden, and he leaps to his feet. “D’you read Russian? Maybe you can read it t’me!” Clint takes a few quick steps across the room and then turns back and says insistently, “C’mon! I can’t reach it!”

Bucky clambers to his feet and follows Clint over to a tall shelf. Clint points to the very top, where there’s a doored shelf. It’s got a child’s lock on it, but it only takes a few seconds for Bucky to figure it out. Inside there’s a small assortment of items—three picture books, a lego spaceship, a few plastic dinosaurs that are missing limbs. Bucky can’t quite put together why these particular items are locked away, so he asks, “Why are these up here?” as he pulls out the book Clint indicates.

Clint hesitates, bringing his blanket up to his face and rubbing his nose into it. His thumb rests on his lips, like he’s thinking about sucking it. “Uhm. I think maybe that’s s’posed to be private. You can ask Daddy, maybe.”

Bucky’s face creases into a thoughtful frown, suspicion now building. He can’t think of any good reason that a couple books and toys should be locked away, and it makes him feel uneasy not to know. He tells himself that he’ll ask Steve later and turns his attention down to the book Clint requested. It’s an old book, written, as Clint said, in Russian. He can’t quite make out the words.

“I’m sorry. I don’t think I can read this to you. My Russian isn’t that good anymore”

Clint slumps a little and his thumb slides into his mouth. “Oh, okay. But look,” Clint reaches out with his free hand and opens the book. He points to a line of neat, but somewhat immature cyrillic letters. It takes a moment for him to make sense of them—they read Natalia. This is Natasha’s book, Bucky realizes, from when she was a child. Somehow, that feels precious and special.

“You’re right,” Bucky says softly, “This is a really great present.”

“Yuhuh!” Clint says, cheerful again, body bouncing happily. “Can you read me a different book? A English one?”

“Sure,” Bucky agrees, carefully setting the book back in its place. He wonders if his Natasha had owned the same book—and if she had, what had happened to it. “Why don’t you pick one out?”

Clint nods happily and bounces over to another shelf. He ends up coming back to the couch with a small stack of books, but Bucky doesn’t mind reading. Clint wiggles into Bucky and moves his weight side to side as Bucky reads. At first Bucky thinks he’s just feeling fidgety. It’s not until Clint is shifting restlessly by his side, about halfway through the second book, that Bucky realizes where he’s seen that kind of motion from him before. Bucky pauses in his book, not quite sure if he should say anything—is it more or less his place now that he’s big?

“Clint,” he says slowly, “Do you need to use the bathroom?”

Clint’s face goes bright red but he gets up. “Uhm, yeah. I’m gonna go po—t’the bathroom.”

Clint starts to head towards the bedroom, his walk a little funny. Oh, Bucky thinks, a dull flush building on his cheeks. He doesn’t say anything about it, but he does say, “Steve’s in the shower. Is there another bathroom?”

“S’okay,” Clint says, though his lip is trembling a little now. “Daddy doesn’t care if I see him nakey. I just—I need. Uhm, m’just—” Clint hurries towards the door now and Bucky feels a little guilty. He also feels really uncomfortable, thinking about Clint going into a bathroom where his daddy is naked and when he’s vulnerable and what if Steve is angry at Clint for having an accident?

Bucky’s muscles go tight. Through sheer force of will he slows his breathing and relaxes his hands out of fists. He has absolutely no reason to think that Steve is abusing Clint or that Steve will react with anything but comfort and love at Clint’s accident. He forces himself to sit down on the couch and take a couple deep breaths.

It takes a long time for Clint and Steve to come back out again, and each minute is harder than the one before it. He wants to go check he wants to make sure that Clint is really alright, that this Steve isn’t angry or touching him or—

When Steve and Clint do finally come out, Clint is curled up on Steve’s hip and Steve’s hair is damp and dripping on his shirt. Clint’s still a little pink and his eyes are red and wet, but he’s calm.

“Hi Bucky,” Steve says, sitting down beside him, Clint in his lap. “Thanks for taking care of Clint for me.”

“No problem,” Bucky murmurs. Steve lays a careful hand on his shoulder and gives him a little squeeze. Bucky glances up and grins. Steve smiles back.

“Clint would like if Phil came over for a little while tonight, maybe for dinner. How would you feel about that?”

Bucky’s immediate reaction is tight shoulders and a pit of dread in his stomach, but he tries to put those aside. There’s no reason to think that Clint is being abused. Still, he can’t help his distrust of Coulson. And his distrust makes him think the worst.

Bucky looks down at Clint, only to find him looking up with hopeful eyes, thumb tucked into his mouth. Before Bucky can really process it, he finds himself saying, “ Yeah, sure.”

He doesn’t have time to regret it though, as Clint and Steve’s combined smiles make it impossible to even think about an alternate answer. He’ll deal with Coulson just to see Clint looking cheery again; he remembers how awful and humiliated he’s felt in the past when someone else has seen him have an accident.

Just then, there’s a knock from the living room. Bucky tenses, a little leery of meeting the Avengers in this world—the slight-but-definite differences are probably going to be just a little too uncanny for him, or even downright painful, like the group meal last night where Natasha wouldn’t smile at him or even meet his gaze. And these other Avengers haven’t even found out about how he became little yet—what if they’re shocked and repulsed by him?

Steve must see the apprehensiveness in his face, because he gives Bucky’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze before perching Clint on his hip and hurrying to answer the door. Bucky follows a little more hesitantly, making sure to grab Buddy Bear on his way.

“Hello, Steven!” the booming voice announces the visitor as Thor, “And young Clint, I see. And where is this young other Barnes?”

“I’m right here,” Bucky says, a little more easily now, emerging from the bedroom. He’d been worried about the differences between worlds being off-putting, but it seems that wherever he goes, Thor is always just Thor, jovial and good-natured. He offers Bucky a broad, genuine smile, and Bucky finds himself smiling back with no great difficulty.

Buddy Bear is quiet in Bucky’s arms. Within seconds of meeting Thor, Bucky Bear is usually telling Bucky that he wants to see Thor’s hammer. He likes to pretend he’s holding it.

Bucky really, really misses Bucky Bear.

“How goes this new adjustment?” Thor asks Steve. Bucky notices Clint hiding his face in Steve’s shoulder, as if Thor’s presence is making him shy.

“Pretty well, actually—as well as could be expected, I think. We’ve gotten a little rocky here and there, but overall we’re doing all right.” Steve’s shoulders slump. “I hope our Bucky’s holding up all right in the other world.”

“Well, we may be able to find out soon enough,” Thor says, his voice becoming softer and gentler even though he’s still kind of loud. “I come bearing excellent news, and I’ve come straight from Asgard to let you know!”

