When Bucky blinks his vision clear, the first thing he sees is Wanda leaned over the railing of the balcony, choking down air like she's been drowning.
His muscles ache in protest as he uncoils himself from the floor and moves to stand beside her, feeling light-headed and a little dizzy.
It takes him a long second to get his voice working again, the phantom memory of his vocal cords being torn up by his screams still fresh in his mind.
"You okay, kid?"
"F-fine...I'm fine...I just-..." she swallows hard, her fingers gripping white-knuckled for a second before she forces her grip to relax once more. "Wasn't expecting something quite that...intense."
"Yeah. They really fucked me up. Sorry you had to go through that," he murmurs, leaning back on the railing beside her.
She shakes her head, pushing herself straight once more.
"I only saw the memory, you were the one who had to go through it."
"Doesn't mean you should have to re-live it."
Wanda gives a little shrug, looking away as she tugs at one of her sleeves.
Bucky tries to keep himself from frowning.
He's really only known Wanda for half a year now, but that's been more than enough time to pick up on her habits. This one - tugging at her clothing or twisting her jewelry while she focuses her attention on nothing - tends to be anxiety.
He watches her for another long minute as she fights to get her breathing back under control, and debates offering a hug, but is unsure if they are quite on "comfort hug" terms yet.
The girl manages to pull herself together while he is debating, however, at least enough so that she can turn to him with a mostly calm expression before he can even start to speak.
"Come on," Wanda says, her smile only a little forced. "I can smell food. Dinner must be ready soon."
It's a topic change, and a rather obvious one at that, but Bucky lets it drop for now.
"Sure thing," he replies, forcing a grin as well, and he follows the little witch back inside.
In the living room, Sam and Clint are sprawled across the sofa, their eyes glued to the television and whatever hokey shark movie is playing as they both chase the remaining few pieces of popcorn around the shared bowl unsuccessfully. Wanda is quick to drop onto the cushion beside Clint, nestling herself into his side, and the man absently drapes an arm around her shoulders without looking away from the show for a second.
Bucky smiles at the three of them for a long moment before following the smell of food into the kitchen.
If Steve hadn't told him about Sokovia and Ultron, he would have thought that Clint and Wanda were father and daughter. The pair of them were close and comfortable in a way that suggested relation, and it had been a bit of a surprise when he found out that they'd only met a year and a half ago. However, with the loss of her brother and Clint taking her in following that, he suspected that the two had sort of fallen into that role without question.
He and Sam have actually started to get along rather swimmingly in the short few months they've been on the run, although Bucky supposes that their current situation would be enough to make grudging friends out of even the worst enemies.
After all, when the whole world wants you dead and all you have is each other, it tends to form some bonds.
That still doesn't stop him from giving the other man a hard time whenever the opportunity arises, however. He suspects that particular aspect of their relationship will never go away.
In the kitchen, Scott and Natasha are working together to make dinner, Steve setting the table like the good little boy scout he's always been, and Bucky sneaks up behind the blond man with a grin as Natasha carefully pours the excess boiling water from the pasta pot.
He has the presence of mind to make sure Steve has set down everything breakable before he grabs the man's side and pinches, earning a rather undignified yelp from his best friend.
Natasha turns around with a quirked eyebrow and a smile that promises trouble, and Steve spares her half a look before turning a friendly scowl on Bucky.
"Yes, Bucky?" he asks with a slowness that isn't quite a drawl, and Bucky quirks the corner of his mouth.
"Just making sure that serum left the important things intact. Like all your ticklish spots."
Bucky darts a hand out to grab for the sensitive spot that Wanda helped him remember last week, the one on Steve's side just below his pec, but the blond man is surprisingly quick (or at the least must be suspecting the action) because he catches his hand an inch from its target.
"Keep in mind that this means you still have all the same weak points too, Buck," he threatens mildly. And if the threat wasn't enough to deter him, the wicked look in Natasha and Scott's eyes certainly is, as the pair watch intently to see where Steve will grab.
