summary: While on a mission, Bucky becomes dissociated into the Winter Soldier. But instead of becoming a threat, his instinct is to protect.
pairing: bucky x reader
word count: 6.5k
warnings: dissociative episode, PTSD symptoms, winter soldier!bucky is clingy and protective af
a/n: this is based off a request I got ages ago from @visitneptune. It's not letting me tag you hun, so I hope you still see this!
Bucky stood at the mouth of the jet; the wind rustling violently around him, eager to knock him off his stance, to instill doubt into his body though it was made of stone. His left hand gripped to the handle on the wall; metal seared to metal, crystalline marble. Several hundred feet below laid the ruins of an old Hydra base; its walls coated in graffiti, the foundation left to weather, the hinges to rust. It held his empty stare.
“You sure you’re up for this?” you asked him softly under the roar of the wind. A particularly grueling gust swept through the bridge and you gripped the strap on the back of Bucky’s jacket for support. He was unwavering in its path, though he seemed to soften at your touch. He turned to you then, pressed out a weak smile and nodded.
You released your hold on his jacket, smoothing down the harness with a quick brush against his spine. He shivered as your fingertips grazed over the dip in his back and you bit your lip between your teeth. When you looked up at him again, you tried to force out a smile for him in return, but found the light would not touch your eyes.
The rush of adrenaline was still spiked high in your veins from the last time you heard Bucky scream – the agonizing break in his voice as he desperately clawed himself from the edge of nightmares Hydra had left behind. You could still see the sweat on his forehead, the rapid breaths in his chest, the fresh reflective tracks on his cheeks. You could feel him trembling in your arms, his hands begging for purchase around your body, his repetitive whispers against your neck.
It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real.
But Bucky was desperate for absolution. He had it in his mind that the only way to atone for the violence he’d done under Hydra’s thumb was to settle the score. To make amends. To undo the carnage he’d once created with every Hydra base he dismantled. He never allowed himself to acknowledge the steel toed boot that had been pressed to his neck, forcing his hand, controlling his mind, suffocating his will. He sought forgiveness for the crimes of his captors. He would not consider that his body was merely the weapon at their disposal.
He wasn’t new to missions where Hydra was at play, but he was often only able to hold it together long enough to wash the blood down the drain before the weight of it split through the cracks. You’d find him curled up on the floor of the shower, rubbing his skin raw in attempt to wash out the red stained to his hands. He wouldn’t speak a word until morning came, wouldn’t sleep for a second. But he’d allow you to hold him, to soothe a hand over his hair, to rest his head against your heart.
You never talked about it. Never named the lingering tension in the room when he crawled out from under your sheets, shamed seeped into his veins. This silent and impenetrable bond you shared. The knowledge that you could pull him from the darkest corners of his mind. That you were a safe place even when he felt the walls were crumbling around him. You never spoke of it, but it remained.
“Nat and I will head to the control room while Sam keeps the jet in the air,” Steve said, a single hand on his hip. The other gripped at the ropes to keep himself steady in face of the wind. He clenched his jaw, a reluctant look upon his face as he turned to Bucky. “Buck, I need you on the lookout for their lab. It’s not marked on the blueprints but if anyone can find it...”
Bucky nodded. No one knew for sure if this was one of the bases he’d been held in as the Winter Soldier, but you supposed it didn’t matter. They all held the same trauma, the same reminders of the horrors he’d faced. The muscle memory alone to step foot in a building where he’d been conditioned down to his bones was an act of violence within itself.
“Y/n, I want you with him,” Steve added, a knowing look shared between you. It wasn’t that Steve didn’t trust Bucky. He was afraid for him the way you were; wanting to protect him from a world that had caused him so much pain. It was a need the both of you shared.
“What’s in this lab anyway?” you asked, changing the subject as you watched Bucky avert his gaze, pink burning in his ears.
“Samples of a pathogen Bruce thinks he can make a vaccine for,” Natasha said as she clipped her gun into the holster on her thigh.
“And they’re entrusting us to return it safely?” you raised an eyebrow.
“Nat has experience with this stuff,” Steve explained. “She’ll take care of it. Just signal on the coms when you find it. The base is empty. We’re not going to run into enemy fire.”
Your gaze flickered to Bucky. His back was to the group, his focus staring down at the abandoned Hydra base below. The metal handle had warped under his grip, outlining the shape of his fingers in smooth ridges along the surface.
You wondered then if it mattered whether the base was occupied at all; if the nightmares could still seep through the cracks in the walls and cause damage all on their own.
The door was lined with rust. Red and orange and oozing from the hinges. Bucky stared at the knob, his grip readjusting on his rifle. Steve and Natasha had already taken the north entrance, leaving Sam hovering above in the jet for a quick exit. You and Bucky remained at the south entrance. You watched him carefully, studying the tension in his shoulders, the reflection of gold weaving delicately along his left arm as the metal plates flexed. He was so still you wondered if he was even breathing.
“Bucky?” you called, setting a hand on his forearm. You walked out ahead of him, trying to meet his eye. The contact usually grounded him when he could not hear your voice through the mess inside his head, the numbness. You brushed your thumb gingerly along the vibranium edges. “Are you with me?”
He nodded, shaking himself out of the trance he had fallen into. “Sorry. Just need a moment.”
He looked as though he needed more than just a moment. A lifetime, perhaps, before he would ever be able to set foot in a Hydra base without some remnants of his own trauma clawing at the back of his neck, sinking talons into his muscle and yanking him to the depths.
“No one would blame you if you wanted to sit this one out,” you told him sincerely, eyeing the quinjet hovering over your heads. “I could get Sam to come down and—”
“I’m fine,” Bucky snapped, yanking his arm away from your hold. It startled you enough to step back a few paces, your hands burning as heat rushed to your cheeks. But as quick as it came, the sudden hardness of his features washed away when he noticed the hurt upon your face. “I’m sorry. I—I didn’t mean to—” Bucky sighed, dropping his head. “Let’s just get this over with, okay?”
“Okay,” you replied quietly, taking another step back to give him space. He glanced towards you, an unreadable expression in his features, though it made you wonder whether the space had been a relief for him at all. He clenched his jaw, turning back to the rusted door. He kicked hit boot to the weakest spot in the frame, near the hinges, and the door slammed to the ground. Broken entirely from the walls around it. Dust smoked up from the floor from where it crashed to the cement and exposed a dark, windowless hall behind it.
“Maybe we can watch that series you’ve been wanting to show me when we get home?” Bucky offered softly, inching closer to you as if the space between you was too much to bear. He pushed out a smile; one you knew took most of his effort to produce in witness to the building that could have been the one to rip him to pieces. It touched his eyes, left lines in its wake. It was beautiful.
“Deal,” you grinned, nudging his side until he started to laugh. The meaning of such a sound amongst the horrors of these halls was not lost on you. It echoed through the corridors and touched the cobwebs hanging in the corner. Its ghosts may have been the ones to hear his screams once.
Bucky took the lead. Even amongst the baron halls, he positioned himself as a shield between you and the darkness ahead. His wide frame took up most of the narrow hallway, his stance cautious to keep you protected at his back. Every so often, his ear flexed at the sound of your steady breathing, the shuffle of your shoes over the debris upon the floors. It was like he was fighting the urge to turn over his shoulder once more to confirm with his own eyes that you were safe behind him. He continued on, deeper into the darkness as fingers flexed against his rifle; his steps undetectable.
You passed by dozens of emptied rooms with dark stains upon the concrete and shackles molded to the wall. Bucky didn’t speak as his gaze trailed along the reinforced cells and the ghosts they carried. Tension etched into his muscle the further he walked.
A shiver burrowed into your spine as you kept your pace close to Bucky’s stride – close enough that you brushed against his shoulder blades every so often. It had been a comfort at first, drawing away the stone in his spine, but then after a while he began to bristle at the contact, almost as if he’d forgotten you were behind him, before he eased again, relaxing into your touch.
You’d been walking through the maze of hallways for nearly ten minutes before either of you spoke.
“Do you recognize this place?” you asked cautiously when Bucky took a right turn down an adjoining hall. He hadn’t even stopped to consider his path. It was as if he were following a memory.
He shook his head, a contemplative look on his face. Still, his attention turned down the corridor like he was being drawn towards it. He sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. But something’s telling me to go this way.”
You didn’t question whether it was the lab beckoning him or something else, something more dangerous. Instead, you set a comforting hand on his forearm and gave a short squeeze. A pained smile pressed on his lips as he stared down at your hand, how your thumb so sweetly ran along the thick material of his jacket. When you released him, he took in a heavy breath and continued on.
You followed him in silence until you neared the end of the hall. The lighting became progressively dimmer, the bulbs flickering in their disuse. Bugs scrawled along the edges of the walls, scampering through piles of dust and dirt. You held back a shiver as you kept as close to Bucky as you could.
