There are faces around him, faces with no features. Blank masks of stretched skin that glow white in the florescent lights. The machine is behind him. He can smell it, smell the electric tang of it just before it roasts the skin over his eye, over his chest. He doesn’t want it. He never wanted it. He grips blindly, finds a knife in his hand, and slashes out at those horrible empty faces.
The knife sinks home and Bucky becomes aware of distant shouting.
Shouting? Red alert? Maybe they’ll kill him this time, let him be free of this machine.
The smell of copper floods his nose and he blinks down at the body, the body that now has a face. Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god.
He looks up and finds himself in the tower, Steve approaching at a near run, Natasha hot on Steve’s heels, Sam behind her, and then the rest. All the rest. And below him, Tony, hand pressed below the knife sunk deep into his torso.
There’s a high-pitched whining in Bucky’s ears, a keening scream that grows louder and louder. He stumbles back, staring down at his own hands, horrified to see he hasn’t even bloodied himself. Only Tony. Only Tony’s the one who’s bleeding. Too much blood.
Bucky can’t seem to stop himself. He stumbles back and back again, eyes fixed on the hilt of the knife, the black grooves that have worn into the shape of his palm. He did that. He…
Bruce is at Tony’s side, nostrils flaring but hands steady, and Sam is beside him with a med kit, already yanking out everything they’ll need, tearing plastic packages and snapping on gloves. Natasha and Steve are both standing, staring. Bucky can feel their eyes, can feel them.
He turns and runs, ignoring Steve’s shout behind him. It doesn’t matter. All the words melt and reform in his head. Monster. Monster monster monster.
When next he becomes aware of himself, he’s in Hulk’s holding cell, pressed into the deepest, smallest space he can find. The soft, giant beanbag is to one side of him, a counter to the other, and after a moment, he realizes he’s thrown a blanket over himself, as though it will hide him. Nothing will hide what he is, what he’s become.
“JARVIS,” he croaks, “lock me in. Don’t let me out. Don’t ever let me out.”
“I believe Captain Rogers would object, Sergeant.”
“Doesn’t matter. Do it.”
There is a long, horrible pause before JARVIS speaks again, and Bucky folds in deeper on himself, digs his metal fingers deep into his flesh bicep. If he tears away the skin, the muscle, he can never hurt anyone again.
“The door is locked, Sir.”
Bucky shivers and turning until his face is pressed into the soft, faux suede of the beanbag. He doesn’t deserve this small comfort, but it feels nice and it hides the tear-tracks that are streaking down his cheeks.
“You know, Steve punched me last year.”
Bucky freezes, doesn’t even dare to breathe.
“He was having a nightmare and he just flailed and I was too slow to get out of the way. Broken jaw. They put it back together again, I drank my meals for six weeks, and Steve beat himself up over it for the next six months. At first he wanted to sleep with his hands cuffed, fucking martyr.”
“You’re one to talk,” Bucky croaks, almost biting at the bean bag.
“Guess I am.” Tony laughs a little. He sounds weak, as well he should given Bucky stabbed him. “Are you going to come out or am I going to have to crawl in there? I’m betting it’ll hurt pretty badly, and I’d like to avoid that if at all possible.”
That fucking stubborn egg-sucking son of a bitch. Bucky has known Tony Stark long enough to know he will do exactly as he says and bleed himself out just to prove a point, so he pushes away the blanket and peers over the beanbag with as much anger as he dares muster.
“Do you want to die a horrible violent death? Is that why you followed me in here?”
“In case you haven’t been keeping track, you’ve harmed approximately no one outside of self-defense since that whole…mess.”
That whole mess. The one none of them talk about. They stare at it sideways and mention it in oblique terms. Bucky still doesn’t know how exactly Tony and Steve worked things out, but he’s going to guess there was a hell of a lot of shouting behind closed doors.
Everything about him, though, his past, the potential mines still buried in his brain, no one talks about that. Or if they do, they don’t talk about it with him. Only around him. Probably has something to do with the fact that he himself doesn’t talk about it with anyone. Ever. Those demons shouldn’t be shared, shouldn’t be put on the shoulders of better people. He’d thought maybe, just maybe, if he never talked about it, if he ducked his head and kept quiet, did as he was told and as was required of him by the US government, he could prove he was human.
But now…now he knows. He knows it’s not just a set of trigger words. It’s not just all the secret little trip-wires Hydra planted in his brain. It’s him. The violence is in him just waiting for a chance to be let out again. He’ll always be dangerous and they should’ve locked him away a long time ago. They should’ve never let him near the Avengers.
“Until today,” he says finally, and his fingers are a vice on his arm. The pain is good. He deserves it.
Tony is watching him, and he fights a shiver under that piercing gaze. Tony’s eyes unsettle Bucky, and have since the moment they first met. They’re dark, glittering, terrifyingly intelligent. He thinks Tony probably catches about 99% of the things his team thinks he misses, but he just keeps all those things close to the chest, secrets to be hoarded and guarded as though Tony’s some kind of strange dragon.
“I almost hurt Pepper once. In my sleep. Scared the hell out of her.”
“But you didn’t stab her.”
“If the armor had fired, she would’ve been worse than stabbed.”