Clint perks up in Steve’s arms, and a wave of relief breaks over Bucky’s head. They’re coming closer to getting him home, they can get him home, he won’t be trapped in this place, away from his family forever.

“That’s great! Thank you, Thor,” Steve says, and relief shows around his eyes in a way that makes Bucky feel so guilty and ashamed. Here he is, just thinking about himself when this Steve is worrying about his Bucky, who probably needs to get home way more desperately than he does, with his brain damage and his troubles that his Steve isn’t used to handling. Bucky’s sure his Steve will be willing to help the other Bucky change clothes and take baths, but he also knows how much trouble he’ll have learning to do it. For weeks after Bucky first came to the Tower, Steve was scared to reach out to him or help him in any way, afraid that the wrong touch might trigger his memories of Pierce, trying to overcome the revulsion at Pierce’s games he tried so hard to hide for Bucky’s sake.

“I tried to reach you immediately upon my arrival, but you did not answer my text messages. Still, I was certain you would want to be informed of this right away.”

“Ah, yeah, I was in the shower, but I definitely do! Thank you, Thor,” Steve says again. “Come in, sit down if you want. Can I get you anything to eat or drink? Did you come straight here from Asgard?”

“I’m quite all right, thank you. I did stop by the lab to discuss my findings with Anthony.” Steve and Thor seat themselves on the couch, Clint settled in Steve’s lap. Bucky eagerly joins them, desperate to hear if they’ve figured out how to get him home.

“I took the liberty of bringing the device to several Elders, all of whom agreed that it definitely had the power to create bridges between multiple universes. They also noted evidence of an active connection to another universe, with recent activity from their end. We can draw the likely conclusion that the connection was formed when each team of Avengers took the device into their possession, though we do not yet know what caused the energies to go awry and remove each Bucky from his world. The good news is, the surge of activity on the other end of the bridge suggests that they, too, have made the connection between this device and the switching of worlds, and are working from their side to bridge the connection.”

Bucky’s heart leaps. Steve’s coming to get him, of course he is. He’ll be going home, he will. This is just like...a lot of really long, weird sleepovers right in a row, and then at the end he’ll get to go home.

“If the Elders can conceive a way to transmit communications through the devices, perhaps we could even work together with them to establish the portal. But no matter what, they are certain that they will be able to work with it well enough to create a stable portal, eventually.” Thor concludes.

“Do we know how soon ‘eventually’ is?” Steve asks.

“Unfortunately not. But I’ve taken a great many notes back to Anthony, who will certainly make this a priority.”

“Can you—” Bucky starts hesitantly. He flinches a little when all of the attention turns to him.

“Yes?” Thor’s voice is kind, the way he always is with Bucky, but much gentler than Bucky’s used too. Or maybe gentle is the wrong word—careful, maybe. His voice goes soft and he gentles his body language into something passive and non-threatening. Bucky abruptly wonders how much time this Thor spends with the other Bucky.

“Can you communicate with them at all?” Bucky manages after a moment. “Can you tell them I’m okay?”

Thor’s expressions falls. “I’m afraid not, James.” Bucky starts a little. His Thor calls him Dear One or Bucky, not James. No one really calls him that anymore, except sometimes Pepper.

After he gets over his surprise, Bucky’s shoulders slump. He’d really been hoping that there would be some way to interact with his family, to hear Steve’s voice telling him everything is going to be okay. To read him a story before he goes to bed, like he does every night at home. At least he knows this won’t be forever.

“If it becomes possible, I shall let you know at once,” Thor reassures. “I am sure that they are working equally as hard as we are on a solution to this confusion. It won’t be long.” Carefully, Thor steps closer and reaches out a hand. Bucky takes a breath and allows it, letting Thor’s hand land on his shoulder, where it squeezes reassuringly. Abruptly he wishes he were little, so that he could crowd close for a hug and maybe Thor would lift him and spin him around like he does sometimes at home.

He clutches Buddy Bear a little tighter instead. Buddy Bear kinda wishes Thor would spin them too.

“If you can, can you send our Bucky a message?” Clint interjects, mumbling around his thumb. “And that we miss him lots and lots and lots?”

Thor smiles and nods, turning away and moving towards Clint. “Of course I will, young Clint. I know you must miss your brother very dearly.”

“Yuhuh,” Clint affirms. He does what Bucky hadn’t felt brave enough to do, and leans towards Thor with an arm spread in an obvious request for a hug. Thor scoops him up easily and Bucky feels a jealous pang in his stomach. “D’you miss him too?” Clint asks, barely decipherable with his face in Thor’s shoulder.

“Very much so,” Thor says, stroking Clint’s back. Bucky bites his lip, homesickness and loneliness washing over him. Steve must notice, because a moment later he’s stepping close and putting his arm around him. Bucky lets himself lean close, grateful for this Steve’s understanding.

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” Steve asks Thor after a minute of quiet.

“As much as I would enjoy that, Anthony and I are going to inspect the device more closely. I simply wanted to share the happy news before we began work on the next part of the process.”

“We appreciate it,” Steve says with a smile. Thor grins back and gently sets Clint down, taking a minute to push Clint’s hair from his face.

“Please have Jarvis inform me if you need any assistance,” Thor adds. Steve nods and they all say their goodbyes, Thor returning to clasp Bucky’s shoulder again before exiting, leaving just the three of them again. Bucky kind of misses everyone else, but he gets the idea that it’s just Bucky, Steve, and Clint a lot of the time.

“Daddy!” Clint says excitedly. “I wanna draw Bucky a picture in case we can send him a message!”

Steve grins widely. “That’s a great idea, Clinty! Let’s get the paper and crayons out and you can do that while Bucky and I work on dinner, okay?”

“Yuhuh!” Clint bolts out of the room at top speed, leaving a laughing Steve in his wake.

“Are you good to help with the cooking?” Steve asks.

Bucky quickly agrees. He has a nagging question he wants to ask Steve while Clint’s preoccupied with his crayons.

That’s how he finds himself helping Steve prepare an herb mix for chicken while Clint colors at the kitchen table. Thankfully, Steve doesn’t given Bucky and tasks that require him to use a knife, so he doesn’t have to awkwardly explain that he’s not really supposed to. While it’s not as much of an issue as it once was, knives are still enough to make him a little edgy, and at home he’s technically not allowed to touch them at all, just to be safe. He wonders if the other Bucky is the same, or if Steve doesn’t ask him to use them for some other reason.

Bucky’s more than a little nervous about Coulson’s arrival, so when he’s sure Clint isn’t paying attention, he cautiously asks Steve, “Clint and Coulson are okay? When Clint’s little, I mean.” Bucky can’t quite make sense of the dynamic. He knows people whose boyfriend or girlfriends are also their caregiver, but he can’t remember meeting anyone who had both a romantic partner and a caregiver that were different people.