It was as if the walls themselves were molding his body to marble with every step further into their maze. His back tightened, his spine straightened. His breathing became shallow to the point you could no longer hear his careful inhales. But something in him relaxed despite the tension in his body. You were about to call his name when suddenly, he turned sharply into an open room.
The door was lined in dozens of steel bolts and reinforced locks. It looked to be in pristine condition in comparison to the rest of the building. From a short glance inside, it was evident that this room was not the lab Steve sent you in search of. It was lined with cement, void of any furniture, let alone laboratory equipment. It was completely empty, save for the shackles fused into the furthest wall.
It was a cell.
You furrowed your brows as you followed Bucky into the baron room. He didn’t look around, didn’t so much as turn in your direction. Instead, he stilled at the center of the room, his back to you. You swallowed, though it tasted of copper.
“Bucky?” you called nervously. “What are we doing in here?"
As you stepped further into the room, you noticed the dent on the inside of the door. Heart pounding violently in your chest, you reached out and touched the caved in metal, drawing your fingers along the perfect imprint of a fist. No one else could have had the strength to cause that kind of damage except—
“Bucky?” you tried again, panic starting to lace into your voice. He was standing too still, too quiet. He didn’t so much as move a single muscle at the sound of his own name. His posture was too rigid, too formal. It reminded you of— oh God.
You took a single step towards him, the heel of your boot softly tapping to the concrete and suddenly, Bucky whipped around to face you. His expression was cold; void of the man you knew him to be; absent of the smile you drew out of him on the edge of this dreadful building. In one fluid movement, he raised the barrel of his rifle and unlatched the safety. There was no time to panic, no time to call his name, to so much as raise your hands in defense.
Eyes screwed shut, lungs burning. There was a deafening ringing in your ears, pulsing deep into the back of your head, obstructing your balance. Slowly, you opened your eyes to find Bucky lowering his rifle to his side, the same vacant look in his expression staring at something beyond your shoulder.
“--company!” Steve’s voice suddenly cracked through the coms. “We’ve got company!”
You followed Bucky’s vacant stare to the body currently lying in the hallway. A man laid upon the threshold to the room, a shotgun in hand and a Hydra insignia affixed to his lapel. Blood pooled into the concrete, inching along the floor towards you. You hadn’t even known he was there, that he was just seconds away from firing a shot to the back of your head. The man’s finger was still curled around the trigger. You inched closer to Bucky.
“Y/n? Bucky? Someone report!”
Your gaze trailed over Bucky’s frame as he remained impossibly still. Not even his breaths seemed to rise against his chest. His stare was etched to the door, his eyes absent of the fear he once carried in these halls. They were coated in something darker – an oncoming of stormy skies masked under an ominous grey fog. Obstructing him. Confining him. A terrifying state of peace within the submission. Bite nestled to your tongue and you swallowed it—the burn of acid dripping down your throat.
“Bucky?” you begged, desperate to believe this place hadn’t undone him down to his bones. He didn’t so much as blink. You gritted your teeth, jaw clenched so tightly it began to ache and you forced out a name you swore you would never utter aloud—
It was barely a whisper, the most you could possibly manage, and still— Bucky’s gaze flickered to you. When vacant, blue eyes met yours, you bit down hard enough to draw blood, your hand trembling as you reached up and touched the warm coat of blood against your lip. He furrowed his brow, studying your reaction and the utter desolation painted over your features.
“If you don’t respond, I’m coming to get you!” Steve warned through the coms. His voice pulled you away from the fog threatening to consume you whole as you stared at the shell Bucky had slipped into. Steve was panting, out of breath, a grunt through the speakers as a heavy thud fell to the floor.
Tears burned in your eyes as you cleared your throat, raising a finger to your coms.
“We’re okay,” you said slowly, not daring to take your eyes off Bucky for even a second. “We’re safe but... something happened, Steve. Bucky’s not himself.”
There was only a short pause. One where Bucky’s eyes centered on you, trailing over your frame as it were for the first time. They slid down the line of your suit, over your thighs to your boots, then back up along your hips to your arms. They lingered over a faded bruise on your cheekbone – one you’d sustained in a mission in the previous week against a rather unpleasant arms dealer in Slovakia. The muscle in his jaw flexed, his hands curled tight into fists.
Slowly, his eyes returned to yours. They didn’t carry the weight you recognized, the years filled with shame and guilt and burden, but they held a heaviness nonetheless. Deep blue as the depths of the ocean, coated in such darkness the sunlight could not hope to reach. They were the eyes of a man who knew what it was to be punished for disobeying orders, who recognized those who had caused him harm, who could identify those who would keep him safe.
The Soldier was not an empty shell. He was not simply a weapon for Hydra to dispose. He was living and breathing and impossibly real. Stripped down to the very threads that kept him human. Removed of his memories, of his past. Tortured for his mistakes. Kept in a cage like an animal. Taught to be silent, to expect fear, to follow orders.
This was not the Winter Soldier as you remembered him on the bridge, in the sky above D.C., in Vienna. Humanity was slipping through; though it was small, subtle. It was only when his gaze flickered briefly back to the bruise on your cheek and his eyes narrowed in what appeared to be rage, that you realized what had happened.
The man before you was the broken shards of who Bucky had been inside this cell – somewhere between the Winter Soldier and the prisoner of war. Too far gone from the Sergeant who held out as long as he could and miles away from the Bucky who turned on the kettle for you in the morning before you woke up, who indulged your ridiculous list of must-watch movies, who curled against you in the middle of the night when the monsters plagued his dreams.
A purgatory within his own mind.
“Y/n!” Steve called panicked through the coms. “Get out of there! We don’t know what he could do if he—”
“I don’t think he’ll hurt me, Steve,” you replied evenly, holding Bucky’s gaze. “He shot a Hydra agent before I even knew they were there. He saved my life.”
Bucky’s attention snapped to the door, his hand flexing against his rifle. You followed his eye line, unsure of what he must have heard, but with his advanced senses you knew better than to question him.
Slowly, he stepped out in front of you, holding an arm behind him to keep you centered behind his back. Your heart fractured as you realized he was shielding you. Even stripped down to basic instinct, muddled by the horrors of what Hydra had inflicted upon him, he still chose to protect you.
“Get him back to the jet,” Steve ordered, though you could hear the reluctance in his voice, even as he engaged in direct combat with enemy agents. “We’ll secure him there. Be careful.”
You nodded, trying to gather your courage though it felt impossibly far away. You were about to reach for Bucky’s forearm when you stopped yourself, quickly yanking your hand back against your chest and you had to remind yourself that this wasn’t your Bucky. You had no idea how the Winter Soldier would react to such an intrusion, especially given what you remembered about how Bucky first responded to touch – how he’d flinch away from it as if he’d been expecting pain. The Soldier didn’t know to expect anything less.
“Soldat,” you called firmly, mimicking the tone of the Soldier’s handlers. He straightened his spine, turning his head to you, awaiting orders. You inhaled a shaken breath, struggling to meet his eye. “I need you to get us out of here. Both of us. Do you understand?”
Bucky narrowed his eyes at your emphasis, though slowly he nodded. You had no idea how many Hydra agents crawled out from behind the woodwork or what to expect when you stepped into the hallway. But the Soldier needed a mission. He needed orders to follow. You weren’t sure whether he would go willingly without them.
Bucky eased out into the hall, a cautious glance behind his shoulder as if to make sure you were following close behind. You gave him a short nod and he turned back to the end of the hall; his rifle gripped tight to his grasp. You attempted to peer around his shoulder to get better leverage and provide coverage, but then—
An arm snaked around your neck, clamped down against your windpipe and yanked you backwards. You gasped for breath – the strangled sound alerting Bucky to your distress as you desperately clawed at the arm around your neck, tears forming at the corners of your eyes.
Bucky whipped around, rage quickly burning as the blue in his eyes reduced in thin, cerulean rings. You met his gaze, air obstructed as you choked against the man’s grip, and still – you saw a world of panic breaking through the cold exterior of the Winter Soldier.
You quickly elbowed the assailant in the ribs and he released your throat, doubling over in pain. It was enough time for Bucky to fire a single shot once you ducked clear out of view, sinking to the ground as your hands darted at your throat in search of air. You only vaguely recognized the sound of the body thudding behind you as you began to cough violently, blood spilling from your lips.
“You’re hurt,” Bucky murmured, so quiet you almost didn’t catch it. He was kneeling at your eye line, his brows furrowed and drawing worry lines over his forehead. His voice didn’t sound his like his own – too hesitant, too quiet. Longing and terrified and filled with unbridled rage all at once.
“M’okay,” you choked out, though your voice was rough, as if it has been tossed through a blender and dragged over sandpaper until it bled.
