He'd found the jacket in an overloaded dumpster near a building site. The sleeve and collar had been hanging over the edge, almost hidden by trash; a couple of scraps of wood and long offcuts of some thick sheet plastic. The hemming along the bottom and cuffs was falling apart and every inch covered in unidentifiable stains so that the original colour was now lost to a mix of greys and faded browns. But the last straw for its previous owner must have been the jagged rip that gaped elbow to cuff on the left arm.
Well, it wasn't like he felt the cold there anyway.
It had started raining a couple of hours ago and not let up since. His clothes were already soaked through. The jacket must have been dumped a while back, it was mostly dry thanks to being under the plastic, though it smelt a little musty. He shrugged it on and ducked under some leftover scaffolding. The wooden boards afforded him some protection against the elements.
He was starting to shiver. It came in strange fits and starts, like his body was only just now recognising the weeks he'd spent on the streets. He had no projections for his endurance this long in the world. Usually he'd have gone back by now, and the urge to return was pulling at his thoughts. It took a conscious decision to turn away from it; to keep still under the cover, under the rapid shattering of rain on wood.
He'd had other times, worse times, at least he thought so. The memories were fluid: they ran into each other, washed and blurred like paint. There had been cold, he remembered and another time, heat. There had been a long stretch without water... maybe. He touched his tongue to the roof of his mouth.
But being out in the cold like this? Just waiting for exhaustion to dull him to a mistake. No goal, no target, no safe house to return to. Being chased. Hunted by his own handlers. Cut off from the only people he knew. No. He didn't know this feeling.
He shrugged raindrops from under his collar, shifting awkwardly in wet clothes. Then again, what did he really know? Maybe he'd done this a million times before. Maybe he'd visited this city before. Killed here. Hidden here. Maybe all this was a replay from a memory he couldn't remember.
He shivered and his metal arm spasmed. For a second the muscles of his shoulder clenched involuntarily. He inhaled sharply and grit his teeth against the pain as his muscles constricted around metal, pulling harsh against skin and sinew, already rough and sore. Then they relaxed and he breathed out in relief.
HYDRA's last failsafe should this ever happen. Should their weapon ever turn and run. Should he ever choose to hide out in the cold and damp. They turned his own body against him. His arm no longer felt like part of him. It felt like part of HYDRA and he was starting to hate it. Hating the pull on his tired muscles, hating the weight of it, the cold.
He didn't know how long he had before the power cut out completely. The spasms were coming closer together. He was sure he didn't have long. The half life of whatever powered his arm was decaying. Not that he knew that it was nuclear, probably not. It was unlikely they'd trust an asset like him with a bomb. The one sitting in his memories was enough. Considering the hard wipe and scramble he'd been subjected to by a single man; by a face he knew.
As long as he was lost, unmoored and drifting in his own memories he wasn't a threat to them. As long as he was crippled, a pariah from any hospital the world over, they were the only ones who could fix him. They had him, any way you looked at it. Which left him here, huddled under scaffolding in the middle of a downpour, counting down his freedom in flashes of pain.
He was hanging off the roof of a hi-rise when his arm ran out of power. Chased out of the squat he'd been hiding in, contemplating rat for lunch, or rat for dinner, they'd surprised him. cut off his exits before he'd realised. Too slow, too hungry, too tired. He'd broken for the roof and that's how he'd ended up here. Swinging over the edge in anticipation of a smooth jump, his arm suddenly disengaged and he was falling. Only a desperate grab had caught the jutting edge of stonework. He clenched his flesh hand tighter, the metal one hanging uselessly, offsetting his balance. Six stories up and instead of keeping him in place, he now had 20 pounds of dead weight dragging him down.
He could hear them coming up the stairway above him. He should have been away from here, another two buildings over and half way across the street before they realised he wasn't on the roof any more. Instead he was stuck, fingers gradually slipping, slipping.
He heard the door to the roof slam open. "Fan out." The order accompanied by heavy footsteps.
It wouldn't take them long. He wasn't exactly inconspicuous, hanging like an over-large spider, missing a few legs. He grit his teeth, glanced to the side. There was a window to his left, too far to jump to easily. But maybe, with a bit of momentum…
"Clear!" He heard from the other side of the building, and growing closer, footsteps. He braced his feet against the wall. Focusing on the tiny jut of window ledge, he exhaled and pushed back, swinging himself away. The muscles in his arm protested, already tired. He couldn't hold this much longer. Swinging back, he reached with his foot, but missed, the window ledge just a little too far. He pushed back again, further, his arm straining, hand starting to cramp from pressure, then swinging back... almost.
He glanced up, directly into the barrel of a gun. "Got him! Right here," the soldier called back over her shoulder. Nondescript black clothes, mean light in her eyes, a HYDRA goon if he'd ever seen one, and he'd seen a lot. "Don't move," she told him, tensing her grip on her gun. She was scared, that was obvious and scared soldiers did stupid things. But then he was a soldier too wasn't he? And losing control of your arm whilst hanging off a rooftop in a run down corner of DC with one, oh, two, HYDRA goons, he corrected, as another rifle appeared in his face. Well if that wasn't a recipe for fear, what was?
He ignored the second frantic, "Don't you move!" and swung out a second time, coming back in, reaching, almost… And the brick he was holding onto finally gave way under his weight, crumbling and falling apart. Old brickwork, not made to withstand desperate acrobatics with metal arms. The soldiers jumped back as the brickwork came away, and he began to fall, the shouts from his pursuers receding.
Slam. He hit the ground.
For a few moments, nothing. His brain checked out. Everything went black. Then, pain, fizzing down nerve endings, clamouring for notice. He choked, winded, his lungs straining uselessly. He couldn't breathe. He was drowning.
Images flashed before his eyes. Memories. Drowning. He'd done that before, and falling, and this too, wheezing on empty air. He had a sudden sickening memory of being punched in the stomach over and over until his entire body was sore. Until all he could exhale was blood.
He jerked, like a fish caught on a line, gasping uselessly, trying again to breathe, his lungs burning up. And then, like something had dislodged in his chest, he managed rattling, long, painful drawing of breath. Vision flickered back into his eyes and the memories receded.
He tried to get up, but his one arm betrayed him, shaking with exertion. He fell face-first back into the ground, grit getting in his mouth and scratching up his cheek. He coughed and coughed again, a great racking whole body movement that only made him notice the pain more. He spat liquid from his mouth. Blood, dark on the ground. He could feel with his tongue where he had bitten the inside of his cheek. He cracked his jaw, it hurt, like he'd slammed it on something hard and metal. Oh right.
His leg hurt. He'd twisted his ankle, but he ignored it, and shoved himself upright, careening unsteadily to bash into the wall. He looked up. Blood was dripping down into his right eye, obscuring what his hair already made a piecemeal view. Six stories down and still standing. Score one for him.
A head appeared over the broken masonry, then another. He shoved himself flat against the wall as gunfire rattled, impacts pockmarking the ground he had just been lying on. Score one for HYDRA.
He threw himself to the side, diving behind a dumpster and skidding, bullets skimming past his heels as he rounded the corner. Straight out into traffic, vehicles careening around him, horns blaring.
