Disclaimer: I do not own the original canon nor am I making any profit from writing this piece. All works are accredited to their original authors, performers, and producers while this piece is mine. No copyright infringement is intended. I acknowledge that all views and opinions expressed herein are merely my interpretations of the characters and situations found within the original canon and may not reflect the views and opinions of the original author(s), producer(s), and/or other people.

Warnings: This story may contain material that is not suitable for all audiences and may offend some readers.

Summary (The Resolution of Soldiers): It started on a mission. The Asset found a child in a cupboard. The boy wasn't in the brief he had been given but there was still something about the kid that seemed familiar, especially when he had raised his tiny fists with the full intention of fighting the Asset. What happened after that was as inevitable as winter in Russia, because no amount of brainwashing and conditioning could ever remove Bucky Barnes' inherent habit of taking care of little punks determined to take on the world.

Series Information: The Light of Mankind series is a Marvel Cinematic Universe & Harry Potter crossover. It is also a Sentinel & Guide fusion. Certain things have been shifted around to accommodate these two things. Things are also shifted to include information from related media for the crossed canons. As a general rule of thumb, assume my presented information is deliberate and not the result of confused mistakes, even when different from base canon.

The parts of this series are not designed to be read alone. References will be made to other parts, some of which may be published out of order. For the latest order, please see the series section on my profile. This series name is The Light of Mankind.

Song Recommendation(s): "Beautiful Crimes" by Tamer

-= LP =-
The Resolution of Soldiers
-= LP =-
"Whatever is done for love always occurs beyond good and evil." – Friedrich Nietzsche
-= LP =-

The Asset entered the house through the backdoor. It hadn't even been difficult. A tickle of curiosity tried to distract him from the mission objective, but he dismissed it as unimportant. It did not matter why his handler decided to send him, just that he was sent. The small kitchen held a lingering scent which tugged at his attention, especially since the scent of blood was mixed with it. Again, the Asset dismissed the distraction and pressed onward. The tickling against his senses had been nearly constant since the mission last week in New York, the one with the man who had seemed almost familiar.

He paused as he moved through the downstairs hallway. The scent of blood and stale urine was strong around a boot cupboard, too strong to be dismissed. Extending his senses, he heard a child's quick heartbeat from within the cupboard. The breathing suggested that the child was asleep. The Asset noted the location of the target before refocusing on the primary target.

The primary target was in the master bedroom as intel suggested for the local time. The man resembled his picture. If the Asset was prone to hyperbole, he would have been amazed that someone had bred with a walrus. As it was, fat made locating a vein difficult. The Asset was tempted to default back to his preferred methods of elimination out of frustrated efficiency, but the mission parameters had been quite clear than more violent methods not be used. Vernon Dursley twitched at the prick of the needle, but didn't wake. Within a minute, the bubble of air reached his heart. Petunia Dursley followed shortly after him.

Checking the other rooms on the floor revealed not only Marjorie Dursley but also the child identified in the brief as four-year-old Dudley Dursley. The Asset paused before following his orders to eliminate the entire family before setting the residence on fire to destroy any evidence of interference. There had clearly been a child sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs. That child was equally clearly not the son of Vernon Dursley and Petunia Dursley. The Asset quickly went through the elimination of the last specified target, defaulting to potential witness protocols to deal with the intel gap.

The breathing from the cupboard indicated that the unknown child was no longer sleeping. The Asset was cautious as he slid the clasp free and opened the tiny door. The child stood facing the door, still dwarfed even in the smallness of the boot cupboard. Behind him was a small nest of blankets resting on a thin crib mattress, none of it looking like it had just been added to the space. The boy's eyes were hard when they met his own, but it was the hardness of uncut stone as if none of this could touch him. As the Asset watched, the boy's chin raised, not in pride but defiance, and something flickered in the Asset as if he had been almost reminded of something. The Asset had the ridiculous thought that the boy's hair was too dark and that his breath was too even.

"You killed them," the boy said, his tone as numbly flat as the Asset's emotions. This was not an accusation, just a statement of facts.

