The first time Bucky met Martin Stark-Crieff, he'd only just arrived at Avengers Tower after finally surrendering himself to Steve. He hadn't been expecting to be taken straight up to the heart of the Avengers operation, but apparently Steve trusted him a lot more than he trusted himself.
Steve took him up to what must be the main communal lounge. A man that Bucky recognised as Hawkeye was sitting on the back of one of the sofas, eating a bowl of cereal despite the fact that it was six in the evening. He tensed when he saw Bucky and Bucky felt a rush of adrenalin as the part of his mind that he was still struggling to control identified him as a potential threat and prepared for attack.
Hawkeye didn't move from his seat though. He raised an eyebrow at Steve. "Welcome to the 'I Brought In An Enemy Agent And All I Got To Show For It Is This Official Censure On My SHIELD File' Club. We have badges."
"Is Natasha here?" asked Steve.
"Nope," said Hawkeye. "She tapped out on this one." He nodded at Bucky. "Hi, I'm Clint. Please don't go nuts and try to kill me."
Bucky managed a nod in return. "I'll do my best."
"I guess that's all I can ask," Hawkeye said, then stood up. "Steve, I'm afraid that with Natasha gone, I got lumbered with representing the official SHIELD line. Can we have a quick chat? Uh, in private."
Steve puffed his chest out. "Anything that SHIELD have to say on the matter can be said in front of Bucky," he said, and Bucky recognised the note of stubborn defiance. Just hearing it made more memories of Steve standing up to guys he really should have just rolled over for slot into place in his mind.
Hawkeye made a face. "Yeah, I told Fury you'd say that, but he insisted it had to be in private. C'mon, won't take long, I promise, and then I can tell Fury it's all under control and there's no need for him to get all- Well, you know how he gets."
"I'm not going behind Bucky's back-" started Steve.
Bucky sighed. "Don't be an idiot, Steve," he said. "They're kinda entitled to be freaking out." He sat down on a couch. "Go on, I'm just going to sit here and absolutely not kill anyone."
Steve gave him a glare that made Bucky think that maybe he should wait a few days before making assassin jokes, but he did go off with Hawkeye.
Bucky slumped back against the sofa, wondering what the hell he was doing here. He should have just gone to ground, or kept tracking HYDRA bases and taking them out, or just done anything other than come here, straight into the arms of people who had every reason to hate him.
There was a ding and the elevator doors opened. Bucky reacted instinctively, jumping to his feet and reaching for a knife before he remembered that he'd handed them all over to Steve.
Inside the elevator was a short, red-haired guy who took one look at him, let out a squeak of terror and jumped to the back of the elevator. "JARVIS! Doors!"
The doors slid shut again, but Bucky could hear him still talking through them. "Oh god oh god oh god, get me to a different floor."
Steve and Hawkeye came rushing back in.
"What happened?" demanded Steve.
"I don't know," said Bucky. "There was a man in the elevator, he took one look at me and freaked out."
Steve and Hawkeye exchanged looks. "Short and skinny? Ginger hair?" said Steve.
"Yeah," said Bucky. "I swear I didn't do anything, I just looked at him."
"Did'ja 'just look', or did you give him the creepy assassin murder stare?" asked Hawkeye.
Bucky wasn't sure he had another way of looking at people anymore, but he was saved from answering that by a furious voice coming in on some kind of intercom system.
"STEVE! What the hell has your BFF done to my Spitfire?! You said he wasn't going to be a danger to any more of my family!"
Bucky winced and sat back down. So much for making a good first impression.
"He didn't do anything, Tony," said Steve. "He just looked at him."
Tony. Great, the guy who owned the building, who already had plenty of really good reasons to hate Bucky, and who was only suffering his presence here because Steve had talked him into it. The urge to get out began to make Bucky's limbs twitch, but he forced himself to stay in place. It wasn't as if he could go out the window when they were this high up, the elevator seemed like a really bad idea right now, and he hadn't yet worked out where the stairs were.
Besides, Steve would be really disappointed if Bucky took off. Bucky might not remember everything, but he remembered just how crushingly awful it felt when Steve was disappointed with him.
"Oh sure, cos Martin's going to get that worked up just from-" Tony's voice trailed off. "Okay, right, so he might, but-"
"Hey, Tony, did you let Martin know in advance that there might be a rehabilitated assassin hanging out here when he got home from work?" asked Hawkeye.
There was a telling pause. "Ah, crap," said Tony. "Okay, fine, it may have slipped my mind. But make sure that he knows Martin needs to be treated with kid gloves, yeah? I'm up for helping out your buddy, but not if it puts Martin in danger."
He clicked off and Bucky frowned. "There's a civilian living here? Steve, I can't-"
"Yes, you can," said Steve firmly. "It'll be fine."
Bucky stood up again, shaking his head. "I'm not safe. I can't be here if there's anyone I could hurt." The main reason he'd thought coming here would be okay was that he'd be surrounded by people who'd be able to stop him if Hydra's programming somehow got triggered, people who wouldn't end up being added to the body count he lay awake most nights fixating on.
"You're not leaving," said Steve, reaching out and gripping at his wrist. "Bucky. I've just got you back, you can't leave again."
Bucky opened and shut his fist, torn. "I'm not the same person," he said, quietly. If Steve was looking to get the Bucky he'd known in 1944 back, he was going to have a nasty shock. Bucky barely even remembered that guy.
"I know," said Steve. "Give me a chance to get to know who you are now."
Bucky hesitated, then deflated. "Yeah, okay."
"How about we never leave you alone in a room with him?" said Hawkeye. "We'll make sure there's always an Avenger who can intervene if things get out of control, yeah?"
Great, so he'd have a babysitter at all times. Bucky wished he could feel like that was overkill, but the idea actually just made him feel safe. He couldn't trust himself any more, but he thought he could probably trust these guys.