"You win this round, Captain America," Bucky smirks, throwing a mock salute to him. "I'm gonna go sit my ass down in the living room and stay out of trouble."
"And put a dollar in the swear jar on your way by," Steve smiles sweetly.
Bucky gives Steve the most offended, frustrated look that he can scrap together before marching over to the swear jar, dramatically fishing out his wallet, and making a payment toward what must be a Ferrari or a jet or something because the jar is packed so tight he can't see through it anymore, and even getting his two bills to fit in is a struggle.
"I think you need a bigger jar," he mutters.
"I'll keep that in mind," is the distracted call from the kitchen.
Bucky moves into the living room and squishes himself into the far side of the sofa next to Sam, giving the man the biggest grin he physically can as Sam turns a dry look on him.
"So what are we watching?" he asks after a long second.
"Ghost Shark," is the reply from Clint, who has yet to take his eyes from the TV but takes Sam's distraction as opportunity to corral the last few pieces of popcorn into one corner of the bowl and toss them in his mouth. "It's a masterpiece."
Sam snorts at that, turning his attention back to the show and reaching into the now empty bowl to grope around for a long second before glancing down to see why he's coming up empty and shooting Clint a scowl.
The archer ignores him.
"So...the shark's a ghost?" Bucky asks.
"And it's in the swimming pool because...?"
"It appears anywhere there's water."
"Huh. Even if there's land between?"
"...well I'm glad to see that modern technology has advanced cinematography to this point," Bucky says with a wry grin.
"Just wait till we show you 'Sharknado'," Sam replies, not bothering to give him any further context than that.
Bucky isn't sure if he should be more confused or horrified.
Putting that particular question aside for now, he settles himself into the sofa to watch until dinner is ready, making a point of leaning into Sam just to annoy the man.
The movie...is bad.
It's easily in the bottom ten on the list of films he's watched, and that's including the cheap war propaganda ones that he and Steve used to go see in the twenties.
But for some reason Bucky can't seem to look away.
It's a bit like watching a train wreck - an almost morbid fascination to see just what ridiculous thing they're going to do next - and the movie never seems to disappoint. By the time they have the shark come out of some unfortunate character's kitchen plumbing, Bucky is just as hopelessly hooked as Sam and Clint are.
And they're not the only ones, it would seem.
He only vaguely notices when Scott joins them, the man perching on the arm of the sofa over by Wanda; or when Natasha follows suit, her walk past the living room slowing into a full stop as she stares at the television with a raised brow. She is leaning on the back of the sofa a minute later, staring at the screen in an equal mix of confusion and fascination.
A glance back over his shoulder shows that even Steve is watching the television with rapt interest as he waits for the sauce to finish boiling on the stovetop.
The movie may be awful, but damn if they aren't all hooked.
"You sure it's a good idea to be watching a shark movie while we're staying at a place that's completely surrounded by water?" Scott asks at length as another hapless citizen gets bitten in half in a ridiculous spray of blood.
"It'll be fine," Clint replies. "It's not like you're going swimming in the canals. Just...don't take a bath."
"Thanks," is the muttered reply, and Bucky feels himself smirking.
"Don't burn the garlic bread," Wanda murmurs to Natasha as they all watch the translucent shark from their TV show appear from the spray of a building's fire sprinklers, and the assassin whirls around with a muttered curse to go check on the food. Bucky glances after her with a raised brow in time to see Steve look up from the table and open his mouth.
"Don't even say it," Natasha threatens Steve preemptively as she snaps the oven door open, letting the smell of roasted garlic and warm bread fill the little space, and Bucky feels himself start to salivate as his stomach lets out a growl. Steve merely gives the assassin a little smile before moving to fetch the swear jar and set it nearby, waiting for her contribution.
Natasha grumbles at the Captain, but once the garlic bread is safely on top of the oven she complies.
