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Captain America fic: Worth Waiting For (1/1)

December 19th, 2016 (05:39 am)

feeling: dirty

Title: Worth Waiting For

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

A/N: For kristen_mara. Steve/Bucky still isn’t something I’m great at writing, but I do what I can. Merry Christmas!

A/N 2: Unbeta’ed. This is my side effects square for hc_bingo. Set after Civil War.

Summary: Honestly, it was a hell of a choice to make. Deciding what risks were worth it and what side effects were acceptable. He was dictating the quality of life of his best friend.


It had been two years.

Two years of waiting; two years of hiding; two years or protecting from the shadows. Steve had kept his word to Bucky, keeping watch, and he’d done his best to keep his word to Tony, keeping lines of communication option with the rest of the now-defunct Avengers. Mostly, though, Steve kept his word to himself, keeping close to Bucky until a solution was found.

He understood, after all, that things didn’t happen unless you made them happen, and he wasn’t about to be cavalier with Bucky’s future. If a cure was going to be found, it was up to Steve to make sure it happened.

In this, T’Challa was very helpful, giving Steve access to resources and geniuses. It wasn’t quite like Tony’s vast repositories at Stark Tower, but T’Challa was a king and Wakanda was reclusive but it certainly wasn’t the backwater refuge the press made it out to be.

It was ironic, maybe, that the final piece of the puzzle fell into place from Tony. Sitting across from his once-friend, once-enemy, Steve had to admit he was surprised.

“What?” Tony asked, fiddling with the papers in his lap. “You think I’m not capable of forgiving and forgetting?”

Steve raised his eyebrows.

Tony rolled his eyes with a sigh. He sat forward, laying the papers flat between them on the table in Steve’s sparse room in Wakanda. “He killed my parents, okay? That’s a lot, and it’s not something I can just overlook. But I’m also not stupid. I know what brainwashing is. I know the psychological mechanisms, and I know the drug cocktails and electronic interventions the freaks at Hydra would have used. And I mean, I don’t know. I’m a guy who likes to solve problems. And let me tell you’ve, I’ve had a lot problems these last two years I couldn’t solve.”

Tony didn’t elaborate on those, but Steve knew. He knew the Avengers were still a mess; he knew that the Sokovia Accords were still being worked out. He knew that there were new threats, mounting political pressure, and no easy answers for superheroes.

He also knew that Pepper still hadn’t moved back in.

Steve knew.

Tony shrugged, sitting back again. “This was one I could solve,” he said finally, flitting his hands through the air.

Steve looked at Tony; he looked at the papers. “No offense,” he said. “But--”

“But you don’t think you can trust me,” Tony said. He paused with an overly dramatic sigh. “As fun as revenge might be, I’m over that. Even I am capable of acting like adult when given enough time.”

Steve smiled, just a little.

“I was trying to do the right thing before,” Tony said, more seriously now. “Because you were my friend.”

Steve found himself nodding. “Hard to believe that friends are in such short supply these days.”

“We both know it,” Tony said. “And I may never be able to forgive him, but you -- yeah, I think I can pull that off.”

Finally, Steve pulled the papers closer, starting to look them over.

“Give them to the Wakandan scientists,” Tony advised. “I’d rather have my own people handle it, but your feline host was a little reluctant. They should be able to figure it out.”

“It’s a medication?” Steve asked, flipping to another page.

“Among other things,” Tony said. “I mean, you’ll want to do other psychological therapies as needed, but that concoction should be able to inhibit the receptors that are triggered.”

“How sure are you?” Steve asked.

“My dad used it back after the war on several suspected sleeper agents with great results,” Tony said. “It got put away, though, because it was a little controversial with the FDA.”

Steve narrowed his eyes. “Controversial how?”

“It’s a potent cocktail, I’m not going to lie,” Tony said. “You can expect some side effects while he adapts to it.”

“Side effects?”

“It’s all in there,” Tony said. “Including the previous case studies and the FDA’s rejection. If you think it’s too much, it’s not skin off my back. But if you want to get him out of there, this is your best shot.”

Tony jabbed his fingers at the papers knowingly.

Steve looked at them again, this time with hesitation. He wet his lips. “Tony, I know it couldn’t have been easy to come here--”

“Swallowing my pride and helping the man who literally wrapped his fingers around my mom’s throat?”

Steve tried not to let his discomfort show. “That’s just it. How can I -- I mean, how can I know--”

“That I’m not trying to do something worse to Barnes?” Tony finished for him, expectantly.

Steve shrugged, almost sheepish.

“I’m not doing this for Barnes,” Tony said, completely serious now. “I’m doing this for you.”

“But why?” Steve asked.

Tony drew a breath, getting to his feet. “Like I said, I had a lot problems I couldn’t solve these last few years,” he said. “This one, I could.”

That was when Steve knew that Tony wasn’t talking about Bucky.

“Anyway,” Tony said. “Look it over. Talk to the science team. Make your choice. That’s all any of us can do, right?”


Right, Steve thought to himself as he reviewed the data again. Right.

He’d read the file three times himself; he’d handed it over to the science team and had them read it five times, minimum. He’d talked it through, scrutinizing every detail, even calling on T’Challa to bring in a round of outside experts just to be sure.

They all said what Tony had told him; it would work, but not without side effects.

On paper, they didn’t seem so bad. Headaches, nausea, muscle spasms, weakness, blurred vision. Maybe for a few days. Maybe for a month.

Maybe always.

It was possible, of course, they’d find a better solution. In a few days, in a month, in a few years. In a few lifetimes. I was possible that Steve would stay in Wakanda forever, growing old while Bucky stayed in stasis. It was possible that this time, he’d be the one to live while the thing that mattered stayed frozen in front of him.

It was possible that if Steve waited, Bucky could wake up and have the full life he wanted, no side effects at all.

No Steve at all.

Honestly, it was a hell of a choice to make. Deciding what risks were worth it and what side effects were acceptable. He was dictating the quality of life of his best friend.

He knew what it was like to wake up when the world had changed without you.

He knew what it was to be forever young when the people you love grow old and die.

He knew what it was.

And he wouldn’t wish it on Bucky.

He couldn’t.

God help him, he just hoped Bucky understood.


“He will be very groggy and disoriented,” the lead doctor explain to Steve. “We will wake him slowly over the course of several days to help minimize his body’s reaction, but even when he is fully conscious and removed from stasis, you can expect him to be weak.”