"That was my mission," the Asset replied. I should kill you. The almost-memory flared again as the boy lifted his bony fists, shifting his stance as if preparing for a boxing match. His form was off, as if he was badly copying something he had seen somewhere. The Asset frowned at the sight of those delicate bones, because his thoughts did not completely make sense. The amount of pressure necessary to snap the tiny fingers did, but the following desire to scold the boy for skipping meals before correcting his stance did not. All the while, the boy looked as if determination was the only thing holding him together. His upper lip curled in a silent snarl, defiant despite having to know that there was no way to win. A sense of something passed between the two of them, like a scent but also something else, something that was almost like a humming string.

"I'll fight you," the boy warned. The Asset felt an eyebrow raise automatically. A breathless voice echoed in the silence between them.

'I can do this all day!'

"You would lose," the Asset said, letting his head tilt to the side. The boy swallowed as a shiver went through his tiny frame. Then he took a deep breath and firmed his stance. A strange warmth broke through the apathy of his programming, both familiar and unrecognized. That voice echoed again.

'I had him on the ropes!'

"Not anything new," the boy declared. That strange scent intensified, calling forth his senses while making them all center on the boy. A current passed through the air between them, driving the Asset to his knees. The boy made an aborted whimper. The small sound tore at the Asset, making everything he was rebel. "Pluh-please, just stop—make it stop."

The Asset wanted to destroy whatever was hurting the kid. He wanted to tear it to little bitty pieces and set it on fire—like newspaper in a bin, "punk, just drink the soup, damnit"—because it dared to hurt what was his. Once the thought was in his head, it exploded in size and volume, demanding things and rewriting any protocols which didn't agree with it. Just like the chair that made everything go blank after a mission, the process hurt but the voice deep within that had always resisted the programming latched onto the pain with all the determination of a dog with a bone. The kid was his now and protecting him was the only mission that mattered.

His resolve was absolute when his eyes reopened.

-= LP =-

The latest attacker actually managed to get closer than either of them could have predicted. To add insult to the slight graze he was sporting on his cheek, the attacker had made it clear by blooding him that they could just as easily have taken him or the kid out instead. His healing factor had already stopped the bleeding by the time he had realized that he was moving with the kid tucked tight against his chest. He had to get to cover before the braggart shooting at them decided to act on an opening. His mind was already running through exit strategies, silently cursing when he realized despite the danger, they would have to risk a return to their apartment if only to blow the computer and pick up that ridiculous stuffed dog the kid couldn't sleep without.

Of course, the little punk was cussing up a blue streak about the indignity of someone still using arrows, like that was the greatest issue here. At least he wasn't fighting the Soldier's hold this time to get to the sniper. The kid had an alarming habit of trying to take on anyone who threatened them, like he wasn't still pint-sized and whip-thin in a way that no amount of decent food and training could alter. The man in the Winter Soldier's still-hazy memory would have long since scolded the boy, despite both of them being punks who wouldn't take care of themselves if someone else wasn't forcing the matter. Somewhere along the way, that man had been lost, but the Soldier still had the boy.

The little punk was the only mission that mattered.

And just like it had been two years ago, his resolve was absolute.

-= LP =-

Winter didn't understand why they were back in England. He wasn't even certain that the punk fully understood. Punk had just woken up a month ago and declared that they needed to come. The argument had lasted three hours and covered at least six languages. Their former neighbors were probably convinced that he had killed the kid.

Like he would ever kill his little punk after everything he had done to keep him safe since finding him.

'Course, they didn't exactly go telling everyone about their pasts, so maybe Winter should give them the benefit of doubt.

Punk had seemed dazed since the moment they had left the sensory buffers of Heathrow. Winter knew the young Guide had his shields still up, because he could feel them through their bond. All he could figure out was that something was affecting the kid through his Guide abilities, which could mean anything. Winter could get them intel on almost anything—and the kid devoured all the information with the same desperate determination he showed at their first meeting—but the Sensitive Councils kept information on training techniques restricted to registered Sensitives only. Even the most rural and underfunded Center had enough security that infiltration would be noticed.

The attacks against them had just slowed down enough that Winter could give Punk some semblance of stability, some semblance of a normal life. The last thing they needed was the Councils deciding to send their own people to remove a potential threat. That wasn't good for anyone, really, because Winter knew his punk as well as he knew himself, and a few close calls over the years had taught them both just how dangerous a Guide could be when riled.

