The first time Steve Trevor ever meets James Buchanan Barnes—
No, wait. Back up.
The first time he ever meets Sergeant James Barnes of the 107th, the sergeant is strapped to a table, a prisoner of war taken from the work force, selected for one of Zola's experiments with a formula built off of Maru's notes. He hears him first, hears the repeated litany of name, rank, serial number, before he sees the ragged, dirty sergeant strapped to a table.
Across the room, Maru and Zola are talking, bent over notes and muttering to each other. He hears snatches of words, Erskine's formula and flawed and Schmidt will be pleased if this succeeds. He drifts closer to the soldier, sees bleary eyes blink up at the ceiling, then slowly focus on him.
"Soldier," calls Zola, for lack of a better name. He looks up. "Taking an interest in your eventual replacement, are we?"
Maru rolls her eyes, and says, "Only if this one survives, Zola. And considering how you've burned through all the others, I rather doubt it." There's a note of contempt in her tone, reserved just for the younger scientist.
His eyes flick down to the sergeant, who's staring at him and his mask and maybe remembering all the stories about a ghost slaughtering through a camp in the night, horrified.
"Oh, god," says the sergeant. "Oh, god, you, you're—"
"The first," says Maru, walking over. "Perhaps the only one, if your formula does not work. Again."
"It will work," snaps Zola, walking over with a needle in hand. "My expertise is in weapons development. This is the logical next step—"
"That I took first," says Maru. Her gaze cuts over to him—her own soldier, broken over and over and then pieced meticulously back together, all jagged edges and shattered bits of whoever he was, fashioned into the shape of a weapon. He looks away, back to the sergeant on the table, and doesn't think now of whoever he must've been, once upon a time.
Zola's lips press into a thin line. "Hold him down, soldier," he says.
The sergeant screams, soon afterwards.
After that, the scientists leave. He stays, looks at the sergeant on the table, panting through the pain and gritting out his name, rank, serial number. How long does he have until even those are stripped from him, he wonders. How long does Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes have left to live?
Barnes breathes out, stops the litany, and says, "Who're you?"
No one. Nothing. Someone's weapon, someone's assassin. A walking corpse. "A soldier," he says.
"No fuckin' shit, I heard," says Barnes, words slurring together, and he thinks, oh, a smartass. "I mean, who're you? What're you doin' here, with these bastards? That stuff about replacements—"
"Not likely," he says, with a shrug. "You might just die." Which would be a comfort.
"Oh, that's nice," says Barnes, sarcastically. "You know what? I'll take the painful death over being turned into you. No offense, buddy."
"None taken," he says. He'd take the painful death too, if he could. If his programming allowed for it. His fingers twitch, and he thinks—it'd be easy, to close the distance. Snap Barnes's neck. Barnes would even be grateful for him to it, it'd be quick. He'd be punished, and badly at that, but they hadn't rated Barnes' chances of survival very highly, didn't they, and they'll just think he didn't want competition. Or assistance. Or someone else, broken in the same way they broke him.
"Soldier!" Maru calls, and the opportunity slips away just like that.
His fingers twitch.
The next night, he gets news: a man with a showgirl helmet and an aluminum shield broke into the factory, rescued 400 POWs, and saved Sergeant Barnes.
He thinks, good.
Diana and Captain America are catching up over slices of Martha Kent's apple pie, stolen from Bruce Wayne's stupidly expensive and stuffed fridge, reminiscing over the time they blew up a castle and fought actual zombies (!!!) with two shields, a pistol, a knife, and the Lasso of Hestia between them. Steve leaves them to it after stealing a slice of apple pie, and goes searching for the exit to the gardens. Almost a year he's been on the Justice League's support staff, and the layout of Bruce Wayne's mansion still surprises him every time.
He sits down on the bench, the smell of flowers drifting over to him. Martha Kent's pie, as always, tastes delicious, and he spends a few minutes just basking in the quiet.