“And you’ll give him the first dose?” Steve asked, rocking back on his heels as he looked anxiously at Bucky’s still form.

“With your permission, we will administer it now,” the doctor said. “We have intravenous capabilities to keep him in stasis. It will be easy.”

“And that’s safe?” Steve asked.

“I would almost consider giving him a full regimen for a month, and skip the symptomatic phase altogether,” the doctor said.

“So why won’t you?” Steve prompted.

The doctor gave him a small smile. “Given the nature of the cocktail and the potential side effects, I do not think it is wise,” he explained. “We cannot fully assess his quality of life unless he is conscious enough to experience the cocktail.”

“So you won’t know if it’s something he can live with unless he actually lives with it,” Steve concluded grimly, looking at Bucky again.

“This is still entirely your choice,” the doctor said. “Mr. Barnes gave you full discretion--”

Full discretion was an overstatement. He hadn’t given Steve the freedom to make the choice. He’d given Steve the responsibility to make it right. He was trusting Steve to bring him back as soon and as safe as possible.

Bucky wasn’t scared of the side effects.

Bucky was scared of no side effects.

“Do it,” Steve said, nodding resolutely. “Do it now.”


As expected, the first few days were slow. While Bucky was weaned off the drugs, his body responded in minimal increments, but Steve was there to watch every second.

He tracked the slow increase in Bucky’s heart rate, watching as his blood pressure danced ever higher. Temperature, respiration, brain activity all started to rebound, slowly but surely.

It had been a long two years for Steve, no doubt about it.

These were the longest two days yet.


With rising vitals, the team transferred Bucky to a bed in an effort to make him more comfortable.

Surrounded by wires and machines, Steve hardly thought his friend looked comfortable.

Still, Steve could finally hold Bucky’s hand and scoot his chair closer to the edge of Bucky’s bed, so he wasn’t about to complain.


Then, he started to wake up.

Sure, Steve knew that Bucky had been waking up for days, but watching numbers on a screen wasn’t the same as seeing him move. Bucky started shifting in his sleep, eyes fluttering as he started to mumble from time to time.

Steve waited with baited breath, anxious and ready.

After all, it had been two years.

A lot more than that, if he were honest. He’d been asleep himself for the better part of a century, and ever since he’d come face to face with the winter soldier, there had been an ache in his chest that just didn’t go away.

There was a reason that Steve had been willing to throw everything when push came to shove (and more). As much as Steve wanted to pretend otherwise, it wasn’t all about principle.

It was about Bucky.

It was about clinging to the one thing he had left, the one thing he’d always had.

The only thing he’d need.

It made him wonder if he was being selfish in this. If he’d made the wrong choice.

But he wanted to be here when Bucky found himself again.

They’d find each other, Steve was pretty sure.


“I thought you said he’d be awake by now,” Steve said, keeping his voice in a hushed whisper just outside Bucky’s room.

The doctor took a measured breath. “There is no precise way to predict any of this.”

“This is Bucky’s life, we’re talking about,” Steve hissed. “We can’t be taking chances.”

“With respect, Mr. Rogers,” the doctor said. “That is all we can take.”


Finally, after nearly a week in and out of consciousness, Bucky opened his eyes.

And kept them open.

For a long moment, he stared at the ceiling. His forehead creased in apparent confusion, and he seemed to be calculating the effect of every breath in and out of his body. Steve could see it, the gears in his head working, putting together his circumstances, as if trying to figure out where he was.

Who he was, maybe.

Steve wanted to speak, but he couldn’t bring himself to move. His tongue felt like a rock in his mouth, and his feet were glued to the floor. He was sitting there, frozen in place, when Bucky’s head turned and his eyes laid on Steve.

Another moment passed, this one even more interminable than the last.

At that, Steve couldn’t even breathe. The pressure in his chest built to impossible levels, and he thought for all his super soldier DNA, he might just have a heart attack right there at Bucky’s hospital bed.

Then, Bucky wet his lips. He drew another breath, weak and ragged. “Steve,” he said, voice all but a croak. He swallowed again, wincing in pain. He shut his eyes for a second, rallying what strength he could find before he looked at Steve again. “You been waiting there long?”

The relief spread through Steve with so much intensity that he almost cried. Inching forward again, he rested his hand on Bucky’s arm. “Long enough,” he said, smiling now. “Long enough.”


The first thing that happened was a complete physical.

It wasn’t as if the doctors hadn’t been running tests daily, but they arranged for a full battery of examinations, pelting Bucky with nonstop questions for hours. After nearly half a day of this, Steve quietly asked them to leave, more than ready for some time with his best friend himself.

“He is showing remarkable resilience after the deep sedation,” the doctor reported, sounding genuinely pleased.

“He’s a fighter,” Steve remarked. “What about the drug cocktail?”

The doctor sobered somewhat at the question, drawing his lips together thoughtfully. “It is a bit early to say for sure how his body will handle it,” he advised cautiously. “As his autonomic functions return to normal, we are probably going to see more of the predicted side effects.”

“But he’s fine now? He’s okay?” Steve asked, just needing to hear it.

“Enjoy the victory for his day,” the doctor said with a calm pat on the shoulder. “For tomorrow is a whole new battle.”


To his disappointment, when he settled back down next to Bucky, the former winter soldier was already asleep.

Steve watched him, his breathing even as he rested. They were close enough to touch; and this time, neither of them was going anywhere.

Steve had waited this long.

He could manage a little bit longer.


This was how it was in Steve’s life.

The second he got everything he wanted, the real work began.


Progress was one step forward and two steps back, and Bucky still slept more than he was awake. It took time for his internal organs to start functioning normally again, and it was a good week before his kidneys started producing urine again.

The doctor said this was excellent news.

Steve would have been inclined to believe him until he actually had to help Bucky go to the bathroom.

That wasn’t how it started, naturally. Groggy as he was, Bucky still had a strong sense of pride. He’d been adamant about getting rid of the catheter as soon as he could, but when he tried to get up to use the restroom, he nearly fell face first onto the floor.

Fortunately, Steve had super reflexes. Bucky never got that far.

“Hey, easy there,” Steve coached, trying to prop his best friend back up.

Bucky gasped, face contorted, and he made a mewl of protest as Steve deposited him neatly back on the bed in a seated position.

With a steady hand still on Bucky’s shoulder, Steve offered his most reassuring smile. “You’ve been out of it for a while,” he said. “Your muscles need some time.”

