“I think love is stronger than habits or circumstances. I think it is possible to keep yourself for someone for a long time and still remember why you were waiting when she comes at last.” ~ Peter S. Beagle
“Hello, Bucky,” you said, careful to keep your distance until he at least acknowledged you. He was tense, you could see it from here, the way his tight muscles strained beneath his shirt and how he gripped the counter with white knuckles but he was clean, you noticed. His shirt and jacket were new, probably purchased within the last few days given how clean they were and he'd been wearing a hat, you could tell from his hair. At least he looked like he'd been taking care of himself. “Bucky, it’s me. It's [Name]. I’ve come for you.”
“To take me back,” his voice sounded so strained, low like a whisper, but he also sounded so tired. So exhausted. It broke your heart. You wanted to see his face, you desperately wanted to see his face but you didn't know if you could stand it.
“To take you home,” you corrected, taking a careful step forward and around the metal medical table. You moved slowly toward him, arms raised in front of you and made sure to not make any noise. You kept your footsteps soft, avoided the clutter on the ground and all but held your breath. “Come home with me, Bucky,” you added quietly, pleading with him.
“I won’t go back!” he shouted and rounded on you, metal fist colliding with your raised forearm and you grunted, but held your ground against him. You pushed him back and held up your hands again, surrendering. You didn't want to fight him.
“No, Bucky, please listen-“
“You’re one of them!” he came at you again, skilled fingers flipping a knife that you were certain he intended to bury in your neck. He swung down at you but again you caught his arms, his movements and fighting style etched into your brain and dropped your head back to avoid the tip of his knife. “You wont take me back to them!”
“I don’t want to! Bucky, I swear, I want to take you somewhere safe! Let me help you!”
“Like you helped me before?” he asked and you faltered, shocked and wide-eyed, and fell back when his fist connected with your jaw. You stumbled back and hit the wall, using it to keep yourself up but Bucky was as fast as always and had you were fending him off before you could recover from your blurred vision. Thankfully, years of sparing with him was cemented in your muscles and memory served you well, arms moving without thought and head automatically dodging his punches. You didn’t want to hurt him, you didn’t want to fight him but he could kill you..and he would.
“Bucky, please listen-“ you tried, grunting when a well-timed punch caught you in the stomach and knocked the breathe from your lungs. You crumpled against him, hung over his arm but kept a death grip on his upper arm and shoulder. You shouted in surprise when he grabbed a fistful of your hair and yanked back your head. “Buck-!”
“Stop calling me that,” he sneered, his face so close to yours that you could see the bags under his eyes, the sweat on his brow and the coarse hair of his beard. “You don’t get to call me that.”
“I’m trying to help,” you whispered, wincing at the sharp pain that spread crossed your scalp. Tears welled in your corner of your eyes and you grit your teeth, refusing to cry out. “I can take you to Steve.”
“Shut up!” he yanked hard on your hair and pulled you to the floor, dropping on top of you and wrapping his metal fingers around your neck. “Shut up.”
“He’s outside,” you gasped, trying to grab hold of his metal wrist but your fingers were too slick with sweat and blood so your hands only slid across the smooth surface. “He’s outside. He’s waiting. James-“ you tried, desperate to make him remember you. The real you. The you he once loved.
“Don’t calling me that!” he roared, his voice loud and angry. You had never been on the receiving end of that voice, that tone, and it scared you more than the hand around your neck. He didn't remember you, didn't remember you as his wife, his lover, but he remembered you as HYDRA. You were his enemy. “Only she gets to call me that! You don’t ever call me that!”
She? He did remember his wife, his [Name] but he didn't remember that [i]you[/i] were her. The two of you didn't match up, you were not the wife in his memories, not the woman he used to lie beside, you were the one that helped control him. How cruel, you thought, of Fate to let him remember but not recognize your face. You let out a chocked cry, your strength fading. Maybe this was the end you were meant to have...