Bucky didn't see much of Martin for the next couple of weeks, partly because he was hiding in Steve's rooms trying to get a handle on himself, and partly because Martin seemed to be hiding in his and Tony's rooms. As time passed and Bucky began to feel like he had more of a grip on himself, he started spending more time in the communal areas, trying to give Steve a break from babysitting him twenty-four seven.
The first time he and Martin had a proper interaction, he came up to the main lounge one day to find Martin and Clint playing a computer game.
"Hi," he said.
Martin glanced over his shoulder at him, his eyes went wide and he nearly dropped his controller.
Clint elbowed him. "C'mon, concentrate. You need to get this landing perfect."
Martin turned back to the screen, which was showing a digitalised plane cockpit. "I always get this landing perfect."
Clint gave Bucky a grin. "You want to join us?"
Bucky eyed the back of Martin's head but he seemed engrossed in the game, so he went over and sat on the sofa next to Clint. "What is it?"
"Microsoft Flight Simulator XX Pro," said Martin, in a tone of voice that implied that should have been obvious.
Bucky watched as the electronic cockpit headed down towards the runway and touched down. It blinked and reset, and Clint picked up the controller and started to make his own landing approach.
"And it's just landing planes?" Bucky asked.
"No," said Martin, "it simulates every part of the flight experience, from take-off to landing. This is competitive mode."
Clint landed his plane and the scores flashed up, showing him two points in the lead.
"Oh yes," he said, raising his arms above his head in victory. "And the winner takes the crown."
Martin scowled. "You had much easier weather conditions."
"Ah, excuses, excuses," said Clint. "C'mon, Mario Kart time. That way Bucky can join us." He got up to change the game and glanced over his shoulder at Bucky. "We take it in turns to pick a game," he said. "Martin always picks Flight Simulator."
"It's the best one," said Martin.
Clint handed Bucky a controller. He stared at it and wondered if he should know what to do with it.
"Aren't you a pilot?" he asked as the load screen came up. "Don't you fly planes every day anyway?"
"Yes," said Martin, defensively. "What's your point?"
"Martin takes obsession with aviation to a special level," said Clint. "I'm, like, ninety percent certain he only married Tony cuz he has a flying suit."
"Not true," said Martin. "He also revolutionised the design of winglets, changing the face of aviation technology forever." He cleared his throat. “And, you know, he's a great guy beyond all the aviation stuff he's done.”
"Right, of course," said Clint. "Okay, which character do you want, Bucky? Martin is always Yoshi, cuz when we first played he thought he was a dragon and would be able to fly."
Bucky looked at the screen and cleared his throat. "I, uh. I've never played this before," he admitted.
Clint nudged Martin. "Hey, you might have a hope in hell of beating him then."
Martin sighed. "It's stupid."
"Hey, I play your dull as fuck flying game," said Clint. He took Bucky's controller and picked a character for him.
"I don't understand why everyone thinks it's boring," said Martin.
"Mainly, I think it's because nothing explodes," said Clint. "Well, nothing usually explodes, sometimes all kinds of weird shit happens when I play it. Okay, Bucky, quick guide."
He ran through the controls with him, which all seemed fairly simple. It was only when they started the race that Bucky realised which character he'd been given.
"Why the fuck am I the princess?"
"Cos you're so pretty," said Clint. "Want me to find you a tiara?"
"Oh, fuck you," said Bucky. That was it, it was on. He was going to show Clint just how hard a princess could whoop his ass.
It took him about half a lap to get the hang of it, which was all the start Clint needed to get way ahead. Bucky just about managed to catch up with Martin by the end of the race, but Clint was way too far ahead.
"Eat my dust, suckers," he cackled as he came in first, and raised his hands above his head in victory.
"Again," demanded Bucky.
"Um," said Martin. "Are we sure it's a good idea to get this competitive about a computer game?"
"Definitely," said Clint. "Just a healthy way of letting tension out, right?" He started up the next race.
"I am going to crush you into a thousand tiny pieces," growled Bucky as the starter counted down.
Martin made a faint noise that Bucky ignored as the game started and he threw himself into the race.
It was neck and neck for most of the way around the track. Or, at least, it was for him and Clint. Martin was close behind, but never really seemed to catch up.
"Calm down, Princess," said Clint. "You'll get your hair out of place."
"I'm going to rip off your head and spit down your neck," said Bucky. "Then we'll see whose hair is out of place."
"All talk, no show," said Clint, eyes fixed on the screen.
"I'll show you a world of pain," promised Bucky, just as they came around the final bend to the finishing line. He was just slightly in front and he found himself leaning forward as if that was going to make the cart go faster.
At almost the last moment, Clint bashed into the side of him, sending him spinning off while he sailed through the finishing line.
"You bastard asshole govniuk," announced Bucky, throwing the controller on the floor.
Clint laughed. "I've heard so much worse from Natasha," he said. "Okay, not usually over a computer game, but..."
Martin's cart had stopped moving on screen. Bucky glanced over and realised that his face had gone white and he'd stopped playing in order to stare at Bucky in terror. Ah, crap.
"I- um," Martin stuttered, dropping his controller and clambering off the couch and away from Bucky. "I have to. Um. Log book! I need to do my log book."
He bolted from the room.
Bucky sighed and tilted his head back against the couch. "That was stupid of me.”
Clint winced. "Yeah," he agreed. "Sorry, I probably should have noticed."
Bucky snorted. "Yeah, some chaperone you are." Should he be going to find Martin and apologising, trying to come across as a sane human being rather than an enraged Russian psychopath? Or was that just going to make things worse?
"Don't panic, he'll calm down and realise he's just let himself get a bit wound up," said Clint. "You shoulda seen him around Natasha for the first year or so. Mind you, she was actively trying to freak him out, cuz she thought it was funny."
Bucky took a deep breath. He'd just try harder next time.
"Play again?" asked Clint, holding his controller up.
Bucky looked down at his. "Um. I kinda broke it."
There was a large crack across the side that his metal hand had been holding. Maybe he needed to practice his fine control a bit. Or just get less worked up over a computer game.
