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I own nothing besides my two leading ladies, Maggie and Meg, and their story lines. Marvel owns everything else.


Chapter Six:

October 15, 2015

They fell into a strange routine. At least once a week, sometimes twice, Meg would invite him to her apartment for dinner. It was never planned. She would show up, knocking on his door around six in the evening, swearing up and down that she had accidentally made too much dinner for one person and could you come help me eat some of it so that I don't feel like such a pig? He would sigh as if it were an inconvenience, but he would follow her to her apartment all the same. There was always way too much food, more than enough to feed two people. Enough to feed an army.

They would eat. She would talk. And slowly, over many dinners she began to drag more and more out of him. It started with him telling her what he had done during the day, where he had wandered. Then he started telling her about the other places he had lived and traveled. Once, without realizing it, he told her one of Bucky's stories about growing up in Brooklyn. He was careful after that, to not let any more slip, but he had to admit that he had noticed the way her eyes lit up when he talked about Bucky and Brooklyn. Of all of his stories, she had liked that one best.

They never talked about his time in the military. And he was grateful for that. He couldn't exactly share stories about World War II and he didn't know enough about Iraq to pretend that he had been there. What surprised him the most was that he didn't want to pretend with Meg. He wanted everything he told her to be the truth. It had been a long time since he'd felt that way about a dame.

Each morning after he went over for dinner he would wake up to find leftovers stacked neatly in his fridge.

She surprised him one night in mid October. They were standing side by side in her small kitchen doing the dishes. She was washing and he was drying and it was so damn domestic that it made his chest tighten, he was sure this is what Bucky would have gotten if he had made it home from the war.

She wasn't looking at him as she handed him a plate, it was slick with soap and water and slipped from her hand when she thought he had a hold on it. He was quick, just like the day on the staircase, and his left hand shot out, catching the plate before it could hit the floor and break. She turned, staring at the plate in his metal hand for a moment and he waited, barely breathing, for the question.

It didn't come, at least not straight away. She turned back to the dishes in the sink and for two entire minutes she remained silent. Just as he was starting to breathe normally again she spoke. "It's weird," she told him, her voice gentle. "Your arm."

His metal fist clenched.

He wasn't sure if she noticed because she continued speaking. "I mean, the first time Billy came back he introduced me to a bunch of guys from his battalion, some of them had lost legs or arms like you. But none of their prosthetics looked quite like yours." She shook her head. "Most of them were just there to give them an arm like shape, they didn't function. But it's like yours is connected to your brain. You want to catch a plate and it does it, you want to save a girl from falling off a staircase, it does it." She shook her head. "I've just never seen anything like it."

He cleared his throat, he had to say something. It would be suspicious if he didn't say anything. "It's one of a kind," he told her finally. "An experiment really. I don't think the doctors that gave it to me were even sure that it would work. But it did."

"Was it hard to put on?" she asked.

He closed his eyes, a flash of a memory, the cold underground room somewhere in Soviet territory where Hydra doctors had strapped Bucky down to a table to cut off his mangled arm and put this metal one in its place. It had hurt like hell, burned really and Bucky hadn't maintained consciousness for long. When he woke up Bucky was gone, they had torn him out of his own brain and thrown in the Winter Soldier in his place. His fist clenched again. "Worse than you can ever imagine."

She was quiet for a moment before she pulled her hands out of the sink and turned toward him. He didn't feel it, when she put her hands on the metal hand, but he could see it. He watched as she lifted the arm to an angle that was easier for her to look at, closed his eyes as she brushed her fingers over the cool metal surface and imagined what it would have felt like if he had two working arms. When she spoke her words were so soft that he was sure a non-enhanced human wouldn't have been able to hear her at all. But he heard her loud and clear.

"What happened, Bucky?"

Again he closed his eyes, so far he had never chased memories. He let them come to him in their own time. But now he went inside himself, pushing through all the memories he had gained of his time as the Winter Soldier. Diving deeper, to the last time he remembered being James Barnes. He could see it, the train winding it's way through the Soviet snow. He remembered zip-lining down onto the train, the Commandos set on capturing Dr. Zola. As with every other mission he had been on with Steve it was all going according to plan, until it wasn't. He remembered being separated from Steve, the attack and Steve finding him again using his shield to protect him from a blast from the Hydra weapon. He could still feel the cold air burning in his lungs when the side of the train was blasted open. Could still see Steve laying on the ground without his shield. He had picked it up, not for the first time realizing that it was much lighter than he imagined. He had seen Steve perform such amazing feats with this shield that it was hard to imagine that it was as light as it was. The Hydra soldier had fired at the shield rather than Steve, just as Bucky had wanted, but he didn't have Steve's strength, the shield kept the blast from killing him, but it still sent him backwards, flying out of the train. His arms burned with the effort to hold on to the side of the train, there was a flash of hope when Steve appeared, trying desperately to get to him. But it was too late.

