The Winter Soldier has a problem. It is red, white, and blue, 188 cm tall and 115 kilos in the reinforced suit, and clings to his back like a limpet.
An eye-catching, aggressively friendly limpet, to top it all off.
"Not now, America," he hisses. He shifts his grip on the APB and counts bullets, not bothering to glance around the corner. There's no light, anyway: his first action when the situation fell to shit was to shoot out the overheads. Three targets left – judging by trajectory – one reload. Not normally a crisis. But.
He has no idea who's shooting at him, only that the op's gone awry and his pickup is dead. And those who made him dead do not appear to serve American interests.
Captain America slurs something unintelligible, and cuddles closer. He buries his nose in the back of the Winter Soldier's coat collar. One arm snakes around his middle, and holds on.
"Bucky," he says, for the fourth or fifth time.
"I should have terminated you in Gothenburg," the Winter Soldier sighs.
* * *
In Gothenburg he did not engage. It was not his business to engage. The mandate was clear: infiltrate the facility and retrieve the contents of refrigeration units 16, 19, and 52. If possible, destroy the remainder. Do not raise the alarm. Do not be traced. Leave no witnesses alive.
There were no witnesses. HYDRA's personnel was otherwise occupied. Captain America and SHIELD came swarming in the front door as the Winter Soldier slipped out the back, and within half an hour the ex-pharmaceutical plant went up in an acrid-smelling chemical explosion.
He got a visual, right before tailing it out of Dodge: a flash of blue, and the glint of metal flying through the air.
He was not happy about having to improvise. The faulty pre-op intel – an entire super-powered SHIELD raid, really? – was nothing short of dangerous. On the bright side, no one was going to come looking for their missing bio-weapon samples. Leontiev's fly-by-night organization had managed to beard HYDRA in its den and walk away with the goods. The Winter Soldier was willing to chalk it up as a win.
The client put paid to that. As always.
"He's not the original Captain America," the Winter Soldier said. "Captain America hasn't been active since the War, and nobody's heard of this guy before he got on TV. The original would be over ninety by now."
He knew it was a lost cause before he opened his mouth. Leontiev looked monomaniacal. Lots 19 and 52 had not performed to expectations.
"So much the better," he said. "Don't you see what that means? It means they finally reproduced Erskine's serum."
"Give me worthwhile intel, not hypotheses," said the Winter Soldier. "The floor plan of another HYDRA plant. OK. A SHIELD medical facility. OK. But taking blood from Captain America is not like taking it from a refrigerator."
Leontiev only showed his teeth. "Oh, there are other ways," he said. "Don't worry. All you'll have to do is watch the exits."
The Winter Soldier could have done with fewer mad scientists in his life.
* * *
By the time they get to the safe house – the Winter Soldier's own, not Leontiev's, because Leontiev's people are not answering their phones – Captain America is in very bad shape. The Winter Soldier knows this because once they get clear of their pursuers, he tries to blend them unobtrusively into the high street crowd as they walk, and Captain America tries to push him against the nearest wall and kiss him. Repeatedly.
The third time it happens, the Winter Soldier maneuvres them into the mouth of a nearby alley, rolling so that it's Captain America pressed against the brick and not him. America stares at him hazily, and trembles. He doesn't seem as hypersensitive to light and sound as he was earlier, but his colour is high. The Winter Soldier can feel him burning up, right through the stolen trench coat and battle suit and whatever he has on underneath.
He can feel something else through those layers, too, and that can not be comfortable.
"Keep it together, America," he says. "We have to get off the street. Don't draw attention. Do you understand?"
He would bet money America doesn't understand what year it is. His blue eyes rove hungrily over the Winter Soldier's face. So much for secret identities – but he'll have to deal with that eventuality as it comes. It's not like they can stroll down Bahnhofstrasse in masked regalia.
"I thought you were dead," Captain America whispers.
He is, as the youth of his country would say, tripping balls.
"You're thinking of someone else," the Winter Soldier says, as kindly as he can. It does not seem productive to encourage this delusion. But the other man only shakes his head.
"I saw you fall," he says. "Bucky, I–" He stops, takes a deep, shuddery breath. "There's something wrong with me. I can't think. She did something – that girl–"
His hips hitch upward, and he breaks off with a gasp. The Winter Soldier tries to pull away, put a few inches between them. He thinks it is probably inadvisable to enjoy this. For one thing, if reports are correct, any biochemical cocktail that has an effect this long-lasting on Captain America's physiology is liable to kill him.