Bucky’s hand reached out to you, gently pushing the hair away from your eyes with the lightest feather of a touch. You stilled as the very tips of his fingers grazed gently over your skin, watching him as he studied the markings on your neck. An impossible moment amongst the chaos in the distance. The humanity of the Winter Soldier breaking through. His upper lip twitched as his fingers touched the discoloration on your neck. His jaw wired shut, a twitch in his upper lip, and suddenly, a weapon was in his hand again. He fired another four shots into the dead body on your right.
“It’s okay! It’s okay!” you told him, gathering his face in your hands, urging him to meet your eye. You drew your thumbs along his cheekbones until he finally forced his gaze back to you. He was breathing heavy, the rage spilling through the cracks in his surface until you said again, “I’m okay.”
A wash of relief coated his features for only a moment. Then, he nodded, almost as if to shake himself of the emotion he was not allowed to express. The lines on his face faded into the façade, the stone cold expression returning and wiping away the traces of the man underneath. Without saying a word, he stood back to his feet and waited patiently for you to follow.
By the time you made it outside, Steve and Natasha were standing by the mouth of the quinjet, weapons at the ready. They were both covered in open cuts and bruises, red seeping into their uniforms and coloring their skin. Natasha was leaning against the edge of the ramp, barely holding herself up, though she started to relax upon spotting you.
Bucky froze at the sight of their weapons and you collided into his back. He pulled out his gun.
“No! Stop!” You rushed out in front of him, holding your hands up defensively. “They’re friends! They won’t hurt us.”
You stared down the barrel of his rifle, counting each agonizing heartbeat as you waited for him to lower his weapon. You didn't know why, but the Soldier was drawn to you, connected to you in some way that he protected you without a second thought. It was his mission. His only directive. It wasn’t one you’d given him, but still—it remained.
His eyes flickered to you, unsure. You gave him a gentle reassuring nod and slowly, Bucky lowered the gun.
“Y/n?” Steve called hesitantly.
“I’ve got him, Steve,” you replied over your shoulder. “He’s okay.”
“He’s not triggered, not like you think,” you explained as calmly as you could manage. You could sense Bucky eyeing Steve, his hand flexing against his weapon, and you didn’t want to give him any reason to believe Steve was someone you needed protection from. “I don’t know what happened, but one minute he’s Bucky and the next he’s...” You sighed, glancing back at Bucky’s rigid posture. “Something in that base fractured him; awoke this part of him again. It’s a defense mechanism. He’ll come out of it, Steve. Give him time.”
Steve's gaze flickered to Bucky before returning to you. “Last time you met the Winter Soldier, he almost killed you.”
Triggered under Zemo’s twisted plan to draw a line between the Avengers, Bucky had once shot a bullet clean through your stomach. You could still picture the cold look in his eyes as he stood over you, readying for the kill shot as you laid frozen on the floor in a pool of your own blood. You’d never felt fear quite like that – the certain knowledge that you would not survive. If it hadn’t been for Tony’s intervention, you would have been dead.
It was before you knew Bucky. Before you loved him.
Maybe you were naïve, but something had changed in the Soldier since then. Perhaps, the same thing that changed in Bucky.
“I’ll be alright, Steve. He won’t hurt me.” You eased your hand in Bucky’s direction, urging him to holster his weapon. He did and you hoped it was because he trusted you, not because he saw you as his handler. You sighed, turning to Steve. “I’ll take care of him. Just trust me with this. Please.”
“Okay,” Steve sighed, pinching at the bridge of his nose. “But I have to secure him. For everyone’s safety, including his.”
"Let me,” you offered quickly, unsure of how Bucky would react to Steve trying to restrain him. “He’ll take it better if I do it.”
Steve raised an eyebrow. “You sure?”
No. You weren’t sure of anything; not with Bucky locked in this state. But you told him you were anyway.
“Soldat,” you called, turning away from the flash of surprise on Steve’s face as you turned to Bucky. “Follow me.”
You turned up the bridge of the jet, walking past Natasha and keeping your gaze straight ahead. You didn’t want to see whether she was disappointed with you for feeding into Hydra’s conditioning to keep Bucky compliant. You were only trying to keep him safe, to get him through this in one piece. He’d come out of it eventually. You kept telling yourself that, though you were never entirely convinced.
Bucky hovered behind you, keeping close despite the wide berth of the jet. You gestured to a seat along the side wall of the plane and Bucky sat down. You knelt down beside him, pulling a pair of reinforced handcuffs from under the seat. The team kept them on hand for the varying occasion when they needed to restrain enhanced individuals or Norse Gods. They’d work on Bucky, too.
“I’m going to put these on you, okay?” you told him, watching for any resistance. But Bucky didn’t move. He only watched you, following the metallic flicker of the handcuffs as you gently fastened them to his wrists. The center affixed to a chain connected to the floor of the plane. He didn’t move a single muscle.
You sighed, brushing at your eyes as you crawled up to sit in the seat beside him. You never wanted to see him in chains, never wanted to be the one to secure the metal around his wrists, but there was a trust within it. A trust that you would undo the locks, that you would protect him while he was vulnerable to attack the same way he protected you. But you couldn’t read Bucky when he was like this. You had no idea what he was thinking. If he was thinking anything at all.
“What about the mask?”
You blinked, thrown by his voice. Rough, unused. Unsure. He was watching you curiously, studying the stunned look of disbelief on your face, and you quickly shook your head.
“No mask,” you said simply, though you could feel the lump building in your throat. It was more of a muzzle than anything else – used to silence him, to humiliate him, to make him feel like a weapon of their own making and destroy any last thread of humanity he was clinging to. You could barely picture it without tears blurring your vision.
“Just try to relax, okay?” you told him. “We’ll be home soon.”
He raised an eyebrow at the mention of home, but your heart was too broken to explain any further. He didn’t ask. You supposed he was trained not to.
By the time you landed hours later, Bucky still wasn’t himself. Sam was the one to reluctantly suggest you bring Bucky to a holding cell until he came to again, but you feared that would only make it worse. It was a cell that triggered this state, you didn’t expect a cell would bring him out of it.
Steve and Natasha landed the jet away from most of the crew so you could guide Bucky away from the crowd without anyone noticing the handcuffs on his wrists. Steve threw a jacket over Bucky’s hands to hide the restraints and gave you the key.
“You call me the second it turns bad,” he ordered, a cautious look thrown in Bucky’s direction.
You nodded and reached out to squeeze Steve’s hand. He sighed at that, the tension coursing painfully through his body. “It won’t, Steve. But I promise I’ll call if I need you.”
Steve didn’t seem any more convinced but you could see the longing for hope in his eyes; how badly he wanted to believe you, how badly he wanted his friend back. He gave you a tight smile and nodded, stepping back.
“Come with me,” you told Bucky and he followed without question, trailing behind submissively and it left an awful pang in your stomach. As you stepped down onto the loading bay, you moved to walk in line with him. “I don’t know how much you recognize but no one here is an enemy, okay? We’re safe. I promise I’ll remove the cuffs once we’re out of sight.”
Bucky didn’t say anything, but you could see his eyes flickering to the sparse agents he passed by as if he were sizing them up, deciding how best to engage with his hands bound. He watched your every move, flinched as a head popped up in your direction as you approached, winced as your name was called in greeting from across the hall, shivered under the steady blow of the air conditioning above. He was on constant edge.
“Oh, hey guys!” Scott Lang jumped out from the elevator before you could press the button. Bucky jolted to step in front of you, blocking you from the perceived enemy who was likely the least dangerous man in the compound. Scott still had Cheeto dust on his fingers.
“Ah, I get it, I get it,” Scott laughed, hands raised in the air playfully as he backed up. “I’m happily in a relationship, my man. Hope may be way out of my league but I’m still in it, okay? You don’t have to worry about me snatching up your girl.”
You smiled, setting a hand on Bucky’s shoulder blades and easing your fingers down his spine. It was something you did for him to help him calm down when you didn’t want to draw attention to his distress. You hoped it might work on the Soldier, too. Sure enough, he began to relax. You stepped out from behind Bucky.
“Don’t mind him,” you told Scott with a casual shrug. “He’s just a bit on guard. Rough mission.”
Scott nodded in understanding, his lips pressing to thin line. “Totally get it. My bad, man. But hey! I’ll see you for poker on Saturday, right?”
“He’ll be there,” you replied, answering for Bucky whose gaze looked as though he could pierce daggers straight through Lang’s chest. You guided Bucky in the elevator and quickly tapped on your floor, hitting the button several times until the doors eventually closed. Once you were alone, you slumped against the wall and released a heavy sigh.
When the floor dinged, you straightened to find Bucky watching you. You were sure whether it was curiosity or concern in his eyes as they followed you into the hall.
“The team knows to leave this floor alone until I give them the okay,” you said, gesturing for Bucky’s hands. He held them up for you and you removed Steve’s jacket and tossed it to the couch. Then, you unlocked each of the cuffs and set them on the table.