He blinked blood from his eyes, the lights blurring and reforming brilliantly. His arm twitched, a defunct muscle spasm or phantom sensation, a flicker of leftover energy. His muscles ached, the usual bolstering of strength the arm gave was gone, and it pulled at him. Pulled at the socket, at his muscles, at his flesh.
He slammed his good palm on a taxi as it skidded past, brakes screeching, and he had to launch himself up and over the hood to avoid having his legs run over. He fumbled the landing, down on one knee, then up again, keep moving, don't look back. Across the street, into the alley on the other side. Up and over a chainlink fence. Too slow. One handed. He landed heavily, his ankle giving a sharp pain. He limped on, further into the city, crossing streets and edging around buildings, moving further from his pursuers until he hit the lights and anonymous safety of the crowd.
He lost them somewhere between the park and the bridge, and began his slow, steady walk across. He couldn't go back now. Another hideout burned. Another safe house gone. He didn't know this city. Not really, not even if strange flashes of memory kept pulling him up short. It wasn't this city that he knew. His memories didn't line up. Places he remembered no longer existed.
The rain returned a couple of hours later. He'd made it downtown and was headed further north when it started. A heavy, relentless downpour that had no intention of letting up or moving on. He just hunched his shoulder against it and kept moving. There was a place he'd scoped out a few days ago. An abandoned apartment with a broken lock and good views of the entrances and exits. But it was another hour's walk at least, and his ankle was starting to swell. Any longer and he wouldn't be able to get the boot off.
He remembered having injuries like this before. In a forest maybe, or a city like this but with signs written in a different language. He thought it might have been night then as well. Might have been raining too. He winced as his ankle gave a sharp twinge of pain. The swelling would go down in a few days, provided he didn't walk it into something worse. He remembered the pain that came after, though he didn't remember the accident itself. That had been happening increasingly regularly; he remembered point A and C, but B was lost somewhere along the way.
He kept to side streets. Cities never slept and this one was no exception. He stuck to the shadows, loomed whenever he went past groups of people. Getting mugged on top of the shit-storm his day had been wasn't on the agenda.
By the time he got to the safe house he was swaying with each step, the limp turned into a rolling almost-steady walk that fell apart when he attempted the fire escape stairs. He clambered up and fell in through the open window and lay there on the floor breathing through the pain and listening. Other than old building creaks and moans, the place was silent. The entire block was empty. No tenants, not even squatters. Perfect.
After a while he crawled a little away from the window, lodging himself into a corner and closed his eyes. Just for a moment.
When he finally awoke, hours later, his boot wouldn't come off.
It took another two days for the swelling to subside. Two days of catching rainwater in a broken plastic bottle, and waiting out the hunger in the pit of his stomach. Two days of attempting and failing to flex dead metal fingers. Two days before a memory dislodged in the middle of his wall-staring session. A sudden spark that flared and spread over his mind.
He remembered losing power on his arm once before. And he remembered how to fix it.
Sunset found him jimmying the lock on a warehouse window - a dilapidated auto repair shop. The roof tiles were in dire need of replacement, windows mostly boarded, a rusted chain over the main doors. But that meant no cameras, which was why he'd picked it. That and the memory that had fuelled his journey out of his safehouse and through the city to the warehouses and lots lining the river.
The memory had begun with fire and noise.
He'd been caught in the backlash of an explosion, far enough away that the destruction had missed him, but close enough that the pulse had knocked out his arm. He guessed they'd fixed it in upgrades, since he hadn't experienced the same again. The only time that came close was the gunfight on the bridge when the redhead had thrown her magnets at him. Shockwaves juddering their way up his arm and into his jaw. But still, he remembered what they'd done in the tiny box of a safe house to get him back up and running. A down and dirty fix. A jump start.
It was hard going without control of his arm. He had to manipulate the fingers with his other hand, reduced to tools rather than appendages. He eventually levered the board off the window pane, dropping it to the floor by his feet. He took hold of his wrist and smashed the metal elbow into the glass - once an appendage, now a blunt instrument. He grimaced in disgust and let go of his wrist, wiping the cold from his fingers.
He slid in through the window and waited a second for his eyes to acclimatise to the darkness, then moved in further, edging around boxes on the floor, and lines and lines of shelving looming out of the shadows. Slowly he navigated his way inside.
The central space was taken up mostly with shelves, there were two hydraulic lifts at the back, the great hulking metal shapes recognisable, even with the junk piled up around them. Along the side walls was a narrow metal railing, two staircases opposite each other, and an office jutting over the central space.
He walked slowly along the shelves, passing by the assorted mechanical equipment. There was a husk of a car suspended on one of the lifts. Its parts mostly taken, bare of wheels and missing a door. He found jump leads in the trunk, but no battery. It took him combing through the shelves back the way he'd come before he found them, stacked in a cupboard against the wall.
He pulled the top one out. It snagged slightly, and he had to jerk it hard, bearing the weight one handed.
He carried it back out from the shelving to a clear space on the floor and hooked the leads up to the battery
He took a breath, steeling himself. He had to force the cell in his arm into a recharge. It wasn't designed for it. HYDRA wasn't going to give him an easy way out - gotta keep him tied to them, keep him blank, keep him broken. But he knew he could get a little juice in there, if he held on, just long enough, enough to override the block.
He picked up the clamps and pressed them to his metal fingers. The moment the metal engaged, pain came roaring down his nerves. He could taste electricity. It hurt, it hurt worse than anything, but he had to hold on. Pain ground its way through his bones. Hot-cold, a strange metallic taste between his teeth. He could feel his heartbeat speeding up. His muscles tensing and relaxing involuntarily. He was grimacing. His teeth were chattering. He could feel screams building their way up and blocking his throat. His bones were vibrating with that awful, jarring tension. Just a little longer, just a little…
The air was suddenly and catastrophically shattered by the wailing of the warehouse alarm. High pitched, the sound cut through his skull. He dropped the leads and kicked himself free. The power cut out with an aching suddenness and he collapsed against the table, shuddering and shivering with aftershocks.
Fuck. He'd checked. He hadn't seen any alarms, hadn't noticed anything by the window. He looked back over at it, then his gaze dropped down to the batteries stacked up in the cupboard. The catch he'd felt when he'd pulled the battery out. It hadn't been stuck. It was a switch. They'd rigged the batteries with an alarm. They'd known he'd be looking here. A quiet out of the way place, the batteries stacked up so invitingly by the window. He'd been so stupid. And the delay on the alarm. Long enough to let them get here, long enough for him to scramble himself with electricity.
Nausea roiled in his gut, and he hunched over. Dry heaving, panic clenching at his ribs. There was no time. He had to get out.
He forced himself up, shoving with his good hand and pushed himself to his feet, stumbling back towards the window. His metal arm flopped ungainly over his side, fingers twitching spasmodically. Useless.
There was a red light flashing overhead, bathing the walls and floor in lurid neon before cutting to black for a second, then flashing on again. It stuttered his progress, slow-strobing his way to the window. He was exhausted. And the electric shocks had shredded his already fragile grip on the present. He moved through the warehouse in fits and starts. When the shadows flowed over him, he wondered, did he disappear? Did he cease to exist? He reached the window, raised his arm to the frame, then noticed blue and red lights flashing onto his jacket. He jerked back sharply, then peeked through the broken pane. Two, no three cop cars pulled up outside.
