"Winter Soldier's here!" Tony announced, zipping around, using his repulsors to blast the machines to pieces.
"I haven't even had my coffee yet," Phil intoned dryly. "Where?"
"North-east, in the Harbor Bank building."
"Watching, not playing," Natasha added from wherever she had ghosted to. It was mere chance that she was around during the call to assemble, having dropped in the night before to report to Fury. She had pointedly ignored every question Steve put to her, and he was almost (almost) glad for the distraction because not knowing what she was doing, or what she had discovered, was driving him crazy. But in the meantime, he had other problems to deal with.
"Can't focus on him if he's not in the game," Steve said, jogging down the street towards the action. The swarm of ice-box sized machines had shown up at dawn in a small New York town — Steve really didn't even know where he was, more than "10 minute flight out of the city" — and started using their hammer-arms to reduce local strip malls and business districts to, literally, rubble. They seemed disinterested in people, which was a relief for everyone involved, but the other side of that coin was that the machines were ruthlessly efficient in destroying anything that didn't move. The Avengers were there because the National Guard had done a great job of getting in the swarm's way but not in slowing it down. Two Guardsmen had been wounded during the pullout, and millions of dollars worth of tanks and trucks had been lost. The small city's mayor was apoplectic with rage, watching her entire city being demolished, and was currently under arrest for punching the lieutenant in charge of the operation in the face. Steve assumed that the Avengers had been called in because it wasn't like the Hulk was doing to do worse than the "Destructo-Bots" (as Tony and, unsurprisingly, Clint, were calling them).
Mostly, everyone was worried about what the machines would do when the city was completely flat — self-destruct, or move on to another target? Bruce, before the Hulk appeared, said that his money was on this being a test run, and the machines would run down or destroy themselves. There were no guarantees of that, so the National Guard was already evacuating every city within a 50-mile radius.
How the Winter Soldier knew to be there, already in hiding and ready to strike, was something they were all going to have to address at a later point. Mentally, Steve tagged Natasha, because it did seem a coincidence…and Steve was not humoring coincidences at that point in his life.
Steve and the Hulk walked straight into the wall of the swarm swinging hard. Steve had grabbed a crowbar on the way and was using it like a mace, taking out three machines at a time with one swing. The Hulk was stomping and throwing and laughing, because it wasn't often he got to just let loose and have fun. Clint had gone up on an extended fire truck ladder, shooting exploding arrows into the swarm. The fireman at the wheel looked delighted to be rolling the truck around the city like Hawkeye's personal chauffeur. Thor and Tony were zooming around, zapping at the machines, competing with each other for how many they could take out at a time.
Steve almost missed the moment when it all went to hell, zoned in on creating his own swath of destruction and only paying minimal attention to the chatter on the comm.
"Widow's DOWN!" Phil yelled into the comms. Steve kept swinging but refocused.
"Where?" He shouted over the sound of the Hulk roaring in anger.
"We've got her! But the bots turned on her, I think they've finally registered a threat." Phil said, breathing hard like he had been running. "Get her to medical! Go!" He shouted to someone else, and a helicopter took off at a high rate of speed from where HQ had been set up. Steve's stomach churned.
"I'm on the office building at 4th and Carrol! The bots grabbed the truck, Jesus they are hammering it flat. The driver's running for your location, Coulson."
"You're deep in it, Hawkeye," Steve said, mentally mapping Clint's location.
"I'm, uh, kind of surrounded. And nearly out of ammo. Guys, uh, help?"
Steve looked over to see the Hulk covered head to toe in the machines, ripping them off of himself and breaking them apart as they hammered at his skin. He was nearly invisible under the dog pile of machines.
"On my way, Hawkeye." Steve charged forward, moving too fast to let himself get covered as he smashed his way towards Hawkeye. "Thor, meet us there!"
"I'm busy trying to keep them from massing for our field base. Coulson get everyone the fuck out of there!" Tony yelled, too far away for Steve to see what was going on.
"On it!" Coulson answered tersely, and the comms were quiet for a few moments while everyone got down to business.
The building was already half destroyed by the time Steve got there. Clint was on the roof, kicking machines off of it and doing a masterful acrobatics routine to stay out of the way of their hammers-arms. Steve took one look and then ran up over the machines, "head walking" (although they did not have heads) all four floors up.