“You’re my James...my Bucky....and I love you-”
“Please…” you whispered, shadows spreading across your vision. You tried to speak again, plead with him but you could only choke out a few, strained sounds. You raised your hands, pushed at his face but your strength was gone, your movements sloppy and your fingers fell from his cheeks. Your head lolled to the side and the last thing you saw was a flash of red, white and blue.
“Steve said he probably didn’t recognize you,” Sam said as he dabbed your busted cheek with an antiseptic swab. You just hummed in response, staring left of Sam’s shoulder and through the window into the exam room where Steve and Bucky talked. Steve sat on a desk and Bucky stood, pacing at times. Steve shoved a hand through his hair and then pointed the same hand at Bucky, shouting something you couldn't hear. “He didn’t know who you were.”
“No,” you whispered, “I think he knew exactly who I was.”
“His memories are warped, you said so yourself. He remembers what HYDRA made you do, not who you are,” Sam replied, very sternly, and stared at you until you looked him in the eye. Then he just smiled and you rolled your eyes, but a smile fought its way onto your lips nonetheless. You weren't sure what brought about this kindness from Sam Wilson, but you were grateful. Maybe the two of you would get along after all.
“Thanks, Sam,” you said and went back to staring through the window, watching as the two men talked, both standing now, both taking turns pacing and both using more animated hand gestures than you’d ever seen them use. Bucky let his head drop to his hands and his shoulders slumped. The sight made your chest ache.
“Hey, it’s what I do,” he assured you and stuck a few steri-strips to your cheek before lifting your chin so he could look at the bruising on your neck. Dark, purple and swollen. “How’s it feel?”
“It’s alright. It’ll be gone in a few days,” you answered, looking down at him. “He remembers me, Sam, as HYDRA. Those are the first memories of me that came back to him. How will I ever convince him that I was good once?”
“You won’t have too,” Sam answered and straightened up, crossing his arms over his chest as he stood there, the two of you waiting together. “He’ll remember and he’ll listen when he’s ready.”
“What if he never is?”
Sam sighed and sat down beside you, pulling his arms over his heads and popping his shoulders and elbows before he slumped over with another heavy breath. When he was finally situation, elbows on his knees, he looked over at you. “Do you know Steve talked about you and Bucky?”
“Mhmm. He carries a picture of you, you know, in his wallet.”
“I didn’t know that,” you shook your head and briefly wondered what picture it was. Was it your school picture? Or the ones you took down by the lake? Maybe the ones from Coney Island with all three of you making faces. “What picture is it?”
“It’s just you in a waitress outfit,” Sam answered and you laughed, despite yourself, instantly remembering the moment it was taken. “What’s so funny?”
“I remember that day,” you answered with a small smile. “It was my first day at the diner…”
“Oh, I’m so nervous,” you said, smoothing out the winkles in your work skirt with shaking hands. It was first day at your new job, the local diner, and you were standing outside in the last few minutes before your beginning shift, Steve and Bucky stand with you, of course. “Diners are so fast-paced! What if I get someone’s order wrong or a spill a milkshake on someone?”
“That won’t happen,” Bucky laughed and shook his head, catching your hands before you rubbed a hole in your new skirt. You looked up at him with wide, worried eyes and pouty lips. “Yes, you need this job. We had this conversation.”
“What if they yell at me?” you asked quietly. You knew you were being so childish, worried about getting your feelings hurt but it was more you were worried about being wrong. About failing at this or, at worst, being fired. You did need this job, you needed it so badly, and you didn’t want to screw it up. “Or fire me?”
“You’re being too hard on yourself,” Steve spoke up and Bucky let go of your hands, letting them fall to your sides. You huffed and looked up when Steve laughed. Could they do anything but laugh? Did they have to be so amused? “You’re going to do great.”
“The best waitress this place as ever had,” Bucky confirmed with a nod. You smiled at them. You knew what they were doing.