Bucky was breathing heavily, and he looked up at Steve through the greasy strands of his unkempt hair. “I can do this,” he said, the words punctuated by utter exhaustion. The doctor had warned Steve about this, about how Bucky’s stamina would be among the last things to come back.

It was hard to imagine, given what he knew of Bucky’s previous training. He was a skilled fighter, a trained killer. And here he was, unable to stand on his own.

They were starting over, at least.

Steve kept his smile in place. “There’s no need to rush things, Buck,” he said. “No one expects--”

Bucky grit his teeth visibly, twisting his nose into a sneer of determination. “I can do this,” he said again, as if he could will his body into compliance. With extreme effort, he pushed himself up again, breathing tautly through his nose while his entire body trembled at the exertion. “I can.”

The words almost broke on a sob that Bucky just barely managed to keep at bay. Since he’d woken up, Bucky had made sparse conversation, asking if Steve was okay and if everything was taken care of. The implications of that were something of a consideration, but Bucky had always drifted back to sleep before the conversation went any further.

This wasn’t a question, though. This was a statement of fact. A statement of need.

Bucky was weak and sick and uncertain of his own mind; Steve had to take his mental stability -- or lack thereof -- into consideration as well. This wasn’t merely a physical recovery; this was an emotional one, too.

Decided, Steve came alongside Bucky, easing an arm around him.

At once, Buck stiffened and tried to pull away. Steve didn’t yield.

Dark eyes flashing with hurt, Bucky’s look was nothing short of desperation.

Steve swallowed back his own emotions and gave a resolute bob of his head. “We can do it.”

Bucky wanted to fight, that much was clear. He wanted to protest, to argue, subvert. But Steve was solid and unwavering; he was a fixed point in the sea of chaos. Bucky couldn’t fight him now, not even if he wanted to.

Steve wasn’t about to force him, though.

But he would stand fast until Bucky changed his mind.

It took several long seconds, tremulous heartbeats, before Bucky lowered his head and drew closer to Steve, balancing himself against his best friend without so much as a word.

He didn’t need to say it.

Steve didn’t need to hear it.

All they had to do was walk together, step by step, side by side, like they had when they were kids in Brooklyn.

A lot had changed since then, Steve reflected.

He held fast to Bucky.

And not nearly as much as anyone might have thought.


When Bucky was cleared for solid foods, Steve thought it was another step in the right direction.

When Bucky threw up his entire dinner after no more than three bites, Steve wasn’t sure what direction they were going in after all.


A trip to the bathroom became a trip to the window. A trip to the window became a trip down the hall. After another week, Bucky was shuffling along the corridors of the private Wakandan research facility.

Steve said hello to all the workers, making a point to pay extra attention to the nurses and doctors assigned to Bucky’s care.

Bucky spent each trip looking at his feet, counting the steps until they were done.


“He’s doing good, right?” Steve asked, pulling the doctor aside in the hall.

“His progress is as expected,” the doctor agreed.

“So all this -- it’s just from the reanimation?” Steve wondered. “What about the drug?”

The doctor gave him a sympathetic smile. “I’m afraid I have no way of answering that for sure.”

“It just seems like he’s doing well, is all,” Steve said. “So maybe we got lucky?”

“Luck is not so much a scientific concept,” the doctor said.

“Yeah,” Steve said, chewing his lip as he glanced through the window at Bucky, who was sleeping again. “I just like to think that maybe this time it’s on my side.”


That was the problem with being a soldier, though.

Everything in life was a battle.


First, Bucky missed a step on their morning walk. Then, he collapsed trying to get up from the toilet. He woke up crying at night, curled over in pain. When he tried to feed himself, his fingers shook too hard to get the food to his mouth.

“It’s normal,” Steve said as patiently as he could. “You’ve been asleep for two years.”

“And I was walking last week,” Bucky seethed, trying to prop himself up on trembling legs. “There’s something wrong.”

Steve held fast, helping along several paces. “This isn’t going to be a smooth process, you know that.”

“I can feel it, though,” Bucky said, his cheeks flushed now. He shook his head. “Something’s different.”

“You’re just overdoing it,” Steve coaxed as they neared the room again. “You’ll see.”

It felt wrong, naturally. Captain America stood for truth and freedom.

It was appropriate, then, that he wasn’t Captain America anymore.


It got worse.

Bucky struggled with stamina, and he couldn’t feed himself anymore. They’d started using the bedpan again, and the doctors were talking about a feeding tube, when Steve shook his head. “He doesn’t need a feeding tube.”

“He can’t feed himself; his body mass is getting dangerously low,” the doctor explained.

“That’s not digestive, though,” Steve said. “I mean, he’s doing better keeping stuff down.”

“But his consumption has gone down significantly,” the doctor pointed out. “I doubt he can even hold a fork at this point.”

“Then we do it for him,” Steve said, blunt and unwavering.

The doctor looked vexed. “You’re talking about round the clock care.”

Steve scoffed. “And what do you think I’ve been doing for the last two years?”


It was Steve’s choice.

So it was Steve’s responsibility.

True, it was a choice he made on Bucky’s behalf. He didn’t have to ask his friend about the medical interventions because he knew how vehemently Bucky would object to them. Clinically, he understood the doctor’s point, but he knew what had happened to Bucky. He knew what medical intervention had done.

Bucky had trusted him when he went under two years ago.

Steve was still trying to prove himself worthy of that trust. Sometimes, he had his doubts.

But Bucky had never questioned him, and his tacit acceptance spoke volumes. Bucky was only making one choice these days, to trust Steve.

It was up to Steve to take care of the rest.


“This is humiliating,” Bucky said, crossing his arms over his chest. He looked like a petulant child; he was acting like one two. It would have been convincing, if not for the growing hollows of his cheeks.

Steve resolved to remain calm. “Trust me, there are worse alternatives.”

Bucky narrowed his eyes, glaring at the bowl of soup in Steve’s hand. “I’m fine.”

“Oh, okay, my mistake,” Steve said. He held out the bowl. “This is all yours then.”

Bucky eyed it knowingly. Stubborn as he may be, he wasn’t stupid. And as humiliating as the prospect of being fed by his best friend might have been, spilling his dinner down his front was equally upsetting. Bucky didn’t have the energy to lift the spoon, and his fine motor skills had been the slowest to rebound, making the simple act of getting food in his mouth a trial. With so much work going into eating, Bucky had avoided it altogether -- to the detriment of his stamina and the rest of his recovery.