A moment later Steve is calling them all in for dinner and Bucky is scrambling to obey, eagerly anticipating the meal that he's spent the last twenty minutes smelling, as Steve and Natasha set food out on the table and remind everyone in fond exasperation to wash up, like two of the world's most put-upon parents.
Clint pauses the show so they won't miss anything, and Bucky follows Sam and Scott to the hall bathroom as Clint and Wanda head for the kitchen sink.
"Watch your fingers in the tap water," Bucky teases Sam in what he hopes is a suitably spooky voice. "Wouldn't want to lose any to the ghost shark."
The dark-skinned man turns a dry look over his shoulder at Bucky, pointedly rubbing his hands together in the stream of water.
"Oh, ha-ha," he scoffs. "Look at Mr. Comedian. Real fun-AAAUGH!"
Sam leaps about a foot in the air, his attention jerking back to the sink where Scott has formed his hands into a shark 'mouth' and clamped them down on the other man's fingers.
The thief is quick to retreat, laughing as Sam smacks at the pair of them with his wet hands, flustered and embarrassed and still a little bit panicked at the surprise.
"Ghooooost shark," Bucky repeats, wiggling his fingers at the flier.
"You're a pair of assholes," Sam breathes, his words turning into a chuckle despite himself.
"Swear jar!" Steve's voice drifts in from the other room.
"Curse his super soldier hearing," Sam mutters, turning to dry his hands off as Bucky steps up to use the sink, keeping a wary eye on the other two men in the room for any mischief or surprise 'shark attacks.'
The food is already on the table by the time Bucky gets back out, and he takes a deep breath to savor the smell of it as he slides himself into a chair and reaches for the serving tongs.
The night is warm, so they have the balcony doors open to let the breeze in, which in turn gives them a lovely view of the canals at night. The sky that had been a brilliant orange when he and Wanda had been out earlier has darkened into a deep blue, and the water is sparkling and shimmering as it ripples in the slight breeze. The waterways are lighted along both sides in almost the same way a normal street would be, but because of the reflection of the water they almost seem to glow turquoise.
The gondolas pass by with a slow frequency, the soft chatter of the passengers akin to people walking by on the street in a quaint town as they pass by just beneath their balcony.
From a little ways down the canal the Italian music from a restaurant is just barely carrying over to them, and it almost makes their homemade attempt at a spaghetti dinner feel like they're out experiencing the real thing.
Although it certainly helps that the stores here sell the pasta fresh-made.
The others are quick to settle themselves at the table and dig in, most of them attacking the food in hungry silence save for the occasional quip of banter or clink of silverware.
Except for one.
They all take turns shooting concerned little glances at Wanda as she serves herself a particularly small portion and begins to pick at it idly, her gaze distant.
About five minutes in, however, Scott makes a particularly dumb joke about their dinner (Hey, what do you call someone who sells themselves for spaghetti? A pasta-tute!) and surprisingly enough, it actually makes the little witch crack a smile, and Bucky finally lets himself relax when she reaches for the serving spoon a moment later.
He keeps an eye on her long enough to make sure that she actually starts eating before tucking into his own plate, his stomach growling in anticipation.
And despite the fact that it's a very simple meal, Bucky can say without hesitation that it's one of the best things he's ever put in his mouth.
Bucky looks up from his novel as he hears movement, and is in time to catch a glimpse of dark hair through the door to the hallway as someone darts past. The sound of something heavy hitting the floor a couple rooms down sharpens his concern, and he climbs out of bed to follow cautiously.
The light is on in the little hall bathroom, the door closed over but not latched, and he hears the soft sound of gagging coming from within as he pads through the darkened flat.
Bucky hesitates for a moment before placing his hand flat on the door and giving it a little push.
It opens with a soft creak, enough to warn whoever is inside of his presence, and Bucky pokes his head around the corner the moment that it will fit, his heart pounding hard in worry.