The little punk was probably even a bigger threat than Winter was, and Winter had no doubt about his own ability to destroy things. It was what he had been created for, even if he sometimes remembered a life before the cold, before the Winter Soldier. Like his punk, Winter had come from somewhere once, even if that place was probably long gone, destroyed as thoroughly as that house in Surry had been.

Winter was still a little pissed that Hydra had even thought a six-man team would be enough to take him, especially one without a single Sensitive on it. It was almost as insulting as their dismissal of Punk had been, just because he was a small child. It was like they didn't even realize that small people could be the most dangerous.

They were always explosions waiting to happen.

Punk signaled him to pull over at a nondescript building. Silently, the punk slipped a hand under Winter's shirt. Knowing what the gesture meant, he began analyzing the area with his senses. They had gotten good at working with each other in the four years since Winter had stolen the little guy, even without formalized help. The kid really was like a goddamn sponge, and great at improvising to fill the gap. This was one of the things they had managed to figure out—that skin-to-skin contact helped both of them when they needed to use their senses beyond their everyday precautionary use.

A moment later, Winter was grateful for that hand, because the static of active comm lines was everywhere and he could feel his other senses soaring upwards to compensate for the white noise of it. He could feel Punk tapping out messages against his flank, but it took a disturbing amount of focus to translate the Morse Code to anything sensible. A long time later, he finally recognized the Russian that the brat was using to convey his own empathic messages. Winter decided that it must have taken too long to pull out of the zone, just as a rather bland-looking man tapped the passenger side window.

Of course, the punk rolled down the window to talk to the guy. Fucking punk was gonna get himself killed. His grip on the steering wheel tightened enough that it gave under his left hand. It was only the silent order against his side that stopped him from showing the emotions rushing through him, demanding that he take the kid to somewhere safer, that the man was a threat.

"You seem to be having some issues," the man said. Winter recognized the blandness that was supposed to be reassuring to Sentinels; it was considered a neutral tone, nonthreatening and without challenge. It was the tone of a handler and Winter suddenly hated being here, even if the man hadn't so much as looked in his direction. Punk pressed hard into his side, not saying anything, just gripping the muscle right above his hip. "Would you like some assistance handling the situation?"

"I would like to speak with the woman who arrived earlier today," Punk answered, only a trace of surprise in his voice. Winter stored the detail away. "It's imperative that I speak with her."

"I cannot confirm the presence of anyone other than myself at this location."

"Yeah, right," Punk replied, dropping into the mindset that meant Winter was going to have to forcefully remove him from the situation because fuckall if the kid wasn't going to try to fight the world yet again. "Look, we can play this game if you really want, but we both know that you have a Guide in there who is in pain. I need to speak with her, and probably more importantly, she needs to speak to me. So, the only question that remains is if we're going to keep pussyfooting around like idiots or are you going to let us in to see her?"

"Punk," Winter growled, because there was no way he was letting the kid walk into a potential trap. Four years of strategic training, and the kid still had a tendency to leap before thinking things through. The kid shifted his grip and gave a rapid burst of Morse that barely made more sense than anything else during this goddamn trip. He didn't like this—in fact, he was fairly certain that he hated this. It was worse than anything he had dealt with before meeting the punk, and having his very existence reordered. In fact, the lump in his chest felt a lot like the pain from that night.

The punk was gonna give him a fucking ulcer one of these days.

"Look, how much of a threat can we be, really?" The kid raised the pitch of his voice, emphasizing the youthfulness of it. Winter didn't have to look to know he had widened his eyes into that look he got when he was trying to play innocent, the one that made Winter melt on most things and strangers underestimate the kid. Even the suit outside the window looked tempted to cave. "There's just the two of us—and what? Six snipers, eight operatives, and three Sentinels—and then yourself, who I'm guessing is a fully-trained Guide? And that's just what you have out here, so I imagine you have even more on the other side of the buffer. What threat could we possibly be against such an overwhelming force like that?"

"Does the sweet and innocent act usually work for you?"

