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Winter Gorgon

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Steve trembled. Part of him was filled with five different shades of fear over what he’d done, what was happening. He’d confiscated a ride from Peggy and Howard to be dropped into enemy territory to save a bunch of POW’s that the US Army had just written off as lost. He was alone, armed with a handgun and a cruddy tin shield, and was about to assault fully operational Hydra base. Him. Little Stevie Rogers.

The rest of him was filled with certainty. He was doing what was right, what was needed, and he was living up to what Dr. Erskine wanted for him. And if he died here then very little was lost. The scientists had already taken what blood they could and done their tests, to little avail. He had no friends or family to mourn him, aside from Pegs, and perhaps Howard. The Army would lose a dancing monkey.

So little risk for so much possible reward. It was worth it. Those men were the 107th, his father’s old regiment. As he cut through the sentries, Steve imagined his pops looking down on him from Heaven; encouraging him and sheltering him. Pure fancy, but it felt nice.

He came across men in cages, and after some small talk he gave them brief orders of how to proceed.

“Is there anyone else here?” he asked before he ordered them to move out. Steve hated the thought of leaving anyone behind. No one deserved to be left in his hell hole.

The prisoners shifted uneasily and a large man with a bowler hat spoke up. “Well, maybe. There’s a series of rooms back that way; the Krauts called them ‘the labs’. They’ve never taken anyone back there, but there are screams. Every night there are screams, so bad it doesn’t even sound human. Some kinda animal maybe.”

Steve grimaced. “I’ll take a look. Even if I can’t…I mean, if it’s not…well, I can at least give whatever it is some peace. I’ll see you out front.”

The men nodded and Steve made his way to the labs.

He could tell when he was getting close. Statues of men started appearing along the halls. Weird, but after all the glowing weapons, it wasn’t really that out of place. Just one more bit of strangeness in a whole mess of strange. Who knew how Nazis decorated anyways?

Then he got a closer look. The statues were realistic. Alarmingly realistic, actually; armor, clothing, and weapons finely crafted down to the smallest detail. Each face was a twisted mask of horror. Some were fleeing or crouching. Many had hands waved up as if to ward away something. One memorable statue was kneeling in tear filled prayer. Steve shuddered. He loved art, but looking at sculpture twisted in such a way made his heart hurt and his spine itch.

He heard moaning from a room farther down the hall he was in; a short pudgy man with a bag and glasses was fleeing down the other direction. Given the choice between chasing down a combatant and saving another POW, Steve picked the choice that preserved life. They’d find the scumbag later.

Several more statues lined the room, each staring at an emaciated figure hanging from the far wall. Steve noted somewhere in the back of his head that the statues were wearing Nazi uniforms or scientist lab coats. They all looked upon the chained up figure in horror. Steve rushed up to the man, only to draw back in horror himself.

The man chained to the wall was a wreck. His skin was caked with dried blood and dirt; half healed wounds covered most of his body and one of his arms was missing; it was just a barely tied off stump at mid-bicep. Even though his head hung low, Steve could see he wore a full face mask; an evil looking leather thing with no eye slots and a mere single slit at the mouth for breath. Blood leaked out from under it. It was about this time that Steve realized the poor man was nude, but his form was so filthy and damaged that Steve couldn’t muster up any embarrassment, only pity and compassion. What had they done to this man? As he neared the figure, the wretch moaned; a low, pained sound that ended in a sob.

“Easy now, I’m here to get you ou—what the hell!” Steve jumped backwards a foot as he saw the man’s shoulder length brunette hair begin to writhe. It was filled with tiny brown snakes, the biggest of which no thicker than a finger’s width. The chained man whimpered again and seemed to shrink further toward the wall. Some of the snakes moved to cover his masked face, as if to guard it, others simply looked like they were trying to get away from Steve.

“Oh god. Oh my god,” Steve whispered. The statues suddenly made a horrible kind of sense. During Steve’s sickly youth, he spent a great deal of time reading anything he could get his hands on. One of his teachers had given him a few accounts of early Greek myths; stories that flooded back to Steve as he watched the snake haired man shiver in front of him.

“Medusa,” Steve choked out in horror.

According to the stories, Medusa was a once beautiful priestess to Athena who was raped by Poseidon and then cursed by her patron goddess for defiling the temple where she served. Medusa was turned into a hideous snake headed monster whose gaze turned anyone looking at her to stone. The great hero Perseus fought her with the aid of powerful magical items; a mirrored shield, winged sandals, a powerful sword, and a helm of invisibility. With those, Perseus was able to behead her and then used her head to turn his enemies to stone.

At the mention of that name, the man flinched as if slapped and shrunk further away from Steve as far as his bindings would let him. Garbled sounds came from under the mask; unintelligible, but it had the tenor of pleading. A fresh trickle of blood dribbled down the man’s chin.

Steve paused a moment and took a deep breath. He looked at the poor being in front of him and took stock of the statues around him; soldiers and scientists. He looked at the wounds the man sported and noted the shivering fear in his frame. Steve squared his jaw and started to unchain the man.

“Easy now, I’ve got you. I’m gonna get you out of here. I won’t leave you to them. No one deserves this. No one. You’re gonna be okay. I’ve got you,” he murmured as the prisoner sagged in his arms.

The man didn’t try to fight him. Occasionally a shiver or whimper would wrack his frame, but he just clung to Steve with his one good arm and buried his masked face in Steve’s shoulder. The snakes in his hair felt feather-like against Steve’s skin, but they tended to stay away from him, much to Steve’s vast relief. He felt the need to quietly narrate what he was doing; partly to comfort the man and partly to talk himself through this mess. The key was to keep calm. Just keep calm.

Holy hell.

“Good, there we go, you’re all out of that mess. Now I’m gonna leave that mask on you, but I promise as soon as we get you somewhere safe you’ll be able to take it off. Alright, now walk with me. There we go. Good. Now I’m gonna find something to cover you up and then we’re getting out of here. You’re doing great. That’s it. Come on, a few more steps and we’re out of here…”

They managed to stumble their way out, finding a scrap of tarp along the way to wrap up the man with, and then met up with the other prisoners in the surrounding forest. Not more than a few moments after Steve and his strange burden left the front yard, the whole factory went up in a series of explosions.

Steve kept them moving and wrapped the cloth over the man’s head like a hood. The last thing they needed was for the other POWs to panic at the sight of the hair snakes. As they moved, the soldier with the bowler hat and a few others he seemed close to found their way to Steve.

“Christ, you found someone back there! Well goddamn, you really are unbelievable,” the man who introduced himself as Dum-Dum Dugan said. They had all stopped for the night to rest up for the morning march and tend to the wounded.

An Asian looking soldier (“I’m from Fresno, ace.”) tried to pry Steve’s burden from him.

“Hey, look, I’m a medic. I don’t have much gear, but someone should look at this guy,” he wheedled. Spots of blood had soaked through the tarp in various places.

Steve ground his teeth a bit in worry and then said, “Fine, but come over this way. You guys come with, we’ll need some cover. And grab some extra bandages.” It had honestly never occurred to him to consider they wouldn’t do as ordered, much like it probably never occurred to them to disobey.

They wandered off from the main group a ways and Steve set the wounded man down and bid the others stand around in a loose circle. He looked up at them. “Look. Don’t lose your cool here. This guy, he’s—well, I’m pretty sure he’s not totally human. I think the Nazi’s were experimenting on him. He’s in really rough shape.” The group around him exchanged uneasy looks.

“Ok, Cap.” The soldiers were disconcerted by his little speech, but this crazy loon had just single handedly saved them from a death camp. They were willing to give him some leeway.

Steve sat kneeling next to the poor wretch; close enough to help or hinder, if he needed to. He wanted to save everyone he could, but he wouldn’t put the men around him at further risk. He very carefully pulled the cloth down from the man’s head, exposing the mask and the hair full of snakes. Upon closer inspection, Steve could see a few writhing bloody stumps mixed in with the hair and serpents; the snakes themselves looked worse for wear too. Their scales were cracked, dry, and slightly oozing blood and their eyes were cloudy and slow to track. Even the poor man’s monstrous appendages were in pain.

Steve took stock of the reactions around him. Confusion was quickly followed by shock, disbelief, and even a bit of revulsion.

“Mary, mother of God! Is that a, ah, Medusa?” a man with a British accent, introduced earlier as Monty, breathed out in fascinated horror.

The masked man tracked Monty’s voice and raised his one good hand flat outwards, palm down, then wobbled it a bit, as if to say, ‘sort of’. That effort alone seemed to take something out of him and he dropped his hand like a rock after that, slumped with exhaustion. Steve was fairly sure that the man was close to falling over. The cloth that was wrapped around him slid a bit farther down showing off the crusted wounds and the stump where the man’s left arm should be. The small Frenchman who was with them, Dernier, swore under his breath. They were suddenly all reminded of the endless nightly screams that haunted the factory.

“Morita? Medic, right? Do you have something we can use as bandages? Thanks. Ok, sir, here’s what we’re gonna do. These nice guys around us are gonna make a ring, backs turned toward you. We don’t want any accidents, right? I’m gonna sit behind you and undo that mask. Then you wrap up your face with these bandages. When you’re all set up, then we all face each other again and find you something more than just a sheet to wrap up in. Sound good?”

The masked man tracked Steve’s voice and nodded wearily at the end of the instructions. Dum-Dum looked fairly alarmed.

“Look, Cap, far be it for me to object, but what’s with all the turning around? I know this guy looks pretty banged up, but aren’t you worried he’s gonna do something?”

The masked man snorted and waved his stump at them. No one needed to see his expression to read the irritated sarcasm in the tilt of his head. Monty furiously whispered a literature lesson to the rest of the group.

“No, I’m really not. Even if he wanted to, seems like a pretty small chance he’d actually be able to. Besides, there’s no way I’m gonna sit here and watch him bleed when there’s something I can do to help. It’s wrong, and I ain’t doing it,” Steve said, nearly growling.

Morita shook himself, stood up with his back turned, and said, “Right. Whatever. Let’s get this over with.”

Everyone got into position. Steve made sure that the masked man was pointed away from the bulk of camp and himself, and then very gently unbuckled the mask. The man gave a strangled gasp as it came off and hung his head low for a moment. Steve looked at the thing and his stomach turned. Inside there was a sharpened mouth bit, designed to both block sound and cut into the mouth if the wearer tried to speak. Blood and spit soaked the leather.

“Oh, fuck, thank fucking Hera,” the man growled. His voice sounded raw, like he had been eating shards of glass, and bowed his head. The accent was more New York than anything else, much to Steve’s surprise. He could hear the drip-drip of blood falling from the man’s face to the forest floor. The guy covered his face with his hand and groaned.