Bucky rubbed his hand over the reddened skin on his right wrist. You winced at the burn mark.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think I closed them that tight.” You reached for him and you were surprised when he didn’t pull away. He allowed you to take his hand in yours, soothing the cool press of your palms against the irritated skin. He closed his eyes, sighing at the touch.
“Come on.” You eased Bucky to the couch, though you did not lose contact with his wrist. You sat down, sinking into the cushions and gently tugged him down beside you. He was uncomfortable, a little out of place, but you hoped the familiarity might be enough to sink in.
His posture was rigid beside you as you turned on the television and began to search for one of his favorite movies. You were so used to Bucky sliding in next to you, closing the gaps between you without ever acknowledging the comfort of laying in each other’s arms. Now, he sat with his back straight, his hands planted firmly in his lap. He looked as though he didn’t know what to do with the deep-set cushions and the pillows surrounding him.
Bucky looked around, his eyes skirting over the furniture, the television, the window view of the lake down the way, and then—to you. He paused, his features softening.
“I know you, don’t I?”
You clenched your jaw, fighting tears. You nodded.
“I know this place,” he continued, his voice a quiet whisper, as if he was worried who might overhear. “These people, too.”
“Yes, you do,” you confirmed gently. Panic began to wash over his features and you inched closer to him, setting your hand on his forearm. “It will come back to you, Bucky. I promise. Give it some time. I’ll be here when it does.”
His eyes drew down to where you touched him, where your hand gently squeezed his forearm, your thumb brushing tenderly over the lining of his jacket. He watched you as if you’d never done that before, like he’d never experience such kindness in a touch.
It wasn’t until long after the sun had gone down and the room coated in the comforting tones of the stars and moonlight beyond the window, the flash of the television illuminating the kitchen behind you, that Bucky finally spoke again.
You jolted up from your position, your cheek imprinted with the lines of his jacket. You hadn’t realized how close you were to nodding off, how much you’d leaned against his body and relied on his comfort, even in this state. But something was different as he wrung his hands in his lap, twisting around metal fingers and reddening the skin of his right hand.
Bucky swallowed nervously, lowering his head. “I’m sorry I scared you.”
He was expecting you to withdrawal, to be angry for the burden he’d placed upon you, but instead, all you could feel was relief. You threw yourself into his arms, burying your face to the crook of his neck. He held his arms out to the side, as if he were unsure if his own touch was wanted, until slowly, he allowed himself to hold you.
“Are you okay?” you asked against his collar, unable to pull away for even a moment.
Bucky sighed. “As okay as I can be, I suppose.”
You swallowed nervously. “How much do you remember?”
“All of it.”
You stilled; breath caught in your chest. Memory of the dehumanizing name still present on your tongue. “I’m sorry that I—that I called you—”
“It’s okay,” Bucky eased, his breath warm to the crown of your head. “You did what you had to. You got me out. I could have... I could have hurt you.”
“No,” you shook your head, determined. “You saved me, Bucky. Hell, you even tried to protect me from Scott. All you did was protect me.”
Bucky nodded, a flicker of realization in his eyes. “I guess even in that state I knew.”
“Knew what?” you asked, looking up at him.
Bucky smiled and pressed a kiss to your hairline. “That I could trust you with my life. That I would always protect you with it, too.”
You smiled at him, easing your hand against his cheek. Your thumb brushed sweetly over his cheekbone, your palm against the stubble on his jaw. Even as darkness clouded over him, even when he was lost to the confines of his own mind – he would find he way back to you.
He’d come home.
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A Twice Broken Man
summary: Knowing what will happen if Hydra ever captures him again, Bucky asks the impossible of you. The road to recovery is not an easy one.
pairing: bucky x reader
warnings: smut (18+), canon level violence, mentions of torture, PTSD symptoms (nightmares, dissociative episode), suicidal thoughts, trauma recovery
a/n: this is the dark and sad one I was warning you about. please check the warnings
There’s a hand on your forearm, a slight squeeze, and it takes you a minute to register that it is Bucky’s hand, that it is his thumb brushing in sweeps over the goosebumps on your skin. It’s cold, calloused, still as gentle as he’s ever been, but there’s a nervousness there, a hesitancy, and it runs like ice in your veins.
Time stands still for an impossible minute and you realize you’re taking too long to respond. Ocean blue eyes search yours with a cautious concern and you’re certain you’ve never heard anything worse than the request Bucky has just asked of you. Your stomach wretches as the words echoes in the back of your mind, threatening to tear you to pieces.
He parts his lips, hand trailing in gentle sweeping motions down your arm, and he asks again.
“Sweetheart please. I can’t go back to them. If it ever comes to it, I need you to do this for me.”
You close your eyes. Tears sting over the bridge of your nose. He should have waited for another time to ask this. Not when you’re both laying between sheets, bare and flustered, hearts still racing, the feel of him lingering between your legs.
It’s an impossible question but he’s asking it anyway.
He’s asking for you to end his life.
You know his history with Hydra, spent enough nights curled up against him under the thin layer of cotton sheets and against the damp sweat of his chest to see the damage they’ve caused him, heard the screams from his lips and seen the tears in his eyes.
Decades of pain, of suffering and humiliation, of agony and loss.
They broke and mutilated him. They ripped him from the inside out.
Maybe you shouldn’t be surprised, shouldn’t feel this kind of twist at your heart because maybe, on some level, you understand. If you had gone through what he had, maybe you’d be asking him of the same thing.
“Bucky, I... I can’t...” you say, voice so soft you wonder for a moment if he’s even heard you. There’s a disappointment in his eyes, a sadness etched into every feature on his face, and you know that he had.
You curl your arms tighter under the pillow, tucking the side of your face against the cushion to brush away the tears he’s already seen. There’s more than just shock and desolation plunging through your chest like the sharp edge of a blade; there’s anger, too, and you grit your teeth to keep it from spilling out.
Bucky brushes the cool metal of his fingers along your cheek, wiping away the lingering evidence of your tears and the refusal dies on your tongue. It’s in the way he touches you, watches you, like he cherishes every moment.
The anger fades and you’re left with heartbreak.
“Only if Hydra ever gets a hold of me again,” he reminds you.
He says it like it’s a far distant possibility, like his request is only precautionary, like it might not ever come to that. But you know he thinks about it more often that he admits. It’s the frequent theme of the terrors that come for him in the dead of night.
“You can’t ask that of me,” you whisper. You can barely meet his eye. Not with how desperately he’s watching you.
“Steve would never understand. He wouldn’t be able to do it.”
A sharp sting punctures through your chest.
“And you think I could?” You’re colder than you intend, harsher too, and the heartbreak of it reads on his face.
Bucky sighs, leaning in to press his lips to your wrist. Warm, pillowy soft. He’s patient with you, kind, even in his darkest moments and somehow that makes it hurt more.
“I think you know me better than anyone, sweetheart,” Bucky says sadly. He smiles but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes and he starts to play with the ends of your hair, twirling it around his fingers, sweeping it behind your ear, almost lost in the feel of you. Fingertips trail over the bare skin of your back, gentle patterns before he continues. “You’ve seen the worst of my recovery. I can’t-- I won’t survive it again, Y/n. If it goes south tomorrow and the team can’t get me out in time, you’re the best marksman we have.”
You shake your head, lower lip quivering as the tears well in your eyes. He leans forward and presses a kiss to your forehead. It’s gone too soon.
“I can’t go back to them,” he says again because he’s already decided.
The muscle aches in your jaw before you realize how tight you’ve clenched it.
“It would be saving me,” he urges, almost begging and it breaks your heart. The warmth of his breath is hot against your shoulder the closer he pulls himself against you. The cool metal of his left arm rests around the small of your back, his lips kiss at your shoulder blade.
Tomorrow would be his first mission against Hydra operatives since his pardon and joining the Avengers nearly a year ago. Steve was careful to keep him away from anything that could possibly trigger him, regardless of the words that had been erased from his subconscious, because even he knew that there was more that could trigger Bucky than just a series of Russian words. It wasn’t just the Winter Soldier he was worried about.
But Bucky was ready, he told you, and you really want to believe him.
Finally, you nod, because you never knew how to say no to Bucky. You never really wanted to until this moment. How could you deny a man you loved with every part of yourself? He held your heart in the palm of his hand, your secrets, your intimacy, your soul. It was all his.
The relief melts through his muscles and you feel the curve of his lips against you. He pulls himself closer, murmurs how much he loves you under his breath before he drifts off to sleep.
You don’t sleep much of all.
Bucky's request goes unanswered for nearly two years.
He never tells Steve about what he asked of you. The two of you never speak of it again and still, it lingers.
