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You're My End of the Line

Chapter Text

The lukewarm coffee in his hands sits bitter on his tongue despite the liberal splash of creamer blooming within it's depths. He drinks the unappetizing brew to do something, yet the feeling of guilt and overall ache lurks as a constant shadow that he just can’t shake. A record plays in the background, an old Glenn Miller track. It’s soft and sways like the breeze of a too-warm evening in his living room. It does nothing to chase away the shadow.

Steve has holed himself inside his apartment, only leaving for a few groceries and several morning runs around the monuments. He even gets up while it’s still dark to avoid Sam.

He avoids everyone these days.

Natasha has called him a few times but he lets them go straight to voicemail. Sam’s stopped by twice but he holds his breath until the knocks stop. Fury has left him alone along with most of everyone else. Even Tony left a voicemail; but that was weeks ago.

His coffee drains sip by sip until the grains slosh around the bottom. He remembers a memory, one that happened in the midst of rough crusades during the war as they traveled from Hydra base to Hydra base. When the coffee was gone, and the grains were left, Bucky would just fill his mug with a bit of hot water and christen it as a ‘second cup of coffee’. He’d smile and drink the grainy liquid, no sign of a grimace on his face, just a slight tightening of the jaw.

They were so happy. Both working for the greater good.

He sets his mug down and closes his eyes, praying to God. It’s been awhile, but he hopes someone is listening. He wishes Buck was listening. Steve prays for guidance, ways to shed his pain, protection for Bucky, and the light to get him out of the darkness.

Steve goes to bed that night with quick healing wounds on his hands and the shattered remains of a mug littering the bottom of the wall, it's contents a sickly shadow of fingers climbing the wall. 


 

Steve hopes this run can clear his head. The sky is dark and the only light comes from the capital lights. They paint the landscape in brush strokes of fog and blurred light, so achingly beautiful in the darkness. The cold wind breaks against his face while the tears fall and blow away. His lip quivers with every fast paced breath and his legs ache in time with his heartbeat. The pain makes him feel nearly alive. Nearly. Yet its so much different than the walking death consuming his every hour.

Every minute. Every second. 

He thinks about Peggy. All her glory faded into a diseased mind, nearly forgotten in the wake of Demi-Gods and superheroes. Steve almost loved her, he fooled himself into it for so long. Even in his supposed last moments, she was there, but in his thoughts? It was Bucky's smiling face strapped to that table. 

He should have jumped from that train and found him. If only he’d known.

Steve stops running and turns to grab the peeling railing. He looks out across the small lake at the Jefferson Memorial with it's white facade luminescent against bright lights. But it’s blurred from the onslaught of tears and he feels his body quake with it. He thought he was stronger than this. He buries his face into the folds of his arms and weeps. A part of him died that day on the train, he just wasn't expecting it to be resurrected like this. It was supposed to fall into the cavern of those mountains and now he's lost it like scattered sand on the breeze.

After a few minutes, a sensation of eyes prickles his neck. Its three am on a Tuesday, only the lost souls without a home or the broken ones who find solution at the bottom of a glass are only to be found. Slowly, he lifts his head and turns, barely catching the glint of metal before it’s gone. He fully turns around and watches a figure run at near inhuman speed off into the night.

And with it, his hope.


 

 A few more days pass and Steve makes it habit to run at the same time every morning. Just in case. He keeps his eyes peeled whenever he leaves the house. With every shine against chrome, his heart beats a little faster; it’s disappointed every time.

His apartment always plays music now, to drown out the silence. To drown out the guilt. He plays through his record collection and the needle of the player rests when he does.

Out of the blue, he decides to call Sam.

“Steve! Man, I came by your place a few times but you weren’t there. Everything ok?” Sam asks, an edge of worry coloring his tone. The emotions are warranted since he’s been the one avoiding everyone after all. He’d feel the same if the reverse were true.

“Just trying to hold it all together,” He replies quietly. He sits at the dining room table and fidgets with a pencil. He digs his short even nails into the soft wood creating gently curved lines.

“Any news about SHIELD? I’ve been focusing my attentions down at the VA hospital,” Sam asks.

Steve replies in silence.

 Sam sighs over the phone, “I even got Stark to fix my wings,” he laughs hesitantly. Steve just stares at the table.

“You can't just shut yourself away forever Steve. You’re Captain America.”

“That doesn’t really matter now does it?” He seethes. He tightens his fist and cracks it down on the table. A small fissure opens in the table. Wonderful.

Sam hisses before digging into him. “You know what? I’m coming over there right now and you’d better open that god damn door. Got it?” Sam orders. He can hear the man shuffling around, probably putting on clothes and shoes.

“Door will be unlocked,” he answers, hanging up abruptly.

Sam arrives within fifteen minutes. He’s only wearing sweatpants, running shoes, a blue v-neck and a watch. His face is serious as he sits down on the couch. Steve joins him and cradles his head in his hands with his elbows on his knees.

“It started before the war was even a thought in the minds of America. It’s always been us. We grew up together with barely two dimes to rub together, but we always managed to figure it out. Even after my Ma died, he took me in. I didn’t even take the couch,” and he sighs admitting something that has hung heavy on his heart for a while, “neither did he.” He thinks back to that time, just for a moment. Soft sheets from a decade of washings. Pokey goose-down pillows. Watching Bucky fall asleep in degrees, watching the weariness of borderline-poverty wiped away.

Sam blinks his eyes and brightens subtly with a soft smile, “I always thought it was Peggy, but it never was, was it?” It's always been Buck, he's just been too blind to see it. That day on the bridge gave him sight for the first time.

It might’ve been easier if he’d always stayed blind.

“My feelings, back then, were seen as-as perversions. I had no choice but to keep them to myself.” Why risk losing his friendship? He could have been content being unaware of the depth of his feelings, of being always a touch away from what he really wanted. He could have handled it, but definitely not now. Not after what he knows.

“Wait, so despite this bed sharing business, nothing actually happened?” Sam asked skeptically.

“Correct.” 

“I’m assuming he never knew.”

“Positive.” There had been accidental touches or sudden mornings where they woke up in a tangle of limbs, but they never spoke about it. Even when they traveled across Europe to each Hydra plant, they never spoke of it, even when they woke up cold together in the same tent. His breath an even tempo on Bucky’s neck, lips a hairbreadths away from his skin.

“Is he the reason you’ve kept yourself romantically closed off since being defrosted? Not to pry or embarrass you or anything,” Sam smiled gently. Steve even lifted the corners of his mouth for a brief moment.

“More or less. It’s not as if dating ninety year olds are an option,” Steve laughs off, but it falls short. It's not genuine. The fact of the matter is, he's different than everyone else. His tastes, upbringing, and basically everything that made him human is different. It would be impossible to fully connect with someone. And his impossible is out there somewhere walking around god knows where.

“We can go find him,” Sam offers, straightening, smile wiped clean. Steve looks up and appreciates the loyalty glinting like a beacon in his dark eyes.

“I saw him…I-I think.” He says quietly. He looks down at his hands and picks at his cuticle beds.

“When?”

“On my nightly run,” He replies, folding his arms and rubbing the skin just above his elbow.

“That’s why I’ve felt my running confidence improve over the past week." Sam jokes. Steve laughs but it doesn't reach his eyes.

“I forgot it was my job to beat you into the dust.” They smile at each other but the grins slowly slip away.

“What are you going to do?” Sam asks softly.

“I’m going to wait for him.”

It’s all he can do really.


 

 It’s another cold night and he’s alone. The chill of it surrounds him, but it doesn't penetrate his hot skin. He entertains himself with his thoughts. Well, not exactly entertaining, more like ripping a knife into the meat of his psyche. Each slice another memory, a thought or a feeling. They bleed and he revels in the pain. It still makes him feel alive. 

The hole in his heart is so empty. It was manageable when Bucky was gone entirely. Now, It’s just a barely filled hole on the threat of collapse. It’s spackled over thinly with metallic silver paint and a red star.

He runs ten laps before he sees him, standing tall and menacing, in the middle of the running path. He’s got a baseball cap on, long stringy hair coated with oil that falls in a curtain, and a beard that’s grown in by a few weeks. He stops and stares at him. Steve takes in every line, curve, and edge, hungry for everything.

There is only the silence between them and the distant sounds of cars and running water.

“I saw you the other day,” Is the only thing he can say. Bucky walks closer and his eyes stare lifeless, yet a hint of curiosity bobs like a buoy in their depths. “Where have you been Bucky?” He desperately wants to know.Steve's face betrays his pain and longing. The pain rolls in waves along his nerves and he drowns in it; in Him.

“Don’t call me that!” Bucky snarls. His eyebrows draw in, wild and clouded with confusion while his mouth twists into a scowl.

“W-What do you want me to call you?” Steve asks gently. The Winter Soldier levels him with his nearly empty eyes.

“James,” He offers stiffly. Steve’s called him that only a handful of times, probably four times at most in their entire lives. It sounds strange even on the tongue of his mind. Yet it still feels wrong.

“Why? What’s wrong with Bucky?” His friend flinches and looks down. His hands are stubbornly stuck in the pockets of his hoodie, fidgeting with the fabric inside.

“It’s too informal. Nicknames dictate familiarity,” He replies mechanically. Oh Bucky, what did they do to you?

“Were family Bu-James, always have been.” Steve lifts his hand and places it on the muffled metal shoulder. Bucky ducks out of the touch and keeps a distance between them.

“He died.  I’m all that’s left,” Bucky mutters, looking him hard in the eyes. Images assault him of Bucky sailing down through the wintry mountains for the thousandth time in the past few weeks. The pain hits him like a gun shot each and every time.

“Part of you still lives though.”

“I have the memories of a dead man with engineered memories of someone who never existed. You tell me what I am and who I am Rogers,” he accused, challenging the tender thread slowly binding them together again. 

“Let me help you figure that out,” he insists desperately, “I’m with you till the end of the line." He drops the phrase, waiting for the other man to bite the bait. 

“I remember saying that, when did I say that?” Bucky questions softly as he steps a bit closer. Yet the irritated expression twisting his face seems to soften a degree. Steve cant help but feel a bit of fondness.

“It was right after my Ma died. You offered to let me live with you. You were there for me.” He brings his hand up again and lays it on Bucky’s cold hard shoulder. He doesn't duck away this time. He takes his thumb and starts slowly rubbing back and forth. He can feel the ridges of interlocking metal beneath the sweatshirt. 

“Now I’m going to be there for you this time. Let's go home,” Steve orders gently.

Bucky sighs, “Alright.”

Steve smiles genuinely for the first time in days. Probably a month.

Chapter Text

The apartment croons Etta James when they arrive. Bucky stands behind him silently. He can feel the bare touches of warmth as the man stands almost too-closely at his back. Steve walks in, leading the way, and drops his keys into the clay bowl he found in a second hand store on 2nd Street. Bucky examines every square inch of the place within sight, eyes the only piece of his anatomy to move.

“It looks different in here than looking inside,” Bucky mutters offhand. Steve stiffens, wanting to forget that ordeal entirely which is an illogical hope at best. He has to remember to start small. Trust can only be achieved by steps, not bounds.

“I would suppose so,” he agrees nervously. Steve strides to the open entrance of the hallway and gestures around before turning to Bucky, “Make yourself comfortable. I’m going to shower first," Steve points down the hall, first door on the left, "and then you can follow after. Alright?” He’s met with silence except for a small nod. 

The warm water feels balmy and his skin feels overly hot. It’s a little unpleasant but he doesn’t mind too much. There isn’t much sweat on his body but he washes for the sake of washing. Rituals calm is mind just as much as running. It also gives him a break to collect his thoughts privately. Steve lays his head against his arm as he leans alongside the tiled wall. Intermingled with the rushing water are tears that flow unbidden. He doesn’t make a sound and cries silently. He wasn’t expecting this. He had a hunch Buck would find him, but not like this.

Never like this.

But in a way, he’s relieved. He can stop wondering. Steve thanks God and prays for Bucky’s sake. He can see just how broken his friend is. Its as if he’s seeing a vase smashed apart a hundred times and glued back together after each break. His Bucky has to be in there somewhere and he’s going to be the one to find him, no matter what condition he’s in. They are it for each other and he’s never looking back.

He stops the shower after the last bit of conditioner washes away. Steve turns the faucet off and stands in the slight steam that clings to the air in the bathroom. He inhales a few deep breathes before exciting the stall.

He scrutinizes the figure reflected in the fogged mirror he wipes clean with his hand. Pale expanses of skin bloom with red splotches from the hot water. He zeroes in on the barely there scars left over from the bullet wounds he endured from Bucky’s hand. He fingers knotted skin and sighs. He’s endured worst. It’s the psychological wounds that hurt the most. The invisible scars.

Steve wipes away the droplets flecked all over his body and over each hill of muscle. He towel dries his hair until it’s spikes in all different directions. He looks at himself in the mirror and frowns before setting it into a semblance of his normal hairstyle. Finally, he wraps the soft damp material around his hips. The large V of his muscles protrudes from the edge of the towel and damp blonde curls just barely snake their way up over the edge as well.

He pads out into the hallway and finds Bucky sitting at the dining room table. His zip up hoodie lies discarded on the floor and the metal of his left arm glints in the low light. The bottom of the red star pokes out from beneath the hem of his t-shirt sleeve too.

“Shower is all yours,” Steve smiles faintly. Bucky turns to him with eyes slightly widened but they snap back to utter blankness within the same beat. He nods curtly before getting up and using his metal arm as leverage upon the table. Steve watches in fascination as the interlocking plates on his forearm slide and compress with the movement.

Bucky stalks past him and nearly slams the bathroom door. Steve decides to go to his room and put on his lounge clothes in the meantime. He can hear the water rush to the bottom of the tub through his bedroom wall once he gets there. It soothes him as he sits on the bed, legs crossed and hands behind his head. He even closes his eyes and hums a song beneath his breath.

Twenty minutes pass and Bucky hasn’t left the shower yet. He finds it strange but knows the hot water can last up to forty five minutes easy. He gets up off the bed and walks to the bathroom door.

“B-James? Doing ok in there?” Steve shouts through the door. He receives no answer. He asks again. More silence.

“I’m coming in!” He shouts, worried something happened. The room is full of steam and a small pile of dirty clothes sit near the base of the toilet. The shower door is closed and he can see the blurry outline of Bucky standing stock-still.

“Are you ok?” He asks above the din of the water.

“No.”Bucky replies.

“Do you mind if I open the door? I will only look at your face,” He promises.

“No, do what you want,” Bucky replies emotionless. His voice is so achingly blank.

Steve opens the door gently and keeps his eyes level with Bucky’s face. His hair is wet and plastered to his scruffy cheekbones. His eyelashes clump together with water droplets and his lips glisten. 

“Did you shampoo?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know.” The response feels helpless and endlessly repeated. More of an automated response than actually born of independent thought. There seems to be only one thing Steve can do and he hopes it doesn’t cross a line.

“Would you like me too?” he asks tentatively. Bucky turns to him, dead look clouding his eyes and nods. Steve shivers a little in satisfaction, but his morality punches it down followed swiftly by guilt. The sick satisfaction of receiving innocent consent to this deep need to touch roils like bile in his blood. He’s better than this; just not strong enough.

Steve peels off his fresh clothes and walks in behind in just his black boxer-briefs. Bucky shields most of the water, so his underwear doesn’t immediately soak. The enormous effort it takes to avoid gazing at Bucky’s waist, despite the desire to do so, is humbling to say the least. Steve prides himself on his control and ability to keep himself in check. The old Bucky would’ve laughed and said “live a little”.

That was the problem. He’d lived too much.

Bucky hands him the shampoo, thrusting him back into reality. Steve spreads the fragrant product in Bucky’s hair, the long strands slide and tangle within his fingers. The dark brown mutates to pitch black from the water and glides soft on his finger pads. Like liquid silk or the softest fur. Nothing really compares.

“You’re hair looks wonderful long,” he comments, a blush burning across his cheeks. Bucky stiffens initially, but he eventually relaxes under the ministrations. Steve keeps running his fingers through Bucky’s hair and along his scalp in circular motions to scrub away the grease. He feels his friend’s head slip backwards a little and he can see his eyes are closed. A content half-smile graces his face. Steve is glad that despite everything, his friend can still smile.

Steve rinses the long stands and begins massaging in the conditioner. He’s quicker in applying the conditioner and runs the soft gel through clumps of strands. Skipping a rinse, he leaves the product to do its job. The soft thrum of the showerhead punctures the silence that sits heavy in the stall. The steam hovers thick like a dense fog, heavy in their senses. Steve bows his head over Bucky’s left shoulder studying the knit of machinery and metal. Like the plates of the earth crashing together.

Steve shakes his head while taking a step back to distance himself. “I’m going to stand outside of the stall and let you wash your body. Would you like me to rinse out your hair once you are done?” He can’t help feel a sense of momentary dread at being denied.

“Yes,” Bucky replies, nearly breathless. From the steam no doubt he surmises before smiling and opening the stall door to leave. He only has to wait less than two minutes before Bucky invites him back into the stall.  At a loss for what to do, he set out shaving supplies; just in case. He always preferred Bucky with a clean shaven face anyhow.

When he gets back inside, the overwhelming smell of his own body wash permeates the heavy air. Bucky smells like him. Silently, he gulps in the perfumed air with greedy abandon while his fingers stroke away the conditioner. He definitely can’t help the tattoo of “mine” beating in time with his heartbeat. But guilt never ceases to quickly follow.

“I left some shaving supplies out for you if you want to shave your beard. You were never particular about having one. You always kept a clean face.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

The process of rinsing is over quickly, and Steve retreats from the stall to grab some fresh clothes for Bucky. With several uncomfortable steps later, he also realizes some new underwear would be required. The front of his is just a touch damp, but enough to be uncomfortable. He rifles through his drawer grabbing lounge clothes for himself and Bucky. His clothes should be just a tiny bit loose on Bucky, but barely; enough to be comfortable without confining. He also remembers to grab a pair of boxer-briefs before leaving his room.

After changing, Steve knocks on the door and Bucky opens to reveal himself wrapped in a towel. Steve’s eyes immediately dart to the ravaged skin on the front that surrounds the joint of flesh to the cyber arm. However, the scarring isn’t as bad as it could be. Up close earlier, it almost seemed cauterized.

“Here are some clothes. Once you’re dressed, you can put your old clothes in the hamper that sits in my room. Alright?” Bucky gives him a swift nod and snatches the clothes from his grasp. Steve, still hungry after the run, walks away into the kitchen and starts preparing some breakfast.

With some light shuffling, he hears Bucky walk to lean against the counter.

“I decided to make us some breakfast. Also, if you’re tired, you can go to sleep on my bed. My couch isn’t big enough for either of us to be comfortable long term so we’ll have to share. You don’t mind, do you?” He asks while flipping a few pieces of bacon with some chrome tongs. The pregnant pause runs alongside the sizzle of the bacon.

“No, that sounds fine,” Bucky replies. His tone is neutral and Steve turns around to see his face carefully blank. The beard is gone and smooth clean shaven skin remains. It makes him feel warm and he can’t help but think how handsome Bucky looks. He could get used to the long hair too; it suits him. He also looks down and see’s that Bucky fills out his clothes quite nicely. Another wave of possession burns through his chest like the aftertaste of alcohol. Guilt follows like a mother hen, but he still looks regardless.

The clothes aren’t particularly baggy and fit near-perfectly. The t-shirt molds to his shapely shoulders and the shine of metallic silver from his arm glares bright in the kitchen while the painted star peaks from beneath the short sleeve. Looking down, he realizes Bucky isn’t wearing a fingerless glove on his metal arm.

“Do you need a glove to be able to grip silverware?” He asks, turning to flip the bacon in the pan. Bucky study’s his hand in front of his face, opening and closing it into a fist. He even wiggles his fingers into a wave before responding.

“Yes, that would be helpful, but not right now. I can eat bacon without needing my left hand.” Steve nods at him and turns back nearly crispy bacon. The grease stings his wrist a bit, but he ignores it.

“I’ll go out to the store later today and pick you up one. Anything else you’ll need while I’m out?”

“Cards, or do you have any of those lying around?” Bucky asks almost cautiously. Steve turns around and gives him a raised eyebrow.

Steve huffs, “Like I wouldn’t have any cards around here. What kinda soldier do you take me for Buck?” He realizes the mistake the moment he says it, “Sorry.... James.” The atmosphere immediately sours. Steve can feel the shift like a hurricane rolling in across the prairie.

Bucky’s expression is of someone who looks like they’ve been struck painfully across the cheek. But, just as quick as it erupted, the pain is tucked away into an emotionless mask. He turns around and leaves to sit at the kitchen table. A pit falls in his stomach and it takes everything for him not to break down. He reigns in the thought and watches Bucky from the corner of his eye seeing the mask is still there. In addition, he seems to be staring a hole into the wall as well.

 Steve pulls his attention away and deposits the greasy bacon on a nearby paper towel covered plate. Then, he pops some wheat toast into the stainless steel toaster next to the stove. Breakfast comes together fairly quickly after that. Steve decides to grab some leftover scrambled eggs from the fridge and re-heats them in the microwave to pair with the bacon.

That has to be his favorite invention. He always found it wasteful to turn on an oven just to heat up food. Sometimes, it would even crisp his meal if he forgot about it too long. Now? Well, he could make meals ahead of time and reheat them to perfection. The 21st Century definitely has some perks.

Steve brings the food to the table plate by plate and even grabs a carton of orange juice. He sets them down in the middle of the table where the fissure lies. He ignores it in favor of pouring both of them a glass of OJ. Bucky watches him carefully as he makes up plates for the both of them. He remembers Bucky likes more bacon than eggs, and that he prefers a small dose of Ketchup to dip his speared eggs. Steve also spreads on a layer of jam on the toast and puts on a touch of butter in the mix.

Once finished, he sets out the plates and sits across from Bucky.

“Dig in,” Steve announces as he starts slowly eating his eggs. Bucky just stares at the food and tentatively grabs a fork with his intact arm. He spears the egg and dips it slightly into the ketchup before slipping it into his mouth.

“I remember liking Ketchup with my eggs,” Bucky murmurs almost to himself. Steve smiles brightly and takes a swig of orange juice.

“Yeah, I always thought that was weird. It’s the reason we always had ketchup around the house. You could get eggs cheap from some pal of yours so it was our breakfast of choice most mornings.”

Bucky responds with silence and a crunch of bacon in his teeth. Steve leaves him to it and doesn’t pester him with questions for the rest of breakfast.


Bucky ends up sleeping for a few hours and Steve cleans the house. He couldn’t sleep if he tried. He doesn’t need much of it anyways these days. Snatches of hours here and there keep his energy nearly full. With an abundance of time, Steve dusts, polishes the wood, cleans the counters, washes the dishes, and throw Bucky’s hoodie and sweat stained clothing in the hamper for washing later. All the while, Billie Holiday plays softly in the background.

If he closes his eyes, he could be in 1941 again but sadly, he isn’t. Despite the perks of this time, he can’t help but miss home. Familiar faces, rituals, and scenery. Now, everything’s a whole different world. Almost like from a fevered dream of some 30’s science fiction author.

No other love, can warm my heart, now that I’ve known, the comfort of your arms….

His eyes snap open and he follows the sound of his ringtone.

“Hello?” Steve chimes as he answers the phone. He walks over to the record player and turns down the volume so it barely hums.

“It’s Sam! So….. I think I’ve got a lead on Bucky!” Sam says excitedly. Steve can’t help but smile.

“Actually,” Steve walks down the hall and peers into his bedroom. Bucky is still out and snuggled into a fluffy white pillow, “He’s here at my apartment.” He looks back and watches him for just a second, which turns to a minute. Steve smiles fondly before he shuts the door.

Sam laughs, “Wow, so that saves a lot of headache.” 

Steve walks down the hallway, eventually pacing in the living room."You’re telling me. I was out running and he stood in the middle of the path almost waiting for me. I think he wants answers.” 

“Do you want me to tell anyone else about this?” Steve thinks about it. The possessive part of him wants to keep their little bubble intact for just a bit longer. It would probably overwhelm Bucky too. Baby steps. That’s what he needs right now, baby steps. Together.

“Not right now. I’ll let everyone else know when it’s the right time. I don’t think he’s going to leave per se,” He sighs and sits down on the couch, “but I’d rather not take my chances.” He’s aware that Bucky could just up and leave anytime. There were others way to get the information he seeked. Steve had a feeling he was the easiest option which didn’t sit too well with him.

“Understandable. I’ll leave you alone for a couple of days. Just…” Sam sighs, “Call me to at least keep me in the loop alright? And if you need me, I’ll be there in less than a half hour. Scouts honor.”

“I’ll keep that in mind Sam, thank you.” Steve’s eternally grateful for the friendship and support. With not many people in his corner he can trust, it’s nice to have someone so readily available to help.

“Now, go take care of your man,” Sam teases with an edge of laughter.

“Oh I definitely will, no worries about that,” He laughs right back, trying not to think too hard about it. That can of worms was better to leave closed for the time being.

“Who knew Captain America would be bisexual.”

“The world is always full of surprises, which reminds me, never make a bet with Nick Fury if you can help it.”

“I’ll remember that. Well, I’m about to leave for my own morning run so talk to you later Steve.”

“Bye Sam.” The call ends with a double beep and he sets his phone down.

He’ll definitely take care of him alright, no matter what happens or how long it takes.

Chapter Text

James wakes up at around four pm later that day. His head feels soft against the pillow and his cheek feels stretched from the cotton. The pillows smell like the man on the bridge. His name is Steve. Steve Rogers. The name tickles a mental itch that persists in the back of his mind. Almost like he’s forgetting something. A lot of somethings that slosh like a half empty beer bottle on its side.

He knows about Steve Rogers, Captain America, and his crusade across war-torn Europe in a clinical sense. He also knows of James Buchanan Barnes, his childhood best friend, who followed him into the heat of every battle across every kilometer of Hydra-occupied territory. James was a man who was saved from a Hydra base after being captured while on tour fighting with the Allies.

They are just words and thoughts to him. Each line of information gleaned from history books and exhibits burn the sides of his brain. They don’t hold any emotional feeling, just clear detachment. Just words, pictures and grainy black and white film.

 But that itch continues. It’s maddening.

His dreams are blank and quiet thankfully. Much better than the cold and screaming he’s dreamt of since being out of cryo this long. It always happens when the missions are longer than a few days.

James feels his long hair cover most of his face, dry from rolling around in the pillows for hours. He even feels a tiny bit of saliva next to his open mouth. He slowly gets up and stretches out his fleshy arm, loosening the stiff muscles. He the turns to the metal one and twists it this way and that to make sure everything slides correctly. The metal isn’t affected by water, thankfully, but it depends on a reservoir of oil to keep the joints lubricated.

So far so good. The metal slides seamlessly and whirring noises sound as he flexes his arm to his full strength capacity. He’ll usually know when to refill when his arm stiffens at the elbow.

James rubs his hair out of his eyes and tucks a large amount of it behind his ear. He sits still, looking over at the doorway. An old song, with clarinets and brass crooning sweetly. It echoes down the hall hauntingly as it tries to beckon him forward. It sounds so familiar to him. The name of it settles upon his tongue but its fruitless- he can’t remember. James sighs angrily and lifts himself from the bed. He scratches his nipple and pads to the bathroom to relieve himself while the notes wrap themselves around him.                                             

Once he’s finished, James walks to the kitchen. Everything is cleaner than before and the keys in the ceramic bowl are gone. He goes to the couch, spotting the record player whirring on a side table. At least he understands where the music is coming from. He sits down, staring at the television across from him. His time with Hydra didn’t allow for much time with Tv. He’d mostly stare at walls until his directive was completed.

Then he would enter the nearly endless winter again.

Time didn’t pass for him during each incubation cycle. Each time he was let out, it was a torture in of itself though. He always craved to be put back into the ice. But thankfully, he remembers only a few of them. The pain was the same, but it ran together in a blur of memories.

He stares at his left hand and wiggles the fingers softly. He touches the metal with his right hand and the surface is cold and lifeless. His metal arm can detect sensation, but the feeling is alien. Almost like he’s touching someone else. Whatever he touches, he can’t really feel it. But it’s something he’s made peace with. So he lets the thought go, and lies against the couch with his head turned to the side. His eyes are blank, just like his mind.

Several hours pass until he hears the door open and close, followed by a clink in the ceramic bowl.

“Hey, you ok?” He turns his head and blinks his eyes. Steve is standing there in a black leather jacket with a white t-shirt and blue jeans. He sits up straight and folds his arms stiffly. He looks at him coldly and curls his lip. It’s a stupid question to ask.

“I guess I have my answer.” The other man coughs, turning to dig in one of the bags hanging from his wrist, “Well, I got you some gloves,” Steve walks away to the kitchen counter and tosses the bags while  bringing over one fingerless black leather glove. It’s thrown at him and he rubs the material with his right hand once he’s got a hold of it. The leather is soft and buttery, but not yet broken in. Luckily he won’t be able to feel the stiff leather too much. Steve is watching him with a proud look on his face. A foreign feeling of happiness sparks briefly before disappearing.

James slides the glove onto his metal hand and Velcro’s the strap on the wrist. It’s very similar to the one he had before. On the top, it opens up with sewn holes for needless breathability. He flexes his hand and the glove yields nicely, albeit a touch stiffly.

“Thank you,” he thanks Steve quietly. He didn’t have to get him such a small thing, but he did it anyways. He is a kind man, there isn’t any denying that.