Steve kept one hand on the man’s shoulder; he was pretty sure that might be the only thing keeping the wounded fellow upright. Seeing anyone hurt this badly made him furious. This was the whole reason he worked so hard to join the war effort. The people who would do this to another person were the real monsters here, no matter what this guy looked like.

“Fuck. The mask, I get. No one likes to turn to stone. But muzzled too? For fuck’s sake! Such bullshit.” The man ran his hand through his snake hair and drooped for a moment, his shoulders shaking under Steve’s hand. He was putting up a good front, but Steve could tell that’s all it was.

“Thanks. I know that’s not really enough, given the situation, but thanks for getting me out of there. Best I could hope for until now was a bullet to the head, but, fuck, I got to walk outta that place and hear it blow the fuck up behind me. I really can’t say thank you enough.” The man tilted his head just a touch back; not enough to show Steve his face, but enough to know that the man’s attention was on him. Some of the snakes were looking at him, too, and gently flicking their tongues.

“Ah, right, no problem. So…you’re a Medusa? Like, from the myths?”

The man snorted. “Medusa is a person, not a race. She was my auntie. You can call me Bucky. I’m a gorgon.”

“Bucky?” Steve frowned a bit. That didn’t really sound like a Greek name. There was a little muttering from the men around him; it seems they agreed.

“Yup. And you, pal? I didn’t catch your name.” Bucky fiddled with the roll of bandages in front of him.

“Oh! Right. I’m, uh, Steve. I mean, Captain Steve Rogers.”

“Nice to meet you, friend.”

“What the fuck were they doing to you?”

A mirthless laugh ground out in front of him. “They ain’t never seen something like me, champ. Wanted to see what made me tick. Fuck.” Bucky was full on trembling now. Steve reigned in his temper. The factory was already blown. No one left to punch, no matter how much he wanted to. Now he just had to concentrate on getting everyone back to safety.

“Speaking of which, I’d like a little bit more explanation on that front at some point,” Steve replied dryly.

Bucky simply grunted in response. He fussed with the bandages quietly for a short while; finally he gave a sigh that was just two hairs shy of a sob. “Hey Stevie, I’m gonna need you to put that muzzle back on me.”

“What? Why the fuck do you want it back on?” Steve had been looking the thing over and it was a cruel device. In addition to the sharpened mouth bit, there were also periodically placed tiny spikes on the inside. As far as Steve could tell, they were made solely to inflict pain on the wearer. No wonder Bucky’s face had been dripping blood.

Bucky sighed. “Because pal, I can’t manage these damn wraps one handed and I will fucking bleed to death before I chance you or anyone else here getting an unwanted glimpse of my face and getting stoned for your troubles. So give it here. I’ll settle it on and you buckle it up.”

Steve snorted. “Yeah, no. We’re not doing that. This is an implement of torture. Give me the bandages. You look straight ahead and settle the wraps in front where you want them and I’ll wrap them around back and make sure they won’t come off.” He mentally kicked himself for not realizing that Bucky wouldn’t be able to bandage himself one-handed.

Steve sat through another long silent pause before Bucky handed back the bandages. He slowly began the wrapping process, stalling only a moment as he first reached toward the snakes in Bucky’s hair.

“Oh. Yeah. Don’t mind them. They’ll move out of the way. Think of them like a cat’s tail; able to move on command but mostly moving with a mind of their own.” Bucky sounded a bit sheepish and ducked his head just a bit, as if he were shy. “They’re very friendly. Won’t bite, I swear.”

One of the guys around them snorted, and there was some additional muttering. Steve reached out a tentative hand. A couple of the tiny serpents flicked tongues toward him then gently nosed his fingers. They were…surprisingly soft. Kind of cute actually.

Steve let out a long breath and got to work. Between the two of them they did actually manage to get Bucky’s face covered. (“Just cover up the eyes too, Stevie, I’ll dig up some tinted goggles later. It’s not like I’ll be walking around by myself for a while anyways.”)

From there, Steve and the other soldiers rustled up a pair of pants and a light shirt for Bucky before they laid him down to sleep for the night. Morita jumped in to give the rest of his wounds a quick look see. Afterwards, Steve pulled each of the other soldiers aside and thanked them for their help. They all just shook their heads at him.

“Fuckin’ Nazis, man, whatta ya gonna do,” Morita said.

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth,” Monty said.

“You saved our bacon, it’s your call. Besides, the Nazis sneak up on us from behind, we’ll just point Bucky at ‘em, ha!” Dum-Dum said.

Dernier just muttered in French something that sounded an awful lot like swearing, and Gabe just laughed and nodded along with him. The whole group agreed not to whisper a word of it to anyone else. After all, who would believe them?

Privately, Steve thought that his cause might have been aided by how awful Bucky looked. Blood had seeped through the bandages on his face and his new clothes hung shapeless and slack on his thin frame. Terrifying cuts and burns peeked out from under his new clothes. It was hard not to feel bad for him, human or not.

The next morning, Steve’s little group of lieutenants took turns helping Bucky march along, still wrapped up in his threadbare sheet, and lagging behind the bulk of the POWs. Much to Steve’s amusement, Bucky kept up a running commentary of quiet bitching the whole way.

“…join the war effort, they said. Save the humans, they said. Fuck. It’s not like I can even spend time with the bulk of humanity without getting a lynch mob on my ass, present company excluded. Ever since that jackass, Perseus, decided that Auntie ‘Dusa’s head would make a great weapon, we’ve gotten no peace! First that slimy little prick had to steal our sisters’ eye just to blackmail information from them. Stole their eye! They only had the one! Who steals someone else’s eye? Why couldn’t he have just brought cake and wine or something? Plums, maybe. Everyone likes plums. Talked to them like real people, maybe…”

Monty confided in Steve later that it was damn hard to be properly fearful of the so-called monster in their midst when he complained like a pissy twelve year old.

Steve lost track of their new friend in the mad scramble that followed their return to camp. While he was giddy with relief at successfully getting everyone back safely, he felt pang of sadness when he heard that Bucky disappeared. Intellectually he knew that it was probably for the best. How could he, or anyone else really, explain finding a gorgon deep in a Hydra base?

Granted, this would be coming from a super soldier, so really how unbelievable would it be? Even still, in the days following their return Steve found that he worried about his unlikely friend. The guy looked like a wreck, all cut up like that, and was missing an arm no less!

It wasn’t just that, though. Bucky genuinely seemed like a nice guy. A little surly, perhaps, but given the circumstances he could be forgiven. Besides, Steve always enjoyed a bit of sarcasm. Bucky was smart and funny and seemed unwilling to put those around him at risk. Steve hoped that he got away okay and was able to recuperate someplace safe.

Chapter Text

When he arrived back in London, Steve was not only issued several medals, but he was also asked to get together a team to continue on with special operations. Col. Phillips may have wanted an army of super soldiers, but Steve had already proven that one alone could make a difference, too.

Steve was really impressed with several of the POW’s, specifically the ones that helped him with Bucky. Even after who-knows-how-long of being imprisoned and in the face of some very strange events, they kept their cool and proved themselves formidable and skilled.

He immediately recruited them for his new team. All in all, they seemed pretty excited to go get a little revenge for their poor treatment.

Col. Phillips pulled out all the stops getting them equipped. Steve was given free reign to pick out whatever gear they wanted or needed, including things specially made by Howard Stark.

“Come on, take a look at what I’ve got laid out here.” Howard gestured to several long tables of fancy looking shields and guns. “I heard you used a shield, so I took the liberty of fixing up some options for you.”

While Howard rambled for a bit about built in flame throwers and firing mechanisms, something shiny under one of the tables caught Steve’s eye.

“What about this one?” he asked. It was perfectly round, curved, and shined to mirror finish. Something about how it redirected the sound when his dress mess coat buttons tapped against it was odd; it made the metal hum in his hands.

A strange light entered Howard’s face. His half-smile turned a little hungry and a little mocking at the same time. But Steve didn’t feel any malicious intent off of it. It seemed more like there was some kind of joke here that Steve was missing.

“That one, eh, Captain? Sure. Give that one a try. I think it suits you.”

Steve hefted it for a moment, gauging it’s weight and the feel of it on his arm. “It’s so light! What’s it made of?”

“Vibranium. It’s stronger than steel and a third of the weight. It’s completely vibration absorbent.” Howard put his hands in his pockets and radiated smug satisfaction.

“Why isn’t it standard issue?” Steve asked, curious.

“That’s the rarest metal on earth. What you’re holding there? That’s all we’ve got.” Howard looked down a moment and then cast a sly look back up to Steve. “Besides. Something like that should only be dusted off for someone special. And what’s more special than a super soldier?”

Steve snorted. He still didn’t feel like that much of a big deal, no matter what he just pulled off in Azzano. He was just doing what he had to; what anyone would have done.

Right about then Peggy walked into the room. “Well then, are you nearly done? We’ve got a meeting to attend.”

Steve held up the shield to her with a pleased smile on his face. “What do you think?”

A wicked grin crossed her face and she took a few steps away from him. Calm as can be, she grabbed a nearby handgun and shot at Steve point blank, hitting the shield dead on. Each bullet dropped right down, not even marking the mirror finish.

Steve peeked out over the shield at her amused face, kind of worried.

“Yes. I think it works,” she said with that same wicked grin. Then she smiled a bit larger at Howard, gave him a nod, and motioned for Steve to join her. Howard just stood there cackling behind them.

Before he left he passed Howard a bit of paper; on it he’d drawn up a new version of his USO outfit, armored for combat. He’d seen first hand how well symbols worked, and if Hydra was going to have theirs in the form of the Red Skull, well, Steve wanted to make sure the Allies had a counter to it.

“I had some ideas on the uniform.”

Howard looked at it and grinned so wide his face nearly split in half. “Whatever you want, pal.”

On the way to his meeting with Peggy, Steve wondered how much work it would take to convince the Brass to let him take her with him on missions. Over and over he was impressed with how intelligent and competent she was. But in the end it turned out to be more than he could ask.

He was able to insist on Peggy as his liaison with the SSR and counted himself lucky to have her. Not only was she able to understand and cut through more of the bureaucracy red tape than he could ever hope to figure out, but he also trusted her. Steve knew that she would help him out any way she could. Besides, he knew that she would be able to help keep him in touch with Howard, who often got lost in his own labs if no one checked on him from time to time.

Three weeks later Steve and his newly rescued POW lieutenants were back on the front, armed to the teeth, and ready and raring to take out Hydra bases. They had left the main camp and were already well on their way; camped in the Schwarzwald, the Black Forest in Germany, just outside of the French border.

The men were just settling in for the night when Dernier turned away from the fire to rummage through his pack and let out an incredibly undignified squeak. He scrambled for his gun, crying out, “Alarme! Obtenir vos armes dehors!”

The group scrambled for their weapons and peered into the forest.

A pair of luminous red eyes peered back.