"Aw, man. Tony's going to make sarcastic comments about funding a house of delinquent teenagers again," said Clint, looking at it. "We go through these things like crazy." He tossed the one Martin had been using over to Bucky. "Just treat that one slightly nicer, yeah? I'll even let you pick another character if you want."
"Nah, I like the princess," said Bucky, taking the controller. "She's spunky."
When Steve and Bucky had been kids, they hadn't really been able to play-fight or spar with each other because it always made Bucky feel like he was going to crush Steve with one mis-judged hit. Then Steve got his upgrade and suddenly they had the opposite problem. It was only really now that Bucky had also had an upgrade that they could actually spar properly.
Which was a good thing, because it was one of the few things that made Bucky feel like he could flush out his mind after a bad night of nightmares, or one of the days when he felt like he was watching the world through a screen while the Winter Soldier's programming nudged at the back of his mind.
For all that Captain America was meant to be a paragon of virtue, Steve could actually be pretty brutal when they were sparring, especially once he'd worked out just how much Bucky could take without flinching.
He darted a fist at Bucky's face, then followed it up with a jab to his chest when Bucky moved to avoid it. Bucky had seen it coming though, and grabbed his fist in his metal hand, squeezing until Steve flinched then shoving backwards, putting him off balance and following it up with a kick at his kneecap, making him buckle.
He followed him down to the floor, trying to trap him in his grip, but Steve was too quick, flipping them both over so he was on top and landing a blow on Bucky's face that was weaker than it could have been.
Bucky grinned at him and launched a head butt right at his face, catching him a solid blow on the nose, flipped them over again and pressed his metal forearm against Steve's throat, choking off just enough air to keep him from fighting back.
"You giving in, Rogers?"
Steve glared back at him with defiant eyes, slapping at his arm as if he had any hope of budging it. Bucky could feel him gathering his strength for something that would probably set him on his ass and pressed down harder. You only ever got to keep Captain America down for very short periods of time, even when you were just practising.
"Oh god," he heard someone off to the side say in a broken voice. "What have you done?"
Bucky glanced over to see Martin in the door of the gym, staring at him with horrified eyes.
The moment of distraction was enough to give Steve his chance and Bucky found himself flat on his back a moment later.
"It's fine, Martin," said Steve, in a slightly hoarse voice that made Bucky wonder if he hadn't used too much force. "We're just sparring."
"Right," said Martin, blinking rapidly. "Of course. Sorry, I should have known that."
Bucky pulled himself up and tried out a friendly smile. "Were you going to work out?"
"Oh god, no," said Martin, and disappeared.
Steve patted his shoulder. "Don't take it badly. He doesn't really like working out when there are other people in here. Well, except Clint."
"Clint?" asked Bucky.
"Yeah, he's been giving him a bit of training in combat."
"Combat," repeated Bucky sceptically. "Every time he gets even a little bit scared, he heads for the hills."
"Clint's very patient," said Steve. "Besides, Martin's just an ordinary guy, never been a soldier or anything. What would you tell him to do when faced with a possible super-powered threat?"
Okay, maybe Steve had a point. Bucky just grunted and put his fists up. "Again?"
Steve grinned and adopted the same position.
"We're ordering Chinese for everyone," said Steve, stopping in the doorway of Bucky's room. "You want to join us?"
Bucky blinked and looked at him. He'd had nightmares all last night and had been feeling out of sorts all day. For a moment he was going to refuse, then he reconsidered. Maybe being surrounded by people was what he needed. Something to jar him back into reality and remind him that he was surrounded by people who were slowly becoming friends.
He nodded at Steve. "I'll be up in a moment."
When he got up to the main floor he realised he'd made a mistake. The noise of a large group of people all talking at once hammered at his mind and he nearly turned around and went straight back down to his room.
Clint glanced over and caught his eye, raising a hand in a wave. "Hey, Bucky, come over here and help me explain to Natasha that Mario Kart isn't a juvenile waste of time."
He looked genuinely happy to see him and Bucky couldn't walk away from that. If anyone here other than Steve already counted as a friend, it was Clint. He forced himself to go and take the seat next to him.
He wasn't sure how to react to Natasha. He remembered her from before, but it was indistinct and he knew she remembered more than he did. He just wasn't sure what she remembered that made her so careful around him.
He did his best to ignore the tension crackling around her as they debated the merits of racing cartoon characters, but when the conversation left Mario Kart and veered off into other games he didn't know, he didn't have the energy to try and follow it. Instead, he focused on eating. After a day hiding out in his room, he was starving.
Narrowing the world down to the food on his plate helped him block out everything else, all the noise and movement that kept making him flash to battlefields that he had left awash with blood. He shoved rice into his mouth, filling up his plate with whatever was nearest whenever it ran low.
There was one spring roll left in the dish in the middle of the table. He was eyeing it with intention when another hand reached out and took it. He couldn't keep in a frustrated growl and glared up at the thief.
Martin went white, dropped the spring roll and stuttered out an apology. "Sorry! Sorry, shouldn't have- Of course you have it, that's fine. I, uh, I should-"
He stood up and bolted from the room.
Bucky let out a sigh and dropped his head. God damn it, why did this keep happening?
Tony stood up. "O-kay, I'm just gonna go sort out my husband. JARVIS, make a note. Next time we order Chinese, get an extra thing of spring rolls, yeah?"
He sent Bucky a dark look as he left and Bucky wanted to kick himself. How did he keep managing to fuck this up so badly?
He left the moment Tony was gone, heading back down to his room and locking himself in. He should have just followed his instincts and kept away from people to start with.
There was a tap on his door within five minutes. "You okay, Bucky?" asked Steve.
Bucky rolled his eyes at his nurse-maiding. "Fine," he called back.
"Do you want to talk?"
"Nope," he replied.
There was a pause. "Okay, well, let me know if you do," said Steve, and Bucky heard him leave.