The last car skidded up close, curving out of his line of sight towards the main doors. Too many to fight. This was a set up. His muscles bunched and his eyes felt wide and dry. He was so tired of running.
The main door shook under impact, bullets in the lock. He turned away from the cars outside looking wildly for cover and ran for the stairs, taking them two at a time, the metal of the handrail biting cold into his palm.
The door was kicked down as he dived behind the railings, the alarm covering the noise. He was sheltered more by the shadow than by the grating… if they looked up, he wouldn't have a chance.
Red bathed the room as the first cop walked in, hellish and distorted. It made his skin crawl. The cop's shadow seemed to flicker and creep in the dark spaces between the red light. Brushing up close towards him. He shifted his back against the door, reaching slowly for the handle. The cop was moving into the room, keeping low and glancing about for cover, he hadn't looked up, yet.
There was no sound, just red light and shadows. The alarm had drowned them all in its incessant screaming. Everything was muted, unreal. He found the door handle and pulled it down, carefully, carefully. The catch released and he leaned back in one slowly unfolding motion, fluidly slipping back with the onslaught of shadow, into the room and closing it behind him as the red returned.
The office windowed out into the warehouse, red washing through the glass. He moved fully into the room. One of the windows wasn't red but yellow; an external wall onto the street-lit sidewalk. Escape. He stepped quickly past the desk to the window and reached for the catch. It was locked, and as he manoeuvred his dead arm to smash the glass, the alarm suddenly stopped. Silence, as thick and tangible as velvet pressed against his ears. He lowered his arm.
He could hear voices - the police below - calling to each other as they cleared the space. The red still washed the room, but it was just light now, no more demonic than the yellow orange from outside.
Freedom. If only he could get through silently. He glanced over at the desk, moved to it and began rifling through the drawers for something small and sharp to use on the window lock. The bottom two were full of papers and the top had nothing sharp, just sweet wrappers, an empty cigarette pack and a half empty lighter.
He looked longingly at the window. He could probably clear it before the police inside could backtrack, but the third car was pulled up on the curb, and he could see the two cops inside, one bent towards the radio, the other crouched by the open door. The space between the warehouse and the road was flat and open. They'd have to be more than just bad shots to miss him. They'd have to be blind.
He needed a diversion. He glanced back down at the desk. His fingers flicked over the smooth plastic of the lighter. A diversion.
He picked it up, slipped it into his pocket and took the papers from the other drawer as well. They rustled quietly as he folded them under his arm. He crouched and made his way back to the door, avoiding making a silhouette in the windows. He pushed it very slightly open, enough to peer through the crack and get a view into the central room.
The cops had moved away from the door. He could hear them further in, somewhere below him. but the stairway looked empty. He pushed the door wider, enough for him to slip through. He moved forwards, staying low, his muscles straining he gradually shifted his weight from one foot to the other, keeping his progress as quiet and smooth as possible. The metal stairs creaked only slightly under the pressure. He stopped, waited, but no shout went up, and he continued back down the stairs, slipping behind the cops as they moved to the back of the warehouse.
Once downstairs, he made his way back to the shelves. He could try and take the battery with him, but carrying the weight with one hand, and making an escape was a tall order. He'd find another way. He would. He had to.
He found the cannisters half by smell, the thick, intense scent of fuel coming from a spill under one of the cans. He stacked them up by the shelving, close to the door. He could hear the cops returning. Moving quickly he stuffed the tops full of paper and flicked the lighter. In the washes of red, his little flame went unnoticed. The paper caught, and he rushed backwards, towards the stairs.
A second later the first can went up with a roaring boom. The other followed soon after. There was shouting from outside and in. He shot back up the stairs, away from the commotion, at the last moment sparing a glance behind to check for pursuit.
There was a man, standing on the walkway across from him. Staring straight at him. He hadn't seen him on the way down. The man must have come in after the cops, blocked by the shelving and climbed the opposite stair while he was below creating the diversion.
The fire was quickly growing in size, the noise of the flames crackling and hissing. Another boom cracked the air as the third cannister caught, and sparks swarmed up in the darkness between them. The fire was growing faster than he'd anticipated; leaping from shelf to shelf. He probably should have realised the amount of flammable materials there were below.
"Bucky!" The shout crossed the distance. And he knew that name. Had memorised and contextualised it from his trip to the exhibition. Bucky was the man in the picture, Bucky was his face in the mirror. But Bucky, Bucky wasn't him. And he knew who the man was, even in the slick red light, even half in darkness. He recognised him. Steve Rogers. Captain America.
"It's me, It's Steve." The man shouted. He mouthed it silently. Steve. The name was familiar on his tongue, like a half-forgotten taste.
It scared him.
The fire was growing fast, already he could feel the heat on his face and legs. Flames were gathering underneath him, licking the metal.
There was a terrible familiarity here and he didn't understand it. Didn't ever remember being here before, even though his mind… His mind didn't know what it was doing. He couldn't trust anything anymore, not what he saw, not what he remembered.
Maybe the man, Steve. Maybe Steve wasn't there at all.
He turned away, gave the memory his back and pushed open the door.
The heat from the flames below licked up at the metal. It melted the soles of his shoes leaving sticky, dark imprints of himself behind. It didn't hurt. He couldn't look back. What if the man was real? What if Steve really was there, really was tracking him, just like HYDRA? What if he had just left him there in the furnace, flames licking the stairs?
He was running without consciously deciding to do so. Leaping and smashing through the window. He rolled as he hit the ground and was back up, sprinting. He heard shouting behind him. The cops who had gone to check the diversion had seen him, but the fire had gained him the time he needed to reach the fence and scramble over before they could take aim, onto the road and across.
He jogged on into the dark streets, breath coming short and hard. His ankle was starting to hurt again, a dull low ache that said it hadn't finished healing.
Did he get out? Did Steve get out? Every beat of his feet was Steve's name, every thump of his heartbeat was a reminder.
He'd meant to leave. To head back to his bolt hole and hide for a few hours, but instead he turned back on himself, crossed over the street and retraced his steps.
He told himself he was checking for HYDRA agents. He told himself he was making sure he wasn't followed. But if he was honest. He couldn't explain why he was doing it. All he knew was that something in his chest eased at the sight of Steve's silhouette outside the burning warehouse.
He should have gone home then, should have left it at that, but instead he was still out hours later, shadowing Steve Rogers all night through the quiet city streets. There was something instinctive, something strangely natural about watching this man from a vantage point. It wasn't anything he could explain, nothing he could pinpoint. But when Steve turned, face catching the dawn sunlight, he almost wanted to reach out. To wave, to do something to betray his position. For a second it was almost like Steve was waiting for it. But he made no move. Steve turned back and kept walking and he kept shadowing him. Right up until Steve stopped.
The apartment was nondescript, the area on the edge of respectable, but as the door opened Steve's shoulders relaxed in a way that they hadn't the whole journey home. Home. Because that was what this was, he realised. This was where Steve lived. At first he couldn't see the expression of the person who had opened the door, silhouetted against the hall light. Then he turned to the side to let Steve in, and he caught a glimpse of a smile on the man's face. The light made the hall inside look warm. The door closed behind them and he realised the wind had picked up. He pulled his threadbare jacket in a little tighter against the cold.