Dum-Dum would deny it to his dying day, but Steve swore that the man made a kitten sized ‘eep!’ at the sight of those glowing eyes.

“Peace, friends,” a slightly muffled, gravelly voice drifted out toward them.

“Who’s there?” Steve called out. “Come out where we can see you!”

A piece of the deep shadows detached itself from the greater darkness and wandered toward the camp, slowly, with no visible weapons held at the ready. As it got closer, it solidified into the form of a man, heavily armored in dark clothing, and a rifle slung over his back. He had shoulder length dark hair and the lower half of his face was covered with a black scarf. His eyes were covered with red lens goggles. The hair seemed to float by itself through the air, as if he were walking underwater.

Steve straightened up. “Bucky?”

“Hi there, Steve.” He tilted his head in a friendly manner. “I heard through the vine that you fellas were headed out to blow up some Nazi factories. Need a hand?” He waved his left hand at them as he meandered into camp.

Steve smiled a bit as the group relaxed. “Hey! I’m glad to see you’re okay. How did you get another arm?” He asked incredulously. Then he thought for a moment. “And did you just make a hand pun?”

Steve got the nagging feeling that Bucky was grinning underneath his scarf. The commandos shared a glance, shrugged, and went back to their evening activities. Bucky sat down next to the fire and took off his gloves. His left hand was made of metal; teeny plates all interlocked together and moved with the fluidity of his flesh hand. Bucky wiggled his fingers at them. “Hephaestus fixed me up a replacement. The guy is kind of an ass, but so am I, so we get along great. I run errands for him every once in awhile, so he was willing to do me a solid and gear me up.”

Monty took a sip from his flask and said, “Hephaestus, as in the God of the Forge? He’s real? And alive?”

“Oh yeah, most of the old gods are still around, doing what they do best. Which, honestly, is mostly just fuck around and make their own lives more difficult than they need to be. Most of them don’t really keep in touch anymore; bad shit happens when they all get together. But, wow, this war is really dragging them out of the woodwork, along with everything else that goes bump in the night. I bet Ares is fucking thrilled.” Bucky warmed his hands against the fire as he talked.

Steve sat down next to him and tried to figure out something intelligent to say. There was something about Bucky that made Steve’s brain turn to toffy and seize up. He was sort of mesmerizing to watch; he moved so fluidly. Steve mentally kicked himself again; right, snake. Of course he moved fluidly. Steve ended up offering him part of his k-ration. Bucky shook his head, “Thanks though, but I ate already. I’m not really sticking around either. I know paling around with the snake guy has got to be weird, so I figured I’d drop in and let you know that I’ll be keepin’ an eye on you fellas. Many hands make light work and all that.”

Morita groaned. “Those puns aren’t getting any better, man.”

Bucky snickered. The snakes in his hair were animated tonight, looking around at everyone and quietly scenting the air.

“You could stay here to sleep if you wanted,” Steve offered quietly.

Bucky shook his head. “Don’t worry about me, pal, I don’t sleep much anyways.” He stood up and started to walk off into the woods again, pausing at the edge of camp. “If you guys see any snakes, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t harm ‘em. I’ll warn them to keep clear of you all, but, well, serpents are attracted to gorgons like crazy. They’re just sayin’ hello, tryin’ to be friendly. So don’t pay them any mind. They’re just being neighborly, yeah?”

With that, he disappeared back into the woods.

The commandos collectively shook their heads.

“Friendly. Of course. Why not,” Gabe mumbled, looking vaguely stunned.

“I say, Captain, you lead a very curious life,” Monty observed and took another drink from his flask. “On the bright side, myth has it that gorgons are excellent hunters, if a shade on the evil side. Children of Earth and Sea, they say. Of course, the myths also say that they have wings and their blood births monsters.”

Dum-Dum shivered. “That stuff gives me the heebie-jeebies. I donno if I’m gonna be able to sleep at night, knowing he’s out there watching us.”

Morita shrugged, “Fuck that. I’ll sleep great. That guy owes us and he’s got good reason to hate the krauts. One more guy between them and us, I say.”

Steve sat quietly while the soldiers in his command theorized about their strange new companion. He wasn’t sure what to think about the gorgon himself. Just weeks after escaping wounds that would have killed or crippled a regular human, and he looked fantastic. He was well dressed and equipped, complete with a literally shiny new metal arm. More than that, he moved well. He glided, almost.

Steve suddenly realized he had spent the last several minutes zoning out thinking about how his inhuman friend looked and moved. Where did that come from? He mentally shook himself and attempted to get his mind back on track and ready for sleep, but as he stared up at the night sky he couldn’t help but wonder if red eyes were staring back at him.

--

As the group snuck through enemy territory, Bucky’s nightly visits became the norm. They would set up camp, Bucky would wander in, exchange a few words, and then wander out. Steve found himself wishing that Bucky would stay longer, even though he turned into a tongue tied idiot the moment the gorgon showed up. Maybe it was the hair. Yeah. That had to be it.

Travel to their first target was uneventful. Privately, Steve wondered how much of that ease was due to Bucky’s vigilance around them. They really should have run into at least one patrol by now given how deep they were into enemy territory. He could tell that some of the other commandos were thinking the same thing. No one brought it up, though, afraid to jinx their luck.

Their first attack went shockingly smoothly. The commandos worked well together; Steve in front drawing attention, the rest of the commandos behind and to the side setting up demo charges and destroying objectives, and troublesome strays and commanders being picked off at a distance by a frighteningly accurate sniper in the trees. Steve remembered that rifle Bucky had slung over his back; it had to be him helping them out from the forest edge. Unseen but deadly.

After that battle, the group made tracks as far as they could, hoping to be long gone before any Hydra retaliation made it to the newly ruined factory.

“We should keep moving; the more distance we get from there the better,” Steve said.

The men grumbled a bit. It had been a long day and night time was coming up fast.

Monty piped in with his two cents. “We might as well. It’s not as if we’ve found a good bolt hole just yet. We’d be sitting out in the open for any patrol, and I don’t know about you chaps, but I’d rather not tarnish this success with needing to flee a battalion of fanatics just because we were too careless about finding cover.”

“And how the hell are we even supposed to find a nice hidey hole in the middle of the fucking night? Dusk isn’t that far off and it’s already dark as fuck in this creepy ass forest. Christ, no wonder Germany came up with these fascist fucks; this place breeds crazy,” Morita bitched, and then let out a rather unmanly yelp as Bucky stepped out of the shadows next to him. “Fuck, man! Warn a guy!”

Steve again had the sneaking suspicion that Bucky was grinning under his scarf.

“I know the area around here. If you’ll let me take the lead, I can lead you to a nice cave to camp out in,” Bucky offered.

Steve mulled it over for a moment then agreed. He wasn’t sure why, but he knew that Bucky wouldn’t lead them into a trap. Not after all that he’d done to help them. If he really wanted to hurt them, it would have been far easier just to pick them off at a distance with that rifle of his. Why help them out at the factory only to turn around and kill them in a cave?

Also, how much of his suspicion was due to the man’s monstrous heritage? If Bucky were, say, French Resistance, would he be as wary? Maybe not. And, really, how much of his suspicion was due to Steve’s hesitance to admit that he was strangely intrigued by the man? That was weird, wasn’t it? To think about him so much? To trip over his words whenever the gorgon was around? To feel flushed and tingly every time those red lenses followed him around camp? Was that a gorgon thing? The other commandos didn’t seem to be having a problem.

All of this wound around through his mind as they marched through the woods.

Bucky glided ahead of them; silent in a way that the rest of the commandos could only envy. An hour or so into their march Bucky froze and then dropped to a crouch. One hand lay on the ground and he leaned forward, peering into the darkened woods. Everyone else froze as well, silent and bristling with weapons, waiting for whatever it was that spooked their scout to materialize.

Bucky moved minutely. The gesture wasn’t even remotely human. His head sunk the tiniest bit and his spine seemed to just barely curve side to side for a brief instant. Steve could barely make out a low rumbling sound briefly emanating from him; something like a cross between a purr and a hiss. He looked poised, focused on a distant target. He unslung his rifle and took aim into the darkness; after only a single breath, a shot rang out.

“Stay here,” he said, before he was gone into the dark, nearly faster than the eye could track.

They waited in anxious silence for his return, their flashlights and lanterns hooded. No need to be a bigger target than they already were.

After what seemed like a small eternity, they caught the glow of Bucky’s eyes returning to them in the dark.

“All’s well, boys. I just found us a spot of dinner. Think of it as congratulations for a mission well done.” Bucky strolled up, relaxed, with a whole deer easily carried over one shoulder.

“Mon dieu,” Dernier whispered, half laugh, half curse.

“Jesus Christ, Buck, you scared the hell out of us,” Steve admonished.

Bucky snorted. “Christ ain’t got nothin’ to do with me, Stevie. I was spearing boar and chasin’ nymphs long before his martyred ass was born.”

Steve was torn between laughing and gaping like a scandalized old nun.

“How fucking far away was that deer?” Morita asked. “It took you damn near twenty minutes to go get it. Twenty minutes we were here shitting our pants thinking the krauts found us, by the way.”

Bucky resumed his place at the head of the group and waved them to follow, completely unbothered by the weight of the massive dead animal on his shoulder. “Eh, I donno. A ways, I guess. Far enough that they didn’t hear, see, or smell us comin’.”

Dum-Dum just shook his head again and muttered, “How did this war get so fucking crazy…”

The cave they ended up at was deep and dry, the entrance well hidden by a deep screen of brush. Each person set out to do their tasks without needing direction. Dernier started a good sized fire while Bucky foraged in the dark for seasoned firewood. Monty prepared the game while Morita, Gabe, and Steve all made camp comfortable.

The only moment of awkwardness happened when the meat was finished cooking. Bucky looked at the portion he had cut off for himself and then looked at the group around him, clearly considering how he was going to eat without revealing his face to the group.

“You could face the back of the cave while we face the fire,” Steve offered.

Bucky sighed in relief. “Yeah. Yeah. Good idea. Thanks, pal.” He turned and set his meal in front of him. He took off his scarf first, tilted his head a bit to make sure that no one was looking, and then removed his goggles with a blissful sigh. “Oh sweet summer rain, that feels great. Don’t get me wrong, I love looking at all your ugly mugs, but it’s nice to be able to rub my eyes for a change.” The group laughed a bit.

Conversation flowed easily after that; the commandos peppered Bucky with questions and he returned the favor, eager to know more about the other soldiers.

“Did ya see the way Cap ricocheted his shield? Never seen anything like it,” Dum-Dum crowed.

“That sentiment seems to be the norm for this campaign,” Monty added in.

Bucky snorted. “Yeah, pal, that is a hell of a shield. Where’d you pick it up?”

