The Babysitter

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Bucky was glad he'd been going to therapy.

Really, he was. He had learned some excellent breathing exercises he could use when his emotions got too strong. When he was too anxious, or upset, or angry. Breathe in for four seconds, out for eight, and repeat. He was glad, because those breathing exercises were all that was keeping him from punching Tony goddamn Stark in the face and running for the hills.

"You hired a fucking babysitter?" Bucky's breaths were metered, his stone-cold gaze piercing. His words echoed through the mostly-empty lobby, aimed at the two men standing in front of him.

"Yes," Tony said, but Steve Rogers, standing to his right, was louder.

"No," he said over Tony. "More like a roommate." Steve was playing damage-control; Bucky saw the forced calmness in his blue eyes. Steve knew this wouldn't go well. He had time to prepare. And he hadn't told Bucky anything.

"You don't pay roommates." Bucky's low voice was scathing, focused now on his best friend. Tony took the opportunity to escape the conversation, instead gathering up bags and suitcases and following an assistant out to the car, his expensive shoes clicking against the tile floor.

"Well, she'll have some other duties. Like housekeeping, cooking—" Steve knew it was bullshit, but he was trying. His hands fidgeted in his pockets, guilty, as he tried to convince Bucky it wasn't. For once, Steve was on Stark's side instead of Bucky's, and Bucky hated it.

"I'm a hundred goddamn years old, Steve. I know how to cook." The back of his neck felt hot, his cheeks felt hot. An anger, a rage simmering on the surface. Bucky ran a hand through his long hair, trying to dissipate the feeling. He couldn't afford to make a mistake, but fuck.

"Sure, but you really shouldn't eat only hot dogs for six months straight. I know you'd try." ...Steve was probably right about that. Steve gave him a tiny smile, hoping Bucky would return it, hoping to use it to his advantage— I know what's best for you because I know you. Bucky wasn't going to fall for that.

Tony returned from outside, walking quickly past them. "Steve was thinking of setting you up with rations for the whole time. You should be thanking me, really." He was gone before Bucky had the chance to retort, quickly disappearing deeper into the compound.

Steve's voice was lower now, kinder, as he stepped closer to Bucky. "Look, Buck. We can't leave you alone here for six months. You know we can't. You'll—"

"Lose my mind?" Bucky said, his voice dripping with venom. The Avengers, his teammates and supposed friends, were going on a tour. A fucking publicity stunt.

Except for Bucky. His pardon was too recent, the news coverage too divisive and raw in the public's memory to make him a popular guest. The news anchors, the talk show hosts, they would absolutely ask him sensitive questions that were better left unanswered. And Bucky wasn't exactly known for being diplomatic; he wouldn't be able to hold back, and they were looking for good publicity, not bad. So his friends were setting him up on literal house arrest, for his own good, and found some kid to babysit—

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