Sixth sense is a strange thing. That eerie unknown feeling that means something isn’t quite right, or something is about to happen, or that you’re being watched.
The music he was playing might have been relaxing, the room peaceful and comfortable, but it was sixth sense that pulled Sam away from his book. He looked up to first check on Steve, still unconscious on the bed beside him, and then to the doorway, straight into the dark eyes of the Winter Soldier.
Sam didn’t know if he expected a response but he certainly didn’t get one. He looked the visitor over, taking in his dirty, torn clothes, unkempt appearance and harsh sounding breathing. This wasn’t the same man they had battled with such ferocity on the Helicarrier. This man standing before him was a mere shadow of the former Hydra Asset. Sam made a quick decision, praying it would be the right one.
“It’s okay. You can come in.”
“It’s okay, man” Sam gestured at his own chair. “I’ll just stay right here. This is a safe space, I promise.”
Bucky took a step inside the room, then froze again.
“Sir? Do you need assistance?”
The Security Guard suddenly appeared back in the doorway, panic in his voice. Understandably so, as he had just been away from his post long enough to allow a potential assassin into the very room he was supposed to be guarding. Sam decided to let him off gently.
“It’s okay. Stand down. He’s not here to hurt anyone, are you?”
“You can wait outside,” said Sam, and with evident relief the Guard went back to his post.
In slow motion, Sam put his book down on the side table.
“You’ve come to see how he is, right?”
“He’ll be okay. The bullet to the stomach caused the most trouble but the op went well. They got it out. He heals real fast, you know? It’s the serum. We’re just waiting for him to wake up.”
Bucky’s artificial arm twitched slightly, a movement that Sam immediately noticed.
“You want to touch him? You can, if you’re careful. Of course if you hurt him, you’re dead. But I guess you already know that’s the way it’s gotta be.”
Bucky gave no indication that he had heard either the invitation or the implied threat, but did take another step forward.
And then he moved very quickly indeed, too fast for Sam’s liking. It was as if Bucky wanted to move fast before he could talk himself out of it. With one step he was at Steve’s side, and with one reach of the metal hand he was tentatively stroking Steve’s face.
“Barnes…” warned Sam, quietly.
You wouldn’t think a prothesis made from metal could be gentle, but this one was. Bucky moved to pet Steve’s hair, being careful to avoid any tubes and breathing apparatus. While he did so Sam started to wonder why he wasn’t using the other hand, the one made of flesh and blood, but as Bucky turned slightly the reason became clear. His right arm was hanging at his side in a most unnatural way and he was making a great effort not to move it.
After only a few moments Barnes withdrew his hand and turned his attention to the machines that were monitoring Steve’s vital signs.
“The team here are good, Barnes. He’s going to be okay.”
Bucky turned slightly and looked directly at Sam, all be it through matted locks of hair. His eyes flickered towards the doorway.
Sam raised a hand, aware of the irony of treating a brainwashed assassin as if he were a frightened colt. “I know what you’re about to do so I’m gonna say this before you do it. Steve would want to see you. Stay. Please. And let me help you. Let me take a look at your injuries. You’re safe here. I know you don’t believe me, but you are.”
It didn’t work. Just as Sam finished his plea Bucky walked away from the bedside and towards the door.
Sam raised his voice for the first time, determined to be heard. “We’re here for you, Barnes. If you need us.”
And then he was gone.
Maintenance required. Localised damage to left arm.
Medical required. Dislocated right shoulder. Multiple contusions. Crush injuries to ribs and hip on right side.
Access to Bank. Achieved.
Premises vacated. Unclear.
Amount of time allocated to wait for return of handlers. Unclear.
Mission should handlers not return. Unclear.
Period of quiet, peaceful meditation to consider last few days of confusion. To remember as much as he possibly could. To consider what to do next. Achieved.