Still he didn't leave. Instead he moved to a better vantage point, leaning back as far as he could to get a sight line to a window; lit up from the inside with a warm yellow light. There was a hollow, fragile weight against his chest that grew as he watched them move around each other in the tiny kitchen. Sharing space like they were used to it. Like they knew each other (but I knew him.). And yes, he didn't really remember Steve, didn't remember what James Buchanan Barnes was to Steve (best friends since childhood), but there was still a hollow pressure in his chest that wouldn't go away. That eventually got so unbearable he couldn't take any more.
His ankle hurt as he stood, stiffness had set in. He slipped carefully down the fire escape, across the street and the next, and the next. Moving away, just anywhere away from them.
His arm was dead with no chance of recharging, and his only link to the memory of who he was didn't want anything to do with him. He should have known things would only get worse.
They came for him in the night. Black-suited and silent, night goggles sitting frog-like on their faces. The first two snapped the trick step he'd made in the stairway, it was the thump, clatter and screaming that woke him - impalement on rusted metal railings tended to cause a lot of noise.
He went from dead asleep to wide awake in less than a second. He couldn't hear the rest of the team over the shouting from the ones stuck in the basement, but he knew they were there. Just as he knew that if they'd come inside, then the others had already bypassed the traps he'd laid in the yard and cut off his escape routes.
He shoved up from the floor. His dead arm caught in the thin blanket he'd been sleeping under and he lost precious seconds getting untangled. It took him ripping the cloth to get free. Useless fucking metal.
He went straight to the window and pressed himself against the wall beside it. He could see their truck parked by the sidewalk, see the men posted by the corner, by the house and down the street. He flinched back into the shadows. Too many. Too many to slip away from, too many to escape without causing a scene, without getting in a fight, and too many to fight one handed. Not that he had a choice. They were already at the door.
He'd taken position, half-hidden by shadows and ready to go down fighting, when then the window smashed inwards and something big blocked out the light. Wings, for a second he saw them clearly, then it was chaos, gunfire and shouting and the winged man, the man from Steve's apartment was throwing himself behind the door frame. The man had his gun up and was aiming through the door, but he hadn't noticed him standing there, hidden as he was by shadows.
There were more shouts from downstairs, he recognised his voice. The same one from the warehouse. From his memories. Steve. Whether they'd been tracking HYDRA, or tracking him, he wasn't sure, either way they were just in time. The guards began their attack on the the room, bullets thudding into the walls, chipping away brickwork and splintering wood, plaster raining down in white drifts.
He stayed where he was, in the shadows. The gunfire went on, ceaseless. The winged man wasn't making any headway and he couldn't hear Steve any more. Too many guards, they couldn't have anticipated this many. Bad intel. A miscalculation. Any of the hundred things that could go wrong on a mission had left the man here, pinned down. He wouldn't clear the door, not on his own, and maybe, he might even die here, if Steve couldn't get up in time.
The thought was surprisingly painful.
He moved forward, angling himself enough that the light from the window fell on his face. The winged man turned, saw him, and for a dangerous second kept his gun up. Then his hand dropped to his waist and he he withdrew another weapon, throwing it across the gap.
He reached and caught it one handed. The gun fit like it was made for him, but then, most weapons did. He pivoted, aimed and fired in one fluid motion. Together, they picked off the HYDRA agents in smooth almost choreographed timing. He found he was operating with that satisfying effortlessness that he clicked into when he was working with someone who knew what they were doing. It didn't happen often, but he couldn't deny, the winged man knew what he was about.
The stairway was finally clear, and there was a shout, "I'm coming up!"
"Hold," the man shouted back. It was the first time he'd spoken.
He glanced over. The wings were packed away now, he realised. The shadows had thrown strange shapes at the man's back; he'd thought the wings were still there. Exhaustion playing tricks on him. It was fitting, wasn't it? That his saviour would have wings, a biblical sort of intervention. That or demonic. Wings were an equal opportunity appendage. He was looking back at him, the man temporarily without wings. His gun down, but his arms tense.
"Don't shoot me," the man said flatly, turning a little to face him.
The stairway creaked and he glanced sharply towards it. He realised abruptly that he didn't want Steve coming up the stairs, didn't want Steve to see them standing here, to see him, arm dead, gun in hand, shoulder to shoulder with this stranger, Steve's own comrade. He didn't fit here. And it made his skin feel tight.
He jerked his gaze away from the staircase to look back at the man. He had holstered his weapon. Hands up and fingers wide. Harmless, said his body language. Harmless, said the man's eyes. So why was he suddenly so full, so choked with fear? He could see wings again, curving wicked and sharp above the man's head. He needed to get away before his mind tricked him into doing something stupid. The grip of the gun was cutting into his palm. He needed to-
There was another creak on the stairs and he ran. Shot straight for the window and leapt, tucking his knees under him. For a second he was weightless. Then he slammed down on the dumpster below, flipped, dropped and rolled. The crunch of gravel underfoot and he was away.
It took a while for the shakes to go, exhaustion and hunger finally catching up with him. He was seeing ghosts on street corners. He was seeing Steve, but a Steve who was small and sickly. The knowledge from the museum was there, just out of reach, but he couldn't separate it from the visions. Bucky, smart and shining in uniform. He couldn't hold him, he faded like smoke.
When had he last eaten? When had he last drank?
Rainwater. It was raining again. He turned his head to catch it on his tongue. People walked past, gave him a wide berth. He needed to go, needed to get out of this city. Steve, young Steve, was watching from a street corner.
"Wait." His voice was rusty from disuse, a croak that was barely words. Steve was walking away. Steve was gone, and he shuddered, bone deep. Rainwater making furrows in his face.
"Hey, you can't sleep here."
His gun was in his hands before he was fully awake.
"Hey, you gotta go."
He blinked his hair from his eyes. There was a cop standing on the sidewalk, far back enough that he couldn't have seen the gun hidden in the folds of his jacket in the shadowed grey twilight. He had slept half the day away. He blinked gritty eyes. The cop was getting impatient.
He nodded, tried to raise his hand before remembering. Dead. The metal limb just lay there, heavy and broken in his sleeve. The cop was clearly going to wait until he was on his way, so he forced himself more awake and stood, slowly shaking his sleeve down to hide the gun.
He kept hunched over and shuffled away, avoiding eye contact. Folded the jacket around him, like bending light. Nothing to see here. Still, the cop watched him down the street until he rounded the corner. There he straightened, slipping the gun into his waistband and leaned back against the wall for a second to shake off the last threads of sleep.
He didn't remember coming here. Didn't remember falling asleep. Hell, he wasn't even sure where in the city he was. He didn't know how many days it had been since he fell into the river and cut his ties with HYDRA. He couldn't go on like this. Not like this, not for much longer. Sooner or later, he was going to make a mistake. That or just drop from exhaustion or starvation. Or both. He needed to eat. He needed to get out of this city full of ghosts, full of… Steve. He needed to learn who he was again. And it wasn't going to happen here. If he didn't get out of this city under his own power, now, he wasn't getting out at all.
There was a memory forming in the back of his mind. It was vague and black with pain, but, there was something in there. Something true.
He remembered a facility. He remembered being strapped down. He remembered waking and seeing his arm open to the core, metal, flesh and bone in lurid, bloody glory. He remembered screaming. And her remembered the whirring, painful shock of his arm coming online.