It’s always on your mind. It’s the first thought to rush to the surface when Hydra’s name is evoked in the debriefing room and you have to control the race of your heartbeat before Natasha’s perceptive eyes pick up on it.
You wonder each time as you strap your weapons to your suit and load onto the quinjet if this was the day you’d destroy the other half of your heart.
It’s agony, but you hold it inside.
You deal with the pain of it by sitting closer to him in the hanger, hip to hip, until your thigh sits at the length of his. You lean against his shoulder, wrapping your arms around his to tug him as close as you can manage and he’ll press a kiss to the crown of your head, letting it brush over your hair. You hold his hand as long as you’re able before you step foot off the landing pad and you’re thrown into the chaos of enemy fire.
You savor every moment.
But it’s the nights before that hurt the most.
It's when he’s inside you and the headboard clicks softly against the wall with every roll of his hips. It's when he kisses at your pulse points, wetness of his tongue and the heat of his breath against the chill on your skin. It’s when your walls clench and a breathless moan escapes him, his eyes fluttering closed, hand gripping tight to the bedpost.
There’s a twist in your heart evert time he shudders above you, when he whispers through bated breaths that he adores you, that your tightness is like heaven to him, and his fingers circle at nerve endings between your legs that sent a rush of heat through you.
Pieces of you shatter even as you find your high and he releases inside you with rushed and uneven thrusts, even as he drops his body weight onto you and you worship the pressure, the heaviness of him sinking you into the mattress.
It hurts even with skin glistening, a damp layer of sweat on the line of his hair, as he smiles at you like you were made of sun and stars and galaxy.
He likes to rest in you for some time after you’ve both finished, just studying you, tracing his fingers over your jawline, a simple kiss to your cheek, before he’ll slide out to disappear to the bathroom to wash his release from between your legs.
You never feel as empty as you do when he pulls away.
He loves you. You know that.
But he breaks your heart.
And so you hide the tears from him before he returns, wondering if you just had your last night with him, wondering if you’ll ever feel the pulse of him inside you again, or if tomorrow would be the day he’ll ask the impossible of you.
It happens on a Thursday and you’re entirely unprepared for it.
What was supposed to be a straightforward data hack of an unmanned Hydra base in Warsaw quickly turned into a full-scale combat zone in a matter of seconds. Hydra agents flood through the halls like they’re peeling out from behind the wallpaper, coming in from all angles. You’re overwhelmed before you can call for reinforcements.
Steve is on your left, Natasha on your right; each fighting off three agents on their own, collecting nicks in their suits, scrapes to their exposed skin, and bruises underneath. Energy draining fast with another round of combatants ahead of you, you search for Bucky over the shoulder of the man charging at you with a knife in hand.
You side step him easily, elbowing him hard enough in the middle of his back to pull a pained grunt out of him. Eyes dart across the floor, seeking out long brown hair and the shine of silver reflecting under florescent lights.
Sharp pain burns in your thigh and you looked down to find a knife embedded in your leg, the sinister grin of the man at your feet below. Red oozes from the wound and stains the black of your suit, but you don’t feel much of it. Adrenaline is too high for that now.
You let out a guttural shout, yanking the knife from your muscle and plunge it down into the man’s neck. The blood that bubbles in his mouth doesn’t faze you, nor does the quick spread of red in a pool at your feet.
You leave footprints behind in the mess as you sprint out in search of Bucky.
It’s hard to breath without him. It feels like punctured holes in your lungs and anvils on your chest. Your hands are sweating, heart pounding, and you don’t think before you shoot the three men advancing on you from behind. They stumble to the ground in a heap and it does nothing to ease your panic.
“Bucky!” you shout over the gunfire, but there’s a part of you that knows he won’t hear you.
You rush into the adjoining hall where he was supposed to be stationed with Steve but got separated once the sirens began to scream and red flashing lights flickered through the hallway. Hydra agents must have jump between them, forcing Bucky to retreat while Steve was pushed in your direction.
There was no answer on the coms when you call for him.
The handle of your gun is burning hot in your hand. It stings against your palm and you’re certain it will blister, but when you release your grip long enough to check, your hand is clear, save for the red splatter stained on your skin.
You try not to think of the fate of this gun as you sprint through the double doors at the end of the hall where the light outside is blinding.
With a hand shielding your eyes from the sun, you spot the Hydra agents’ aim their weapons and you dive behind a barricade of supplies. Bullets embed themselves into the wall behind you, denting the frame.
Cocking the hammer of your gun and releasing a bullet casing, you suck in a deep breath. It takes a moment before air fills your lungs, but when you step out to fire, you freeze in your tracks.
Two men carry Bucky limply towards a cargo truck, each holding onto an arm as his feet drag along the dirt behind him. Blood coats down over his mouth, spilling in violent sweeps from his nose and his eyes are falling heavy, head bobbing. He doesn’t notice you and you’ve never seen him like this before; mangled and heavy, like a rag doll.
“Bucky!” you scream, voice cracking in the effort and you fire three shots at the Hydra agents around him. Only one falls to the ground and another quickly takes his place, the others protected by a shield of technology your bullets would not pierce.
Your cry seems to get through to him because Bucky’s head jolts up, blood coughing away from his lips and he looks up with wide, fearful eyes, to realize where he’s at, who’s hands are on him. You can see the panic from nearly fifty feet away.
He fights back but it’s not with his usual smooth, calculated movements, where every hit has a purpose and each step is intentional. No, this time it’s feral, unnerved. The scream that leaves him is broken and laced with a fear you’ve only heard in the dead of night.
You try to step forward, but a reign of bullets fire in your direction and you throw yourself behind the barrier. From the ground, you spot a single opening between the cases shielding you from Hydra’s fire and you toss your handgun to the side. You yank the rifle from the latch on your back, adjusting your position to get a better shot through the crates.
Through the scope, you can see more clearly and you’re not sure if this is worse.
Bucky sees you, eyes locking on your position and there’s only a second of relief before a taser is plunged into his side and his whole body starts to convulse. Your hands shake as his eyes roll back and his body falls slack. You lose sight of ocean blue and you can’t breathe.
You fire four rounds at the men around him and one by one they drop, heads snapping back in the impact. The victory is short lived before four more dart out from the shadows to replace them. You shoot again. More come.
“Steve, I--” your voice trembles into the com, “They’ve-- they’ve got Bucky.”
You barely register Steve tell you he’s on his way.
There’s too many of them. Too many to slow down on your own. There's no time to wait for Steve.
You step out from behind the barricade and it seems Hydra is no longer interested in you as they attempt to hull Bucky into the back of the van.
He’s struggling against them, weakened by the electricity in his veins strong enough to bring down an elephant. It's like he’s moving through water, resistance against his limbs and heavy weight on his body.
It’s when he meets your eyes from across the lot that the final splinter in your heart snaps and it shatters like glass. You see it on his lips, the pleading. The blue of his eyes glazes over; he’s scared – no, more than scared – he’s petrified, and his whole body is trembling.
Now, he mouths, or maybe he’d screaming. You can’t tell. Please, do it now.
You shake your head. Your hand is gripped so impossibly tight to the handle of your gun that your muscles ache from it. Tears blur your vision and you blink them away. They burn as they clear the grim from your cheeks and run to your jaw.
You try to tell him you can’t, that your hand is shaking so badly you’d never be able to aim properly, not even sure your body would allow you to even aim a weapon at him to begin with, but he’s asking again, he’s begging.
He smiles for you, subtle and aching, but he nods, tries to tell you it’s okay. He tells you he loves you and time moves impossibly slow as harsh hands shove and pull at him and he does his best to fight back.
You’re running out of time and he knows it. He’s growing more desperate, pleading on an endless loop.
Please. Baby, please.
Do it now.
I’m ready, honey. It’s okay.
Your finger moves to the trigger and it’s never felt as heavy as it does in this moment. You’re crying and it’s near impossible to see, but you watch as Bucky nods vigorously, trying to encourage you, urging the love of his life to spare him from what is about to happen.
I love you.
You can do this.
It’ll be alright.
Do it now, honey. Please.
But you can’t.
The gun falls to your side and Bucky stills almost instantly.
You can’t quite read the rush of emotion on his face because there’s too much of it but you can still see the panic, the surge of unrelenting fear, the shock of betrayal in his eyes. He fights harder now, shouting out, though his voice is raspy and his body is falling weak.
Gunfire rings out next to you and you realize Steve is at your side. You don’t know how long he’s been there but as Hydra agents shove Bucky into the back of the cargo hold and out of sight, you fall to your knees and the look Steve sends you is one of disbelief.
He’s furious. He’s scared. He’s devastated.
It’s everything you feel.
Steve sprints off after the van as it accelerates down the street, but you know it’s useless. He can chase it for miles but he won’t catch up. His stamina will only last so long.
You’re alone for a while, out in the open lot, with bloodied bodies around you of the men you’d killed. Some laying in piles, red pools oozing out from under them.