It was a fine line to walk, testing Bucky’s pride without shattering it, but Steve considered himself up for the challenge.

There really wasn’t any other option.

Steve drew the bowl back, readying a spoonful. “Besides, it’s no less than you’ve done for me,” he said, as easily as he could. “You were always taking care of me when I was sick as a kid.”

The tension eased, if only marginally, in Bucky’s frame. “You were always coming down with something.”

“And I never had to go through it alone,” Steve said. “Anything I needed, anything. You were there. All I’m doing now is returning the favor.”

It was a compelling argument, based in nostalgia and logic. Bucky let his arms drop back to his sides. “You’re not telling me something.”

“Well, you’ve been out of it for two years,” Steve said. “There’s a lot of things I’m not telling you.”

Bucky shook his head. “Something important.”

Steve gave him a quizzical look. “Like what?”

“Like why you woke me up in the first place,” Bucky said, giving voice to the question Steve had hoped not to answer. “I made my request very clear--”

“And I followed it, I promise,” Steve said.

Bucky swallowed hard, his resolve faltering. “You sure I’m okay?”

“Well, if you’d eat--”

Bucky shook his head. “You’re sure I’m okay?”

Steve found himself hesitating, the words hard to form over the lump in his throat. “Your head is fine,” he finally said.

“The programming?” Bucky asked.

“Shouldn’t be an issue,” Steve said. He could explain how hard he worked to snuff out all traces of the programmer’s notes. He could talk about the books he’d stolen from historical collections, the HYDRA files he’d had Sharon purge from SHIELD’s system. He’d scrubbed away every trace of the programming used to trigger Bucky from the outside.

He let his eyes rest guiltily on the IV in Bucky’s arm -- the only medical intervention Steve had insisted stay in place. It was the only measure he knew to make sure the programming was gone from the inside, too. Dangerous, experimental, every guarantee of success with no guarantee of the quality of life.

How could Steve explain that he’d picked the way that was best for him this time? How could he tell Bucky that he’d waited two years and he’d been willing to sacrifice Bucky’s physical well being for his own emotional resonance?

It was the truth; the programming wasn’t going to be an issue.

Steve didn’t know how to admit that he feared everything else would be.

Bucky was watching him. “Are you sure?”

Steve tightened his jaw and nodded. “Yes.”

Bucky brought his eyebrows together, uncertain. “Are you lying to me?”

“No,” Steve said, because the truth was simple, even when the consequences were so damn hard.

Bucky had the right to ask for more; hell, Steve almost wanted him to. But Bucky didn’t. Bucky nodded, letting out a long, tired breath. Wearily, he almost smiled. “Okay, then,” he said. “I guess I can get through the rest.”

Steve cocked his head, surprised. “You sure?”

“Go ahead, feed me,” Bucky said with a sigh of resignation. “I mean, this can’t last forever, can it?”

Lifting up the spoon, Steve tried to smile.

He really, really hoped Bucky was right about that.


The doctors warned him, day after day, how hard it was. How it was going to get harder.

“Those side effects, I fear we may just be seeing the start,” the doctor said.

Steve was sure they were trying to do their due diligence. Maybe they wanted to make sure he didn’t feel responsible, that he didn’t set unrealistic expectations for himself, for Bucky. Even T’Challa visited, checking in on Bucky’s progress.

“You are a superhero, I know,” T’Challa said with a kind smile. “But that does not make you capable of the impossible.”

“Never wanted to do the impossible,” Steve said.

T’Challa inclined his head. “You aspire for the improbable, then?”

“I’m just here, doing what I can,” Steve said, shrugging his shoulder. “That’s the most any of us can do.”

“Good luck, my friend,” T’Challa said. “I think you are going to need it.”


Steve didn’t need luck, though.

He just needed hard work.

Fortunately, Steve had become a superhero late in life, after he’d established his strong work ethic and undying determination. Steve wasn’t the kind of person who did things because they were easy.

He did them because they were right.

And he didn’t just do.

Steve Rogers succeeded.


They worked for every step. They fought for every bite. Steve struggled for every pound Bucky gained, every refined skill he mastered. It was slow, tedious work. It was exhausting, and sometimes it left them both in tears.

But they made progress together.

Slow, unsteady, uncertain.

But together.


“I want to take him home,” Steve announced to the doctor one morning.

The doctor appeared puzzled. “I know Mr. Barnes is making significant progress, but I think you are being premature--”

Steve was already shaking his head. “He’s making okay progress, but I know he can do better.”

“Yes, with time and commitment--”

“And space,” Steve said. “He feels trapped in here. Always being watched and monitored.”

“I feel compelled to remind you that Mr. Barnes is still very weak and facing a long recovery.”

“I know, trust me,” Steve said. “But you’ve said it yourself, he’s making significant progress. He’s able to eat and go to the bathroom on his own. His body is doing everything it needs to do.”

“Yes, he seems to be rebounding well from the stasis,” the doctor agreed. “But you’re forgetting about the unknown side effects from the drug cocktail. Not to mention the cognitive and behavioral therapy we need to supplement it.”

“And I’ll bring him in for that, as often as you want,” Steve said. “You can check him daily for all I care.”

The doctor regarded him cautiously. They knew each other well enough by now; he knew when Steve set his mind to something, he really set his mind to it. “Do you sincerely believe you can offer him better care in a home setting?”

Steve wet his lips but didn’t look away. “If he’s going to fully recover, he has to believe he has a life after this. Being in this facility, day after day, it’s more of the same for him. This drug will break the control in his mind, but we need to give him the belief that it’s really possible or it won’t matter what the drug can do.”

The doctor worked his jaw, finally inclining his head. “You should be warned of the potential complications,” he said. “Things I could not even predict yet.”


“And I would demand a strict therapy schedule, both here and at home,” the doctor continued.

“I’m an army man,” Steve reminded him with a smile. “I know about the importance of training.”

The doctor smiled gently. “This is well and good,” he said. “But you will also need all your courage for this task.”

“I fought Nazi Germany,” Steve said. “Not to mention aliens.”

“Indeed,” the doctor agreed. “But they will be nothing compared to this.”

Steve just kept smiling. “Sometimes you don’t have to win a war,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to survive it.”