Bucky's scream as he fell echoed in his ears.

He could feel her hand on his human arm, the warmth was pulling him back to the present. She had moved him without him realizing it. He was sitting on one of the chairs in her living room, she had one hand on each arm, trying to soothe him. His metal fist was clenched so tightly that he couldn't unclench it. "I'm sorry," she whispered, her voice so gentle that it hurt. After everything he had done, after all the blood that was on his hands, he didn't deserve the gentleness. She let go of his human arm and moved both hands to the metal fist, working to carefully unclench it for him. "I'm sorry," she told him again. "I shouldn't have asked. I had no right. You don't have to tell me."

But he wanted to. It had been so long since he had been allowed to want anything and he was sure that he had never wanted anything more than he wanted to tell her what had happened to him. All of it. He knew that wasn't possible. She wouldn't believe him, or worse - she would and she'd turn him into S.H.I.E.L.D or whatever the hell the organization had become after what happened in Washington. He couldn't tell her all of it. But perhaps he could tell her something.

"I fell," he told her, his words almost a growl. "Saving my best friend."

She stared up at him, her eyes soft. He could feel his heart beating fast, his metal hand twitched in her grasp, he so desperately wanted to clench his fist, but she was still holding the metal hand with both of hers and he would not hurt her. So he stared at her eyes, focusing on them.

They were brown. And he was sure over the years that she had heard all sorts of boring comparisons. He was sure several boys in high school, or bars the world over, had told her they were like chocolate, or honey, or chestnuts. But, for the life of him, he couldn't understand why they would do that, not when her eyes were more than chocolate, more than honey, more than chestnuts. They were the rocks against the shore that destroyed ships. They were a tree's bark that had protected it for hundreds of years. They were the ancient dirt in a graveyard and the strong whiskey he drank to chase the nightmares and memories away. They could melt a man with their facade of chocolate, but then they would crush him with their under-layer of earth and soil.

Yeah, her eyes were brown. And they were torture.

She was still holding his hand, still watching him carefully. After a moment she nodded, lifting his metal hand off his lap and bringing it toward her lips, pressing a quick kiss against his knuckles. He couldn't feel it, but he appreciated the gesture. "You're so ashamed of it," she whispered as she lowered his hand back to his lap. "Always hiding it under layers and layers of sleeves. You shouldn't. It's nothing to be ashamed of. You saved your best friend and lived to talk about it." She shook her head. "You have nothing to be ashamed of, Buck."

But he did.

And suddenly he didn't give a shit how weak it made him. He felt tears welling in his eyes. Tears for all the things he had done and was just starting to remember. Tears for everything he had lost when Bucky fell from that train. Tears for Meg and her undeserved kindness and understanding. He couldn't look at her, he was ashamed. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly, trying to keep the tears at bay, but they burst forth like water from a dam; he could feel them, warm and wet, spilling over his cheeks. There was a static in his head, a hold over from all the months and years he had been forced to be empty, emotionless. Over the static he could hear his own sounds, like a terrified child, raw from the inside out. They had taken everything from him, ripped out everything that made him human, turned him into a monster. And this little girl, this young thing that knew absolutely nothing of his past was trying to give it back. For a lifetime he had been living with an injury that no one could see, but Meg saw it and she was trying to heal it.

His entire body was shaking as what was left of his walls came down. He wasn't strong anymore. He was a weak little shit who couldn't even hold himself up. He dropped to the ground, leaning against her for more support than he deserved. She wrapped her arms tight around his shoulders as his dropped to her waist and he buried his face in the crook of his neck. She was shaking with her effort to hold onto him. His eyes were still open, staring at the pale skin of her neck, interrupted by a small constellation of freckles dotted across her collarbone. She was so innocent, the opposite of him - an assassin who was anything but. There were so many tears, he wondered if he would ever be able to cry enough to wash the blood off his hands.