“It’s not always easy,” Steve says gently, shooting a fond look at Clint. “But they’ve worked really hard to come to a place where they both feel safe and loved.”

Bucky nods, thinking about that. It makes sense, he guesses, to have the two roles separate.

He’s honestly feeling pretty settled about it all, if still a little wary about Coulson in general, when their dinner guest shows up.

Bucky thinks it’s all going to be fine. He really does.

It’s decidedly uncomfortable watching Coulson greet Clint with a hug and a peck on the lips, but Bucky sticks close to Steve and reminds himself that Steve is a good daddy who would never, ever let Clint get hurt. He keeps his hands on Buddy Bear and stays next to Steve and toughs it out. He makes a point to busy himself helping with dinner and setting the table so he doesn’t have to focus too hard on Coulson being there.

But when they gather round the kitchen table, Clint clambers into Phil’s lap and leans into him, and Bucky wants to pull him away. He’s spent all afternoon with little Clint and he’s seen how sweet and innocent he is. He can’t protect himself.

Steve sets out plates for them, chicken and rice and veggies. Clint’s is pre cut into bite sized pieces. Phil picks up a piece of the chicken and holds it up to Clint’s lips. Clint hesitates and glances nervously at Steve, before leaning in and taking it from Phil’s fingers and Bucky can’t—

Pierce used to hold food in front of his lips and if he didn’t eat it there’d be all sorts of trouble, and if it made him sick Pierce would look at him with such disgust, but if he did eat it, the food was followed by other things—in his mouth and blocking his throat and he couldn’t breathe—

“Don’t!” His voice comes out as a low growl and he’s pulling Clint off the agent’s lap and shoving himself between the two in the most protective stance he can muster. He draws himself up to tower over the agent. “Don’t do that to him!”

He’s trying to intimidate, and achieving it, judging by Coulson’s wide-eyed blink, but he remains otherwise impassive and the Soldier doesn’t like that. Usually he can tell exactly what affect he’s having on his targets and how to work them around just so. And the child behind him is crying now and Steve’s voice cuts over the noise. “Bucky, stop!”

This Steve is not his master, but his voice sounds the same and that leads the Soldier to comply, backing down instantly despite his misgivings. He remembers, now that the flashbacks have passed, that the dynamic is different here and this Coulson is close to Clint. His boyfriend. The child is crying not because of Coulson’s touch, but because of him. Oh, hell. He’s been so, so bad and he doesn’t know what they’re going to do to him here. He puts his hands up in surrender and sinks to his knees so at least the child will know he’s not a threat.

“I’m not sure what just happened there, but I think I’d better go,” he hears Coulson say. Clint wails loudly and the Soldier forces himself not to flinch.

“I think you’re right. I’m sorry, Phil, I didn’t realize—” Steve cuts himself off. The Soldier can’t read the tone of his voice, and he’s afraid to try.

“I’m sorry,” he says lowly, keeping his gaze locked on the floor. He’s trembling from staying so still. Coulson is backing out of the room, not taking his eyes off of the Soldier, and Steve has Clint on his hip, holding him protectively. “I won’t hurt them. I’m sorry.”

“All right, Bucky, you can get up,” he hears Steve say, not unkindly. He rises gratefully to his feet, gaze still on the floor. “You’re not in trouble, and I think I can see what happened here, but we need to sit down and talk this out.”

Talking things out is not something the Soldier is good at. But he’s been so bad already, and he’s terrified the child, and he has to at least try. He sits back down in his seat and forces himself to meet Steve’s gaze. “I’m sorry,” he says again. Clint takes a few snuffling breaths and peeks momentarily out of Steve’s shoulder to glare at him. “I didn’t mean to be here,” he admits, face flushing. “I know I’m not supposed to, but I don’t have my bear and I saw Coulson doing that and it made me think of—bad things, and I forgot where I was. I’m sorry, sir—Steve. I’ll be better. I don’t want to hurt anyone, I swear.”

All right, Bucky.” There’s softness and concern in Steve’s voice. He doesn’t deserve it. “I’m not angry. I believe you. I just need you to explain to me—you didn’t mean to be here?”

Bucky’s stomach contracts. “As the Soldier,” he forces himself to say. “I shouldn’t be here.”

He hears Steve draw in a sharp breath. This is it. They’ll think he’s a threat and he’s bad and they won’t want him around. He hopes they’ll just lock him up until they can send him back home. He doesn’t want to go back into cryo and never see his friends or his master again.

“I’m sorry,” he says again, defeated, and lowers his gaze to the ground.

*

Bucky’s a little wobbly as they walk into Pepper’s living room. He feels “all tuckered out,” like Daddy would say, sorta like how he feels after OT.

Pepper is on the phone now, talking in a calm but serious voice, and Bucky edges a little closer to Odie. Odie puts his arm around him and gives him a little squeeze. Bucky squirms happily into the pressure. It’s hard, with Odie, cause he doesn’t understand like Daddy does, but Odie tries really really hard to make things better for Bucky. That makes Bucky’s belly feel all warm and gooey and good.

Odie has listened, this afternoon, and hadn’t said anything mean about Bucky needing pacis or sippy cups or nothin’. Bucky blushes, thinking ‘bout how Pepper asked if he was potty trained like a baby. It’s not his fault. He knows he should go he just—it’s his body, Daddy always says it’s his body and it’s not cause he’s too little or nothing. But no one had been mad about that either. It was weird, all of them knowin’, but it was nice that no one was being mean about it.

“Pepper has to finish this phone call,” Natasha says when they get closer. “Do you want to go back down to the playroom and we can play some more?”

Bucky’s kinda tired, but Natasha didn’t really need him to talk or do anything hard last time they played, so he thinks it’s probably okay. He nods and Tasha smiles.

“Clint’s probably back too! He can play with us!” She hurries toward the elevator and Bucky trips a little trying to keep up, so Odie picks him up. It’s nice cause that’s exactly what Daddy would do.

Clint is there waiting for them with all the bears spread out around him. Tasha puts the bears she had brought up to Pepper’s down. The bears still make Bucky kinda nervous cause he can tell they’re real important to everybody and he doesn’t wanna hurt them by mistake. Sometimes he doesn’t know how hard to touch things. And if he gets mad or sad he might rip them. He’s done that to Clinty’s toys and his brother always gets so sad and now there are toys Bucky’s not allowed to play with.

Bucky chews on his lip a little. He’s not gonna hurt the bears, he’s not.

Tasha wants to play family bears first. The little bear that looks like Daddy in his uniform gets to be the daddy bear and he takes care of the other bears, and they all live together. The Hawkeye bear is an uncle bear and Bucky doesn’t really like that. He misses his brother.

“Can we play dinosaur bears?” Bucky asks, really quiet. He would ask to play astronaut bears, but he doesn’t think he can play any space games without his Clinty.