Sam was right, Steve did heal fast. It was only a few days later that Sam and Steve found themselves standing at Nick Fury’s graveside making plans for their immediate future. A few hours after he had regained consciousness, Sam had told Steve about Bucky’s visit. Steve immediately became fixated on one thing and one thing only. Finding Bucky. The trouble was, Sam’s sixth sense didn’t kick in quickly enough to warn him that maybe Bucky had found them first.
That night they headed back to Avengers Tower and spent the evening eating pizza and studying the file that Natasha had managed to procure for them from Kiev. It was very late when Sam wished his friend goodnight, unable to pull him away from the contents of the file. Which meant that, at last, the Captain was left alone in the quiet isolation of his apartment. After reading as much as he could, eventually he admitted defeat and closed the file. He was going to have to get some sleep if he was going to act on all this new information in the morning.
There was no way anyone should have been able to get in. This was Avenger’s Tower, after all. Never the less, in the small hours of the morning, Steve’s slumber was violently disturbed.
“I remember. You left me behind.” The words weren’t said, so much as growled, the metal arm doing an effective job of cutting off Steve’s oxygen supply as he was dragged from the bed and pushed back against the wall.
“Buck…” was all Steve managed to get out. He’d been totally taken by surprise by the attack, but once he recognised his assailant there was no way he was about to retaliate.
“What happened to ‘Not without you’?” Bucky snarled, as he dragged Steve into the living area, swinging him around before pressing him against the kitchen cabinets by the throat. “What happened to ‘Till the end of the line’? You let me fall, left me there, let them find me, let them…” The tirade of words, more than he had spoken in one sentence in weeks, left Bucky so breathless that he was forced to ease the pressure off Steve’s windpipe in order to regroup.
“You want me to stop? I wanted them to stop, begged them to!”
“You let them do this to me! Shit…I can’t… can’t…”
Considering what had been happening to him only seconds before, Steve rallied pretty quickly. He slipped an arm around Bucky’s waist and led him over to the sofa, pushing him downwards onto it.
“Bucky, please, just breathe, okay? Breathe for me.”
Bucky gasped and leaned forward, trying to pull himself together. Tentatively, Steve sat by his side and started to rub his back in small circles. “That’s it, just breathe. Don’t think about anything else, Buck. We’ll talk, I promise, but only once you’ve calmed down. That’s it…”
A welcome silence fell on the room as Bucky eventually succeeded in get his breathing under control.
“You back with me?” asked Steve, quietly, wincing as his own freshly healing injuries made themselves known from the rough treatment.
Bucky sighed, still keeping his head down. “I waited for you to come and find me.”
Bucky continued as if Steve hadn’t spoken. “The thought that you were out there looking for me helped me fight back. And then they showed me a newspaper that said you were dead, and everything just… stopped. They’d taken everything.”
For the first time, Bucky raised his head to gaze at Steve. “Why didn’t you look for me? It’s all I can think about. It makes me so angry, I need to understand… Why?”
Steve had the good grace to look embarrassed. He cleared his throat. “We tried, I promise we tried. There was no trace of you and then they officially listed you as MIA. I thought you were dead, Buck. We were so high up, I thought there was no way you’d survive the fall. There’s not a day gone by that you haven’t been in my thoughts, my dreams, hell, my nightmares too. And when I saw you on that bridge and realised it was you…”
“You left me behind.” Bucky repeated his earlier words but this time without the heat behind them. This time he just sounded very, very sad.
“I did,” replied Steve. “And I’ll be eternally sorry for that. I’m hoping you’ll forgive me, Bucky. Because finding you again, it’s all I’ve ever wanted. Please let me help you.”
“You think you’ve found him again?” Bucky almost spat the words out. “You don’t know how wrong you are. Bucky Barnes died in 1943.”
Steve blinked rapidly, trying to hold back the sting of threatening tears.
“Bucky,” he said, firmly, using his Captain America voice to cover up his emotions. “It’s important we both understand what’s happened. We’re going to talk this through.”
