A technician sets a box of disassembled metal parts in front of him. He takes one careful look, matching the pieces in his head.
"Identify," Baron Strucker says.
"This is a STARK Special, M19A1. Forty-five millimeter."
He knows the answer is correct when there is no punishment. Instead, Baron Strucker nods.
"Assemble it," Strucker says.
Next, they give him a basic circuit board. The soldering had been clumsily done, leaving the power source disconnected. Obediently, he names the parts and pieces.
"Fix it," Strucker says.
When that is complete, he is given more tasks; an equation he already knows the answer to before the technician has finished writing. A half assembled computer system with its ancient flash memory burned out, that he must identify and fix. A theory on thermonuclear fusion. All simple tasks, all completed flawlessly.
Occasionally, Strucker peels off to murmur with the technician who stands in the corner, recording all results on a clipboard. His hearing is keen, and he catches phrases like, "Sustained cognitive ability" and "selective memory erasure".
But he has stopped listening because a technician has set a new task in font of him -- an acid test to determine the alloy of a metal plate. The plate itself is shiny, with a reflective quality.
He stares down at it, and an unfamiliar face stares back.
There is something... wrong with the man in the reflection. Something about the young, taunt skin. There is no hint of gray in his stubble. His brown eyes are blank and dead. Like... like...
... like when Steve first brought Bucky back to the tower.
The Mechanic stares at the unfamiliar reflection of himself, and he remembers.
Tony's far from an alarmist, but he doesn't like what JARVIS has flashed up on the screen -- an image from a rooftop security camera of Barnes leaning on the railing, looking like he's considering that one fatal step.
JARVIS shoots the elevator up to the top post-haste and Tony strolls out, the brisk spring wind whipping at his hair. Some people would be decent about it, he supposes. Sensitive. He's just pissed off. "If you jump," he says, "you're just going to make me jump after you, Rose."
Barnes turns. His face is that same creepy blank mask that only comes from HYDRA's special kind of attention. His eyes are devoid of life. "Rose?"
"Titanic? No? You'd think they would have shown that to you -- it's it's own brand of torture."
Barnes actually rolls his eyes at him (but hey, there's some life in there at least) and returns to look out over the stunning (very high, and so very deadly) vista. "I like watching the traffic."
"The... traffic. Okay? Whatever floats your boat." Tony comes to his side and watches. He gives it a good thirty, maybe forty seconds. "Boring. Bored already. Tell you what. How about you come down to my workshop and let me poke around your arm for a bit."
Barnes' voice is dry. "I don't let strange men take apart my arm on the first date."
Tony is delighted. It had taken him months to get Steve to unwind enough to tease him back. Then again, from Steve's stories, Bucky Barnes pre-train had always been a smooth talker. (The sun practically rises and sets on Bucky in Steve's opinion, but that's too painful for Tony to think about.)
Instead, Tony affects a grin. "Then you've never been in a workshop with a Stark." Then he thinks about it for a second too long. "You haven't, right? My Dad never--"
"Careful, Stark. One of us is about to go over this balcony, and it's not me."
But when he turns to face him, Bucky's face is more relaxed than it had been before. There's even a hint of a smile as he claps his metal hand, hard and sorta painful, on Tony's shoulder. "Thanks."
"Not treating me like I'm gonna fly apart if you look at me funny," Bucky says, then walks back to the door.
Tony looks after him for a moment. Then, "So is that a yes? You, me, your arm?.... Barnes?"
A sharp slap across the face brings him back to the present. Baron Strucker is sitting across the table, and his voice is deceptively mild as he says, "Are you well, Mechanic?"
No. Who was that man in his memories? Who was he in them? But the Mechanic does not dare pause to search for the answers in his head because Strucker would know. He always knows when something is amiss. "Yes."
Strucker must have his doubts because he stares at the Mechanic for a long, long moment. Then, quite deliberately he says, "They are not coming for you."