Tasha doesn’t really know how to play dinosaurs, but she tries, so it’s okay. Bucky shows her how to make the bears roar at each other and stomp around. They build a little dinosaur city out of pillows and Bucky Bear is the king dinosaur. It’s a good game, but when Bucky looks up, Odie is gone.

He didn’t even tell Bucky he was gonna leave.

The ice grabs him like monster hands and Bucky’s whole body goes real cold and shaky. He quick drops the bear he’s holding so he doesn’t hurt it.  He backs up into the couch and tries to remember what to do when he gets scared.

But he can’t remember. It’s hard to remember with his arms and legs all trembly and his brain full of ice.

Daddy has never ever left without telling Bucky first, not even that time when Bucky made him so mad, way in the beginning. Not even when Daddy got called on a mission in the middle of the night. All of a sudden, Bucky gets real mad.

Odie shouldn’t’a left him without sayin’. This place is so scary and no one does anything right and Bucky thought Odie understood that he hadta stay close, but he didn’t and now Bucky’s alone with Tasha and Clint and they’re not right and he doesn’t really know if they’re safe, cause they could decide to hurt him, and—

The feeling is so big, all of it a big roaring monster in his head and Bucky can’t stop it, and he thinks Tasha gets close and he thinks he tries to hit her, and he think maybe he tries to bite the other Clint and everything is so much and his body is hot on the edges and cold on the inside and he doesn’t wanna do this anymore, he wants to stop, but he’s hittin’ at the floor and the couch and Natasha and Clint are all the way on the other side of the room and maybe Bucky’s yellin’, but he’s not real sure.

It takes a long time for the mad to go away. When it does, Bucky curls up into a ball and closes his eyes and cries.

That’s when Odie talks to him.

“Bucky? Honey? Is it alright if I come closer?” Bucky shakes his head, because he’s been so bad, hittin’ and bitin’ and yellin’ and he doesn’t know if the mad is all the way gone and he doesn’t want to hurt Odie, he really doesn’t. He’s not even sure when Odie came back. Clint and Natasha must have called him cause Bucky was bein’ so bad.

He misses home where he knows everybody understands and nobody will get mad and Daddy will help him do all the things that make him feel calm and happy and good.  

“Okay, okay—I won’t come near until you’re ready, Buck.” Odie sounds like he’s crying. Bucky presses up against the couch and peeks his eyes under his arm. Odie’s kneelin’ on the ground and his face is all wet with tears. Natasha and Clint are a little bit behind him, and both their faces are real worried. Clint’s wrist is red where Bucky bit it. Bucky hides his head again. He feels like he might be sick.

“Would it help if I held you?” Odie asks. “Like you showed Miriam?”

It’s too late to be held safe, but a hug would help. It’s just—Bucky doesn’t want Odie’s hug. He wants his Daddy.

Bucky sits up, just a little. His words are tangled up, but he can say “hug.” Odie comes right over and gives Bucky a big hug. It squeezes the rest of his tears out and Bucky hasta cry into Odie’s shirt for a little bit.

“Wan’ m’daddy,” Bucky sobs. “ Daddy .”

Odie sounds all chokey when he says, “I know sweetheart, I know you do.”

Bucky doesn’t know how long they sit there. It takes a long time for the mad and sad and scared to go away. Odie’s chest goes up and down under Bucky’s cheek. He smells like soap and leather and apples. It’s not like Daddy. Daddy smells like laundry and toast and bubble bath. But it’s not a bad smell. Odie is safe, Bucky knows he is.

It takes a while for Bucky to get calm, but Odie just holds him and rocks him back and forth until Bucky’s tears are all gone.

“Can you tell us what happened, Bucky?” Natasha asks. Bucky startles a little. He forgot that she and Clint were in there with them. “It seemed like you were having a really nice time?”

Bucky sighs. He doesn’t want to talk anymore. He’s used so many words today and they’re still asking questions.

“You left,” he says to Odie, once he gets the words together.  Odie looks down at him with big, surprised eyes.

“What?”

“You left, didn’t tell, was real scary, Odie, I ne’my daddy and I can’t have him.” The words come tumbling out of his mouth, and he’s not sure if he’s makin’ any sense.  

Odie makes a little hurt noise. “Oh, Bucky. Oh no. I’m sorry—I didn’t think—I’m so sorry I scared you like that, honey.” Bucky slips his thumb into his mouth and shoves his dolly up against his face. He doesn’t know what to say, cause he’s still kinda mad, down in his tummy. He usta get that way with Daddy too, the first couple times he left, and sometimes for no reason at all. But Daddy never, ever, ever leaves Bucky without telling him first. Bucky justs sucks a little harder on his thumb. Odie makes a little sniffly sound. Odie cries a lot more than Daddy ever does. Odie’s tears make Bucky’s come back and they havta sit and cry a little together.

“I’m really sorry, Bucky. I feel like I’m making this a lot harder for you.”

“No!” Bucky says, pulling his thumb out of his mouth with a pop. “You good Odie. S’just—just diff’rent.”

Odie gives him a watery smile. “Thanks Bucky. You’re right. It is different. We’ll figure it out and I promise I’ll do better.”

Bucky’s not real sure what to say ‘bout that, so he just gives Odie a hug. Odie makes a noise that sounds happy and sad all at the same time.  Bucky squirms around in Odie’s lap. He’s got to say sorry to Clint and Natasha. Daddy always says apologies are really important and that he has to say them, even if it’s hard.

“Sorry,” he says, wishing he had a paci. “Sorry bit you, Clint.”

“Aw, that’s alright. No harm done, see?” Clint holds up his wrist. It’s a little red and Bucky can see where his teeth pressed, but Clint’s musta gotten away quick. Bucky’s made Daddy and his Clint bleed before when he got mad like that.  Bucky winces, just thinking about it. He hasn’t gotten out-of-control-mad in a long time.

“Sorry,” he whispers again, even though Clint said it was okay. He keeps his eyes pointed at the ground. He wishes he was home, with Daddy and Clinty and Thor and Annie and Isaac and justthings are a lot here. And he’s still learning how to take care of himself and it’s hard without all his safe people. He pushes back into Odie a little bit and Odie curls his arms around him nice and tight. Odie is safe. Bucky thinks Natasha is safe too. And Clint, probably.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for,” Odie says. “It’s alright.” Bucky turns to hide his face in Odie’s shirt and shrugs a little.  Odie lifts his chin a little and asks, “Clint, would you get Bucky some milk, please? In one of Bucky’s cups with the straws and tops.”

“Only fill it halfway,” Natasha adds. Her voice sounds a little closer and Bucky peeks his eyes out at her. She’s moving towards him, and she reaches out and strokes his back. He can’t decide what to think about this Natasha. She’s so nice and she’s little, but way bigger than Bucky or Clinty, but she likes to play family games and even Clinty doesn’t always like to do that. Bucky’s tummy feels all warm and he smiles at her.