“I don’t know if I want to talk to you.” Bucky hesitated for a moment before continuing. “I think I feel like I want to kill you.”
“You pulled me from the river, Buck. If you wanted to kill me, why not let me drown?”
“Because I knew you. I know you.”
“Don’t kill me, Bucky,” said Steve, a half smile on his face. “We’ll sort all this out. But right now, I’m just going to make us a hot drink. Okay?”
Bucky looked confused for a moment. “A hot drink?”
“Yes,” replied Steve, getting up and opening one of the kitchen cupboards. “I’ve got latte, cappuccino, tea, hot chocolate…”
“They don’t usually let me eat or drink,” replied Bucky, his voice small.
Steve’s smile flickered on his face as he took in the enormity of that statement. “If we could get it back then, you always liked hot chocolate,” he offered, kindly.
“Hot chocolate. Yes.” And then, as an afterthought. “Please.”
For a few minutes Steve busied himself with the drinks while Bucky observed him from his seat. To Steve it felt surreal, like this couldn’t really be happening. He dug around in the back of the cupboard and added whipped cream and marshmallows to Bucky’s mug before presenting it with a flourish.
“Thank you,” said Bucky, politely, gazing at the creation in some awe.
“Actually,” said Steve, sipping at his own drink, “do you mind carrying it? I think we need to go see someone.”
“Tony Stark. Hydra target, level 3.”
“And our host, Bucky. This place belongs to him. But maybe we should also tell him about the Hydra target thing.”
“Why do we need to see him?”
“Because you’re staying here with me, right?”
Bucky considered this for a moment or two. “Right,” he said, blankly.
“Is that okay with you?” asked Steve, suddenly a lot less sure than he was a few moments ago.
“Yes. What makes you think I have anywhere else to go?” Bucky rose and picked up the mug in his left hand which is when Steve noticed something was wrong with the way his friend was standing.
“Bucky, have you had any medical treatment since pulling me from the river?”
“The Bank was abandoned.”
“The Bank? What the hell… Never mind. Come on, I’ll carry the cups. Let’s go wake up Iron Man.”
Steve glanced across the large open common room to where Bucky was seated at the breakfast bar, his head tilted down and staring into his hot chocolate as if it held the answers to life, the universe and everything.
“You woke me up for this? You cannot be serious, Rogers,” hissed Tony, in as quiet a voice as he was capable of.
“Why?” Steve replied in an equally hushed tone. “He’s a War Veteran, Tony. He’s been tortured and abused for years and he’s finally found his way out of that life. Doesn’t he deserve a break?”
Tony waved his arms, the sleeves of his oriental dressing gown flapping around him. “Not here, no! He nearly strangled you within 10 seconds of breaking into your apartment!”
“His brain had been scrambled.”
“But if I’m prepared to give him a chance then why can’t you?”
“Because he’s a psychopath. Isn’t that enough?”
“No.” Steve crossed his arms across his chest and took a deep breath. “Which of The Avengers is completely unscathed, Stark? Banner’s anger and trust issues that mean he has to take himself away from people completely in order to prevent an incident. Natasha and Clint have both been controlled by others in their past and I know they both suffer from nightmares. Even Sam, who helps so many others with their PTSD, carries grief with him every day. And do you really want me to talk about your issues?”
“Mine? Bullshit, Rogers.”
“Exactly. And I’m not saying I’m perfect because I’m not.”
“Oh really? You do surprise me.”
“But if there is anywhere Bucky should be, it’s here. With people who can help him because they understand him.”
“I don’t understand him.”
“Stop being a child, Tony.” Steve pushed the dog-eared buff folder across the dining table and opened it. “I’ll pick a random page for you. Look, this one. Read it. Please.”
Stark pulled the folder towards him, tilting his head as he ran his eye over the contents.
“Blah blah Winter Soldier, blah blah Cryofreeze…” And then he did something that he didn’t do that often. He stopped talking.
Steve gave him a few moments for the words to sink in.
“Tony, are you okay?”