Wanda is kneeling before the toilet, her fingers clutched in a white-knuckled grip on the rim as she gasps desperately for breath. Her whole body is shaking so badly that he can see it, and her long, dark hair is scattered everywhere.
There are tears soaking her cheeks.
"Wanda?" he whispers gently, edging the door open another few inches as he feels icy fright coil low in his belly.
This isn't good.
The girl doesn't respond, but her next breath is a sob that makes him ache inside, and Bucky slips into the little bathroom and carefully maneuvers himself to kneel on the floor behind her.
"Ssh, ssh," he whispers, rubbing her back as she takes heaving breaths, eyes scrunched shut and looking a few seconds from vomiting. "It's all right, it's okay. Just focus on breathing, all right? Deep breath in through your nose, long breath out through your mouth. That's it, nice and slow. I've got you."
The girl gives a little nod in thanks, trying to obey as she takes one trembling breath after another, struggling to calm herself down.
Bucky settles himself comfortably - if this is going to be anything like helping pre-serum Steve through a panic-induced asthma attack, he's likely going to be here for a while - and keeps rubbing his hand up and down the girl's back with a slow, steady pressure.
"That's it...just keep breathing. Focus on my voice, you're gonna be okay."
Her next inhale is a sharp sob that she is quick to smother back, a faint crimson glow humming in the air around her as her powers react to her distress by trying to shield her away.
Bucky can do nothing but keep murmuring comforting little nothings to her as she fights back her emotions, the girl carefully piecing herself together once more as she blinks quiet tears over her cheeks.
He chooses not to mention anything when he sees her trembling fingers trail up to trace over the pale scars around her throat, as if reassuring herself that the collar is truly gone, but he can't help it when his teeth grit together a little in frustration.
He hates being helpless.
It seems like it's all he ever does anymore - get his ass saved by everyone else, usually at their expense.
First with Steve and all of the HYDRA brainwashing shit, then with the whole team being imprisoned over the Accords mess and him being framed, and now with the poor kid cause she's trying to get the damn coding out of his head...
It seems like everyone who tries to help him is cursed to suffer for it.
His attention is drawn back sharply as the girl coughs, the sound watery and weak, and he moves his hand to steady her as she makes a small attempt to sit up.
Wanda slithers back so that she is sitting on her heels, and Bucky watches in pity as she lifts a trembling hand to her face to clumsily scrub her cheeks dry.
"I'm sorry," she whispers, but Bucky shakes his head.
"Don't be sorry, you've done nothing wrong."
"I didn't mean to wake anyone."
"I was up late reading," he shrugs, glancing aside for a moment to give her some privacy while she tries to drag her composure back together. "Nightmare again?"
The girl hums a weak little sound that he takes as confirmation, and Bucky darts a glance back to her when she sniffles a little.
"Really bad one," she mutters, blotting her running nose on her sleeve for a second before remembering with a wince that there's toilet paper nearby and grabbing a few sheets of that to hold against her face instead. "At least I didn't scream this time."
"Yeah, about gave Steve a heart attack the other week," he chuckles, the sound only a little forced as he tries to lift the mood. "I'll bet Natasha was all up at arms as well."
"I woke up to a gun pointed at my head," Wanda shrugs, dropping the crumpled toilet paper into the bowl with a little sniff. "So I suppose yes."
"You didn't mention that to anybody," Bucky says with a little frown, and Wanda gives another little shrug.
"It didn't really register to me until the next morning, and by then Natasha had already moved her weapons well out of reach in case I startled her awake again."
The little witch shoots him a wan, wry smile, and for the first time Bucky notices the terrified undertone of scarlet that's still clouding her eyes.
"Having two people prone to night terrors sharing a room probably isn't the best idea."
"Kid, our whole traveling group is a bad idea," he teases gently.