“There’s a smile,” she says softly and Bucky’s cheeks get pink. Odie lifts him up so they can all sit on the couch, but Natasha stays close and keeps petting his hair.

“Here’s your milk, kiddo.” Clint says when he comes back in. Bucky reaches out for it and Odie helps steady his hand and it’s almost like being at home. Bucky drinks slow, to give his body time to get all unscrambled after bein’ upset. He’s glad Odie’s holding him. He doesn’t know if he could walk so good right now.

“Sorry,” he mumbles again when he’s done drinking his milk. Daddy always says there’s no need to be mad at himself after he’s said his sorries, but he’s still kinda scared. At home no one but Daddy and Thor and his brother have seen him get all upset like that. They were playin’ a fun game, and he ruined it.

“It’s really all right,” Natasha says, scooting closer to him, “You’re dealing with a lot right now, we understand.”

He can’t find the words to tell her how grateful he is for that, so he puts leans over and nuzzles his head into her arm. He just wants her to know he didn’t mean all the hitting and biting. He couldn’t stop it, but that doesn’t mean she won’t have hurt feelings. Daddy still has them sometimes, when Bucky hurts himself real bad or Clinty says something mean. He tries not to show it, but Bucky can tell.

Natasha’s hand slides through his hair. “Are you still feeling a little shaky?”

Bucky nods against her arm. It can take a while for his body to feel all settled again after too much scared an’ mad.

“What can we do to help you feel better?” she asks.

“Can I hav’a bath?” Bucky asks after a second, sliding his thumb into his mouth. He hopes Natasha and Clint don’t feel bad that he doesn’t wanna go back to playing just now, but he could really use some quiet, and not too many people. And his body’s startin’ to feel better from just thinkin’ about how warm and nice the water would be on his skin.

Odie smiles. “Sure, that sounds like a good plan, honey.” Bucky smiles a little around his thumb and leans into Odie’s side. He manages a wave at Natasha and Clint over Odie’s shoulder as he’s being carried away, and they both wave back.

Back on the otha’ Bucky’s floor, Odie starts the bath while Bucky sits down on the bathmat—Odie even pulls out bubble bath, just like he promised during Bucky’s first bath here. Bucky works on his t-shirt while Odie runs the water—his body is still a little jumbled up from gettin’ upset, but he gets his shirt off all by himself and he feels pretty proud. Odie helps him with his pants and his pull-up, even though Bucky could do that by himself. Odie’s not as good as Daddy at tellin’ when Bucky can do things by himself and when he needs help, but that makes sense, cause Odie hasn’t known him very long.

The water is just right when Bucky steps in and the bubbles are nice and fluffy. Bucky pats them and they fly all up in the air, making him feel almost giggly. Nothing makes him better faster than a bath with bubbles.

“My Bucky doesn’t like baths,” Odie says softly as he gets out a towel and some washcloths. Bucky blinks. He doesn’t understand that at all. Baths are the best ever. They always make things feel nicer and safer and just—in the beginning, baths and Daddy were the only good things. Everything else was so scary and hard.

“How come?” Bucky asks, glancing up at Odie, feelin’ a little shy. He doesn’t really like to think about the other Bucky, cause he’s better than him, and bigger, and needs less help and everythin’. But he’s curious too. It’s real interestin’ to think about another him.

“Well—I guess he just likes his privacy.”

Bucky kinda blushes. He usta worry about that, he thinks, but it’s hard now, cause he needs help all the time, even with things that would usually be private. There’s not really anythin’ Daddy doesn’t help him with.

“Showers are scary,” is what Bucky says instead of all that. Odie frowns and looks a little worried.

“They are?”

“Yuhuh. Dun—don’t like water on my face,” he reveals in a little whisper. Odie frowns a little and carefully touches his hair.

“We’ll be careful not to get any water on your face,” Odie assures. Bucky nuzzles into his touch.

He feels all warm and fuzzy and just - real happy that he ended up in a world with Odie, if he hadta be taken away from Daddy. Bucky looks up at Odie and watches his face, real careful, for a little bit, while Odie washes Bucky’s back.

Odie catches him lookin’ and smiles. Bucky blushes and ducks his head, wiggles his toes and watches the water get all dancy.

“Do I look like your daddy?” Odie asks.

“Yuhuh,” Bucky mumbles, glancing up again. “‘Cept his hair is a little longer, and sometimes, when he’s real busy, his face gets scratchy.”

Odie laughs at that. “Your face is getting a little scratchy too, Buck. How do you shave, at home?”

Bucky reaches up and touches his face. It is rough and fuzzy. He frowns—he doesn’t like havin’ hair on his face. “Daddy does,” he tells Odie. It’s always real fun—Daddy gets special shaving cream and after Daddy covers Bucky’s face, they get to play with the rest of it. It’s a little scary, having Daddy touch his face with something sharp, but Bucky knows that Daddy would never, ever hurt him.

Odie hmms and says, “Would you like me to help you with that?”

Bucky flinches and bites his lip. Shaving use’ta make him remember scary things, bad things, from when the soldier lived in his head, and Daddy hadta be real careful and go slow when he shaved Bucky. He doesn’t think he knows Odie well enough for that.

“I dunno. Think ‘bout it,” Bucky tells Odie, but he keeps his eyes on the water.

“That’s okay—you let me know what you decide. What else does your Daddy help you with, at home?” Bucky risks a glance at Odie’s face - he looks calm, not like he’s mad or sad or nothin’.

That’s a hard question though, cause Daddy helps him with everything.

He shrugs and mumbles, “Daddy helps when I ne’help.”

Odie chuckles and Bucky’s worried he said somethin’ wrong, but then Odie says, “That was a big question, wasn’t it.”

Bucky nods. Odie starts to wash Bucky’s sides and arm now.

“Checks my skin,” Bucky says suddenly. Odie looks at him, confused. Bucky points to his shoulder, face goin’ red. “Cause it can get hurty.”

Odie blinks and looks a little closer at Bucky’s shoulder. The skin there is red and patchy now, cause Daddy hasn’t been puttin’ on Bucky’s lotions. Odie touches it with his fingers, frowning a little.

“What does he do when it hurts?”

“Puts lotion,” Bucky says, watching Odie check his shoulder. It’s funny, cause Bucky can tell Odie doesn’t know to check his arm, but when he does, it’s exactly the same way Daddy does it, with soft fingers running in long lines across the skin. Bucky wonders why they do it the same, if it’s something all daddies just know how to do, or if maybe there’s somethin’ special about Daddy and Odie.

“Does it hurt now?” Bucky just nods, cause it does, but he doesn’t want Odie to feel bad, cause Odie didn’t know . Odie tries to smile. “We’ll put some lotion on it after your bath, okay?”