“Whatever you need, just let me know. Alright?” The man walks away and James watches him. A curious sensation of warmth settles in his stomach again before going dark. He dismisses it and focuses again on the wall. A handful of minutes pass before he’s bothered again.

“That wall isn’t going to change color or go anywhere James,” Steve tells him before sitting down on his right. He turns giving Steve cold eyes.“And you’re allowed to talk. Just so, um, you know,” Steve finishes lamely, rubbing the back of his neck. Jame’s mind is empty. He can’t think of anything to say, much less talk about. He decides to try anyway. He got gloves, the least he could do is entertain the man.

“How was your day?” It was simple, polite, and easy. He smooth’s out the scowl from his face and leaves behind a blank mask of neutrality. Steve looks surprised and smiles at him.

“Bought some food, searched five stores until I could find the right pair of gloves, and picked you up some clothes. Would you like to see?” Steve looks so genuinely happy. He wish he felt the same. But he only feels a simmering anger and emptiness. He tries to forget the flares from earlier.

“Do what you want,” James bites out, more bitter than he intended. He grimaces as he watches the man’s face fall just a little but he’s still smiling.

“Just wait here for a second.”

“It’s not like I’ve got any place to be,” He snarks back.  Steve stops and looks at him, eyebrows raised. It surprises him too. It felt like instinct, like something he’s done a thousand times before. The itch in his mind becomes more persistent. He should be remembering something, but what?

He watches Steve turn right back around and into the kitchen. He hears the rustling of the bags until a large black one hangs from his hands. The bag is carefully set on the coffee table and Steve pulls out a large pile of folded shirts, pants, and even a package of underwear.

“I got you all the 21st century basics.” He nudges the perfectly folded pile of clothes in his direction. James looks down and pulls the first shirt from the pile. It’s a Henley in an olive green. The material is soft and sewing sturdy.

“Thank you, this is generous.” A sense of wrong boils inside of him. A thought, a single one, rises from the murky deep if his cluttered memories. He should be taking care of Steve, not the other way around. It was the natural order, or at least that’s what the thought makes him think.

Before he can give in to the anger, and ruin whatever good this was meant to be, he shovels the clothes into the bag and stalks to the bedroom. He slams the door, throws the bag of clothes onto the floor, and leans against the solid wood. James slides down until his knees touch his chin. He breathes heavily and clutches his head, trying to stop the flurry of thoughts. He digs his nails into the flesh of his skull and resists the urge to scream. The depths of his mind slosh and laugh at him. The incessant itching persists at the back of his mind even more. It’s gotten worse since he’s arrived. He thought it would get better. He nearly laughs at his stupidity.

“James?” A soft knock precedes the voice. He lets the silence go on and rests his forehead on his knees. His emotions back down but they simmer with the pain of sorrow.

“Please, go away.” He says gently. The agony of his emotions bleed through. Steve doesn’t move, if the lack of footsteps are any indication. A moment later, the knob turns slowly and the door is pushed at his back. He could fight it, but he feel the need to. He gets up and turns right as the door slides open.

“What happened back there Buck? Wait, I mean James,” Steve stutters nervously. His face is open with a range of emotions. All of them are a different shade of worry.

“I-I remembered something.” Why is his voice wobbling? He turns away and goes to lie down on the bed. Steve follows and crouches down near the edge.

“Was it the shirt?” He nods in reply.

“I’m sorry, it,” Steve sighs and looks down, “it was unconsciously done. I’ll be more careful in the future.”

“Don’t be,” James mutters. Maybe this is what needed to happen to reach himself towards that elusive something in the back of his mind. That itch that calls to him each and every single fucking moment.

“Do have any questions to ask me, or anything you’d like to talk about?”

“Why do I have this overwhelming need to protect you? I know Bucky was your partner and childhood friend… I saw it at the Smithsonian exhibit.” He’d read everything. He watched the films in the accompanying small theater. It was strange and chilling to see his face twisted into such happiness. He would almost say love.To see Steve, a practical stranger, lighting up his face like he was his whole world. That’s what brought him here. Steve and this itch are connected somehow, and he is going to find out why.

Steve laughs softly with a small smile, “Then you saw that I used to look like the human equivalent of shrimp. I was weak and you looked out for me; always have. Somehow, you’d always manage to find me before, during, or after a fight. I don’t know how Bucky did it, but he did.” The past tense doesn’t go unnoticed by James.

“That’s probably it.” But there is something else; something he’s forgetting. It’s right there. He’s blind and can feel the damn thing, but he can’t name it. It’s warm and tendrils of heat snake out to entice him to remember, to just only remember.

“Anything else?”

“Why do I remember drag queens?” It’s the one piece of bait bobbing to the surface. Garrish face paint over clean shaven faces and exotic costumes. Steve laughs and a fond looks washes over his face.

“Our old apartment, back in Brooklyn, was near the navy ship yards. Our neighborhood was, and still is, known for being predominately gay.”

“That makes sense.” The images of painted men in period clothes popped up sometimes. He looks over to Steve who is watching him carefully in silence. His eyes drop down to Steve’s lips for a moment and he feels himself stick out a tongue to swipe it over his own. A feeling of want pounds insistently in his chest. It’s surprising.

He wants to explore what that exactly means, but the moment fades as quickly as it arrives. Steve gets out of his crouch and turns to walk towards the door.

“So I’m going to order take-out, is that alright with you?” Steve twists to ask him from the doorframe.

“Nothing Russian,” He laughs on auto pilot, but it makes Steve happy.

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”


The rest of the week goes by more or less the same. They fall into a routine. He never leaves the apartment while Steve goes out to run, buy food, or complete errands. Steve is basically allowing him to be a parasite but he’s too grateful to comment. Steve is loud leaving sometimes, and other moments James has to check the ceramic bowl to see if he’s still around. They order take-out a few days of the week but Steve always makes them breakfast. A happy ritual that seems to benefit them both. And James can’t complain, his plate continuously has eggs with a side of ketchup no matter what the other man cooks.

It brings a spark of happiness in the emptiness, but it never lasts long. Like a shooting star.

Music always plays except for when Steve sleeps. It’s never anything modern and the songs cause the murky depths of his memories to bubble with excitement. James even finds himself tapping his foot while he plays solitaire with a deck of cards, reading a book, or bouncing a tennis ball against the wall. It makes him want to dance, but he can’t do it alone.  Something tells him it’s not how it’s done. But James is too afraid to ask Steve, he doesn’t trust him yet-but he doesn’t distrust him either.

Steve sleeps every other night with him as well. The bed is a queen, and barely fits them at all. It feels fine when it’s just him. When it’s both of them however, they can’t help but have constant skin-to-skin contact. Each time James wakes up, his arms enfold around the other man’s chest or waist. Their legs tangle up together and soft, warm breaths tickle each other’s necks.

He doesn’t mind. Somehow it feels right, but Steve always seems to look uncomfortable. Extremely so. His expression is pained and tight-lipped. James wants to reach out and enfold their bodies again, but he still doesn’t trust him. James doesn’t understand why. Despite everything, his dreams have thankfully stayed blank and the ice thawed by Steve's presence, which is something.


During the week, he feels himself relax but even that’s stolen from him by the Winter Soldier eventually. James doesn’t smile or laugh. He wants to, but he feels empty. Something is vitally missing and it’s staring at him in the face, but he can’t touch it, much less harness it. But like all things, it becomes too much. Each day he feels mostly numb, so he cracks the mirror in the bathroom with his right hand. He craves the pain and the endorphins, just so he can feel. He sinks to the floor around the scattered pieces and screams.

It’s a guttural sound with an edge of a whine. It’s the same sound he made every time his brain was wiped. He feels himself shake and the strands of his hair vibrate against his face. His eyes are hard and fringed with agony. Steve comes running and takes in the scene. It must be frightening, but all he can do is scream until the hole is filled, but it’s not filling.

It’s getting deeper.

Steve gets on his knees, his flesh digging into the sharp shards surrounding him. James watches for the flinch of pain but sees none.

“James, look at me,” Steve instructs sternly. He stops screaming but his eyes remain forward. He doesn’t see the other man coming into his space and wrapping his arms around him until it’s happening. He feels Steve’s face in the crook where his jaw meets with his neck. Large tears wet the area, but he doesn’t stop shaking-or even look down for that matter.

“You’ve got to let me help you man. It’s not going to get better unless you do,” Steve cries softly.

“You don’t know that,” He yells. His voice is wrecked and scratchy. Steve flinches.

“Whatever you’re doing isn’t working Bucky.” James doesn’t correct him. He doesn’t have the energy to. “You have to process what happened to you. You’ve never had the chance. You have to talk to me, or at least someone.”

“No one can relate to waking up inside their own body with little to no memory of who they are. All I have are memories of pain, ice, following directives, and rebelling. All of those in that order going around and around, over and over like some sick masochistic carousel. No one can understand, not even you,” He spits out. But Steve doesn’t flinch, he just grasps him tighter.

“I may not understand, but I’m all you’ve got. I’m always going to be there for you like you were there for me. How many times do I have to say that Buck?” Steve lifts his head away and moves his arms to wrap around his cybernetic one.

“Why do you continue to call me Bucky? Even when you say James, I know you mean Bucky.” It was always there, in the margins whenever Steve calls him James.

“Because it’s who you are. Nothing’s going to get better until you are you again.”

He feels himself stop shaking and he turns to look at Steve. His face is distraught and his voice throaty from his tears. He doesn’t really feel anything though his gut is telling him he should. Nonetheless, he decides to give the other man just a bit of mercy. He’s trying to help after all.

“If calling me Bucky helps, then so be it. Anything else you suggest?” He replies with an edge of a sneer. He doesn’t mean to, but it’s a verbal memory that he can’t shake yet. Luckily Steve ignores it, and continues on.

“Well, you can start off by telling me why you punched a mirror with your flesh arm?” James looks down to his hand that’s covered in blood. It stains bright red and drips to the floor. His knuckles are torn and sliced while the pain beats a steady rhythm.

“I wanted to feel.”

“Feel what? Pain?” Steve asks skeptically.

“To feel anything,” He admits softly. His voice is hard and his eyes snap back to the wood of the counter in front of him.

“I felt the same.” James turns his head and scowls.

“I highly doubt it.”

“When I woke up, sixty odd years may have passed, but your death had only been two days to me. I woke up with Peggy gone, you lost forever, and anyone else I knew dead or on their way to it. I had no one. My only company was an empty New York apartment, in the wrong neighborhood, and fifty punching bags that I beat to pulp relentlessly. I was empty Buck, and you were the hole that couldn’t be filled.”

He looks up and his eyes widen. Without much thought, he springs his arms around Steve and just holds on. He digs his fingers that bleed into his flesh and just cries. It’s overwhelming at the speed his emotions changed just from that last sentence alone. A piece chips off from the murky depths of his memories and snaps back to his consciousness. A hug in a pavilion with the chatter of hundreds around them. Talk of not ‘winning the war until I get there’. An embrace short, but punched with feeling, and of loss. His metal arm pushes into Steve’s back until their chests are almost flush with each other as he sobs.

A spark of feeling wavers like a weak flame, but it’s the first light in the darkness. Bucky chases it.

Chapter Text

Bucky’s nightmares return swiftly without a shred of remorse. They begin as flashes and transform into countless hours of torture until they are nothing but his time “serving” as the Winter Soldier. All he feels is the cold, thrumming pain. More often than not, he feels the hard metal of the trigger accompanied by a mindless cruelty. It’s drug of violence beating thoughts, not of his own free will, in nothing but Hydra directives. There is also an overwhelming sensation of being trapped in his own body helpless to stop the violence. Almost shackled while being puppeteered by someone else. The dreams vivid in glaring Technicolor. He can even taste the musky air in an abandoned warehouse sometimes or the tang of someone else’s blood.

In his dreams, the mask on his face is also a permanent fixture. It’s stifling and muffles his screams entirely. He can’t breathe and struggles to break free from it. It’s a part of him now. He struggles against the layer of inhumanity that sticks like a second skin until he’s nothing but a thought, a speck, in the back of his own mind.

“Bucky! Breathe deeply for me.” The voice is calming and the scenery around him fades away, but he still feels trapped.

Lost. Alone. Imprisoned.

The Winter Soldier keeps him underwater and he can’t break the surface. He reaches out, fingertips trying to touch the open air. It’ useless.

“Listen to my voice. We are in D.C, in my apartment. Can you hear me?” The voice is thick and echoes to him deep in the water. He nods his head, but it’s slow in the pressure of the water. He feels the hold on his ankle tug him even deeper. He screams but it can only be heard in his head; the mask muffles everything.

So alone. Helpless.

Strong arms reach around and embrace his upper torso in bands of steel. They hold him against the bruising grip of the soldier coming south on his ankle. The arms carry him, and slowly lift him towards the surface like some aquatic angel. The grip on his ankle is no match to the salvation that lifts him higher and higher away from the murky ocean of ice. Bucky even kicks the grip free releasing him up and out of the water. Far from the grasp of the Soldier. As he breaks the surface, he’s realizes suddenly he’s sitting on the bed…. shaking with his knees tucked up into his arms. A set of warm limbs hold him and accompany a soft voice. So sweet and utterly grounding.

“Come back to me Buck. Find me…fight,” Steve whispers, voice choking. The sound is clear as a bell this time. The murky quality fades away like the sun burning off early morning mist. A sense of confusion muddles his brain. Why is he on the bed? Where’s the water? Where’s the soldier?

“Do you know where you are?”

He has to think for a moment. He closes his eyes as a slow movie-reel of images flicker across the backs of his eyelids. A neutral color apartment, Etta James music, eggs with ketchup, a smashed mirror, torn knuckles, screaming, an embrace, a warm glow, the feeling of hands sliding into his hair, and emotional blue eyes.

“Your apartment in D.C,” He mumbles flatly, reopening his eyes. The water was his mind he realizes now all too belatedly. The soldier fights inside but for now, he’s detached. It’s just him. Neutral him. Not Bucky, nor the soldier. Just weird cross section between the two. Blank. Clean.

“Do you know who I am?” Bucky thinks for a moment, running through a list of names. Blue eyes, they are attached to something; attached to kindness. America, Rogers, Captain, no…wait, Steve.

“Steve Rogers,” He answers hollowly. The response elicits a small smile from the sad man next to him. He’s also all too aware of the tear tracks quickly drying on the man’s face.

“What were you dreaming about?” The question is simple, but the answer complex. The dream is slowly fading away like sand through open fingers, reality blowing it away.

“Cold, inhumanity….suffocation.” The rest is too painful to speak about. He just huddles in on himself further, slowly building additional mental walls.

“Were you reliving things as the Winter Soldier?”

“No, I was reliving the life of a fairy princess moron. Of course I was!” The sarcasm rips out of him again and his eyes alight with fire. It felt right, like a corresponding piece to a bigger picture. His eyes flicker out and return to their careful blankness.

Steve backs away and lifts his arms up in surrender, “I was just asking Buck.” Steve lowers his arms and Bucky turns to him. Steve’s face is deadly serious. His mouth is smoothed out into an unhappy line and he takes a hand to lay it on his left arm. A pang inside him wishes the touch was on his right.

 “Bucky, I think you have PTSD,” Steve says calmly. Bucky looks up startled. That word is unknown to him. What the fuck is it?

“What’s PTSD?” The words weigh upon his tongue and slosh around like something bitter. It sounds like a disease. Is it venereal? Was the Winter Soldier careless? Panic sets in until Steve continues.

“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I should have realized sooner.” Steve grimaces, crossing his arms on his side of the bed. “I know someone who’s had it. I could ask them for help if that’s alright with you?” The other man tilts his head, trying for a careful smile it seems.

He stops short before replying. Help? He doesn’t need anyone else. He can recall only a fraction of the horrors he’s committed, but it still burns inside of him.

He deserves to burn for what he did. He doesn’t deserve help. He deserves this.

“Leave me alone!” Bucky shrieks, hands thrown in the air with bent fingers like claws. Steve winces sadly before hovering into his space. His eyes are pleading and miserable. The tears are back again.

“Are you sure?” Steve seems like he’s straddling a mental fence. He can see it in his eyes. It’s excruciating, so he turns his back away, creating a wall to protect himself. Bucky shakes away the alien touch on his metal arm and enfolds his limbs over his knees drawing them up to his chin. He sinks his head inside the cave of his thighs like an ostrich and breathes slow and even.

“You can come back in a few hours. I’ll be here,” Bucky offers, the words falling flat like soda left too long in the sun. He tightens his arms while he sinks in the simmering anxiety beating against his mind.

Quietly, Steve dresses into his running gear and leaves the apartment. The silence numbs him.


 Another week passes and the air is stained. Steve either hovers too much, or is gone for long stretches of time. One day, he doesn’t show up for twenty four hours.

Bucky cries in the shower. Which isn’t the first instance, except he’s loud this time.

They barely speak to one another and Steve is overly cautious. When Bucky has another nightmare, which are becoming more regular, Steve just holds him; but he doesn’t say anything. It’s a relief at first but the silence is too much. He wants to fight something or yell.

But he just thinks about the people he’s killed. Their faces are nameless and each twisted into a grotesque caricature of supreme horror. He wasn’t swift with his killings- he made them last. Torture was part of it. Sometimes, he left them alive with multiple limbs broken and shattered knees. He even sliced its of skin off.

He even remembers strangling a man to death. The utter repulsive feeling of draining the life out of someone is unparalleled. It’s the most personal way to kill another human being. When a bullet fires from his gun, the sensation only comes from the trigger and the recoil. With strangling, he felt the slow trickle of life compress and squeeze its way out of existence.

It’s hard to live with himself after he realizes that fact. The nights he remembers, they are the nights he wishes he had a gun.

Bucky soon becomes aware that Steve is starting to realize the inner workings of what’s going on inside his mind, or at least a part of it. Kitchen knives soon disappear, the ties in the closet vanish, and any pill bottles are thrown out. Steve probably realized his emotional state after he stopped eating. He doesn’t have the capacity to hunger for anything. Everything makes him nauseous and tastes like cardboard.

He stares blankly at walls and even avoids reading. The tennis ball sits on the shelf gathering dust and the record player plays on.


 

When Bucky starts sleeping on the couch, it’s the last straw for Steve. He’s waited patiently for Bucky to get better. He gave his friend space, held him when he needed it most, and didn’t press him for anything. He even let the whole ‘starve your problems away’ thing go. No appetite is something he dealt with all too well after being unfrozen. But he can’t protect him from the nightmares if Bucky is on the couch. He knows the time has come to call in reinforcements. Everyone else has been calling him more frequently lately asking after him. The time couldn’t be more perfect.

He calls Tony out of the blue on the cell phone he gave him a year ago. It’s a square transparent thing that can make video calls. An eye-to-eye conversation would be best for such a delicate matter.

“Hey Cap’n, what’s going on? Finally decided to answer my calls hmm?” Steve rolls his eyes and settles his expression into something a bit more serious.

“I need to ask you a favor-”

“They come with a price my star spangled friend. Or, I could help you out of the goodness of my heart. Tell me what you need,” Tony interrupts. The man has the social graces of narcissistic vaudevillian.

“Do you know anything about the Winter Soldier?”

Tony tightens his mouth and replies stiffly, “I’m aware of him. World class Russian assassin?”

“How do you know about him?” Steve asks cautiously. It’s better to feel things out instead of electing to give unnecessary information. A villain, albeit a controlled one, still garners enemies.

“Remember I hacked SHIELDS files right? They’ve been sitting around in my personal cloud ready to read. You know what a cloud is right Cap’n?” Tony seems to find painful joy in his ignorance of the modern world. Yet, it’s painfully ironic that most in the 21st century are of the same ignorance as well, with no excuse to claim for their own stupidity.

“Yes, Natasha gave me a brief overview. I may be out of time, but I’m not stupid,” Steve counters. These sorts of insults have become so common to him that any defensive reaction of his part just became boring. It wasn’t worth it. Better to let everyone believe you the Neanderthal than a man capable of adapting. What surprised him the most about the twenty-first century is not the technology, but the capacity of trust and good will. In some places they have excelled, and in others, well, they’ve stepped backwards.   

“Just checking gramps.” Tony grins, the creases around his eyes highly defined before smoothing out once more. “Well, the Winter Soldier popped up a few times while I briefly went over some of SHIELDS files. After the whole Hydra extravaganza, thank you by the way, I’ve been meaning to dig a bit deeper.”

“I need you to fly here as soon as possible. Bring the SHIELD information and I’ll get you up to speed on what I’m dealing with,” Steve asks, well, more orders than anything else. The gravity of the situation must reflect upon his face when Tony’s own flattens and grimaces.

“Give me an hour. Your place?” Tony turns and yells to the void behind him, “HONEY! I’M GOING TO DC!” A flash of red hair peeks from the upper left corner of the screen and disappears with some low mumbling.

“Actually, my friend Sam’s place. You actually know him. Sam Wilson.”

“Falcon, yeah, replaced his pack and everything. He didn’t tell me how it was damaged though strangely. Know anything?” Tony asks, brows nearly disappearing into a subtle receding hairline. Steve gulps, looking away for a moment. Just anywhere but at the screen. Anywhere else.

“I’ll explain when you get here. Just go to his place and I’ll meet you there.”

“Toodles!” Tony smiles with a vulgar smooch. Steve replies with a frown before muttering goodbye.

He calls Sam immediately who thankfully, is at home, and brings him into the loop. Thirty minutes later, he arrives at Sam’s place alone. His friend lives in a nice quiet residential neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital. Similar Cape Cod style homes interspersed with a few colonials line the freshly paved drive. With a bright red door and medium grey-blue siding with a matching dark grey roof, the outside hardly reflects the man within. By first impressions alone, anyone could surmise a family lives here or a quiet grandfatherly figure. Gnomes also dot the landscape here and there with expertly maintained grounds. Each time, Steve is almost jealous. Almost. He parks his motorcycle near one of the many bushes snaking their way up the red paved path leading to said red door. He stuffs the keys inside his pocket feeling them hug his wallet and driving gloves.

Sam opens the door before he can knock. “So your boy has PTSD,” Sam announces bluntly. He fold his arms turning to allow Steve inside. Sam follows behind as Steve leads them to the living room off to the left. “From what you showed me out of the files Natasha got for you, it’s no wonder.”

They both sit down and Steve leans forward fidgeting with his hands. “I’ve only looked at them a few times. I couldn’t stomach the things they did to him. There isn’t much in there on who he was directed to kill or anything else pertaining to that. Most of it deals with the serum processes they put him through, and the cryo phases, along with his reactions in and out of it. But seeing the after effects….” He puts a hand over is eyes and chokes up a bit, “I’d probably vomit if I read the files again or really really looked at them.” He feels himself shaking a bit. The use of restraint they put on him...it was how you treated crazed animals. It was inhuman. But Bucky to them was a weapon, nothing more. He sobs, “I don’t want to know Sam. I just don’t.”

Sam’s expression looks pained as he leans over embracing him. “We’ll figure this out. He’s a vet just like the rest of us, well,” he chuckles darkly, “deep down.” Steve smiles just a little, and Sam just holds him a little while longer.

They separate and look at the floor in silence until a small knock erupts from the door. Steve launches from his seat and finds Tony leaning against the stoop railing.  He’s completely casual in an original concert AC/DC t shirt with roughed up Jeans more suited to a farmer than a billionaire. Steve can only imagine Pepper’s face as he left.

Tony takes off his sunglasses and hangs them vertically from the collar of his shirt before grinning in his direction.“Let’s get the party started!” He walks forward, heavily brushing against Steve, and pads over to the living room like he owns the place.  “Sam! My man! How are the new wings?” He winks at Steve who’s followed and Sam grins with a handshake thrown at Tony.

“Took them for a spin a week ago. The new adjustments are perfect.”

“Good,” Tony smiles even wider before falling back into the couch.  “Now, can at least one of you two tell me why on earth my winged jet pack got torn apart? I don’t know much of what happened, with SHIELD out of commission for the moment, and Fury dust in the wind,” Tony pouts, waiting for one of them to speak up. Steve looks between the two and Sam looks a little grim, but nods at him anyways. He takes a deep breath and turns to Tony.

“You obviously know Hydra infiltrated SHIELD and killed anyone who got in its way, or discovered its secret agenda.”

“Yeah, Sam here told me all the juicy details but I’m assuming Hydra had some big bad Boss battle standing in your way of their real plans. Am I right?” Tony quirks an eyebrow and rubs his hands together.

“Boss battle?” The term confuses him. He pulls out his notepad he carries practically everywhere and writes it down.

“Video games? The villain you fight at the end of a level or a number of levels? Just,” Tony reaches out and grabs the notepad from his hands. He jots down video games and hands it back to him. “Just research the whole thing; you might like it. But answer my question; Pepper wants me back for some dinner at someplace or other in about two hours.” Steve could work with that.

Hopefully.

“Do you remember my best friend Bucky Barnes?” Steve starts out.

Tony leans back, crossing his tanned arms. “Handsome fellow with the pouty lips and dark hair?” He gestures to the crown of his head and makes a pout of his own. “Yeah, his name is synonymous with yours pal. You guys are a matching set like salt and pepper,” And Tony’s eyes get big with a large grin, “I guess that makes me salt.” Steve looks at him completely unamused until Tony’s smiles slides off his face. Sam laughs before settling back into the armchair he’d chosen earlier.

Tony nods for Steve to continue. “Two days before I took down Hydra’s war air-ship, we had a mission to capture Zola on a train. A hydra weapon blew out the side. Bucky picked up my shield and got blasted with a bit of the tesseract amo from Hydra weapons. The recoil bounced him outside of the train and he managed to grab the handle. But, It broke apart and he fell to his death,” He pauses and looks up with glassy eyes, “or so I thought.”

He continues on, “When I saved him from the Hydra facility, they’d experimented on him with their own form of the serum. It kept him alive after the fall. Somehow, though,” A tear slides down his face, “Hydra captured him.” Sam’s watching Tony whose face is the paragon of solemn sincerity.“His arm was severed in the fall. Zola and his men fitted him with a bionic arm replacement using Hydra technology. His mind was a bit foggy but he was still in there. His file indicated he resisted them on every occasion.  Bucky,” Steven gulps, “Has heart-always too much of it-so turning him into a weapon was fruitless unless they wiped his mind…which they did.” His voice begins chocking as he goes on, “They tried to take everything away and implant new memories. Zola and his team made him into almost the perfect weapon. Almost.” Steve’s voice wavers and he coughs to straighten it out. “Except, there was one flaw they couldn’t erase.” Now he sobs, “His capacity to love, care, and protect.” He spit out the last word with an edge of a wail and Sam moves, embracing him, as he cries onto the other man’s shoulder. The smell of soap is calming and he takes deep, calming breaths.

“I’m ok,” Steve wipes the tears from his eyes before continuing, “I’ve got to finish getting it all out if I’m going to help him.” Sam pats him on the back and lets him go. He turns back to Stark whose watching them curiously, eyebrows drawn in apparent concern.

“Because the effects of the memory wipe seemed to only work on him temporarily, they would cryogenically freeze him in between missions. We’re talking years of separation at a time, for only a few days at most, before memories would leak back and cause him to rebel. His identity was kept secret with a mask and flawless Russian. That is, until Hydra sent him after Fury, Sam, Natasha, and myself. He was the one to rip off Sam’s wings.” He’ll never forget that heart stopping moment as the mask ripped off from the Winter Soldier’s face. Relief and horror intermingled into a deadly concoction that almost got him killed. And then again on the air ships in the sky. He ripped the wings with his left hand like those of a struggling fragile butterfly. It’d been frightening to the highest degree possible.

“He and I were on the air ship, one of the three that was going down. I managed to get the chip in to disrupt their targeting system and give the control back to Agent Hill. I was still on there, and so was Bucky. He tried to stop me from putting the chip in. He was also directed to kill me.” The horror on Bucky’s face as Steve hung over the side with blood pooling onto his face and the relentless beating of the metal arm. The recognition almost broke him until the metal supporting them collapsed. Then he woke up in the hospital to music and Sam sitting next to him.

“I was out running a few weeks ago and he found me. His memories are scattered and he can’t remember Bucky Barnes,” His tears are starting to dry up and he pulls in another deep breath, “He’s living with me right now and, well, he has PTSD Tony; severely. His nightmares are constant, he barely eats, I think he’s suicidal, and I came home one time to him crying in the shower. He’s also sleeping on the couch where I can’t protect him from the nightmares. I,” his voice gets stronger, “I need your help.”

Tony watches him for a second with a grim expression. His posture is hunched and any idea of a narcissistic attitude is dissolved. In its place, Steve could almost take him for Howard. They both share the same showmanship, but underneath it is a core of concern; a need to help. So unfortunate Tony couldn’t see the startling traits they share more than not.

Tony sits up straight and leans forward slightly, fingers tiered tip to tip. “I want to meet the guy. My dad never shut up about you two, so I feel like I practically know him. We’ll take my car, unless you want me to meet you there?” He offers.

“I’ll take my bike, Sam can ride with you. Is that ok?” He looks over to Sam who’s smiling.

“Alright with me Steve.”

“His name is Cap’n,” Tony insists.

“Before the serum, I was Steve. So I’m Steve. Do I call you Iron Man?” He retorts.

“I wouldn’t complain.”


 Steve has been gone for more than an hour. Bucky only knows this after the record he flipped earlier has run its course. He shuts the player off and suffers in the silence. The music didn’t help, so he sticks with the silence.