"I am sweet and innocent, damnit," Punk snapped. Winter carefully moved his left hand from the wheel to the cubby nestled between their seats. If the kid was getting mouthy already, then an extraction was not long behind. "I can't help it if y'all are so goddamn obvious about things. Now just do whatever you need to already because I'm going to see her and we both know it. This posturing won't change a fucking thing."

"Such language," the man said mildly. The rebuke made the kid thump back in his seat with his arms crossed. Without the skin contact, the static threatened to wipe out his other senses. Winter forced it away like it was nothing more than an annoying gnat. He couldn't fulfill his mission if he got lost in a fugue now. The mission was the only thing that mattered. The comm lines burst to life with a female voice issuing a command that had him straightening his posture instinctively.

"Bring them in from the cold, Agent Coulson."

"Ma'am, are you sure?" Their man had his hand on the unit in his ear. His gaze swept over them again. He still looked disturbingly blank to him, even with the tiny spikes Winter could feel Punk throwing at him in uneven intervals. "They aren't our usual—"

"I am still Director until the paperwork goes through in seventy-two hours, Agent. If they are polite enough to ask instead of forcing the issue, then surely, we're polite enough to offer them a cup of tea. Protocol Snowflake, if you would."

"Yes, ma'am," Coulson agreed, dropping his hand to his side. He peered in the window again. "You can stop poking me, little man. You're getting your way. Tell your protector to stand down, if you would."

"Tell your people to stand down, and I'll consider it," Winter growled. Coulson's eyes snapped to his for the first time. He watched the unflappable man pale even as his eyes widened in shocked recognition. Winter liked this situation even less. Recognition meant Hydra; it always meant Hydra. The little punk was taking them directly into a Hydra base, on some goddamn Guide impulse, to talk to their goddamn leader. With ruthless efficiency, he calculated mission integrity compared to potential pouting if he extracted them both now.

Coulson was already ordering the surrounding forces to pull back, biting out the words with a quiet urgency that would probably have been panic on anyone else. The man hesitated for a beat, just long enough for Punk to stab out another empathy spike, before adding a BP warning. God, ain't that a phrase he hadn't heard in a mountain's age? Blessed Protector. Jesus Christ. Punk had his hand back on Winter's side, soothing the sudden agitation away before Winter was fully aware of it.

Then the kid was scrabbling out the open window like he knew if he didn't go now, Winter would stop him …which wasn't without merit, because Winter knew he was riding the ragged edge of control over the need to get the brat to a secure location, preferably as far from this rainy country and the agent who recognized him as possible. Following the kid out the window was impractical, but it still took a great deal of effort to leave the car through his own door. He rounded the vehicle to find his charge locked in a battle of wills with the agent who was staring like he was seeing both his greatest wish and nightmare come true.

Winter could sympathize. He really could.

Punk often had that effect on people.

When he took up the position directly behind the kid, the agent's eyes raised to take in the whole picture. The servos in his arm whirred as they responded to the tension running through Winter. The other man nodded sharply before gesturing towards the now-open door of the building Punk had indicated. With a nod of his own, the kid marched determinedly towards it.

Resignedly, Winter followed because the alternative would be to let him go unprotected.

The scent hit him as soon as he passed the second set of doors. His hands landed on the kid's shoulders, stopping him as Winter froze in response to the things rippling through the haze that made up his past. It wasn't like finding the punk; that had been like finding an echo of someone. Whatever this was had a lot in common with the electricity of that bond snapping into place, but it was confoundedly not new.

Pain flooded his senses, like a valve had been opened somewhere. He could feel Punk's hands clutching at him as he fell to his knees under the weight of grief; he could hear the little Guide crying out to him, frantic and desperate. It was just too much to process and despite the driving force behind the mission, the only one which would ever matter, Winter felt himself slipping away into the scent of tea and violets, wallowing in it to the exclusion of everything else.

Then a frightened whimper managed to cut through the memories of another time, of another pack, of a different mission.

There was only one mission that mattered now.

And Bucky could see the understanding in Peggy Carter's eyes when he met them over his kid's head.

They both knew his resolution to protect was as absolute as ever.

And they both knew that the cold was still waiting.