Bucky nods again. Odie starts washing his chest and then goes down to his privates. Bucky spreads his legs and blushes a little, turns to look at somethin’ else. Odie’s already seen him nakey, and he’s a daddy, and Daddy always says daddies don’t mind helpin’ their little ones keep their bodies clean, but it’s still a little embarrassin’.

Odie lets him have lots an’ lots of time in the bath, and even remembers how much Bucky likes havin’ his feet washed. An’ he listens real good when Bucky says no more to that. Feet tickles are fun but they can get to be too much real fast. Odie’s pretty good at listenin’ to Bucky’s yeses and nos.

The water’s gettin’ a little chilly by the time Odie helps him out, but there’s a warm towel and a hug waiting for him, so he doesn’t get too shivery. An’ there’s a new pull-up and pants and a shirt with Ariel on it. Bucky really, really likes Ariel ‘cause she’s half fishy. He wishes he could be a mermaid like her. Sometimes he pretends he is, when he’s swimming. He pats his hand happily against her on the shirt.

“You like The Little Mermaid?” Odie’s smiling a little. He holds out the sweatpants for Bucky and helps pull them up. They’re a little too big, but there’s no string to make ‘em tighter, so Odie folds over the top a couple times. It looks pretty funny.

“Seen some of her,” Bucky explains, “Not all. Daddy says the movie’s too scary for me. He showed a little.”

“Oh,” Odie says, and Bucky’s not sure why he looks so sad. He starts gettin’ scared that he maybe said something bad when Odie adds, “Some parts of it are a little hard for me to watch, too.”

Sometimes Bucky forgets that daddies can get scared and sad too. His daddy mostly makes himself act calm for Bucky and Clint, but sometimes Bucky can see right through it. He presses himself into Odie to give him a hug. His arm does a good tight squeeze ‘cause his body’s still workin’ pretty well from the bath.

Odie ruffles his hair and squeezes him back. “You’re a great kid, you know that?”

Bucky’s insides feel all warm and glowy, and for a minute all he can do is hold onto Odie and wiggle and wiggle and smile so big. Even his toes are doin’ wiggles. He’s a lotta work, he knows that, and sometimes he’s scared that means he isn’t a very good kid. But Odie thinks he’s great. Bucky grins.

Odie’s pullin’ back now. “Hey—Bucky, do you need the potty?”

Bucky real quick checks in with his body, ‘cause sometimes his daddy realizes he’s gotta go before he does, but he doesn’t think he’s got any pee in him. “Nope.”

“Oh, okay. Are you sure? You just—seemed to be squirming around a little.”

Bucky huffs. “Odie, no. That means I got so much happies they gotta come out.” His face is a little hot. He didn’t realize his happy-wiggling looked like he hadta potty.

“Oh,” Odie says, smiling a funny little smile, “Sorry, Buck. I’m just still figuring some of these things out.”

“S’okay. I ‘cept your apology,” Bucky says, which is something Annie sometimes says after he’s got real mad.

Odie laughs a little. “Okay, honey. Let’s find some of that lotion before we get your shirt on.”

“Kay!” Bucky agrees. The lotion Odie finds isn’t the same kind Daddy uses for his skin. The smell isn’t bad, it’s just—different, and Bucky’s not sure how he feels about that. But even after a few minutes of having it on, his skin’s already feelin’ really good. He hadn’t even realized how much he needed it, ‘cause he hasn’t been ‘membering to check in with his body a whole lot while he’s here. “Odie? Thanks for bath an’ lotion.”

“Of course,” Steve gives him a smile. He’s about to say something else, but then his phone buzzes in his pocket. His eyebrows go up when he checks it. “Hey, Buck. Looks like Thor’s back with some news.”

Bucky perks right up, ‘cause that means maybe they’ll have him back home with his daddy and his Clinty real soon.

Only it turns out everyone’s in the lab at once. Bucky squirms and hides his face when he sees. “No…”

“Bucky?” Odies arms go tight around him. “What’s the matter?”

“Too many,” Bucky tries to explain, “Too many!” Being around lots of people is scary and tiring even when it’s people he knows. He can’t be in the middle of a buncha new people or he’ll get freaked out all over again.

“Oh, Buck—okay. I didn’t realize. A few of the others just got back from a little mission. I guess they all came here. Uh—”

Natasha’s noticed that they’re havin’ trouble. She breaks away from her discussion with Thor and comes over to the doorway. “Hey, Bucky. Are you okay?”

“He’s—I didn’t realize everyone would be here,” Odie says, kinda helplessly like Daddy sometimes sounds when Bucky and Clinty are both upset about something and he hasta help them at the same time.

“If you want, I can stay with him right out here. Then you can talk to Thor and he can still see you. Sound good, Bucky?”

He nods. “Kay.” Natasha seems like a safe person, and Bucky thinks he’ll be all right if he knows Odie’s just in the next room and could come right over if he needed help. There’s a big glass wall at the entrance to the lab, so he’ll be able to see Odie clearly and Odie will be able to see him too.

Plus, even Daddy needs breaks from taking care of him, and Daddy’s used to him. Odie’s not, so it makes sense that he might need more breaks.

Odie gently sets him down, and remembers to make sure Bucky’s steady on his feet before heading towards the other ‘Vengers. Natasha takes his hand. “Are you feeling better?”

“Yuhuh,” he mutters, his face gettin’ a little hot as he remembers all the yellin’ and bitin’ he did before. None of the ‘Vengers back home have seen him get like that; Daddy tells him it’s okay and he knows Bucky can’t help it, but it’s still embarrassing and frustrating that his body gets so out of control.

But Natasha says she’s glad he feels better, and gives his hand a little squeeze. “I can read you some stories from my phone. Or—you know what? JARVIS could put them in the air for us.”

And just like that, there’s a screen hovering in the air. Bucky thinks it’s probably not as good as sitting in Daddy or Thor’s lap with a storybook, but it’s what they have, so he shrugs and says “Okay.”

Natasha’s got a good reading voice. It’s all soft and fuzzy and makes Bucky feel real calm inside. She’s only read a part of the first story when the door to the lab opens again. Bucky flinches a little, cause he’s not expecting it and scooches on his bum towards Natasha. The ground pulls on his pants and starts tugging them down and Bucky’s got to hold on to them and wiggle them up his hips again.

“Hello.” It’s Bruce. Bucky hasn’t spent that much time with the Bruce in his world, but he’s always quiet and calm at breakfast and movie night. He never makes Bucky talk or does anything that makes it hard to stay calm. Bucky relaxes a little. “I was feeling a little overwhelmed and I thought I might join you out here. Is that alright?”