She chokes out a little sound that is more of a scoff than a laugh, forcing the corner of her mouth to quirk up a little in a half-hearted attempt at a smile, and Bucky slowly reaches to let his hand rest on her knee, offering support.
Wanda lets her fingertips rest across his knuckles, her cold hands stealing warmth from his skin as she closes her eyes and takes a slow, shuddering breath.
After a moment she draws away again, and Bucky watches as she makes a weak attempt to claw her hair back out of her face, carding it into an exceptionally messy braid that looks more like a knot than a weave before tucking it back over her shoulder.
It immediately starts to unwind.
He draws another few sheets of toilet paper to offer her as she scrubs at her cheeks again to dry them, even the soft material of her pajama sleeves starting to rub her delicate skin raw.
She manages a soft "thank you" as she dabs her face dry, discarding the paper and settling back onto her heels to stare unseeing into the floor before taking another long few breaths to calm herself.
Bucky leaves his hand resting palm-up on his leg in case she reaches out for him again, wishing that there was more he could do to help...That he could do or say something to soothe her fears and let her sleep.
Wishing for the millionth time that he wasn't so utterly useless.
But if all he can do it stay nearby and offer her support, then that's what he will do.
"I'll be okay," she says at length, "if you want to go back to bed."
Bucky shrugs and settles himself at her side, leaning back against the wall.
"I'd rather stay with you."
She looks up, surprised, and he gives her a sad little smile.
"I know what being with HYDRA does to your head," he starts gently, reaching to brush the back of a finger over her cheek when the memories resurface and he sees her flinch. "It's not easy. Sometimes it's nice just to know someone's there for you."
Her little smile is grateful but sad, and she shakes her head just enough to send the straying, curled ends of her hair dancing across her chest and shoulders.
"It wasn't HYDRA. Not this time, anyway. It was the R- the Raft," she says, choking the name of the prison out despite her body's physical protest. "The electrocution memory is what brought it back."
And that - that little stumble - makes Bucky irrationally angry.
It's not the fact that they hurt her, cause he'd expected that - that was what people did to people they were afraid of. And it's not the fact that they restrained her the way they did, because he'd kind of expected that too. That was how dangerous people like the two of them were locked up. No struggling, no movement, no mercy.
It is who it was that locked her up and abused her that makes him mad.
Because he'd expect this shit from HYDRA, or even some terrified, low-level, local military personnel, but from the UN? Really?
The people who wrote the Geneva Conventions can decide that it goes out the window the second it suits them? Jailing people in little underwater cells without trials, and using such inhumane restraints on a kid...?
Bucky takes a long, slow breath, letting his anger leave with his exhale. This is not his battle to fight.
"Yeah, well, they can take you back to that aquatic hell-hole over my dead body," he mutters, patting the floor beside him for her to scoot closer if she wants. "I'll put anyone who tries it six foot in the fucking ground."
She chokes out a little laugh at that, settling herself at his side with her forehead leaned against the cool metal of what remains of his shoulder.
"You are a strange man, Bucky Barnes. I like you."
"I like you too," he grins, reaching to brush her hair back out of her face and using the movement to subtly check her temperature like he'd done to Steve half a thousand times when they were kids and the lovable blond idiot was lying through his teeth that he was "fine."
Thankfully the girl doesn't feel like she's running a fever, so Bucky quickly settles himself and lets Wanda fidget against his side until she is comfortable.
It takes a good few minutes until he feels the tension start to leave her slight frame, her mind starting to purge whatever terror had woken her, and Bucky lets his head lean a little to rest against hers.
She's always been significantly shorter than him, but it is only now - with her curled into a tiny ball against his side - that Bucky truly registers how goddamn small she is.
Like...pre-serum Steve levels of small.
And he feels that old protective urge start to burn hot in his chest again.
Wanda's nightmares are usually not a problem, but since she's started trying to help him with the Winter Soldier programming, they seem to have come back with a vengeance. This is the fifth night in a row that one of them has caught her up after everyone else has turned in for the night, haunting the little flat as she tries to banish dark thoughts from her mind.