He didn't remember why or how they'd needed to reboot him. Nor how long he was there. But he remembered it happening, and, fundamentally he remembered one long snapshot that followed soon after. His arm had still been aching, that must have been what had woken him. He remembered being in a dark, noisy space, a truck maybe - boarded windows and only a thin crack of light where the tape was peeling. They hadn't bound him and he'd pressed his face against the window, too hazy to leave, but curious enough to look.
He remembered the name on the road sign. Washington DC, 20 miles.
That night, he was outside their apartment again. He was jittery and tense, leg flicking up and down, fingertips pattering a soft beat against the cold of his arm. This was a stupid plan. This was a terrible plan. This was why HYDRA didn't let him make plans, why they gave him targets, drew back and let him go. Weapons didn't make plans. This was…
He saw the hall light come on and unfolded, muscles protesting after so long in one position. He moved forward until his body was up against the limit of the shadows of the back yard and waited. It was only a minute before the door was opened. The trash bags preceded Steve and he couldn't see clearly in the darkness, he waited for Steve to move into the light, but. No. It wasn't Steve, it was the winged man.
He almost retreated. Almost melted back into the shadows. He wanted to. For some reason he hadn't anticipated this. Had assumed Steve would come down as he had before, take out the trash and look up at the light-polluted sky. But not this time. This one time he was lying in wait, this one time he screwed his fear up into a ball and flung it away from him. No, this time it was the other man, and he was already done with the trash while he was still standing in the shadows, frozen with indecision.
He couldn't let him leave.
He stepped forwards. Gravel crunching under his boot. The man froze. He could see the man's hand inching towards his waistband, and he didn't have time for this. Didn't have time for a fight in the middle backyard of a civilian block with Steve right upstairs. He didn't have time for a fight that might expose his useless limb. Coming here was enough. If he had to show them, if they had to see…
"Don't." The rough edge of his voice caught his throat. He swallowed. "Don't shoot me." He echoed the winged man's phrase.
The man's hand dropped from his gun, and, holding his arms out a little from his sides, he turned slowly. His eyes widened when he caught sight of him, standing half out of the shadows. And he breathed a quiet huff of surprise. "Okay. I did not expect this," he said, but he wasn't going for his gun, wasn't moving in fact, just standing there, non-threatening and at least pretending at calm.
If the man could face him without flinching... He stepped forward into the light a little more. And if he felt the man's gaze flicking over the hollowness of his cheeks, the raggedness of his jacket. Well, maybe he that was just his imagination.
"HYDRA." He talked over his own unease. The man's eyes sharpened. "They have a facility. Just outside the city." The man waited, and when he didn't follow that up, a frown appeared between his eyes.
"Why are you telling me this?"
He shrugged, one shouldered, aping casual. "You seemed, keen, to take them out before." He hesitated, hoping he could sell it. "Now we're even-" The man shook his head, starting to speak. "Fine. Do nothing," he spoke over him, trying to forestall conversation and turned to leave.
"No no, wait. Hey!"
He turned back and the man had come forward step, his hand outstretched and now dropping to his side. "Okay, okay. I'm interested. Okay? I'm interested. Where outside the city?"
He didn't say anything, drawing the moment out as if weighing it, as if he wasn't relying on them to come, as if the whole plan didn't hinge on this being enough of a hook. Then at the last second, he nodded slightly and said, "Twenty miles out. North."
He'd remembered a little more earlier today, remembered the other names he'd seen while being transported. They'd been driving south, he was sure of it. Of course, he wasn't sure how long he'd been unconscious in the truck, but without access to a map, he couldn't say where they'd placed the facility. He just hoped he knew his own body well enough to be able to time the pain, even under the drugs he'd been riding on.
"You got a name for me?" The man asked, and he started out of his memory, a sharp ache in his chest. A name? Maybe the man noticed, maybe he got it, because he followed up with, "For the facility I mean, a name, or a town?"
He shook his head, the motion too sharp, too nervous. He had to go now. Had to get away. The man must have got it, because he didn't push for more.
"Okay. Thanks. This is great. I'll- We'll do something about it."
He nodded, already moving back into the shadows.
"Wait." The man held up his hand. "Look, just hold on okay? One second. We have- There's food. I can just-" The man gestured to the door.
He didn't want that, didn't want them giving him their food, didn't want Steve-
"I won't tell him. Okay. I promise. I get it. Just. Hold on." And without waiting for a reply, he turned and disappeared inside. He didn't wait for the man to return, and when the man came back out a few minutes later, he'd already left the backyard. Watching from the opposite roof, he saw the man sigh.
The man went over to the shadow where they had stood, and left a small bag there. "I didn't tell Steve," he said to the shadows. "I haven't yet. I will, but, it can wait a half hour." He turned to go back in, then hesitated, and glanced back at the shadows, his face in profile. "It's Sam. By the way, in case you were wondering who to address the thank you card to." He pointed at the food. "That sandwich will change your life, just saying."
Then the man went back inside, the door firmly shut behind him. The hall light went off and he saw the man re-enter the apartment upstairs a minute later.
He waited before drifting down to pick up the bag, then back up to his perch. The paper crinkled under his fingers, almost ripping, he held it so tight. It was thirty minutes later, or near enough, that he heard shouting, and then the hall light flicked on and Steve erupted into the back lot, wide eyes, his hair a little mussed. He waited out there a long time, pacing back and forth before finally going back inside.
He could see them through the window, could see Steve ignore the man, turn his back and stalk into the room he couldn't get an eye line on. The other man, Sam, stood staring after him for a good long while. Something miserable in the line of his shoulders.
He opened up the bag and ate the sandwich. Flavours bloomed over his tongue - sharp, tart and sweet - almost too much after so long without.
He didn't know why he cared, but he found himself wishing he had a pen. He settled for leaving the paper by the back door. Pinned under a rock. Not much of a thank you card, but he wasn't sure he'd get another chance.
He arrived at the beginning of the long slide into dawn. He'd jumped the barriers and taken the train, then hiked the rest of the way. By the time he got to the edge of the compound the sky was already staining grey.
He needed to get in before the sun came up. Before the daily routines of the compound were in full swing and every door, window and hatch was covered by watching eyes. The best time was now, when the night shift was on its way out, and the day shift in. When people were lazy in the change over.
The compound was deceptively small. Low, blocky buildings, single storied for the most part. Most of it was probably underground. The roof would be the easiest way in, but without cover, he wouldn't make it anywhere near a hatch before getting picked off. He'd have to find another way.
It took him another half hour to find a stretch of fence he could get through - a storm-downed fence post, and a bad patch up job had left a panel loose. He had to hold himself back, tensely glancing up at the lightening sky. He waited, waited for the guards to come by, talking and smoking, and waited until their noise faded into the distance. Under his breath he began to count, whispering the seconds that grew into minutes and counting them off too. Until he heard - quiet in the distance, and growing slowly louder - a new patrol appearing.
Five minutes. Barely long enough to cover the open ground. Not that he had a choice. The moment their footsteps were fading away, he broke cover and sprinted for the fence, kicking the board away and struggling through the gap, his dead arm catching on wire and losing him precious seconds before he could wrench free.
The next moment he was up and running flat out for the buildings, head down, body low, covering the ground with long, desperate strides. There was an incline on the approach to the buildings, a steep, steady slope that burned his tired calves.