Rage, hot and immediate, boils up in him. It tastes familiar on his tongue. Bitter, like an argument -- a denial screamed over and over until his throat blisteres. You're lying. You're lying. They wouldn't leave me here. I just--
The Mechanic swallows it down. Shoves that brash, so-very-alive man who he'd been in his memories away. "Who?" he asks blankly.
He knows he has given the right answer when Strucker nods.
"You are the coming of a new age, Arnim Zola reborn in mind and genius. Your technological advancements for HYDRA will usher us into a new world peace -- one borne of strength."
"Hail HYDRA," the Mechanic answers by rote. His tongue has said this so many times it's as natural as breathing.
But again, Strucker is pleased. He gestures to the forgotten metal alloy test. "Let us begin again."
After the tests are complete, the Mechanic is led to the medical bay to sit for his daily injections. The liquid burns through his veins, and make him feel freezing cold and dizzy by turns, but he knows fidgeting will bring punishment, and attempts to defend himself will bring only worse.
Some of the tubes leading to his body contain nutrients. He is not allowed solid food -- should Baron Strucker decide he needs to be reset, the process could cause him to vomit and aspirate whatever was in his stomach.
He does not remember what hunger is anyway.
After, he is led to his cell.
The small room is stark (an odd turn of phrase that catches his attention for a reason he cannot put a finger on). Five paces wide and three paces long, it's furnished with a single pallet for a bed, a toilet and a sink. He takes care of his body's natural hygiene requirements, then lays down on the pallet.
He feigns sleep for hours in case anyone is watching (he knows they are watching), then rolls to his side with his face to the wall as if to seek a more comfortable position. His arm falls in front of him.
With his body shielding his movements, he lets his fingers drift to the wall. There, scratched in the cinderblock in the same blocky handwriting he sees in his own equations, someone has written names.
STEVE ROGERS BUCKY BARNES
They are not coming for you, Baron Strucker had said, and perhaps it's true. The names mean less than nothing to him, a message from a stranger.
Only... they are all he has to comfort him through the night.
There is no light in the room to see the first name, STEVE ROGERS. The Mechanic traces it with his fingers. Silently, his lips form the name as he turns it over and over in his head.
And he remembers.
"STEVE!" Bucky screams, a desperate and lost sound as chunks of concrete rain down all around them.
Tony turns in place, his suit scanning for infrared heat signatures, but there's too much falling debris. Please don't still be on the second floor, Winghead.
A thick block of concrete clips Bucky's shoulder, sending him to his knees. The HUD screams warnings in Tony's face -- the entire East Wing of the building is falling around their ears.
But Bucky's struggling to his feet, calling Steve's name and trying to go back despite it being suicide between tons of collapsing concrete and a platoon of HYDRA soldiers the next floor up.
Wrapping a hand around Bucky's arm, Tony targets his repulsers forward and fires. The kickback sends them shooting out the side entrance through broken out windows to the outside just as support beams crash down.
Bucky yells again -- another choked cry for Steve -- and Tony feels the same, feels his heart tearing in half. He still doesn't let go, though. It takes all the suit's strength to hold Bucky back.
"Bucky, and I can't believe I'm the one saying this, we have to fall back and regroup. Bucky! Robocop! Listen to me!"
He's not ready for Bucky's snarled curse and the way he twists out of Tony's grasp, the metal fist striking his faceplate square-on. The first hit actually knocks Tony back a step, suit and all. The second cracks the HUD display.
Bucky's face is twisted in pain, his eyes hostile -- all the warmth and friendship and the hint of something more they've built over the last few months, gone.
"What happened to your all clear?" Bucky demands. "We were sitting ducks in there!"
"I--" he falters. Knows he messed up, big time. "Nothing showed on my scans. HYDRA must have found a way to shield themselves." Or circumvented JARVIS, which was more disturbing.
"Just a man in a can, huh?" The disgust on Bucky's face cuts deep. "Thanks to you, if Steve's alive, he's trapped in there with who knows how many HYDRA agents and Baron fucking Strucker."
