Scraping Through My Head Till I Don't Want to Sleep Anymore

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She isn't one of the earliest risers in the Tower, but she does like to move around in the stillness before the others awaken. Clint is the only other person on her floor, and he will never wake up earlier than she does. So she gets to enjoy the quiet without having to lose sleep, and she likes that. She fixes herself breakfast and sits on the couch in her pajamas, taking pleasure in the loose-fitting clothing for a little longer.

When she's done, she showers and dresses in her usual figure-hugging clothing. It's comfortable, but in a different way. She's reminded to be on – to be anyone she has to be. Not that she's expecting to need that today, there aren't any missions, but it's a ritual she always goes through in the morning (or evening, if required). Since all her secrets (well, most of them) were leaked, the ritual feels more important, more necessary. Even if living here puts her in close contact with those who are fond of her anyway.

Clint is still asleep, so she heads down to Steve's to see if he's around. It's late and she would have thought he'd be done jogging by now, but apparently not. James is nowhere to be found, which is strange. Not particularly wanting to just park herself in front of the TV, she decides to go see if he's on the roof. She's always uncertain of her welcome with him, which is not the norm for her. Most people are easier to read, easier to predict. His customary expressionless makes her question whether he likes her company or merely puts up with it because of Steve. She figures if he didn't like her, though, he'd tell Steve or maybe Sam and they'd let her know. None of them should be concerned with hurting her feelings in that regard.

The day is chilly, though unseasonably warm for this time of year, and she smiles a little when the doors open and she feels the breeze. It's probably a good day for jogging, she thinks but has no intention of acting on. James is sitting in his usual spot, hands between his knees and legs close together as though he's trying to make himself look smaller. It's not body language she has often seen in him (though it's what Steve does most of the time), and she's a little concerned.

Slowly, she moves away from the door, making sure that the sound of her footsteps is noticeable on the cement beneath her. He doesn't react, though she can see that something is troubling him. When she gets closer, all expression is wiped away from his face and he looks intently at the ground near her feet.

"Hey, James. Mind if I join you?" she asks gently.

His eyes flicker to hers for a moment before he nods.

She sits down about a yard away in one of the lawn chairs provided. He's sitting against the corner where the building meets a little landscaped wall, no doubt finding it a more secure place to be. Glancing over at him, she is disturbed to see that he has grown more obviously nervous. She clears her throat and he looks over sharply.

"I can leave if you want to be alone," she tells him quietly.

He licks his lips, his gaze intense but unreadable. "Stay," he manages a little hoarsely.

"Alright." She smiles at him and leans back, closing her eyes, enjoying the nice weather.

"What do you remember about the Red Room?" he asks suddenly, and she almost jumps.

Turning to look at him again, she smiles self-effacingly. "Nothing I like to dwell on. Why?" He's not looking at her this time, staring into the middle distance, clearly deep in thought. "James, what is it?"

"I remember you," he whispers.

Without context for the comment, she just frowns a little in confusion. Of course he remembers her – they've seen each other frequently for weeks. Then she thinks perhaps his question was the context and considers carefully how to keep this from becoming volatile. "You do?" she finally responds.

He nods slowly. "I was ... one of your instructors," he says in a tone that makes her think he wanted to describe it in some other way.

Her brow furrows in thought as she considers the veracity of his statement. "James," she begins gently, focusing on his face. His expression almost pleads with her, and she reconsiders. That doesn't make sense. She remembers her instructors, remembers being taught. She remembers leaving there to marry Alexei. Maybe James wasn't there for very long, and it just slipped her mind. Somehow...

"What did you teach?" she says instead of trying to convince him he's mistaken.

"Hand-to-hand combat. Target practice." He shrugs, seeming disappointed by her reaction.

"I don't remember that," she tells him honestly, apologetically. She doesn't ask him if he's sure it's true, since his uncertainty becomes more apparent each time she speaks.

Frowning at the concrete pathway, he grimaces briefly. "I do," he says with surprising vehemence.

She blinks at him, feeling like this is a much more delicate situation than she was prepared to deal with this morning. "Why are you telling me this, James?"

It hurts to look at his startled expression, and she is relieved when he turns his attention to an errant stone by her foot. "Because... because everything is hard to grasp. It's a mess. But I know it was you. I... It's been coming back for a while and I wanted to be sure before I said anything. We were," he trails off, clearing his throat uncomfortably. "Close."

"That wouldn't have been allowed," she says without thinking.

He smiles grimly. "I know. We were punished for it. I think they made us forget."

She turns this idea over in her mind. There were things they did to her, things she doesn't remember. It would be plausible that this is just another one of those. But she feels a little blindsided because of the source. He's watching her, looking concerned – no, worried – and maybe apologetic. As though any of this were his fault.

"Is that how they usually punished you?" she asks distantly.

"I don't know," he answers angrily. Though his ire is not directed toward her, she is a little startled by it. Then she smiles slightly: it's good to see him angry. He has reason to be. Steve is always trying to soothe him, to keep him from hurting himself or others. But she doesn't think he would hurt anyone. At least, not anyone who didn't deserve it. And maybe keeping all those strong emotions tightly under wraps isn't exactly healthy.

He's watching her, perplexed by her smile, uncertain at her response to his temper. "You're right to be upset, James," she tells him. His eyes narrow slightly, but otherwise his expression remains the same. She clears her throat, looking away as she considers what to say. "I don't know what might have happened in the Red Room, to either of us. I know what was done there was horrifying. And we could have known each other. I don't... I don't remember anyone... else," she says haltingly.

"Besides Alexei," he supplies when she falls silent.

When she looks up at him, his expression is unreadable and she isn't sure how to proceed. "Yeah. I'm sorry."

He shrugs, getting to his feet. "It's in the past," he mutters as he heads toward the door.

"James," she stops him, following him, grabbing his arm. He glares, but not at her. She takes a deep breath, trying to find the right thing to say. "You aren't Bucky anymore, but that's okay. And you're not the Soldier anymore, either. You can be whomever you want to be. Coming to terms with your past is part of that, but it's just a jumping off point. It doesn't determine who you are now."

His expression softens a little and he nods. "I'm glad you're my friend," he tells her, and pulls away. She watches him go, the unexpected reaction she has to being called his friend overwhelmed by the more unexpected reminder of halting Alexei in a similar fashion.

P

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