The first door he found was locked, and slamming against it did nothing but make noise. If his arm were working he could have ripped out the lock, but instead it still hung uselessly by his side. No help at all. Frustration made him grind his teeth. He couldn't do it. There was no hope, he was going to be stuck here, maimed, half broken, useless. This desperate last chance was no chance at all.
He slammed his shoulder against the door again and again, shouting out his anger. Uncaring of the noise. Suddenly a heavy boom shattered the air, vibrations running under his feet. He jerked back, disoriented, looking around wildly.
Over in the distance, on the other side of the compound he saw smoke rising. The cavalry. About damn time.
The patrols would have broken and scattered, to the diversion mostly, but he couldn't count on everyone in the compound being tricked. He left the doorway and began to jog around the side of the building. There was a second door up ahead, perhaps he'd have better luck there.
As he approached, the door suddenly burst open. Thinking fast, he slammed it back shut into the first guard's face, then he pulled it back open and snatched him by the shoulder, tugging him forwards, slamming his face down onto his knee, then kicking his unconscious body to the side.
Bottlenecked in the doorway, he was able to dispatch the next guard with a swift jab to the neck. But the third was ready by this time he reached her, and without the use of his left arm, he couldn't fully block the blow. He ducked so that her fist skimmed the top of his head. He kicked out at her, but she was fast, quick enough to dance back and come back in again for another hit. She was avoiding his left, afraid of the arm most likely. But the lack of use would be obvious if the fight went on too long. The Winter Soldier neglecting his defining weapon? Suspicious.
He reached with his hand, feinted right, then slammed her into the wall.
She dropped, unconscious to the ground and he bent, stripping the gun from her waist. Then he headed down the corridors, gun clenched in his right hand.
Inside, the lights were flickering. The explosion must have taken out the electrics. Emergency systems kept trying and failing to turn on, and the lighting strobed as he moved deeper, reminding him of the warehouse.
The ground inclined down; the larger spread of the complex was underground and he wasn't sure how deep he'd have to go. He passed slowly and carefully by each doorway. Led on by flickering memories that wound in and out of the front of his mind.
He remembered this door, that boarded window. He rubbed a finger over a dent in the wall. He remembered stumbling here, smashing a dead arm into brickwork. Yes. He remembered that, his arm was dead, they took him... He stopped in the middle of a crossways, looking down the left fork, then the right. Or… was it back?
As he was standing, hesitating, another squad appeared. They split and took cover the moment they saw him, their guns up. He had no time to choose, he dived for the right, firing off a few shots behind him to try and gain a little time.
His bootsteps echoed along the corridor as he sprinted for the end. He smashed through the far door and shoved it closed behind him. The room beyond was white walled - a wide semicircle, and he stood on its curve. Consoles and tables full of machinery were spread out before him.
The world seemed to tilt sharply. He swayed, almost dropping to his knees. He remembered this room, and the memory was so visceral, that it caught him up and carried him back. He remembered screaming. He remembered he was screaming. The lights were too bright, in his eyes and over his head. He remembered smashing a screen, kicking out at the guards that held him down.
He took a half step into the room, still caught in memory They brought him through here to a room on the far left, separated by thick, reinforced glass. In the centre was a chair with restraints loose and ominous at each limb. He remembered knives and blood and... He remembered pain.
There was a sudden rattle of gunfire that shook the metal door, small pock marks appearing across it and the noise dragged him out of the memory, into the moment. He turned back to lock the door, but there was no catch, only thick cabling that led back to the consoles. Electronic swipe pads were deactivated and dark. The explosion must have taken them out too.
He turned instead to one of the tables, taking the corner and tilting it to send the equipment upon it smashing to the ground, then, dragging it one handed, he barricaded up the door. Not a moment too soon. There was a crash against it that made the table shake.
He retreated back a step, but the door held.
He moved into the centre of the room. The sight of the dead, empty screens was making his hand shake. The memories were crowding again, gathering and shuffling in the back of his mind. He remembered catching his hip on the corner of this table. He remembered them slamming him to the floor, knee in his back. He remembered-
He shut his eyes tight. The guards outside the door were shouting, The door itself thumping as they beat against it. It wouldn't hold forever. He needed to focus. With deliberate effort he pulled his mind free of memories once more and walked determinedly to the far door.
The room behind the glass was only half lit. A single strip of lighting still working. The chair was licked up with shadows. Crawling, moving things that- He shut his eyes again. The shadows were not crawling. The light was not moving. He needed to-
He swayed suddenly, his legs abruptly giving up, and he tried, stupidly, to catch himself on his dead arm. Instead he went crashing to the floor, landing with a bone jarring crack on his knees, before slumping to the ground. His breath was coming in short, painful pants, as if the air in the room had become too thin.
He didn't know what was happening. Had they found a way around the door? Were they pumping gas in through the vents? Would he wake strapped down, the shadows crawling thick and sticky over his body, down this throat, into his eyes.
The air was almost all gone. He couldn't see, his vision blurring. The noise cut out. The sound of shouting silenced by five heavy thuds. Was this it? Was he dying? Finally.
He wasn't sure how much time he lost. It couldn't have been more than a few seconds, but it felt timeless. Immeasurable.
Suddenly he was being dragged out of the darkness, pulled up and out into unforgiving light. There was a hand on his shoulder, the fleeting warmth of a palm on his cheek.
His eyes snapped open. There was someone in front of him, someone crouched over him and he lashed out, catching them in the neck and kicking out at their unprotected belly. The person fell back, and he scuttled until his back hit the wall, then pushed himself upright. Still a little light headed, but able to breathe again.
Only then did he recognise the man who had loomed over him, the man now pushing slowly to his feet. "Bucky?" Steve said again, and he realised Steve must have been saying it before, that it was the name that had pulled him from the darkness. He felt goosebumps over his arms. His left shoulder ached around the join, like he didn't fit his own skin.
Steve took a step towards him, and he retreated, stepping back towards the room with the chair. Steve stopped, raised his hands, palms up. "I just- are you alright? That was a serious panic attack and I didn't mean to startle you. I'm sorry." He lowered his hands slowly, and the expression on his face was painful to see. "I'm sorry , Bucky. I-"
"I'm not, Bucky," he said slowly. He said it without inflection - a grinding statement of fact, but Steve's face, if possible, fell even further, and he hated himself suddenly and with a raw violence. Hated himself for putting that expression there. Hated himself for not being the man that Steve so clearly wanted him to be. And maybe a little, he hated Steve, for wanting him to be what he couldn't.
Perhaps Steve saw it on his face, because he turned away, turned back to the door and even took a couple of steps towards it. Despite himself, he found he relaxed slightly with the greater distance. Steve turned back to him, and if he wasn't impassive, he was at least, not showing quite as much hurt as before.
"Why are you here? Why did you tell Sam about this place? Why come here if…" Steve trailed off, not that he needed to say it. Why come here if you were just going to fall to pieces? A panic attack, he supposed that must be the term for it, yet another scrap of knowledge lost to the cracks between his mind. Why come here, if the very sight of the shadows was enough to reduce you to a gibbering mess, huddled against the wall? He could spit in disgust. What kind of person couldn't even walk through a room without collapsing? His hand was shaking again, his fingers feeling heavy. He clenched them into a fist to disguise the tremors.
"What do you need?"
He glanced up at Steve, in surprise.