Tony knows that already, and Bucky's frustration's not helping. His fear turns to anger. "What do you want? An apology?"
"I don't want nothing from you," Bucky growls. "I'm getting him out of there."
"What, alone? Planning a one man crusade?"
"Looks like it." Bucky palms away the blood from his temple with one hand, checks the firearm at his side with the other. "Go do something useful, Stark. Get outta here and call for back up."
The other Avengers are hours away at best. This "mission" wasn't supposed to be one at all -- just a shakedown to get Bucky used to working in a team again. Coulson's intel messed up big time.
But it was Tony's job to check it. He did. Obviously, he missed something.
Tony shakes his head. "Nope, not happening. I'm not leaving."
"And I'm not leaving Steve alone with Baron Strucker for one second longer than I have to." The fear in Bucky's eyes is vivid, speaking of horrors Tony can only guess at. He turns away to walk back to the half-collapsed building.
"Wait. I'm coming with you," Tony says. The cracked HUD flashes armor integrity warnings. The suit has seen better days, and flying capabilities are shot without major work, but it should hold up in a fight. Maybe.
Bucky pauses, looks over his shoulder. "You know this is a trap, Tony."
"It's a trap with your name on it," Tony corrects. "You're right -- this was my bad. But Bucky... I can't lose both of you. I can't."
He's not sure if Bucky doesn't understand exactly what he's saying, or worse, he understands, but doesn't care. His face is that blank mask again -- the Winter Soldier's mask. He doesn't nod, just turns and continues back to the building.
He doesn't object as Tony joins him.
Instead of the usual tests to complete, the Mechanic is presented with a set of blueprints.
"You will build a miniaturized version of this arc reactor," Strucker says.
The Mechanic scans the blueprints, looking for the deception he's come to expect. The trick. He sees nothing. The schematics described on the blueprints are complex; it is a theoretical energy source. And there again is blocky handwriting. Similar, but not quite the same as in his own penmanship. The signature of the draftee is stamped 'Howard Stark' in the upper corner. The Mechanic knows better than to comment on that, and asks instead, "What is the required energy output?"
Strucker tells him.
The Mechanic studies the schematics again. "It can't be done."
The entire room goes quiet. Tense. But Strucker only says, "I assure you, it has been miniaturized before."
In answer, the Mechanic takes a pen, crosses out the errors he sees, and starts to rebalance the equations. Howard Stark has been operating on several faulty assumptions. The version the arc reactor presents on the blueprints might-- might-- power a large scale reactor, at a significant loss of energy. A miniaturized version would need to be much more efficient.
When he is done, he slides the blueprints back across the table. Baron Strucker doesn't do more than glance at them.
He doesn't understand, sneers a thought in the Mechanic's head -- one that sounds very much like the alive man in his memories. Tony.
"You will be given the tools and materials to build the reactor," Strucker says.
So, the Mechanic begins to build. The task should be a challenge, but it is one his fingers already know. He knows the amounts and chemical solutions required to jumpstart the palladium-based fusion reactor without having to check his work.
I've done this before.
The thought is so surprising he nearly stumbles in measuring out sodium oxide -- which would have been disastrous for all in the room.
A few technicians flick glances at him, and he gets himself back under control. But as he works, he thinks again of the men in his memories. And he remembers.
Bucky's unconscious body is heavy, and Steve, injured and dazed, isn't much help. The armor's half-dead, a dozen warnings still flickering on the cracked HUD.
Tony trudges on. The water in the sewers is thigh-high, and probably doing ugly things to Steve's injuries. The last thing Tony wants is to set Bucky down in it, but the suit's rapidly losing power, and his arms are burning from the strain as the hydraulics start to fail. He needs to stop.
Steve, the stubborn, beautiful bastard, is too proud and determined to make a noise of complaint, even though he's bleeding in half a dozen places.
His rescue hadn't been pretty.
Steve makes a wordless murmur of worry when Tony sets Bucky down on a relatively dry rise.