He hates that helping him purge the programming from his head is costing her sleep and peace of mind like this, even if she insists that she wants to continue, but he knows that she's not going to back down unless someone makes her.
So Bucky makes the executive call.
"I think I'm going to put a mandatory skip on our 'de-program-the-Winter-Soldier' session tomorrow," he tells her, holding up a finger to quiet her protest before she can speak. "You've gotten a bunch of it out already, and managed to de-activate the sequence words. I'm not at any risk of being triggered. And you need a good night's sleep for once. You can afford to skip a day."
She looks up at him with a pout, and for a moment Bucky thinks she's going to argue, but then she lets out a breath, seeming to deflate against his side.
"Good girl," he mutters in relief, reaching again to smooth her hair back out of her face. She snorts at that, but doesn't correct him.
The two of them sit there in the tiny little hall bathroom for what feels like an hour, Wanda's head slowly leaning into him with more and more weight as she drifts off, and Bucky staring blankly up at the ceiling, just listening to her breathe.
He debates suggesting that she go back to bed instead of sitting on the cold, hard tile in here using the remains of his butchered metal arm as a pillow, but he can't quite bring himself to send her away when she's finally starting to look calm once more.
In another twenty minutes she is sound asleep, nestled up against him for warmth as her breath dances softly against his collar, and Bucky decides that he'd best move her back to bed for the night.
Picking her up with one arm is...difficult, to say the least. He manages to get her arms wrapped around his neck and her head tucked beneath his jaw, and then he scoops his arm under her backside as he hefts her up on his hip like a kid. He has to lean a little to make sure she doesn't slip, but after a few minutes of fiddling he manages to get her tucked into his hold securely enough to walk.
He knocks the door open with his foot, practically having to sit on the counter top to maneuver the two of them in the tiny space, and doesn't bother trying to turn off the light as he steps out into the hall with Wanda clutched to his side.
Thankfully the hall isn't very long, and he paces himself carefully as he moves down the length of the little house, making sure Wanda doesn't shift in his grip.
The girls are sharing the room at the very end of the hall, and thankfully Wanda hadn't bothered closing the door all the way when she'd run out earlier, so he doesn't have to play games to get it open without dropping the sleeping witch.
Natasha perks up from her bed as he bumps the door open with his shoulder and steps into the dark room.
"Ah, I was wondering where she went," the assassin murmurs, slipping from her own bed to draw the covers back on Wanda's so he can set the girl down. "Another nightmare?"
Bucky nods, settling Wanda's head gently on the pillow with the assassin's help and brushing her hair back off her forehead as Natasha arranges her limbs more comfortably and pulls the covers up over her. The red-head shoots him a sideways glance, and Bucky feels guilt settle sickeningly in his stomach.
"I keep telling her that she doesn't have to help me go through all the shit in my head, but she doesn't want to give up," he rasps, fingers trailing gently down a pale arm until they find Wanda's delicate hand and scoop it into his hold. "Dumb kid."
Natasha hums a little sound, smoothing the covers out before turning her attention to him.
"You seem quite fond of her," the assassin murmurs. It isn't an accusation or a question, merely an observation, and Bucky considers his answer for a moment before replying.
"She reminds me of Steve," he admits. "He used to be this scrawny-ass little punk who thought he could do anything. I was constantly saving him from back-alley brawls and fights with much bigger kids. He had all these really bad medical problems, and could barely do a push-up, but he didn't ever let that slow him down. He didn't know when to quit..." he looks down at the little witch, his mouth quirking in a sad grin as he swallows hard. "Neither does she."
Natasha hums a little sound, turning her attention to the girl in question and fussing over her quietly to give him a moment to collect himself.
Bucky takes a slow breath, some memory tugging at the back of his mind that kind of feels like Steve, and he lets out a huff a second later.