His hair is greasy from not washing it for a few days. The clumped strands collect on his cheeks and flutter with each breath. An image of a wing on blue keeps flashing in his memory. It’s important, or he feels it is. He wonders if it’s something he saw at the exhibit. The memory shows him sewing on a winged patch to his jacket. The feeling behind it is strange and doesn’t correspond to the action. Its tenderness, love, and pride. The concepts feel so foreign to him. To taste those emotions makes him crave and want.

He craves for those emotions to fill the blackness in his heart, and to fill the empty hole inside him. But how?

Bucky hears the scrape of a key and a few voices. He’s instantly on alert. He sits up and throws the blanket down onto the ground. His eyes scan for any weapons in the general vicinity. All he can find is the tennis ball on the shelf. He carries it in his bionic hand and grips it to aim.

The door opens and a shorter man out of the other two leads the pack. His mind transforms into soldier mode as he hurls the object straight at the man’s forehead. In his mind, it’s a kill shot-even though the ammo is a measly tennis ball. The force behind it is in the high double digits though, which causes the man to immediately become knocked out from the thrown object.

“Bucky! What did you do!?” Steve yells before kneeling to the floor. The yelling sets him off into a flashback. His eyes grow wide and he backs into the corner of the room. He draws his knees up and rocks himself back and forth.

“No more ice, no more ice,” He chants back and forth. His surroundings melt into Zola’s office and everyone else in the room fades away.

Chapter Text

The lights are bright and pierce his eyes painfully. An apartment in muted colors with old wood floors explodes across his vision. Sounds muffle until they smooth out into clear discernible speech. He shakes his head to knock out the confusion but all it does is make his vision swim slightly.

 It’s been awhile since he’s been knocked out. Panic sets in, but he breathes through it, just like Banner instructed him during his last few attacks. He closes his eyes, clamps his fists, and counts out each breathe. One, two, three, four. His heart rate eventually slows as he thinks about his shop. All grey lines and concrete with opaque windows carefully exposing his space to the city. Every tool carefully laid out, the metallic odor that constantly persists, the quiet music of mullet rock, and a smiling Pepper. His vital signs return to normal and the anxiety flushes out of his system.

“Haven’t had a knock out that bad since alien day Armageddon. Your boy Robocop over there has a mean swing.” He takes in his surroundings and discovers Sam standing above him, whose attention focused solely on Rogers and Barnes over in the corner near the window.

Rogers is kneeling over Barnes like a worried husband and holding his intact hand. It’s hard not to notice that the guy is completely and utterly gone; anyone can see it. He supposes there was probably more there than the old news reels could ever let on. Plus it wouldn’t do to have a gay Captain America during the ‘morally pure’ era of American History. Not to say that Rogers was strictly homosexual. Tony felt a bisexual vibe the moment he’d met the spangled wonder straight out of the comic books. It’s been suppressed, but it’s there. Whatever is going on in the corner, it looks to be an immersive flash back, is exhibit A for his case.

“I’m assuming Sergeant Barnes over there is having a flash back?”

“A pretty bad one from what I can tell,” Sam replies without taking his eyes of the two maybe-lovers over there. From down here his face looks grim and Tony realizes he’s going to have to help them, even though his mind is still swimming from the projected tennis ball.

“Help me up, I know how to pull him out,” he instructs as Sam holds out a flat palm for leverage. He takes the steady grip and pulls himself up with an ‘oof ’. The world tilts slightly, but it’s nothing he can’t handle. Tony shifts his attention back to Rogers and Barnes. He walks over with quickly and crouches on the ground.

“Steve,” He says sternly, but the blonde idiot isn’t noticing, “Captain Rogers!” It finally the other man’s attention and he looks up startled with wet eyes. “I need you to hold onto him and keep him stable. Do you understand me?” Rogers nods before gripping the shaking man in his bulky arms.

“Now, I want you to get through to him. Talk calmly, sing a song, just anything to not heighten his stress. We want to keep him medically stable, so monitor his pulse, and give him a set pattern of breaths for him to subconsciously copy. Breath in slow and deep, and let it out slow and steady.” The emotional stare of a torn soldier ghosts across Steve’s face before it’s quickly replaced with utter calm.

Tony watches Rogers lay his forehead against Barnes’s cheek and sing something he must remember from their days together. It’s old with a soft slow melody. It’s a Glenn Miller song called Always in my Heart. The song has a significant meaning to him as well, and he tries his best not to let it show. He remembers his father would sometimes sing it in his happier moods when his mother was around. He doesn’t remember much of it, but the song brings back memories all the same. His father holding mother in his arms as they slowly glided step to step with the stars in their eyes.

You are always in my heart

Even though you're far away
I can hear the music of the song I sang to you
You are always in my heart
And when skies above are gray
I remember that you care and then and there the sun breaks through
Just before I go to sleep

There's a rendezvous I keep
And the dreams I always meet help me forget we're far apart

 

Roger’s voice is low and spins a sad, melodic atmosphere between the two of them. Barnes stops talking and sits still. Tony is taken aback as the Winter Soldier sings the song along with Rogers, his voice higher but still an echo of the same sweet, sad song.

Tony feels tears prick his eyes and hastily wipes them away, but the image of his parents doesn’t fade. A small moment in time when their lives were nothing but happiness.

He feels himself crisscross onto the hard floor and observe the two pining after each other as neither realize it. In front of his eyes is something precious that needs repairing and protecting. Despite his self-centered nature, he decides right then to make them his current cause.


 

Steve finishes his song and moves onto humming Moonlight Serenade. It’s a song Bucky taught him to dance to on the record they could barely afford. He breathes against his neck as his face shifts away from Bucky’s cheek. Unconsciously, he even kisses Bucky’s neck and keeps humming against his skin. He smells like home and a Brooklyn apartment torn apart by time.

“Steven,” Tony asks trying to get his attention. He doesn’t move his head but his eyes look to the side. Stark is wearing a strange expression of, wait, is that sadness?

“I need you to grab Barnes here and take him to your bed. Can you do that?” He puts away the thought, and slowly nods as he gets into a better position to lift his best friend. He doesn’t weigh anything to him and easily carries Bucky to their, no… his bedroom he mentally corrects. He lays his large body out under the sheets. He crawls in next to Bucky and strokes his sweaty brow while tucking the long strands of his hair away from his face. The haircut is growing on him.

“He’ll soon come down from the flashback but he needs care. Don’t be embarrassed, but I need you to get into a spooning position, and hold onto him. Talk about anything, a past memory that’s pleasant or just keep singing. Just keep a peaceful environment, alright?” Tony looks concerned and he follows the order.

For the next hour he sings songs under his breath, all of them with some sort of special meaning attached. They come from a dance lesson, something playing at their old favorite restaurant/bar, a favorite song on the radio or whatever can jog a memory. He knows them all by heart and owns most of the records with those same tracks.

During the hour, Steve hears Tony speaking quietly with Sam and calling Banner on the phone outside the door. Tony even tells Steve that he called Pepper to cancel their plans and he’s going to stay here for a week. Tony assures him he has an apartment nearby for business reasons and he’ll stay there. It’s only ten minutes away. He asks why Pepper agreed and Tony tells him she only accepted after he mentions PTSD. He’s extremely grateful and thanks him. He promises to make it up to him once Bucky’s back to himself. Or, at least as close as he can get in the present circumstance. Tony just shakes his head no but he keeps insisting until Stark gives in.

Another half hour goes by and Bucky is still humming along with him. It’s a miracle in itself, and he eventually comes back. When he does, the house smells like Chinese and dim sum. Steve can hear Tony sitting in the living room with Sam as they chow down and watch a comedy on his little used TV.

“Hey Buck, you alright?” He whispers gently as he tucks a fallen lock of hair from his eyes. It keeps slipping from his ear but Steve doesn’t complain about more excuses to touch him.

Bucky’s face turns to him and he blinks his eyes a few times, “Where’s Zola?” Bucky’s face’s is nothing but genuine fear as his eyes scan the exit, window, and closet for escape. Steve realizes he almost prefers the blank look he had on before.

“He’s dead Buck. It’s just me, Tony, and Sam,” He tells him slowly, but Bucky shakes his head.

“No, we’re in the lab…” Bucky tries to convince him. He feels his friend’s body stiffen. Steve’s face falls, but snaps back to determination. He had to calm him down and keep a steady head. Tony warned him earlier about this. The transition from fabricated reality to present is delicate.

“We’re in my bedroom, look around.” Bucky processes in his surroundings with wide eyes. Steve still holds onto him and pets his upper right arm gently. The soft whisper of arm hair tingles against his fingertips.

“Oh,” Bucky says quietly. The air is thick with tension as Bucky comes down back to reality. Steve lets go of him reluctantly and folds his hands across his stomach. Bucky turns his head to listen to the noise that echoes down the hall and through the open door.

He looks puzzled and tilts his head just so, “Who’s in the living room?”

“Tony Stark and Sam Wilson.” Thankfully they left them mostly alone and went to entertain themselves in the meantime

“Howard Stark’s boy? And who’s Sam Wilson?” His eyes shift to the left and they seem to be scanning something only Bucky can see. He tries not to worry about it too much.

“Sam’s the one whose wings you tore apart like a paper airplane on the air ship.” Bucky nervously picks at the duvet comforter that ends in the middle of his chest.

“Are they the ones who you said could help?” His voice sounds soft, and quiet, like a child asking for something they shouldn’t. It’s a relief to hear him asking for help, but the tone is so resigned. But even the Bucky he knew before would be reluctant to ask for help.

“Yeah. Tony out there? He suffers from PTSD, just like you. Sam goes to the VA center and VA hospital to speak to other veterans on their experiences and helps them to adjust to civilian life. Despite everything, you’re still a soldier,” Steve turns and points to his chest over his heart, “even if it was against your will. You have to deal with things like a soldier. Sitting around and doing nothing isn’t going to help,” he explains gently. Bucky’s hard eyes explode on him before the maelstrom of words stream from his mouth like fire.

“I haven’t been sitting around, I’ve been feeling nothing Steve.” He yells as quietly as he can, “Everything is numb and I don’t know how to cope. My nightmares are filled with being buried alive in ice with a window to the outside world. I dream of people’s faces I’ve killed, but I don’t know their names.” He spits out with an edge of pure agony, “I’ve got an old identity that looks like a shredded piece of paper, that’s barely taped together, and written in a language I don’t understand. All I do know is you’re important to me and I need to find out why. If getting help explains why you broke my mission directive, then so be it. Until then, I’m not sitting around. I’m learning to live with the horrors wrought upon me.” Bucky exhales sharply, “So be aware of that in any of our future conversations.” Steve turns away and rubs his forearm. Shame and embarrassment color his cheeks. He tries to speak but Tony beats him too it.

“So Anastasia is awake.” They both look up to see Tony standing there with a Chinese dumpling half eating in his fingers and Sam with his arms crossed. The smell of Chinese cuisine follows both of them into the room.

“I’m not a Russian lost princess,” Bucky argues with clenched fists. He’s still angry and Steve is itching for forgivness.

“It’s a compliment, she was pretty like you,” Tony tosses back. He takes another bite of the soft pastry and raises an eyebrow. Sam rolls his eyes while huffing out a sarcastic laugh.

“So Steve here tells me that you can help me,” Bucky directs to Stark. He doesn’t play games and cuts to the chase.

“I’m going to try. You knew my pop, and he told me about you so I feel it my,” He paces and waves around his pastry, “patriotic duty to help a ninety year old vet in need. And your boyfriend over here is just worried sick.” Steve looks at Bucky apprehensively, but his best friend doesn’t seem to react, “So I’m going to help you with the knowledge I acquired through countless therapy sessions with a guy that can turn into a green rage monster like that,” Tony informs him while snapping his fingers. Bucky looks even more confused and turns to Steve for clarification.

“Bruce Banner tried to replicate the serum and managed to mutate himself into two separate people. Himself, and a giant green man over ten feet tall. You’d like him, he’s actually nice guy.”

“Why isn’t he here?” Bucky asks flatly.

“We don’t want to overwhelm you considering we don’t know you and you don’t know us. And, he’s currently across the world in a different time zone; capiche?” Tony cuts in before Steve can even think to respond. He sits up and back against the headboard while crossing his arms.

“So you suffer from what I have. How do I make all of this….go away?” Bucky asks bluntly.  

“It’s not as simple as that. The whole thing with PTSD is you suffered a trauma that your mind, your psyche if you will, cannot mentally handle. It’s like a huge gaping mental wound that’s going to take you, and others, to hold the separated sides and bring in together to close it up.” Tony still paces and finishes off his Chinese dumping with a few licks of his tongue.

“Have you heard of the word trigger before?”

“Like on a gun?” Bucky dumbly asks.

“A+ student here folks.” Steve watches Bucky’s jaw clench and narrow his eyes. “But yes, like on a gun. Your brain, it’s scared. It’s worried it’s going to suffer the same trauma again, trauma it can’t handle. So, it puts things into place to protect itself while at the same time, puts it into a panic, or PTSD. It’s called a trigger and it reminds your brain of the trauma. It can be a sound, a word, a tone of voice, an image, or even a name that can spiral you into a manufactured world within your mind and cause terrifying panic attacks and anxiety episodes.” Tony explains as he puts his hands behind his back and starts to pace at the foot of the bed.

“Earlier, after you so gracefully knocked me out with a tennis ball, thanks for that, Steven’s tone here triggered you into believing you were in Zola’s lab. One of my triggers used to be thinking about New York City. I would hyperventilate and have an extreme panic/anxiety attack in any setting. I even created an army of Iron Man suits to keep away the nightmares. I thought if I was better prepared, I wouldn’t have to face almost dying in an unknown galaxy from a nuclear explosion in space again.” Tony’s face begins to look strained and his breathing starts to turn rhythmic.

“As you can tell, I still have issues, but I’m able to manage them more effectively. Trying to protect yourself from what happened, or wishing you were dead, isn’t going to fix anything. You have to learn to cope with your traumas and let your brain know it happened, even if it’s not ok.” Bucky’s face seems to have softened and Steve decides to put his hand over Bucky’s metal one. Bucky looks down and a small sad smile comes and goes in a span of a second.

“If you’re willing, Dr. Banner is on standby to help you. There are a few treatments for PTSD. A few to name are CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and a few others. What do you say?”

Steve can tell Bucky is at a loss for words. He rubs his hand in solidarity and waits for an answer. Bucky turn to him and ask for advice through his eyes. It’s just a Bucky thing for him to do and he almost forgets that his best friend isn’t covered in a pile of brain washing. But he nods and dips his head towards Tony. A ghost of smile barely crosses his face.

“When’s the soonest he can be here?”

“Tomorrow. He’s doing some medical volunteering over in the Ukraine but he’s willing to drop everything and leave. He has a replacement just in case due to his, well, condition.” Tony leaves the room after whipping out a more advanced version of his Steve’s phone and telling it to call ‘Brucey’.

“I’m proud of you buck,” Steve says gently. It’s a strange moment between the two and it’s not lost on either of them. Sam coughs and walks closer. He was awfully quiet during Tony’s speech.

“You’re a bigger man for asking for help. It takes one to go through what you did and another to cope. Steve and I will be there for you every step of the way. You’ve had it worse than most guys I’ve seen, but nothing is ever hopeless. You just remember that.” Bucky nods and gives Sam a genuine smile, even if it’s small, and barely a turn up of the lips. It makes Steve’s heart flutter just a little with a jolt of jealousy even though he’s the one almost holding Bucky’s hand.

“I don’t know about the rest of you, but that Chinese food in there,” Steve nods his head towards the hall, “smells mighty good. Want any Buck?” Bucky looks against the idea and huddles upon himself. He shakes his head no before down casting his eyes.

“Sergeant Barnes,” Sam gets on one knee near the bed so he’s eye level, “I know hunger is the furthest thing from your mind, but it’s not going to help. You don’t need to eat a lot, that’s not what were asking, just some. Can you do it for Steve?” Bucky looks at Steve sadly and nods. Sam smiles at him and gets up from his crouched position.

“You’re gonna love what Tony got. I think he’s secretly got all the best ethnic restaurants in every major city on his contacts list,” Sam laughs with a fond look in his eyes.

Bucky manages to pick at his food for a few minutes until he takes a tentative bite of a small forkful of Mongolian beef. He chews it thoughtfully and goes back for more. It’s a burden that lifts off of Steve’s shoulders, and he smiles warmly around his own bite of food. Chinese has changed from the fare he remembers buying when they both shared an apartment. It was a little place tucked in between a laundry shop and a shoe repair place. The food was authentic and identical to anything you’d find in the Far East.

After being unfrozen, and stuck smack dab in the middle of New York, he managed to try the twenty-first century take on the ethnic cuisine and found it lacking. The sauces had been almost plastic on his tongue and the noodles without flavor. But this, this is the meal of his early twenties. He hopes it will dig a bit more at Bucky’s memory as he watches him take small bites.


 

Stark and Sam leave later that evening. They order American burgers with old-time milkshakes reminiscent of his youth, or that’s that Steve tells him. They taste familiar, like the Chinese food earlier. His palette during his years as the Winter Soldier must have been strictly eastern European. He specifically remembers small filling meals of buckwheat and something with stuffed cabbage. Very plain, and only eaten for sustenance; not pleasure.

Steve keeps a close eye on him and he’s itching to snap at him. He knows his, what did Tony call it, flashback, scared Steve since his voice had been the trigger. It hadn’t been like waking from his nightly nightmares. This time, he’d truly believed he was locked deep underground in Zola’s lab. It felt like he was trapped alive in a coffin of ice and through the porthole, he could see the alien faced Zola smirking along with a few of his assistants.

The experience had been terrifying for both of them which is why he let the needless staring carry on. Also, the man inside him, stuck beneath countless brain washings, appreciates it. Bucky’s figured out his memories aren’t a lake of impenetrable dark memories. It’s Bucky, the real Bucky, fighting his way through the Winter Soldier and Zola’s brain washings, to take hold again. It had shocked him as he thought about it while he came down from his attack. He only knew it was Bucky when a voice similar to his started to cry out. The accent was a little different, but still American.

Basically, he feels like an empty vessel with two warring souls fighting for dominance. But he decides to keep it secret. He’s already crazy enough and doesn’t want to drag something like “two personalities” into the mix. He’ll mention it to this Banner Steve speaks of, and hopefully he can get some answers.

“So, you remembered the songs I sang to you earlier during your attack,” Steve fidgets and looks down shyly as he cuts the silence. He had. It was subconscious and he blames the good guy, Bucky, for remembering, but he only realized he’d been singing an hour after his attack started. Before then, it was all ice and Zola.

“Did any of those have a special meaning to,” He pauses and looks away, “t-to you?” He finishes feebly. He meant to say us, but he’s not ready to open that can of worms; not yet.

“Most of them yeah. Things on the radio yo-, I mean I used tolike back when we lived together in Brooklyn.”

Bucky didn’t miss the almost “you” but he seamlessly tries to direct the topic someplace else.

“Have you listened to any modern music? I don’t remember anything besides the records you’ve been playing in the apartment. I don’t think the Winter Soldier had time for it.” There were too many directives and his memory wipes tried to push down his inhumanity to make him the perfect weapon. It felt like he’d lived, but not actually lived, during a lifetime’s worth of years. But his humanity is in there, in the form of James Bucky Barnes, and he was fighting his way to the surface slow and steady.

“Clint, you don’t know him, at least I don’t think, he helped me a bit in that area. Tony tried to give some input but it was all screeching voices and something called electric guitars? It sounded like nails on a chalkboard. But to answer your question,” Steve finally makes eye contact with him again and sighs, “I don’t really care too much for it. I’ll stick to my records, and what I know. The world in that respect is just too different for me,” Steve admits. It’s understandable. Two years is not long enough to get used to an entirely new century.

“Well, I think I’ll take a historical shortcut through musical history and see what I missed out on,” He chuckles. The words come out and Bucky realizes a hint of a Brooklyn accent snakes its way over every constant and vowel. It’s the same voice that spoke to him earlier. Still American, but different. He stops talking and looks over to Steve whose expression is both hopeful and heart breaking.

“Do you want to play cards?” Steve asks abruptly. His expression is nothing but neutral, all traces of emotion wiped.

“Sure, the cards are on the coffee table.” Steve gets up and quickly comes back with the roughed up pack of cards.

They spend the rest of the evening playing poker and go fish.

Chapter Text

Bucky sleeps soundly through the night for the first time in weeks. He wakes up enfolded within Steve’s arms and it feels like coming home. For a small moment, the emptiness inside disappears and is replaced with something infinitely warmer and whole. Almost like Steve crawled inside the cave in his heart and took up residence. He chases the feeling and wriggles into the warmth happily.

The good guy inside, who he just barely feels, revels in the touch as well and gives him a memory, which pushes against his mind like a cork rising to the surface. He can’t make heads or tails of it. It’s not Bucky’s memory, but the emerging of one of the Winter Soldier’s.

Tall New York buildings tower around him but they aren’t new but not old either.  Strange cars in shapes of boxes with hard lines and angles clutter the streets. These cars are considered trash by today’s standards but in this memory they seem to be popular and everywhere. People are dressed in colors that seem wrong to pair and the silhouettes are boxy just like the cars. Men wear long hair in the back but keep it high and tight in the front while others wear tight wet curls fluffed high upon their heads. The main focus of the memory is his confusion and the need to find Steve.

Wait, he remembers the time period. He asked a man in a suit on the street. It was 1985 in springtime. More of the memory reveals itself in the form of running around Brooklyn in their old neighborhood. But Steve, and what was left of the building, wasn’t there. He cried in a back alley against a graffiti covered trash can until Hydra found him. They took him to a secret location in Manhattan and sat him in the chair with a rubber guard flush against his teeth.

He’d accepted the wipe gladly.

And that scares him most of all, the overwhelming sense of bliss at being wiped. He didn’t want to live in a world without Steve. Maybe that’s why he never came back to America until a few weeks ago.

He found Steve and the needless fear is unnecessary-at least that’s what he tries to convince himself. Instead, he revels in the present moment; within the warmth of the arms around him. Their trust is building more each and every day which is a positive thought that contributes even more to his present contentment.

Caught up in the moment, he cautiously cover’s one of Steve’s hands with his own and feels the soft skin of his upper hand. The rough wrinkles give his knuckles an interesting texture but all in all, they are still the artist’s hands he remembers. Wait, he remembers now. The littered sketchbooks across their apartment, the constant spiral notebook Steve hunched over in their make shift camp, his small collection of charcoal pencils and Bucky sitting at their rickety dining room table looking down at the street below as his features were captures by these hands.

It feels like remembering someone else’s life when it’s entirely his own. He feels so far removed from the memories that sprout randomly but sometimes, like the one he just experienced, it feels present and tangible.

He examines the memory and uses it to chase the darkness away until it can settle back again once Steve wakes up. For now, he will enjoy it.

 Like all things currently in his life, it doesn’t last much longer as a sharp knock flutters against the door an hour later waking Steve up.

“Hm?” Steve groans sleepily. Bucky feels Steve’s face burrow like a mole into his neck. He stops breathing until the sensation is ripped away. Steve’s eyes pop open wide and the blankets are shoved to the foot of the bed in a tall mountainous pile. Bucky watches him tramp around in a tank top and boxer-briefs as the sense of contentment he felt before drains away. He watches idly as Steve flings open the door to the closet and quickly shoves on a pair of sweatpants and a navy t-shirt with a white star in the middle. He’s every inch a casual Captain America, just less spangled.

“I’m coming!” Steve shouts running with inhuman speed down the short hallway. Bucky leans off the bed a little to see down the hall. Words of greeting float their way down into the room as Stark and Sam mill about the front of the apartment. The room feels lonely without Steve and he rolls out of bed himself to change into a different set of what Steve calls ‘lounge clothes’. He slips on a steel grey t shirt with black running pants. They are a far cry from the twill pants and loose button down shirts of his youth sixty something years ago even though physically, the age difference is but a few years at most.

Bucky pads down the hallway once he’s cleanly dressed. He shakes his hair out of his eyes and tucks a large bunch of it behind his right ear. His hands skim the oily strands and he remembers his lack of showers in the past few days. He’ll take one after breakfast and after he says hello since it’s the polite thing to do, or so the good guy inside of him tells him. He hunches his shoulders and exhales shakily. He can feel the black hole inside blooming the further he walks across the hard cold floor. The reprieve was nice while it lasted.

“Hey Anastasia, how are you this morning?” Tony grins in unnecessary arrogance. He narrows his eyes and sneers before walking to the fridge. Both Sam and Stark are bright eyed this morning which puts him in even more of a deeper mood.

Also, surprisingly, he’s a little hungry this morning for the first time in a week. He decides to eat something simple like cereal before the feeling can get chased away. He chooses Lucky Charms and pours the mixture of sugared marshmallows and grainy pieces into a bowl and fills half the bowl with whole milk.

“He’s doing great, aren’t you Buck?” Steve calls out even though he’s only ten feet away. Bucky twists away from the counter and offers a borderline strained smile. He spoke too soon as his appetite disappears immediately. He wants to throw away his meal but an odd feeling of wrong accompanies the urge to throw it out. Something long ago was ingrained into his bones about the sin of wasting food. Flashes of small, and nearly inedible, army rations, soup from bent cans, burned bread, and the clawing of persistent hunger in momentary memories. Sighing, he reluctantly grabs the bowl, along with a spoon, and walks to the table to eat alone. He bangs the china against the table in simmering anger.

The other three in the room stand around chattering amongst themselves as he forces each mouthful of food past his lips. It’s like wet cardboard even despite the sugar marshmallows. He tunes out the chatter, and the taste of his food, and focuses on the wall in front of him like always. He looks at the hairline crack snaking its way across and he even fixates on the fissure in the table. If he looks just right, he can see the slight indentation of a fist. It’s been there before he arrived and he wonders about the story behind it. He’d bet anything it’s Steve’s.

He’s pulled from his thoughts when the man on his mind sits down in front of him with his hands politely folded. He didn’t realize earlier, but Steve’s hair is standing like a balloon rubbed itself against his entire head and the overall effect, with the ears that slightly stick out, give him the impression of a human/monkey hybrid. He smiles to himself, even though it looks miserable and nothing in the realm of actually looking ‘happy’.

“Tony just told me Banner took the earliest flight. He should be here sometime this evening. He’s going to stay with Tony and come here to give you private sessions. He’s also going to work with you on techniques to handle all future flashbacks, anxiety attacks, and panic attacks,” Steve explains gently as his hand gingerly covers his metal one. The touch registers in his mind but any feeling of warmth or pleasure is absent. “Were going to get you better Buck.”

His blind belief is touching but Bucky is realistic and he wishes he had the same faith. He’s going to try, that’s not the problem, but he’s not a hundred percent sure if their treatments will be effective. The things he’s done; it would be hard for anyone to live with. If this Bucky, the good guy inside him, is so pure hearted, how is he going to react to the memories of the crimes he committed? So far it’s turned into nothing but nightmares and realistic flashbacks that he knows are the reactions of the good guy inside.

What if all of his Winter Soldier memories come back? What then? Could be somehow be forever lost in a personal hell of his mind’s own making? There are so many questions that can only be answered with action.

But, in spite of all those burning questions, Steve looks so earnest that the least he can do is try. He can attempt to redeem the countless inhuman crimes he’s committed by giving Steve his best friend back.

“We can try right?” The Brooklyn accent slips into his speech as easily as air. He almost drops his spoon in surprise. It feels so natural, like another piece clicked into place.

Steve is radiating such genuine pleasure as he squeezes his metal hand, “We’ll succeed, I have faith in you,” he reassures him. For Steve’s sake, he hopes so.

“If you like it Rogers, you should put a ring on it,” Tony sings the last line in a smooth baritone as he diagonally from him. Steve seems to be equally as confused with drawn down eyebrows. Meanwhile Sam’s quietly laughing as he takes his own seat. Tony just looks exasperated as he shakes his head in clear embarrassment.

“You two make my hips ache with your invisible age, Christ.” Steve bristles at the word ‘Christ’ as he withdraws his hand and Bucky finishes off his cereal with a grimace.

“So are you two going to be hanging around the apartment all day?” He’s impatient and a touch annoyed as he looks between the two. Unless there is some type of plan, he doesn’t see the point of them sitting around here until the evening. His day will be too busy being filled with reading, solitaire, and throwing a tennis ball against the living room wall/ceiling. He definitely can’t miss out on that.

“That’s a part of the plan, but I’ve got something you might be interested in, otherwise we can leave you out of it if you want,” Sam cuts in with a hard expression before Tony even has the chance to open his mouth. Tony huffs in annoyance and begins to dig around in his pockets for something instead like a squirrel hiding a nut for winter.

With that last thought, an instantaneous change takes over his body and he’s helpless to stop it. His eyes turn to icy and he smiles like a tangible nightmare, “What do you have in mind?” The Brooklyn accent drops off and a bit of Slavic outlines the edges of his speech. The Winter Soldier is here and keeps an iron fist around his mind.

All of them are soldiers in one form or another and react to the present danger instantly. Tony stops fidgeting in his pockets, Steve braces his hands on the table, and Sam looks poised to defend his corner. All the while, his mind quickly calculates and catalogs any and all weapons within ten feet of him. He measures the distance between said objects and lists them in likelihood of successful use. With that list he corresponds it with the analysis of every enemy in the room-

A hand grips tightly on the flesh of his right hand. The palm is rough but the fingers slightly delicate. His thoughts, a runaway train, lose their steam as the Soldier’s grip falls away in the presence of Steve’s touch. He blinks his eyes and relaxes his body that was tense before.