Limping forward, Steve presses his fingers against Bucky's throat and lets out a relieved sigh when he finds a pulse.
"He's fine." The microphone is staticy, so Tony flips up his cracked faceplate. "The last scan I did before the sensors went out showed the bleeding was slowing." Bucky had taken three bullets to the chest covering them both while Tony got Steve free of the restraints. One had definitely hit a lung, and the blood loss alone would have killed a normal man. Super soldier serum was a hell of a thing.
Steve frowns and rubs at his cut forehead with the side of an arm. "It's not going to take them long to start searching for us down here."
If they haven't already. More than once, Tony thought he caught voices down side-tunnels.
"Steve," he says, "if I were in charge, I wouldn't waste my time with a search. I'd flood the tunnels and flush us out. If that happens, Bucky's in no condition to swim, and my suit will float like a stone."
Steve frowns, but he doesn't argue. "Do you have an idea?"
"Someone needs to go back and give them a distraction."
Steve's a smart guy. He pegs onto Tony's meaning immediately. "No."
"If your suit's malfunctioning, you have no business going back. Whatever happens next, we'll face it together."
Tony meets his eyes. "If HYDRA gets their hands on Bucky again, it'll destroy him."
"He's stronger than that--"
"--And if they get their hands on you, they'll have everything they need to make another Winter Soldier."
"What about you?" Steve demands, and he looks magnificent when he's pissed. Tony's always thought so. Flushed in all the right places.
Tony taps his armor plated torso, right where the arc reactor used to be. "Don't count me out. I've got some tricks up my sleeve."
He's heard that so many times in his life he's lost count. And whatever Steve wants to say next, Tony doesn't let him get to it. He hauls Steve in and kisses him.
It's a dick move -- even he knows that. Steve and Bucky are starting something between them, and the last thing either of them need is his inconvenient crushes to throw a wrench in it. But he knows the odds, and they say he isn't coming out of this alive.
Steve's mouth is firm and unmoving with shock -- but then something shifts. Opens. Steve kisses him back, just as hard, just as angry and fierce.
It's Tony who ends up pulling away, and he doesn't miss the flash of guilt on Steve's face, or how his eyes flick to Bucky's unconscious body.
Tony nips that right in the bud. He rests his gauntleted hand on Bucky's forehead, brushing a lock of hair back. "I'd kiss him too, to prove a point, but he kinda hates me right now for getting you in danger."
Steve grips him hard, pulls him close. His eyes flash. "If you think I'm letting you go off, now--"
"Cap, you've got to get him out of here." Tony takes a breath and steady's himself. He's not one to use the L-word, but he's never been above being a manipulative bastard when it's for the greater good. "If you love him... if you love us, you'll do this."
Steve stares. "That's not fair."
"I know." He pats his hand, and gently pulls himself free. "Sorry, not sorry." But Tony knows he's won. Yay. Score one for hollow victory.
Before he can turn away, Steve grabs him, hauls him back. In his Iron Man suit, they're the same height.
"When we all get back home, we're talking about this," Steve says.
Tony feels the corner of his lip quirk in a half smile. "I'm honestly looking forward to it."
The man who had been alive in his head -- the man who had given up everything to see two others find happiness -- did not believe HYDRA is working for a new peace.
And now, neither does the Mechanic.
It's a work of moments to sabotage the miniature arc-reactor to overload once it reaches a certain energy output. But Strucker and his technicians do not test the miniature arc reactor immediately. (Amateurs, again sneers the long-dead echo of Tony Stark. Little boys trying to play in the big leagues. I built Mark 1 in a cave. They think just because they put me in the electric chair a few times, I won't do it again?)
Perhaps Tony Stark is onto something, because the next day, the Mechanic is led to a new room. In a corner, hung up to stand like a decoration piece -- a war prize -- is an Iron Man armor.
"Iron Man, Mark 51," the Mechanic intones, just as he's been conditioned to do when presented with any new weapon. "Titanium alloy exoskeleton equipped with five unibeam repulsers for defense." He pauses. "What are my orders?"