You hardly notice Natasha sink down next to you silently, her hand slip over yours and squeezing just enough to ground you. You nearly break down completely when you spot Steve rushing back towards you from the end of the road.
“What the hell was that?” he snaps, panting, hands shaking out of rage. You don’t respond because you simply don’t know how. He’s pacing now and Natasha warns him to calm down, but he can’t. “What happened, Y/n!?”
“There were too many of them,” you try to explain, hating how shaken your voice sounds. “I tried to pick them off but they just kept coming back and--”
“That’s not what I’m talking about!”
Steve grits his teeth, voice wound tight in a coil. His hands clench and release at his side. He takes a deep breath, straightens his back and glances to the open road where Bucky was taken.
“I saw you aim the gun at him.”
You feel the jolt puncture through your chest before Natasha even has a chance to flinch. You grip at the fabric of your suit over your thighs and you try to remember the feel of Bucky’s hands, but you can’t. He’s already lost to you.
You look up to Steve and his face is red. He doesn’t understand. Just as Bucky said he wouldn’t.
“What the fuck is the matter with you!” he shouts, throwing his arms in the air. He can’t stand still. “Why would you—What were you thinking?”
Natasha pulls herself to her feet, trying to calm Steve with a brush of her hand over his shoulder but he shoves her aside. He points a finger at you but his hand is shaking, so he wraps it into a fist. Curse words die on his tongue as Natasha pulls him a few feet away, speaking quietly to him, calmly, and you don’t try to listen in. The ringing in your ears is too loud for that.
“Why would she--” Steve starts again, but Natasha grabs his hands, trying to pull his attention.
“Steve, stop--” she urges but it’s no use.
“I thought she was gonna--”
“Calm down, Rogers.”
“She had a gun aimed at his head, Nat!” Steve shoves her away, running his hand over his mouth. He doesn’t know what to say. You almost killed his best friend. Steve doesn’t usually lose control like this. It’s a foreign feeling in his body and it doesn’t sit well. “Why would you--”
“He asked me to,” you confess, voice so soft you can barely hear it so when Steve silences, it surprises you. You look up at him, tears glossing over your eyes and you stand under shaky legs. “He’d rather die than be subjected to Hydra’s torture again, Steve. He didn’t think he could survive it a second time, but I—I couldn’t do it.”
“No-- No, Bucky wouldn’t--” he turns to Nat, seeking answers he wouldn’t find. “He wouldn’t.”
You look to the ground. There is nothing that will make this easier.
“He would,” Natasha says. Steve won’t stop pacing and she sighs. “He knew what would happen if Hydra ever got ahold of him again. They’ll try to take his memories. They'll torture him, throw him in that goddamn chair. They’d break him all over again.”
Steve nearly collapses against the outer wall of the building, unable to hold himself as the truth of your confession sinks in. The pieces were all there but Steve was too stubborn to see them.
Bucky’s trauma hadn’t healed nearly as much as he thought. He just wanted his friend back. It was all he ever wanted. It blinded him from who Bucky was today, to his pain and suffering under the surface.
Natasha grabs onto Steve’s hand, seeking out your own as well. She squeezes it lightly as it reminds you of Bucky. That, somehow, hurts worse.
“We’ll find him before they can put the triggers back in his head,” Nat says sternly, like she actually means it. But Natasha is a world class liar and you wonder if she believes it herself. She squeezes your hand again and your feel like your bones might snap. “We’ll bring him home.”
It takes nearly five weeks before you find him.
Five weeks of hell you could have spared him of.
You wonder if he’ll even be himself when you see him, if he ever will be again. You wonder if he will forgive you.
Steve takes out nearly twelve men on his own before you have a chance to fire. The vengeance running through his veins is enough to keep him going. You follow behind on unsteady feet.
Steve has a kind of hope you never learned how to carry. He believes that finding Bucky will be enough, that bringing him home and rescuing him from this place is the same as saving him.
There’s more than just the imprisonment of these walls and the torture of vile men that he will need to be freed of. There’s something this place roots deep inside of him that breaks and tears at his core until he feels like he might cave in on himself. It was what he was afraid of. It was why he asked of you what he did.
“I’ve got a heat signature matching Bucky’s description in a cell four down from here,” Nat says from behind you, eyeing the small monitor in her hand. She points to the right side of the wall and Steve takes out a guard just as he turns the corner. He’s past the point of asking questions before he shoots.
The hall is empty by the time you reach the cell Nat is referring to. Steve’s hand juts out to the handle and he snaps off the locks with the brunt of his gun, but Natasha stills him quickly with a grasp on his shoulder. He pauses, looking to her through furrowed eyes and she nods towards you. A silent warning for him to stand down.
You don’t know how she learned to read you so well, but you're grateful for it. Steve nods, lips pressed to a thin line and he steps aside, pressing his back to the wall by the door and standing guard. Natasha smiles softly at you, doing the same.
“We’ll be right here,” she tells you because you need the reminder.
The grip of the door is cold under the heat of your palms and the creak of the hinges is near deafening. You wince as you pull it open and it nearly slams closed behind you as you step inside from the weight of itself, but Steve shoves his boot between the frame to keep it propped open. None of you know what to expect and the Winter Soldier himself is not out of the realm of possibilities.
The moment you see him, it’s hard to stay steady on your feet. Your knees lock, legs feeling like putty and you lean against the wall for support.
Bucky sits in the far corner of the room, knees pulled up to his chest, stare facing the opposite wall. He doesn’t notice you as you stumble closer, trying to choke back the tears welling behind your eyes.
It’s like he’s catatonic. His arms wrapped around his knees, metal hand clamping onto flesh wrist where the skin is red and raw beneath.
You sink down by his side and still, he doesn’t move. Blue eyes locked on concrete over your shoulder and you swear it’s like he sees right through you. You lick at your lips, breath caught in your throat and you try to reach out to touch him but can’t seem to let your hands fall to his skin, to his muscle, to metal.
There are open wounds on his face; a large scar running from the center of his forehead to his left temple that is red and angry and likely infected from the swelling, and various cuts and scrapes and discoloration along his cheekbones. You can see jagged marks peeking out from under the thin layer of a ratted shirt they gave him after they must have stripped him of his stealth suit.
“Bucky,” you choke out, voice thick with tears and he doesn’t even flinch. You clench your jaw, biting down until you taste copper in your mouth. Sniffling back your own pain, you try again. “Sweetheart, look at me. We’re gonna bring you home. Steve and Nat are right outside the door, okay? You’re safe now, honey.”
He doesn’t so much as blink.
“God, what did they do to you?” you whisper. It’s not a question you expect him to answer.
Without thinking, your hand reaches out for him, hovering over his forearm for a moment before you touch him.
It happens in a split second.
Bucky’s head snaps to you, eyes wide, fearful, and he lunges at you, sending you onto your back as he climbs on top of you. His hand snakes around your throat before you can stop him and your nails dig into the concrete below.
Bucky’s eyes hold no recognition as he stares down at you, still lost, still glazed, and you wonder if he thinks this is a dream or some kind of cruel game.
“B-Bucky,” you gasp, clawing at his hand but it’s solid and metal and it does no use.
Your legs squirm under him but he holds them down easily with his weight around your waist. He pushes down harder on your windpipe and your lungs burn like fire. Your head is pulsing, face red, and you swat up at him until you see a slight flicker of realization before he shoves it away.
He’s in there – you know it – but he’s trapped; locked behind a trauma response or a dissociative state or something but he’s there. It means you can get through to him.
From the corner of your eye, you spot Steve rushing into the room but you hold up your hand, warning him to stay back. He pauses, unsure, frantically eyeing Bucky as he squeezes at your throat, but you wave him back. He doesn’t leave the room but he stands still.
Vision starting to tunnel, you reach up to Bucky’s face. Your movements are no longer wild and panicked, and you brush the hair shielding his eyes behind his ear. That seems to startle him but he doesn’t shove you away. Your palm rests tenderly against his cheek and your thumb brushes delicately along the bruising along his jawline.
His eyes flicker to yours, confused, and they dart around him for a moment, breaths heavy in his chest. Your hand falls away from him as your body weakens and you can vaguely make out Steve’s footsteps as he sprints forward and suddenly the pressure on your throat releases and Bucky’s weight leaves you.
You suck in a harsh breath and it burns.
It feels like shards of glass in your windpipe and you jolt upright. Vision restoring quickly though in blurred haze and black spots, you realize Steve hadn’t even made it halfway across the room.
You turn sharply to find Bucky scrambling away from you, hands shaking violently, a world of emotion on his face he didn’t have just moments before; fear, devastation, guilt, relief.