He could feel her tears falling onto the top of his head as she held him. He wondered if she was crying for him, or for her brother who no one managed to save. He should comfort her, he knew it, but he couldn't find the words, and even if he could he's not sure if he would be able to lift his head from the crook of her neck. All he can do is wrap his arms, both of them, tighter around her waist and hope that she knew how grateful he was for her. For her words. For her presence. For the fact that she wasn't running away. For the fact that she was there, in his arms, warm and real and uncaring of whether he deserved her or not.

-.-.-.-.-

When he woke up the next morning he found himself on his mattress in his empty apartment. He would have thought that the night before had been nothing but a dream, but one of her blankets was draped over him and when he moved to his kitchen his fridge was full of food. He couldn't remember making it back to his apartment, perhaps he had still be crying. But she had gotten him back, and tucked him in it seemed. He folded up her blanket and dropped it on the kitchen table he would bring it back to her later. He turned, prepared to head to the bathroom to take a shower when a note taped to his window caught his attention.

He quickly pulled it off the glass and unfolded it so that he could read her note. Her handwriting was an unexpected comfort, something that had become familiar to him without his notice.

I would have let you sleep at my place but something told me you would have been uncomfortable when you woke up the next morning. So I brought you back.

Anyway, I'm spending the day writing today. So when you're ready come on over.

Maybe you can show me how to use that record player ...

The static was back, buzzing in his head as he stared down at her note, his mind flashing back to when he had been Bucky. To Germany and a stack of letters that he kept under his bunk tied together with an old shoelace. Letters that he reread to himself every night.

His fist clenched, her note crumbled. He shouldn't go over to her apartment, she was already too close, it was too dangerous. If anything he should move out, tonight.

But she wouldn't understand. She would think that he left because of her. And if he were being honest with himself he would miss her too. He thought about leaving now, but as he moved toward the window that led to the emergency escape he could hear her moving around her apartment, singing to herself and he stopped.

He couldn't leave, he wouldn't leave. He'd get no further than a block down the street before he turned around and went back to her. It wasn't worth it. He might not have deserved the girl, he might have been dangerous for her. But he was selfish, and he wanted her - needed her even. He wouldn't go anywhere until she told him to. And perhaps not even then.

So he took a shower.

And when he crawled through his window onto the fire escape instead of taking the stairs he turned right and knocked on her window.

-.-.-.-.-

"Come on!" Meg told him, turning to smile at him over her shoulder as she pulled him down the street. She was holding his gloved metal hand as if it were a normal one and he couldn't take his eyes off of it, how normal it all seemed. He stumbled and she laughed as her left hand came to his chest, catching him. "You're such a klutz," she teased.

"Well, if you would just tell me where we're going," he countered as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her into his side.

"That has nothing to do with your ability to walk upright," she told him as she slipped out from under his arm and continued to lead the way. "And besides, it's a surprise." He wasn't going to argue with her, especially when she was walking in front of him, giving him a great view of her ass. She was wearing a pair of skinny jeans that hugged her curves perfectly. There were days when he saw girls wearing clothes that left so little to the imagination that he missed the knee length dresses from the 40s, but damn did he like jeans.

Especially the ones on Meg.

She turned to him, her brown eyes sparkling as she smiled. "Enjoying the view?" she asked him.

He nodded, "Yeah," he told her, not bothering to hide it, it didn't matter, she knew. "I am." Meg shook her head, but she didn't look too upset about it. She stepped back a bit, moving toward him and taking his hand in hers as she pulled him down the street. He leaned into her, bumping her shoulder with his own. "So where are we going?" he asked, his voice soft.

She sighed, no doubt sick of his questions. "There's an antique market open at Parcul Carol every Sunday," she told him. "I wanted to bring you."

"Why?" he asked, wondering what would make her decide that they should go to an antique market.

She shrugged her shoulders, "You've just got," she waved in his general direction, "this thing about you." He turned to her, an eyebrow raised under his baseball cap. She sighed, "I've told you before," she told him. "You're an old soul. I watch you some times, you're not really comfortable in your own skin. So I thought that you'd enjoy spending a morning away from everything you know. You know?"

He chuckled, she had it backwards. If they were going to an antique fair he would spend the morning around things that he knew. But at the same time it felt like exactly what he needed.

What better place for an antique than an antique fair?


Author's Note:

And I'm back with another update ... man, I am on a roll today. Updated two stories in less than an hour.
Finally found something productive to do during this quarantine.
Well, if anyone is still here, welcome back. And if you're new ... welcome!
I hope that you enjoyed this chapter. If you did, let me know in the reviews! I love reading them!
Until next time,
Chloe Jane.