"Very good," Strucker says, and gestures to the armor. "This model is equipped with several security measures to restrict access. You are to bypass them, and repair it into working order."
The torso of the armor is split down the middle, as if wrenched apart. The pilot inside had been forcefully removed.
The Mechanic tries not to look hard at it as he gets to work. He is closely monitored at first, but when half the day is gone the technicians around him are less attentive.
The Mechanic activates a small, hidden switch on the inside of the helmet: a homing beacon. The frequency output is subtle to avoid detection, and won't show up until the armor is taken out of this shielded building, but it is a start.
He does not expect the technicians to attempt to plug in the faulty arc reactor into the armor so soon. They did it while the Mechanic was resting in his cell -- had he been there, he would have found a way to stop them, for the armor's sake if not for the doomed HYDRA pilot inside it.
Instead, he is awoken from a troubled sleep by a resounding BOOM that shakes the entire building. The Mechanic knows at once what has happened -- the mini arc-reactor detonated. The Iron Man armor has been destroyed.
His only regret is that he was not in the room to see their faces when it happened.
It's Baron Strucker who comes to his cell less than an hour later. His face is stormy, and there is a slight burn reddening one side of his face. He seems almost too angry to speak, and finally spits out, "Why?"
The Mechanic looks at Strucker and summons up the ghost of the man in his memories, his arrogant smile. "Steve Rogers," he recites. "Bucky Barnes. Pepper Potts--"
Strucker whirls to the guards. "Wipe him. We will begin again."
One of the guards steps forward. The Mechanic grabs him by the throat and tosses him a full body length away as if he weighed less than nothing. Odd. Tony Stark had never been able to do that.
But for all his strength, he has been conditioned for months not to fight back. To take any punishment without flinching, or raise a hand to protect himself. Even though he is stronger, he is forced down the hall, still defiantly screaming the names on the list.
And an odd thing happens: it is as if speaking the names aloud are a key to a door opening in his broken psyche.
Fragments of memories come back to him, cascading through his mind in scattered flashes.
Steve smiling down at him, his face smudged with grime from fighting the Chitauri. He looks like everything the nineteen forties propaganda posters promised, and more. Tony's heart skips a beat.
Bucky Barnes throwing back his head and laughing at a completely inappropriate joke -- he has the worst sense of humor, Tony doesn't know why Steve puts up with the both of them.
Pepper Potts sitting across a boardroom table. They've managed to outmaneuver a scheming investor, and the results had been so sweet... nearly as sweet and wicked as her smile.
When he meets Rhodey, his first week of MIT, Tony had been only fifteen and so young and alone. The ROTC freshmen throws an arm around Tony's shoulder and pulls him in for a bro-hug.
Bruce handing him coffee, his smile shy and sly all at the same time while he explains an unusual result in a test they've been working on.
Natasha clinking her beer against Tony's glass of fruit smoothie. They sot and watch a movie in comfortable silence, her head against his shoulder.
The first time he finds Clint in the vents... Tony climbs up to join him, and they talk the best angles for sniping while Tony drew new designs for specialized arrowheads in the dust coating the air duct.
Flying side-by-side with Thor, lightning snapping around them and Thor's laughter booming like thunder.
And he remembers screaming their names just like this, when they dragged him to be wiped before -- names he scratched into the wall with his own fingernails. Bloody fingertips that healed as fast as Steve and Bucky's ever did. He knows what HYDRA was making him into, knows what the injections are preparing him for. Oh God, don't let me forget them...
But he had. He will again.
The guards force the Mechanic into the chair, secure his arms down with metal straps. Someone shoves a mouth guard between his teeth, muffling the names.
He hears Strucker say, "Increase the amperage by twenty percent. This time, you will target a wider swath of his memory-pathways."
"But sir," one of the technician's object, "the chance for serious scarring--"
"The level of serum he has in his system by now should protect his cognitive abilities. Do it."