“You are James Buchanan, Bucky, Barnes. You are my friend. Do you understand?” Steve asks slowly and thoughtfully, eyes pleading. They are searching for a lost friend. Steve’s thumb grazes the top of his hand and he turns his palm upwards to grip it. He nods slowly and squeezes Steve’s hand saying “yes I’m here, don’t worry”. Everything about Steve grounds him and keeps the Soldier at bay.

“Yes, I sorry about that,” he apologizes quietly, his natural Brooklyn accent weaving itself back into his speech like it never disappeared. Everyone around the table exhales together and relaxes. In the silence, Tony places a circular flat circular object on the table from his pocket and Sam fiddles his thumbs. It’s peaceful until Stark has to ruin it.

“So, multiple personality disorder eh?” Tony jokes, but he isn’t even slightly amused. Bucky’s smile disappears immediately along with Steve’s. Bucky slowly rises from his chair and quickly toes over to Tony. His eyes are murderous as he encroaches upon Tony’s space.

“When you close your eyes at night, do you taste the blood of an innocent child, who you killed in front of their own parents, just as a warning? Do you know the feeling of electric pulses frying into your brain over a hundred times?” His voice cuts like a razor sharp steel and his eyes narrow predator-like. “Answer the question!” He yells at the top of his lungs as a few flecks of spit rain upon Stark’s face.

“N-No,” He stutters, his voice slipping into a higher register. Steve is horrified and Sam watches with a thoughtful calm expression like a seasoned professional. Relishing taking Stark down a peg, he sits back down in his original chair.  He’s definitely made his point if Tony’s face is anything to go by.  

“How are you so calm about this?” Tony almost seems to squeal at Sam. The other man folds his hands in front of him calmly and turns his attention towards Bucky, ignoring Tony altogether.

“I had a suspicion this might happen,” He shakes his head, eyes closing momentarily, “When they wiped your mind, did they insert another identity along with other information?” Sam is every inch a veteran soldier in his bearing and no-nonsense questioning.

Bucky has to think about it for a moment. Everything is a tangled mess and most of what he associates with the wiping is almost unimaginable pain. The feeling felt like he’d been burned from the inside by some unholy light bent on destroying him completely. It was a pain unlike any other and a sense of giving in, or face punishment, made it worse each time.

But information concerning directives, tactics, languages, and other assassin related skills seem like they’ve been learned, but he can’t know for sure. The Winter Soldier inside feels wrong, as if he doesn’t fit properly while the good guy inside, Bucky, is a natural fit; like he’s home.

“I’m not entirely sure, but it’s likely it could be. Without all the files,” he points a finger at his temple, “I’ll have to depend on my memories which are shaky at best. I can remember all of my skills but anything beyond that is difficult to say.” He exhales audibly and folds his arms into himself.

“Can you tell me what just happened, from your point of view?” Sam asks like it’s a debriefing.

 He explains in the best way he knows how.  He tries his best to convey how the other identity inside took over and that he felt him almost ‘rising’ above both himself and the good guy. He also explains how he feels like the neutral blank copy out of the two warring personalities of ‘Bucky’ and ‘The Winter Soldier’. He tells them how he identifies the most with Bucky as well and how it feels the most natural.

“Almost as if you are factory settings?” Tony cuts in.

“What does that mean?” The phrase is another confusing modern piece of terminology lost in his skipping of time. It rings a bell but he can’t place it.

Steve actually answers, which is surprising, “In your case, I think Tony’s phrasing means to say that you are person without any memories or experiences. Basically, you’re a blank version of Bucky.” He nods in understanding. It makes sense in a strange fantastical sort of way. It kind of reminds him of a strange science fiction story he read in school once where a mad scientist transplanted his own mind into an animal. It caused his human body to still walk around and talk, but anything beyond that had been lacking anything human. A better word would be soulless.

“I think this is something you should discuss with Banner.” Tony pulls out his cell phone and begins typing something, “The hulk is almost an alternate personality driven by his emotions. He could probably relate to you the best,” Tony explains with soft eyes as he looks up from the screen. It’s surprising how Stark can switch off the arrogance to offer up real emotion.

“Can you feel Bucky in there?” Steve asks quietly. His eyes aren’t down casted but seem like they are trying to see something further in his own. Almost like he’s trying to look beyond his eyes and into his mind; to his lost best friend.

“Yes, he very much wants to get out,” which is true, even now he could feel an emotion or two coming from the guy inside. Something with warmth and a bit of worry, “He feels more natural of the two, like I said before. His memories are trickling out faster than the Soldier’s. I think it has to do with you,” He seems to think aloud. It’s the only thing that makes sense to him. The Winter Soldier is cut off from most of everything that makes him him.While Bucky on the other hand, he’s around the one person that was his whole world, at least that’s his impression, and who was a major pillar of who he was, or well, is-if they’re getting technical here.

The genuine happiness radiates from Steve like a sun, it’s blinding. There is nothing but hope on the man’s face as he also seems to be itching to ask more but Bucky holds up a flat palm, “Before you ask anything more, I don’t know much else besides the fact I’m going to try to get him back. All we can do is wait and see what happens.” Steve nods as he leans back in the chair with an almost to large for his face kind of smile. The kind that almost extends to your ears. It makes him feel warm and a few other things he can’t name. The good guy inside feels the same.

Bucky turns to Sam right after remembering what he asked earlier, “Earlier you asked what is it you’d like me to be a part of. I’m assuming it involves the Winter Soldier.”

Tony’s the one that actually answers, “Back when SHIELD was still together, and implemented the Avengers Initiative, I obtained all of the files from their database. Every little dirty secret they had to hide-which we now know is Hydra-I’ve got stored on this little device here.” Tony taps the round flat object that is no bigger than a half dollar coin and it resembles a mini hockey puck.  Tony seems to be asking something without really asking. The bigger picture forms slowly until he feels himself stop breathing.

Does he want access to every file concerning The Winter Soldier?

He doesn’t know.

It’s important for his recovery to figure out what Hydra exactly did so they could reverse the changes. What if the Winter Soldier grew from working for them and it became a part of his permanent self? That would mean the Soldier is just as much apart of him as Bucky is. That thought terrifies him but he has to know. He’s also not sure if he can handle hearing the list of his past directives. It could spell disaster for his already frail psyche.

“Will we have access to data concerning all of my kills?”

“Yes,” Tony answers frankly without blinking.

“Will we have to?”

“Not if you don’t want to,” Steve cuts in as he levels a grave look at Tony. Stark nods before turning sideways to stare at the wall.

“So, are you interested?” Tony asks without moving. Bucky is more concerned with the origins of the Winter Soldier over anything else. Learning about his kills would sink him farther into the current emotional hole he feels. And, any reminders of his directives, could potentially set the Soldier off or even a panic attack. As long as that doesn’t happen, his mind should be able to handle it.

“Open the files,” he instructs with an errant flick of the wrist before he can think about it any longer.

Tony nods before standing up and speaking to the device, “Jarvis, open file Winter Soldier Alpha 133.” Bucky flinches as a free standing image hovers in front of the wall. He’s confused when Sam leans over to whisper “It’s called a hologram” to try and explain what’s going on, but it confuses him further. He can’t wrap his head around how it’s doing that. He’s seen glass become screens but not a free standing transparent image.

Everything is captured into squares and one of the largest is a photo of him frozen inside the cryo-tube. Genuine fear spirals through his body and he starts to shake. No ice, please no ice he thinks in a panic. He feels his arms move up to grip his shoulders while a series of small whines issue from his mouth.

“It’s ok Buck, just breathe with me,” Steve whispers in his ear. He didn’t realize Steve had even left his seat he is that far gone. He feels warm arms around his own clenched ones and a warm breath pleasurably tickles his neck. He slowly breathes rhythmically, copying whatever Steve does while letting the touch ground him. The icy panic melts away and his heart drops down to a regular rhythm. His eyes then re-focus back to the information hovering in front of the wall.

“I’m ok, thank you,” he thanks Steve quietly with a small pained smile. With one squeeze Steve removes his arms but sits next to him in support. Just being close helps enormously and it’s probably helping Steve too. It can’t be easy to see this happen to someone so important to him. He knows if it were Steve up there, the good guy inside would be calling for murder.

The files are pretty straight forward. Steve tells him the things he learned from a set of files Natasha gave that that go in conjunction with the information Jarvis is reading out. Steve goes on to say that Bucky was found and put in cryo by Zola’s team until Zola himself could have a chance to work on him. But beyond that, the file had mostly detailed his origins before becoming The Winter Soldier. Jarvis confirms it almost word-for-word moments after.

The current file hovering in front of them details every step of the process in utter indifference. It seems like Hydra viewed him strictly as an object-a weapon- but not a man. At least that’s the impression he gets. They don’t even use his name and simply call him Subject or Test Subject. It could’ve been anyone if an old picture of his, pre-capture, and that of himself in the cryo-tube, wasn’t a part of it.

As Jarvis reads the text aloud, he punctuates it occasionally with pictorial evidence. After two photos of his stumped arm mangled with torn bone and flesh in a black and white photograph, he can’t take it. Bucky feels the possible return of his cereal from earlier this morning and turns away to look at the back wall. From the corner of his eye, he sees an offered hand from Steve just sitting there on the arm rest. He takes it gladly within a firm grip and focuses the physical manifestation of his inner turmoil into it. He even feels pleasure from the touch as Steve is grabbing his right hand. It eases his stress and allows him to endure the rest.

What was left of his arm was cut off to make room for the entirely mechanized arm. It matches up perfectly to a hazy memory of a small circular saw cutting deep into the torn flesh. Painkillers had been absent from his system and his agonized cries are the soundtrack to that particular memory. They got rid of everything right up to the shoulder and a little into his chest. He glances over to the thing and wiggles the fingers a little bit before clenching it into a bone crushing fist.

The information eventually leads on to explain what they did to him as the eventual return of his memories presented itself. A device, created of course by Zola, burnt the neural pathways separating his memories from himself and then injected an alternate personality with fabricated memories to combat his rebelling against their plans. The files state they fed the subject a working knowledge of Russian and German along with an undying support of Hydra along with a dose of hatred for everything else. They also implanted false training that included combat, weapons, stealth, and other worthy skills of a world class assassin. So he was made, not born which is a relief upon his psyche.

The file indicates that the wiping seemed to only be a temporary solution as old memories would resurface in a span of a few weeks. The subject would ‘lash out’ and become a danger to their organization. Zola proposed wiping him, and storing him in the cryo-tube for the rare occasions when they needed him.

After that, the complete worst happens. The thing he wanted least to know about his time as the Winter Soldier.

By the time Jarvis reaches his completed hit list, Tony isn’t there to command the voice to stop. Bucky is helpless but to learn the names of his kills as each one is named in a voice of almost near indifference. Ideally, he should cover his ears and block the noise out but he’s stiff in shock. The names run together while his hands shake and he feels his world slowly disappear. The names match to faces and those match to memories. They flood like a dam and he is utterly stunned into silence; he can’t even scream let alone block out the sound.

“Jarvis, stop!” Steve yells, trying to get the voice to stop, but it keeps going on. The list of kills names a few famous people, one of them even being John Kennedy. Each name has a date and starts from 1950, when the winter soldier was activated. The kills aren’t listed in chronological order, but by importance.

“TONY, GET OUT HERE!” Sam bellows from his corner. He’s standing and watching Bucky who can feel that he’s on the edge of mentally losing it. The world is quietly disappearing and everything is muffled. Distantly, he even hears the bathroom door slam open as Tony runs into the room.

“Howard and Maria Stark, 1991”

“Jarvis, shut down!”

The room is silent and Bucky comes back to himself immediately. Howard Stark. Oh god. No. No no no no no. His mind panics and he sees their faces in an empty room. They are dressed formally and standing with their hands tied behind their back with blindfolds covering their eyes. Without feeling, he recalls shooting them point blank between the eyes. They fell down in a pile and blood dripped in a steady stream from the holes. His memories hold little to no emotion, just the single thought directive completed.

Bucky is too lost in the memory and doesn’t see Tony running towards him with murder in his eyes.

Chapter Text

Steve catches Tony like a raging kitten the moment Bucky stands up bracing for the blow. Without the suit, the billionaire is no match to that of a super soldier. It takes the barest amount of pressure to keep hurricane Stark, no, more like a slight breeze, at bay.

“Tony, you know it wasn’t him! He just realized who they were.” The words fall flat and Tony’s face flushes even redder. A vein on his left temple is swollen enough to look like it’s going to burst. “He didn’t know who they were. They were a directive, practically strangers. If it’d been really Bucky, you know he would have done everything to get Howard and Maria out,” he explains quietly. In a way, if it’d been anyone else, with a consenting mind, he’d be almost just as furious.

Howard Stark was a good man and damn excellent inventor. He’s the reason he made it to that damn Hydra camp intact to save Bucky. Even though his parenting skills turned out to be sub-par, he was still a great man who changed the world. Even his son has left a permanent change upon the modern landscape.

Stark’s face is still red and wrinkled in a snarl, but Steve continues to make Bucky’s case until the fight goes out of him. Tony knows that without the suit, he’s no match for Captain America let alone the Winter Soldier. The realization of being outmatched had to have crossed his mind if his grim expression meant anything.

“You ok?” He asks cautiously with a cocked eyebrow.

“You can let me go Rogers, I won’t hurt your Russian mail order bride there.” Steve lets him go with a gentle shove and stepping back a pace. Once free from the unstoppable force, Tony reaches across the table to snatch the storage device.

“I’d appreciate terminating all Russian jokes, especially those that are borderline sexist. What would Ms. Potts say?” Tony has the decency to look guilty except Steve continuous on anyway, for Bucky’s sake, “And Bucky is an American through and through. He fought for America’s freedom; you’re freedom. You should say thank you to Sergeant Barnes. The blame lies on the false identity of the Winter Soldier, who is the real culprit, of your parent’s deaths.” Tony shoves the device roughly into his pocket and stands casually as if waiting around for something else.

“Barnes?” Bucky whips his head with an audible crack towards Tony. He tilts his greasy unwashed hair in question to continue.

“Do you, I mean,” He pauses with calming breath, “does the Soldier remember their deaths?”

Unflinching, Bucky holds his stare, “Yes.”

“How did they actually die?” Tony’s voice is emotionally detached, so unlike the usual under current of arrogance that peppers his words like pointless garnish. Steve feels a wave of sympathy and frowns.

“Gun shot through the forehead, both blindfolded. Quick and essentially painless. No torture was necessary, only murder-that was the directive.” Bucky’s voice is robotic and lacking in anything resembling human quality. Even his Brooklyn accent fades away, for just a moment. It puts Steve a little on edge.

“Did the Winter Soldier track them?”

“I believe he did.” Bucky sighs and Steve does the same as the Brooklyn accent, thankfully, returns, “All I can remember is the event of the murder. There is no feeling-only the sense of completion-but I feel it now, oh I feel it,” Bucky loses control and his lip begins to quiver violently. Tears follow after and the quiet cries intermingle with the quiet croons of Sinatra in the background.

“I’m going to go out for a bit, let everything settle down. I’ve never been one to see my nation’s strong heroes cry.” The Stark arrogance is back in almost full form; almost. “But I will say one thing,” Tony says softly as he turns towards Bucky “As someone who inherited a weapon’s empire and helped expand it until its demise, a weapon is only a weapon if put into the wrong hands. You were made to be a humanized weapon, there is no denying that, but in the right hands? You can be a weaponized hero. So keep that in my mind.” Tony smiles slyly and continues, “Now, I’m going to take my leave before we all hold hands, cry, and sing kumbaya around the campfire while pledging to be life-husbands.”

“Thank you,” Bucky whispers with red-rimmed blue eyes but he has a small smile, which is something. Tony gives him a slight nod before exiting the apartment and shutting the door behind him.

Despite the smile, the guilt is almost entirely all-consuming on Bucky’s face. Steve’s hands twitch and move of their own accord before rational thought even reaches his mind. He draws Bucky into a hug which miraculously, beyond his wildest and most sought after fantasies, is returned with the same force. They strength is more or less equal and the amount of strength put into the embrace could crush mountains. Well, maybe not mountains, more like large rocks, but it’s substantial.

Steve’s nose rubs alongside Bucky’s neck and his eyes close willingly. It’s warm and comforting even though Bucky smells a touch ripe, which in the end, doesn’t matter. A rough fleshy hand settles on the nape of his neck and the fingers slowly glide back and forth in comforting sweeps. He almost hums as his entire world zeroes in on just the two of them. Sam, the apartment, the street outside, everything, just fades away.

He allows this small moment to fulfill the wants that’ve lain buried and forgotten in the wake of just…everything. If Bucky had been in stable mental health, he would’ve given into his feelings the moment he saw him standing in the running path.

But he isn’t selfish and he’ll keep these feelings to himself until Bucky is back and stable. He knows the man he loves is in there, clawing his way out, and he’ll wait for as long as Bucky needs to greet his best friend. Until the day arrives when Bucky is truly “one” again, the longings will have no choice but to lay dormant. To only be satisfied with him in his arms each morning and every embrace.

Bucky deserves that and so much more.

With that last thought, he gives Bucky one last squeeze before disentangling himself from the other man, his touch lingering as long as possible. He’s not sure he imagines it, but a ghost of longing sweeps across Bucky’s face like a shadow. He blinks and it’s gone. He watches as Bucky wipes the tears from his eyes and settles his expression into something a bit more neutral.

Across the room, Sam’s dark brown eyes are bright like he’s about to win a bet before they roll in a dramatic fashion.

“Rogers, get your Captain American ass over here. The Mets are up by three against the Cubs,” Sam shouts without ripping his attention away from the tv. He points the remote at the fifty inch flat screen and the cries from the crowd seem to almost fill the room.

Steve gazes at Bucky with a small tilt of a smile, “You should go take a shower, you smell a bit ripe Buck,” Steve laughs as he roughly pats Bucky on the shoulder before leaving to watch the game on the couch. He settles into the soft cushions on the far left side and leans back to watch the next hit.

 And if his eyes follow Bucky all the way to the bathroom door, no one needs to know.


 

Bucky drags his fingers through the long strands of his dark brown hair, distributing the shampoo evenly. He takes a few deep breathes, his ribs to punching and stretching out the skin with each inhale. His emotions are still roiling around and they are a strange cocktail of self-deprecation and all-consuming desire.

Deep down, he knows where these feelings of desire stem from. The good guy inside, Bucky, is the source except, no other memories indicate why. The evidence of any underlying want or desire concerning Steve don’t match up to the few memories he’s been given. They are all strictly platonic in nature.

The embrace less than ten minutes ago left something more behind than just security, it left the taint of confusion and a burning heat. This morning, within Steve’s arms, he felt nothing but warmth and contentment. Nothing romantic or sexual crossed his mind…until now; until that hug.

How could a hug, meant to reassure, leave behind this…this heat in his blood? At least I feel something he thinks bitterly. It was something new besides the usual rage and emptiness that’s become his constant companion.

The steady drum of water allows his mind to think, to pull apart, and examine the little evidence he has. The most compelling are the dated news reels at the Smithsonian exhibit. They were more propaganda for the war effort than actual documentary footage, but they revealed more to the trained eye.

The Soldier carries a lifetime’s worth of assassin skills, one of them being able to read people with near perfect accuracy. Luckily, he can access the knowledge without waking the Soldier entirely. He imagines it’s like sneaking into a house to steal a book in the dead of night as the owner sits sleeping in the nearby reclining chair.

The skills told him that Captain Rogers was Bucky’s whole world. Steve was the sun in his small lonely universe. They grew up together, but there was something else there. Something beneath the surface in his eyes. Such happiness isn’t to be found in war time unless you are around the thing you love the most.

The film plays over and over in his mind as he thinks about each smile and examines every gesture. If there is anything romantic, it’s one sided. He read information about Peggy Carter in the exhibit, and watched her testimonies on Steve’s greatness that she filmed later on in her life. They both loved one another but lost the chance. Obviously she moved on and got remarried, but Steve probably didn’t. In the reels, her picture was plainly evident in his compass during one segment. It was the surest sign of love in those days, or at least that’s what he vaguely remembers.

Bucky smooth’s his hair back with flat palms and closes his eyes against the rushing water. Jealousy hits him like a bolt as he clenches his jaw against the pain. He’s been here several weeks, why now? Why all of this?

He can barely handle the, what was is it again? Oh right, PTSD. That bullshit. Dying would have been preferable. He sighs as the jealousy consumes him. He grits his teeth and bangs against the tiled wall with his real hand to minimize damage. All he leaves behind is a very small dip in the ceramic.

Bucky takes a few deep breaths and pushes away the jealousy while he tries to dig for more memories. They are disjointed and just wisps of thin smoke, nothing he can grab onto. Silently, he begs the good guy inside to offer him something, anything, to explain these...these feelings

The good guy inside nudges him to explore and unravel the string of these wants and desires. Like a ball of yarn, he pulls at it until it starts unraveling inch by inch until it snags and he can’t unravel it anymore. But the amount he’s uncovered is enough to pacify him.

The desire is physical in nature, always has been. The good guy offers up a few moments, more like seconds, in larger memories. Little thoughts, little feelings accompanying images of a smaller man and a larger man. Pre-serum and post-serum Steve. His gaze running up behind him or a sly look beside him while at a bar. There is even a longer memory of Bucky walking into Steve’s bedroom at night and fondly gazing at the small sleeping man.

So it went that far back. The realization sinks another larger piece into the overall picture. It’s another step closer joining Bucky back with his psyche. He explores the feelings that follow and immerses himself.

He closes his eyes as he imagines long legs grown over with medium blonde hair, his skin curvaceous with plump muscle, a tapered waist leading into a muscled V, soft hands with the barest hint of rough calluses, wide set shoulders, an oval face with wide rounded lips, a sharp jaw and sky blue eyes. And then he imagines all of that, but in a compact petite sized slim body. Same beautiful face, just more delicate. The feelings don’t change or even intensify. Bucky finds him beautiful either way.

With those thoughts sliding around in his mind’s eye, he feels his arousal that hangs heavy between his legs. His fingers twitch to touch the engorged flesh. He suffers against the onslaught of imagined images until, belatedly, he realizes his body hasn’t felt pleasure since The War. Since then, it’s only been about directives, no time for anything else.

Maybe if he gives into it, he’ll be able to feel more; to feel alive. The emptiness hasn’t gone anyway with this revelations and the emotions battling around in his belly. Maybe he can fill it with this, something so undeniably human and pleasurable.

With his right hand, he slowly fingers the tip between his thumb and forefinger causing bolts of pleasure to alight in his system. Oh yes, it’s definitely been too long. His other fingers join to press along his length. His fist grasps almost half of his member as he slowly glides it up and down against the hardened flesh.

He leans against the shower wall as the water beats against his chest and trickles downwards. Most of his fingers are bent loosely and crawling up and down at a fast pace while his thumb is mostly stationary; just like use to. He even hums in contentment.

Bucky’s fingers quickly being to rub the sweet spot a little bit below the head just perfectly. The water even adds just a hint of lubrication to make it even sweeter. His eyes close as he imagines mouthing at Steve’s neck and running his fingers over his plump pecks while his thumb grazes the hardened flesh of his nipple.

Oh the delicious noises Steve would make. The full groans vibrating within his chest.

His name shouting like a prayer with closed eyes and an open mouth.

That thought alone pushes him over the edge as he cums against his stomach. It washes away quickly from the shower as he stands there breathing heavily. He opens his eyes and expects to feel lighter-to at least feel a bit more alive.

But he doesn’t.

The pleasure was a quick burst but it falls away just as fast. All he’s left with is the simmering flames of desire and his earlier shame.

Also, sadly, he realizes the emptiness is still there and never really went away.


 

The record is eerily silent as the apartment is bombarded with the cheers of a crowd hundreds of miles away. Steve is trying to focus on the fourth inning but his eyes keep straying to the dining room table. Bucky sits, freshly washed with hanging dark hair, playing solitaire with his deck of cards. His chin is resting on his right clenched fist and an empty look is the only notable thing on his features.

Something feels off and it twists painfully in his gut. He can’t ask since he’s got to give Bucky space to deal with things. He can’t fix everything.

 Silently, he prays to god the second time this week. To help himself, he thinks back to the church services he would attend with his Ma. They were full of hate and the opposite of what the bible preached, or in truth, what Jesus preached. After each service, his Ma would sit him down and re-arrange the sermon and add her own interpretations to give a purer message; a truer message. She preached that God’s will was to love and you need to pray for those who need salvation or a guiding light. She preached that His love was there to pull you from the dark and bring yourself, and others, into the light. And most importantly, she preached that God is there for you in all your troubles and to try to find strength in him.

He thinks back to those and prays for strength. Strength to look past his longings until Bucky is whole again, strength to be a rock for Bucky to hold onto, and the strength to be what Bucky needs. With a silent amen, he focuses back onto the game as another player rounds second base.


 

Stark comes back at the bottom of the eighth with Italian food for a late lunch. Bucky’s already on a third game of solitaire as he stiffens in the presence of Stark. Guilt poisons the little bit of pleasure he gleaned from his little game. He stacks the cards and shoves them angrily into the cardboard case.

“So Barnes, Fettuccine Alfredo or good old-fashioned spaghetti and meatballs?” Bucky sneers in response and roughly shoves away the chair after he gets up.

“I’m not hungry,” He growls.

“Fine, be a spoiled brat,” Tony replies lighting fast.  Bucky levels a deadly glare before shoving past Tony. Before he heads to the bedroom he hears “Tony, that was complete unnecessary!” and “well he was”. He growls before he slams the door and crawls beneath the bed’s covers.

He felt fine-nearly content ten minutes ago-but the guilt punched him in the gut and ripped it all away. He feels angry at the deaths and the untold damage each life cost. One of them was standing around in the apartment calmly dolling out Italian food.

Howard Stark was a good man. A little full of himself, and a bit of a show pony, but still good. He has a few memories of the guy and a few interviews from the reels at the Smithsonian. He never met Howard’s wife, they must have met after the war, but he remembers she was beautiful.

His thoughts race around on a track until a light fluttering knock hits the door.

“Buck? It’s Steve.” He doesn’t reply and covers his head with a downy pillow.

“Please let me in,” Steve begs through the wood quietly. Sighing, he shoves the pillow to the side and slides out from beneath the downy covers. With heavy steps, he goes to open the door. Steve stands hunched slightly with two large containers of food with two sets of utensils.

“I said I wasn’t hungry,” He argues. Food wasn’t going to make him feel any better.

“I don’t believe you, and you’re going to eat anyways. It’s my home and I need to make sure my best friend is fed,” Steve replies not taking no for an answer. He sighs, knowing the war is lost, so he steps out of the way to let Steve in.

The other man walks in with a slight sway of his hips and makes a home on his side of the bed. Steve places the closed containers in front of him and sits cross legged waiting. Reluctantly, Bucky slides into his original spot and sits up watching Steve carefully.

“I got you the spaghetti and meatballs, hope you don’t mind,” Steve smiles while opening the container. A fragrant burst of tomatoes and Italian spices fill the air. With a grimace, he grabs the open container and a fork to poke around in the mess. It looks tasty, but his stomach is very dead set against eating anything. But with Steve’s eyes watching him like a concerned parent, he forces down a few bites. It’s tasty and his stomach seems to back down just a little as he forces more in.

They both eat in silence with clipped chewing noises and slurps. Somehow, it’s not uncomfortable but companionable. He scoots closer until they are shoulder to shoulder. Steve smiles around a forkful of creamy sauce drenched noodles.

“Why did you come in here?” Bucky asks softly after he leans over to deposit his now empty-container on the night stand.

Steve swallows and sets his fork down, “Just to see if you were ok. You’re my best friend and I’m going to be concerned whenever you aren’t smiling, which has been most of the time,” Steve chuckles darkly. He responds with more of a grimace than an attempt at an actual smile.

“Buck…” Steve exhales before turning to him full on, “you know those deaths weren’t your fault. If Hydra came up to you, point blank, and asked for you to assassinate another person….would you do it?”

“No.”

“Then it wasn’t you. You didn’t give your consent so therefore, it’s not your fault. I want you to get that stupid idea out of your head. The Bucky I know would realize that.”

Somehow, Bucky feels a little offended at that remark. “The Bucky you know is buried underneath a lifetime’s worth of forced brainwashing! Who knows, once he’s pulled out of the avalanche sized worth of issues, he might already be dead! Or wish he was!” Bucky shouts with clenched fists. His heart is hammering away and his breathing is fast paced. It was the truth whether they both liked it or not.

“The Bucky I know would fight to the bitter end to make it out the other side.”

“The Bucky you know is different than the one I know!” He shouts, his words echoing within the sparsely decorated room.

Steve doesn’t blink and laughs. He laughs.

“Tomorrow, I want you to meet someone.”

“Who?” Bucky snarls.

Steve gets up slowly and collects both of their food containers before he turns back to him with a small sly smile.

“An old friend of ours.”

“Nobody else is alive.”

“Who says we are the only ones left Buck?” Steve offers before leaving the room entirely.


 

The rain starts to run down the windows of the car and the lights from the road shine from each individual droplet. In his hands he fingers the worn leather of his briefcase and touches the scratches from heavy use. He check his watch and sees that it’s 9:23 pm. It certainly doesn’t feel like it he thinks.

Within a few minutes, the car pulls up to an apartment building made of old brick work, WWII era he imagines. He opens the door with barely a creak and opens his black umbrella. A few stray droplets manage to hit his face, but otherwise he’s still dry. With a few well deserved ten dollar bills given to the driver, and a quick promise of the safety of his bags, he enters the lobby of the apartment building.