He crawled into bed, pulled the blankets over his head and considered just hiding there for the next year or so.
There was a thump from the air-conditioning vent and Bucky tensed, reaching for the nearest weapon. The vent opened and he leapt to his feet, knife gripped in his hand as he mentally mapped the location of every other weapon in the room.
Clint dropped through and gave him a grin, as if he wasn't moments away from being stabbed. "Yo," he said.
Bucky relaxed, but wasn't able to put the knife down just yet. "You trying to get yourself killed?"
Clint shrugged. "Not actively. C'mon, no way you'd have attacked this," he said, gesturing down at himself. "I'm way too adorable."
Bucky refused to let his eyes follow Clint's gesture and track over his body. He forced his fingers to relinquish their grip on the knife and put it down. "I've killed people a lot cuter than you."
"No one's cuter than me," said Clint, throwing himself into a chair. He looked completely relaxed but Bucky could see the tension in his shoulders that said he was aware just how much of a risk he'd taken.
"That's an impressive level of denial you've got going on there," said Bucky.
"Well, whatever gets you through the day, right? Speaking of, how're you doing with getting through the day?"
Bucky let out a sigh and sat back down on the bed. "Oh, just peachy. I've managed to scare the crap out of Martin. Again. How many more times do you think I can put him in fear for his life before Tony loses his shit and chucks me out?"
"I reckon you've got another couple of goes at it at least," said Clint. "Cap's got your back. Course, it might be easier to just avoid freaking Martin out in future."
Bucky snorted. "Right, cos I've proven that's easy."
Clint shrugged. "You just need to be a bit friendly to him so that he's less tense around you. That was how Nat and Bruce got him to stop flinching whenever they went near him."
"Friendly really isn't my strong point," said Bucky. "Might be better if I just kept out of his way."
Clint shook his head. "You can't live with a guy you're hiding from. Being friendly with Martin's easy. You just have to let him talk about planes, or find some plane thing to tell him, or just, really, anything aviation-related. Although, I should warn you, once you get him started, you might need to pull a knife on him to get him to stop."
"You think pulling a knife on him will make him like me more?" asked Bucky.
Clint made a face. "Yeah, okay, bad plan. That only really works with Natasha." He bounced to his feet. "Hey, you want to go down to the range and shoot things until you feel better? Always works for me."
"Oh god, yes please," said Bucky, getting up. "That's the best plan I've heard all week."
There was an Avengers call-out a few days later. Steve cast Bucky an apologetic look, but Bucky waved it away.
"I know, I know. Not cleared yet," he said. "Try not to have too much fun without me."
"I'm sure we'll get you officially on the roster soon," said Steve.
"Sure," said Bucky, privately thinking that it was going to take a lot before SHIELD would trust the Winter Soldier on a mission.
Steve dashed off and Bucky made himself coffee, then went out to the main lounge. "JARVIS, can you show me the fight at all?"
"Of course," said JARVIS. The TV flicked on, showing two images. "On the left is the footage the news crews are getting. On the right is the view from Sir's helmet cam."
"Awesome," said Bucky, and settled in to watch the Avengers take down what looked like an acid-spitting dragon.
Thor had just struck the creature with lightning, which had had no real effect other than to piss it off even more, when the elevator dinged and the door opened to reveal Martin, coming home from work. He had a headphone in that Bucky knew would be a direct connection to the Avengers comms.
He stopped when he saw Bucky, then glanced up at the screen, where Tony was ducking away from a shower of acid.
"Wanna watch with me?" asked Bucky, before he remembered that they weren't meant to be alone together.
Martin looked torn for a moment, then took a deep breath and stiffened his spine. "Yeah," he said. He pulled the headphone out of his ear. "JARVIS, can you put the comms feed on?"
A moment later, Steve's voice faded in.
"Hawkeye, can you target the wings with an explosive arrow? We need to ground it."
"Roger that, Cap."
Martin came over and perched on the edge of the sofa furthest from Bucky. Well, that was a start. All Bucky had to do now was make sure he didn't accidentally stab him or something. Should be easy, right?
Clint launched an arrow that grazed a wing and then exploded, making the dragon shriek with pain as it was flung somersaulting backwards into a building. There was a whoop of joy over the comms.
"Oh yeah, that's how you- Oh, come on!" The dragon had pulled itself out of the rubble of the building and launched itself back into the air. He dove straight at Clint's position, head rearing back to strike.
Bucky clenched his fists in his lap. He felt so useless and impotent sitting here, unable to do anything other than watch. He wanted to be out there with them, where he could do something to help.
Steve threw his shield at the dragon, catching it in the head and distracting it long enough for Tony to swoop in and grab Clint, getting him out of the way.
"Okay, new plan," said Steve. "Let's just hit it with everything we have."
"My favourite kinda plan," said Tony, dropping Clint off on another building and turning back towards the dragon.
"If you guys can get it to stop moving for long enough, I could use a net arrow on it, see if I can tangle its wings?" suggested Clint.
"A net arrow?" repeated Bucky, glancing over at Martin.
Martin gave him a shrug. "I think he goes out of his way to get a new kind of arrow every other week. My favourite is the boomerang arrow."
"Why would anyone want an arrow that came back to them?" asked Bucky.
"That question is the reason I like it," said Martin. "You should ask Clint."
Bucky made a mental note, and turned back to the screen in time to see Thor's hammer deal a hard blow to the side of the dragon's head, stunning it long enough for Clint to fire his net arrow. The net flew out over the wing, tangling around it as the dragon tried to soar upwards and sending it crashing down.
"Oh, hell yeah!" crowed Clint.
Once on the ground, Steve, Natasha and Thor cornered him with raised weapons. The dragon raised his head and roared at them, spitting acid that Steve caught on his shield.
"He's gonna be pissed if that ruins the paintjob," said Bucky.
Tony landed his suit next to them, missiles flicking out of the suit and aiming at the dragon. The dragon reared its head one last time, then visibly surrendered, laying down in defeat.