"You really gotta be kidding me," drawls a voice, and Steve actually jumps a little. For a second he backslides, thinks, fork, plastic, not ideal but given enough force the tines could break skin—
Then it sinks in, and he turns in his seat to see James Buchanan Barnes, drinking a protein shake. The same kind of shake they used to give Steve, except not laced with some kind of drug to keep him under their control. (Which they? Diana had asked once, and Steve had said, all of them.) "Aren't you supposed to be dead?" says Steve.
"Could say the same for you," says Bucky. "Is that apple pie? Jesus, I haven't been able to eat that in years, fucking cryo."
"Fucking cryo," says Steve, emphatic. "You want some? It's Martha Kent's apple pie made special for former assassins with fucked-up stomachs."
"She sounds like an angel," says Bucky, sitting down next to him and stealing his pie out of his hands, taking a bite. "Oh my god."
"She pretty much is, putting up with Clark," says Steve, stealing his pie back. "Also, your Steve's hanging out with Diana at the moment, and they're trading war stories and reminiscing over the good old days of wrecking HYDRA's shit, so it might take them a while. Wanna catch me up on you?"
"First catch me up on you," says Bucky. "What broke your programming?"
Steve goes still. Then he breathes out, and looks at Bucky, meeting steely blue eyes. "Diana," he says. "A century's worth of—of mind-wipes and medical torture, and the second she said my name it was like something cracked, here," and he taps his temple. "I knew her."
"Steve," says Bucky, quiet, and isn't that a kick in the teeth. "My Steve, I mean. Same damn thing, except with less aliens in the background." He runs a hand through his hair, trimmed back a few inches from the last time Steve saw him. "We're a regular pair, aren't we, dorogoi."
Steve bumps his shoulder, affectionate. "It's Steve," he says. "Or Trevor, if you can't tell me and Captain America apart."
"Fuck you," says Bucky, just as fond. "Of course I can, you don't run around in red, white and blue tights."
"I absolutely could," says Steve. "There's a Halloween outfit on Amazon. There are multiple Halloween costumes on Amazon."
"Maru's pet project, going trick-or-treating in a Captain America costume and kissing Wonder Woman on his off time," says Bucky, and from anyone else that would've warranted a punch to the jaw. But it's Bucky. Of all the people in the world, it's maybe just Bucky who knows what it's like, to be broken and reforged into a weapon for a long, long time. Well. Him and Natasha, Steve supposes, but he doesn't have that same history with her. "She'd have a fit."
"Zola's only successful experiment, eating apple pie and periodically making out with Captain America," says Steve, because he gives as good as he gets. "He'd have a heart attack."
"Fuck him, he's dead," says Bucky, snatching some of the pie away.
"Well, she's dead too," says Steve, "so, honestly? Fuck her, too."
Bucky throws back his head and laughs, and it clicks in Steve's head, suddenly—he hasn't heard him laugh like that, careless of who heard and full of mirth, the way he never was in those moments that Steve had known him.
Then again, had either of them ever really known each other, truly? Steve looks down at his hands, breathes out. In the cold night, his breath hisses out in a white puff of air, fading like smoke.
Bucky's laugh trails off, at last, and he cuts a glance at Steve, as if he knows what Steve's thinking. "It wasn't all bad," he says. "Brussels was—pretty good."
Something uncurls in the base of Steve's stomach, and he nods, huffs out a short laugh. He says, "Brussels was a shitshow and you know it, Barnes."
"It was a fun shitshow, though," says Bucky, jabbing him in the side with an elbow. "Never did say thanks for that time you saved my ass there, so this is me saying it now: thanks for saving my ass in Brussels."
"Welcome," says Steve, returning the jab. "You still owe me that knife back, by the way."
Bucky shakes his head, sinks slightly deeper into his seat. "Oh, shit," he says, "I lost it in DC."
"You asshole," says Steve.