Stark blinked several times, and then swallowed noisily. “They did this?”
“Yes,” replied Steve, softly. “And worse. Read more if you want, but I wouldn’t advise it.”
Abruptly Stark pushed the folder away as if having it this close meant it was going to infect him with something. He stalked over to the expanse of windows and looked out at the sun slowly rising over the city that surrounded them.
“He’s going to need help,” he said, still gazing out of the window.
“Arrange security protocols to allow Sergeant Barnes access to Captain Rogers’ apartment, the gym, medical centre and common areas.”
“Right away, Sir.”
“But only those areas, nowhere else.”
“And set up a full medical screening for him as soon as he feels ready.”
“Thank you, Tony,” said Steve, genuine gratitude in his voice.
Tony waved his dressing gown sleeve again before walking away. “Go help your friend.”
It would have been an interesting debate, to see what Bucky idea of ‘as soon as he feels ready’ was, but it was a debate Steve wasn’t allowed to have.
“You said lots of things to me, Steve. Things you said I need to listen to and believe.”
“You said I was safe here, that I had a home with you. That I had choices to make for myself instead of being told.”
“No Doctors. My choice.” The look on Bucky’s face was just about as determined as Steve had ever seen him.
“I… don’t want to tell you what to do,” began Steve, softly.
“But I know I dislocated your shoulder, I heard it crack. And you got crushed under that steel girder. If you won’t go to Medical will you at least let me bring someone here to see you?”
“No Doctors, Rogers.”
“How do you think I survived that fall? Or the last 70 years? The same Serum as you. I heal like you do.”
Steve held his hand up to make sure Bucky would let him talk. “But whenever I get injured I make sure I see a Doctor straight away. Even if I do heal fast, I still need to make sure I’m healing right. If you haven’t had your shoulder looked at it could be fusing wrong. Please, Bucky.”
“I won’t see a Doctor.”
“But you will see a friend? Please?”
Bucky gave Steve a hard stare. “Who?”
“Ah… Steve, you do know I’m not a Doctor, right?”
“He won’t see anyone else, Sam,” replied Steve, ushering him into the lounge.
“Why? Just because he saw me in a hospital once doesn’t mean I can set bones.”
Steve ran his fingers through the hair at the back of his neck. “He remembers you. You let him see me in the hospital and you didn’t attack or arrest him. He trusts you. We’re just going to have to do our best between us, because he refuses to go to Medical.”
“Well okay,” said Sam, setting the Medical Kit down on the sofa. “As long as you know my limitations. So. Where’s my patient?”
Steve glanced up to see Bucky observing them from the bedroom doorway, and Sam immediately followed his gaze.
“Hey, Barnes. I’m Sam. We met already, at the hospital.”
“Sam Wilson. Falcon. Hydra Target level 2.”
“That’s right. Hydra Target, eh? I don’t know whether to be impressed or terrified.”
“Most people are terrified,” replied Bucky.
“I’ll just bet they are. Okay, so where do you want to do this? You want me to come in there with you or are you coming out here with me?”
In response, Bucky pushed himself away from the doorframe and walked past Sam to sit on the lounge sofa.
“You want some privacy for this?” asked Sam.
“Steve stays,” replied Bucky, looking down at his knees.
Sam gestured to Steve who quickly took the hint and went to busy himself in the kitchen area, allowing Sam to sit down next to Bucky.
Bucky looked at Sam, expectantly.
“It’s your bed, right?” began Sam.
“Your bed, it’s too soft. When I was on manoeuvres I’d sleep on the ground, use rock for a pillow… Now when I get into bed it feels like…”
“I share Steve’s bed. We always did, so we still do now.” Bucky smiled, softly. It was the first time Sam had seen him smile and the natural beauty of it quite took him aback.
“Oh. Okay. Yeah, that’s cool,” Sam stammered. “I just meant, it takes time to adjust.”
“It does. But I have help.”