"Good work, guys," said Steve. "Widow, contact SHIELD and get them to bring transport for it. I take it they have somewhere they can keep it confined?"
"I love how we can just chuck this stuff over to Fury and make it his problem, " said Tony. "Hey, JARVIS, is Spitfire listening in? Spitfire, I just conquered a dragon. How's that for knight in shining armour?"
"JARVIS, can you tell him that I'm very impressed, but I'm still not going to play damsel in distress for him," said Martin. "Uh, on a private line, please."
Bucky tried to keep in a snort of amusement, without success. Martin sent him a weak glare, which Bucky took as a sign of success. If he was glaring at him, he couldn't be feeling threatened.
All he had to do now was manage some sort of small talk and create a rapport that would sweep away all memory of the previous incidents. He searched his brain for an opening.
"So, what's the story behind 'Spitfire' then?" he asked. "No offence, but you don't seem the feisty type."
"It's not that, it's the plane," said Martin. "The first time we talked I told Tony that, uh, it was my favourite plane when I was a kid."
"Oh, right," said Bucky. He threw his mind back through the years to try and bring up any memories he could of Spitfires. Sometimes, putting pressure on himself to remember just made it harder, like fighting through wet concrete, but today it seemed his brain was on his side. A shiningly clear memory came to him. "You know, I met R J Mitchell once."
Martin gaped at him. "What?" he managed in a stuttering voice.
"The guy who invented Spitfires," said Bucky.
"I know who he was," said Martin. He looked about two breaths away from passing out. "You met R J Mitchell?!"
"Yeah," said Bucky. "Shook his hand, had a quick chat."
A strange high-pitched noise came out of Martin. "You touched him?! Oh god!!"
Okay, Bucky had been looking for a brief chat and a moment of connection. Instead, he seemed to have given Martin an aneurysm.
"Can- Can I touch the hand he touched?" asked Martin, moving forward.
Bucky glanced down at his right hand. "Uh, sure?" he said. He held it out to Martin, who gently touched it with the tips of his fingers.
"Oh, wow," he said, breathlessly. "What did he say? Tell me everything!"
Okay, maybe Bucky had bitten off more than he could chew with this one. Eh, at least it was the good kind of freaked out, not the cowering with fear under furniture kind.
After an hour of being bombarded with questions, Bucky was relieved when Tony landed on the balcony and strode straight in to give Martin a kiss that very nearly swept him off his feet, before bundling off to their bedroom because Dude, we just took out a dragon. This calls for some unbelievably hot celebratory sex.
Clint nearly cried with laughter when Bucky told him and Steve about his talk with Martin afterwards. "Oh man, I could have warned you against that one."
"Why do you think I never mentioned it to him?" asked Steve. "I mean, I was there too."
"You coulda warned me," said Bucky.
Steve laughed. "Why would I do that? Hey, JARVIS, do you have a recording of it?"
"I'm afraid Sir won't allow recordings of conversations that take place within the Tower to be viewed for the purposes of mocking any of the residents, with the sole exception of Clint."
"Hey!" said Clint. "How's that fair?"
Bucky grinned at him. "Hey, JARVIS, what vids do you have of Clint making a fool of himself?"
"Aw, man," complained Clint, but he settled in to watch them with Bucky anyway.
After that, things between Martin and Bucky settled a bit. Martin stopped looking as if he was about to cry with fear every time they were in the same room, and Bucky managed to avoid any other rookie aviation conversational gambits.
On Bucky's three month anniversary of being at Avengers Tower, they threw him a party. Well, they all gathered with some drinks and ordered in a huge amount of Chinese food, including enough spring rolls to build a small hut from, which Bucky felt was a bit of a pointed comment from Tony.
"I'd like to make a toast," said Tony, raising a glass of fizzy grape juice. "To our very own ex-brainwashed Hydra assassin. Long may he resist the temptation to murder us all in our beds."
Steve sighed. "Tony," he tutted.
"Okay, okay," said Tony. "Let me do this properly." He paused, considering, then said, "I reckon we've all got things in our past that we bitterly regret. Here's to having the strength to put them behind us, and working towards a better future."
Bucky blinked. Okay, that was way more emotional than Bucky would have expected. He glanced around to see everyone looking faintly stunned. Steve was giving Tony an 'I'm so proud of you' grin that Tony rolled his eyes at, and then Martin leaned in and pressed a kiss to Tony's cheek.
"Hear hear," said Natasha, softly, raising her glass, and they all drank.
"Course, my better future is going to be in bed with Spitfire tonight," said Tony, smirking. "Or, well, maybe not in bed, maybe just-"
"Thanks, Tony," interrupted Martin, putting his hand on Tony's arm. "That's great, but you really can stop talking now."
Tony gave him a beaming smile and a kiss, and Bucky looked away. He met Clint's look, who rolled his eyes at him. It wasn't that Bucky begrudged Martin and Tony their obvious happiness, he just sometimes felt the PDAs were a bit over-the-top. He thought married folks were meant to stop being all over each other every chance they had.
"I spoke to Fury today," said Steve to Bucky a bit later, once Bruce had managed to separate Tony and Martin by giving them a meaningful glower. "He wants to okay you for active Avengers duty."
Bucky stared at him. "You're serious?" he asked.
"Yup," said Steve, grinning.
"Guess that means you're properly one of us," said Tony, raising his glass. "Welcome to the insanity."
"Just got the most important two questions to answer," said Clint. Bucky frowned at him, and Clint counted them off for him on his fingers. "Your costume, and your superhero name."
"I've already got a name," said Bucky.
"Yeah, okay, but this is your chance to rebrand," said Clint. "Instead of the Winter Soldier, all dressed in black and glowering in the background, you could be Sergeant Cupcake, and wear like, a pink apron and throw cake-shaped knives at people. Or no, even better, you love playing as Princess Peach on Mario Kart, right? You could-"
"No," interrupted Bucky before his brain could summon the mental images. "The Winter Soldier is fine. Or even just Bucky - it's not like I've got a secret identity to protect."