The chair tilts back, and the muffled names become screams as pure electricity arcs through his brain. The names fade, and the screams are all he knows, until he knows nothing at all.
One day, the Mechanic is led into a new room. He sees metal alloy parts piled in a corner, a gold faceplate on top like a headstone. After several minutes of examination, he is able to identify the pieces. "Iron Man armor, Mark unknown. Titanium alloy exoskeleton equipped with five unibeam repulsers for defense." He pauses. "What are my orders?"
"Your task is to repair it into working order," Strucker says. There is strain around his eyes, and the Mechanic does not know why.
There is damage to many of the parts, as if the armor had been caught in an explosion. Quietly and efficiently, the Mechanic goes to work by dividing the salvageable pieces from the unsalvageable.
Later, he finds a switch which may function as a low frequency homing beacon nestled in the remains of the cracked helmet. It has been activated, though in this shielded building it is of no consequence. His fingers hover over the switch to deactivate it.
He sets the helmet aside, untouched. His orders are to repair the Iron Man armor back into working condition, so that is what he will do. No more, no less.
He works and remembers nothing.
"It has been nearly three weeks. This is progress. Wipe him, let us begin again."
"What are my orders?"
"Design a functional energy gun with this mini-arc reactor as its power source."
"We've had these small successes, but I sense he's holding back. Wipe him again."
"What are my orders?"
"Create a blade sharp enough to cut through a Vibranium alloy shield."
The Mechanic is awoken from a fitful sleep by shouted voices in the hallway outside his cell. He rises to his feet and stands at attention, awaiting his orders.
The door opens, and it is not Baron Strucker. The man is unfamiliar. Tall, broad shoulders, and a shock of blonde hair peeping out of a blue cowl. The rest of him is dressed in red, white, and blue, but the Mechanic's eyes fall to the shield clutched in his right hand. It is some kind of weapon, but he cannot determine the alloy by sight, and a wrong description will incur punishment.
"What are my orders?" the Mechanic asks by rote.
The man's mouth drops open. "Tony?"
'Tony' is not an order. The Mechanic is not certain how to respond, so he says nothing.
The man takes a step forward, one hand outstretched. "Tony, is that really you...?"
Another man appears in the doorway. He is a touch shorter than the first, brown hair, not so gaudily dressed. The weapon by his side is easy to distinguish.
"STARK semi-automatic, P99," the Mechanic says, then hesitates as he realizes the man's arm has a glint to it -- more than that, it's a metal arm, though the blood on it is quite fresh.
"Shit," the new man says succinctly. His gray-blue eyes hold an emotion the Mechanic cannot identify. Something akin to sorrow, perhaps.
There is an explosion and a distant scream down the hallway.
"Buck, we have to get him out of here," the blond says. He reaches for the Mechanic, but the Mechanic steps back, confused. They've brought nothing for him to fix or identify.
"Don't, Captain," the one with the metal arm says to the blond. "Look at him. You know what they've done. He doesn't know if this is a rescue or if we're testing his loyalty."
The brown haired man steps into his cell, and something about his posture -- the edge of authority, makes the Mechanic straighten again.
"Who is your handler?" the man asks.
The man's lips twitch into a mirthless smile. "Well, he's not gonna be a problem anymore."
The Mechanic glances at the blood splattering the man's metal arm, and feels neither relief nor fear. Only curiosity. "Are you my new handler?"
"No, but they called me the Soldier, once. What do they call you?"
"The Mechanic." Feeling unsure, almost desperate, he asks again, "What are my orders?"
The Captain makes a low groan, as if pained. Both the Mechanic and the Soldier ignore him.
"No more orders," the Soldier says. "Steve and I didn't fight through an army of HYDRA goons just to order you around."
The name triggers something. "Steve Rogers," the Mechanic intones.
The Captain's face lights up. "That's right."