Tony’s eyes are distant, looking at something Bucky can’t see. Then he shakes himself off and looks back. “I don’t blame you for this.” He gestures down, and for the first time Bucky realizes that Tony is bare to the waist and his wound is hastily patched. Red is already seeping through the gauze.
“Steve’s gonna kill you.”
“Yep. Good thing the door’s locked.”
“How did you even get down here?”
“JARVIS runs the building for me. You think I don’t have a few shortcuts?”
“But how’d you get away from them? They wouldn’t leave you alone. Not with that.”
“Told them I needed to pee. Happens sometimes. Shock. Bladder control. Plus I am getting older. All those muscles starting to go.” He shrugs and gives an impish smile.
If he weren’t so terrified of what would happen next, Bucky might actually punch Stark in the arm. Gently, but still. “Are you telling me you snuck out of the bathroom and followed me down here?”
“I was worried about you.”
Fucking fuck fuck Bucky hates this man sometimes. Hates his chameleon moods and his sudden topic shifts, the layers upon layers of armor he wears over his skin. If Tony and Stevie didn’t get along so well, Bucky would’ve left the tower a long time ago and dragged Steve with him. As is, all he can do is bury his face back in the beanbag, biting at the fabric, squeezing at himself until he fears his humerus might break.
“I stabbed you,” he wheezes into the beanbag, “and you’re worried about me? No wonder you and Stevie…god you two are such fucking martyrs.”
“Yep. Looks that way. But the thing is, I need stitches. And I can’t get those stitches while I’m in here. Unless you want to give them to me?”
Bucky shakes his head and presses into the beanbag until he thinks he just might manage to suffocate himself. He likes the heat of it against his face, the reminder that he’s not in cold storage.
Tony sighs and shuffles closer. “Well if you’re not going to do it, I need to get back out there, but I’m not leaving without you. I’m not leaving you in here to be alone.”
“Fuck you!” He wants it to sound angry, terrifying. He used to strike fear into the hearts of people, but these Avengers, they’re not people. They’re idiots, every last one of them. And instead of anger, it just sounds like he’s crying. Which he is.
He hears rustling, shifting, Tony drawing closer still. God what is wrong with the man? He chances a glance up and sees that the red is spreading, soaking through the gauze. Tony’s going to pass out from blood loss because Bucky, in addition to stabbing him, now apparently can’t bring himself to face his jury. Maybe Natasha will lock him up. She’s got a mostly good head on her shoulders.
“I don’t blame you.”
Bucky stills. The keening sound returns to his ears, like being too near a bomb when it goes off. He can barely breathe around the weight of the thing Tony has placed upon him. He waits, choking, tongue too thick in his mouth, for Tony to say more, but nothing comes. At last he chances a look up, his eyes burning and red.
Tony’s eyes, those black depths, Bucky feels like he might just fall in. There’s no hint of mischief in Tony’s face now, no sleight of hand, no indication that Tony is anything less than sincere.
“But I hurt you,” Bucky whispers, fingers clenching in fabric.
“And I hurt you. And Steve. The team. The whole world. Sokovia. I wasn’t even tortured by Hydra, so what excuse do I have?”
“You made mistakes. Mistakes happen.”
“They do.” Tony gestures to the wound in his stomach. Buck suddenly wonders if he perforated any organs. What if Tony’s guts are spilling into his bloodstream? What if he dies of blood poisoning? “This wasn’t a mistake, though. It was an accident. And I don’t blame you.”
Tony’s looking paler and paler. He needs the stitches. He needs to be checked, to make sure he’s not going to die from the inside. Bucky stands slowly and draws nearer.
“But it was me.”
“And it was me,” Tony says, pressing a thumb into the twisted mass of arc reactor scar across his chest. “All I can do is make up for it. How about you?”
A trickle of red slips across Tony’s stomach, coming to a halt in the waist of his jeans. “Let’s get you to medical,” Bucky says, and he’s shocked when Tony shuffles forward and slings an arm over Bucky’s left side, putting a shocking amount of weight on him.
“JARVIS,” Tony calls, and the door to the containment room slides open. Steve’s on the other side, fists raised, red-faced, chest heaving.
“Tony, oh my god you idiot!”
“I’m fine, Cap.”
“The hell you are. Jesus, you’re bleeding.”
Bucky’s already limping them down the hallway and Steve keeps apace, hands hovering frantically.
“You’re in so much trouble once we get you fixed up.”
“Aw, come on, Steve, you love me anyway.” Tony grins up at Steve, though the pallor in his face and the dragging of his feet detract from the charm a little. He stumbles a little, his weight settling almost entirely on Bucky, and Steve’s face fills with panic.
“Are you ok? How about you, Buck? Jesus, Tony here let me–”
Before Steve can do anything, Bucky twists and gets his arm under Tony’s knees, lifting easily until he’s got Tony cradled against his chest.
“Ow,” Tony says, his fingers twisting tightly in Bucky’s hair. “Ow, ow, ow.”
Steve’s watching them both, his fingers twitching and his eyes wide. “Are you ok?” This time, he’s only looking at Bucky’s face, eyes flicking up and down. Steve’s never blamed him, would think him innocent of all the sins under heaven, but Tony? Tony knows better. He’s like Bucky. Not one of the angels. And still he’d said “I don’t blame you.”
Bucky holds Steve’s gaze for a moment, and then dips his head. “Yeah. Yeah, Steve, I’m fine.”