“I guess you do.” Sam relaxed and smiled back. “You two have so much in common. You’re lucky to have each other.”
The resulting awkward silence threatened to open like a gaping hole so Sam grabbed his medical kit and started to rifle through it.
“So,” he said, “it’s been a bit of time. What still hurts?”
“Steve thinks my shoulder isn’t healing right after he dislocated it.”
“Oh he does, does he? What else?”
Bucky thought for a moment. “Nothing that is still causing problems.”
“Okay. Let me take a look at your shoulder.”
For a moment or two Steve forgot that he was meant to be busy in the kitchen and instead leaned on the worktop to watch Sam at work. Sam was gentle but not condescending as he gave Bucky quiet instructions on where and how to move for him. He ran his hands carefully over the shoulder joint and then helped Bucky into a collar and cuff sling. He had him breathe in and out while Sam listened to his chest, and he placed a thermometer in Bucky’s mouth to check his temperature. Finally he ushered Bucky into the bathroom so he could be weighed. All of this Bucky bore stoically, convincing Steve that he had done the right thing in asking for Sam’s help.
“What’s the verdict, Doc?” asked Steve, unable to stay away for another moment, as they all took seats in the lounge.
“Honestly?” Sam put all his equipment away, and turned to address Bucky. “I’m out of my depth here. But you’re to keep that sling on for a week, you hear me? I’d rather you had an x-ray for your ribs but just, please, at least restrict your movements. No fighting, no sparring, no running. And have a rethink, because I’d really prefer you saw a Doctor here in the Tower. I’m worried you’ve got a chest infection and I can’t prescribe anything for you. But if it’s out of the question then stay here, keep warm, and you need to eat, Barnes. Let Steve feed you up, okay?”
“Okay,” replied Bucky, his eyes wide as he took everything in.
“Steve, just look after him. Hell, pamper him. After everything, he deserves it.”
Sam stood to leave and allowed Steve to show him to the door but before he left he looked back at Bucky.
“If you need me, call. And know that I’m glad for you both.”
“Thank you,” replied Bucky.
“Welcome back, Barnes.”
“Penny for ‘em.” Steve nudged into Bucky as he stood reading the large screen. Bucky tilted his head up so his peaked cap cleared his line of vision, allowing Steve to beam, happily, at him. “It’s a great exhibit, don’t you think?”
“It’s… strange,” replied Bucky, gazing up at a huge etched image of himself. “I’m nobody’s hero.”
“Except you are.” Steve gestured at the displays and films going on around them, and the people milling about in the dramatic half light. “I know it’s crazy, but we both are.”
“Thousands of men lost their lives in that war. Why focus on us?”
“It gave the country something to get behind. You haven’t even seen the comic books yet! Or the action figures!”
“It’s a bit… much.” Bucky dipped his head so that Steve had to duck down to see him properly.
“Are you okay?”
Bucky gazed into his friend’s eyes, ever grateful for the concern and support that he always found there. “Will they change this, now I’m back? I mean, it still says I’m… dead.”
“They will if you want them to. I thought we’d see how you felt first. Get you used to the world a bit, put a bit of meat on your bones.” Steve pinched Bucky’s arm playfully.
Steve threw his arm around Bucky’s shoulders and turned him away from the busy exhibition.
“Hey,” he said. “Do you remember that time we got in to see the Giants play The Chicago Cubs?”
“And you got us thrown out for starting a fight with the hot dog seller…”
“Me?! It was you who he caught with his girl. I haven’t had a hot dog for so long. You look like you could use a few of those. What do you say we find a stand and see if they still taste the same?”
“Only if you’re buying.”
As they walked away from the stand the audio loop began again.
“Best friends since childhood, Bucky Barnes and Steven Rogers were inseparable on both schoolyard and battlefield. Barnes is the only Howling Commando to give his life in service of his country.”
Only now, they had another chance. Bucky Barnes and Steven Rogers were together again.
And the hot dogs tasted just like always.