But the Mechanic isn't done, and once he starts it's like he can't stop. "Bucky Barnes. Pepper Potts. Rhodey." His hands are shaking, and he is not certain why. "Natasha Romanoff. Clint Barton. Thor." He takes a breath, glances over his shoulder to the list, and starts again. "Steve Rogers. Bucky Barnes. Pepper Potts..."
The Soldier walks past him and pulls the pallet away from the wall. His shoulders tense as he discovers the list etched in the cinderblock.
The Mechanic trails off and looks away, awaiting his punishment.
The touch under his jaw is soft, and his chin is tilted up to look into the Soldier's knowing eyes.
"I know this doesn't make a whole lotta sense right now," the Soldier says, "but we're here to help. If you come with us, no one will hurt you anymore."
"Can you do that?" the Captain asks. There's earnestness in his eyes. "Can you trust us? Please?"
All the Mechanic can remember are orders. To be asked to make a decision for himself is... new. And terrifying. He's not sure what to do, how to respond.
The Captain's warm hand slides to the top of the Mechanic's shoulder and squeezes. It should make him feel threatened -- Baron Strucker and the technicians only touched him to administer injections and punishment -- but he feels his muscles relax.
"C'mon Tony," the Captain says, solid and reassuring, "let's go home."
He is transported to a shining tower in the middle of a city, and is told that it bares his surname.
Endless streams of well-wishers visit him while he spends weeks in medical, recovering lost muscle mass and relearning to eat solid food. Some have tears in their eyes, and all exclaim how much he was missed. How glad they are he is back.
If they're not on the list, he doesn't even know their names.
There is an advanced AI installed within the building he is told that he built, and speaks to him with a familiarity that is disturbing, rather than comforting.
And the face that looks back at him in the mirror can't be more than twenty-five years old. He is told he has lived nearly twice that.
"You were given a version of the super soldier serum," says Bruce Banner, who had been forth down on the list. "I can only assume it was to help buffer your brain while they, um, targeted specific spots relating to memory."
"They had to burn away my memories to control me, but I was no good brain damaged."
Bruce's lips pull down in the corner. "Yes."
Stop with the sad face, Jolly Green. Everyone wants to find the fountain of youth, right? The thought hits the Mechanic out of nowhere. He blinks and looks away without giving it voice.
"My inventions," he says instead, "The weapons I created for HYDRA..."
That's not my name. "How many people were killed with my tech?"
"Hey," Bruce's voice is very soft. "It wasn't your fault."
That is no answer, though the Mechanic is not sure he disagrees. If he ever disobeyed Baron Strucker, they'd punish him and reset his memories so he became pliable again. Any choice had been taken from him. However, the Mechanic has observed from the video recordings that Tony Stark dedicated the last years of his life to ensuring his inventions were no longer used to cause others harm. Iron Man was to be the last weapon he created.
In some ways, it was. But he doubts Tony Stark would have found that comforting.
"May I go?" the Mechanic asks, hopping off the medical table.
Bruce frowns, but says, "You're always free to leave." He gestures to the door which had been left open -- the Mechanic has spent too many nights alone in his tiny cell to feel easy about being locked in somewhere again. "You never have to ask."
But he does. He can't bring himself to leave a room without being dismissed. And his bed -- Tony's bed -- is too soft to sleep in. The Mechanic rests in the overly large bathtub at night.
HYDRA beat and starved him, took away his memories, twisted him into something of their own design -- he knows this -- but there had at least been order in his life. He had known what to expect on a daily basis.
Later, he finds himself out on the roof, his arms resting on the guardrail, when the penthouse door swooshes open, and he hears footsteps approach.
"If you jump, I'm just gonna have to jump after you, Rose."
The Mechanic doesn't bother to turn. He knows who it is -- he's even a little glad to find him here. The Soldier knows what he's been through. The Mechanic was in HYDRA's hands for just over a year, the Soldier nearly seventy.
The Soldier joins him, shrugging. "Beat's me. It's your dumb joke."
They return to looking out over the bustling city vista. "If I jump," the Mechanic says after a moment, "JARVIS will deploy Mark fifty-three. I won't hit ground."