Blue eyes meet yours and he breaks down almost instantly. His whole body racks with sobs and he tries to hide himself, shielding his face with his forearms as he curls up to the corner but you crawl towards him. You don’t try to speak because you know the coarseness of it will only make this worse, but when you gather him into your arms, he comes willingly.
His head rests against your shoulder, his right arm clinging around your waist and he holds his left as far away from you as he can manage. Tears are wet against your skin and he’s shaking as he cries, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” on an endless loop.
You kiss his forehead, hoping to calm him, to tell him it’s alright because your voice is useless and you don’t dare test it. Your breathing comes in through raspy gasps and Bucky flinches with every damaged inhale.
Steve waits from the center of the room, just watching, and his eyes are burning red, hand shaking at his side. You don’t know if Steve’s ever seen Bucky like this before, but it devastates him. It breaks him.
It breaks all of you.
Bucky isn’t himself for a long time.
It takes weeks before you can convince him to leave your room to eat something in the kitchen or go on a walk around the compound.
He’s lost weight and muscle mass from his time at Hydra and even more since then. He barely speaks and when he does, he can’t meet your eye. You try to wear sweaters and scarfs that cover the bruising on your neck, but he knows it’s there. His eyes burn with tears whenever he catches a glimpse of his handprint upon your skin.
It doesn't help that Cho barred you from speaking for nearly an entire week and when you finally do again, it comes out broken and rough and Bucky flinches when you first say his name.
One month home and he still won’t touch you.
It’s not because you broke your promise to him and he tells you as often as you’ll hear it. It was too much, he says, he never should have put that on you, and yet, you can’t help but feel responsible for every scream in the middle of the night, every cry he tries to hide from you, every flinch away from your touch.
He won’t touch you because he’s terrified of losing control again, of attacking the woman he loves and he doesn’t know how to reconcile that.
So, he keeps to his side of the bed and withers his way out of your embrace after you’ve fallen asleep. It hurts him to do so, but he’s not sure he has another choice. He’s terrified he’ll snap again at any moment and you won’t be able to wake him up this time.
It’s two months before you see him smile again.
You’re sitting on the couch together, a generous space between your bodies you do not challenge and Sam trips over the edge of the table, spilling his bowl of popcorn high into the air before it lands in sweeps along the floor and over his back. Tony is practically in tears and you’re biting your lip for Sam’s sake, though you can’t help the grin aching in your cheeks.
You look over to Bucky and the corner of his lip twinges. It’s subtle and it fades almost instantly but it was there. He meets your eye for a moment and he pushes out another for you. It’s tight and forced but he’s trying.
You smile back and remind yourself not to reach for his hand.
Bucky never tells you, or anyone, what happened in his five weeks held by Hydra. He attempts to ease your conscious by telling you they never attempted the chair again or the trigger words, but somehow that hurts more. It leaves you wondering what else could have happened to hurt him like this, what could possibly be worse.
Fury grants your request for leave while Bucky recovers and you spend most of your days trying to peel away the darkness he’s holding onto. It’s thick and heavy and clinging onto him for dear life but slowly, inch by inch, shadow by shadow, it releases him.
When enough light can peer through, he starts to let you touch him again. It’s nearly three months after he came home.
You give him warning each time, letting his eyes watch as your hand comes to him and lands upon his skin. He needs the time to prepare for it. It takes him a moment to ease into it and remind himself that your touch is wanted, craved even, and he relaxes after a moment and asks for more.
It starts out with holding his hand and moves to playing with his hair. He prefers behind the one to touch you. He likes when you let him run his fingers in loose patterns over your back. It’s something he always did before, though that feels like a lifetime ago to him.
Eventually, he asks if you’ll shower with him.
It’s a big step, one that surprises you when he asks but you agree without hesitation.
“I want to get better,” he says timidly, standing in the bathroom fully clothed in three day old pajamas. He struggles to meet your eye but when he does, the blue is aching with shame. “I know you won’t hurt me but I... I can’t explain it. I don’t know why this is so hard for me.”
“It’s okay,” you remind him, careful not to step forward and invade his space. “You just tell me what you need, alright? Tell me if it’s too much.”
He nods and his hands play with the ends of his shirt. He hasn’t been bare before you since he was taken.
“I can go first, if you want?” you offer, gesturing to your clothes and he nods, thankful.
He's seen you naked before. You’d been together for a few years before he was taken but something about this feels different. It feels new, almost like the first time.
The air is cold against your skin as you pull the cotton t-shirt over your head and let it slip to the floor. Your nipples pebble against the chill and you notice Bucky’s eyes drawn to your chest. It doesn’t embarrass you. You like the way he watches you and it reminds you of the days before he was taken.
You smile at him, nodding for his turn.
Bucky takes a deep breath and tugs his metal arm through the sleeves of his shirt before pulling the rest over his head and letting it fall down his right arm. You realize then why he kept himself from you for so long.
A gasp in your throat, hand darting up to cover your lips, your eyes fall upon dozens of faded scars lining his chest and stomach. You imagine there’s more on his back, but it’s not the scars themselves that scare you. It’s the patterns carved against him. Deliberate and meaningful.
They spell out words.
Some in English, some in Russian you don’t understand and you bite down hard on your cheek to keep from crying. This isn’t about you, you tell yourself in an attempt to will your tears away, and you lower your hands to your sides.
“I wanted to tell you,” he mumbles, eyes on the floor.
“It’s okay, honey,” you say and you feel like a broken record, but you do mean it.
You take your pants off next, then your underwear, and Bucky follows suit. Neither of you are shy about your staring because despite the pain and the trauma, you miss each other like nothing else.
Bucky steps aside and you turn on the water, feeling for the temperature for a moment until it’s at the warmth you usually prefer and you ask Bucky to test it before he steps in. He does so and nods to you. He steps in behind the curtain and you give him a moment, trying to center yourself before you follow.
“Y/n?” he calls nervously, like he’s afraid you’ll leave if he doesn’t have eyes on you.
“Right here,” you tell him and you push down the tightness in your chest to step in behind him.
The steam is warm against your skin despite Bucky blocking the stream of the water, but you don’t mind. The relief on his face, the relaxation evident in his muscles is enough for you.
You spend the next ten minutes washing his body. You tell him exactly what you’re doing before you do it and where you’re trailing the gentle motions of the cloth before you get there. His eyes are closed the whole time, a sign that his trust is building again, and you wonder as you brush over the faded scars along his back, over the word ‘devil’ carved into his shoulder blade, if Tony could find a way to remove them.
You move onto washing his hair and he has to bend down a little for you, but it makes him smile. He sighs as your fingers work the shampoo through his hair and he turns to face you as he rinses it into the water.
He’s watching you now as you condition his hair, just studying the way you purse your lips as you work, noticing the line in your forehead as you concentrate. He’s reminded of the small things, the good things, and he lets go of another shard of darkness embedded in his chest.
He lets the water rinse through his hair, leaning back into the stream of it. When he’s done, you move to reach around him to turn off the water, but his hand gently lands on your wrist to stop you.
“I could...” he paused, licking at his lips, “I could I wash you, too? If you... um... if you want?”
He’s never been so nervous with you before, so unsure of your love for him, your eagerness to have his hands on your body. He doubts whether you want him, whether you’d even allow him to touch you. The bruising faded from your neck and his eyes still flicker there.
“I would really like that,” you say, as soft as you can manage and you don’t miss his sigh of relief.
You cherish every moment of his hands upon your body, in your hair, on your scalp. Calloused fingers running along with soapy residue along your skin, over your curves. You try not to focus too hard when he brushes over your breasts. He lets you clean yourself between the legs as he steps back with a pink blush in his cheeks.
You don’t mind. Having him this close is enough. He runs the water over your shoulders, soothing away the suds, and you close your eyes in the feeling. It’s been so long since he’s touched you and it’s like a reprieve. It’s heaven. It’s always heaven when it’s with him.
When he’s done, he holds you under the water with him and it’s the closest you’ve been since he’d been back. Chest to chest. Flesh to flesh.
When you feel his length harden between you, he clears his throat awkwardly, and steps away from you. He’s embarrassed.
“Bucky,” you croon sweetly, gingerly running your hand down his arm until you intertwine your fingers. He looks over to you, eyes drifting down to your chest, and he bites his lip. “Bucky, it’s alright. Let me help you feel good.”
He’s unsure, but he’s hard now and he can’t seem to tear his eyes away from your breasts.
“Let me do this for you, honey,” you ask again and his cock twitches. He bites down hard on his lip and his right hand carefully reach out to set on your hip, just feeling, exploring.
It takes a moment, but he nods, almost pleading. He steps aside so he’s facing the wall, making room for you under the water so you don’t catch a chill.
You watch his face the whole time, reminding him you’ll stop the second he asks you to as your hand trails along his thigh before you wrap your fingers around his cock. He hisses at the sensation, flinching at the touch because it’s been so long and you’re almost certain he hasn’t even touched himself since he’s been home.