The dark haired woman at the desk asks for his name and she checks a list of notes in front of her.

“Aw we’ve been expecting you. Third floor, apartment Four,” She smiles warmly. He looks down and thanks her quietly before shuffling over to the elevator doors. The ride is quick and smooth with small dings for each floor the elevator travels past. Suddenly, it opens out onto a dark hallway and at the end is a door with a golden letter ‘4’. Just the apartment he’s looking for.

He knocks a small rhythm and waits. It’s only a few seconds until it opens up to reveal a dark skinned man with a soldier’s bearing.

“Who might you be?” The man asks with a tilt of an eyebrow and crossed arms.

He sticks his hand out with a shy smile, “Banner, well, Dr. Bruce Banner… at your service.”

Chapter Text

Steve relaxes on the couch next to Bucky who is quiet and moody. He notes Bucky’s spine is ram rod straight as Bruce walks slowly into the apartment. He’s clutching a battered leather briefcase, its edges frayed a bit, close to his chest. He watches him almost visibly huddle in on himself, compacting his already short body away from everything. His smile is shy and toothy, but gets wider when Stark comes into the room.

“Star spangled Banner! How was the Ukraine? Did you see the sights?” Tony smiles as his arms open for a rough hug. Banner sets down his briefcase as they each pat each other solidly on the back before separating. Tony’s hands stay on his shoulders and grip them slightly.

“I was neck deep in poverty care in Kyiv,” Bruce rolls his eyes, “not much time to explore when scarlet fever is rampant over two blocks of six hundred residents. But I managed to help most of them before your phone call.”

Tony removes his hands before patting his shoulders, “I’m glad you could make it. Your luggage will be dropped off at my apartment and you’ll ride here and back with me. That ok?”

“More than fine Tony, thank you,” Bruce smiles timidly before shuffling over to the dining room table to deposit his briefcase. He’s just as reserved as the last time Steve saw him but he doesn’t seem as sad, just calm with an edge of nervousness.

“Banner, it’s great to see you again,” Steve greets warmly as he gets up from the couch. From the corner of his eye, Bucky’s petrified while facing the screen. He’s wearing a frown and his hands are clenched in his lap.

“I’d prefer Bruce if you don’t mind Captain,” He corrects with a small grin, “and it’s great to see you too. I heard about SHIELD,” Bruce pauses his face sympathetic, “I’m sorry; I had no idea.”

“Nobody did until it was too late.” Steve sighs with a heave of his shoulders, “But that’s in the past, and not what you’re here for.” He walks over to the couch and turns back again to face Bruce.

“This is Sergeant James Barnes of the 107th and Howling Commandos. He goes by Bucky if you want to get casual. Tony just calls him Barnes.”

Bruce walks over quietly and assess Bucky with a sweep of his eyes. With hunched shoulders, he sits down without a sound and parts his legs with his elbows casually resting on his knees with his hands clasped.

“I’m not here to tell you how much you should hate yourself or to punish you for what you did. I’m not here to fix you or to tell you that you can go one as if nothing’s happened. I’m not going to lie to you and I expect the same courtesy from you,” Bruce orders quietly. His tone is smooth from obvious practice and deadly calm. The words carry simmering anger beneath the ocean of calm and it seems to speak to Bucky. His friend turns slightly, his posture relaxing, to look at Banner. His eyes are hard through the curtain of his long hair and his mouth smooth’s down into an expressionless line.

“You must know I’m The Winter Soldier,” Bucky replies in an empty voice.

“That title, and those words… they don’t mean anything to me even though I imagine they should, shouldn’t they?” Bruce fires back just as deadly quiet as before. They capture Bucky’s full attention as his hair shivers from the quick movement of his head. His eyes narrow in confusion with drawn eyebrows.

“You don’t know?” Steve’s even surprised Tony managed to not divulge everything-he was kinda expecting it.

“Tony tried to explain, but I wouldn’t let him. I want to know your experiences as this ‘winter soldier’ and not some line from a file. I don’t wish that horror onto anyone,” Bruce explains softly with a faraway look in his eyes but it turns hard. “Your PTSD will never be fully cured, but it can be managed enough to where the symptoms occur in only the extremist of circumstances. It’s a scar that will never fully go away, is that clear?”

Bucky nods, “Understood.”

Bruce turns to Steve, “Can I use your bedroom to speak with James alone?”

“I-it’s Bucky,” Bucky stutters softly.

Bruce nods before continuing, “Right, Bucky. But can I Captain?”

He nods and points his head towards his bedroom, “Sure thing, there should be an armchair in the corner, you can use that for yourself. Also,” Steve smiles warmly, “we saved the world, so just call me Steve,” he chuckles which is true. Just plain ol’ Steve Rogers until he dons the spangled suit.

Bruce grins back before gesturing Bucky to follow.


 

Bucky sits on the bed without much fuss and draws his knees to his chin with his arms enfolded around his legs. He tucks some of his hair back behind his left ear and watches Bruce with cautious blue eyes.

The short man walks over to the arm chair that sits facing away from the corner of the room at an angle. Bruce sits down and grimaces when he comes in contact with the little used chair cushion. Bucky huffs a small laugh and rests his cheek on his knees. Bruce keeps a steady watch on him as he slips on a pair of glasses that he magically pulled from a hidden pocket.

“Where’s your notepad?” Bucky asks with an edge of harshness. He remembers something about psychologists scribbling on a notepad usually from beneath heavy glasses and a frown. The image is black and white-it must be from a movie.

“Don’t need one, but would it make you feel more comfortable?” Bruce shoots back, the silver of his glasses’ frames reflecting in the light from the slight tilt of his head.

“I was just asking a question.”

“That’s more than fine. Now,” Bruce looks at him over the top edge of his glasses, “Tell me about yourself in any way you see fit.”

Bucky takes a deep breath and lifts his head to turn towards him, “I’m James Buchanan Barnes and I’m previously known as The Winter Soldier. I was born in 1917 and declared dead in 1944 when I fell from a Hydra train going through the Alps. I grew up in Brooklyn the oldest of four brothers. I met Steve on a Brooklyn playground and we grew up together.” He pauses, thinking back to the information in the exhibit. “I signed up with the Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor and fought with the 107th-”

“I’m going to stop you right there Bucky, if you don’t mind?”

“You asked the questions doc, I’m just giving you answers,” He laughs darkly before cracking his knuckles. He was just following orders, like a good little soldier. He almost flinches at the dark thought…it didn’t even belong to him; it belonged to the Winter Soldier.

“I told you tell me about yourself-”

“You said in any way that I see fit,” He argues. His hands shake a little bit in fear as he pushes down the Soldier. It feels like he’s pushing against a steel wall and he starts to sweat a little as he clutches his legs.

“What you’re telling me are textbook facts.” Bruce crosses his legs and taps his knee with a finger. He closes his eyes and takes a deep calming breath and pushes the Soldier with a herculean effort back into the dark abyss. He opens his eyes and feels the control come back to himself.

“You want to know about me?” The words fly out harsher than intended, but it doesn’t faze Bruce for even a second.

“As you see fit, but nothing textbook,” Bruce instructs like a catholic teacher. A quick memory of being in class with Steve with a nun for a teacher is offered up like a bouncing cork in the water. He grasps it and examines the small memory just enough to be able to revisit it later. He has other things to think about right now. Bucky turns fully towards Bruce and lays his legs down flat while folding his own hands in his lap. His hands clasp lightly as he fiddles with his fingers.

“I was hijacked from a proper death by a Hydra mad man named Zola and his team. They injected me with his own form of the super soldier serum when I was captured earlier during The War when I served the 107th. I don’t remember having much in the way of extraordinary human abilities, but it robbed me of my rightful death,” He spits out bitterly. His bionic hand clamps into a fist, “I remember bits and pieces of it, but they fitted me with this bionic arm and sliced off whatever was left of the stump I barely remember.” He grimaces at the phantom pain and the gnarled flesh.

“They turned me into a weapon and tried to erase my memories through a brain wipe,” He explains through clenched teeth. His bionic hand whirs from the pressure he’s exuding. The plates slide and clench to handle the force.

The other man looks down at his fist, “What are your memories or feelings during that process,” Bruce asks as calm as you please.

He unclenches his fist slightly and closes his eyes remembering, “Pain. Nothing but pain shooting through every nerve ending and not stopping until they were done. I would scream around a rubber mouth guard and I could feel my eyes almost roll into my head. Each time I wanted to die but I couldn’t.” During those agonizing minutes he’d hoped for blackness to take him over and eliminate the pain, but it never got better.

He opens his eyes as a dark look sets over Bruce’s face, “I can sympathize.” Bucky raises his eyebrows, but doesn’t prod, but instead smiles glumly.

“Most of my missions were erased, or wiped, as my memories started getting stronger. They even cryo-freezed my body to keep me in stasis as I’d eventually remember every time. I even recall, from the eighties, walking around Brooklyn in me and Steve’s old neighborhood looking for him,” He sighs heavily before closing his eyes, “I was assigned only one other mission in America ten years later and then another just a month ago.”

“What missions were those? If you don’t mind answering of course.”

Bucky shakes his head, “You might as well know.” With another deep breath he continues, “Howard and Maria Stark in ’94 and then Nick Fury and Captain America a month ago.”

Bruce is silent for a moment with slightly wide eyes. He takes off his glasses and rubbing the tensions from the inner corners of his eyes before replacing the frame back on his face.

“How did Tony react?”

“Not well, but Steve held him back and managed to calm him down.”

Bruce looks down and grins to himself before pulling his expression back into polite neutrality. “Do you remember their deaths?”

He exhales another large breath, “Yes; most of it. I don’t remember the capture, or any of the preliminaries of the mission, just the completion of my directive.” Bruce’s expression shifts from shock to a steady patience. No blame lies in his face, it’s a relief that relaxes him a touch.

“That’s what they called these missions, directives?” Bruce asks with a few taps of his fingers against his knee.

“Missions were the overall goal while directives were parts of it to complete-usually in a set order. But I don’t remember much of my missions except for flashes of unknown faces, horrifying acts, and the smell. The smell is what I dream about at night. Iron with fresh blood and urine.” He shivers at the disgusting phantom smell that his brain recreates for him.

“Some of my missions included torture that would go on for days at a time. My captives would relieve themselves in their pants in my presence and defecate as well. I can remember using a night stick to slap their faces.” He feels heavily nauseous but keeps continuing, “The fresh blood would drip into the floor and intermingle with the smell-” Bucky gets wide eyed as he bolts from the bed and races towards the bathroom as he immediately empties his stomach. He hears galloping feet and a flurry of voices from the door as wave after wave of vomit travels up his throat.

He hears the voices and can’t pin them to a certain person as his vision narrows to the vomit spewing from his mouth.

“What happened?”

“He was reliving a few moments from his Winter Soldier days, mainly his torture directives. He was describing the smells.”

“Oh Buck….”

“I’m not going to ask him much once he’s finished and then you can have him back Captain, I mean Steve.”

“Anything I can do?”

“From what little he’s told me….just be there for him. Until I can figure out the full scope of what he’s dealing with, I can’t recommend anything specific.”

“At least he didn’t put you to sleep.”

“Tony that was one time.”

“I’m never gonna let you live it down Pal.”

“What,” He dry heaves and spits into the porcelain bowl, “about doctor/patient confidentiality?” He says weakly before another wave of vomiting hits him. All he can smell are those smells. Why can’t his brain stop reliving he phantom scents?

Bruce turns to him from Tony, “I’m actually not that kind of doctor, you can ask Tony here. But, I’ve learned enough from actual psychologists and textbooks to help you. Tony here can also attest to that as well.” Stark puffs out his chest slightly and claps a hand onto Bruce’s shoulder.

“You make me feel all sorts of warm and fuzzies when you praise me; it turns me on,” Tony growls in a sarcastic flirty voice. Steve rolls his eyes and pushes both men out of the way.

“You ok Buck? Need anything? I’ve got mouthwash if you need it,” Steve almost stutters with worry.

Bucky gives him a vomit flecked smile, “Thanks Punk.” Steve pales, but turns around too quickly for Bucky to analyze it. He grabs the giant bottle off the counter labeled ‘Listerine’ and unscrews the cap to pour a heft amount into the lid.

“Here ya go… Jerk,” He laughs almost nervously before handing over the lid of mouthwash. A bell tolls in his head and the good guy inside offers a few more memories, but again, they are snatches of two words in countless moments. He swigs the wash into his mouth and swishes it around as the movie of memories plays in his head.

One is them on Coney Island while Bucky calls a smaller Steve ‘Punk’. Another is Bucky coming home from work at the local bar down the street being called ‘Jerk’ as he steps through the doorway. Each memory goes on like that until he can name twenty or so instances of them calling each other those playful nicknames.  He spits out the mouthwash in the toilet and tiredly, through almost squinty eyes, he turns to Steve.

“Why is the nickname I gave you homosexual in nature?” His friend freezes and pales again with a nervous grin.

“U-uh, I don’t know. You just always used it. Do you remember what it means?”

“Yeah it was slang for being a bottom,” He replies slowly looking to the ground. Yeah, he remembers vaguely the meaning of it….and the drag queens. The drag queens. “So we did live in a gay neighborhood,” Bucky almost says to himself but Steve chuckles before getting on his knees to be eye level with him.

“I told you a few weeks ago our old apartment used to be by the Brooklyn navy ship yard. You heard the slang word a lot of the time and started using it to joke about my ‘slender’ stature.” Bucky looks at Steve with a frown but sees no obvious malicious feeling towards the almost negative sentiment. Bucky picks himself from the floor and rests his metal hand on Steve’s shoulder.

“Well, you’re obviously not a punk anymore,” Bucky almost says warmly. He can feel the good guy inside smile and rise enough to just break through the surface, but only for a moment, “More like a girl scout.” Steve looks confused and Tony is dissolving into a messy pile of laughter.

“I don’t sell cookies or wear a sash with badges on them,” Steve replies slowly with heavy confusion. His eyebrows scrunch together and Bucky tries not to think how adorable it seems to be. The good guy inside even laughs, offering an explanation to him, before sinking back beneath the surface once more.

Oh, that makes sense.

“Will somebody tell me what it means?” Steve huffs as he looks behind at Tony who is propping himself up by the doorframe with a hand on his chest. Bruce looks just as confused as he leans over to whisper to Tony who whispers right back between breathy giggles. Bruce looks to Steve with large eyes and turns into a puddle of laughter right next to Tony. Steve beings to get even angrier.

“D-DDon’t tell him Barnes, just d-don’t,” Tony practically squeals as another round of laughs dissolves him even further. He’s having a hard time himself trying not to laugh. He takes a deep breath and pastes on a sympathetic grin.

“It means a military man on leave seeking…um…companionship,” He says with just the hint of a grimace before chuckling softly. Steve is scandalized with a dropped jaw and open mouth.

“Go finish your session, I’m going to get something to eat.” Steve leaves the bathroom and distantly, he can hear a hand groping in the ceramic bowl and the closing of the front door.

“Looks like he’s going out to buy some cookies like a good little Girl Scout,” Tony wheezes and Bucky’s gone in a fit laughter for the first time in almost seventy years.


 

Bucky finishes the rest of his small session with Bruce in relative peace. He describes the earlier things Zola did, nothing he hasn’t thought about a hundred times or more already. They both decide it’s late enough that they’ll pick up tomorrow about the symptoms he’s been dealing with like his flashbacks and anxiety attacks.

Steve is sitting on the couch nursing a soda and sitting next to a few empty McDonalds burger and fry containers. Bits of salt cling to his shirt and nails as well, or at least that’s what Bucky notices. Also, Sam seems to be gone. He must have left earlier since he hasn’t seen him since before his session with Dr. Banner.

“Where’s the girl scout cookies Steve?” Banner playfully jokes. Steve glares at him while wiping the salt from his finger tips and setting the soda on a coaster.

“Out of all of you, I thought you, Banner, would have the decency to not fall into such traps,” Steve almost taunts. Bucky frowns. He didn’t expect such a negative reaction-it was just a joke.

“Steve,” He says in a buttery smooth tone, “I was only joking. Bucky, the one on the inside who’s trying to get out?” Steve stands straighter and looks a bit hopeful, “He’s the one who was able to come up for just a fraction of a moment to call you that. So it wasn’t meant to be harsh, just playful banter.”

Bruce stands stock still.“Bucky….are you having multiple personalities?” Bruce asks him slowly, taking great care uttering each word. His face is heavily etched with concern while Steve looks elated.

“Sort of?” He sighs and turns his attention fully to Bruce, “Hydra programed me with The Winter Soldier so it created sort of a second identity that I still feel, but it doesn’t feel natural? And then the other is Bucky Barnes, Steve’s best friend. The one before Hydra tried to erase. I’m like the….neutral ground or how Tony calls it, factory settings.”

Bruce studies him, his eyes darting back and forth across his face, “Interesting, this is going to change things a little. I’m going to need to do some research and call some more people tomorrow. We’ll have another session tomorrow, but it will be a smaller one like just had. Is that alright?”

“More than fine doc, whatever will help get this guy’s friend back,” He pauses and looks at Steve, “To get me back.” His smile is false as he dreads the day Bucky will learn the terrible things the Winter Soldier’s done.


 

Tony and Bruce leave the apartment not too long after in Stark’s audi that’s parked on the street. He also learns from Steve that Sam left to get some shut eye and offer a bit of privacy. Evidently the veteran is one for early runs like Steve.

Steve is also a little more upbeat with a slight spring in his step and more loose gestures. He practically dances into the sheets while Bucky watches with slight amusement. He feels pretty good himself. He’s wondering if the sessions are starting to take effect already, or maybe it’s just a placebo effect.

Only time will tell.

As the lights shut off, and both men sit in the dark, Bucky slides closer to Steve’s side without much fuss or noise. Steven seems to get the message and envelops him within his arms.

“No, other way.”

“What do you mean?”

“You want to be on the outside?”

“No, I want your arm to be on my intact limb.”

With a slight grumble, they switch sides until Bucky is facing the closet and Steve’s back is towards corner with the chair. A warm hand touches softly on his stomach and Steve’s chin is interlocked with his collarbone and neck. Much better. He prefers to feel any touches from Steve on his intact arm. That’s something he should talk to Tony about since maybe, just maybe, the guy could give him some feeling to his bionic arm. It could be like a real limb again.

“Are you ok?” Steve asks softly.

“As ok as I can be I guess,” He answers back in a whisper. It was mostly true.

“If you need me there in the room with you, I can do that. But only if you need me.” He smiles at the sentiment and wiggles in a little closer until his ass is almost flush with Steve’s hips. Steve doesn’t remark on the almost-sexual closeness.

“I’ll keep that in mind.” They both sit in silence long enough that Bucky is surprised when Steve speaks again.

“Did he really come out for a little bit?” Steve asks hopefully.

“Bucky?” He answers.

“Yes, but you know what I mean.” He almost warms at the thought that Steve still thinks them one and the same. It gives him hope in the dark black hole that’s his constant shadow, and it also makes him grieve at the inevitable. There isn’t any harm in telling Steve what happened, he just didn’t want to give him too much hope.

“Yes, I could feel it. Like finger tips breaching the surface of an ocean.” He can feel Steve smile at his neck.

“I still don’t think you’re gonna like who he’ll be once he’s fully back,” He cautions. He can feel it like a bird sensing an oncoming storm. It was looming closer each day.

“Remember how I said we’re gonna meet someone tomorrow?” Bucky nods, “I wouldn’t call the race just yet Buck.”

“You can believe what you want to believe, it won’t make it true,” He tries to convince Steve, but the other man just shakes his head.

“Just go to bed Jerk.”

“Alright Punk.” Steve smiles again and subtly nuzzles into Bucky’s neck. He can’t help but smile too despite everything.


 

They wake up in a sweaty pile of limbs. Steve is faced towards the window and his bionic arm is clutched around Steve’s stomach. He stretches out the metal joints and yawns loudly. His dreams had been strangely empty which is better than the usual horrific torture he re-practiced with crystal clarity each night.

He smooth’s his hair away from his face and tucks a lock of it behind his ear. He looks down at Steve who is slightly drooling on his pillow and breathing deep even breaths. Reluctantly, he gets out of bed and goes to the kitchen to grab a bowl of cereal. His appetite is normal and he takes advantage of it again with another bowl of cereal. He pads over to the tv and experiments with the controller until he figures it out. He manages to finds good Ol’ Tom and Jerry playing. They seem to be from later decades, but he enjoys it anyways. He watches with a small smile as the cat tries to get the mouse through every forkful of his cereal.

“I see you managed to finally find the tv after three or so weeks,” Steve laughs with a squinty expression as he rubs crust out of them while walking to the kitchen. For some reason this morning he’s wearing a robe that flutters behind him like an open sail.

“Just watching a bit of Tom and Jerry, It’s not like how I remember,” He calls out.

“You remember that?” The soft clink of cereal follows.

He snorts, “I can remember bits and pieces.” He turns towards the television as Tom slams into the wall as Jerry ducks beneath a mouse hole. Steve joins him a moment or two later with his own bowl of cereal with a now firmly closed robe.

“These are a bit different from the ones we saw in the theatre.”

Bucky cocks his head, “What do you mean?” He remembers bits and pieces of little shorts shown before a movie in conjunction with the news and movie previews.

“They edited them to show them on tv and these came out a little later.”

“But they’re cartoons.”

“They had a bit of racist overtones,” Steve shoots back before dipping his spoon into his cereal for another bite. Oh, right; now he remembers.

“I never did like those bits.” He never found blackface hilarious. It was another way to bully people for something they couldn’t control, like Steve’s host of health problems he was born with-pre-serum of course.

“Me either.” They sit in silence and both quietly slurp and eat their breakfast as Tom develops more and more elaborate traps that fail each and every time. They both even lean against each other in a fit of giggles as Tom gets stuck in his own trap.

The rest of the morning goes by in the same relaxed fashion. They both get dressed to head outside the apartment for the first time together since Bucky was brought home. He’s a bit nervous to be out in the middle of the day with a historically almost-famous face. Steve quickly solves the problem with a pair of sunglasses and a baseball cap.

He looks a little ridiculous, but it’s necessary.

But before they leave the house, Steve grabs two helmets and his leather jacket along with a pair of aviators. Bucky slips on a pair of black leather gloves and a spare black leather jacket Steve had hiding in the closet.

“You’re gonna need this,” Steve instructs before handing over a black motorcycle helmet.

Bucky smiles before taking his baseball cap off and throws it onto the dining room table and shoves the helmet on in its place. He opens the visor and grins softly. Steve returns it with one of his own.

They’re down the stairs and outside in record time. Steve’s bike looks like a modern interpretation of the one he saw in the exhibit except it’s entirely black with matching leather saddlebags. It’s a beautiful piece of machinery with a nice headlamp on the front. The leather of the seat is buttery soft and everything looks well cared for.

Steve straddles the seat beautifully and puts on his helmet, even though he doesn’t need one, and revs the bike. It roars to life in a gorgeous sound if modern machinery while Bucky clips the strap underneath his chin. He settles in behind Steve and wraps firm arms around his waist. Secretly he smiles a bit at the contact before dropping the helmet’s visor.  

“Ready?” Bucky nods before Steve lifts his foot and the bike jerks forward. They peel out of the lot and roar down the street. They weave in between the morning traffic and Bucky tries to keep his nerves at a minimum. He doesn’t have a clue who they’ll be meeting. Maybe it’s one of his siblings? They could have somehow survived but he doesn’t remember their faces or names. They weren’t mentioned in any detail in the exhibit.

Fifteen minutes later, they pull up to a veteran’s hospital. They both take their helmets off and walk in barely disguised behind their sunglasses. Once inside, Bucky stands twenty feet away, arms crossed, as Steve checks in with the head nurse. She remembers Steve from a month ago and looks from behind his friend’s tall stature to motion him forward.

She walks and talks to them as she leads them down a few hallways, “You caught her at just the right time, she seems to be more lucid than yesterday. Her memory is retaining a lot more and she can even recall most of everything down to her childhood.” The nurse sighs as she turns to Bucky, “Steve is such a dear to visit her every once in a while-even on her bad days. She doesn’t get much in the way of visitors anymore, even when she used to be such a hero to little girls everywhere.”

“I’ll never stop visiting my best girl,” Steve smiles fondly. The older nurse just beams at him and tucks her arm within Steve’s as she chatters on.

Bucky stops as the pieces come together. No, they weren’t….they couldn’t. He’s left standing frozen to the spot in the hallway until Steve turns around, the older nurse still clutching his arm, to figure out what’s going on.

“Hey, what’s wrong?”

“You didn’t tell me….”

“I wanted it to be a surprise, come on, you can at least say hi,” Steve urges. The nurse looks a trifle confused, like she’s obviously missing out on something important.

Steve almost glares at him until he starts walking again until they all reach a wooden door. The the nurse disentangles herself from Steve and knocks a few times before opening it.

“You’ve got visitors,” The nurse practically coos. Steve enters first while Bucky stands near the right of the doorway. He breathes deeply and tries to calm himself down. Jealousy clouds his mind as he remembers her pretty face in the news reels. All dark hair and red lipstick in a no-nonsense face. She was a storm in a bottle, he gleaned that much from the exhibit.

He hears some slight murmuring and a shuffle of blankets from within the room along with the scraping of a chair.

“Get in here!” Steve calls out. Bucky sighs and takes off his sunglasses.

“Y-you’re Bucky Barnes!” the nurse squeals quietly. Her hands are covering her mouth in shock and his face hardens.

“Bucky?” An old voice calls. He walks into the sterilized room and sees an older women, face etched by time.

“Hey Peggy,” He says with a touch of awkwardness.

“I always knew I’d see you again someday,” She dreamily says with flick of her wrist for him to come forward.

He’d hoped he wouldn’t have to.

Chapter Text

Bucky walks closer to Steve and stares down at the ninety-five year old women with her long grey curls and heavily wrinkled face. She looks like a shadow of what she once was, almost an entirely different person, all except for the determined glint in her chocolate brown eyes.

Her hand is open in front of her, hovering shakily in the air, while a small smile tips the corners of her wrinkled lips. He takes off his glove on his right hand and sets it down into her extended palm. She grasps on weakly with her brittle bones fragile bones that shake slightly.

“Still just as handsome-even more so with that long hair of yours,” she chuckles into a small cough. She breathes a little heavily but it leaves as quickly as it came. He smiles tightly and rubs the top of her softy veiny hand.

“How are you Peggy?” he asks softly. He pretends they’re old friends for her sake when instead, it feels like he’s meeting a stranger. From the corner of his eye Steve is looking down at her fondly with an edge of sadness

“As well as can be expected for someone at my age,” She replies tiredly with a breathy laugh. He takes his gloved left hand and uses it to sandwich her delicate one in-between his own. A small thought flits through his mind.

I could crush her fingers to smithereens he thinks coldly before waving a mental hand to clear the smoke of negative thoughts. The jealousy is burning inside of him when rationally, he knows she is the least likely threat. It’s also not as if Steve has really shown him much concrete interest.

“Where have you been all these years? You don’t look a day over twenty-seven,” She marvels. Steve is shifting uncomfortably on his toes with fidgeting fingers and downcast eyes.

“About that Peggy…” Steve sighs, “Bucky didn’t die falling from the train.”

She turns, eyes narrowed, to Steve with a slight wrinkled frown, “I may be old, and my mind plagued with Alzheimer’s, but if you think for a moment I’m that daft Captain Rogers, then you’ve got another thing coming,” She seethes with a quiet roiling power of someone a third her age. Bucky smiles amusingly, that’s the Peggy from the news reels he remembers.

“What Steve here meant to say was that I survived the fall and Hydra captured me,” he explains as he pulls away from her weak touch. He quickly dumps the leather jacket and the hoodie underneath along with the leather glove. She inhales loudly with a slight hiss and begins to cough with closed eyes. They open a little watery and turn to him with a deep sadness.

“It was you,” she whispers before closing her eyes and shaking her head slightly, “If I’d known, we would have saved you.” He doesn’t understand, how could she know about him?

“What do you mean?” Steve looks intrigued as well and pulls a chair to sit down in.

“SHIELD knew about the Winter Soldier but we thought it was some Hydra soldier they’d experimented upon. We never saw your face, all except your arm,” She takes shaking fingers and he can sense the gentle pressure on his bionic wrist. “It was your signature. With the red star, and the gleaming metal not seen on any sort of technology available at the time. We had orders to not interfere with your missions due to you one hundred percent success rate. Throwing anyone in the way would’ve been a senseless waste of life.” Her eyes are faraway in a different time and place until she snaps back to the present. Her brown eyes dull to a quiet sadness.

“How could you kill so many people?” she says quietly. There’s no anger, just quiet disappointment. Before Bucky can answer her in a fit of well-deserved anger, Steve cuts in.

“Peggy, he didn’t have a choice. They brain washed him and wiped everything to replace Bucky with a new identity,” Steve argues fiercely. Bucky stands and listens quietly as he explains the general gist. She listens tentatively and her face is a changing pattern of shock, regret, and pity.

“You don’t remember me do you?” It’s more a statement than a question. Bucky nods his head and takes a small step back. He inhales and exhales a large breathe.

I only know you from the news reels,” He pauses debating whether or not to tell her but throws it all to hell anyways. “Now he does,” he tries to subtly explain with a finger pointing to his chest. Her eyebrows knit together as she looks to Steve for confirmation.

With a sigh, Steve explains even more of the situation-specifically the mental hurdles he’s dealing with. Her look of pity is a permanent fixture, but a dash of warmth is added to the mix.

