Howard Stark never stopped searching for Captain America. He searched until the day he died, car veering out of control as cut brake lines failed to stop its headlong rush into a turn. Everyone, son included, would have called Howard a cynical man at that point, bitter at everyone and everything except Captain America, who for which an endless wellspring of hope seemed to exist.
Really, it was the wrong thing to pin any sort of hope on. Who survived crashing a plane into the Arctic? A plane full of live bombs? Who survived after decades frozen in the Arctic with said bombs? No one, and Howard, in his dotage, seemed to have forgotten how to distinguish between a human and a myth.
A myth could survive almost anything. A human, the person behind the myth? Not so durable. And for all that Captain America was a continuously used myth and propaganda tool, the myth itself would have never existed if not for Steve Rogers.
Steve Rogers was human. Enhanced, super-human, but still human in the end.
Seventy years after Captain America crashes the Valkyrie into the Arctic, a group of scientists discover the twisted remains of a massive plane. They explore, and find strange, outdated technology. Ice. A shield.
And lying beneath the shield, wrapped in peeling red, white and blue, a man.
They radio it in.
Some distance away from the burning mess of cut brake lines and twisted metal, right in the middle of reporting a successful mission, the Winter Soldier stops. Raises his hands. Curls his fingers, and makes a soft, distressed sound.
"Fuck, he's malfunctioning again."
"Well tranq him then, before he gets violent. Idiot."
A thump. The Soldier's limp body is hauled away.
"Back in the freezer for him then, I guess."
"Thought the docs managed to fix that."
"Nah, he's been faulty for ages, why do you think the higher ups don't like taking him out of the freezer too often?"
"Why take him out at all then if he's broken?"
"Because he's still Pierce's favourite toy, and you don't say no to Pierce, that's why."
The Soldier sleeps. The Soldier dreams.
"There were some theories. That the serum–well, Howard Stark had more than just blind belief backing his annual search trips to the Arctic."
"I can assure you, those theories are complete rubbish. Serum doesn't mean immortal."
"And you can be completely sure of this."
"You fucking Shield scientists think we can't tell a dead person from a live one?"
A lot of hints give away the truth. But it's the eyes, really, that are the biggest clue. Those fucking eyes.
Perfect eyes, whole and dazzling as a summer sky, even beneath the chilly glaze of ice. Perfect eyes, frozen blue and white, fixed forward in a doll's eerie unmoving stare. Frozen as the yellowed and frostbitten face those eyes are set in; frozen as the expression on that face, blackened lips peeled back to equally blackened gums. Perfectly preserved as no other part of the man is.
"Let me be clear–this is not a perfect, serum preserved body. This is most definitely a perfectly preserved corpse."
"Hey there Buck."
The Soldier wakes.
There is a man in the room. Blonde, blue-eyed. So very, very blue; the Soldier stares, spellbound, at the only splash of colour in the monochrome lab.
"Come out of there Bucky, it's no place for you," the blonde man beckons, hands outstretched. "Out you go, one step. And another–there you are."
Frost shatters and scatters as the Soldier stumbles forward, out of his chamber. The man's hands remain outstretched, so the Soldier raised his own hands to meet them. He flexes his fingers, metal clinking as they unfurl, and then holds both his hands up flat, imitating the blonde man's stance.
The blonde man's lips curl upwards. "You gotta come closer than that, Buck."
So the Soldier moves closer, until their hands almost touch, and he finds himself fascinated by the contrast. The blonde man's hands are actually bigger than the Soldier's flesh hand, the fingers long and thin with prominent, calloused knuckles. The fingers are slightly spread, and the Soldier carefully mimics the spaces as well.
"There we are," the man sighs, and links their fingers together. He pulls one hand–the metal hand–closer, and presses his lips to it.
The Soldier feels nothing. Feels nothing, but he gasps, and shivers, and it is almost like sensation, the way it chases the ice lingering in his veins, the way it sends a hot flush through him. The man looks at him from beneath thick, long lashes and smiles as the Soldier shudders and shudders, swaying closer.
"He should be ready by now."
And just like that, the blonde man is gone, nary a whisper of breath to mark his departure. The Soldier jerks and drops his arms, reaching for a gun.
"Soldier, at attention. You are to be briefed for a retrieval mission."
See you soon, Buck.
His retrieval target is a man. A large man, tall and broad-shouldered, brittle blonde hair laced with frost. The retrieval target’s skin is stiff, dry and almost as brittle, scraps of red, white and blue leather still clinging to him. A large round disc–a shield–painted in the same red, white and blue shades, covers the target’s stomach. A white sheet covers his face.
The Soldier touches a hand to the brittle hair, watches a few strands crumble under the pressure. Flips the sheet back.
Blue eyes, frozen unnaturally wide. The parody of a grin, grey ice-damaged teeth bared.
The Soldier jerks back, heart rate abnormally fast. His breath comes in sharp gasps, and his flesh hand trembles, metal hand whirring frantically. Something writhes in his stomach, crawling into his throat the same way it does when he is led to The Chair.
Fear. It is fear.
He does not know why he is afraid. It is just a corpse. The Soldier is used to them, and especially good at making them. It is just a corpse, like every other person he touches, every other man but the blue eyes beckoning him forward–
Something is thrashing in his throat, clawing its way out like a parasite eating through its host’s body-
A scream. A scream. A scream.
It’s him, the Soldier realises. It’s him, but too late, the Soldier is fading back, losing touch with his vibrating throat and his gaping mouth, sliding back into the dark so like the embrace of the cryostasis pod.
Those frozen blue eyes disappear, like they always do.
The screaming continues.
I’m with you, til the end of the line.
The end of the line is cold. Only one of them makes it.