For all of Steve’s effort in getting him out, Bucky was reluctant to go.

“The doctors really think I’m ready?” he asked, watching anxiously while Steve packed up the sparse belongings he’d accumulated.

Steve put a few more books into the bag. “You’re gaining strength back after stasis just as expected.”

Bucky did not seem overly convinced. “I still feel pretty bad, though.”

“Being here won’t make you feel any better,” Steve said, reaching for a few pairs of socks now. “Getting out of here might be just the distraction you need.”

Silently, Bucky watched him, face drawn in a brood. “But--”

“I’ve cleared this with the docs, trust me,” Steve said. “You’re going to be fine.”

“But what about my head,” Bucky blurted. He blinked his bright eyes, doing what he could to keep his emotions in check. “I just -- you say it’s taken care of, but if I’m out there, then we can’t control everything. If someone finds me, if I’m triggered--”

Steve stopped what he was doing. “Bucky--”

“I’m serious, Steve,” Bucky said, voice tinged with emotion now. “I can’t trust myself--”

“I told you, it’s taken care of,” Steve said.

“But how can you be sure?” Bucky asked, sounding somewhat desperate now. “I thought I had it under control before, too--”

“It’s different this time,” Steve said.

“How?” Bucky asked. “How?”

Steve stepped away from the bag, drawing closer to Bucky. “Because you were alone before,” he said, sitting down on the bed next to Bucky. “You’re not alone this time.”

Bucky’s eyes were brimmed with tears. “If I go full Winter Soldier--”

“You won’t,” Steve said. “I promise. And when have I ever broke a promise?”

For as much as Bucky wanted to protest, Steve saw the words die in his mouth. His shoulders slumped, and he shook his head. “You’re too damn good, Steve. You always have been.”

“I know you don’t trust yourself, okay? And I know there’s a lot I haven’t told you yet, and if you want me to explain it all, I will, right now,” Steve said. “But if you want to wait until you’re ready, then all you have to do is trust me.”

Hesitating, Bucky nodded. “Easiest thing in the world.”

Steve let himself smile, hoping it was true. “Easiest thing in the world.”


The grand homecoming had seemed much grander in Steve’s head.

In reality, Steve brought Bucky back to a lackluster apartment with small windows and few belongings. He’d moved to Wakanda in a haste, and while he probably could have asked Nat or Sharon to forward him a few of his things, he felt rather compelled not to ask for personal favors, given how much he’d already cost those loyal to him.

He had lived in Wakanda for two years, but his apartment hadn’t been much more than a place to sleep and eat. He’d found some books and gotten a laptop thanks go T’Challa’s generosity. He’d taken a job at the lab to make ends meet, but most of the extra cash had gone to his search on Bucky’s behalf. Clothes, decor, recreational pursuits -- they had all seemed superfluous while Bucky was in stasis.

It had been even more tumultuous since getting Bucky out of stasis. The entire place was covered in a layer of dust, and Steve reflected belatedly that he probably didn’t have anything still edible in his fridge. He wasn’t even sure he had enough bedding to make up a place for himself on the couch.

For a fleeting second, he hoped Bucky might not notice.

Shuffling inside, though, Bucky gave the place a withering assessment. “Love what you’ve done with the place,” he quipped. “I think you’ve managed to make your mom’s place in Brooklyn during the 1930s look decadent.”

Steve deposited their bags. “Yeah, well, seeing your last place inspired me,” he said. “I took all my decor tips from you.”

Bucky laughed, short, sweet and real. When he looked at Steve, the smile reached his eyes.

Suddenly, Steve realized, the house didn’t seem so sparse after all.


They took their time settling in. Although Steve wasn’t one for extravagances, he called in a few favors with people from the labs, getting someone to pick up some groceries and other supplies. He did laundry and helped move Bucky into the bedroom.

“I can sleep on the couch,” Bucky said, watching a little guiltily as Steve made up the bed.

“Don’t be silly,” Steve replied. “I’ve been sleeping on a chair for the last few weeks anyway. The couch will be an improvement.”

“Steve,” Bucky said, giving him an imploring look.

Steve wasn’t going to have it, though. He turned down the blankets and stood up straight. “You’ve been sleeping in stasis for two years, Buck. This bed isn’t much, but it’s the least I can give you.”

“I was the one who made the choice to go to sleep,” Bucky reminded him.

“And I’m the one who got you out of it,” Steve countered. “You’re taking the bed.”

Bucky drew a long breath and let it out. “This is going to be a thing, isn’t it?”

“What thing?” Steve asked with a shrug. “This is just what friends do.”

“We can still go back, you know,” Bucky said.

“Nope,” Steve told him. “We’re not going back. Only forward, from here on out.”

“You sound so certain,” Bucky venture.

Steve smirked. “Don’t think me a hero just yet,” he said. “You haven’t slept on the bed yet. It’s not all that comfortable.”

Bucky was smiling. “Something tells me it’ll be fine.”


With Bucky settling in, Steve took the time to make dinner. He wasn’t a great cook by any means, but he knew how to throw together an edible meal out of almost nothing. At the very least, it was hot, it was fresh, and the table was finally set for two.

Bucky sat down with a chuckle. “This looks like a 1930s special,” he said, reaching for his fork.

Steve sat down across from him. “Everyone’s tried, but I don’t think I’m a foodie.”

“I don’t even know what a foodie is,” Bucky said, starting to collect a bite on his fork. “Over the years, I’ve eaten a lot of things in a lot of places, but it seems like I can’t remember how any of it tastes.”

Looking down, Steve stabbed a piece of meat. “With all the times they put you under, it’s probably to be expected.”

Bucky took a bite, chewing with a smile. He swallowed, nodding his head while he beamed. “This, though,” he said. “This I remember.”

“I can try some new recipes,” Steve offered.

Bucky readied another bite. “This is literally the best meal I’ve had in years.”

Steve watched as Bucky ate the bite, then another and another. He had to think Bucky wasn’t talking about the food at all.


Bucky went to bed early, at Steve’s insistence. The fact that he complied so readily showed just how tired he was. When he was confident that Bucky was asleep, Steve took time to secure the apartment and tidy up a bit.

It had been a good day, he decided.

Settling down on the couch for a good night’s rest of his own, he thought this might work out okay after all.


Steve woke to the sound of screaming.