"You're a smart guy," the Soldier says, leaning his elbows on the railing. "I'm sure you've figured how to bypass JARVIS's programming."
Uncomfortable, the Mechanic changes the subject. "How did you find me?"
"I've been out here a few times myself." The Soldier's lip twitches. "From up here, the city looks kinda... orderly, you think? Calming."
It does. He can spend hours watching the flow of traffic from ninety-four stories up, the progression of cars and people like so many ants. But that's not what the Mechanic had meant. "No, how did you find me before? The HYDRA base was in the middle of the Mongolian desert. Their computer systems were--" protected by his design, though he does not remember doing it "--shielded. How did you finally locate me?"
The Soldier shrugs again. "You showed us the way."
"What?" He blinks.
"You activated a homing beacon in the Iron Man suit. When they launched it against the city... well, after we sent it packing, the signal drew us right back to their base. You're the one who got yourself out."
He hopes that's true, because it means he was able to resist in some small way. But... "I don't remember."
The Soldier's smile is knowing. "Yeah. Get used to that."
The Mechanic thinks about the videos he's been shown over the last few weeks. The brash, quick-talking man who he had apparently been. "What are the chances I'll get my memories back?" he asks, because the Soldier is the only one around here who will give him a straight answer without any forced optimism.
"Fair to good. I did--still filling in some holes, but... There will be bad days. Real bad days. Sometimes you may even take your anger out on the wrong people--" The Soldier stops, takes a deep breath, and rubs his nose. "But you aren't ready to hear that apology yet."
The Mechanic glances at him, notes his handsome profile in the setting sun. "You can get a head start," he drawls.
The Soldier snorts. But when he looks sidelong at the Mechanic, what he says is, "Just remember, I wasn't the first they took, and you probably won't be the last. They've had decades to figure out how to break good men."
"I was a good man?"
"You were an asshole," the Soldier says, with bluntness he can appreciate. "But yeah. You were one of the best of us."
The Mechanic shifts his weight and resists the strong urge to drum his fingers on the railing. Back in the HYDRA base, fidgeting was not allowed, and it's surprising to find how quickly he falls into that bad habit. Whether it be for HYDRA or the Avengers, his fingers itch to create, to rebuild and make better. "Your name was at the top of my list, side-by-side with Steve Rogers. What did that mean?"
"Personally, I think it means all three of us were idiots," says a new voice, behind them.
The Mechanic glances back, takes in their visitor, and the words come before he has time to think about how they sound so very much like a man now gone. "Private balcony, Captain. Only former HYDRA tools allowed."
The Captain smiles slightly, but he still joins them, and the Mechanic doesn't object. He feels warmer with the Captain there. Centered. Together, on the balcony, they form a triangle. If one were to fall, the other two were there to pick him up.
"Tony," the Captain says, "you should know that Bucky and I have done a lot of talking while you were away."
The Mechanic looks from one to another. And although his memory is a black hole, the looks in both of their eyes tell him enough of what those conversations were about.
He still is a genius, after all.
The Mechanic shakes his head. "Tony Stark is--" dead, he thinks but he does catch a glimpse of his ghost now and again. He changes track. "Don't wait for him to come back."
To his surprise, the Soldier grips the Mechanic's hand and brings it up to brush his knuckles against his lips. "I know a little 'bout what that's like, doll."
The Captain's smile is a touch sad, but he says, "You'll be whoever you need to be... and when you're ready, we'll be here for you. Both of us." He takes the Mechanic's hand from the Soldier, and kisses the same spot, his eyes never breaking gaze.
It sends a shiver down the Mechanic's spine, and for a moment he remembers a desperate press against his lips.
Cap... If you love him... If you love us...
When we all get back home, we're talking about this.
"Okay," the Mechanic says. And no, he isn't home, yet. Not really. Not where it counts. But looking at
the Soldier and the Captain Bucky and Steve, he thinks that, in time, he could be.
~ Fin ~