"You're seriously okay with Bucky?" asked Tony, sceptically. "I mean, okay, I'm guessing you missed Buck Rogers -which is a shame, JARVIS, put it on the to-watch list- but it's not as if it's very normal, even without picturing that creepy little robot going 'buh-buh-buh okay Buck.'"
Bucky was about to puff up in indignation that his name was fine when Martin broke in.
"Oh, isn't it a common American name, then? I thought it was," said Martin. "My grandfather was called Bucky and he was American."
Tony frowned at him. "I didn't know you had the blood of The Land Of The Brave running through your veins. Are you keeping secrets from me, Spitfire?"
Martin shrugged uncomfortably. "Not really. It's just- Um. That he was an American called Bucky is pretty much all we know about him. He was a GI that took Grandma out dancing a few times during the war, but he'd gone back to the front by the time she found out she was pregnant. We've never been able to track him down."
"Oh, so he was a bounder and a cad," said Tony, draping an arm around Martin. "Damn those American soldiers, huh? Coming over your side of the Atlantic, stealing all your girls..."
He shot Steve and Bucky a wink that made Steve huff a sigh. "Not all GIs were like that, Tony. In fact, hardly any were. Which division was he part of?"
Martin shrugged. "We don't know that. He didn't even tell her his surname. He told her he worked for a top secret unit, which was why he couldn't tell her. Grandma always said he must have been killed otherwise he'd have come back, but frankly, most of us think he was always intending to run out on her."
Bucky felt himself freeze. "Uh, when during the war was that?" he asked, as casually as possible.
"1944," said Martin. "Mum was born in April 1945."
Bucky did some extremely rapid maths, then tried to tally it up with his patchy memories. He could remember stepping out with quite a few girls whenever the Commandos were on leave in London and there had been one on that last leave trip that he'd gone to a couple of dance halls with. What the hell had her name been?
He couldn't pull it back from his memory. He could barely even picture her face, only a flash of red hair as he whirled her around the floor.
Red hair. Oh, Christ.
The party went on a bit longer but Bucky wasn't really concentrating. He was too busy trying not to stare at Martin too obviously as he tried to work out if there was any kind of family resemblance. Did he have the same nose as Uncle Rudolph?
No. Nope, no way, couldn't be. He was just winding himself up.
Except, it wasn't completely outside the realms of chance. He hadn't always been that careful with women during the war, and Tony was right about one thing, Bucky wasn't the most common name.
"JARVIS," he asked when he was alone in his room. "Do you, ah, you got any photos of Martin's Grandma?"
"Not in my files," said JARVIS, "but I can do a global search, if you wish?"
"Uh, yeah, if you could," said Bucky.
"I will notify you if there are any results," said JARVIS. "It may take several hours."
"Right, okay," said Bucky. That was fine, he could wait. Yeah.
He didn't sleep that night. He ended up out in the tiny kitchen that was part of Steve's suite, staring into the fridge and trying to work out if there was anything in there that might help.
He contemplated hot milk for a couple of minutes before it made him think too much about his own mother, and then what it might be like to make that for a kid of his own. What would it have been like if he hadn't fallen, if he'd gone back to London and married Martin's Grandma, had a kid with her? He'd have avoided the whole brainwashed assassin thing, but he'd be an old man now. Or already dead.
The thought made him feel twitchy and trapped. He shut the fridge and gave up on sleeping, heading out to the range instead.
Clint was already there, bow in hand as he fired shot after shot at a target so far away Bucky could barely see it. He hovered in the doorway for a few minutes, watching the shift of Clint's back muscles and the flex of his biceps as he pulled back the bow.
He wouldn't have been able to enjoy that sight if he'd played the family man, he thought, and then felt horrible that he thought that was worth leaving his daughter to grow up without a father for.
Okay, no, not necessarily his daughter. He needed to stop fixating on this.
Clint glanced over his shoulder. "Couldn't sleep either?"
Bucky shook his head and Clint didn't press it. It wouldn't be the first time they'd had insomnia in common. He roused himself from the doorway and got out his favourite gun, setting up a second target next to Clint's. If he was going to be on the official Avengers roster, he should probably make sure he had all his skills up to scratch.
They shot for an hour, then Clint sighed and let his bow drop, rolling his shoulders back. "Think it's late enough to call it morning yet? I could do with breakfast."
Bucky shrugged. "I'm sure it's the right time somewhere."
Bucky made them both eggs while Clint put on a massive pot of coffee and then drank most of it without bothering to find a mug.
"So, is it being approved for active duty?" asked Clint. "Or something else? Cuz, you know, Cap wouldn't have hassled Fury into it if he didn't think you were ready."
Bucky shook his head. "Nah, I'm fine. Looking forward to it, frankly. Getting kinda bored of watching the rest of you have fun without me."
"Yeah, I get that," said Clint. "Not sure how Martin does it. Just watching the people you care about in combat is - wait. Did you just flinch when I said Martin?"
"No," said Bucky, hunching his shoulders over and concentrating on his plate.
"You did!" said Clint. "Oh man, what did you do to him now? I thought you guys were all cool after he nearly wet himself over your wartime connections?"
Bucky's wartime 'connections' were exactly the problem. "It's nothing," he said, as harshly as he could.
Clint wasn't put off. "Nah, there's something. You were fine yesterday, what's happened since then? Last night, did something- Oh, hang on. Is this about his grandmother?"
"No," said Bucky, starting to eat faster so he could escape.
"Oh, holy shit. You're not- Are you his grandfather?" asked Clint with delight. "Oh man, oh man, Tony is going to have a meltdown."
"I'm not his grandfather," growled Bucky, glaring at him.
"Nice try, but that look doesn't work on me any more," said Clint. "Not once I'd seen you sulk for an hour cuz Natasha got the princess on Mario Kart before you could. Seriously though, is there really a chance you might be Martin's grandfather?"