“Howard Stark himself made it for him,” Gabe crowed. “It’s made of some kind of special metal. Only one like it in the world! Hell, Stark equipped all of us. Captain of Industry, head scientist for the SSR, and we’re the ones getting all his goodies. My momma ain’t never gonna believe me when I get home.”

“Howard Stark, huh,” Bucky murmured. “Figures.”

“Yeah, you’ve heard of him, right? I mean, you prob’ly live in a cave or something. Is that how you found this one?” Morita asked with a shit-eating grin.

Bucky snorted. “Fuck you, I live in Brooklyn. I just happen to know these woods. Been around the bend this way one or two dozen times.”

The commandos heckled him for a bit longer, high on the afterglow of a completed mission and full bellies. Bucky gave as good as he got; his whole demeanor seemed pleasantly surprised at the camaraderie. Steve watched on with a smile. He had never been the most social guy; no one was lining up to talk to the fella they could step on. After the serum, it just seemed like everyone was more interested in how he looked rather than what he had to say. Sitting here as one soldier among many, with food and jokes aplenty…it was something Steve had always wanted but never hoped he could have.

“But seriously fellas, I know these woods. If we’re headed up north of here there’s a place we gotta stop,” Bucky said. Sometime during dinner a large snake had slithered up out of the depths of the cave and curled up around Bucky’s ankles. He absently rubbed its back with his metal hand.

“This ain’t a pleasure jaunt, Buck,” Steve said with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeah, and this ain’t for pleasure. There’s a reason these woods are so quiet. A pair of witches watch over this space, and they don’t like it when anything nasty comes through. That used to mean bad witches, monsters, people with evil intent, that kind of thing, but I wouldn’t put it past them just to make the whole damn place impassible to anyone with an army. We’ve slipped in ‘cause I know ‘em, and there’s only a handful of us. After what we did today, blowin’ stuff up. Well. If we’re headed north, deeper into their territory, we’re gonna need to stop by and make nice.”

Silence reigned over the cave.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Morita said, totally deadpan.

Monty made the sign of the cross. The rest of the group just sat dumb.

“Hey, now, they’re nice. Well. Nice-ish. Sort of nice. Okay, they actively kill evil things, so that’s pretty close to being nice,” Bucky said, a touch apologetically. “We’ll need to bring a gift. It’s only polite. I got a stash of booze and cigars, but if you guys got anything to contribute it wouldn’t go amiss. No candy though. I know you mugs hoard those chocolate bars like crazy, but don’t even fucking bring them out. They fucking hate candy and I do not want to get my ass stabbed just because you bumpkins can’t keep a screw on your sweet tooth.”

Dum-Dum abruptly stood up and walked out saying, “I need to take a piss.” Steve heard him grumbling under his breath about witches and monsters with snakes coming out of their asses and what the fuck.

“Witches,” Monty stated.

“Are you serious, Bucky?” Steve asked.

“Oh, so the guy who can turn people to stone at a glance is fine and weapons that shoot blue lightning are run of the mill, but witches are too unbelievable?” Bucky’s voice dripped with sarcasm.

“Well, no, when you put it that way. But you gotta see this from our point of view, Buck. Every story I’ve ever heard about witches ends in tears for the poor sods who meet them.”

“What about Glinda.”

“Wait. What?” Steve was absolutely lost in this conversation. “Like, Glinda from the Wizard of Oz?”

“Yup. Good witches and bad witches, Steve. World’s got room for all kinds.”

“That’s not what the Inquisition thought,” Morita added.

Bucky snorted. “Yeah, well, the Catholics didn’t like a lot of folks. Personally, I think it's ‘cause they were still pissed about the whole lions-in-the-coliseum thing. Pansies. Like no one else has ever been fed to ravenous predators.”

“Maybe don’t bring that Inquisition thing up when we get there,” Gabe said quietly to Morita.

“Nah, they don’t mind that sort of thing,” Bucky said. “They spent a long ass time hunting bad witches. It’s kind of a favored pastime for them.”

Dernier said something in French to Gabe, who just shrugged and muttered back to him in the same language.

“And you’re certain that these witches aren’t going to harm us,” Steve said. It was more of a statement of fact than a question.

“Well, I’m more certain that they’ll have us chasing our tails around the woods for weeks before they let us drag the attention of an enemy army toward their territory. Unless we go see them and make sure we got safe passage. We already got a pass on this little trip, but we do it again and we’re using their woods as a duck and cover site to strike from. I’m pretty sure that’s a breach of hospitality. Bright side, they’re good folk. Once they hear what the Nazis are doing, shit, they’ll probably bless us before we go.”

Steve mulled this over for a minute. He wanted to trust Bucky, he really did. But he needed more information.

“We’re headed back toward allied lines for the moment. We need to resupply, report in, and get the latest intel. We’ll see about where we’re headed after that,” Steve eventually replied.

Bucky nodded and donned his goggles and scarf again. “So be it. I’m gonna head out to keep watch.” Bucky got up and adjusted his gear. The friendly cave snake curled up in the warm spot he had been sitting in and looked like it was settling in to sleep. Bucky gave it one last rub on the top of its head.

Steve stood up with him, but Bucky waved him off. “I’ve got this, Captain. I can see in the dark like it’s noon and I really don’t need the sleep. Super soldier or not, you’ve had a long day. Get some rest.”

“I’m doing alright. I’ll just help you with the first watch,” Steve insisted. Bucky shrugged and the two of them walked out.

The night was crisp and cool; the wind held just a bare puff of chilliness that heralded the start of the cold season. Steve and Bucky walked a little ways away from the cave. The small amount of light that leaked from the screened in cave entrance was enough for Steve to see dimly in the dark. He walked side by side with Bucky, noticing that his goggle lenses were glowing a bit.

Bucky paused and sat on a downed tree truck, waiting the silence out. Steve sat next to him and leaned his shield within easy reach.

“Your eyes always glow in the dark like that?” Steve finally asked, desperate to fill the air with something but suddenly not really sure what he should be saying.

Bucky tilted his head to look at him briefly before turning his attention back to the forest around them. “Only when I’m lookin’ at you, Stevie,” he replied quietly. That was not what Steve expected him to say and the idea of it sent a little shiver up his spine. Silence stretched on for another minute before Bucky picked up the conversation again. “What’cha thinking of, Steve. Why are you out here with me?”

“I guess I’m just trying to figure out why you’re here at all,” he responded.

“I thought I made that pretty clear, pal. You saved me. I owe you.”

Steve shook his head. “If that was all there was to it then you could be on your way tonight. I saw how you kept those guys off my back today. If I didn’t think I’d give your position away, I would have waved thank you every time.”

“Not the same, Stevie.”

“It is though. Even if it wasn’t, why talk to us? Why tell us all about magical beings who, dead to rights, probably don’t want to be talked about? Why share secrets? You could have just stayed in the trees, sniped from afar, all with us none the wiser. You’re going above and beyond with this, buddy.”

Bucky sighed a little. “Maybe.”

Steve was close enough to Bucky that they brushed shoulders. He could feel the tension in the other man’s frame. Another half hour passed in silence as Steve waited for Bucky to gather his thoughts.

“I guess that I just wanted to get to know you more,” Bucky replied shyly. His voice was soft, almost bashful, and was such a contrast from the boisterous shit-talker that he was around the rest of the commandos. Steve’s pulse jumped as a little thrill shot through him. He could tell from how Bucky’s head twitched toward him that Bucky had noticed.

Steve’s mouth was suddenly bone dry. “But why?” he asked.

Bucky leaned in towards him until Steve could feel the heat from Bucky’s breath on his cheeks. “Because I think you’re worth knowing,” he whispered. Bucky breathed in, moving his face over Steve’s neck and hair, catching his scent. Steve held back a shiver, frozen in indecision.

After only another moment, Bucky leaned back again. “Get some sleep, Stevie. I got this watch,” he said, and then he stood up and disappeared into the woods.

Steve sat on the tree trunk for several long minutes and tried to slow his heart rate down and figure out what the hell he was going to do.

--

When Dum-Dum returned to the cave, Steve and Bucky had just left. Apparently he missed them on their way out, because when he got back inside he stopped dead at the sight of the friendly cave snake in Bucky’s seat.

“Sweet Jesus, did he turn into a snake?” Dum-Dum asked in a horrified whisper.

He was nearly laughed right back out of the cave.

Chapter Text

Captain Rogers’ group never did make it all the way back to allied lines. All they could do was a small town in east France that was Resistance friendly. They were able to resupply as well as pass a few messages back and forth.

Steve was immensely disappointed that he wasn’t able to do a little side research on creatures of myth back in London like he had hoped. Nor could he justify sending back an official inquiry, not when it would out Bucky to anyone and everyone listening in to the line. The last thing Steve wanted was for Bucky to be a lab experiment again, and he really didn’t want to be ordered to bring him in.

The best they could do was to inquire with the locals about any stories they may have heard. Honestly, Steve got pretty much what he expected to; a whole lot of old wives stories and fairy tales. They couldn’t even rely on old books; the Nazis had already been through with the burn piles. Books on anything resembling magic or monsters were all very promptly confiscated or destroyed.

The townsfolk themselves had little to say about ancient myth but, boy, did they have plenty to say about the Black Forest.

They said it was a cursed place filled with monsters and fae. In the days of their grandfather’s grandfathers, the Forest was crawling with shape shifters, trolls, and evil witches. Children disappeared in the night and traveling alone through the woods was suicide. Most were quick to say that the woods were safe enough now. Old tales were old tales and who knows how such things start. Still, they all grew up on the fables of the Schwarzwald and fears instilled in the cradle were hard to shake, no matter how silly they seem to an adult.

The whole time they were in town, they saw neither hide nor hair of Bucky. Steve didn’t think any of them were very surprised about that. Bucky was a noticeable kind of guy. Still, it made Steve wonder where the gorgon got his supplies if he wasn’t ever able to show himself in regular company. On the off chance his new scout and sniper was in need, Steve scavenged up extra supplies for him. Even if Bucky didn’t need the stuff, chances were good they would come in handy anyways.

Steve also discovered that his little squad had managed to acquire its own nickname; Captain America’s Howling Commandos. Steve couldn’t even think about it without turning beet red. Even after the USO tour, he still wasn’t used to all the attention. The guys thought it was fantastic.

By the time they made it back to the north western border of the Black Forest, autumn was in full swing. Their first night there Bucky joined them again, this time shouldering a pack as well as his rifle and ready to guide them through the forest. Per usual, he simply seemed to appear next to the fire, scaring the crap out of everyone with his sudden arrival.

“Quit fucking doing that!” Morita hissed at him. Dum-Dum was busy laughing at Morita and Monty just rolled his eyes at the whole thing.

It was hard to tell Bucky’s expression under his wrappings but Steve was pretty sure he was surprising them on purpose. Upon reflection, he thought Bucky was being honest when he called himself a bit of an ass.