Although he was alert quickly, the sound left him disoriented. Eyes to the door, the windows, it was clear the room hadn’t been breached, and he made a point to rent out the whole damn floor to avoid any problems. Which meant--

“Bucky,” he said under his breath as he scrambled to his feet. “Bucky!”

He was running now, moving with as much speed as his super powered legs could manage. He burst through the door, ready to fight whatever threat he might encounter. That had always been the main weakness of this plan. Bucky was scared about the risk to others if he left a secure facility, but Steve had tried not to think about the risk to Bucky. He’d been careful to keep a low profile, to make sure that no one knew Bucky was even awake, but he should have known better than to get too confident.

Fists curled, he wished like hell for his shield. He’d been fighting fights long before he donned a red, white and blue uniform, though.

And whoever was behind this, Steve had no compunction about what happened next.

But when he opened the door, he stopped in his tracks.

The window was still closed; there was no sign of any intruder.

On the bed, Bucky was screaming, curled up in pain, his fingers fisted into his hair in agony.

“Bucky?” Steve asked, trying to remember how to move. He forced himself across the floor. “Bucky, what’s--”

As Steve reached out to touch him, Bucky almost convulsed. He shuddered violently, opening wide and terrified eyes up at Steve. Tears were streaking down his face as his jaw trembled. “Steve -- Steve, it -- it hurts, Steve--”

He broke off with an incoherent scream, eyes squeezing shut as he tried to curl up again.

“Bucky, what’s wrong,” he said, letting his hand hover just over his friend’s arm. “Is it your stomach? Your chest?”

“Everything,” Bucky hissed, horrified and tremulous. “My entire body is on fire. Everything. Steve--”

Steve was no doctor, and he knew that it was possible that this was a side effect from the stasis. He knew, on some level, that the best action was probably to call the doctor and be done with it.

If he did that, though, Bucky would never get out of that hospital again.

And this could be anything, but Steve had read the file Tony gave him. Steve had damn well memorized that file. This wasn’t a side effect of the stasis.

“It’s okay,” Steve coached. “You just have to breath.”

Bucky shook his head, face crumpling. “Steve, it hurts. Steve--”

They were kids again, curled up against each other on the coldest nights in winter. When his mother had been sick, he’d stayed with Bucky for the lack of someplace else to go. Even with a fire burning, it had been Bucky who kept him warm.

Bucky who kept him same.


“Okay, it’s okay,” Steve said, reaching out again.

Recoiling at the touch, Bucky moaned, almost writhing this time.

Steve didn’t let go, though, pressing his palm against Bucky’s arm. “It’s going to be okay,” he coached. “I’m here.”

Bucky was struggling in the sheets but Steve eased his way onto the bed, pressing his body against Bucky’s back. “I’m here.”

Form here, Steve could feel the tremors wracking Bucky’s body, he could feel the rapid beat of his heart, thrumming between them. He could feel the sweat, slick on Bucky’s back as he pulled his friend closer still.

“I’m here,” he said, words no more than a whisper. “And I’m not going anywhere.”

Bucking his body, Bucky ground his teeth together, limbs flailing as he sobbed into the pillow. Steve held fast, though, grip as steady as it had ever been. In a world of pain and loss, they had always been a constant for one another. When they had nothing else, they had each other.

Bucky might even lose himself through this, but he’d never lose Steve.


Curling himself around Bucky more tightly, Steve hummed into his ear until the thrashing slowed and the screams abated. He held faster still when the sobs tapered off and the tears dried against the pillow. He held on until Bucky fell asleep, until they both fell asleep in the quiet, dark hours of the morning.

If this was how it was now, then Steve was ready.

Steve had no choice but to be ready.


Tony’s file had made an extensive list of possible side effects.

Over the next week, Bucky fell victim to every one.

Steve resented that, a little bit, but Tony hadn’t lied to him. And Steve knew that the best things in life always came with sacrifices.

It just didn’t seem right that Bucky was the one making the sacrifices.

And Steve was the one standing idle at his expense.

He’d hated that in war, that generals made decisions that got men on the battlefield killed. He’d hated that people in power had used selective truths to make that suffering more palatable. It was probably even ironic, really, that Steve had rebelled against the Accords so sounding.

When here he was, doing the exact same thing for what he had to hope was a greater good.

The greatest good of all.


Even with the side effects, some days really weren’t so bad. Pained and sick as he was, there were some days Bucky was able to eat breakfast with Steve and talk about the things they still remembered from a century ago. They played card games with one another, telling stories about the Howling Commandos and their numerous exploits.

They laughed at jokes they hadn’t told since 1930, cooking dinner together in the kitchen. And they cleaned up, Steve’s hands in the soapy water and Bucky with a dishrag over his shoulder.

On those days, the pain was manageable, and Bucky’s appetite was enough to eat most of dinner. They might take walks around the block, quiet between the two of them, while Bucky shuffled his way home with Steve right at his side.

And when Steve tucked Bucky in at night, the Winter Soldier allowed it, smirking in the darkness.

“You shouldn’t have quit your day job,” Bucky told him, too tired to protest when Steve fussed with the blankets. “But you do make a good nursemaid.”

“Don’t get used to it,” Steve said, not that he meant it.

He stood until Bucky was asleep, watching him breathe.

God help him, he didn’t mean it at all.


Other days, though.

Other days it was enough to break Steve.

He’d survived countless illness as a child. He’d survived being orphaned, rejected, beat up and cast out. He’d survived a super serum and army training, and he’d survived the Nazi war machine and the hardest missions of the Howling Commandos. He’d even made it as an Avenger, fighting aliens and robots and all the rest.

He’d never thought about surrendering, never once.

Until now.

Bucky could hardly eat sometimes, face draining of color the instant he saw food. When Steve did cajole him to eat, it came back up with a ferocity that left Bucky winded and doubled over. Walking became an unthinkable chore, and Bucky’s joints ached like those of the octogenarian he technically was. The muscle spasms were even worse, though, keeling Bucky over mid-stride, until he was a mess on the floor.

The headaches blinded him. Ringing in his ears made him pull at his hair with his iron fist. Sometimes his vision was so blurred that he couldn’t read the cards, and when the light made him curl up in a ball, Steve pulled all the curtains and doused the apartment in darkness.

Even sleep was elusive, marred by dreams and pain, and there were nights that left both of the sobbing and begging for relief.

“Please,” Bucky said, breath hot as he clung to Steve desperately. “Please, make it stop.”

