He screamed, the harsh, shrill sound echoing off the dry stone walls and going on forever. They could hear him down the halls, curled up in their bare cells with their hands covering their ears to block out the sound that always lasted for hours at a time.
It was always the same – beatings with hard boots and wooden sticks. The bones in his feet had been broken through continuous whipping and he could no longer stand or bear weight. Then it was the water. Oh, how he feared water. There were a million ways to torture somebody with this life-giving liquid.
Stripped naked on the hard, dusty floor with skin and limbs still throbbing from blows, buckets of ice-cold water were dumped over his head. To be honest, this part was almost comfortable compared to everything else he knew he would have to endure, the temperature briefly numbing the pain and the stinging wounds that opened up day after day. The water would mix with the dirt and his flailing limbs would churn it into mud that caked his skin, sand scratching at cuts and becoming ingrained, infected, swollen, and hot.
Sometimes they would hold his head down underwater in a bucket, waiting until his lungs filled with water and he blacked out, only to be revived moments later, coughing and spluttering for it to start all over again. Other times they pinned him down in the sandy mud and held a towel over his face, slowly soaking it with water, and this was worse than actually drowning because there was no respite from the panic and the terror.
And then there were the times where they tied him down to a chair and put his broken feet into that bucket full of water and administered small electric currents. This one was definitely the worst, because it always came after everything else. It was like every nerve in his body was on fire and his throat burned from screaming so much that his voice eventually failed him.
All the while, he would babble the same thing – name, rank, serial number. The only things a soldier was allowed to reveal under interrogation. If he’d had anything else to give them, he would have. He would have done anything, said anything to make them stop but he didn’t know anything. It didn’t matter. They didn’t do it to him to get information – they did it to him because of who he was. And he wished to God, if there was a God – right at the point where his muscles failed him and he was covered in his own mess once again – that he was anybody else. Anybody but the President’s son.
Bucky woke up screaming and covered in an ice-cold sweat once again, his legs tangled in the sheets. A wet, black nose nuzzled at his face in the darkness and he reached out instinctively, hands grasping at short, coarse hair and he gathered the mass that was Boomer, his golden Labrador, to his chest.
He sucked in large lungfuls of air as he leaned his head on the warm, comforting dog until his body stopped trembling and his breathing returned to a normal state.
It wasn’t the first night he’d woken up from dreams like these, that he’d relived the kidnap and torture in Afghanistan - it had been happening for eight months, since his return. For a long time he had pretended that he was okay. Bucky was welcomed back as a hero and had lived life to the full with parties and surrounding himself with beautiful people and expensive things. It had been okay, acceptable, because he was President Barnes’ only son and he was a decorated war veteran who the whole world knew had withstood torture at the hands of the Taliban for three months. He was allowed to blow off a little steam. Bucky Barnes was America’s darling, its brave golden boy and nobody questioned his actions, nobody criticized them.
But if he’s honestly believed that burying himself in drink and drugs and warm bodies would make those three months just go away, he had been sadly mistaken. Bucky had burned out, and it had been messy.
His mother had bought him Boomer and the dog had been Bucky’s lifesaver. The dog sensed unease, agitation and stress and always distracted him from it. Boomer had been there when he woke up screaming from the nightmares so vivid he could feel the marks on his body. He could bury his face in the short, rough hairs and feel the heartbeat of the living creature in his arms and he knew that he was alive and safe with his ever-present guard.
And tomorrow, he would be discharged and would have to go out into the world again and pretend that he was better. He was the President’s son and he had a part to play.
Steve Rogers fastened up his top button and sighed. He hated starting a new job. Not that his was a new new job, just a new detail. Today, he would be shadowing James Buchanan Barnes.
The First Son’s old Secret Service detail had been fired for dereliction of duty. Basically, the guy had dropped his guard for thirty seconds and bad things had happened. Steve felt bad for him, but not as badly as he felt for himself, because it could just as easily happen to him. He wasn’t entirely sure if he should thank Natasha for putting his name forward or not.
He combed his hair and remembered his briefing the previous evening with the head of White House security, Nick Fury. Fury was a fearsome figure – not one to cross or to defy. With Fury in charge, you did your job and you did it well or you were out and you would never work again.
“I’m putting you in charge of James Barnes’ security,” Fury had told him. “He gets out of the military hospital at Bathesda in the morning. I want you to drive over, pick him up and bring him back to the White House. You will be that boy’s personal shadow, do you hear me? Where he goes, you go. You follow him into the goddamn toilet of you have to. I want no more accidents like what happened on Rumlow’s watch, capiche?”
“Yes sir,” Rogers had replied, and after a second he added, “The toilet, sir? Isn’t that pushing it a little.”
“It damn well is not, Rogers,” Fury said quietly. “Your job is to protect the President’s son, do I make myself perfectly clear?”
“And if that means protecting him from himself, then so be it!”
And that was how Steve found himself at Bethesda’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center that morning, flashing his ID to the two MPs guarding Bucky Barnes’ room. He knocked curtly and, after a slight pause, received the response to enter.
He was sitting on the edge of the bed, an excited golden Labrador at his feet. Bucky Barnes looked every inch the perfect, polished soldier, his boots gleaming, uniform freshly pressed and his hair neatly combed. The only thing that gave away the fact that all was not completely well was the red that rimmed his blue eyes as Bucky turned to him. His eyebrows raised in surprise.
“Well, you’re not my doctor,” he said dryly.
“No sir,” Steve answered quietly, standing at ease, hands clasped loosely behind his back. “I’m Agent Rogers, sir. I’ve been assigned as your protection.”
Bucky Barnes smiled, but it was cold. He scratched the Labrador behind the ears once and then stood, straightening his jacket.
“Excellent, I have another personal babysitter.”
Steve didn’t reply. Bucky was a few inches smaller than him, but the way he held himself, the way he moved, exuded confidence and danger. Even after everything the man had been through, those qualities radiated from him.
He stood still as Bucky walked towards him, dog at his heels with it’s tail wagging at supersonic speed and gazing adorably up at it’s human. Bucky stopped in front of Steve, deliberately invading the personal bubble as he reached up and straightened Steve’s dark tie. He grinned widely, and clapped him on the shoulder before sidling past, calling over his shoulder.
“Well, buckle up Rogers, because you’re in for a hell of a ride!”