"You're here for a reason," Steve said, his tone softer than before. "You must be. So, what is it. Maybe," hesitantly, "maybe I can help?"
He just stared at Steve silently. How could he explain? How could he tell him what was wrong with him? That even the weapon could no longer function. That he wasn't even good for the most basic of his uses. Useless. Broken. Bad enough that he was barely a person. That he was shuttling between memory, reality and hallucination, but that he couldn't even protect himself? Couldn't walk without listing. Couldn't fight. Couldn't kill.
He couldn't tell Steve.
The silence drew out awkwardly, but Steve just nodded, still maintaining his distance. The motion was, perhaps, a little tight. "Okay, so, something in this room, right?"
He glanced over at Steve, and unthinkingly, answered the question with a nod. A light flickered in Steve's eyes, even from that tiny shred of connection, and he again, hated himself for being so stunted that that was all he could give.
"Okay so, something in here." Steve looked around the room, and he must have been so focused on him and his panic attack when he entered, that it was only now that he seemed to notice the room with the chair. Steve's eyes widened for a second, before narrowing.
"They…" Steve looked over at him. "They put you in there, didn't they?"
Steve's brows drew down, anger held in the lines of his face.
"You're going to destroy it."
He didn't answer at first, hesitated because, well, it hadn't been the plan, but… He shrugged, one shouldered.
"Okay…" The anger faded as Steve focused on him again. "Destroy it, yes, but that's not the primary objective, You need something, so... You need to get into that room." Realisation dawned across Steve's face, quickly followed by a guilty sort of hesitance, he rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, Sam and I, I guess we screwed your plan with our explosives, sorry."
He gave another one shouldered shrug.
Steve glanced at the door behind him. "Couldn't you just…" He mimicked shoving the door with his shoulder.
He turned and stepped over to the door. It was smooth on this side, without a handle, like the other one. Power cables ran overhead and along the wall to the consoles. He stepped back, braced and slammed his shoulder against it. The impact was hard enough to bruise, but the door didn't move.
He shook off the pain and glanced at Steve.
"Uh. I- I meant with your other arm?" Steve raised an eyebrow and he felt so stupid. The full weight of his impossible situation came crashing down, and the last of his resistance crumbled.
"I can't," he said quietly. Steve looked at him, nonplussed. "I can't," he repeated, indicating his unmoving arm.
It took Steve a second, but he knew he'd understood when pity flashed its way across his face. He'd leave now. Steve would leave. Why would he waste his time on him now he knew the truth? He turned away so he didn't have to see him go. Steve could leave him to finish things here. Destroy the compound, that seemed as good an end as any.
He rested his head against the metal of the door, the cold seeping into his skin. Maybe he could just rest here, for a little while.
He rolled his head to the side, without lifting from the door. Why was Steve still here?
"We can get it open."
For a second he had no idea what Steve was talking about. Then he realised. The door. He lifted his head away, staring at Steve in confusion. He wasn't leaving.
Steve smiled at him. "Don't give up on me yet."
He realised it wasn't pity on Steve's face after all. It was something altogether more personal. Steve turned away, and he was thankful for it. Whatever it was Steve felt, that was caught and reflected in his expression, he wasn't equal to the task of seeing it.
Steve took something out of his pocket, a slim, black phone. He watched in silence.
"Tony? Hey … You know how you said you could hack into any system anywhere … Yeah… Yeah.. Yeah okay Tony, I get it." Steve glanced over at him and rolled his eyes. Unsure what the response should be, he just watched, impassively. But Steve smiled at him again, before glancing away, his attention returning to his call. "Yeah well, I need you to hack a door… Yes. Yes. A door…" There was a short silence. "Well if you couldn't manage it, I can always call-" Steve laughed and he found he had taken a step towards him. That laugh blooming in his memory, a sudden point of light in the darkness.
"Okay, I'm plugging you in." Steve, intent on the conversation, didn't turn to look at him. "You can still hear me?" He asked as he somehow fitted the phone to one of the consoles.
"Loud and clear. I got this." The voice came from the phone. There was a short silence, then. "Okay, I'm in."
Writing flickered across the console screen, an incomprehensible line of letters, too fast to be legible and then lights were turning on at consoles up and down the room. He cringed back against the wall as the machines began to hum.
"Hey." Steve's voice cut over the noise. "Can you hurry it up a bit? Just the doors, Tony, we're on a schedule."
"What is this stuff, Steve? Where are you?"
"Tony." His voice was warning.
"Yeah, yeah okay. Gotcha, Which door?"
"You got a a floor plan? It's the east wall."
"What are you, a hundred feet underground? Your sense of direction, such a Boy Scout."
"It's not a hundred. Just do it, Tony-"
"Done, already done."
"Great, unplugging you now."
"No hey, wait, I haven't finished uploading-"
The voice was cut short as Steve pulled the phone from the console. Lights flickered and went off one by one.
Steve turned to him. "Well, I guess we should-" But he didn't finish as gunfire suddenly rattled through the door. He hadn't even noticed the barricade was down. They each dived to the ground. He fell back to the corner, and Steve to the cover afforded by a large stack of machinery behind him.
They were split on opposite sides of the room. He tried to look round to see how many HYDRA agents there were, but another spattering of gunfire meant he had to pull back sharply.
He got his gun and checked the magazine, only two bullets left. Not going to be much use.
He glanced up at Steve.
Steve caught his gaze as he shook his head, and for a second they looked at each other, then. "Go," Steve mouthed.
"Go." Steve said it out loud. "Go." He unhooked his shield from behind his back and gave him a smile, a different one to before, this smile was sure. "You go, I got this."
And he went.
The door slid open under his touch and he slipped into the room, staying low, so that he wouldn't be visible through the glass. The noise of the other room was muffled by insulation. He left the door open for Steve in case he needed the exit.
He edged around the chair, skirting the shadow it cast. They had taken the cell out from his arm, he remembered. Dark and empty and dead, they had put it on the side table and taken the new one from... He crawled over to the other side of the room. There was another door leading out and next to it a cabinet. The top drawer, yes. He pulled it open.
It was empty.
He stared at the inside in shock. He reached inside, swiped his fingers over the base, all the way to the back. Empty. He tugged it out, and flung it away. He pulled out the second drawer. Empty. The third. Empty. He pulled open the cabinet doors at the bottom. Empty. Empty. He looked wildly around the room, that was it. There was nothing else. They weren't here.
He didn't know what to do. This had been his plan. This was his only plan. Find the replacement cells and get out. Without them he couldn't fix his arm. He'd be crippled with this useless hunk of metal. He almost slammed his shoulder against the wall again, before remembering the fire fight outside. Steve.
He looked, but he couldn't see him from this angle. He didn't think he could face Steve again, couldn't let him know that the whole mission was a failure, that he couldn't be fixed. The chair loomed. Memories flickered behind his eyes. They'd catch him and take him in. Without his arm. They'd cut him open, destroy him, remake him. Take away what he'd painstakingly held on to over the past few weeks.
It was too much.
He broke for the second door, shoving it with his hand, and Steve's Tony must have unlocked more than just the one door because it opened under his touch, letting him out into the darkness beyond.