“You just like watching us swear,” Steve said laughingly.

“It’s not my fault you guys are blind,” Bucky replied. His shoulders shook with amusement. “Besides, a guy’s gotta find his fun where he can.”

“Jerk.”

“Punk.”

Bucky settled in and toasted his hands over the fire, per usual. He always found a way to be close to the camp fire whenever he showed up and now he was decked out in thick winter gear as well. His normal light weight black jacket had been replaced with a navy blue wool monstrosity with far too many buttons. Steve found himself staring a bit, wondering again where Bucky got his supplies.

Steve nudged Bucky’s pack with his boot. “This mean you’re bunking with us on this trip?”

Bucky paused a minute before he answered. “This means I’m droppin’ my bag here while I’m out on watch. I mean. If that’s okay. It’s just that I’ll be sticking close to you guys during the day. It’ll be easier. You know. I don’t wanna intrude.” Bucky’s voice was hesitant, awkward even.

“You’ve been scouting and sniping for us for weeks. Yeah it’s fine if you want to drop your pack at camp for the night. Why wouldn’t it be?” Steve asked, mystified.

Bucky ducked his head and studied his boots. He was flexing his hands like he needed to grab onto something but had suddenly forgotten what that something was. “I don’t want to intrude,” he said softly.

A quick look around the fire gave Steve an estimate of the disposition of the group. Steve knew that he was in command here, but he also knew that he required the goodwill and cooperation of his men. Morale was important; especially given that the whole purpose of their unit was to routinely tackle ridiculously risky missions.

At the same time, Steve knew he would be disappointed in them if they didn’t treat any ally with total respect, regardless of how odd they might look. Some of that feeling may have filtered through to the commandos as they weighed in their opinions.

Gabe and Dernier shared a glance then shrugged. Dum-Dum looked at the rest of them, pursed his lips for a moment, then smiled and shrugged as well. Monty just looked deeply unimpressed and took a drink from his flask. Morita actually laughed and slapped Bucky on the shoulder and said, “Stick around, ace, I’m gonna teach you how to play poker.”

Bucky’s shoulders relaxed and he laughed back, “Bring it on, pal.”

Every night after that Bucky would sit around the fire with them and play cards for a few hours before leaving to patrol around them in the dark. In the morning he would join them for a quick breakfast, help them strike camp, and then lead them deeper into the woods.

They traveled quietly as a precaution. Even though Bucky claimed the witches kept the woods safe, just them being there meant that it was possible other small groups of soldiers could get through too. The woods weren’t totally impassible.

At night time, Bucky would regale them with tales of times past. They were always light hearted and funny; the war had left them all with enough grimness to last a lifetime. In exchange, the boys told stories of their homes, filled with loving impressions of families and lady-friends.

“Come on, Monty. You’re a lord, ain’t yah? What are the real English ladies like? You really meet up at grand balls and all that?” Dum-Dum asked slyly.

“I’ll have you know that I am a military man, and I became so to avoid those dreadful balls,” Monty replied with a roll of his eyes. “A longer, duller, parade of over stuffed shirts and nagging scheming old aunties there never was. Give me a simple pub and a good pint any day.”

The guys all groaned in disappointment.

“You’re bustin’ up all my dreams of the aristocracy there. Here I thought it was all princesses and dragons,” Morita chuckled at them. He quickly dropped the laugh and looked at Bucky in alarm. “Wait. Are there really dragons? Are we gonna run into dragons somewhere?”

Bucky shrugged. “Well, I mean, they exist if that’s what you’re askin’. But no, I don’t think we’ve got to worry about. They pretty much decided humans could go fuck off and hiked it out to the wild parts of the world. For every overgrown lizard that liked to eat farmers there were at least a hundred questing warriors looking for treasure or revenge or who the fuck knows what. After a few notable examples got themselves beheaded, the rest pretty much decided being around ‘civilization’ was too much damn stress.”

“Saint George and his dragon?” Monty asked.

“Yeah, that’s one. I wasn’t there, don’t know the whole story, but you know, rumor comes through the vine. I didn’t even hear about it until a few years after the fact, truth be told.”

Steve just shook his head and smiled. The shit that came up around the campfire was pretty unbelievable.

“What about you, Cap? Any pretty ladies waitin’ at home for you?” Dum-Dum asked. The rest of the group looked on with interest. Outside of battle plans and orders, Steve wasn’t a big talker.

“Well, no. Not really,” Steve said. He could feel his ears and cheeks burning; he had to be as red as his boots. The guys all jeered and laughed. “Seriously fellas, I was a real scrawny guy before the serum. Not a lot of ladies interested in that, you know.”

Dernier waggled his eyebrows and said something in French that nearly made Gabe spit out his drink. “You dirty old man! But you’ve got a point. Dernier wants to know about all those pretty USO chorus girls you were touring around the country with,” Gabe said with a raised eyebrow.

Steve felt like his face was going to combust. “Aw, come on guys, it wasn’t like that. They were good girls. A bunch of them had guys off in the service already,” he stammered out.

The truth was that some of the girls had offered; Steve had declined. He didn’t really know those girls, and they weren’t really interested in anything but how he looked. At least Peggy showed some interest in him before he was transformed into something he, honestly, didn’t really recognize anymore. Even the delicate flirting he exchanged with her on their trip to London wasn’t what Steve would call a relationship. Nor did he really expect it to go beyond that either. All the attention was flattering, but Steve had deep concerns about the safety of any potential partner. He could bend a steel bar with his bare hands. What would he do in the heat of the moment in bed? Not to mention the fact that things would get very awkward, very quickly, if he ever did get involved with Peggy and things went south. Better to just avoid that landmine all together.

What he told her in the car on the way to the transformation lab was still correct; he was still looking for the right partner.

More laughter floated around. “Always the gentleman,” Monty said with a friendly smirk. Steve was flustered by all the teasing, but he felt the weight of Bucky’s gaze in particular; perhaps because he couldn’t see his expression. He had no idea how his new friend was taking his responses.

“What about you, Bucky? Weren’t you saying something about chasing nymphs back in the olden days?” Steve asked, as eager to hear the answer as he was to get the spotlight off of him.

The tilt of Bucky’s head pretty clearly showed Steve that Bucky knew what Steve was up to. “Ah, well, you know how it goes. You live long enough and even an old monster like me is liable to hook up with a partner or two.” Bucky looked up at the stars for a moment. “No one back in Brooklyn though. That’s half the reason I came back to Europe. No one to mourn me when I’m gone, so why not?”

“I thought you said you had family. They’re not…I mean, you’ve lived this long. Stands to reason that they might have…” Steve’s voice trailed off uncertainly.

“Dead and gone, Stevie. Dead and gone. The times of myths and monsters are going away. Science and exploration are takin’ over.” Bucky’s voice went sad and quiet. “Used to be that a forest like this would be filled with spirits. Dryads, nymphs, druids, ghosts, wyverns, wyrms, gryphons…all sorts, all over. Nothing left now. They’ve all been killed, captured, or run to ground. Not that a creep like me socialized much.” He laughed a little.

Steve could hear the murmur of the woods around them; leaves whispering in the breeze and night birds calling. The trees towered above them, ancient and dark. In that moment it seemed they were filled with ominous secrets lost forever because no one left could hear them. His hands ached for a brush and paint; something to capture the near-sacred quiet of this moment.

As he looked around he could see his fellow soldiers felt it too. One moment they were just a group of men fighting a bloody dirty war, and in the next they had slipped into another world. A world made of magic and beauty, in the quiet autumn of its life. The last vestiges of yesterday, before a brutal tomorrow could roll up on metal treads.

“I had sisters, you know. They weren’t gorgons. Didn’t inherit it. Took after their pa; he was a wood nymph; forest spirit. You know. He always treated me good, even though. Well. He always treated me good. And, oh, my little sisters! Each of them was prettier than the last, and a bucket of trouble, too. Becks, Minnie, and Sera.” Bucky sat hunched over his hands, lost in thought.

“What happened?” Gabe asked quietly.

Bucky took a deep breath, rousing himself a bit before answering. “Forest fire. Some asshole decided to screw with a rival noble’s cash flow; set fire to the man’s orchards. It was real dry that year though. It spread to the forest. Becks and Sera died in the flames. Minnie made it out, but her grove was dead. She didn’t last long after that.”

The red lenses of Bucky’s goggles started to glow, bright enough that they held their own kind of fire. His voice took on an odd cadence, an older one, and the deep rasp of a rattle underpinned his words. “I made sure that motherfucker died slow. Him and all he owned and all who aided him. My sisters were wood nymphs, but gorgons are hunters, and from our blood spills poison.”

A shiver rippled through the group.

--

After a week of traveling ever deeper into the woods they arrived at the witches’ house.

To be honest, Steve was a little disappointed. He was expecting something, well, more dramatic. As it was, the house was nearly indistinguishable from a normal forest homestead. There was a large main home carefully constructed of wood logs with a stone work chimney. A large barn with fenced in grazing pasture spilled off to one side with a large work shed on the other. A healthy sized garden was in the full throes of autumn harvest; squash, late tomatoes, and early winter greens were lush and bright against the dark rich soil. The garden fence was lined with fruit trees on one side. A large black gelding munched its way through the pasture and a flock of chickens clucked around the yard.

A man sat on the porch and watched them approach. Even he wasn’t what Steve was expecting; tall, dirty blond, muscular, and wrapped in black leather hunting armor. He was handsome in a rakish kind of way. A wicked looking crossbow leaned next to the man’s chair and his clothing was lined with knives. Bucky waved to him once they got within range.

“Well fuck me sideways, it’s the goddamn Winter Soldier,” the blond man called out to them. “And with humans! How the fuck did that happen?”

Bucky laughed at him as the two men met with a tight hug.

“It’s good to see you, Hansel. Thanks for letting us show up.”

“Good to see you too, Bucky. I heard some nasty things. Glad to see they weren’t true,” Hansel replied warmly.

Bucky shook his head. “Unfortunately, you probably heard right.” He waved his metal fingers. “Regardless. This here is Captain Steve Rogers, James Montgomery Falsworth, Timothy Dum-Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones, Jim Morita, and Jacques Dernier.”

The man nodded at them. “I’m Hansel, it’s a pleasure. My sister, Gretel, is out with Edward checking the far wards; watching your back trail. Come on in, set down your stuff.”

Steve was struck by how large the front door was. He didn’t even notice the size on their approach because it fit with the dimensions of the house. Now that he was right up next to it he realized that the top of the door towered several feet over even his head, and he was more than six feet tall.

Hansel motioned them towards the parlor; a large comfortable room with several chairs of various sizes and an enormous fireplace. Furs decorated the furniture and the floor and drying herbs hung in front of the colored glass windows. The warm glow of the fire and sunlight that filtered through orange, red, and green glass gave the room a cozy, homey feel.