“Just two birds of a feather aren’t we Sergeant Barnes?” In a roundabout way that is true. For a few minutes, the room is silent except for the subtle beeping of the machines and quiet footsteps down the linoleum hall. Steve takes Peggy’s hand and thumbs the connecting group of river like veins sprouting like roots across the wrinkled skin. Jealousy throbs like a steady beat in the pit of his stomach causing his bionic hand to clench.

 She turns her brown eyes to the movement. “I’ve heard about your arm for so long, and I’ve only had the chance seen it in photographs,” She smiles, looking downward tentatively, “Could I possibly…um, touch it? Even if I’ll forget about it tomorrow,” she ends sadly but the smile never wavers.

He nods and presents the gleaming silver for her inspection. She fingers the angled ridges that make up each plate above his wrist. The metal is cool to the touch and the sensations his brain receives are blips of shallow feeling. Even when her shaky fingers sweep across the layered interlocking plates of metal at his fingertips, its pressure in the barest sense.

A moment later, he even instructs Steve to demonstrate his own enhanced strength against the mechanical arm. Steve holds up a flat palm as Bucky draws his fingers into a tight fist and uses all the power afforded to him to get past the barrier. The plates lock up and shift to distribute and brace itself for the concrete like pressure exuding from Steve’s seemingly powerless palm.

She smiles and despite the jealousy still pulsing inside him, he finds himself smiling too.


Steve was pleased to find that Peggy remembered him this visit instead of last time where she forgot about him within ten minutes of being there. Her hair is still curled in a similar fashion he remembers all those years ago and her chocolate eyes are still bright with enthusiasm. All that’s missing is her signature bombshell red lipstick that she used to remind men that a woman was putting them in their place. He oddly misses it.

He mulls over Bucky’s behavior which is interesting and not what he hoped for. He’s politely cold and offering almost forced smiles even though Steve can tell he’s trying his best to be hospitable. It’s strange and curious, a phenomena he would like to explore more. His eyes even went dark, and were accompanied by a wry smile, when he mentioned that the ‘real’ Bucky remembered her.

What could that mean? Was there something between the two that the Bucky standing here knew but wouldn’t say? He tries to put it out of his mind before it eventually fades away.

The visit goes well as Steve’s conversation with Peggy re-tells stories of the War room or the times the Howling Commandos had a few days of leave in London. Bucky stands with his arms crossed like a kid following behind his parents at Wanamaker’s, his expression detached and focused on the pattern of the quilt at Peggy’s feet. His posture is stiff in the way a person would use the discomfiture to keep themselves alert. It puts Steve a little on edge.

As the minutes tick by, his concern with Bucky doubles, and triples. He seems obviously closed off now-more so than before. And on top of everything, earlier this morning, Steve wasn’t feeling completely up to speed even despite waking up tangled against Bucky. He can almost still feel the phantom touches of Bucky’s cold metal arm pressed firmly against his middle while he pretended to sleep ten minutes after Bucky awoke.

But his concern over Bucky is a neon sign in the comfortably lit room of his mind. Today is his only shot at reminding Bucky to fight against the mental obstacles in front and ahead of him. If Bucky loses the will and just gives up, he’ll truly lose his best friend forever. He remembers Bucky after being held by Hydra. He was fine and the same Ol’ buck, except he suffered nightmares and drank a little bit more-but still the same. Bucky didn’t even seem affected by his experience during his time with the Howling Commandos. If he could get over in the easy way that Steve remembers, then why couldn’t he learn to put this behind him?

Steve had to make the move now.

“Hey Bucky?” His friend turns cold eyes to him. “Could you give Peggy and I a moment? I’ll call you back in when were done.” Bucky shrugs and redresses back into his weak disguise to wait outside the closed door. Steve barely manages to keep it together until his face crumples like a battered tin can.

“Peg….I don’t know what to do,” he pleads quietly. She hushes him and grabs his hand that’s curled in the blanket. It’s reassuring and makes him feel warm.

“It’s about Bucky isn’t it?” He nods before a small tear breaks free.

He didn’t even realize he was crying. They fall into a few droplets that slide along the planes of his cheeks and silently puddle onto the linoleum floor. He bends over and lays the side of his face against the bed as her frail fingers card through his blonde hair. The action is very much like how his mother would calm him after the largest of his coughing fits so long ago.

“A few years after you crash landed and froze, I thought about that night I found you in the bar. I’ve never seen a man cry the way you did over a friend. I-I didn’t walk in straight away you know,” she admits softly. His eyes narrow and his eyebrows knit together as he listens. “I watched you for a few minutes beforehand.” She pauses looking for the right words. “I didn’t want to interrupt you at such a vulnerable point, and I myself was never great with feelings. It’s probably why I fit in so seamlessly within my rank,” she chuckles with a touch of unhappiness.

He thought about it and she’s right. Peggy had been direct, not one for tears or any sort of ‘weakness’. He also never understood his era’s idea that weakness came from ‘womanly’ traits when expressing yourself was the bravest thing he could think of; it’s the human thing to do.

Steve moves his head up from the bed as her hand falls away from his hair. “But years later, I thought about that private moment you had in the shell of the bombed bar. Nagging thoughts wouldn’t leave me alone and I began to dig around in the archival footage shot by the government for the news reels. SHIELD had acquired it, under my orders, and I began to watch everything. I saw something I wouldn’t have ever even dreamt about,” She pauses looking at him pointedly.

“What was it?”

“You were both in love,” she breathes out in resignation, as if admitting defeat. Words are stuck in his throat and all he can do is stare at her. Both? The word rings like a continuous echo as she begins speaking again.

“It’s why I got married you know. I realized you were gone, you weren’t coming back, and even if you did…you’d be in love with a dead man.” She cups his cheek and pets it with her thumb. He sighs, closing his eyes as the last of his tears fall. The truth was a bit shameful, colored a bit by past societal morals and norms. But nonetheless, she was completely and utterly right. But both? No, she must be mistaken, it was only him that had been, no, is, in love.

He hand falls away again. “I was a product of my generation and I found it abhorrently disgusting at first. I tried to deny it and re-watched every minute of footage trying to convince myself otherwise,” she looks a bit shamed but Steve smiles while nodding for her to continue. He can’t blame her. Homosexuality was akin to devil worship in their old society’s eyes, even if his neighborhood had been more open and accepting of it.

 “But the evidence was there, literally in black and white. As the times changed, and my views widened, I began to slowly accept it. Plus, you were supposedly dead and it didn’t matter. You did only promise me a dance after all,” she chuckles.

“One of the few promises I can’t ever fulfill,” he replies regretfully with a small frown.

She looks at him fondly. “Now you’ve got a new dance partner to lead around the room. And he is quite the handsome gentleman I might add,” she grins like a friend listening to a crush. A dark look shadows across Steve’s face. Peggy’s smile falters and her eyes empty of their small trace of delight.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get Bucky back,” he confesses, looking down at his hands. It’s something he hasn’t tried to think about, and it’s too early to call it.

It’s only been a month after all.

“You’re going to have to connect the dots for me captain. Tell me what you aren’t saying.”

He smiles glumly. “My main motivation for visiting here today is,” he takes a deep breathe. “Bucky believes that when he finally does remember everything, including the entirety of what the Winter Soldier did, and the real Bucky is back,” His voice hitches, “He won’t be able to handle everything he did. That he’ll want to die and give up the moment he realizes it.”

“And you want someone, who knew the old Bucky, to convince him that the true Bucky wouldn’t get crushed from the weight of the emotional turmoil that’s waiting for him?” She slowly affirms a very subtle lift of her white eyebrow.

“Yes.”

It’s a lot to ask for, and no matter what he could say, Bucky would never believe him. It’s hard to trust the judgment of someone who has unconditional faith in you, he understands that. Coming from Peggy…it would seem more truthful; less biased.

“Steve…” her face falls, “Bucky had problems before you ever zip lined onto that speeding train.”

“No, he was the same old Buck I said goodbye to before Erskine even saw me. Well, he drank a bit more, and woke up the camp a few nights from screaming during his nightmares, but otherwise he wasn’t any different.”

“You didn’t see it, did you?” She remarks.

 See what? All he can remember is a smiling face, crass jokes, and throwing insults at one another across the German occupied European landscape. And yeah, running into Bucky’s tent after a pretty loud blood curdling scream. It’s what happened after war, it was a part of it.

“He was a broken man the moment you rescued him from that Hydra plant.”  She enlightens him.

“He was tortured a bit and left alone, but afterwards he seemed fine…” He trails off, almost unsure.

“He was unkempt, shaky, didn’t sleep a lot, and he seemed dark as a person. You didn’t notice?” Pity enters her eyes and he doesn’t like it.

Buck was his best friend, how was he so damn blind? He closes his eyes and vaguely remembers the moment in the bar-the moment before Peggy walked in. A half smile with hooded eyes, unkempt greasy hair, and a uniform unbuttoned-practically unpresentable along with heavy-laden words.

Then the flasks he always seemed to pull out of his pocket. And when he ran into that tent, Bucky was shaking with hollow eyes that darted to a half empty bottle of scotch near his cot. He now recalls how he seemed a bit jumpy and didn’t take well to surprised touches. He always kept a bit of a berth around him.

He wasn’t ok…he was never ok. Well, at least not before enlisting. Maybe Bucky was right, maybe he knew the real Buck inside would give up once the secondary weight of emotional baggage fell onto his shoulders. His chest aches as his nails bite into the flesh of his palm.

“You’re still quite the open book,” Peggy chuckles around another hacking cough. She motions for water which he gives to her gladly. She pulls a small gulp and momentarily closes her eyes.

“Nothing ever gets passed you Peg.”

She hums. “It’s how you sneak across the pond and enter the heart of the American war machine.”

“I wouldn’t exactly call myself the American War Machine,” he teases trying to lighten the mood a bit. She weakly slaps his wrist.

“You know what I mean you ol’ sod. Bucky beat me to it.” He sobers up immediately again while Peggy rolls her eyes like an annoyed mother.

“I didn’t realize you’d give up so easily Captain Rogers. You can lead a pack of men across war torn Europe but when it comes to the man you love, you cower in fear of his words?” She dismisses him with a loud ‘pfft’ and tuts at him.

“But what if he’s right Peggy? What if when he finally comes back, he can’t live with what he’s done? I can’t lose him again,” he moans slightly. A part of him still isn’t over Bucky’s death. He’s only got part of Bucky back and it burns to be so close but so far from what he actually wants. It feels like loves him through a two way window.

“Then don’t lose him. That boy out there needs you. He’s not the Bucky you want and he damn well knows it, but despite that, deep inside his core, he’s waiting. It’s time to grab his hand and lead,” she orders in the tone he remembers, albeit aged and weak. She’s still a fireball and not willing to take less than the best from anyone, including Captain America.

“The fact that he’s standing after what he went through as the Winter Soldier is indicative of his strength. You may have unconditional faith in him, but I can see that physically weaker man still inside of you trembling over this. You need to be strong for him to be stronger. He needs a steel pillar to lean on, not one made of flowers. Do you understand?” He nods as her hand finds his again. Her grip is bit more sure and tight as she squeezes his hand. He covers it with his own and they smile as one another.

“I want you to bring him back in here so I can give him the tongue lashing he needs. I want you to wait outside and have him call you back in here once I’m done,” she orders as if seventy years haven’t passed and the war is still on outside their doorstep. He releases his hands from her after giving her another squeeze.

Gingerly he scoots the chair back until it’s flush against the wall before he walks to the honeyed wood door with a small glass window. Standing outside, leaning against the wall is Bucky with an unreadable expression behind his sunglasses. He springs up from the wall and crosses his arms.

“She wants to speak with you alone.”

Bucky huffs, “Alright.” He rolls his shoulders before Bucky opens the door and closes is behind him.


 

Bucky’s hands still shake as he enters the room. Being alone in that hallway was something he wasn’t prepared for. Steve’s apartment was safe, quiet, and recognizable. He didn’t have to worry about others besides Steve and his friends.

Everyone walking past had felt like a threat and it frightened him. His body had felt coiled to strike and swiftly calculated all exits and routes from his vantage point. The nurse from earlier had found him and bombarded him with questions until he visibly shrunk in on himself until he was mute. With a pitiful expression, she’d left to make rounds with other patients.

Luckily, Steve showed up before his hands could become even clammier. He couldn’t rationalize why everything felt so different. It was just a hospital. Nobody here would harm him. He was out in public before Steve took him home. He’d braved the exhibit and felt nothing beyond the sense of confusion and curiosity.

Even now, waking into the room, he still felt scared.

“Let me see those pretty blue eyes of yours hmm?” Peggy asks sweetly. With a frown, he slides his sunglasses off, eyes never leaving the floor.

“What do you want?” He growls, all pretense from earlier dropping away like dust. She smiles back with a harsh grin of her own.

“There’s the fighter I remember.” He tilts his head and narrows his eyes as he steps closer. What’s her game? What is she after? He’ll gladly remind her the present score. All earlier feelings of fright wash away in the harsh feeling of anger.

“The man you remember is gone. Why can’t you both understand that?” Bucky snorts as he drags his eyes from the floor into her bright brown ones. Her smug face is every inch the commanding women from the news reels.

“Don’t lie to a superior officer sergeant Barnes. You damn well no that’s not true. The man who confided in me on multiple occasions is still in there, so don’t LIE TO ME!” She hisses, not even shouting. Bucky recoils from the verbal slap and steps back a half step. She’s quite the verbal dragon in that flowy white nightgown.

Despite everything, he’s had enough. Bucky knew this whole damn visit was Steve’s way to dig into him deeper. Fine, if they want to know what’s going on, then they’d all better stop pussy footing around and get right down to it.

Fine, do you want me to say you’re right? Huh?” He seethes, fists clenching, “That bastard is inside DROWNING beneath the surface but trying to claw his way out. He can barely surface for barely a second and then he’s gone again,” Bucky snarls. It’s the best way he can describe. Even now he can feel him kicking around like a man overboard.

“And you know whose kicking around in there with him? The Soldier. He’s kicking around trying to knock the other guy out and it feels….it feels disgusting.” His blue-grey eyes grow dark like storm clouds. “He feels like mental vomit spackled to my brain that I can’t wipe clean,” He seethes with an edge of a sob.

“You know what you do against an enemy? You fight them,” she retorts strongly.

“How does one exactly fight a separate personality in their brain? Hmm?” He mocks before turning away. He can feel her angry face burn the back of his neck.

“You help the other guy win and take his rightful spot. What you’re telling me, in between the lines, is those two are fighting for dominance. Well, if they are, why not give the good guy the advantage and let him win? You’re the one in control, not them,” Peggy argues. He knows she’s right but it’s isn’t that easy. Nothing is every that fucking easy.

He turns around swiftly. “You don’t understand, if the good guy wins he might not be the good guy after everything is said and done. He can’t handle what the Soldier did. Hell, I can barely handle it and I don’t have much trauma beyond that to deal with.”

“I think you’re wrong.”

“And that’s your opinion.”

“It’s fact, not an opinion,” she parrots back.

They glare at one another like petulant children until Peggy breaks the silence. 

“Bucky,” she sighs closing her eyes before opening them to reveal a deep sadness, “You’re young and you’re vibrant. You aren’t ninety-four and either rotting in the ground or wasting away in a sterile environment. You’re alive and still have a whole life ahead of you. Yes, you’re damaged in ways most couldn’t even begin to come back from. But I know you, and you can.” Her hands fold together while her face settles into deep thoughtfulness.

“You don’t remember, but when you came back from the Hydra base, you were broken. Steve was too blind to see it, but I knew. I confronted you about it once, in between your missions with the commandos, and you de-briefed me on your capture with Hydra. Even then,” she takes a deep breath. “You were suffering and barely holding it together but you managed to get to a better place before falling from that train…” she trails off with a frown.

“You kept it together, and managed to make it real-all for Steve. You couldn’t imagine him seeing you broken. You, the one who fought against every force that tried to take down Steve before he became a super soldier. You did it for him then, so do it for him now.”

Bucky stands stock still as the words reverberate like a plucked string, shaking apart the piling of memories that fall from the branches of his mind. His chest seizes and he begins to breathe deep and hard. His chest inflates to its full capacity and shrinks in until it’s a shriveled balloon.

“Steve!!” Peggy shouts hoarsely, but Bucky is too focused on the memories avalanching over him. He grabs his temples and falls to the ground onto his knees. He’s screaming but it sounds more like a squeal. It’s the same sound he’d made every time he was wiped. His eyes bulge open and his body wracks with deep shakes.

“Bucky!” Steve shouts trying to get to him. It’s no use. He closes his eyes and watches each memory as it reveals itself.

They are memories of a different time, a time Peggy was a part of. The memories speed in chronological order from being crammed inside a US shipment boat to England to the dirty tents clustered on the war torn battlefields of Europe-a war where a peaceful symbol was draped behind black, white and red in the name of ultimate world domination. Writing letters to Steve and not receiving an answer. Captured like rats and stuck behind cylindrical steel bars.

Being dragged away to be isolated in the cold and dark. Being starved by moldy bread and half-rotten meat. Urinating in the corner like an animal and defecting into buckets that would permeate the air like a joke of a candle.

The torture. He cries at the echoes of pain and the constant tattoo of “I want to die” that plays along with the memories like a morbid soundtrack. Constant injections and prodding like cattle. Screaming as his veins felt like they were being torn apart. Zola’s ugly face smiling like a proud pet owner whenever something went right.

The elation of Steve rescuing him, but the horror of thinking it was a fevered torture dream. Like the kind he fell into once the pain became too great. The memory echoes his confusion, yet a willingness to go along with the fantasy for his mental well-being.

Watching Steve jump through the flames onto his steel walkway and realizing it’s real. Oh god it was real. He was saved and Steve was healthy and bigger.

The memories play out until they turn darker and darker. Barely being able to look in the mirror at himself. Shaking and twitching from any sort of contact. Not having the will to even button his uniform. Trying to drink until he’s numb. Feeling anger over the military turning his friend into a weapon. Not being able to take care of him like he was accustomed.

Watching Steve fall in love with a dame who hadn’t protected him exactly like he did. Small smiles and flirtatious banter. A photo tucked into a compass and whipped out in front of him. Feeling the pain like a bullet to his heart on a daily basis.

The screaming nightmares that woke half the camp. Jumping at every noise. Never feeling safe and constantly on alert. Flinching at any surprising touch.

Peggy pulling him to the side and shouldering his burdens as he cried. Soft words and commanding advice. Convincing himself to pull it together for Steve, to live up to the hero his best friend always thought of him to be.

Screaming less and dreaming blanker. Actually smiling and looking forward to everyday. Feeling his eyes crinkle as Steve threw him a joking insult while he’d hurl one right back like a baseball. Falling even more in love each day. Feeling a sense of wrong over loving another man but feeding into it anyway.

The moment he felt the steel break apart and fall within inches of grabbing Steve’s fingers. Then the memories stop and everything goes black behind his eyelids.

“I-I remember,” Bucky stutters once he opens his eyes. Steve is hovering in sight as Peggy is sitting up in bed and leaning over slightly, grey curls falling over her shoulder.

“What do you mean?” Steve asks worriedly. His brow wrinkled into concern and eyes glassy with pain.

“I remember shipping out from England up until falling from that train,” he mutters before falling back onto his butt to lean against the discarded chair. His legs splay out in front of him and his eyes go blank. The good guy inside is out and entirely in control. Bucky realizes now the separate entity wasn’t actually separate…it was the memories trying to claw to the surface.

He’s always been here…just in the dark.

“I was wrong Steve, I was so wrong,” he moans softly. He turns his face away and sighs.

“Wrong about what Bucky?”

“I was always here, it was never three separate people. It’s always been me…I just didn’t realize it until now.” Steve looks dumb founded with a haze of happiness hovering in the depths of his eyes. Like a kid who is on the cusp of believing in something fantastical.

“But the Soldier is still there, trying to fight for control in the background,” Bucky spits out with a frown. It’s true, he can feel him scratch at a corner in the back of his mind. It makes him shiver in disgust. But at least it wasn’t a part of him; he’s separate luckily.

“But you’re back, right?” It’s more of a statement than a question. He nods with a wry smile.

“Yeah, I’m back punk. Miss me?” He chuckles darkly.

 Steve moves to lay a hand on his shoulder and the moment is rests, Bucky flinches violently away. He doesn’t know why he did that, but it’s instinctual. It was more of the surprise that prompts his body to move versus the actual touch.

“Steve?” Peggy asks quietly. His friend turns and gets up to walk over to her. “I..I wouldn’t make such surprising movements. If his memories of Hydra are back, then his previous PTSD should start manifesting itself fully again.”

“I thought you said I got better?” At least that’s his impression from their discussion earlier.

“You did, but now you’ve got more experiences that will set you back,” Peggy explains sadly. Wonderful. As if he didn’t need any more shit to deal with. “Remember what we talked about,” she reminds him deadly quiet. He nods curtly before finally standing up.

“And you,” She pointedly looks at Steve with a knowing grin, “Remember what we talked about.” She starts humming a dance tune before folding her hands in her lap. Steve doesn’t respond except for backing away a step or two with respect in his eyes.

The visit ends up going for another fifteen minutes as the stuffy awkward air finally disappears with a few laughs. Bucky is still battling a fit of jealousy but he’s more caught up within his own head than anything else. He’s also watching Steve who looks to be on the verge of something, but he doesn’t know what.

They say their farewells in the form of Steve kissing Peggy’s cheek and Bucky nodding in her direction before they both put on their respective sunglasses before grabbing their motorcycle helmets. Once out the door, before they move even a few steps, Steve grabs Bucky into a hug with a lot of his strength behind it. Bucky wraps his own arms around Steve’s waist.

Both of them separate and walk down the hallway in silence as their booted feet echo down the linoleum hall. The smell of old pipes and sterilized flooring cling to their clothes even when the fresh air hits them. Bucky keeps peeking at Steve from the corner of his eye waiting for the inevitable questions. He can feel them on the tip of Steve’s tongue if his tense posture is anything to go by.

Surprisingly, even when they get the bike, and Steve starts up the revving motor, he keeps his mouth shut. Bucky seats himself on the supple leather and bands his arms around Steve’s muscled waist as the rev of the bike takes them home.

Except, they don’t go home and Steve weaves in-between the cars until they arrive in a small neighborhood that seems to be stuck in an entirely different era altogether. The buildings are brick with concrete stairs leading up to old-fashioned doors, stores and restaurants stuck in the basements, a drugstore with iron bar grills set against every open window, and a Laundromat nestled in-between a dry cleaner and hair salon/barber.

Steve slows the bike down to a bare rumble and parks the thing in front of a dilapidated pizza joint. The awning is red and white strips with a few rips here and there. The window is painted with “Merchant Pizzeria” in gold and cream lettering with the words “A little slice of Brooklyn” added underneath in a flourish in gold as well.

Steve doesn’t say a word when he takes off his helmet and tilts his head towards the entrance of the eatery. Bucky slips off his own helmet and follows him inside. The metal and glass door tinkles with a tiny bell as they walk in. The floor is beaten up old wood that groans with life with each step. The place isn’t large and only a few customers seem to be inside, which is really nice. To his right, there is a large counter covered in a splash of tan stone-like tiles paired with a part of a wooden counter. Next to the wooden counter is a metal one used for the pizza making process. A glass window separates customers from the ingredients that sit in a vast rainbow of different vegetables, meats, sauces, and other toppings.

Steve walks up to the cashier, a thoroughly Italian looking boy with tan skin covered in a smattering of acne and black hair, to take their order.

“Welcome to Merchant Pizzeria, you’re little slice of Brooklyn from New York. What would you like to order?” The kid recites. His accent has the bare hints of Brooklyn in a bored tone with heavy lidded eyes.

“A sixteen inch with only pepperoni and we’ll take two cokes.” The kid presses a few buttons and Steve hands over a shiny red card with the name Steve G. Rogers imprinted in silver raised lettering.

“I.D?” With a small frown, Steve hands over his I.D which is white, baby blue, and a light yellow with the words “New York” plastered on the top with his face smiling on the left of it.

The kid looks down at the card and up, but then back down with a frown. He squints his eyes before they widen to the size of dinner plates.

“You’re Captain America.” It’s blunt and Steve sighs before silently asking for both of his cards back. The kid hands them over slowly with a cocked eyebrow.

“It’s Steve when I’m not on duty,” he says with a smile as he pockets his cards. The kid is perked up a bit more and slides the pin pad across the counter so Steve can type in his pin number. He reads out “0310” before a stone falls in his stomach.

That’s his birthday.

He can feel his cheeks color slightly as he watches the awe-struck kid fill a plastic pitcher with coke. The teenager slides it across the counter after grabbing the pin pad and replacing it with two red plastic cups. Steve grabs the pitcher, and Bucky carries the two ugly dark red beaten cups.

They sit at the table in the far left corner of the eatery, and Bucky is thankful for that fact.  He has a viewpoint of the entrance and he doesn’t have to worry about anyone coming up behind him. The table has a red and white checkered tablecloth with a small maroon colored candle nestled in-between red pepper flakes and powdered parmesan cheese.

“This place has the best Brooklyn style pizza outside of home. I found it through Fury who used to order from here every once in a while. I come during the slower hours to avoid any unwanted attention to get a slice of home,” Steve smiles. He takes off his sunglasses and Bucky does the same. The odds of anyone recognizing Bucky in here are slim to none which relaxes him a bit.

While waiting for their food, both of them sit silently, rotating from looking at one another to the rest of the pizzeria. The smell of spices and tomato sauce permeates the air along with the pleasant smoky smell of the wood fired oven just behind the counter.

“Do you remember eating at Mottazano’s when we used to live together? Before the war?” Bucky shakes his head as he watches Steve pour himself a glass of coke. His memories before shipping off to England are murky at best. He can pick a few memories but the name doesn’t ring a bell.

“What do you remember exactly?”

“Like I said, everything from shippin’ out to falling from that speeding train. Then of course there are a few memories from the Soldier and then everything up from my last brain wipe,” he explains, almost a little aggravated. He knows where this conversation is heading.

“What prompted the memories to come back?” The question is so simple, but the answer infinitely more complicated. Even he can’t entirely figure it out. It’s something he’ll need to unravel with the help of Dr. Banner and himself.

“I don’t know,” he lies. It’s a simpler answer. Steve awkwardly taps the side of his glass with a blunt fingernail, obviously debating something in his mind.

“What did Peggy say to you?” There it is, the golden question he’d been bracing against since they left the VA hospital.

“She reminded me who I was,” he says simply. It isn’t a lie. She is right, he is strong. Hazy memories of each day getting better, and pulling himself together, support it. If he can learn to live with it once, he can do it again.

Steve is beaming as he pulls another sip from his glass. “I told you,” he grins. Bucky rolls his eyes with a smile of his own.

“Alright Mr. Captain America, you were right, but I still have a road ahead of me.” It’s going to be a long one, but only time will tell if it’ll be worth it or not.

“I’m with you every step of the way. I’m with you till the end of the line…” Steve trails off seriously.  

“Now see, you can’t go stealing my lines,” he chuckles trying to get the mood lighter. The memory bobs around like a cork in the lake of unclaimed memories after being underwater so long. It’s a sad one, but the start of them living together which makes it a good one.

“Jerk,” Steve laughs.

“Punk,” Bucky huffs as their sixteen inch pie comes into view.

Chapter Text

The wind whistles through Bucky’s helmet when Steve takes a sharp right turn into the small parking lot that sits behind the apartment building. He can feel the contents of his lunch slosh around in his stomach and almost come up as they lurch to a stop. Bucky rips the helmet off and shakes his head back and forth in a torrential whirlwind of long brown hair.

“Its not a magazine photo shoot,” Steve teases as he takes off his own helmet.

Bucky half-smiles, “Says the guy who appeared on every bonds poster in a spangled outfit.”

Steve punches his shoulder as they walk back up the stairs inside the building, bickering with sly smiles back and forth, until they’re inside the apartment.

“Hey! Grandpa’s back!” Tony mocks behind a magazine, face smiling on the cover. Next to him is an orange haired woman who looks strong and infallible. The words “Playboy to Homeboy, How Pepper Potts Tamed America's Bad Boy Genius and Rose as the Most Powerful Woman” hover above them in white bold lettering.

“If you’d put a little less time making jokes and being kind to people, maybe people would like you more,” Steve replies coldly as he dumps his keys into the ceramic bowl.

Tony puts the magazine halfway down, “Getting people to like me isn’t the problem capsicle,” he snarks back with a slight roll of his eyes.

“That’s enough you two,” Banner interjects before sipping his cup of coffee. The mug is navy blue with a light grey SHIELD logo on it’s side. He has deep circles under his eyes and an overall weary expression.

Bucky stands there hesitantly feeling like someone in a new piece of skin. He left the apartment this morning as one man and came back a different one. It’s a weird sensation that keeps him silent for a few moments by the door. He even begins to rub his upper right arm in a soothing motion.

“So Bucky got chunk of his memory back,” Steve explains bluntly to Banner as he sits at the table. Bucky watches them closely from his side of the room as drops his bionic arm and he leans against the wall near the coat closet. The wood bites harshly into his arm but he doesn’t pay it any mind.

Banner turns to him instead of Steve, “That’s wonderful news. Are you still experiencing the multiple personalities?” Ripping himself from the wall, Bucky walks over to the table to sit next to Steve who watches him like he’ll disappear at any second. In truth, it won’t ever happen-not after what he’s remembered. But also, he looks happier than usual since they left the hospital.