“Thank you,” you said, still smiling when Steve reached for his camera. You knew he would have rather drawn a picture, and he probably would later, but posing outside of your new workplace probably wouldn’t have been very professional. instead, you folded your hands under your chin and blew him a kiss, your rosy red lips pursed perfectly. Steve snapped the picture a second later. “Good?”
“I spilled milkshakes on three people that day,” you explained to Sam, still smiling at the memory. Would those little memories come back to Bucky too? Or were they lost to him forever? No, you couldn’t think like that, you had to believe it would come to him, just like it had for you. Bucky would remember you, he had too. You didn't know what you'd do if he could only remember you as HYDRA. “But I didn’t get fired.”
“He’ll remember that too,” Sam assured you, “Steve has a way of talking to people. He'll convince him.”
“He was more into using his fists when he was skinny, though,” you said, “He would take on anyone.”
“Still would,” Sam said and the two of you went quiet, just sitting there and waiting for Steve to come back. You didn’t know if Bucky would be with him. A few hours passed and you, filled with you and Sam swapping silly little stories before you finally stood up.
“I think I’m gonna go lay down,” you said and left without another word, making your way to the nearest living room to collapse on the couch. You lay on your side, knees pulled up to your chest and carefully touched the still sore bruising around your neck. Even in your sparring, in all the practice fights and training sessions, he’d never tried to kill you. Fight you, yes. Defeat you? Sure but never kill you. The thought made your stomach churn so you blocked them out, blocked out any thought about Bucky, about your life, about anything and closed your eyes. Sleep was the only comfort you could give yourself.
You hadn’t expected such a pleasant dream, not after today but now you could hear his voice. He was saying your name, your real name, and it sounded so beautiful in his voice. Was it time to wake up already? Maybe the two of you had to go out. Bucky did that sometimes, planned things to surprise you.
“[Name], wake up.”
“Just another minute, Bucky, I’m so tired,” you answered, your response so natural, so easy that it may as well have been 1945 again. You mumbled something and opened your eyes, smiling when his face came into view. He was kneeling in front of the couch, one arm on his bent knee and staring at you with dark eyes. His hair was pushed behind his ears and dark, thick stubble covered his cheeks and jawline.. “You need a shave,” you said, a slight lift to your words, your old accent, and you laughed, reaching out to touch him and brush your fingertips across his face. Oh, he was so warm. What a strange dream, so real it could have really been Bucky before you.
What kind of weird place were you sleeping in, though? Where had you fallen asleep? This wasn’t your bed at all, it was much too uncomfortable, so where was it? Steve’s house? Your parents? You let it go, deciding it didn’t really matter, just that you could have Bucky here in your dreams.
Bucky caught your hand and guided it away from his face. You frowned. Why was he doing that? “Bucky, stop, I’m trying to sleep.”
“You’ve slept for the last five hours,” he said, looking over at the clock. You looked too, noticed it was well after 11pm and sat up, taking in the room around you. One of Stark’s many living rooms. You weren’t dreaming at all.. You looked down at Bucky, who was still knelt in front of you and slowly pulled your hands from his. You put them on your knees and just stared at him, taking in his appearance now that he wasn’t trying to suffocate you. Long hair, beard, dark eyes…a face you definitely recognized but weren’t expecting to see. There were bags under his eyes and his cheeks were a bit hollow, sunken in, and it made his jaw look sharp and his nose long.
“What is it?” you asked, your throat sore from sleep and your voice scratchy. You dreaded what he had come to say, to hear what he thought of you and decided that whatever it was, you wouldn’t blame him. None of this was his fault. It never had been. You would listen to what he said and respond reasonably, appropriately and do whatever he asked of you. If you wanted you gone, you’d leave. Whatever he asked, you would do. It was the least you could do. You silently hoped he wouldn't ask you to leave.
“I know who you are,” he said, staring at you with those dark eyes you loved and now feared. What did he see? What did he think? You wished you could still read him, still know what he was working over in his head but there was nothing. He could have been thinking about Russian military history for all you could tell. “I know you.”
“Yes,” you nodded, “I’m your nurse.”
“No, you’re my wife.”