"We have to keep moving," he says. "It's not far."
"I want to touch you," says Captain America. His eyes slide closed and he leans forward, into the Winter Soldier's space. "I need it. Please."
They end up walking the rest of the way hand in hand, pressed close to each other's side: warm fingers locked around gloved metal. They get looks, of course. The Winter Soldier smirks back; yes, isn't he, he tries to convey, and hands off, I saw him first. Any impression except the right one.
* * *
It wasn't that Captain America had no tradecraft; merely that his comings and goings were remarked upon. He was in Zurich conspicuously, under guise of a security conference. Leontiev sent a henchwoman accordingly, under guise of an underworld defector. She had an inert sample of HYDRA #19 to back up her cover story, plus an aerosolized solution of #16 and a biopsy kit for the actual mission. The Winter Soldier's role was to disable SHIELD's security perimeter and make sure they weren't interrupted.
"The girl will handle the rest," Leontiev said, leering in textbook fashion. "Captain America is a man, after all, with the foibles of a man; if all goes well, he may not even notice anything out of the ordinary."
So, of course, within ten minutes the bedroom door exploded outward into the hotel suite proper, taking a good chunk of the partition with it.
Amateur hour. He could do with less of that too.
Captain America appeared at the hole in the wall, shirt untucked and wild-eyed. He was wearing his battle suit under civilian clothes, but the headgear was off, and without it he was arrestingly beautiful: azure-eyed and golden-haloed, like a rumpled avenging angel. He held his shield in an attack stance, and when he saw the Winter Soldier he launched it at him.
The Winter Soldier ducked, then rolled to avoid the ricochet. He didn't stop to wonder how he knew where the ricochet would come from, just took a flying leap and knocked Captain America down before he could catch it again. They went rolling over the floor, clutching and jabbing and trying to put the other in a stranglehold. Captain America was strong, and the Winter Soldier had a dicey moment or three before the other man stopped trying to crush his windpipe, grip going slack with surprise.
"Bucky?" he said.
The Winter Soldier took the opportunity to flip them and drive his metal arm into Captain America's throat, using his full inertia as leverage to pin him. The other man struggled to breathe, hands coming up to ward him off, but seemed oddly uninterested in pushing him away.
The Winter Soldier gave it a few seconds, then took the pressure down a notch, out of sheer curiosity. "Who the hell is Bucky?"
Captain America stared up at him, seemingly thrown by the question. His pupils were extremely dilated.
"You are," he said. "Bucky, it's me. Steve. How did you get here? I thought–"
He broke off, on a surprised stutter of breath. The Winter Soldier had leant forward again to cut off his air, since this line of conversation was clearly unproductive, but something about the reaction gave him pause. Then he realized that he was half lying on top of the man, and his leg was – well.
The girl was supposed to handle the rest.
She'd decamped as soon as they'd started fighting; he could see the biopsy kit out of the corner of his eye, abandoned in the midst of the mess of wood and plaster.
Captain America was still looking at him, breathing hard and getting more unfocussed by the second. There were spots of colour high on his cheeks.
"Bucky," he said, "your arm, it's..." His hand closed around the Winter Soldier's metal wrist. Not a struggle, but an exploratory caress, between glove and coat sleeve. The Winter Soldier reacted defensively anyway, out of reflex, jerking out of his grip.
It was a tactical error. His weight shifted and Captain America shuddered under him, going boneless.
"That feels fantastic," he said, dreamily.
Upon which, of course, the shooting downstairs started.
* * *
The safe house is small, a one-room apartment, and cold. The Winter Soldier turns the heat up, tweaks the curtains aside so he can see the street, and tries to call for pickup again. There's still no answer.
It doesn't feel right.
The easiest option, at this point, is to write off the operation. He's disabled the tracker SHIELD placed on Captain America, but that buys him only limited time, and the Winter Soldier cannot afford a direct confrontation. SHIELD is well placed to tie a man to a rumour, or a legend; they have plenty of both in their ranks.
But he still has the biopsy kit in his coat pocket. And if Leontiev has merely gone to ground for some reason, the Winter Soldier is still required to complete his mission.
What would he do if Leontiev's organization were compromised?