Steve wanted to, he did. There was no way to tell Bucky, though, that this was his fault, his choice. That he’d considered this an acceptable risk in the grander scheme of things. While Bucky’s body tried to tear him apart from the inside out, the guilt ate away at Steve’s.

Those nights, Bucky held fast to Steve.

Steve held back even faster.


It wasn’t the best night and it wasn’t the worst when Bucky looked at him, eyes pained and needing. They’d never had many secrets between them, not really, but they’d always allowed things to go unsaid. It had been easier that way, two boys growing up in Brooklyn. Steve didn’t talk about how much he missed his dad or how relieved he was when his mother’s suffering was finally over. Bucky never told him the truth about his enlistment letter, that he’d never volunteered but hadn’t run when his number had been called.

They’d never said much about the girls, either. The ones they’d tried to like, the ones they’d tried to date, the ones that could never mean as much as one another. Steve had never even told him about Peggy, not really, how she could have been the one but saying goodbye to her had never been as hard as letting Bucky slip through his fingers.

Because Steve understood the difference. He knew that a commitment to the truth didn’t mean full disclosure at all times and in all ways. He knew that sometimes truth was relative, and that you could be honest or you could be kind.

People used to think of Steve as a paragon of virtue, the representation of the ideals of a bygone age. Steve did was he knew was right, that much was true, but the right thing and the true thing were not always synonymous.

Besides, Steve had left his shield behind. When he’d jammed it into Tony’s reactor, it was a blow that cut them both to the heart.

The raw honesty on the other side was something he had contended with for two long years.

And it was filled with silence.

Bucky was here now, though. Sitting across from him, looking at him face to face. For all the things they didn’t need to say (couldn’t say), there was no truth Steve would deny him.

Steve wouldn’t deny Bucky anything.

“You told me my brain was better,” he blurted. He was curled in a blanket, clutching it tightly around him as he shook violently, teeth chattering against the onslaught of the drugs on his insides. His bloodshot eyes were tired but they didn’t blink. “You promised me.”

Steve swallowed so hard it physically hurt. “It’s the truth,” he said. Then he let out a sigh. “Your brain is about the only thing that is better.”

“The pills,” Bucky said, drawing an unsteady breath. “The pills you make me take every morning, they break the control?”

“More or less,” Steve said. “The science is pretty complicated. I’m not sure I could explain it all to you, even if you wanted me to.”

Bucky shuddered, closing his eyes for a long moment. He opened them, wetting his lips. “So the side effects?”

Steve’s gut churned guiltily. “Are the drugs, not the stasis,” he confirmed. “But they should go away soon.”


The question was almost more than Steve could take. The truth didn’t mean as much as Steve sometimes thought it did. The truth didn’t always set you free. Sometimes it ensnared you, sometimes it destroyed you.

“Just a few more weeks,” Steve said, the words heavy on his tongue. “No more than a month, tops.”

Bucky studied him, looked at him the way only Bucky could.

“I thought you weren’t going to lie to me,” Bucky told him finally.

Steve smiled faintly. “No one’s perfect.”

Bucky didn’t flinch, not for pain, not for weakness, not for desperation, not for the audacious lie they both knew Steve couldn’t defend. “You are.”

That was when Steve realized that Natasha was right. Sometimes the truth was a matter of perspective.

“Come on,” Steve said, offering Bucky his hand. “Let’s get you to bed.”

Bucky accepted it, allowing himself to be herded up and guided. They’d have to talk about this more, someday soon. They’d have to talk about a lot of things.

For now, though, the only truth they needed was each other.


As a child, Steve had busied himself as man of the house, trying to make sure they had enough food and that the electricity was still turned on. As a soldier, he’d been fully dedicated to keeping his men safe and finishing the mission. With the Avengers, he’d taken point, handling their operations with precision and care. These things were second nature to Steve; he’d always been smart and good with details. It was what made him an exceptionally keen strategist.

With Bucky, in their small, shared apartment, it was much the same thing. Steve still used his skills, creating plans to maximize Bucky’s recovery while minimizing the worst of the side effects. He learned the best times for Bucky to eat, and mastered the best dishes to keep his stomach in check. He found a brand of ginger ale that seemed to help with the nausea, and he knew when Bucky had to keep moving to stave off the worst of the pain in his muscles. The headaches were worse in the afternoon, when the sun was bright, so Steve planned for a rest period and broke out his woefully under utilized iPod to set a tranquil mood with instrumental music.

He arranged for the trips to the doctor, the pills and made sure to include time for personal hygiene on the schedule. For his own reasons, he kept a journal documenting Bucky’s recovering, keeping meticulous track of every side effect and every success.

It wasn’t quite planning missions behind enemy lines in Europe, and it sure as hell wasn’t fighting aliens and supernatural beings in every dark corner of the world, but it was the most encompassing, most demanding, most important mission yet.

He’d be lying if he said he never wanted to quit. He couldn’t deny that it had crossed his mind to stop, to take Bucky off the drug and put him back in stasis. The idea of not seeing Bucky in pain was tempting.

Really tempting.

All his life, Steve had never been a quitter. He’d stood his ground in alleyways with a bloody nose, fists up. “I can do this all day.”

This time, he wanted to quit. This time, he thought he could.

Except that Bucky never did.

Steve was a soldier looking for a cause, and now that he found it, he’d never put it down.

Not until the day he died.


At the lab, they were optimistic. During Bucky’s psychological evaluations, there was no sign of triggering. It appeared that while the brainwashing could never truly be undone, the risk had been thoroughly commuted by Tony’s miracle drug. It was still early, of course, but there was every reason to believe that Bucky could be integrated back into society for a more or less normal life based on psychological factors.

At home, however, it was a little harder to stay upbeat. For all of Steve’s plans, for all of Bucky’s earnest progress, there were some days that it felt like they’d lost the fight before they’d even started.

The morning outside was sunny, but Bucky couldn’t even get up. The simple act of opening his eyes seemed to be too much for him.

Not that Steve was especially chipper himself. Super soldier or not, staying up half the night, kneading his knuckles into the sore muscles of Bucky’s back and holding his hair back while he vomited had taken a toll on him.

“Maybe breakfast in bed this morning,” Steve announced, sparing Bucky the indignity of admitting his exhaustion.

Bucky closed his eyes. “I’m really not hungry,” he said, voice thin and wispy.

“You need to eat something,” Steve said gently.

Bucky’s eyes cracked open again. “So I can throw it up again?”