-= LP =-

Peggy Carter was still an unstoppable force of nature, even at seventy-six and headed into retirement. Not even five minutes after they had entered the building, and she had the three of them sitting in some den-like receiving room. One look at Punk's scrawny frame and she had ordered a full tea service with sandwiches to be brought to them. The agents—the mundane ones, at least—had scattered to obey her. Agent Coulson had stayed near Peggy's side like a shadow at noon; Peggy hadn't acknowledged him any more than one would an actual shadow.

He had a shiver of dread at the thought of his little punk staring at her with the same awe that Stevie had so often used so long ago. The world would be doomed to hell if that ever happened, of course, because if Punk's determination to fight the entire world could be channeled by anyone, it would be Peggy who had clearly done that very thing. Bucky just wasn't certain if he would be able to survive the combination of Stevie and Peggy, in any form, certainly not with his sanity intact.

Well, as intact as it ever was.

He did follow a kid from Brooklyn into a personal war on the forces of evil and there was no denying that took a certain level of insanity. The whole Sentinel thing could only excuse it all so much, after all. Then there were those years in between, when the whole world was lost in a cold winter filled with death and blood. Bucky was feeling more than a might unsettled about this whole affair.

Punk wasn't particularly helping, not that Bucky could blame the little Guide. The kid hadn't really slept since that morning last week when he had woken up with the need to come here. The pressing drive to come here had created a restlessness that had had them both on edge. Now that they were here, and sitting in a comfortable receiving room waiting on a tea service, Bucky would have thought the little guy would relax some. Instead, he was pressed against Bucky's side, eyes taking in everything before focusing a glare at Peggy's relaxed form across from them. Not even the agent that had approached them first had warranted such hostility from his little Guide. His left hand was wrapped around the belt of Bucky's pants, as if that grip was capable of stopping anyone from separating them. Even if the grip wasn't, Bucky could tell that he had his other hand wrapped around the handle of the handgun holstered against the small of his back.

Other than the deadly weapon, it was distressingly age appropriate.

Punk never clung to Bucky like the child he actually was. He hardly did anything kid-like unless he was trying to fool someone into underestimating him, not even when it was just the two of them. He had always been ready to take on the whole damn world, like all he had ever known was fighting. Stevie had always had hope to back up the determination that filled him, but Punk had always acted like losing was already a given and he was determined to go down swinging.

"Agent Coulson," Peggy announced after their service had arrived. The man shifted from his position just off the side of her chair to where she could easily see him. She gave a flick of her wrist, clearly dismissing the man. When he opened his mouth to protest, she cut him off. "I understand that Pending Director Fury has charged you with my protection, Agent, but I will remind you yet again that I am still in charge of this organization until the paperwork finishes processing. Moreover, I am still fully capable of defending myself and do not require your hovering."

"Madam Director, I mean no disrespect, but you have just suffered a great loss and perhaps you would be ill-prepared to handle a potential threat from these particular individuals given their resemblance to certain other individuals."

"I assure you, Agent Coulson," Peggy replied, her tone just as guide-neutral as the other agent's, "that this is not merely a resemblance. I am not entirely certain how, at this moment, but I am still enough of a Guide to recognize my own pack." A muscle twitched in her cheek even though her expression didn't change. Punk rippled before burying his face into Bucky's side. His right hand moved away from the gun to press against the skin above the holster. Unable to stop himself, Bucky curled his left arm protectively over him. Peggy kept her gaze on Punk as she spoke again. "It's been a long time since I have been around a young Sensitive who was fully online, but I did not think they found me nearly as intimidating."

"You always did have a way with the fellas," Bucky said, pleased that his old charm was still there even if the words tasted odd in his mouth. Peggy rewarded him with that half-smile that Stevie had sighed over more than once. For a moment, he could see the young agent overlaid on the Director's face and something twisted deep in his gut. He dropped his gaze to Punk's wild hair. "But yeah, Punk's not usually…"

"Punk?" Her tone was questioning. Bucky knew what the matter was; he could even understand it better now that he could remember both his life as the Winter Soldier and his life as Bucky Barnes. It had just been a thing they had come up with along the line, as they settled into what passed as their life together. He just didn't know if he wanted to share something so private, even with Stevie's almost great love. Bucky glanced up before focusing on the kid again. He definitely didn't want to share it with the complete stranger still hovering at Peggy's elbow. "Agent Coulson, don't you have something better to do than babysit an old woman?"