"Nice! I used to have an act like that, running up arrows in a wall!" Clint yelled, rolling and kicking a machine.
"Thor!" Steve shouted, because Clint was always a smart ass but that did not mean they weren't surrounded and losing ground.
"I've got a trace on the beacon!" Tony said and zoomed away, headed west.
Steve swung the crow bar and took out two machines crawling over the edge, then nearly stumbled as Clint let out an ear-splitting howl behind him. Steve used his shield to push three more back over the edge as he barreled toward where Clint was down, his left femur solidly broken, one of the machines getting ready to hammer right down on his skull. Steve spun his shield through the air, cutting the machine in half, just as Thor landed. They cleared the roof while Clint clutched at his leg, visibly going into shock. "Thor, get him out of here!"
"And of you, Captain?" Thor asked, wrapping his cape around Clint and holding the full grown and screaming man to his chest like a precious child.
"Just go! I'll get out!"
Thor nodded solemnly, kicked two more machines out of his way while swinging Mjolinor and then took flight.
Steve picked up his shield and swung the crowbar around, waiting for the assault. He had only a few seconds reprieve before another wave of machines pulled up over the edge of the crumbling building, hammering it apart as they aimed for him.
The machines were too much for him to handle alone, but at the very least Thor had pulled Clint out which had been Steve's primary goal. He tried for a retreat but he was as blocked in as Clint had been, and the Hulk was busy with his own offensive front. Phil was flat out yelling into the comms to bring air support to Steve's location.
As he tried to pummel his way free, Steve thought it was surprising how much a good old fashioned beating could accomplish. The machines had no real weapons other than their hammer-like arms, no guns or knives or plasma guns or whatever else were the modern fashion for lethal weaponry. They just hit. Hard.
A blow to his knee took him down, and as he rolled onto the ground with a cry of pain, he flashed back to all the times he had been the object of a beat down in his youth. He knew rescue was coming, he could hear jet engines and choppers, but as the blows rained down on him his brain flipped backwards in time and he curled up on his side, hiding his face and chest and soft belly just like Bucky had taught him when they were kids. He slung the arm holding his shield up, hearing it take off a few hammer-arms before he managed to secure it over his head and neck. It left his back and kidneys open, and his legs, but he could only do so much, and he cried out in pain as the machines started hammering on him like he was a nail, feeling his legs getting snapped in several places. He gasped for breath during a pause in the beating, then realized it wasn't a pause. He took a few more hits on his exposed hip, cracking his pelvis, before it stopped completely. His brain fuzzy with pain and confusion, Steve didn't move.
"Steve! Jesus, Steve!" Bucky's hand tucked under the shield to feel for Steve's neck. "C'mon, buddy, breathe. Don't freeze up."
"Breathing," Steve gasped.
"Sure you are, punk. Roll over, for fuck's sake, let me look at you."
"I'm…I'm fine Bucky, stop mothering me, damn it." Steve unfolded and slowly rolled onto his back, yelling shamelessly as everything from his waist down over-taxed his nervous system with pristine agony. Bucky gently pulled the shield out of the way and wiped the blood from Steve's mouth.
"You sound like you inhaled the exhaust out of a Model A, don't give me shit." Bucky pat down his chest. "You're legs are wrecked, but I'm not going to carry you if you broke a rib." He tsk'd. "Look what you did."
"I didn't do anything!" Steve pushed his hands away and tried to sit up, then stopped. "Ugh."
"Right. Asshole, like you never start the fight?"
Steve grinned at the familiar rebuke, looking up at Bucky who was perched over him — dressed in black, his eyes rimmed with kohl and a bright silver arm holding the shield up, as if protecting them from—
"PUT DOWN THE SHIELD, WINTER SOLDIER!" Phil's voice blasted through the air from the helicopter hovering above them.
Bucky looked confused, peering over the shield and then back down at Steve. "Steve? What? I—"
And then Bucky disappeared, the Winter Soldier's eyes dark and cold. He stood up and hurled the shield at the helicopter, taking off a landing strut as the chopper jerked away, and simply walked over the edge of the roof.
The Winter Soldier was gone.
Steve settled back down slowly amongst the wreckage of the machines that Bucky had destroyed in order to get to Steve. He felt his body mending, and wondered what in the hell had just happened.