The sitting area ran unimpeded into an open kitchen. A large table sat in the corner. Its top featured the random odds and ends that always accumulated in such spaces; bits of paper and leather, a few jars, a knife or two.

The walls were lined with weapons.

An alarming amount of weapons, actually.

“Pull up a chair.” Hansel gestured at the room around him while he made himself comfortable in one of the chairs by the fire. He surreptitiously placed the crossbow from the porch next to him; Steve got the feeling that the action was more ingrained habit than actual suspicion.

“The Winter Soldier? You talkin’ about Bucky here?” Morita inquired, unceremoniously dropping his bag at the door and falling on a chair. The rest of the commandos followed suit.

Bucky groaned. “Oh god, Han, please don’t start with that shit.” He hesitated over his seating options before picking a chair close to the fire as well.

Hansel’s face split into an unholy grin. “Oh yes. We are starting with that shit. You guys have no idea, do you? Ahhh the stories that I have to tell! Tonight is gonna be great.”

“Here. I brought you guys stuff.” Bucky grabbed a few parcels out of his pack and desperately shoved them at his friend, clearly trying for a distraction. Hansel gave him a knowing look. Steve couldn’t help but grin. It was nice to see that Bucky had someone he could be friendly with.

“The cigars are for both of you, but there’s a special package of them in there for Gretel. The ones in the stamped foil are for her. They’re some kinda special flavored tobacco from Morocco. I picked them up last time I was in Spain; they should still be good in that packing. The booze is to share too, but there’s a small bottle of icewine in there for you.”

“Aww, Bucky. Thanks man. You always remember the old ways.” Hansel’s smile softened. He straightened and held his arms open with his palms up and said, “From hearth and home and land, stranger be welcome. Our fires warm you, our lands nourish you, and our knives guard you. Peace and blessings between us for as long as you stay.”

Bucky repeated the gesture and replied, “From road and wood and sea, stranger we thank you. Our strength serves you, our voices please you, and our skills aid you. Peace and blessings between us for as long as we stay.”

Steve coughed uncomfortably, “We, uh, brought you a few things too. Bucky said. Well. I mean. We’re not sure if you’ll like them, but here. Thank you for letting us stay here and pass through, um, your woods.” Steve pulled out a stack of slim pulp novels and handed them over. Morita passed on a small but well stocked first aid kit. Monty gave up a precious box of loose leaf tea. Dernier produced a bottle of wine. Gabe handed over a pouch of spices. Dum-Dum gave up a brand new pack of playing cards.

Hansel looked surprised and very pleased. He glanced at Bucky and said, “Your new friends are generous. Gretel will be tickled.” He looked at them again and repeated the blessing. The commandos stumbled through the reply.

As everyone resettled themselves, Hansel broke open of one of the bottles of brandy that Bucky gave him and poured everyone a measure of it. Steve marveled at the glassware it was served in. Each cup was part of a matching set of the tiniest brandy snifters he had ever seen; all matched in shape but were of different color glass. The bowl of each glass only held maybe an eighth of a cup of liquor.

“So. You’re. Um. A witch?” Steve asked awkwardly.

Monty covered his face with one hand and mumbled, “How are you so bad at this?” Steve was grateful for the colored light that would cover up what must be a spectacular blush.

Hansel laughed. “Yeah, both Gretel and I are. Not usually something we brag about town, but if you’re okay with Bucky here, stands to reason you’re not gonna panic at us.”

“Wait. Hansel and Gretel? Like, tossed an evil hag in the oven Hansel and Gretel?” Gabe asked with narrowed eyes. They had all heard about it back in the village they stayed at. The story went that two siblings were lured to an evil witch’s house with the promise of candy, captured, and were to be eaten. They escaped by pushing her into her own stove and burning her alive. According to the locals though, it was an old wives tale; a story to teach children not to be greedy and not to trust strangers.

Well. That explains why Bucky was so adamant that they not bring candy. Looking over Hansel’s get-up again, it seemed to Steve that getting stabbed was a real possibility with this guy.

“Yup. Our first kill.” Hansel sipped his drink and cast a slightly exasperated look at Bucky. “Funny that the oven thing is what people remember.”

“History, man.” Bucky replied with a head shake and a shrug.

“Enough of our kill count though! That’s old news. Let me tell you about Bucky, the dread Winter Soldier…”

Bucky hid his head in his hands.

The stories started innocently enough, but quickly moved to the embarrassing kind. Hansel spun tales of inhuman speed and strength, an instinct for weapons work, and unfailing kindness. The blond was a hell of a storyteller, too, and soon had the commandos roaring with laughter at the expense of their gorgon friend.

“…so we’re starting to panic. It had been three whole fucking days since we lost sight of Bucky, wounded, in the middle of winter, with a swear-to-god goblin king and twenty-fucking-seven of his closest fucking friends roaming the woods looking for us, and then this motherfucker just strolls up out of nowhere with that goddamn kitten on his shoulder all snuggled up in his scarf. Only thing you can see of it is the little ears and big blue eyes poking up. And all he’s got to say for himself is, ‘I couldn’t leave it there to starve.’…”

Bucky’s head sunk a little lower, his hands covering the top of his head.

“…you know what a succubus is, right? It’s a sex demon, preys specifically on men. And she is smoking hot. Little veils barely covering up the stunner of a body that the Devil gave her. I was absolutely sunk. I couldn’t have shot if I fucking tried; I was too busy trying to figure out just how see-through her panties were. Oh, Gretel was so pissed. It wasn’t my fault though! She had, I donno, some kind of sex smell or something. Anyways, so then she turns to Bucky and tries to push into his space and all; trying to lay the evil eye on him too. And he is just covered in garbage. Covered. All he does is just stare at her and say, ‘Really?’…”

The longer the stories went on, the more Bucky looked like he wanted to jump out the window.

“…Remember that witch from Stuttgart? The one with the horns? She—“

“Oh hey!” Bucky forcefully interrupted. “I think I hear Gretel and Edward outside. Smells like they brought dinner too. I’m gonna go help them!” With that he beat a hasty retreat, driven out by a riot of laughter.

Hansel watched him leave with a sly smile on his face. After a moment, Steve opened his mouth to ask him something but Hansel shushed him with a raised finger and an ear cocked towards the door. The tinkling sound of a woman’s laughter and a roared, “Bucky!” filtered back into the cabin. All traces of mirth left the blond witch’s face as he stared soberly at Steve.

“Now. He’s distracted and he’ll be actively avoiding listening to what we say.”

Dernier swore in French and Gabe whispered, “He can hear us from out there?”

Hansel nodded at them. “Yeah. He really can.”

“You did this on purpose. You wanted to chase him out of here so you could get us alone,” Steve stated through pursed lips.

“Yeah. I really did.” His eyes flickered over them all and went back to resting on Steve. “What happened to him.”

Steve grimaced. “Nothing good. I found him when I was in one of Hydra's factories, rescuing a bunch of our guys who had been forced to work there.” The group around him shifted a bit uneasily. “He’d been strung up and tortured. No idea for how long.”

Dernier piped up in French and Gabe translated, “Dernier says it had to be at least two months. That’s how long he was there and he could hear the screams every night since he arrived.”

Hansel gritted his teeth. “Go on.”

“He said something about them experimenting on him. He was thin. Real thin. Cut up and burned all over. Syringe marks on him. One arm was cut off. They had some kind of awful mask on him; looked like it had been nailed to his face and it cut into him when he tried to talk. They clipped off some of his snakes.” Steve’s stomach rolled.

The witch was doing a fine impression of a statue. Except for his eyes; his eyes burned.

“I busted him out along with the rest of the POWs. Once we were in the woods, me and the guys patched him up. Bandaged his face. I lost track of him after that. He showed up a few weeks later with the metal arm. Said Hephaestus made it for him.” Steve rubbed one shoulder, trying to work out a kink that wasn’t actually there. He chewed on his lower lip; remembering burn marks and crusted blood on ribs that poked out of a skinny chest.

Hansel made a non-committal grunt. “Guy doesn’t know when to shut his mouth, but he does good work.” His voice was subdued. “We heard there was an ambush. As far as we knew, no survivors.”

They sat in silence for a while longer. Steve could just barely hear the sound of happy voices coming from the yard outside.

“Well. He’s alive,” Hansel stated, sounding resigned and relieved all at once.

Again, Steve was pinned by the witch’s stare. It wasn’t hostile, but the intensity was…unsettling.

“I’ve never seen Bucky this comfortable around a group of humans. Gretel and I would be pretty unhappy if we found out that he came to regret the association.” Burning blue from his irises bled out onto the witch’s face, like oil seeping through cracks in glass. Blond hair turned bright metallic, drifting straight up in a breeze no one else felt. “Do you understand?”

And because Steve could never back down from a fight, could never shut up even when he knew what was good for him, and even though his mouth was dry as a desert, he said, “And what about the people who actually hurt him? Gonna do anything about them, rather than just threatening the guys who helped him out?”

Hansel blinked and the moment was gone. He was just a blond guy in black hunting gear again. “Yeah, we got some plans,” he said with a lazy smile.

The door opened and an absolute stunner of a brunette woman walked through followed by Bucky and the biggest man Steve had ever seen carrying a field dressed wild boar under one arm.

Holy shit this guy was huge. Well. That explained the doors.

Huge and sort of misshapen, now that Steve got a good look at him. He had a hunched back and broad facial features. Bucky seemed at ease with him though, so Steve took his cue from that and gave a friendly smile to all of them.

“The fuck took you so long, sis? You get lost out there?” Hansel ribbed.

“Fuck you,” the woman bantered back with a smile. “Make yourself useful. I got us dinner, Edward carried it, Bucky cleaned it. You. Cook.” She waved a hand imperiously. Hansel snorted and waved Edward over to the massive fireplace so they could get the boar cooking on a spit.

“Fella’s, this is Gretel and Edward,” Bucky introduced. The commandos responded with introductions of their own, smiles, and waves.

Gretel was lovely in a way that sort of reminded Steve of Agent Peggy Carter. They both walked with the same frightening competence. Aside from similar hair colors, that was where comparisons ended. Where Peggy was polished and prim with picture perfect make-up, hair, and formal uniform, Gretel was carelessly pretty, hair tied back with a simple leather lace, and no other thought taken to her appearance. She was clad nearly identically to her brother. Her black leather hunting gear was so similar to his that Steve might have suspected them of sharing clothes, but for the size difference between the two. She, too, was dripping with knives.

She collapsed onto the chair that Hansel vacated and gave Steve a thorough once over.

“Well damn. Build ‘em big back home, huh,” she leered at him. Steve’s face lit on fire and he snapped his mouth shut. The commandos snickered and cat-called at him.