"Don't know what Steve still sees in me, really. There's not much of the guy he knew that's left in there. Most people would have given up by now."
"You know," Natasha starts gently, "Steve isn't the only one who doesn't want to give up on you."
That's enough to snap his attention up, and he finds Natasha specifically avoiding his gaze, running her fingers through Wanda's hair in a gesture that is practically motherly.
"I have shot and almost killed you, multiple times."
"Yes," she says, a little grin playing at her lips. "And I nearly killed Clint when we first met, on the mission where he was sent to kill me. And Wanda hexed us all into a stupor when she first met us. Well, all except Clint, who electrocuted her in the face before she got the chance. Sam and Scott got into a fight the first time they met, too. At this point it's part of the ritual. Someone tries to kill us, and we either kick their ass, or become friends. Sometimes both."
"You people are fucked up," Bucky says, shaking his head as he tries to suppress a grin and ultimately fails. "No wonder I fit in so well."
"Welcome to misfit island, Bucky," Natasha says with a smile. "Population: Seven."
Wanda whimpers out a little sound, and both of them look down sharply as she stirs in her sleep. Her brows pinch for a moment, prompting both Bucky and Natasha to reach out and soothe her, and at the gentle touch and soft words she seems to ease back into a deep slumber once more. The two of them watch for a moment to see if she will wake, but she doesn't, and they slowly glance up to meet each other's gaze.
Bucky is the first to look away, unsure how to interpret the warmth building in his stomach.
"Poor kid," he mutters.
"Don't worry, I'll look after her." Natasha gives him a weak smile, nodding her head toward the door. "It's late, you should get some sleep. Cap's gonna have us up early for training."
"Don't I know it," Bucky chuckles, making his way to the foot of the bed and meeting Natasha as he turns to glance back at Wanda a final time. "I'll tell him to let Wanda sleep in."
"Softie," Natasha accuses with a warm smile, nudging his shoulder, and Bucky shrugs.
"Steve won't let me coddle him anymore, I had to pick a new victim."
The assassin laughs at that, and Bucky feels something warm and familiar in his chest.
He's missed making people laugh.
With a final glance at the little witch, Bucky turns and makes his way back into the hall.
"Goodnight, Bucky," Natasha calls after him softly.
"Good night, Natasha."
He closes the door over gently, so he won't make a sound, and turns to head back down the hall.
A yellow gleam lighting up the far end of the house reminds him to go turn off the bathroom light, and he stops to flick the switch off before making his way back into his own room.
Steve shifts a little beneath the sheets as Bucky eases the door open, and he carefully makes his way back to his bed as the blond man sits up a little.
"Wanda have another nightmare?" Steve murmurs sleepily, and Bucky grunts as he slithers back beneath the covers.
"Taken care of. Let her sleep in tomorrow, though. She needs it."
"Will do. She back in bed?"
"Yeah. Sound asleep. Natasha's looking after her."
"Thanks, Buck. You're the best."
It's an old, familiar phrase, one that rings like a memory somewhere in the back of his head, pushing up into the little clear space that Wanda had made in his thoughts when she swept out another cluster of HYDRA programming earlier that day.
And as Bucky drifts off to sleep, the voices that usually try to haunt his dreams are blessedly silent, replaced instead by the memory of a scrawny, laughing Steve, sitting in a mud puddle on the ground with a black eye and bloody nose, grinning up at Bucky as he reaches to take his outstretched hand, repeating those words...
Thanks, Buck. You're the best!
Bucky smiles. The little witch has been working wonders with her gift, and this...this is the payoff.
A little less HYDRA, a little more him.
Maybe, just maybe, he thinks before sleep can fully claim him, he can truly be Bucky again.
Author's Note: Thank you all for sticking with me. I realize that my updating schedule for all my fics is prettymuch garbage, but I really appreciate my readers showing back up out of the woodwork after six or more months of nothing to come read what I'm throwing at the internet. You all make my day.