Bucky shrugged one shoulder. "There's a bit of a chance," he said. "I don't really remember much from back then, but there were a few women."
"You dog," said Clint, sniggering. "Oh man, this is the best thing."
Bucky glared at him. "It's not funny. I could have a daughter who's collecting a pension, and a grandson who's older than me and married to Tony. A Stark! Christ." He put his hands over his face, scrubbing at his forehead.
"Two grandsons," put in Clint. "And a grandaughter. Martin's got an older brother and an older sister. Oh, and two nephews, so that's two great-grandsons."
Bucky stared at him in horror. "Oh god," he said, weakly.
Clint patted his arm. "Cheer up, might not be you. I mean, there must have been other Buckys in London who were philandering assholes during the war. And belonged to super secret units and disappeared in 1944."
Bucky sent him a glare. "You're not helping." Clint's hand was still on his arm though, and that kinda was helping.
Clint squeezed his forearm, then stood up. "C'mon, Princess. Let's play Mario Kart and try and work out a subtle way to do a DNA test on you and Martin."
Two hours later, they'd developed a complex set of forfeits and rewards based on who won each race by how many seconds, but come no closer to coming up with a plan.
"You know," said Clint while they were waiting for a track to load up. "Cap's the one who's great at strategy."
Bucky snorted, flexing his fingers as the starter counted down. "You're kidding, right? He finds out about this, he's going to go all moral indignation on me for something I did seventy years ago, which I now barely remember cos, y'know, brainwashed."
Their karts both zoomed off from the start line. Clint reached over without taking his eyes off the screen and ruffled Bucky's hair. "Poor little super-soldier, having to deal with Captain America's disapproval."
Bucky smacked at his hand, lost his place in the race and spun off the track. "Cheater," he accused Clint, dropping his controller so that he could launch himself at him.
Clint dropped his own controller and fought back, jabbing his fingers into Bucky's sides as if looking for ticklish spots, which Bucky could have told him was a waste of time but he was too busy trying to shove him off the sofa without using his metal arm too much and hurting him.
There was a gently cleared throat above them, and Bucky glanced up to see Steve giving them an amused look. Clint took advantage of his distraction to flip him over, onto the floor, where Bucky landed with a thump.
"You little rat bastard," he growled at him.
Clint just grinned at him unrepentantly. "Ah, go buy some Werther's, grandpa."
Bucky nearly threw himself at him again, but held himself back.
"You know, I'm pretty sure you're both meant to be adults," said Steve.
Bucky sent a rude gesture in his direction.
Bucky joined Steve on his morning run, hoping to work off some of his building agitation. It didn't help as much as he'd hoped, especially as the moment they got back into Steve's suite, JARVIS let Bucky know he'd found a photo.
"A photo of what?" asked Steve.
Bucky thought about lying, then gave in to the inevitable. "Of Martin's grandmother," he said. "Can you show me, JARVIS?"
A black-and-white photo appeared on one wall of a woman sat in a chair with a baby on her lap. Bucky squinted at her face, trying to pull back any memory of her. Nothing came to him.
"Hey, she look familiar to you at all?" he asked Steve.
"Not really," said Steve. "Should she?"
Bucky shrugged. "I don't know. I don't- I can't remember much about the women I used to go about with back then."
"You think," started Steve, and then paused. "Oh man, Bucky, you don't think you're the guy Martin was talking about yesterday? His grandfather?"
"I don't know," said Bucky. "I can't remember, Steve." He waved at the photo. "I've lost so much from back then. Do I not recognise her cos I never met her, or cos that part of my memory was burned out?"
Steve frowned. "Were you really so careless back then that you might have got a woman in trouble? Bucky, that's-"
Bucky tried to wave that away. "It was the war, yeah? And they could have said no."
"That's not the point," said Steve. "If I'da known you were catting about like that-"
Bucky rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Steve, I'm not your kid. I get to make my own choices, as did those women."
Steve snorted. "Choices that might have led to that kid," he said, gesturing at the photo. "Yeah, good going, Bucky."
Bucky scowled and turned back to the photo. "Might not be mine," he said. "I reckon figuring that out should take priority over moral rants."
Steve let out a deep sigh. "Fine, okay. JARVIS, what was her name?"
"Katherine Barnaby," said JARVIS.
Bucky frowned. "Katherine," he repeated, carefully.
"Don't remember you talking about a Katherine," said Steve.
"She might have been a Kath," said Bucky. "Or a Kathy. Or a Kate or Katie, or-"
Steve had gone very still.
"What?" asked Bucky.
Steve shook his head. "I think I might remember you mentioning a Kate. You took her dancing."
Bucky stared back at the photo. "Ah, shit."
"It's a common name," said Steve.
"Bucky's not," said Bucky, gloomily. "Oh man, I'm going to turn out to be a grandfather. A great-grandfather."
"You'll be Tony's in-law," pointed out Steve.
Bucky twitched and slumped on the sofa. "Oh god, can you imagine how Howard would have reacted to that?"
"To be honest, I'm still dealing with the fact he had a kid at all," said Steve. "One that he meant to have, that is. He probably left a few women in trouble as well."
Bucky rubbed at his forehead. "We don't know for sure that it was me."
"Yeah, I guess not," said Steve, but Bucky could tell from the tone of his voice that he didn't think there was a lot of doubt.
"Clint said we could do a DNA test," said Bucky.
Steve nodded. "You'd have to tell Martin why you wanted his DNA, though. You can't go behind his back with something like this."
Bucky winced. "Yeah, that's going to be fun."
Steve patted his shoulder. "Good luck," he said, brightly, and headed off towards the shower. Bucky just glared after him.
He couldn't really settle for the rest of the day and ended up in the range again, shooting target after target as he tried to settle his pulse down.
Clint came and joined him after a couple of hours, lining up his own targets beside Bucky without saying anything.
With Clint beside him, Bucky managed to find the quiet place within himself that meant he was entirely focused in the moment. The zip of arrows blended with the firing of his gun in a way that made all the tension flow out of him until he was perfectly relaxed.