Hansel just let out a frustrated, “Arrrrrrrghh, Gretel! That is the last thing I need to think about.”

Bucky actually hissed. It was one of the most menacing things Steve had ever heard.

“Oh, relax! I was just paying the man a compliment.” She rolled her eyes and smirked at Bucky. Steve couldn’t help but notice that she wore leather pants. Rather tight, black, leather pants. With knee high laced up boots. The small part of his brain that wasn’t dedicated to attempting to die of embarrassment noticed that she didn’t sit like a lady, legs crossed. She sprawled over the chair just like her brother did. Peggy had impressed him, but Steve had absolutely no idea how to react to Gretel.

It wasn’t that Steve was attracted to her, though she was very attractive. It was more that she was so unlike any other woman he had met that he wasn’t even sure how he should react to her.

He did take a moment to wonder if Bucky owned pants like that. If Hansel and Gretel were his gear suppliers, it would make sense…

After a moment of mental seizures, Steve decided just to treat her like one of the commandos. Easier that way, and if she didn’t care for it she could correct him. He knew that Peggy always liked to be treated like just another soldier, and she was the closest comparison he had in mind.

“Thanks for getting dinner for us,” Steve replied warmly.

“Well it’s been ages since we’ve seen Bucky here. Might as well make a night of it,” Gretel said lightly.

Bucky just stared hard at her. Hansel looked back and forth between Bucky, his sister, and Steve, and then snorted in laughter. Steve was a little confused.

“So, Bucky says that you two watch over these woods. He said it would be wise for us to get approval for passage through this area. We’re on our way to put a crimp in Hydra’s plans. It would be a relief to have a safe area inside enemy territory we could retreat through.” Steve tossed aside his awkwardness to jump into planning mode. Whatever else was going on with all those weird looks back and forth, well, there were more important things to worry about.

“Plenty of time to talk about that tomorrow,” Hansel replied.

“Agreed. We expect you guys to stay for at least a couple of nights. There’s lots to talk about, and if we’re going to help you all out, we’ll need a few days to gather the right ingredients and spell up your gear.” Gretel’s smile could cut glass.

Hansel just nodded. “For tonight, we eat, relax, and get to know each other.” He waggled his eyes at his sister and smiled. “Gretel. They brought us the greatest hospitality gifts.”

“Nice.”

After that, the rest of the evening passed in a blur of food, stories, and easy companionship. Hansel and Gretel were generous hosts and Edward proved to be quiet and polite, though he didn’t contribute much in way of conversation. Steve noted that Hansel surreptitiously squirreled away the ice wine Bucky brought him while Gretel was busy lighting up one of the special cigars. The smoke was sweet; it curled around them and gave the whole evening a special feel.

Comfortable. Relaxed. Exotic and cozy at the same time.

Nighttime found most of the group sitting around the drawn out table playing cards. Steve had long since bowed out and was contentedly watching the group play. Bucky lay sprawled out on a fur in front of the fire, basking in its warmth. His snakes were still and coiled across the arm he was using as a pillow. As far as Steve could tell, he was asleep. Edward had already turned in for the night, disappearing down a hall to the side of the parlor.

With a series of groans and a taunt from her brother, Gretel tossed her cards down with a laugh and said, “Alright! I’m done, I’m done. I’m not losing one more pin to you vultures!” She grabbed her mug of cider and sat down next to Steve. He nodded to her in greeting.

“Those guys play a rough hand,” Steve said.

“They really do.” She sounded just like her brother for a moment. Steve wondered how old they were; how long they had been living together.

She tilted her chin towards Bucky. “He looks peaceful.” Her voice was quiet, barely a murmur that blended into the noise of the card game.

“Yeah. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen him sleep. Since that first night after the factory anyways.” Steve matched his volume to hers. He didn’t want to wake Bucky up.

“Tell me.”

He did. Like her brother, Gretel sat stock still through the recounting of events. When he was through she sat gripping her mug.

“Bastards. I’ll burn them all to the ground,” she growled out.

“Does that mean we’ll definitely be getting your help?” Steve asked with a tiny smirk and a raised eyebrow.

She glanced over sideways at him. “Between all the shit those evil fuckers have been doing and what they did to Bucky, yeah. Chances are good. Besides, Bucky’s taken a shine to you.” Gretel smirked back at him.

“Yeah, after the first round of weirdness, I think he fits in with the guys really well. And he’s a hell of a shot.”

“That’s true, but that’s also not what I meant. I think he likes you specifically.” She raised her eyebrows at him.

“Oh! I. Uh. I mean. What. What makes you say that?” Steve squeaked out.

“Han and I have known Bucky for a long time. Trust me, I know. The question is, do you like him back?”

“He’s, uh, he’s a great guy. Funny, you know. Kind. Good at what he does,” Steve stammered.

Gretel gave him an unimpressed look. “That’s not what I meant and you know it. I see how you look at him. How you watch him move.”

“I. I don’t know. What you’re. Uh…” Steve gnawed on his lower lip. He felt so tense he thought his bones might break from it. He didn’t know where to look. This isn’t a thing that they should be talking about. What if everyone else was listening? Bucky’s a guy. Hell, he’s not even a human guy! Guys don’t want other guys. That’s just not how things go. His anxiety morphed into panic.

Gretel rolled her eyes. “Bucky grew up with the ancient Greeks, remember? There wasn’t a whole lot of social convention about who a person should or shouldn’t love back then. He won’t push you into anything you don’t want, but if you decide you’re not interested then you need let him down easy.” Her tone held both warning and command.

Steve got a hold of his breathing. His gaze rested on Bucky’s sleeping form; how warm and relaxed he looked. His metal hand shined in the firelight and Steve could see how his frame had filled out over the past weeks. Steve wanted to touch his hair, see if it was as soft as he remembered. See if those little snakes were as friendly as he was told.

What the hell was he thinking? Steve shook his head. He didn’t even really know what the guy looked like and the only parts he could see were objectively monstrous.

But Bucky was kind and funny. He made Steve feel so warm; like he was cared for. Like Steve the person mattered just as much as Steve the captain or Steve the science experiment. Bucky saw who he was underneath everything, and encouraged him. The commandos were all friendly, but in a lot of ways they only saw and reacted to him as Captain America, the Man with a Plan. Bucky made him feel accepted and comfortable in his own skin in a way that he never had before, even before the serum. Especially before the serum.

Maybe it didn’t matter what he looked like behind that mask. It’s not like Steve would ever see it.

“Think about it,” Gretel whispered to him. She gave him one more pat on the shoulder and then rejoined the card game. So lost in thought, Steve barely registered her leaving.

Chapter Text

The commandos spent the night sprawled across the little homestead’s comfortable loft, with the exception of Bucky who laid claim to the house’s official guest room. He cited the need to be behind closed doors to make sure no one saw his face. Objectively, Steve agreed, but deep down he suspected that Bucky just wanted the only free bed in the house.

In the morning Hansel dragged the soldiers, sans Bucky, into the woods with their personal grooming gear. After about a fifteen minute hike, they passed through a low rocky ravine and came upon a spacious hot spring complete with a tiny waterfall pouring into it from above.

It was the most beautiful place Steve had ever seen. Steam rolled across the pool’s surface like fog, chased away from the cool water trickling down from the waterfall on the far end. Moss covered the rocks along the ground and ravine walls and little ferns and vines grew in nooks and crannies along the way. The air had a faint mineral tang.

No wonder the witches protected these woods; they’d be crazy to leave.

After a quick wash up and long soak, the group trundled back to the house, clean and warm in a way they hadn’t been since their last trip to London.

They got back to the unbelievable smell of fresh bread and pork. The table had been cleared off and was covered with a pretty impressive spread; hot rolls, three different egg pies, fresh butter, jam, and a pile of sausage and bacon.

“My dear hostess, we are humbled by your efforts,” Monty said while giving a formal bow to Gretel, who was buttering a roll.

“Bucky made breakfast.” Gretel raised her eyebrow at the English gentleman. He turned bright crimson and Gabe snickered at him.

“There you go, making assumptions,” Gabe cackled and punched his arm.

Steve grinned and started piling a plate with food. “Where is Bucky anyways?”

“He and I are gonna go to the spring after breakfast. He’s gathering his stuff,” Gretel replied in between bites of egg pie.

“Wait. You and Bucky….?” Morita waggled his eyebrows a bit, shit eating grin on his face.

Gretel rolled her eyes.

“Bucky knows damn well Gretel would gut him if he got wandering hands,” Bucky said gesturing to himself as he walked into the room with a couple of small bags. One was full already; the other he packed food into. “I’m gonna watch the entrance to the ravine and have my breakfast while she uses the spring. When she’s done we’ll switch.”

“While we’re gone, you guys can clean up the dishes,” Gretel ordered. A series of “yes, ma’ams,” echoed around the room.

As soon as they left, Morita slapped Monty upside the head and said, “I thought you high muckity-muck nobles were supposed to be smooth with the ladies? Lucky for the rest of us, huh guys.” He glanced nervously at Hansel. “I mean. Um. That’s not what I meant. Shit.”

“Gretel can handle herself. If she wants to take a turn in the hay with one of you grunts she’ll let you know,” Hansel answered amusedly.

“Yes!” Morita cheered and Dum-Dum pumped his fist in triumph.

Dernier objected loudly in French and Gabe translated, “Frenchie says you shouldn’t count your chickens before they hatch. Besides, it doesn’t seem like she’s a bit interested in any of us lugs.”

The guys immediately launched into a frenzied discussion of how to woo the witch, with Hansel peppering the conversation with acidic wit and advice.

Steve listened in on the planning session with amusement. Having a large quantity of fresh food was a real treat, and one he wasn’t going to let go to waste just to talk about the potential charming of a lady he didn’t particularly want to get involved with in the first place. Ever since the serum, he noticed a distinct uptick in how much food he needed. This was the first time in weeks he didn’t feel guilty about eating his fill.

And it was fresh food, too! And so, so good. A tiny little voice crowed in the back of his head, Bucky is a good cook! He shook his head. Why would that even matter? It’s not like Steve was going to take him home at the end of the war and install him in the kitchen, ready with dinner at the end of a long day at work.

Steve’s brain screeched to a halt at that mental image. Bucky in loose comfortable clothes cooking away. Or better yet, tight underclothes and a thin white shirt, frilly apron tied around his waist, oven mitts on, and Steve sneaking up to hold him from behind and steal a taste of whatever he was making. Feeling the hard panes of Bucky’s stomach as he hugged the man close.

Dum-Dum smacked his back to help with the strangled cough Steve was choking around.

“Gotta watch how fast you eat, bud. I know you can pack it away, but there’s no rush.”

Steve furiously nodded and tried to think of anything else. What the fuck was wrong with him?

