Yo! It's been a while since I've done anything on here - and I know posting this is going to upset some people who think creative energy can be willingly focused on just one thing until that one thing is done - so I figured I would put this up for anyone who wanted to read. It's not done as of right now, but I'll be posting the chapters (one or two a week if all goes well) until it is.
I feel compelled to warn for PTSD, dissociation, trauma, and possible graphic-ish descriptions of violence. This story starts off happy, but it could get decidedly unhappy. Be warned.
It's eight in the morning and Bucky has no idea what the hell is going on.
The toaster is smoking, the blond alien from space is speaking with the archer about godly breakfast needs, Romanoff has burnt pastry in her hair, Banner is quietly sipping his tea at the table, and Stark is staring at the entire scene in shock with what appears to be half an eyebrow missing.
Steve and Wilson are out on their run and Bucky wishes he had joined them.
"Thor," Romanoff says. There is ice in her voice. "Why is your breakfast in my hair?"
"It was actually mine," Barton says while he turns to face Romanoff. "Thunderthighs here thought he could just steal it, which—" he sees Romanoff's expression and shuts up.
"My deepest apologies for sending the pastry flying into your hair," Thor says.
He's from space. And he's apologizing about pastries in a spy's hair.
What the hell.
Bucky takes his tea and book and relocates to the common room. It is quieter there, though he can still hear the ruckus from the kitchen.
Bucky agrees, but he does not look up from his newspaper. The other man in the room continues regardless.
"I mean, that guy is from space. Space! He wields a hammer and eats pastries for breakfast. His cape alone could have functioned as a blanket for three of me. And he can fly!"
Bucky flexes the metal arm.
"Okay, yeah. There's…that. The arm."
The man goes silent. Bucky continues reading, occasionally drinking his tea.
By the time Sam and Steve return, the situation in the kitchen has been sorted out. Romanoff had washed her hair before heading out with Barton on some mission. Thor had claimed an urgent matter that required his attention and left, and Banner had gone to his room to meditate. Stark had—much to Bucky's surprise—taken a spot on the couch opposite him, fiddling with his watch.
Bucky wonders whether the watch will explode and take the rest of Stark's facial hair with it.
"What happened to your eyebrow?" Wilson asks when he walks into the room several minutes later. Steve is a step behind him but Bucky can see the same question pulling his lips into a bemused smile.
"There was an unfortunate accident involving a match, a dirty rag, and a robot who does not understand how a fire extinguisher works," Stark replies without looking up. "By the way, Wilson, your new wings are almost ready. Meet me tomorrow in Lab Three at seven."
"In the morning?"
Bucky can hear Wilson's sigh, but he has learned that Wilson rarely means the way he acts. He wonders if the man is even aware of his manipulation. If it can even be called manipulation, because Bucky cannot see any malicious intent behind it.
"I could always wait another few days," starts Stark.
"No, no. Thanks, man. I do appreciate it, really. Steve, your coffee machine has a pre-grind setting, right?"
"Also, dibs on first shower."
Bucky knows that Steve's floor has two bathrooms with showers. One is connected to Steve's room, and one is connected to Bucky's. But neither Wilson nor Steve has ever tried to use Bucky's.
It's nice. Having his own shower. Weird, too. But nice, on the bad days when he can feel frost biting at his skin and the blistering hot water melts it away. Or when his body is quivering and he can't stop looking at the windows and doors and the water is enough to dampen the paranoia—
He knows, really, that it's not paranoia. Not when there is an organization dedicated to evil pursuing him every day. But thinking about that makes the bad days worse.
Today is a good day, so he listens to Steve and Stark chat for a while with half an ear, the rest of his focus dedicated to reading. He has found an interest in sci-fi, especially in books that make decent attempts to explain the nuts and bolts of what is going on. None of them are perfect, but for a while they get Bucky out of his head.
"They're better than what we used to read."
Bucky does not acknowledge the speaker this time. Not when Stark and Steve are in the room. They would notice.
"'Course, most of that stuff was textbooks 'n crap. Arithmetic didn't do anyone a lick of good when the bullets started raining down."
Bucky does not have to point out that imaginary spaceships and lasers would have amounted to the same result. The speaker's silence indicates that he knows.
"What are you even doing to your watch?" Steve asks, and Bucky flicks his eyes up because he is curious of the same thing.
Stark grins, setting down the tools he had been wielding with expert precision. "Observe."
He taps a few buttons and then pulls the watch over his hand. The metal bends—no, it unfolds, red plates covering most of the back of his hand until the smooth movement abruptly becomes jerky and ominous sparks begin to fall from Stark's palm.
"Uh," says Stark. "Give me five minutes."
Steve heads off to get ready for his shower. Bucky returns to his reading, and Stark mumbles to himself.
The good day ends. It has to end, and it does. It ends when Bucky goes to his room and cannot sleep. It ends when he closes his eyes and all he can see is a metal hand where there should be one made of flesh, and nausea wells up so fast he barely makes it to the bathroom before the retching starts.