There was a little light coming from a strip under the far door, and between that and the light behind, he could just make out shelving of some kind. He avoided collision with a rack of overalls and walked down the aisle, barely noticing what he was passing. He just wanted to get out, put distance between himself and the memories. He stepped around a stack of boxes on the floor, the top open to show cabling snaking out. Careful of his footing, he stepped around another box full of sockets and power cells and took another couple of steps.
He turned back, wide eyed.
Yes. Yes! There they were. The slim cells he remembered. White glass and metal nestled in packaging. Hope rose, fragile and desperate in his chest.
He pulled one out carefully. There were only two in the box, and one had a long crack along one side. Still, he took them both. He back tracked and pulled down one of the overalls. Then using some of the packaging, he wrapped them both as carefully as he could one handed and tucked them under his arm.
He swallowed thickly and pulled himself back on point. He still needed to get out. Needed to find an exit. He headed for the opposite door and cracked it open, checking the coast was clear before slipping out. The corridors here were quieter. He thought he was headed around the back of the compound. The floor seemed level however, he needed to get back up to surface.
The next couple of corridors were a plain white maze, but finally he saw a little stair sign beside a door, and going through, he saw another a little further up. Two more doors, one corridor and the next door opened onto the stairs. He hoped Steve's sense of direction held true on his own way out.
There was a sudden crackle of gunfire from below and he pressed flat against the wall. There was a second crack, but it was no closer, and he edged forward to look. There were two HYDRA guards crouched below him. They hadn't seen him, were instead looking down to whoever they had pinned on the next landing. Even as he thought it, he knew who it must be. Sam. The one who must have flown in and dived down to lay the charges. Who was now pinned, too far from Steve to be rescued. Not any time soon at least, and time, in a fire fight, was precious.
He glanced up the stairwell. The exit was only a couple of flights away, he thought he could see natural light filtering down. The cells were secure under his arm, and freedom beckoned. He stood there on the landing for one precious second. Then, bending, he set the cells securely against the wall, and pulled his gun from his waistband. Two bullets, two guards. child's play.
He stepped forward, brought up his arm, and smoothly fired a bullet into each of their heads. They dropped like stones.
There was silence for a second, then Sam's face appeared fleetingly round the wall before ducking back. A second later he looked out again. "Huh." He came out fully from behind the wall. "I didn't expect you to stick around." He grinned, and it was wide and bright and maybe a little manic. "But, man, am I glad you did."
Sam started up the stairs, slow enough that he could back away if he wanted. He did a little. Enough to pick up his overall wrapped package and return it to under his arm.
Sam stopped on the landing, hand going to his ear. "Nah, I'm good. Got my own rescue this time. Yeah okay. You need- no, okay." Sam dropped his hand and looked over at him. Maintaining his distance he said, "Steve said something about, uh, blowing this place sky high? I'm thinking maybe we should." He gestured up the stairs.
Needing no prompting, he turned from Sam and started taking the steps two at a time. Half a second later, he heard Sam's footsteps behind him. Two floors up he kicked the door open and they emerged into the daylight. They had come out at the back of the compound, but he thought the fence he had come in from wasn't too far from here, considering he'd had to circle round to get to it in the first place.
He looked back, turning to face Sam as he exited the building. Sam looked over at him, eyes flicking over the cloth wrapped bundle, then back to his face. "So, I'm guessing you didn't just give us this place to be friendly, huh?"
He shook his head.
Sam nodded. "Okay well," He shifted his weight, glancing at the compound, before looking back at him. "I get that you probably have places to go and all, but." He hesitated and raised a hand to his ear, unhooking his earpiece and covering it with his hand. "Look," he continued, and his voice dropped. "I can see you don't want to stick around."
He realised he was angling his body away, towards the fence, and forced himself to be still.
"But, I gotta say this. Steve? He really misses you. And, I know I don't know... I mean, I really don't know what it's like for you guys, but…" He sighed. "He misses you. A lot." Sam hesitated, shifted his weight again and opened his mouth to continue.
He realised he didn't want to hear it. "No."
"No," he repeated, softer. "I can't. I can't be.. for him. I can't be… Bucky. I don't-" He broke off, frustrated and raw. Why was he even trying? He didn't know why he was telling Sam this. He didn't even know him. But the words kept coming, drawn out like lancing a wound - deep and dark and foetid with decay. "I'm not Bucky." He was a weapon. He couldn't be what Steve wanted. He pressed his fingers against the wrapped cells. Even if he fixed his arm, he realised, he still couldn't be Bucky. Not just like that. Maybe not ever. He didn't know how to be Bucky. Hell, he wasn't sure he knew how to be a person at all. He dropped his eyes to the ground.
"Maybe." Sam spoke quietly, "Maybe you don't have to be Bucky."
He looked at him, expressionless. Sam swallowed and leaned a little closer. He watched Sam's hands and eyes, but he made no other move. Held himself, in fact, very still, until his eyes had returned to to Sam's face.
"Maybe you get to choose who you are."
He shook his head. "A weapon doesn't chose."
Sam frowned. "No matter what they did to you." Sam's eyes flicked back to the doors. "You're more than a weapon. You're still a person. You haven't lost that."
He shook his head again and Sam took a step towards him. "Hey. It was a person who cleared HYDRA out from that apartment block. It was a person who helped me out down there, and you know what, it was definitely a person who fished Steve out from the Potomac." His voice had grown stronger as he spoke, his fingers flicking with unmade gestures. "So you know what? Bad news HYDRA, you fucked up, because you're a person, and yeah, I get it, Steve he... he knew… Bucky, and that's a lot to deal with but... you get to choose." His gaze was intent. "So maybe you can't be that guy for him. That's okay. You can be someone else."
He was breathing shallowly, but the panic hadn't clawed its way back. He could listen to this.
Sam was still speaking. "... and maybe, you're not Bucky, or maybe you just can't be him, right now, but that's okay. You don't have to be." Sam exhaled abruptly and ran a hand over his face. "Hell, I don't know. I just think. He's just glad you're alive, you know? That's all he needed to know. You don't have to do anything, just. Just keep on going." Sam smiled tentatively at him and there was something in his eyes that said he knew how much it took to keep on going. That maybe Steve knew it too and that the reason just living was enough, was because they knew that sometimes just living took a hell of a lot.
"You know," Sam reached to put the earpiece back in, taking a step back. "Bucky was just a nickname. His name was James. I mean." He shrugged, a little hesitant. "If you wanna try it on for size." Sam held his gaze a second longer, then unfocused. "Hey, Steve, where are you? I'm coming to you." And Sam turned and jogged away.
Half an hour later, he was on the other side of the fence, safely hidden by the tree line. He didn't leave straight away. Loath to leave the mission unfinished, even if his part was done. He hid his pack by the roots of a tree, and with his good arm, reached for a low branch, climbing steadily until he had a better view. He saw Sam rise up and bend wing back towards the city, followed a minute later by the low rumble of a motorcycle. Five minutes after that the first explosion rent the air.
It took six hours for the fires to be put out. By the end of it the entire facility was a sad black husk squatting on the landscape.
Smoke is slowly drifting up from the dark buildings and dispersing over the tree tops. The sun has broken from the cloud cover, and it's warm on his shoulders, reflecting brightly off his arm.
James shrugs his arms into the jacket, turns and starts walking. He holds a package under his right arm. His left hangs loose and heavy by his side, but his walk is relaxed. He doesn't look back.