Move on, he supposes. Go to ground for a while. Keep the goods for resale value, as long as they don't become too hot to handle.
Only – Leontiev hasn't been paying him, has he?
Where was he before this?
The Winter Soldier passes a hand over his eyes. Then he takes the biopsy kit and moves over to the bed.
Captain America is curled in on himself on top of the bedspread, looking simultaneously miserable and like a blue-film dream. He's gotten the costume mostly off, and the under layer as well, though the bottom half is tangled around one ankle. He has one hand around himself, stroking – and wasn't that an impressive sight – but not with intent; more like he's trying to hold off altogether, and failing. His other wrist is at his mouth, muffling any sound. Eyes glazed, blond hair darkening with sweat. His hips are canted up, and the sight of that long curve of spine elicits a limbic response from the Winter Soldier, a dangerous, sympathetic tug of arousal he tries to ignore.
It's not the best situation. Too many unknowns. He should take his damned samples now and leave him to it. But they've been here for twenty minutes, and as far as he can tell, Captain America is getting nowhere but lost in his own head.
He doesn't even react as the Winter Soldier sits down by him.
"Steve," the Winter Soldier tries, and that works; the other man's gaze flickers over and focusses on him, as natural as breathing.
"Bucky," he sighs. His hand stutters, then starts to move again, more steadily.
The Winter Soldier thinks this Bucky, whoever he is or was, must've woken up every morning feeling like he won the lottery. "Sure, that's me," he says. He reaches out and untangles the blue fabric, drops it over the side.
Captain America – Steve, he may as well make this easier – shakes his head. "I'm sorry," he says, vaguely.
"For what? You're drugged out of your mind."
"You always take care of me," says Steve. "And I – couldn't – I'm sorry."
The Winter Soldier processes this. He wraps a hand around Steve's ankle, carefully, grounding them both. "Do I take care of you when you're like this?"
"I don't know," Steve says, which is no good answer to a yes/no question. "I wanted to..." The Winter Soldier watches him fight for focus for a long moment, trying to put the pieces together.
"It wouldn't be right," he says, finally. "You don't remember."
He sounds so certain that it prickles down the Winter Soldier's back – you don't remember – at the same time as he's struck by the comedy of the situation: Steve is worried about doing the right thing.
"You're a real boy scout," he says, "but your logic is off. You let me decide what I want, okay?" Then, because he's not sure that one filters through, "Steve. Do you trust me?"
Steve nods to that, pretty much immediately. His eyes are very blue.
The Winter Soldier sets the biopsy kit on the night stand. He puts one hand on Steve's shoulder and leans in.
It's immediately good. Electric, even. Steve tastes like sweat and sunshine, salt-sweet, and he kisses like he's fully present, even if he doesn't really know what he's doing. The Winter Soldier breaks away from it and touches his lips to his forehead, the flushed curve of his ear, to reassure him without words that he's coming out of it all right. Lets himself be pulled down to the bed, and lets their legs tangle together; lets Steve pull off his shirt and nuzzle into his collarbone, work his fingers into the cropped hair at the back of his nape. Caresses that he doesn't allow, with casual lovers, because they engender a gap in defenses.
For the time being, he finds, he wants to be the person Steve thinks he is: the trusted one. The one who took care of him, whom Steve wanted. Who is probably dead, one way or the other.
When he gets his hand around Steve the other man makes a tiny sighing sound and pushes up, into the Winter Soldier's fist. He's perfect, hot and hard and so wet, and easy like anything: it doesn't take much at all to tip him over the edge, as if he were waiting for just that, to be touched by him, as if nothing else would do.
* * *
Afterward he slips into sleep, seamlessly, like a patient whose fever has broken. The Winter Soldier holds him with his human arm, casually combing a hand through strands of golden blond hair.
He has a few minutes left to think, by his estimate, and so he does. Carefully, weighing his information and his options.
Eventually he gets up, cleans up, pulls a blanket over Steve's prone form. As his next-to-last action, he re-enables the tracker embedded in Steve's suit.
Steve barely stirs, even as the needle pierces the crook of his arm. But his lips curve a little, artlessly, when the Winter Soldier brushes a kiss there (there is no blood; the mark shrinks and disappears).
To be effective, leverage has to be real. But he fancies there will be no resale.
"I'll see you around, detka," he whispers. "I have some questions to answer."