He asks you to keep going and you do. It doesn’t take long until he’s wobbling on shaking legs, panting and thrusting into your fist. You sooth your free hand against his back, running in gentle strokes up and down his spine as you work him over. His fingers press so deep into your hip you’re sure it’ll leave marks, but you don’t mind at all.
He comes suddenly with a gasp, his release coating the wall and he follows your pumps with lazy thrusts as his cock twitches in your hand. It’s quicker than usual and you can see the pink burning in his ears, but you kiss at his shoulder, gently running your hand along his shaft until he’s given all he can.
He rests his forehead to the wall, catching his breath and you gingerly pull your hand away, rinsing it off in the water as his cum trails down to the drain.
Bucky doesn’t say anything after that but after you step out of the shower together and dry your bodies, he lets you hold him for the first time in months under the smooth surface of clean sheets. You kiss at his hairline and his cheek bones and he sighs contently, curling closer to you with every press of your lips.
He's still in your arms by morning.
“You should leave me,” he says a few weeks later and it tears your heart in two.
He’s lying on his side, metal arm tucked under the pillow as he faces you and there’s tears wet on his cheeks. It’s nearly three in the morning and he woke up screaming for the eighth night in a row. He’s noticed the dark circles under your eyes you’ve gained like permeant stains upon your skin. He sees the drain it takes from you to care for him and he hates himself for it.
But he’s selfish. He loves you too much to walk away. He’s withering you dry and he still wants more. He needs you to be the one to do it, to leave him, because he simply can’t.
“Please,” he cries, shivering and you tuck yourself tighter to his chest, unwilling to let go. “I can’t-- I can’t be the one to do it.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” you tell him, sternly, like it’s a fact and it is.
“I’m a mess, Y/n. I’m falling apart and I’m bringing you down with me.”
You don’t care, and you tell him so.
He's been getting better. He doesn’t notice his progress because it’s clouded in his nightmares and hyper vigilance and paranoia, but it’s there. You try to remind him, show him, as often as you can that any step forward counts as progress, no matter how small, no matter how many steps back. He’s still gaining.
You run your fingers gently along his jawline. The bruising once upon his face long healed and the scar his forehead only a faded memory. Even the jarring words across his chest are nearly gone thanks to Tony’s laser tech. It would need a few more treatments but they’d vanish completely.
He looks like your Bucky again.
“You’ve got me, baby. Nothing will ever take me from you, do you understand? I’m yours,” you say and he exhales a breath that releases the tension in his muscles. He pulls you against him, his hand running along your back.
“I love you,” he murmurs into your hair because he doesn’t know what else to say to express the gratitude, the love, the relief inside him, so he settles on the truth.
He will always find ways to convince himself he’s not worthy, that you’re better off without him, that his love for you will never be enough. It’s part of the trauma etched into his DNA, but he’s learning to push those thoughts aside.
It gets easier with your help and soon, when you tell him he’s safe, when you tell him you love him, when you tell him you’ll be by his side as long as he lets you, he starts to believe you.
The first time you make love again, Bucky thinks he might actually survive all that’s happened to him.
He’s learned to accept touch again, learned to give it and crave the feeling of you wrapped in his arms. It’s like heaven and it ignites in his chest, forcing more of the light to shove away the darkness still embedded inside him.
He wants this, and he tells you over and over again because you’re terrified to push him too far; and he wants to do this for you as much as himself. He wants to touch you in places that make your lips part in a breathless gasp, that get your eyes fluttering shut, that have your hands clenching in the sheets and in his hair. He wants to bring you something other than pain and heartache.
He wants to bring you pleasure.
Bucky's body remembers yours well, so he knows how to touch you to draw arousal between your legs. You squirm under him and he chuckles for the first time in a while. It’s a sound so sweet you have to stop the tears from welling in your eyes, though it’s long forgotten as he sinks two fingers inside you with ease.
You grip onto the flesh of his right shoulder, nails digging into his skin as he pumps his fingers, curling right at the spot that makes you whimper and latch onto him tighter. You try and utter his name but it falls on your tongue. You can’t think much of anything with his hands on you like that.
“That’s my girl,” he says, drawing shivers up your spine, “come apart for me, sweetheart. I’ve got you.”
He slides in a third finger and before you can adjust, he’s rubbing at your clit with the heal of his palm in rushed circles. You can hear the wetness around his fingers as he picks up in pace, and soon you’re clenching around him, gasping, panting, on the edge and it could be enough to send you over, but you want him.
“Need you,” you tell him, pushing his hand away and he looks up to you, confused. Pulling his face down to yours, you kiss his lips, something you’ll never take for granted again. You smile as he pulls away. “Please, baby. I need you. All of you.”
He’s hesitant at first, unsure, because he only cares about making you feel good right now after all he’s put you through, but when he follows your eyes down to his cock, he finds that it’s standing painfully hard against him and dripping in precum. He’s aching for you, desperate to be buried deep inside, and he’s not sure he can deny you.
Bucky doesn’t want to hold back anymore, he decides, as your fingers comb gently through his hair. He doesn’t want to hide from the woman he loves.
He lines himself with your entrance and you clench around nothing, just at the feeling of his tip brushing against your folds enough to draw such a sensation. He shudders above you and when his eyes meet yours again, they’re filled with a kind of love, a longing that you knew in him before he was taken from you.
He remembers fucking you, leaving marks and driving you into the mattress with quick and harsh thrusts but he doesn’t want to do that tonight. He wants to this to be slow. He wants to feel every moment, every clench, every gasp he can elicit from your lips. He wants to know all of it.
He wants to memorize you all over again.
When he sinks into you, the stretch is like the first time.
He doesn’t last nearly as long, but you don’t mind. It only takes a few minutes before you’re clenching around him, clinging onto his shoulders as you come. There’re tears in his eyes when he releases into you and he rolls his hips lazily to yours, stretching out the feeling as long as either of you can manage.
He falls down on your body and tucks his face to the crook of your neck. The shaking of his shoulders startles you at first and you pull his head back to find him crying, eyes red and lips trembling. Your heart lurches because you think you’ve pushed him to do something he wasn’t ready for, but instead, he smiles, leaning in to kiss you chastely.
“There was a time I never thought I’d see you again,” he sighs, pressing kisses to your cheekbones, to your nose, to your forehead, “but you’re here. I’m here. I didn’t think I’d ever come home to you and here you are. My girl.”
He wipes at the tears slipping past your eyes before you can realize you’re crying. He never once talked about his time held in Hydra’s captivity since he’s been home. He avoids it narrowly at every chance, pushes out a smile and finds a way to dodge the subject. He’s handling it, he tells you, and you only believe him half of the time, but something feels different tonight.
The way he’s looking at you, you can see the light behind the blue in his eyes. It’s like a faded navy hanging above a sunset, somewhere where the stars are collecting, peppering amongst the darkness, and shadows are casting the sun into the night. He’s beautiful.
“I’m sorry,” you mumble, not sure what else to say.
“It’s not your fault, baby,” he says and there’s truth in his voice, sincerity. “I’m sorry I asked of you what I did. It wasn’t right, to put all that on you, and… hell… if you’d gone through with it like I asked, I would’ve deprived myself of this. Of being with you, here. Of surviving again.”
He kissed your forehead, pulling you impossibly close against him. He’s still inside you and though you can feel him soften, it’s the fullness of his body connected to yours that relieves you, that reminds you that he’s here with you.
“Don’t ask that of me again,” you beg, curling into him. “Don’t ask me to lose you like that. I won’t do it. I need you here with me, okay? I need you to be here.”
“I know, baby. Never again, I promise.”
You’re home in his arms and he doesn’t pull away, doesn’t flinch. He’s content, safe, and he nestles his face into the crook of your neck, breathing in the smell of you he’d lost when he was gone all those weeks. He’s memorizing you again, learning to recommit every piece of you to memory. It was all that kept him alive when he was gone.
It’s something he never had when he was captured in the war and after the fall. He never had something to hold on for, to cling to, to keep his mind focused on anything outside of the unrelenting torture.
So, he savors the feel of your body wrapped around his, the smell of your hair, the soft touches of your fingers as you run them in gentle patterns along his back, the hum of your voice; it’s all his saving grace, every piece of you.
He knows he’s a mess. He fully realizes how broken he is and he’s crumbling at the seams, especially after these last few months, but you never once turn him away, never even consider that he is as irredeemable as he thinks he is.
It’s the reason he thinks he might just be alright.
Maybe not today, because there’s still pieces of darkness clouding around him, but he’s able to see through the fog of it again. It’s something, and your sweet voice echoes in his ear, reminding him it’s the process that counts, no matter how small the steps.
Thank you so much for reading! ❤️ If you enjoyed this fic, please consider supporting me at my ko-fi account ✨
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