"Okay," said Clint eventually, setting down his bow and rolling back his shoulders. "Time for a break. Want a coffee?"
Bucky was so deep in the zone that he didn't really hear him. He kept firing down at the target until his clip was empty, then reached out with automatic hands for the next one.
"Hey," said Clint, putting a hand on his wrist to stop him. "Coffee?"
Bucky stilled under his grip, then nodded.
"Awesome," said Clint, and he carefully took the gun out of Bucky's grip and set it to one side. Bucky let him.
Upstairs, Bucky collapsed in a chair while Clint made coffee, resting his face in his hand. When Clint put the mug in front of him, he just stared at it for a moment.
"Cheer up," said Clint, sitting down beside him.
"Steve remembers me going dancing with a woman who had the same name as Martin's grandmother," said Bucky, gloomily.
"Ah," said Clint. "Well, okay, but think of it this way. It's seventy years too late for you to do anything about it, and it's not as if you don't have a good excuse for being elsewhere during that time."
Bucky glowered at him.
"Okay, apparently I'm not helping," said Clint.
Bucky couldn't let him believe that. Having someone to shoot with, or play stupid games with, or even who was comfortable enough to wrestle with him on the sofa had been enough to make him feel like he could get back who he'd been, or at least, get back enough to recognise himself.
"You always help," he said, then winced. Maybe that was a bit too full on.
Clint's face lightened with a slow smile that made Bucky think that maybe he didn't have to worry too much about that. Their gazes caught and something passed between them that made Bucky's breath catch for a moment.
They were interrupted by Martin entering the kitchen before Bucky could pluck up the courage to say anything else.
He was in his uniform, having clearly just got home from work. "Good evening," he said, and headed straight for the coffee machine.
Bucky felt every muscle tense up as he watched Martin pull out his own mug. Was there something genetic about the fact that they both liked coffee?
Martin turned and flinched back from whatever look Bucky had on his face. He tried to wipe it away into something more friendly, but he wasn't quite sure how. 'Friendly' hadn't been something he'd really had to bother with much over the last seventy years.
"Sorry," he muttered.
"It's fine," said Martin, in a high-pitched tone that proved it wasn't.
Bucky added one to his mental tally of 'times he'd freaked out the guy who might well be his grandson' and gave 'friendly' another try. "How was work?"
"Fine!" said Martin. "Totally fine. Just...fine."
Okay, he needed to really practice that.
Clint let out a sigh. "It's not you, Martin. He's just freaking out because he thinks he might be your grandpa."
Bucky turned and sent him a betrayed look at him, which was ignored.
"Oh!" said Martin. "That actually worked?"
Bucky froze, then turned back to him very slowly. "What 'worked'?"
"Um," said Martin, glancing at the door.
"Oh man," said Clint, starting to laugh.
"It was Tony's idea," said Martin. "He just. Um. Because you've, uh, made me a little tense a few times-"
"He terrified the socks off you," Clint put in.
Martin winced then nodded. "Yeah, okay, you terrified me, so Tony thought it would only be fair to, um, get my own back."
Bucky's eyes narrowed. "I'm not your grandfather."
"No," said Martin. "My grandfather was called John. He was a factory foreman."
Relief washed through Bucky and he let out a long breath. "Oh, thank fucking god."
Clint started laughing again. "I can't believe you pulled that off, Martin." He raised his mug as if in toast to him. "Good going."
Martin managed a weak smile back, but Bucky could see his eyes darting to Bucky, as if waiting for a violent reaction.
Once the first flush of relief had washed through him, irritation at being taken in like that began to rise up, but he firmly squashed it. Reacting badly now was likely to put the final nail in any hope he had of getting on with Martin, which would probably mean Tony coming up with more schemes to wind him up. Or just straight throwing him out of the Tower.
"Okay, yeah," he said. "You had me. Been panicking about that since last night."
"Really?" said Martin. He looked delighted. "I'm usually rubbish at these things."
"He's been plotting a DNA test," said Clint.
Bucky turned to glare at him. "That was just a precaution."
"Oh, wow," said Martin. "You really fell for it!" He sounded so pleased that any remaining resentment Bucky might have been feeling faded away. "JARVIS, where's Tony? I need to tell him about this."
"Sir is on his way to this level," said JARVIS, and Martin rushed out to meet him.
Bucky let out a sigh and rested his forehead on the table in front of him. Clint patted gently at his shoulder. "Tony's going to find this hilarious."
"So's Steve," muttered Bucky. "Ah, Christ."
Clint sniggered. "I can't believe Martin pulled one over the Winter Soldier."
Martin wasn't in the room any more, so Bucky didn't hold back anything from his glare. It didn't have the same impact on Clint as it did on Martin though, he just laughed and ruffled Bucky's hair. "C'mon, let's go take some of that rage out on some computer characters."
Bucky stood up. "I'm going to trounce you," he promised. And next time they were alone together, he was going to take the opportunity that it felt like Clint had handed him just before Martin came in, and kiss the guy. The thought of it filled him up with a giddy anticipation that he savoured as he followed Clint out into the lounge.
"Sure you are," said Clint. "Hey, Martin, do you want the chance to beat your grandpa at Mario Kart?"
Martin and Tony were wrapped around each other in front of the elevator. Martin pulled back from Tony just enough to speak, but apparently didn't notice that Tony's hand was still firmly planted on his ass. "Sure. Tony?"
Tony grinned. "Always glad to socialise with the in-laws," he said, letting go of Martin to bound over to the couch.
Bucky sighed and followed him. "That's not going away, is it?"
"Nope," said Tony, with a grin as Martin settled next to him and Clint started handing out controllers.
Martin didn't tense as Bucky sat next to him though, and when Clint sat down he put himself so close to Bucky that their legs were pressed together, so Bucky decided to count the whole incident as a win.
Just as long as he beat them all at Mario Kart, of course.