Bruce and Natasha are both looking at him then so Bucky nods, quick, so they’ll stop looking. There’s been so many new things today and Bucky’s skin still feels all wiggly and raw from gettin’ so upset earlier. He’s a little worried he might get real upset again. He wraps his arm around his knees and gives himself a hug. It’s not as good as Daddy’s or Clinty’s or Odie’s hugs, but it makes the upset feelin’ a little smaller.

“Do you want to take over the reading?” Natasha asks, sounding a little hopeful.

“Certainly.” Bruce must be able to tell Bucky’s still feelin’ kinda nervous, cause he doesn’t come any closer, just sits down against the glass wall and starts reading. Bruce has got a really good reading voice. Bucky’s Bruce, the one back in his world, has never read to him before. They’ve played dollies, though. Bruce is good at dollies, cause he’s always quiet and never does anything that surprises Bucky.

Maybe this Bruce will play dollies or bears with him and Tasha after the meeting.

The story’s a really good one, about a girl who gets rainbow stripes all up and down her body cause she stops eatin’ beans. It’s silly and Tasha keeps laughing which makes Bucky’s belly feel warm and giggly, even though he doesn’t really laugh. It’s not caus’a any bad reason, Bucky’s just tired. Daddy would say that it’s been a busy day. At home, that meant an extra long bath and an early bedtime. Clinty always argues about early bedtime, but Bucky doesn’t mind.

When the story ends, Bucky’s a little surprised.

“Another!” Tasha says and she gets up to go over to Bruce. She sits down next to him, just their knees touchin’, and gives Bruce what Daddy calls puppy dog eyes. Bruce smiles.

“Which story would you like to read next?” Bruce asks.

“Come sit with us! Let’s choose together!” Natasha waves her hand. Bucky’s body is still a little fuzzy—bad fuzzy from bein’ upset and good fuzzy from the bath—and it takes him a minute to figure out how to get up with nobody to help him. He starts walking towards Bruce and Natasha, but his pants are too long and his foot gets all tangled and then he’s falling .

Bruce and Natasha catch him before he hits the ground, but his feet pulled his too big pants right down his legs and they’re twisted round his ankles and everybody can see his pull up and that’s private. Bucky tries to tug his pants back up but he can’t, so he tries to pull his shirt down past his pull up so Bruce and Natasha can’t see .

He knows that Natasha already knew he has accidents, but maybe she didn’t know he hasta wear pull ups all the time and Bruce didn’t know at all and now everybody knows. Bucky starts to cry, he can’t help it, he’s so embarrassed. This is a private thing, a thing about his body that nobody needs to know except his Daddy and his doctors. But so many people know here—Odie and Natasha, probably Clint too, and Odie told Tony and Pepper figured out Bucky’s too much of a baby to go potty, and now Bruce knows too.

And the whole wall is glass and Bucky doesn’t dare look up, cause maybe everybody is staring at his pull up. Maybe they’ll be mad cause he’s got a grown up body and grown up bodies shouldn’t need pull ups or nothin’ and they shouldn’t have accidents.

“Oh, Bucky. It’s alright,” Bruce says and his voice is soft and nice, but it’s not alright at all. Not even a little bit. Bruce kneels and quickly tugs Bucky’s pants back up. Bucky grabs onto them tight even though what he really wants is to suck his thumb and cuddle his dolly. They can’t fall down again.

Bucky can’t stop crying and it’s gettin’ a little hard to breathe and he’s worried he’s gonna get real upset again, here, right in front of everyone. Plus all the upset and scared and surprise is making him havta pee.

“It’s okay Bucky,” Natasha says. “It really is. Nobody but Bruce and I saw and we aren’t going to tell anyone.”

“I’m sor-ry,” he hiccups. “I’m sorry!”

“Take a deep breath,” Bruce coaches carefully, and he takes in a deep breath so Bucky can copy him. Bucky tries, he does, but he doesn’t want a deep breath. He wants his Nemo lovey and some play-dough and for Daddy to help him be calm again. He doesn’t think he can ever be calm again without Daddy.

It’s just been such a long day and people keep findin’ out all his private things and now he’s gotta potty and he’s either gotta tell someone or he’s gonna have another accident and he’s had so many accidents since he got here.

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Natasha says, and her voice is very firm. “Lots of people need protection and it’s not your fault.” That sounds like something Daddy would say and it helps him settle himself down. Daddy and Clint are his most important people and they don’t think Bucky’s bad ‘cause of his accidents, and they know best. Bucky takes a deep breath and squeezes his elbow into his side like Isaac taught him, to help himself feel calmer.

Neither Bruce nor Natasha are touchin’ him. None of the people here touch him when he’s upset. The other Bucky must not like it, but Bucky really, really needs a hug.

“Hug, hug p’ease.” Bucky’s running out of tears but the big upset feeling is still sitting in his chest like a stone.

Natasha and Bruce hug him at the same time. Only Clinty and Daddy have ever hugged Bucky together. It’s really nice, cause he’s surrounded and it’s sort of like bein’ in one of Clinty’s nests or under his weighted blanket. It makes him feel a lot better.

“I’m sorry, Bucky,” Natasha whispers in his ear. “I keep forgetting you like hugs when you’re upset.” Bucky doesn’t know what to say to that and words are really hard, so he just pushes a little closer to Natasha. She hugs him tighter, so he thinks she understands.

After a couple minutes of bein’ hugged the upset gets a little smaller, but Bucky’s really, really gotta pee now and he’s not sure what to do. He doesn’t know where the closest potty is and he thinks he might need help, cause his legs got all stiff after he almost fell and he’s not sure if he can walk without gettin’ all tripped up again. But he can’t ask Natasha for help. She’s a girl . His face gets all hot and ‘barrassed just thinkin’ about it. And he doesn’t want to interrupt Odie, cause Odie’s trying to get him home to his Daddy. Bucky doesn’t want to stop Odie from doing that, not for anything.

But. But Bruce is really nice. And he’s not bein’ mean about Bucky’s pull ups. Only Daddy, Thor and Clint have helped Bucky in the bathroom before and he knows most people don’t need help and Bruce probably doesn’t wanna help him and never has to help the other Bucky with goin’ to the bathroom. He’s really gotta go, though.

“Gotta potty,” Bucky whispers and his face is so, so red.

Natasha and Bruce pull back at the same time. Bucky misses their hug right away.

“Okay,” Natasha says. “There’s one right over there. Do you need help?”

Bucky stares at the ground and nods. It sorta feels like his tears might come back.

“Who would you like to help you?” Bruce asks and his voice is so gentle and nice that Bucky’s not even scared when he points at him. “Alright Bucky, let’s go.”