The sight of his metal hand does not help.
It is the beginning of a long night.
He spends hours doing nothing. Intentionally nothing; staring at a wall, keeping his mind blank. The pointed kind of blank he knows from years behind a sniper's scope, the kind of blank carved into his mind whether he wants it or not.
He spends hours doing little things. Steve had tried to get him to sketch, if only to relieve stress and offer another venue of communication. But Bucky is not an artist, if he ever was, and he has only filled the sketchbook Steve gifted him with scratchy nothings and angry marks, entire pages torn out or ruined.
He spends hours cleaning his weapons. He does it ritually, an action that does not change no matter how many times he does it. It is comforting, regular. The kind of regular that sketching cannot offer, because his guns and knives do not respond to his mood.
He gives up on staying in his room at four in the morning and taps the wall three times. It is the signal he and JARVIS have agreed upon for when Bucky wants to speak to the AI from within his private quarters. The rest of the time, Bucky has total privacy.
"I want to go to the roof."
"I will unlock the doors."
Getting to the elevator without waking Steve or Sam is too easy, and the machine itself is almost silent. Speakers play soft music until the elevator slows and then stops with a quiet ding.
The roof is empty and quiet save for the faint whistling of the wind and the sounds of the city far below. Bucky walks right to the edge and looks down. The wind is pushing him back towards the roof, and the distant sounds of the city quiet the static in his mind.
He sits, swinging his legs over the edge.
Legs dangling, rusting metal crossed over itself, bars as handgrips while he stares at the alley below—
It's gone as soon as it comes, but Bucky can call it back, can remember the fire escape outside the building that Steve always used to sketch on.
There is no context, no hint of Steve in the memory itself. Just the metal digging into his thighs and his feet hanging in empty air. Dust in the breeze and a sky that flickers between sun and moon, cloudy and clear.
He breathes deep. He can taste the city in the air, the grit and the fumes and the exhaust. He isn't sure how much of it is real and how much is just in his mind.
Inside the tower it's clean. Potts uses air fresheners and has the cleaners use scented cleaning products in the common room, but Steve had expressed a preference for nothing of the sort on his floor. Bucky can understand; with enhanced senses, the smells can be overpowering in concentrated areas.
But Steve has never mentioned that part to Potts. Bucky doubts he ever will.
Bucky swings his feet absently, his mind spread out. Taking in the city, letting it wash over his tired brain and ease out the parts that sleep had not been able to touch.
The Asset never swung its legs.
Bucky wonders if he can whistle.
He glances to the right. The young man that no one else can see is there, dark hair slicked back and an old jacket—barely dirty at all—hanging over him. His features match Bucky's. Younger, if only by a few years.
Not including the frozen years.
"You learned from Tommy, at school. Practiced day 'n night until you got it right."
"I doubt I can still do it," Bucky says, looking back over the city.
"Never hurts to try."
Bucky does not try. But he glances at the young man, who has been appearing every now and then for the past week. "Why are you here?"
For a moment, the jaunty tilt to the young man's lips turns dark, his jovial expression twisted. "'Cause we ain't right in the head, pal." He is smiling normally again in an instant. "'Sides, this could be worse. You really want everything all at once?"
He gets a headache thinking about it. A lifetime of memories wiped and warped and twisted shoved back into his conscious mind all at once would hurt more than the Chair. He shakes his head, metal hand digging into the ledge.
"That's what I thought."
For a few minutes, the loudest noise is Bucky's breathing.
"You gotta get some sleep, pal."
Bucky huffs. "Sleep doesn't want me."
"We can't help the dreams."
"Nightmares, memories. Not dreams. If that's the happy shit I won't survive the rest."
"You're like Steve when he's sick. Stubborn about what's best."
"Alright," Bucky says, every word flat. "I'm going to lie there. In the bed. Doing nothing." He smiles without humor. "Or I could sit here, and do nothing, but with better things in my head. There is a difference."
The hallucination Bucky calls James frowns but does not argue. He can't.
Bucky looks down, but what hits him isn't vertigo—
Falling and white-cold and agony ripping his body to pieces and Steve where are you you're okay right Steve it's cold—
He yanks himself away from the edge of the roof, rolling on the ground before coming to a stop on his back, the night sky stretching out above him. He can pick out the North Star but very few others, and a far calmer memory slips through, just the impression that he's done this before, stargazing. He waits, but no details come.
He's disappointed. The feeling pools in his gut, but it's familiar. Memories and impressions come and go. It only gets bad when Steve is in the room, when the pressure comes. Then every lost memory is an attack against Steve, his habit of believing in the face of overwhelming doubt—
Bucky blinks. Light has begun to flow from the eastern horizon, barely visible over the railing of the roof from Bucky's flat position.
Steve is probably awake by now.
Bucky gets up and heads back inside.