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"Sergeant Barnes, can you tell me about your time in the army?"

Bucky stared down at his hands, resting on the laminate tabletop in front of him. His right palm was sweaty, and his gloved left fingers picked at the clammy skin harshly enough to leave red marks behind. He took a slow, deep breath and opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

The air in the conference room was chilly against his damp skin, and he pulled the front of his jacket closed.

"We can start with something easier," the reporter said gently. "Would that be better?"

He nodded once, sharply, without looking up. The chair next to him squeaked when you shifted your weight.

As soon as Bucky agreed to speak to the reporter, you got to work helping him rehearse his answers. It was easier with you; you would laugh, and encourage him, and give him goofy looks when he got stuck in his head. And nothing he said seemed like new information to you, even if it was; you knew everything about him, whether you realized it or not. But it seemed that all his practicing hadn't helped— Bucky was still so nervous that he felt ready to claw out of his skin.

The reporter, this Karen Page, had been exceedingly kind to him so far. Kinder than Bucky deserved, considering he had wasted her time by inviting her out to the compound only for him to be unable to answer a single one of her questions. He shifted his gaze just a bit, from his hands to hers— they held a blank notebook and a pen. He watched as she set the pen down.

"How are you feeling?" she asked quietly. Bucky inhaled slowly, and it burned; he couldn't remember the last time he had inhaled. "From what Captain Rogers said, you were in pretty rough shape when you got back last week."

"I... yeah. I feel pretty good." He rolled his shoulders slightly, feeling some tension ease out of his muscles with the motion. Most of the pain he had felt just days ago was gone, and his left shoulder had returned to its normal, baseline ache. He was doing well, all things considered.

"But you were seriously injured, right?" Karen already knew the answer to this. Everyone did. Her story about the botched mission went online just an hour after her conversation with you, and it outlined the basics: the mission, the mistake. How Bucky held off what should have been an unstoppable force so that Steve was safe while he completed their directive. How Natasha had dragged Bucky's unconscious body to safety, and how Sam had done the impossible by piecing him back together with limited resources while they were in the air. It was a testament to Bucky's selfless nature, and to his teammates'— his friends'— love for him, and the lengths they went to to save him after he saved them. Bucky had opened the article with a sick, dizzying feeling in his gut, but the more he read, the more that feeling faded.

Bucky nodded to answer the question— yes, he had been seriously injured— and you opened your mouth to speak before deciding against it; you were doing your best to let him speak for himself, despite your protective urges. The corners of his lips twitched up before he forced them back to neutral.

You had agreed before the interview that Bucky would be the one to tell his story, and you would only interfere if absolutely necessary. He loved that about you— how you encouraged him to be his own person, to take control of his own narrative while still fiercely wanting to keep him safe from a world that had wronged him. An unfamiliar feeling flickered through him— with you, he almost felt... special. Like he was something worth keeping. Something worth fighting for.

"Can you tell me about some of the injuries?" Karen's fingers twitched toward her pen, and Bucky froze, his mind going blank. There was a long moment of silence.

"You had some stitches, right?" you suggested softly, and Bucky latched onto your statement, nodding. This was okay. There was no way that sharing this information could hurt him... right? Steve had probably already said most of it.

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