"Yes, ma'am," the agent replied instantly. This time he left without arguing and with all the confidence of a man with a plan. Bucky would eat Punk's stuffed dog if Coulson wasn't pulling information on the two of them and contacting that Fury character who was taking over for Peggy. Snuffles was getting a bit ratty but with enough mustard, a man could eat anything. Punk didn't relax any with the agent's exit. Instead his boy did that odd full-body shiver again, like he was bracing against something that was going to happen now that they were alone with Peggy.

This was wrong.

Bucky pressed Punk closer against his side as he let out a growl at—nothing, because there was no threat in the room. He extended his senses out, seeking whatever it was that his little guy had noticed. Another growl slipped from him when he still didn't find anything. Even the echoey feel that accompanied an empathic attack against or from Punk wasn't present. There was no threat, but the kid was still afraid of something. Bucky noticed someone moving closer to their huddle and snarled before he recognized Peggy.

"Shh," she soothed, curling guide-warmth into the sound. Her hand, too dry to match his memory but still firm, settled into a familiar hold on his right wrist. It was carefully not restraining, not adding even a hint of force that would challenge his instincts. She had grounded him this way so many times during the war, when Stevie had done something stupid yet again, and Bucky was snapping at the medics like a cranky cur instead of letting them treat the idiot. No one else had ever tripped him into Blessed Protector mode faster than Steve Rogers, the kid from Brooklyn who never backed down from a fight even when he was half-dead from one of his spells. "Shh, you need to breathe, Bucky—"

Like a switch had been flipped, Punk's hand flashed out to grab at Peggy's wrist, pressing his thumb into the nerve controlling the hand's grip just as Bucky had trained him. Shocked, Bucky could only watch as the kid lunged towards Peggy's hand like he was a viper. Peggy gave a startled cry, still laced with empathic energy, as his teeth pressed into the meat of her thumb. Bucky barely managed to keep his little punk trapped at his side. As it was, the kid fought against the metal arm wrapped around his waist.

"Stay away from my Winter, you harpy! He's mine and you can't have him!"

"I see," Peggy said, rocking back on her heels. She was probably out of the kid's reach, but Bucky gathered his wrists in his flesh hand anyway. He then used the more secure hold to resettle the boy on his lap, back to chest.

Luckily, the little punk seemed to be intent on a physical attack to defend him because Bucky wasn't confident that he could use their bond to stop an empathic spike. He never had to try before, and he would need to sort through his memories of his previous Sentinel training for what kind of bond he shared with Punk. All he could tell was that it wasn't a mate bond and while it was similar to a pack bond, it echoed differently. The touchy-feely parts of this shit had never been his best area; that had always been Stevie's strength, even before the idiot had decided to turn himself in the world's largest guinea pig.

"My god, he really is the very image of Steve, isn't he? If he was blond, I would swear I was—well, and those eyes—" Peggy cut herself off as if something had just occurred to her. She met his eyes with a steely gaze. Her voice held all the forceful command that he remembered when she continued. "How exactly did you end up with—Punk, was it?"

"Long story," Bucky answered in a clipped tone. Defaulting back to short sentences seemed his best bet for dealing with this.

"I have time," Peggy said, drily.

Bucky still didn't want to tell her. He hadn't minded his time as the Fist of Hydra before, not even after Punk came into his life and his memories of the missions had returned. He was a soldier following orders and death had been the mission objective then. Even training the Widows had been for the purposes of creating more killing machines. The Winter Soldier had a perfect record of mission completion. It was a point of pride that conflicted with the well of shame that came with the memories of being Bucky Barnes. He didn't think he was ready to explain to Stevie's best gal how he had spent decades working for the ultimate enemy. He didn't think he would ever be ready.

"I stole him, fair and square," Punk declared, drawing their attention back to him. He had drawn his arms in so that his sharp elbows were resting on Bucky's arm while his pointed chin now rested on his still-balled fists. He had also drawn his legs up so that his knees were pressed to against the arm as well. Bucky could feel his shields wrapped tightly around the two of them and the barest sense of their prickly outer edges. Peggy looked amused at the kid's possessive display. "I stole him. He's mine, my protector—and you can't have him bah-back."