“I was wrong about the multiple personalities. It was just a large chunk of memory keeping me from being my ‘true’ self. I mean, I’m not the same man that I remember,” He tries to explain. It’s an odd sensation. He feels different, but also not different from how he felt this morning. “But I don’t feel so neutral like before,” he finishes with the hint of a smile.

“I talked to a friend of mine who works with amnesia victims of all severities. It’s a common trait to experience what you’re describing to me. If you’d developed a separate personality, your road of recovery would be much more extensive. We’d be talking years added onto the year or two it’ll take to manage your PTSD symptoms.”

Steve blinks and draws his eyebrows, “It’s going to take up to two years for Bucky to get better?”

Banner shrugs his shoulders, “It could even be longer. It depends on the resilience of the patient, the trauma they were exposed to, and the work they’ve put into it.”

Steve looks crestfallen, so far from the happy man who walked through that door. He rises from the chair and mumbles, “I’m gonna go lie down for a while, maybe read or something.” Bucky watches Steve nearly drag his body up and away from the table with his spine in bent forward. His eyes follow him until he disappears through the door down the hall.

“He’s taking it harder than I am,” Bucky laughs sadly with a wry smile. Banner just nods before taking another sip of his coffee and keeping a laser focus on the whorls in the wood.

Quietly the two discuss how he feels about the changes and what he remembers. The conversation lasts barely thirty minutes until Banner goes to clean out his empty coffee cup and sit with a book in the nearby armchair. Tony just sits and flips the glossy pages of his magazine until he pulls out his tablet.

The next couple of hours are slow and inch by like nails on a chalkboard. The bottom of the couch cradles Bucky’s back as he bounces the dusty tennis ball against the wall. The hollow thud is like a secondary heartbeat in tandem with his own.

Tony and Bruce left a half hour ago to eat an early dinner at a new authentic Indian restaurant that Stark couldn’t shut up about. That left him and Steve separated in the confines of the apartment. He’s debating whether to seek Steve out and verbally wrestle him into a better mood using a couple of friendly insults.

He doesn’t remember Steve’s emotions changing so abruptly. He used to be the one with a cool head. At least that’s what he remembers during their time with the Howling Commandos. Everything before is hazy, but he can recall Steve getting into many fights.

But that’s different.

Maybe Steve’s disappointed that he’ll become saddled with Bucky’s problems for the conceivable future. The guy has his own life to live, long before Bucky rose from the proverbial grave. His friend has a new lease on life. Why would he waste it with a battered ball and chain from his past?

He catches the tennis ball and throws it against the wood, trying to release his frustrations, until it ricochets off into some unknown corner of the apartment. He draws up his knees and lays his forehead on the hard pieces of bone.

He doesn’t deserve Steve’s kindness and Steve certainty doesn’t deserve to shoulder the problems of a PTSD-ridden war vet with memory loss who has the blood of many innocent people on his hands. It follows him like an invisible bloody snail trail wherever he goes.

Bucky weeps silently. The tears pool on his plush lips before they eventually gather into a larger drop and fall to onto his pants. His shoulders shake and he grips his calves with a punishing force. He even digs his nails into the fabric clad flesh with biting pain.

Maybe once he can function normal most of the time, he can leave Steve and live his own life. Give his friend a chance to find love and experience the life he should have had with a wife and two plus kids.

He can forget all about Bucky and keep him as a ghost in his past. Steve said they’ll be there for one another no matter what, but words come easier than actions. It’s not like they can live together, platonically, for the rest of their lives.

Then there is the fact his feelings will forever compromise whatever long-term friendship they have in the first place. To love someone and not loved in return, yet be so close to them constantly, is a living hell he doesn’t want to face.

It’ll always be Steve. No one else couldn’t even exist in comparison. And, it would be too painful eliminating the feelings all together.

A small blip-like memory, along with a thought, rises to the surface. It’s his entire reasoning for entering the war in the first place. Of course it’d been to defend his country in the wake of Pearl Harbor, but the calling of the sweet peace of death seemed a sweeter bargain. To not live a life filled with woman after woman whose curves couldn’t match the hard angles and delicate stature of his best friend seemed kinder. Every woman had been nothing, regretfully, but a release. Each had been a shallow comparison to what he truly desired.

He didn’t want to watch his friend find some quiet dame who wouldn’t be able to satisfy him like he could and to watch them forever from the sidelines. He didn’t want to wish that her hand was his and to be jealous of her mouth that could kiss Steve whenever she wanted to.

When he saw Steve again, he didn’t want to die anymore, that is until he saw Peggy in that bar. With exaggerated curves, ample breasts, man-crushing red lipstick, brown doe eyes, and the hard look of a woman who could defend herself alongside with whichever man she comsiders worthy.

Suddenly, he couldn’t wait to get back into combat and he jumped at the chance to risk his life. If he’d been shot, he knows in essence it would’ve been suicide; a sweet selfish release.

His thoughts grow darker as he chases them down the rabbit hole of a small portion of his old life.


 

The muffled beats of the tennis ball hitting the wall down the hall ticked down the seconds of the day. He’s read the same paragraph at least three times already as his thoughts go off into another direction.

Two years.

He can’t have Bucky for two years. Even now, his blood aches to sweep him into his arms. He can feel his biceps flex and his fingers begin to create dents in the cardboard of the hardcover book cradled within them. He slams the book, a comprehensive overview of the nineties, and gently lays it on the nightstand. With a huff, he lies back against the navy headboard and turns until he cheek is presses flush against the cream fabric that sits in three large squares against the wood.

He could have Bucky now, but it doesn’t sit well with him to take advantage of someone is such a mentally compromising state. Steve is all he has in this world, if you discount Peggy and the two who left earlier with excited voices. But he doesn’t even know if Bucky, first of all, is even interested. And, most importantly, if his sexuality would even allow for it.

Growing up in a predominately homosexual neighborhood, where the social norms of the time were heavily relaxed, allowed him to enter this new modern era with a less conservative social view. People always assume that because he grew up in the time where the African-American civil rights movement wasn’t too far-off that his views aligned with the opposition. His belief is more in tuned to today’s views than the ‘modern’ opinions of the past.

But he understands that sexuality is like the color of your skin. It’s a spectrum of colors and something you cannot change nor something you choose. When a few years ago he explored the modern definition of the ‘sexuality spectrum’, he pinpointed himself to be in the halfway point of gay and straight. As Tony puts it, an ‘equal opportunity connoisseur’. Despite this more ‘accepting’ era, his virginity is still intact-much like his shield.

Annoyingly so he can’t help thinking ashamed. It’s something precious and he knows it. It’s one moral standard he dragged with him through the ice, but he understands it’s not his job to dictate the sexual behavior of other people. But he feels for himself that it’s a precious thing, unlike the impression he’s gotten from this new century at the disposability of innocence.

He wants to keep this one relic of his past and give it to who he loves most. To the man sitting in the living room, throwing a fuzzy neon green-yellow tennis ball, in a steady beat against the drywall.

Only if Bucky feels the same of course, and when he’s better.

Steve looks to the empty side of the bed, the sheets and pillow wrinkled from sleep. That’s one other daily occurrence he’s worrying over. Having Bucky sleep in his bed is slowly becoming a problem, especially when they fell asleep yesterday. Bucky’s bottom pressed up against his privates and he was almost a weak man who wanted to take what rightfully wasn’t his.

They need a second bedroom.

Of course, they could bring in two twin-size beds but that alternative sounds less comfortable. Two men their size would be like fitting a dog inside a tuna-can.

He plans talk to Tony and consult with him about it. He has more real estate than he needs so he could help him find a suitable neighborhood either here or possibly New York-Brooklyn if possible.

Maybe a change of scenery will give him a stronger will and give Bucky the boost he needs.


 

The next week goes by nearly the same. Banner sits with Bucky in Steve’s bedroom and they talk for an hour or two which usually results in a tearful Bucky or a small content smile. An especially rough session time even a violent flashback. It took thirty minutes of him singing in Bucky’s ear for his friend to come back. But during each session, Steve is in talks with Tony about even moving into Stark Tower with Bucky.

He doesn’t know it until he brings up moving somewhere larger, but Tony built each avenger their own separate apartment space-even one for Thor who is worlds away. Banner gets into the middle of it as well and expresses heavy interest in moving in. Something about living rent free, having continuous access to the latest equipment, and being close by for Bucky’s use. Steve readily agrees once Banner decides to move in as well.

He even finds out that Natasha has an apartment waiting for her but she’s dust in the wind at the moment like Fury.

The whole crux of it is Bucky didn’t know yet. He’s carefully keeping it private until everything finalizes. Tony is working on purchasing Steve’s current apartment, something about how owning property is the ‘American way’ and that ‘Captain America is no exception’. Its chump change to him and Steve gladly accepts, after a few refusals of course. The medium sized dwelling has grown on him which is all Bucky’s doing. Before it felt like a box that he shoved himself away in like a toy. And, on top of everything, Tony is going to give him ownership of it after it’s all settled.

Steve decides to tell Bucky tonight in the same place his friend found him. Steve realizes the idea is almost romantic in nature, but he tries to ignore that fact as he looks forward to it in expectation.


Steve has been acting a bit shifty for the past week but maybe it’s just him being paranoid. His mind is thinking nothing but the worst which he’s tells Banner during one of their sessions. He even tries to weasel some information out of the doctor, but no dice.

In turn, he gets a lecture. Something about how the negative musings are what Banner calls “cognitive distortions”. They lead him down a winding road of thoughts that elicit the emotional outbursts he’s been dealing with. Bucky scoffs until he thinks about the many episodes he’s been hiding from Steve. Usually they culminate to bursting in the shower. Sometimes if he feels one coming on, he’ll put on the bathroom fan and stay in there for ten minutes until he’s calmed down.

His task after the lecture is to list out the direct opposite of whatever he is thinking, usually the positive spin to whatever he’s imagining, and trying to instill those as instinctual thoughts. Such as Steve isn’t being shifty, he’s just more quiet than usual. It’s perfectly normal behavior for a person to do. Most likely he’s giving Bucky space following his past PTSD catching up and being a chief fixture in his life.

That’s probably all that’s happening.

Later, after his sessions is over, and he’s sitting on the couch, Steve joins him.

“Bucky? Steve asks as he sits down next to him on the couch, keeping a fair distance.

Bucky is watching Woman of the Year with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. It’s a flick he missed while in basic training. He likes the average Joe looks of Tracy with the no-nonsense attitude and Hepburn with her beautiful hard angles and ferocity that could rival any man. She wasn’t beautiful, but she was handsome with her mid-Atlantic cinema accent that died out with the fifties-at least he vaguely remembers.

 “Yes?”

Steve crosses his legs and lens back with his hands folded, “So I was wondering if perhaps we could go out tonight?”

Bucky laughs with an edge of sadness that Steve misses, “You asking me out on a date Captain?”

Steve’s eyes grow wide and he shakes his head rapidly, “No no no, I just want to get outside the apartment. Maybe grab some burgers and see the monuments lit up at night.”

“You really sound like a husband trying to take their lady out to reignite their spark,” He replies bluntly with his best poker face.

“I just think that getting outside these four walls will do us both good. You can’t hide away in here forever Bucky,” he replies softly as he sets a hand on his shoulder. A bolt of danger floods his nervous-system like a lightning bolt as he flinches violently.

Steve lifts both hands in the air and swerves his torso away. “Sorry.”

Bucky sighs. “Just make sure I can see your movements first. Physical surprises don’t particularly work for me.”

“But won’t we just lose the magic?” Steve quips, face unmoving.

“I forgot you can be an asshole Steve,” Bucky laughs quietly.

Steve smiles wide. “It’s the nice ones you’ve got to watch out for. But I don’t need to tell you that. Remember Nancy Crenshaw?”

“Actually…I don’t,” Bucky replies seriously.

His time during the war is an untouched clear lake while any previous memories are murky with mud, weeds, and waste; mostly abstract and shapeless. A perfect example would be he can remember the parade of woman that marched through his life. They’d bring the overall feeling of quick lust that would crash over him like a large wave. He would ride it feeling high, and free, and once the wave dumped him on shore, he would be lost and cold. He’d be left with what he truly desired.

The air is thick in the wake of the obvious. All those vital memories they both share are missing in only his mind. It feels like a book club where everyone’s read the book while you’ve only read half of it and watched the movie. It makes him angry, but mostly sad. He wants those memories instead of the PTSD ridden landscape of his recouped past.

Steve breaks the awkward silence. “So burgers at the monuments tonight?”

“I’ll put on my spiffiest outfit and we can hit the town forties style,” He laughs with a slight punch to Steve’s shoulder. Steve mocks being in pain before sending a punch of his own that Bucky prepares for.

“Alright, we’ll leave at 7:30.”


 

Steve is decidedly nervous throughout his shower. It even sticks with him when he’s standing in front of the steamed over mirror, hazy reflection staring at him. He rubs his eyes and takes a few deep, calming, breaths. He even splashes some cold water onto his face to inject some life back into him.

Earlier had felt so…nice. Like they were a bantering couple.

It gives him hope; it’s dangerous. He doesn’t want to get an inch and take a mile. Or, he could be getting nothing at all and he’s just imagining things. Perhaps Bucky is just comfortable with his sexuality and makes jokes about dates involving the two of them without much mind. He felt a knife twist inside though when Bucky, during a few moments, looked and even almost sounded genuine. It took everything for him to throw the banter back and keep a smile steady on his face.

He’s an honest man, but every honest person knows lying is an unpleasant necessity in life-he just hates doing it. When he awoke in the twenty-first century, it was especially difficult to live day-to-day while acting like everything was fine. He hadn’t been ok.

Still isn’t ok.

But tonight, maybe, just maybe, he can get a touch of what he really wants. He’s a starving man, he’ll take anything at this point. Even if it’s a pleasant evening, with a couple of burgers, side-by-side with his best friend underneath a starless night, and telling him they’ll be moving. They’ll reminisce and it’ll become one of countless nights they’ve spent together. He can be satisfied with that; at the least that’s what he’ll try convincing himself.

The fog on the mirror evaporates to reveal his naked form. His skin is still a little red from the water, but it’s quickly fading. Droplets still glint on his skin in a blanket of tiny pellets of liquid glass. Looking in the mirror sometimes, he still doesn’t believe it’s him. He expects the other man in the mirror to talk to him like a tv screen and not follow his movements to the T.

Sometimes, he even sees the little guy in the mirror. Small shoulders, shrunken chest, ribs you could plays as an xylophone, hipbones that could cut skin as well as a scalpel, and perpetual sad eyes even when he smiles.

But he read somewhere online how the mind’s able to sometime see what it wants to.

One thing remains constant and it’s the sadness in his eyes. It’s always been there, but it disappears in the heat of battle. It’s one of the very few things unchanged by the serum.

Steve shakes his head until he turns away from his reflection to towel dry his naked body and the short strands of his nearly brown hair soaked from his shower. He runs the fluffy towel down the bumps of his abdomen and down through the dark blonde curls that gather above his uncut dick. The sweeping motions of the towel calm his nerves and the soft feel gets him to close his eyes.

He even hums a little tune, something he heard on the radio in a store, as the towel sweeps over every inch of his body leaving a steady heartbeat in its wake.

“Round and around and around we go,” he sings breathily as he replaces the fluffy feel of the towel with the silk smooth feel of lotion along his skin. “Oh, now tell me now, tell me now, tell me now you know.”

“Not really sure how to feel about it. Something in the way you move. Makes me feel like I can't live without you, it takes me all the way. I want you to stay,” He sings out a little louder as the last of the lotion leaves a slight residue on his skin.

A loud knock bangs on the door. “Hey! Sleeping Beauty! I’ve got to use the bathroom! Once your done singing to the personified toilette items, I need to use the can,” Tony yells through the door.

With a slight scowl, Steve picks up the towel from the floor and wraps it around his waist before picking his discarded clothing from the floor. The cool air from the rest of apartment feels refreshing on his skin as he opens the door.

Tony wolf whistles. “Looking good Rogers,” Tony growls with a sarcastic edge. Steve just rolls his eyes and ducks away into his bedroom to change.


 

Seven O’clock rolls around and both of them are awkwardly circling each other in the apartment waiting for seven thirty. The sun sets outside and casts skyscrapers of yellows and oranges across the wood of the floor. He’s currently sitting on the couch watching the news and picking the fibers of the couch. Bucky is quietly reading at the dining room table while tapping his leather clad fingers against the wood.

Banner and Tony are an oblivious audience to the tension in their respective seats. Tony is playing around on his transparent tablet watching cat videos and Bruce is lazily picking his nails while barely watching the tv. Sam is absent since he had other matters to deal with today concerning a few of his volunteer VA duties. His friend actually sent him a text message earlier wishing him luck.

He couldn’t hide anything from him even if he tried. 

Each minute is tense and Steve’s eyes flicker to Bucky every thirty seconds on the nose. His eyes sweep over the nice navy and white plaid button down that drapes over the curves of his body. The buttery soft black leather jacket from the closet hangs over it. The light fixture above glints off the silver zipper and the semi-glossy leather. It suits him more than it ever did for him. Eventually, his gaze drags lower to the dark blue denim that tightens around his thighs and loosens its grip from the knee down.

A warm syrupy feeling pools and shifts within his stomach that mixes with the nervousness. He wipes a sweaty palm along the upholstery of the couch and manages to unstick his eyes from an oblivious Bucky.

Steve valiantly listens to the story of multiple robberies of a few food trucks and the arrest of a murderer until the urge to check the clock is too great. Sighing, he unsheathes his cell phone from his black twill pants. Ten more minutes.

Fuck it, he can’t wait any longer.

“Ready to go Bucky?” Steve calls out as he stands, smoothing his gingham cream and tan button down. The material’s worn soft from many washings and it matches his skin tone, or at least it’s what he was told in the store when he bought it a few years back.

Bucky looks up with raised eyebrows. “It’s already 7:30?”

“Pretty close. I’m just not sure if I can sit here any longer listening to the details of the most recent murders in DC.”

Bucky nods. “Fine by me, I’ve already reached the climax,” he smiles as he shakes the book in the air before closing it and setting it down on the table. Bucky rises and stands waiting near the door.

Steve grabs his brown leather jacket from the closet, including two helmets, and their swiftly out the door. Of course Tony yells out “Don’t stay out past your curfew!” and a grunt of pain follows, probably from a slug thrown by Banner.

They awkwardly shuffle down the staircase, Steve giving Bucky ample room. It’s not a date. Just the two of them, out on the town, and getting burgers as friends. Like when they stopped at Merchant Pizzeria the other day.

Each of their steps beat a rhythm down the wooden stairs that lead to the back. With helmets on, a twist of the ignition, they’re burning rubber down the busy street.


 

They arrive to a rickety wooden building with flashing bulb lights in white red along the border and on the sign that reads “Frisko”. The fresh looking paint is bright white and Christmas red. The burger joint is a pillar of its time and a bronze plaque reads it as a historic monument.

The place is packed with various couples, families, and groups of friends milling about. Some are sitting on the hoods of cars, some at picnic tables, standing against the red pillars that surround the join like a southern plantation, and some just plain sit on the curb with burgers stuffed in their mouths.

Steve takes off his helmet and Bucky begins to but he puts a hand on his chest.

“Uh, I wouldn’t. There’s a lot of people here,” Steve tries to explain. Bucky shakes his head and takes his helmet off anyways.

“Nobody’s gonna recognize me Steve. I’m a dusty old relic that’s been hiding behind a mask for seventy years. I’d be more recognizable with my shorter hair if anything,” Bucky retorts.

He’s partially right. His friend looks like a different person with a shaved face and long hanging hair that’s tucked behind one of his ears. He fits in within the modern crowd as well. The only thing out of place are the leather gloves; but they are necessary. A metal hand is a neon sign for ‘different’ or even ‘villainous’. Or, perhaps, people might mislabel him as a new superhero.

Which wouldn’t be a terrible thing once everything is said and done. When battlefield conditions won’t trigger a PTSD episode.

“Fine. But keep quiet, less attention, the better.”

“You’re Captain fucking America, attention is essentially your newly-married surname.”

Steve whips around with hardened face. “Most of the time I’m unrecognizable without the spangled suit or even my shield. No one expects a superhero to walk around in a plaid button down with dress pants and a leather jacket like a regular guy.”

“Don’t need to sell it to me that hard,” Bucky laughs. With his fingers, he combs a few long strands of hair before continuing, “Plus you need to know my order.”

Steve lowers his eyelids halfway. “Double cheeseburger with onions, pickles, lettuce, ketchup, mayo, and tomatoes. Extra-large fries with fry sauce and a coke.”

“Alright, you take the reins buddy,” Bucky concedes before they stand to wait in line.

Fifteen minutes later Steve holds a large bag of warm food and Bucky holds two sizeable cokes in each hand. The ice in the cups rattle which each of Bucky’s steps.

“Um, Steve….how are we going to travel with all of this?” Bucky looks from the drinks to the large paper sack in Steve’s hand.

“We’ll put the sack in of the two saddle bags and you can hold the drinks in your fists against my chest when your arms are around me. We’re practically indestructible so we’ll be ok. Just don’t crush one of them with the bionic one,” Steve laughs as they walk over to the gleaming bike.

A couple of guys stand away in a trio looking, well, more like leering, at the beautiful piece of machinery and they’re talking amongst themselves. Steve opens the black leather saddle bag and deposits the paper sack inside and manages to secure it. When he pops back up, one of the guys from the group stands apart with obvious intent.

“What kinda bike is this?” The man asks. Bucky watches the man warily with narrow eyes pulled down into slits.

Steve smiles, “A Harley.” He tries to be polite even when he’d rather be on the way to their destination.

“What kind?” The man asks again with a bit of slight annoyance.

Steve smiles again, trying to defuse any ill will. “Custom job, couldn’t tell you.”

One of the other guys steps up and joins them. “It’s a softail with a bit of custom work.”

“It’s always the pretty boys who have bikes that they don’t know jack shit about,” the first guy sneers before spitting on the ground. Bucky is starting to look a bit defensive as he plants his feet and stiffens his arms.

Steve really didn’t want any problems. But if there is a fight, he won’t back down.

He’s never cared much for bullies. The times may change but they always seem constant, like the cockroaches of the human race.

“Son, I don’t want any trouble,” Steve quietly scolds.

The tallest one, who was the second to speak, leers. “I don’t know. You come here, into our neighborhood with this pretty little bike here with your boyfriend over there,” the guy tips his head towards Bucky. “And strut around as if you own the joint.”

Steve knows he didn’t do anything wrong. But, sometimes, bullies don’t need a reason. They pick just to pick. They’re also like birds, sometimes a shiny object call them to their next conquest.

The first guy, the one who broke away from the group first steps closer to Steve and pushes against his shoulder.

“We don’t like show offs,” the guy snickers before pushing him again. Steve is doing his best to remain neutral but it’s fading fast. “faggot,” the guy finishes with a violent smile before a flash of black leather slams the guy to the ground.

Bucky has his bionic arm stretched straight out with his hand gripping the man’s throat like a vice. The man’s face is quickly blooming into a gradient of different shades and his friends stand there in shock. And meanwhile, Bucky is growling with his teeth bared.

Steve turns to the spot Bucky vacated to see two empty drinks spilling their contents onto the road.

“Bucky!” Steve yells before he turns to grab his arms and try to hall him off the man. With his strength he carries Bucky and the man-whose stuck in the vice grip- up in the air and back onto he ground.

“Let go!” Steve shouts as he grabs the bionic arm with two hands and grips it tightly. It’s like grabbing a mountain. He doesn’t have much time to make Bucky let go since the guy is turning practically blue and barely wheezing.

“You are James Buchanen Barnes. You are my best friend. You were born on March tenth in 1917. You are not the winter soldier anymore, you are my best friend,” he tolls out mechanically in quiet voice next to his ear. The hard facts seem to pull him back and he watches the hand loosen it’s grip as the man catches his breath.

Suddenly, Bucky slumps and Steve gathers him in his arms. The man below scrambles up and away with his two other buddies who run off into the night. A crowd of people watch them curiously, but Steve couldn’t give a single damn.

 “You okay?” He asks softly.

Bucky nods his head, “Yeah.”

“You want to talk about it?”

“Yes, but not here. Can we leave?” Bucky begs quietly.

Steve nods and he disentangles himself from Bucky’s arms. He grabs the two helmets and hands one out to his friend who grabs it gingerly before popping it onto his head. Without much fuss they leave the burger joint in their wake and drive.


 

The monuments are only a seven minute drive but they take a small detour to pick up bottled drinks from a convenient store. Bucky runs inside with a couple bucks and grabs two plastic bottles of coke and secures them in the other empty saddlebag.

The bike is parked and they lock the helmets onto the main bracket the handles attach to. Bucky grabs the cokes and Steven picks the slightly soggy paper sack of food from the saddlebag. In silence, Steve leads them into the park until they find a bench that has the best view of the Lincoln memorial. Small trees rustle in the breeze in harmony with the rustle of the paper bag and the quick hiss of two caps being loosened.

Bucky trades a bottle for a greasy paper wrapped burger that stains the leather gloves with a shiny residue. He decides to just take them off and stuff them in his jacket pocket. The air feels cool on his intact hand and his metal one just barely glints in the low light, but it’s not terribly noticeable.

Twin bursts of steam ride up like smoke signals as they each open the tightly wrapped packaging to reveal the aroma of their burgers. Saliva pools in his mouth and he looks over at Steve whose smiling softly to himself.

“The fries!” Steve gasps before he digs around in the bag to grab two small paper rectangular bowl piled with the salty sliced potatoes.

Bucky gets an idea. “Why don’t you just dump them all in the bag?”

Steve brightens. “Ok, but do you want to switch sides? I don’t know what the combination of metal with salt and grease will do to your arm,” he points out with a sweep of his eyes on his arm.

“Good point,” Bucky agrees as they both stand up and quickly switch spots.

They both settle in and within seconds, both bite into their burgers. Bucky moans around the symphony of meat, gooey cheese, crunchy lettuce, slimy tomatoes, velvety mayo, bitter pickles, sharp onions and the dash of ketchup. Even the bun is a bit crusty which puts him even farther into burger heaven.

Bucky turns at the feel of Steve’s eyes and he sees a shocked expression accompanied by an open mouth a scant inch away from his own burger.

“What?” Bucky asks dumbly.

“U-uh nothing. Just making sure you like your burger Buck,” Steve stammers before taking a colossal bite of his burger. Bucky raises an eyebrow and shrugs before continuing his burger. 

The silence stretches on and is punctuated only by twin mouths chewing a soundtrack of wet messy bites. The rustle of the paper sack of fries sits between them adding it’s own noises with each hand that dips inside. Their hands even touch every so often as they reach inside at the same time with mumbled apologies. Pretty soon the sack is empty, the bottles with barely a thimble of liquid left, and greasy white paper discarded into paper balls that sit at the bottom of said sack.

Bucky watches a few people mill about but they are walking towards the Lincoln memorial and away from their bench.

“What happened earlier Buck?” Steve asks softly, his gaze staring straight ahead with his arm lifted up onto the back of the bench and hanging down.

Bucky coughs. “Something….” He pauses, trying to put it into better terms. “Something told me to protect. I-I didn’t see you,” He tries to explain.

“What do you mean?” Steve asks patiently.

“I saw…I s-saw a much shorter version of you with your fists up, locked and loaded, ready to fight. Instinct, from the Soldier, took over and then everything just sorta froze.”

He’d felt so out of control. His arm had been locked and no matter how much he willed it loosen, it wouldn’t budge. Only Steve’s gentle words broke through and unlocked the deathly grip from the other man’s throat.

“You saw me pre-serum then huh?” Steve echoes hollowly.

“Yeah. But…it wasn’t the picture I saw at the Smithsonian. It was like an imprint of a memory come to life. You were in this medium green button down thing with brown pants and a brown leather jacket with righteous anger in your eyes.”

“I remember that shirt,” Steve breathes with a smile. “You bought it for me because you were sick of seeing me wearing my mended shirts. You got it at a big department store which you couldn’t shut up for days afterward about. You even dragged me back there one day so we could check out the entire store.”

Bucky wishes he could remember that memory. It sounds wonderful.

“I think your other memories are trying to come back Bucky,” Steve points as he turns to look at him. His eyes twinkle with a bit of hope and Bucky can’t help but turn up his lips.

“I hope so,” Bucky admits gently.

The silence stretches on again but it’s a bit more comfortable and relaxed. He looks down at his shirt.

“By the way, thanks for the fancy duds. Who taught you how to shop in this century?” Bucky asks with an edge of laughter.

Steve punches him in the shoulder. “I’m not that big of a knucklehead,” he laughs.

“Could’ve fooled me,” Bucky taunts before Steve punches his shoulder again, but harder this time.

“Ow, fine! You don’t need to bruise my shoulder six-ways from Sunday Rogers.”

They both laugh and smile at one another until the giggles die down to small chuckles. Absently, Bucky scoots over a few inches until their thighs sit almost flushed together. Steve looks down but doesn’t comment.

“What was it like to wake up in this world and try to grapple with it on your own?” Bucky asks.

Steve sighs. “Difficult, but not terribly hard. It was….” He sighs again. “Lonely.” He looks up at Bucky with tired eyed. He looks down at his hands, at the glinting metal, and exhales.

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For not being there. For leaving you alone in this…world,” Bucky bites out. It’s so far one of his biggest regrets, which he knows he had no control of, but it’s still there festering.

“Buck, this world… it isn’t actually that bad. In fact, I prefer it funnily enough.”