“Hey,” Steve said. “The worst of that has passed.”

“Because I ran out of anything to throw up about three hours ago,” Bucky murmured, nose wrinkled up in discomfort.

The problem was, it was true. For all of Steve’s pep talk, the facts spoke for themselves.

“I know,” Steve said. “But if we don’t eat a little bit, then I’m going to have to take you back in for an IV.”

Bucky groaned.

“All we have to do is try a little,” Steve coaxed. “Dry toast and ginger ale.”

Bucky looked up at him pathetically. It would be comical, if they were kids and Bucky was recovering from the flu. It might be a time to snark if they were still in the war, and Bucky was taking his sweet time healing after a fleeting shot in battle. Steve would be able to joke and cajole, enough to get Bucky’s mind off the discomfort.

Except this was more than discomfort.

Moreover, this was Steve’s fault.

Sighing, he saw down gingerly on the edge of Bucky’s bed. “I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “I knew what the side effects were probably going to be, and I opted to wake you up and give you the drug anyway. I’d like to say I did it just for you, but…”

Bucky’s expression darkened with surprise. “Wait--”

“I just wanted it to work, and I wanted you back, Buck,” Steve said with a helpless shrug. “I thought the side effects would be acceptable, if it meant you were awake again. But I was never going to be the one who suffered through them, and you trusted me to make the best choices for you. I’m sorry.”

Bucky stared at him, long and hard for a moment. “So, you think, it’s the side effects?” he asked, taking a minute to moisten his dry lips. “You think I’m upset about the side effects?”

Steve gestured at him. “Look at you,” he said. “Most days you’re in so much pain you can hardly move. You can’t keep food down. Your life has been reduced to misery.”

“As opposed to stasis?” Bucky asked.

Steve closed his mouth.

Bucky tossed his head. “My life is mine again,” he said. “That’s all that I wanted, that’s all I asked you to do. To give me my life back.”

“But you’re sick all the time,” Steve said. “And I know I keep saying the side effects should go away by the end of the month, but honestly, I can’t promise you that. You may never fully recover and be the man you were before.”

“The Winter Soldier?” Bucky asked, a touch of incredulity in his voice. “Because I don’t want to be the Winter Soldier. I don’t think I even want to be a soldier at all.”

“But it’s no kind of life--”

“I’m free, Steve,” Bucky told him. “The side effects, they’re hard, sure. But I’m free.”

Steve felt the swell of emotions in his chest. He shook his head. “But what if you don’t get better?”

On the bed, still pale and weary, Bucky shrugged his shoulders. “It depends.”

Steve frowned. “On what?”

“On whether or not you’re going to be here through it all,” Bucky said. He tilted his head. “Till the end of the line?”

The callback was more than Steve expected, more than he knew how to deal with. It was the strongest emotion he’d ever dealt with, and the closest he’d come to feeling this way was seconds before impact, telling Peggy to save him that dance.

The long freeze was over now, for both of them. If Steve had given Bucky back his life, then Bucky had given Steve back his.

He nodded without reservations. “Always.”

“There you go,” Bucky said with a smile stretched across his face. “You’ve got your answer.”

It wasn’t the answer he probably deserved.

It was, however, the answer he wanted.

Getting to his feet, Steve patted back on the arm. “You stay here, then.”

Bucky lifted his brows.

“I told you, it’s time for breakfast in bed,” he said.

Bucky made a face, ready to protest.

Steve wasn’t going to hear it, though. “For both of us,” he said, lifting one shoulder coyly. “If you’ll have me.”

Considering that, Bucky scooted to the side, nodding down at the space next to him. “It’s a little tight.”

It was Steve who was grinning now. “Somehow I think we’ll make do.”


It was several months later when Steve finally got around to writing the thank-you note. He was late, but to his credit, he’d been busy. Bucky’s recovery had been, as expected, slow and difficult, and the side effects had lingered, taking a toll on both of them. They persisted, however, until Bucky was given a clean bill of health by the doctors at the lab. Although he would stay in therapy for the rest of his life, they were all starting to believe he might actually be okay.

The hardest person to convince was Bucky himself, but Steve had watched him open himself up again. Now, they took walks in the park, they went to movies and they tried new restaurants. They were even looking for a new place to live, someplace quiet, secure and under the radar -- with two bedrooms, wood floors and lots of light.


I know this is overdue, but I also know you. You probably have already found a way to monitor Bucky’s progress, and while I normally would object to the invasion of privacy, I understand why you had to do it. More than that, I’m thankful that you trust me enough to let Bucky and I figure this out on my own.

Bucky’s doing well, in case you’d like to hear it from me. Your father’s formulas really are remarkable, and I hope you believe that I mean it in the best way possible that you are your father’s son.

My offer still stands in regards to the Avengers, and to you personally. However, Bucky and I will be busy. We’re both out of the business of playing superheroes and supervillains, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to make this world a better place. Bucky’s taken a particular interest in charity work, though in less official capacities. Apparently, he does remember every name from his time as the Winter Soldier. While he’s already provided T’Challa with a list of possible enemies, we also have a list of people who deserve something good.

You were first on that list. I’m not sure how we’ll make it up to you, but we’re capable soldiers. I’m sure we’ll come up with something.

Because you outdid yourself this time. You said you like to fix things, that’s what you do, and no matter how many things it seems like you can put back together, you can count this one as a win. You fixed this, Bucky and me, in more ways than you’ll know.

Thanks again.

Your friend,

Steve finished the letter, putting it in an enveloped. He put on the postage and put it out to go out with the mail. Rocking back on his heels, he reflected for a moment that this was a good thing for closure.

But he couldn’t bring himself to think of it as the end.

He glanced back up to the apartment, where Bucky was waiting for him.

No, he knew this was just the beginning.


Posted by: kristen_mara (kristen_mara)
Posted at: December 29th, 2016 10:45 am (UTC)

I’m so happy and grateful that you write Steve/Bucky for me, thank you!!!!

You’ve given Steve quite a dilemma here. I love his determination in searching for a cure and I’m glad that Tony had a large part to play in the solution.

I like the hurt/comfort with their roles reversed from when they were younger, and how both Bucky and Steve react to it. Yay for them making a home and doing their best to get back to normal, then Steve’s confession and Bucky’s answer, then them finding another way to help the world.

There were so many great lines and observations. And yay for the breakfast in bed!

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