"Oh, darling," Peggy whispered from her crouched position. Her voice sounded like her heart was as broken as Punk's voice had. "Why would you say that? I'm not trying to steal your Sentinel. I doubt very much that I even could. I'm just trying to make certain…"

She didn't seem to have any words to describe what information she was after that didn't sound like she was trying to do exactly what it appeared Punk thought she was. In her defense, Bucky did understand why she was asking. It was a known issue that Sensitives sometimes stole children for themselves. Typically, those were in cases of abuse or neglect triggering a Sentinel into a Blessed Protector episode, sometimes even into a full feral episode. That Punk looked and acted so much like Stevie would just give Peggy evidence for that conclusion. Even without knowing about how Hydra had twisted him, Peggy would remember how protective Bucky had been towards the other Sentinel, how strong their bond had been, how it had edged scandalously close to a mateship even without a Guide directing it. It wouldn't be a far leap to conclude that he had stolen a replacement.

The moment the thought formed in his head, Bucky flinched in horror. It was probably the worst thing to do in the situation as it set Punk off again. This time the kid lashed out with his abilities as he fought to attack her again. Worried now about how things might look to an outsider, Bucky let him go.

Luckily, Peggy was still rather spry, despite her age.

She let the kid knock her backwards as she grabbed a hold of his wrists to prevent him from scratching at her. With surprising litheness, she managed to twist them until she had his arms crossed in front of his chest and his legs pinned by hers. He fought against her restraint by alternately bucking against her hold and attempting to headbutt her. When it didn't even faze the experienced agent, Punk tried hitting her with the broadside of his empathy. With the economy of effort he remembered, she wrapped her own shields around the young Guide, closing him off from the rest of the world. The sudden silence between them made Bucky's stomach threaten to rebel even as Punk let out a desperate wail.

"I hate you! I wish we had never come here! You deserve whatever was making you hurt so much! You deserve it! You deserve it! I hate you!"

It took Bucky a moment to recognize the strange waver in the kid's voice. If his memories of Stevie had still been hidden in the fog, he wouldn't have. Punk had never, not once, broken down like this. He had never thrown a fit like this either, where every action was based solely on emotion rather than strategy. Even enraged by someone attacking them, the kid had been determinedly efficient. But as he continued screaming at Peggy, Bucky smelled the saline that matched the growing thickness of the kid's voice.

He knew this combination of things.

This was how Stevie had been in the immediate wake of Sarah's death.

Bucky understood now what was going on.

Oh, fucking hell, Peggy had locked down everything coming out of the kid.

"No," Bucky breathed as he maneuvered himself onto the floor beside the two Guides. He straddled their legs, letting his bulk loom over them both despite the position putting his back to the door. Using both hands, he cupped Punk's wet face. The kid's eyes had never seemed such a bright green as they were in that moment. "No, Punk—no one is ever gonna take me away from you. No one and nothing matters more than you, kid. You're my Punk, and you're stuck with me."

"I'm still your mission?"

The question was quiet and almost broken. Bucky fought the urge to tear Peggy into pieces for making the kid sound like that, even if it wasn't anything she did wrong. As if sensing what he was planning to do, Peggy released the kid just as Bucky pulled him against his chest. He held the kid far tighter than he had ever dared to hold anyone else, and for the first time since Stevie was still small and sickly, Bucky felt afraid to let go of someone. He breathed his response into the kid's ear, letting his conviction fill his tone.

"You're the only mission that matters."

Bucky could hear the echoes of another promise, now long broken. By the half-swallowed sound that Peggy made, she could hear it as well. He buried his nose into Punk's wild hair to hide from the echoes of the best man he had ever known. That man had been lost, but Bucky still had his boy.

Protecting him really was the only mission that mattered, and nothing had really changed since the night Bucky had absconded with the little Guide who reminded him of the best friend he had not truly remembered until now.

His resolve was still absolute.

And it always would be.

-= LP =-
An Ending
-= LP =-