“Why? Pretty much everyone you knew is dead. Everything is so… different.” Bucky pauses and fidgets before continuing, “And most importantly, you missed out on a life with Peggy,” He finishes quietly. His words carry on the breeze and Steve stiffens.

“I admit that the one drawback is everyone is buried six feet under with wither a white marble gravestone or off in a small plot outside of the city. But despite that, this world is so much more accepting than our time.” Steve turns towards him with an almost pained face. “Bucky, in our day, when men came back from the traumas of war, they didn’t have a name for PTSD other than the words ‘shell shocked’. Even then, they’d prescribe a pack of smokes and snidely whisper to ‘drink a few fingers of whiskey when it gets really bad’ to solve the problem. Now…now they have clinics that can help. There are people who can give you the tools to live with it each and every single day.”

“Social and race equality is on the rise. People can love who they want now and be who they were meant to be. Food tastes better, communication is a couple clicks away, culture is a shared experience across the world, and a whole lot of other things. I may have been lonely, but I’m not anymore. I’ve got the Avengers, Sam, Fury, Mariah, Peggy and you.” Steve smiles.

“You kinda got me,” Bucky scoffs.

“Better than no you at all,” Steve murmurs. 

The silence wraps around them and all Bucky can feel is the hard line of heat pressed against his leg.

“What about your life with Peggy? You have to regret that,” Bucky insists.

Steve shakes his head. “We both talked about it actually. We realized that nothing would’ve come from it. Maybe a few dates, a few kisses and a couple of dances. But a life together? I doubt it would’ve ever happened. So in actuality, I don’t regret it. She had a couple of kids and a husband who loved her. As long as she was happy, then the rest can be set in stone.”

Bucky feels a grin stretch across his face and the cold air tingles his teeth as they both look out onto the landscape. The sky is sparse with stars from the intercity lights but the moon is half full with a bright glow. The wind is gentle and rustles the trees a bit and the smell of the air is crisp.

His smile falters and falls into a straight line. “Why wouldn’t it have worked?”

Steve leans down and rests his elbows on his knees while he brings his hands together in a tight clasp. “I… I wasn’t really in love with her,” Steve replies a bit cryptically, his face downcast. 

Bucky keeps his face forward as he murmurs, “There was someone else?”

His heart is loud and rattles the cage of his ribs.


 

Oh god, he’s going to say it. He can feel the words waiting to burst on the tip of his tongue. He can feel the emotion break the walls he built up to protect Bucky from his one-sided feelings.

“Yeah…there was. It took me awhile to figure it out but now that I look back on it,” Steve pauses with a small deprecating chuckle, “It was much too obvious. I should’ve been classified as legally blind.”

Bucky still stares straight ahead but a frown mars his lips. Steve tightens his hands as he feels sweat pool between his flushed palms.

“Who was she?” Bucky mumbles emotionlessly.

H-He,” Steve corrects with a nervous stutter. Bucky turns, his hair fanning out before falling limply around his face.

“What?” His eyebrows are drawn and his lips a tight purse string.

“I’m not heterosexual Buck.”

“You’re a homo?” He replies dumbly.

“That’s actually a derogatory term and no; I’m bisexual,” Steve specifies. He sits up straighter and leans against the bench. The hard wood digs into his back and keeps him a bit grounded.

“You like girls and boys?” Bucky asks curiously but his eyes shift a bit around.

“Yes,” Steve nods.

“So am I,” Bucky mumbles with a hard expression. Steve’s stomach falls and hope burns in a small flame.

Silence descends upon them again until Bucky clears his throat.

“So who was he?”

“A hero,” Steve replies vaguely. A full blown confession sits on the tip of his lips but he holds back. He needs to make sure as he watches the expression on Bucky’s face which looks a bit passive with a dash of curiosity.

“Did you meet him on tour or something?”

“No, but I saw him.” Bucky looks frustrated and Steve just watches curiously.

“Where did you meet him?” Bucky asks impatiently. His mouth is turned down in a frown and his posture rigid.

“Brooklyn.”

“Did I ever meet him?”

“In a way you did…”Bucky looks even more frustrated, practically seething.

“WHO WAS IT ROGERS?” Bucky snarls, scaring a few birds out of the nearby trees.

He decides to bite the bullet. “It’s you,” He replies softly.

Steve can hear Bucky hold his breath and freeze. A loud exhale follows.

“Why are you telling me this now? Why not earlier? For fucks sake Steve, we’ve been sharing a bed since I stopped you up that path there,” Bucky points to the right down the path.

“I-I didn’t want to burden you with my one-sided feelings while you’ve got,” Steve gestures his left hand up and down Bucky’s frame. “All this going on. I’m prepared to wait the two years it’ll take for you to get to some type of normalcy and that’s even if you feel the same towards me; which I know you don’t,” Steve confesses. He’d wait or move on. Those are the only two options left for him at this point.

Bucky looks stricken when he responds, “Having PTSD doesn’t bar me from loving someone Steve. In actuality, it would probably help. And god Rogers, you’re such an idiot,” he laughs cruelly.

Anger replaces anything warm inside of him as he bites back, “Just because you don’t feel the same doesn’t mean you can just push aside how I feel and throw it back into my face!”

“You’re the smartest and dumbest man I know Steve,” Bucky laughs with a giant smile.

“What’s so damn funny James?” He pulls out the big guns which shuts him right up.

“Oh…you don’t get it…do you?”

“What don’t I get?” Steve seethes with scrunched eyebrows and a stony expression.

“This,” Bucky whispers before his friend is invading his space and giving him sweet release.

His lips are full and soft as they land on his own. It’s a long and hard kiss like they used to show in old movies until Bucky deepens it with a small movement that turns into a larger movement. Steve follows along and turns fully towards him and basks in the electric fire that chases away all the anger inside of him. Nothing but utter relief pulses along the rhythm of his blood.

Strong arms, one bionic, wrap around his shoulders while his own encircle Bucky’s lower back. He snakes his hands under the leather jacket and grabs the taut flesh as he moans quietly into their kiss. This one small act has been a long time coming, Steve realizes that now, which makes him enjoy it even more. It’s not frantic nor is it unhurried, it’s in that sweet in-between.

There kissing is a sweet exchange with roving hands and breathy moans until Steve unlatches himself.

“Wait, there was something I was going to tell you,” Steve breathes before Bucky captures his mouth again. He closes his eyes and sinks into the ocean of warmth that engulfs him from head to toe. They kiss for a bit longer until he unlatches himself once more and Bucky whines quietly.

“We-were m-moving,” Steve gasps in between breathes. Bucky opens his eyes with a frown.

“What?”

“Were going backing to New York….to Stark Tower.”

 

Chapter Text

The move from DC to New York’s nearly effortless. Steve’s possessions are few and Bucky’s are even fewer. The days rush by in boxes, bubble wrap, tape, and old newspapers kept from multiple Sundays.

Of course Stark is the reason it all runs smoothly and not with the normal headaches associated with domestic moves. In his kindness, and blatant disregard for money, he brings in a moving company that transports everything to Stark tower. All that’s left at the end of the week is the short ride on Tony’s private jet to La Guardia Airport.

A lacquered black Rolls Royce with showroom glossy paint purrs on the tarmac. They both exit the small craft from a rollaway staircase that hugs the side of the plane. Steve lifts his leather duffel painlessly and Bucky clutches a tattered paperback novel in his right hand. Steve can’t help but notice the small shuffle of pages that skim on his friend’s thumb in transparent nervousness.

The ride is smooth, quiet, and unremarkable. Steve carefully watches Bucky through his friend’s curtain of dark hair. It hides darting eyes as they run across the strung words printed across the page. The haircut is really really growing on him. Steve’s fingers itch to run through the strands again. He transfers the need into a clenched fist that blooms into stretched fingers-a gesture he’s intimately familiar with lately.

They haven’t kissed since the other night. No lingering looks, small touches, gentle smiles or even a laugh. It’s as if time rewound to the weeks before like an old VHS tape. God knows he’s tried in the past week for just the smallest bit of acknowledgement. Steve even made Bucky’s favorite meal from scratch, beef chuck soup with buttermilk biscuits and coffee on the side, to sway him. It was an inexpensive meal that was classic fair by depression-era standards. He even substituted the butter with Crisco, just like Buck’s Ma used to do, and even add extra potatoes to the stew.

His thanks had been summed up in a nod and an empty bowl. Luckily, he was able to run a fifty mile indent on the outskirts of the city and shed the byproduct down a silver drain.

Steve even tried holding onto him a bit tighter at as they slept and kissing his soft neck good night. Silence was his reward, each and every night. He could feel himself slowly start to lose it, and not just his sanity.

“Looking forward to being in New York again?” Bucky whips his head up and the book thuds against his thighs. The pages tangles like mottled feathers of a bird.

His friend shrugs slightly. “I don’t know. It’s changed a lot, I think. She’ll have the impress me,” Bucky replies, his voice hollow. Steve watches him finger the pages again. Transparent like fresh glass.

“So you’re going to treat New York like every dame you’ve ever been with?” Steve laughs, aiming to shatter that glass.

“Every single one that didn’t matter yes,” Bucky replies without looking away from his fidgeting fingers. If anything, his voice seems even more drawn upon itself. Steve pushes him.

“Which ones mattered?” Steve asks curiously, in as cavalier a tone he can muster. It takes everything to keep the edge smooth upon his voice.

Bucky frowns slightly before picking the book up and closing it with finality. Steve watches him slightly run the palm of his hand along the pock-marked surface of the thing.

“Only one mattered,” Bucky replies cryptically, eyes downcast. His fingers curl in and his nails drag upon the soft paper cover. Steve watches the tips of his fingers whiten as they drag further across the slick surface.

“Who was she?” Steve asks, a fake air of indifference color his words. The false tone of it stinks like heady perfume within the confines of the car.

Bucky shakes his head. “No, it was you Steve.” Bucky’s hands open from their curled position and scratch in a clawing motion along the slick paper cover.

“Is it still?” Steve mutters as he looks outside the tinted window.

Bucky doesn’t answer. He continues to claw upon the book.


 

The apartment is large and spacious with a few enclosed rooms. A fourth of the entirety of the place is solid glass looking down upon Manhattan, like an elder sibling. The floors are solid wood and don’t even creak with each slight step. The furniture and decor, relics of the era he left so long ago, look inviting along with modern pieces scattered upon many surfaces. Even an old poster with his smiling face in the spangled uniform hangs above a sideboard. The long ago vibrant colors faded with time and just a little bit of wear. The contrast of two eras makes a stone sink to the pit of his stomach.

Boxes pile in small stacks around their feet. Each labeled meticulously in Steve’s masculine script. The box or two of Bucky’s belongings are labeled with smeared chicken scratch.

“What do you think buck?” The words cut the thick silence and echo within the cavernous room.

“It’s different,” he huffs. Bucky unloads the duffel he grabbed from the trunk of Stark’s car and drops it upon the floor. A heavy sigh follows.

“Alright then…shall we eat lunch? We could order take out if you’d like…” Steve trails off, an invisible question punctuating the silence.

“Whatever you want is fine,” Bucky dismisses readily before leaving him to explore the apartment.

Steve exhales long and slow as pain eats away at him. He feels like a chopped steak left on a window sill. The passive answers and stony silence keep weighing heavily upon him. It’s piling up and creating a wall between them.

He doesn’t know how to knock it down.

He still dreams of that kiss. The heat, the scent of his breath with each exhale, and the rough touches signifying rejoice of the carnal touch. Now… they are back where they started, and no closer to what they could be. His shoulders droop with defeat as the agony burns away at his blood.

Now the apartment feels smaller and a touch confining. The calm that flows through every room doesn’t feel or taste right; its rank.

There isn’t enough fresh air.

He’s never one to run away from a fight but he needs to gather his wits; to think this thing through. He promised to be there for Bucky till the end and by god he isn’t going to stop trying.

“I’m going out to get food, I’ll be back in hour or so,” Steve calls out, but the only reply is the sounds of the bustling city below along with the painful beats of his heart.


 

The acrid smell of paint within the confines of the closet tickle his nose. The chemicals are harsh like the scent of spilled gas or the sting of bleach. Instead of shying away, he revels in the stench. It cleanses his mind as he holds back the wave of emotion that threatens to spill over.

He didn’t want to come to New York. He wasn’t ready. Steve couldn’t understand that. He wouldn’t understand. Bucky cradles his eyes with his palms as he breathes in the paint. His other senses only register the tempo of his heart, the wood beneath him and the press of clothes along his body.

 The apartment is nice. You’d have to be an idiot not to see that with it’s obvious attention to detail, a mimic of the warmth of the forties with the nostalgic ridden modern style of today.  It just feels so.... alien. Different. Steve’s apartment in DC had started to feel like home. Granted, it had been only a little over a month, but he didn’t feel scared like he does now.

He isn’t scared, he is utterly terrified. Terrified of a city he no longer knows. A city long lost to deceased memory. Bucky is terrified of the things lost that he did know. And Terrified of the Winter Soldier’s memories that could be triggered by anything in the city. For fucks sake he killed Starks parent’s here. Just a corner of a street could set him off into a drooling, screaming mess. In all likelihood in front of a crowd.

He’d rather die first than face that brand of humiliation.

Bucky ponders a bit more within the closet. A thought rises like a leaf caught on a breeze. It blossoms until a startling sense of realization hits him.

It’s unfair to keep his friend in the dark. Steve has done everything for him. And, despite the odds, has even offered his heart. Something unthinkable way back then, not unless they wanted to pay a terrible price of cautious secrecy. He even thinks back to the past week. What the fuck is wrong with him.

Right. A can a worms that should be left closed for today.

Bucky exhales, coming to the obvious conclusion as he finally drags his booted feet from fetal position. There is only one obvious answer here. His heart beats a tattoo within his chest that harmonizes with the deep thumps of his feet. The house screams with silence in a persistent hum. A hum his ears are familiar with from so long ago. A time with dirty iron bars and a number of needles.

“Steve?” He calls out gruffly. His eyes dart about each corner. No sign of blonde or pale skin anywhere. There isn’t even a key bowl to signify the other’s whereabouts.  With dragging feet he slithers onto the couch and lies waiting for Steve.


 

The tears are heavy but are blown away from his face by the biting wind. Stark transported his bike yesterday to sit beneath the streets in an underground garage. All of Stark’s fancy machines glowed and hung like museum pieces in the cavernous room. They even had small placards attached. The ones not created by his hands were displayed as equal’s side-by-side which was surprising to say the least.

The trip to grab Japanese take-out is slow yet painless. A baseball cap, well placed shades, and casual clothes help him walk amongst the populace without notice.

Steve weaves in and out of traffic with practiced ease, barely jostling the slippery noodles in packed white containers. They are tucked perfectly within one of the bike bags near the rear wheel. He slides into the back alley entrance to key in a code to the garage door. The number pad hovers in the air in a show of lasers that somehow register his touch. With 5 digits pressed, he is inside and to the designated spot within seconds.

Steve isn’t sure what he expects when he gets upstairs. Purposefully, he creeps at a slower pace and may even take an ‘informative’ detour to get to the apartment. He might also take the stairs, for exercise purposes, and go around a few more hallways to get there. He may even drag his feet like a mule stuck in the mud.

No one needs to know.

Steve fumbles for the keys in his pocket while balancing the assortment of foods when he remembers he’s not at the apartment anymore. He bends over to face a flat opaque black glass square, a field of red dots flash upon his face and goes dark just as quickly.

“Welcome home Mr. Rogers,” Jarvis chirps.

“They got you working my home too Jarvis?”

“Sir, I am an AI. I am everywhere.”

“Only God’s everywhere,” Steve laughs but it doesn’t reach his eyes.

“And so is air. Have a good evening Captain Rogers,” Jarvis finishes before leaving Steve with the silence again.

Tentatively Steve toes into the room and the air cloys against his skin in a way he can’t pin point. His senses are prickling to the point of annoyance. His sneakers tread quietly along the sturdy hardwood to the kitchen to deposit the cooling food. His keys drop next to the bags with a gentle tinkle, the sound no louder than the drop of a dime.

Even though Stark tower is a fortress of security disguised as a business enterprise, he still keeps his steps quiet and sure; just in case. His blue eyes scan each corner, every speck of dust, and anything out of place. He moves from the obviously empty living room into the two bedrooms checking closets and beneath the expansive beds.

Nothing yet the prickling grows.

He checks the other three rooms of the 2300 square foot section of the tower but there is still nothing. Steve belatedly realizes that Bucky appears to be missing as well. Panic squeezes his heart in a steel vice.

“Bucky!?” He yells, feet running into the main living room.

“Fuck Steve!” Bucky rises resembling a re-animated corpse from the couch. His chest pumps visibly and a hand is there clutching where his heart rests.

“Dammit Bucky! Didn’t you hear me come in?” Steve drags a shaking hand along his face. Relief mixed with the adrenaline floods his system.

“I was sleeping, Jesus Christ! Can’t a guy sleep around here!?” Bucky’s voice drips with sleep but his eyes are wide, but hooded in agitation. His fingers also drum upon the hump of the couch.

“Were in a safe place, no need to get riled up over it,” Steve mutters while scratching his head.

“Says the lug who went all American super soldier when he got in,” Bucky laughs sarcastically with a playfully mean grin.

Steve blinks and grimaces, “How would you know, you were asleep..”

“I made an educated guess, not my fault I’m right,” Bucky laughs as he lifts himself away from the couch. Steven even joins in and giggles as well.

They stare at each other as the laughter dies down and something heavy springs up to take its place. It’s been almost two weeks since they’ve been like this- like old times. Easier times.

“Steve..”

“Buck..”

They both speak at the same time.

“You go first,” Steve offers in a proverbial olive branch.

Bucky shakes his head, “No, you go.” He smiles hesitantly and walks closer. Only a handful of feet separates them now, but it doesn’t feel like miles as it used to before.

“I…,” Steven exhales trying to grasp the right words. They aren’t there so he just spills what’s been sitting on his mind. “I don’t know what I did Buck, but I don’t like what’s been going on. I just got you back and I feel like I’ve lost you again.”

“We were going somewhere wonderful, somewhere I’ve been dreaming of long before I was frozen and you were the Winter Soldier. Whatever is stopping us, we can fix it,” Steve breathes as he steps closer. Hesitantly, he cups the side of Bucky’s face and runs a thumb across his cheek. He can feel Bucky revel in the touch. Steven even watches as he closes his eyes and tilts his head just a touch.

“It’s not entirely your fault,” Bucky answers. He keeps his eyes closed but continues, “I’m just scared of becoming him again.” He opens his eyes, the blue more alive than before.

Steve can’t help but smile and shake his head, “You won’t. You’ve got me, you’ll always have me to be there to keep that from happening.” His hand falls away from Buck’s face as it seeks his back instead.

They embrace as Steve whispers, “I’ve already lost you twice, and I’m not gonna to lose you again.”

With a few words, the last two weeks are forgotten, even if Steve is still left with more questions than answers.

Chapter Text

The air between them clears and life goes on as it did before. There are differences, but the horizon is calm. Bucky climbs his mental mountains and Steve hovers like a nervous mother.

Intertwining in the hours each day, little touches become commonplace without thought or reason. They still haven’t kissed since D.C. but the need is fast approaching. The signal is found through long far-away looks and expectant pauses.

One such event involving The Princess Bride took place just last Monday. Steve hums, wrapping the memory around him like a warm blanket, as he scrubs hardened tomato sauce from a plate. Together, the two have been more hell bent on crashing, tumbling, fumbling - an array of other adjectives -- into modern pop culture.

The Princess bride, a personal recommendation from Stark with a saucy wink and tongue click, tops the list. The list, so far, is short with some of Tony’s commentary:

Classic American Movies Part 1-Curated, written, delivered, and commentary by Tony Stark

  •          The Princess Bride-For your long lost Princess :D
  •          Jaws –Giant sharks and boats, American Classic
  •          Tootsie-Call me before watching this, you’re my excuse to watch this again. Promise me.
  •          Star Wars Trilogy
  •          Indiana Jones Trilogy-Nazi’s getting their faces melted off. No other words needed.
  •          Harry Potter 1-8
  •          Brokeback Mountain-Save this for a special night ;)
  •          The King’s Speech-Stuttering king with Nazis. Enjoy.
  •          Inglourious Basterds- Not a typo, also, Jews killing Nazi’s with happy ending.
  •          Back to the future-More like back to the past…no wait, still the future for you. I always forget you froze in the 40’s. Sorry buddy.
  •          Lord of the Rings Triology-So help me god, you better watch the extended versions or you can kiss our mutual acquaintanceship good bye. You know you’ll miss me.
  •          Die Hard-No words needed.

During the more romantic scenes of the film, which was wonderful, Bucky had stared. At him. Longingly.

He’d felt like a teenage Dame on her first date at a drive-in. Their legs had been touching and his hands folded upon his lap. Nothing had progressed beyond that, but something in the air had…shifted. Since then, Steve has been staring – an awful lot—and could feel a need growing.

Staring at the list he’s kept tucked within his notebook, the small thing growing with each new question of modern humanity, he ponders which movie to strike off. Scanning everything, chuckling at the vast number of Nazi themed movie selections, his eyes stop at Brokeback Mountain.

Save this for a special night.

“A special night,” he mumbles under his breath. His finger taps his lip, pondering whether to take the leap.

“Whatcha doin’ Rogers?” Bucky questions, scaring the damn daylights out of him.

“Jesus Mary n’ Joseph Buck, give a couple of seconds warning next time,” Steve breathes, hand clutching his heart.

“If I were a villain, I could take you down without much more than a well-timed tap to a shoulder,” Bucky laughs.

Mouthing thinning out, Steve deadpans, “You were Buck.”

Bucky’s face colors, “Right.” They stare at one another awkwardly until the other man, smooth like he used to be before the war, continues, “I see you’ve got the movie list out. Any biters?”

Steve thinks about those words again, special night. He looks up into the other man’s blue eyes thinning out with happiness. It looks good on him. He hopes he can see it more often.

“I think Brokeback Mountain is the choice for the evening.”

“I’m getting a very lumberjack feeling from this movie, Tony say anything about it?” Bucky remarks, leaning into his space and trying to catch a glimpse. Steve hastily tucks it back within his notebook and shoves it deep within the recesses of his pockets. He wants to keep this a surprise.

“All it said was ‘masculine manly men on mountains’,” Steve lies, eyes darting to the side. It slides past Bucky’s defenses, punishing Steve with a soul-aching smile.

“Sounds like a good time,” Bucky winks with a sly smile. His heart drops and he returns with a shaky smile of his own.


 

Spread across the table like weapons, an assortment of candy--procured from a deli a block away—waits deadly and delicious. Ju Ju bees, rasinets, Hershey bars, and caramels sit among with treasures waiting for further instruction.

Those candies never had a chance.

Through the first 30 minutes of the film, each bite of sugary goodness is consumed and the boxes- left like carcasses- shine in the light of the television. Steve is presently cursing Stark with every fiber of his being. On the screen, he watches two men…fornicate…in a tent….in the middle of the mountains. The other man just came out of nowhere and shoved himself in dry without much preamble. Even little o’l 96 year old virgin Steve was fully aware of the importance of lubrication. Dry skin against more dry skin is just a plain nightmare and not something meant to bring into the bedroom.

He’s genuinely considering murdering the robotic billionaire.

The rest of the film isn’t much better. The two main characters have women back home. He snorts during a scene in which the two men kiss with animalistic need as the woman watches on. Eventually, as the film continues, he’s stops paying a lick of attention to the plot. He’s watching Bucky instead who, surprisingly, is enraptured with the film. Bent forward, elbows on his knees, and eyes blinking a third of the time less than usual. It’s quite…endearing.

He watches Bucky, captivated with the play of emotions crossing his features during each scene. The lift of eyebrows, quirk of a lip, small frown and subtle grin. He feels a little less animosity towards Stark.

Still doesn’t get him out of the verbal thrashing he’s going to pencil in later.

Eventually, the film forgoes the happy ending with a steak in the heart kind of romance. The burly, more masculine, character fondles his lover’s shirt. They learn the fate of the poor man with a pretty face. The injustice irks him despite his lack of emotional attachment to the film.

Psychologically, he knows he’s seeing himself. Beaten to a pulp for nothing more than living. A tear escapes and he feels for it shocked at his emotion.  He’s not one to shy away from a few tears, but apparently, he must’ve connected with the characters at some point without realizing. He turns, expecting dry eyes from his stoic friend but he finds the complete and utter opposite.

Bucky hold his face in his palms, sobbing with long pulls of shaky lungs. Steve scoots closer and rubs a comforting circle on his back. No words are spoken. They don’t need to be. They sit, the strains of the ending score orchestrating the entire affair. Steve cries with him silently, understanding.

“Doing ok?” Steve continues rubbing his back, hand slowly creeping its way to Bucky’s neck. His friend sniffs and wipes his eyes on the end of a sleeve.

“Yeah, just hit a bit close to home.”

“Me too.”

They sit in silence. They stare. Each of their face’s minimally illuminated by the rolling credits. The need inside him grows, waiting impatiently to get out. Bucky seems to be fighting the same internal battle.

Bucky is the one to lose first.

The hot press of lips and stubble soothes the beast inside him. Steve is naturally righteous and with a soul on par with a saint. The needs burns through leaving a trail of animalistic want in its wake. He presses forward, chest flush with Bucky’s in the most delicious way possible. Bucky whimpers and groans near silently. It drives Steve absolutely crazy.

Years upon years of denying himself pile like a stick of matches, waiting for that spark to burn it all down. The hardness rubbing against his hipbone sets it ablaze.

“I need to feel you,” Steve growls, actually growls into Bucky’s neck. Like the good man he is, Bucky goes the full distance. With rapturous attention, he watches each mile of skin revealed. His eyes track to the ruined flesh surrounding the mechanical arm, the urge to sooth almost breaks him, but he shoves it away for another time.

Another time. That makes him even more excited.

Most of his clothes gather into a pile at his feet, but his underwear remains stubbornly molded to his lower half. He cocks an eyebrow and looks down, then back up.

“Trust me,” Bucky soothes, invading his personal space with a Cheshire grin. Steve is hopeless against him and wraps his friend within his arms. Their mouths slot back together in the most glorious feeling he’s ever experienced. In the recesses of his mind, he feels a pang for Peggy, but she was never to be his. It was always Bucky. Always.

They writhe against each another, gasping with shaky moans. Steve follows Bucky’s lead and strips down to his black boxer briefs. His cock forms a large ridge and curves flat against his abdomen. He can feel Bucky’s hungry gaze. Steve dives back in for another taste of his friend’s beautiful mouth that alights a 4th of July show of fireworks within his belly.

Hours…minutes…days. He doesn’t know. They coil and slither like snakes upon each other’s bodies. Their cocks’s drag and catch one another’s, the fabric a delicious friction. Steve mouth’s along Bucky’s jawline, licking small flicks and long stripes along the scratchy surface. Bucky drags blunt nails along his back eliciting moans deep from within Steve’s chest.

They spiral towards the top together, but Bucky keeps them from reaching that final edge. Frankly, Steve’s been on the edge for a while. With another deep growl Steve breathes, “I need you.”

Bucky nods and using the force of his mechanical arm, flips them around so he’s hovering above Steve. The long hair is soaked with sweat and plastered in small strands to his neck and face. Reverently in such a heated moment, Steve tucks the soaked strands behind Bucky’s ear. Tenderly, Bucky lowers himself and whispers in his ear, “When you cum, I want you to say my name. Loudly. Got it?”

Steve is helpless but to nod and widens his legs further in open invitation. The other man drapes himself while propping his weight on the mechanical arm. He rolls his hips and digs out a long moan from the cavern of Steve’s chest. Chuckling, he begins a rhythm, slow and steady but increasing speed every ten seconds. Within minutes, Steve is writhing and overwhelmed with sensation. He can feel Bucky’s other hand cup his cheek and sweeping a thumb back and forth in time with his hips.

The sensation is completely overwhelming. His eyes keep closing but the scene above him is just as arousing and electric as the friction going on below. Wantonly, he even manages to suck the tip of Bucky’s thumb into his mouth. His friend’s eyes widen and turn hard into fierce determination. Bucky’s hips gallop impossibly faster and Steve knows he’s a foot away from toppling over that glorious edge.

“Buck…I-I’m gonna…gonna cum,” He whimpers, trying to keep his eyes open and not drown entirely in the ocean of sensation.

“Remember Steve,” Bucky grunts.

The moment he topples over that edge he’s flying. He’s weightless and nothing can touch him. He closes his eyes, mouth agape, and screams, “BUCKY!” to the heavens. Above him, through the haze, he can feel Buck reach his edge and topple right over it with him. Bucky collapses and pants heavy on top of him. They entwine their fingers together, and bask in the moment.

“I think that was the best lay I’ve had in my entire life,” Bucky mutters quietly. The tone is reverent, surprised, but also blissful.

“I can honestly say that was the best sex I’ve ever had,” Steve jokes, nuzzling the curve from neck to shoulder.

“Thank Steve, means a lot.”

“Just trying to be honest Buck.”

They laugh together and embrace on another.

“What did the commentary on the list actually say?” Bucky murmurs. Steve freezes. “You can’t lie to me Rogers, you’re shit at it.”

“You could always see right through me. Fine, it said ‘save this for a special night’ with a colon and uppercase d,” he admits.

“I think Stark needs a new hobby. I don’t need him to be my sexual coordinator.”

“I just think underneath all the jokes he’s just a romantic at heart, so give em’ a break.”

“Just this once.”

“Just this once,” Steve smiles.