Bruce can’t pick Bucky up like Odie can, but he lets Bucky hold his hand as he leads him to the bathroom. He doesn’t say anythin’ about how slow Bucky’s gotta walk, either. They have to go into the lab and Bucky’s worried about that, cause he really doesn’t wanna interrupt Odie, but Bruce is really quiet and Bucky doesn’t think anybody notices.

“How can I help?” Bruce stands back once they’re in the bathroom, lookin’ all careful, but also soft and nice. Nobody ever does anythin’ without askin’ first here. Mostly, Bucky thinks that’s good. But it gets a little frustrating tryin’ to answer all their questions.

Bucky doesn’t know how to tell Bruce that he needs to stand close in case he falls or that it’s hard to get his pull ups down by himself. The pants are easy, cause they’re so big, so Bucky does those by himself and then he tries to show Bruce that he needs help with his pull up by tugging on it.

“Help?” he asks. His legs and feet wanna get dancy now, but they’re still all stuck from fallin’ so he wiggles his hips as fast as he can instead. Bruce reaches out and tugs Bucky’s pull up down and Bucky leans on his shoulder to plop down on the potty. He starts peeing straight away and his face gets all red when he does. But Bruce turns around to give him privacy, just like Odie and Thor do. Bucky doesn’t need any privacy from Daddy or Clinty.

When Bucky’s all done he tells Bruce he needs help again and Bruce comes right back to help him put his clothes back on. Bruce doesn’t even mind helpin’ Bucky wash his hand.

Natasha is waiting for them outside and the picture book’s still up in the air. Bucky does want to read some more, but his pants are already fallin’ down again and he doesn’t want them to fall all the way again. It takes him a minute to put the words together, even though there aren’t a lot of them. He’s really, really tired. “New pants?”

Bruce and Natasha laugh, but not in a mean way. “I think our Bucky’s clothes are too big for you,” Natasha says. Even though she’s smiling, the words make him feel a little sad. Cause he’s not just littler in his head, his body is smaller too. The other Bucky is bigger and better.

“Maybe you’d like to borrow some of my clothes?” Bruce suggests. Bucky looks at Bruce real serious for a minute. Bruce is a lot smaller than Bucky, but Bucky’s got skinny hips. Daddy always says so. That’s why Bucky and Clinty need different diapers and pull ups.

“Okay,” Bucky whispers. It’s not til Natasha and Bruce start walkin’ to the elevator that Bucky realizes that means leavin’ without Odie. He doesn’t think he’s ready for that. Bucky’s never been alone with Bruce or Natasha without Daddy before in his world. He needs Thor or Clinty if Daddy’s not there and here the only really safe person is Odie.

“Wait f’Odie,” Bucky tells them. “Nee’Odie.”

He’s a little afraid he’s gonna hurt their feelings, but they just smile at him and Bruce asks is he wants to read some more while they wait for Odie to finish.

This time, Bucky gets to curl up between Bruce and Natasha. It’s really comfy and it feels pretty safe, even though they’re not his safest people. Maybe more people are safe than he thought. 

He’s not sure how long he stays curled up, reading, with Bruce and Tasha before Odie comes to get him. He thinks maybe he might fall asleep, just for a little bit, cause one minute he’s looking at the pictures and the next his head’s on Bruce’s shoulder and his thumb is in his mouth. Odie comes out right after that, and he walks straight over to Bucky and crouches down and holds out his arms for a hug. Odie’s carrying a big cardboard box, but he sets it down so he can hug Bucky better.

Bucky throws himself into Odie’s arms. Odie understands, he thinks, he understands that Bucky needs him close as much as possible. Bucky squishes as close as he can and nuzzles into Odie’s neck.

“I think he’s pretty tired,” Bruce says, his voice soft, and Odie lifts Bucky up, cradling him in front of his body. “He fell asleep while we were reading.”

“He already took a nap today,” Odie says, and he sounds a little worried.

“It’s been a pretty busy day for him,” Natasha adds and she pets his back gently. Bucky turns his head so he can smile at her around his thumb. She’s a really good friend, he thinks, and the thought makes his tummy all warm and happy.

“That’s true,” Odie murmurs and then presses a kiss into Bucky’s hair. “Do you need another nap, sweetheart?”

Odie doesn’t rush Bucky’s words at all, he just waits, all patient, until Bucky can say “Just quiet time?”

“That sounds good, Buck. We’ll have a quiet evening, just the two of us.” Bucky nods so hard he gets a little dizzy, but that’s exactly what he needs. Well. What he really needs is alone time with his daddy, but he can’t have that right now, and Odie’s almost as good.

“He needs a change of clothes,” Natasha tells Odie and Bucky blushes, remembering. “Those pants are too big—they fell down.”

“Oh,” and there’s something funny in both their voices, like they’re smiling but don’t want people to know. Bucky doesn’t know why you’d hide a smile, smiles are the best thing faces do. Odie sounds a little more serious when he says, “He’s littler than our Bucky.”

Natasha’s hand switches to petting his hair. “In a lot of ways.”

Bucky doesn’t like hearin’ how much littler he is than the other Bucky and by accident he makes a little whining noise.

“What’s the matter, Bucky?” Odie asks quickly, adjusting them so he can look at Bucky’s face. Bucky doesn’t really feel like being looked at, though, so he hides his face in Odie’s chest.

“M’the right size,” he says, after a minute of thinkin’ bout his words. If Bucky’s body were any bigger it wouldn’t be good, cause he could hurt himself or other people even more than he does now, and when he fell he’d fall even harder, and he might not fit in the tub with Clinty. Bucky’s sure his body is the right size, even though there are a lot of things wrong with it.

“Of course you are. You’re the perfect size for you,” Natasha says quickly. Bucky can feel Odie nodding, but he’s got to make sure. He knows he’s pretty little, in his head. He’s the littlest little he knows, but Daddy always promises that Bucky is exactly the right age, and that even if he needed to be even littler, that would be okay. But Odie isn’t Daddy and Bucky thinks that the other him might be a lot bigger than him, maybe even bigger than Clinty.  

“M’not too little?” He asks carefully.

“You’re not too little,” Odie promises. “You’re just right.”

Bucky relaxes, hearing that, cause he’s been real worried that he’s too much work for Odie cause he’s so little and needs so many things the other Bucky doesn’t need.

“Okay,” Bucky yawns and Odie laughs a little, but it’s a nice laugh, one that sounds like Daddy’s you're so cute laugh, so that’s okay.

“Let’s go take our quiet time, honey,” Odie says as he lifts him up. Bucky tucks his chin into Odie’s shoulder, glancing up for a minute to wave goodbye to Bruce and Natasha.

Natasha comes over with his dolly, which she hands to him as she leans in and gives him a little kiss on his cheek. He blushes and goes back to hiding in Odie. Odie and Nat laugh at him, but in a nice way.

Everyone says goodnight and Bucky lets his body get real heavy in Odie’s arms. His busy day is almost over.