Once Gretel and Bucky returned, they spent the rest of the day discussing the latest enemy intel. Though Hansel and Gretel stuck to the Black Forest, that woods alone stretched over a huge portion of Western Germany. They knew where the main roads were through the woods, how often troops and supplies went through, and in what quantities.

“The wild areas are all ours. Nothing goes through that we don’t want to. But the roads and little towns? Well. That’s more complicated. We can watch, but it’s not really our place to say what goes in and out of those. Other people live there, too. We’ll protect, but we aren’t looking to become tyrants in our own right,” Gretel explained.

After much discussion, they worked out a way to get some of that information out to the allied forces. In addition, Steve made some headway in convincing the pair to directly intervene on their behalf.

In the end, the best he could do was get them to agree to consider it. Hansel insisted on additional recon work to see what was worth an attempt.

“Our skills are pretty specialized, and this is sort of out of our regular wheelhouse. We’re way more used to one-on-one fights. Armies, though? That’s gonna take some planning.” Hansel was adamant and Steve counted himself lucky that they were willing to even consider it.

As morning stretched into afternoon the planning shifted to the commando’s upcoming attack on the next Hydra facility and Bucky excused himself. “Edward and I are gonna go out and hunt us up some grub. No need to stretch our kind host’s pantry, and honestly, planning missions like this isn’t really what I’m good at.”

Before he knew it, he was straining to see the details of the map he had laid out on the kitchen table and someone was shoving a bowl of stew at him. He rubbed his eyes. The windows were dark and candles lit the room. A large pot of something delicious smelling steamed over the fire.

“Wow. I didn’t realize how late it had gotten,” Steve muttered.

“Yeah, you were pretty focused, pal. Sit. Eat.” Bucky pressed a roll leftover from breakfast toward him to go with his stew.

“Thanks.” Steve smiled broadly at him. A warm fuzzy feeling bubbled up from his chest. He was irrationally pleased with Bucky making sure he was fed. Cared for.

Gretel passed a smirk to Hansel, who just shook his head and rolled his eyes.

“I think we’re probably done for the night. Based on what you guys have going on here, I think the best we can do for you now is bless your weapons and armor and set you up with some additional supplies,” Gretel stated.

“Yeah,” Hansel agreed. “We’ve got what we need for that already. We can whip the blessed oil up tonight, and then get you guys set up with it tomorrow. You can be on your way by midday.”

“When you finish with that factory, come back through here. We’ll watch your back trail. We’ll also have some additional winter supplies for you too. Winter around here can get pretty rough.”

Steve wasn’t sure what he was expecting with the whole ‘blessing’ routine. Some kind of ritual maybe. Chanting perhaps. Magic lights flowing out of hands. That sort of thing.

What he got was Hansel and Gretel unceremoniously drizzling their gear with scented water, slapping them on the backs, and waving them goodbye.

He felt sort of let down by the whole affair.

Enough so that their first night camping out he felt the need to bring it up.

“Those were the most un-witch-like witches I have ever…well, met I guess. Although, now that I think of it, based on them I’m not sure I’d really know.” Steve couldn’t help but feel a little disgruntled. He was promised witches. Brooms, black cats, warts. Witchy-witches.

“Trust me, pal, I know,” Bucky laughed at him and slung an arm over his shoulder.

“If all the witches in England were just like Gretel, then I am profoundly ashamed of my country. They clearly deprived themselves of women worth spending time with,” Monty sniggered.

Steve was very distracted by the arm over his shoulder.

Dernier waxed poetic for a moment with Gabe sighing along with him.

“Any idea what these so-called ‘blessings’ are supposed to do?” Dum-Dum asked.

“Eh, the usual I think. Makes the stuff resistant to damage, wear and tear, that sort of thing. It’ll give us a better chance to hit targets and cut through anything that has magic about it; give us some basic protection, too, if someone tries to use magic against us. Think of it as a helpful nudge,” Bucky responded.

Over the next several weeks they found out just how helpful those blessings really were.

Bullets that should have hit them dead center just glanced off or simply grazed. Any hit they took through their clothes didn’t wound as bad as it should have. Lucky shots became the norm, even for the guys who weren’t particularly great at shooting. Even Dernier’s explosives got a boost; they always tended to go off at just the right time, doing just the right amount of damage. As Bucky explained, it just made the things they already did just a little bit better.

They did stop at Hansel and Gretel’s house after their second factory run, and then spent the rest of winter on various side missions for the allies. They did everything from prisoner rescue and camp liberation to supply sabotage and elimination of high profile targets. In a pinch they even jumped in on main army support. Their fame grew.

Every night Bucky and Steve would take the first watch together. Bucky’s enhanced senses meant that even with the distraction of spending time with Steve he was still able to effectively keep appraised of trouble. After that Steve would take the second watch with someone else while Bucky climbed a tree to sleep. Bucky would relieve him for third watch. Neither of them needed a full night’s sleep and everyone rested better in general knowing that every watch had someone with enhanced senses.

First watch was always Steve’s favorite. Sometimes he and Bucky would simply sit shoulder to shoulder, enjoying the peace of the night. Other times they would talk, sharing stories about anything and everything.

Steve talked about growing up in Brooklyn, how he was always getting into fights. He talked about how his father died in the first Great War and how he always tried to live up to the idea of the hero he thought his papa was; standing up for the little guy and helping anyone who needed it. He mentioned how sick he was before the serum and listed off the rather impressive number of illnesses he nearly died from. He spoke of his ma, her big smile and kind words, how she was a nurse and worked extra shifts to keep them fed. He was always so proud of her; she never folded when other people pressured her to marry for money or stability. She never gave up when doctors and priests told her that Steve would die because he was so sickly.

Bucky talked about his sisters and all the mischief they got him involved in. He talked about how after they died he got involved with hunting evil witches with Hansel and Gretel; the relief he felt at putting his rage and grief to good use. He spoke fondly of ancient Greece and his small part in the Battle of Troy; the antics of his crazy relatives featured prominently in those stories. He stuttered through his lonely time in Russia where he earned the name Winter Soldier and he talked about how long the years have stretched and how for so many of them he had wandered alone.

Steve talked about how jarring it was to suddenly be so strong and so large; how he felt like a stranger in his own body. He talked about how no one really saw Steve Rogers any more, just Captain America.

Bucky talked about how he missed his family, not in the least because they were the only ones he could be unmasked around. He talked about how much he missed being seen.

Their time together was a small bastion of peace during an otherwise deeply dreadful conflict. Winter was hard and bitter that year and Steve could see it wearing on the commandos. Through it all he did his best to bring them together as a team, a family really, and remind them that they were doing good in the world; that they were saving as many people as they could.

In the meantime, the Howling Commandos got a reputation for accomplishing the impossible. And all along the way, Bucky was there sharp shooting for them. This actually started to cause a bit of an issue for them, at least with the higher ups. Reports back to command often referenced a sniper helping them out, but Steve glossed over exactly who that sniper was.

It all came to a head at the end of winter when the Howlies ran into a group of Col. Phillips army grunts on the march.

“Hey, fella’s, hold up,” Bucky called to the group. He usually moved in front of them, being the keenest scout in the group. “We got movement up ahead, but they’ve got American colors. We must have walked through their forward scouts. Wow, they have shitty forward scouts. Oh, shit. I need to go.”

Steve held his arm and said, “And what if those scouts have closed up behind us? You might as well stick it out here with us. We’ll make sure that nothing happens. It’ll be fine.”

The rest of the group grunted agreement. Tension sang through the gorgon, but he nodded and stayed; trusting the men he had been fighting with for months. They had become closer than Steve ever could have imagined they would be. Bucky adjusted his hood and scarf to keep his snakes covered up and visibly steeled himself to deal with the allied battalion.

They soon met up with the main force. Phillips looked like he ate a lemon when he saw Bucky.

“So this is the mysterious sniper. And who might you be, son?”

“This is Bucky, sir. Short for Buchanan. Um. James Buchanan. Uh. Barnes. James Buchanan Barnes,” Steve began.

(“Really, Stevie. The old president?”

“Shut up jerk, I panicked!”

“You are such a punk.”)

“Part of the 107th, sir. Sergeant. Was with us in Azzano.” Dum-Dum jumped in, saving Steve from floundering in the lie.

Monty just muttered again behind Steve, “Again, Captain, how are you so bad at this?”

Phillips just glared at them all.

“What’s with the hood and scarf. Something wrong with his face?” he demanded.

“Yeah, actually. The Nazis at Azzano had him singled out for experimentation. His face got all cut up,” Steve said grimly, for once managing to pull off the explanation because what he was saying was the absolute truth. Even if Phillips wasn’t getting the whole truth.

“The poor guy was sick, too sick to work, so they took him,” Morita added.

“Saved me from getting taken, too. Pitched a fit when a guard tried to grab me. They took him instead,” Gabe stated.

They all held up under Phillips’ death glare. “Is that so. You sure he was with the 107th and not just a Nazi plant?” God, Phillips was a suspicious bastard. Ever since that Hydra guy snuck into the Project Rebirth experiment he saw Nazi spies everywhere.

“I’m sure, sir. Bucky’s from Brooklyn. We were best friends growing up, one of the only people who put up with me being so sick all the time. That’s why when I heard the 107th was captured I had to go get him out of there,” Steve fabricated, desperately hoping the half-truth would hold up.

“And why didn’t I hear about this when you were putting together your little team?” Phillips demanded.

“I thought you knew.” Steve put on his best aww-shucks face and tried to look bewildered.

It must have worked because after another few minutes of the hairy eyeball, they were all dismissed. Bucky sagged with relief.

“Holy fuck, thank you guys,” Bucky whispered to them.

They all just grinned and slapped him on the back.

Camp that evening was strained. Bucky almost never slept with the group when they were on their own; he preferred perching in the trees. The boys razzed him about it, but he would just shrug and say, “I think it’s the snake part of me. Sleeping in trees just feels safer.”

After that Steve spent a lot more time making sure no snakes would fall on him from the branches above. The surreptitious glances up high that the other commandos started making seemed to imply they were just as concerned by that idea.

But since they were staying with Col. Phillips forces that night, Bucky was grounded; something the man was clearly twitchy about.

To make matters worse, Peggy showed up and started asking questions. Who was this best friend that Steve had never mentioned? How come Steve never put his name in their reports? Why didn’t he go to medical after they were freed from captivity?

Steve tried his best to be polite, but if he was not great at social situations and no good at lying, he was fucking awful at talking to women. Upon reflection, women and Bucky, because Steve had a hard time not sticking his foot in his mouth around the gorgon, too, sometimes.

So when Peggy asked questions, Steve could understand why she never quite bought the answers he was giving. It wasn’t a stretch to think they might not sound authentic.

The commandos were very little help. They would butt in if they saw him flailing spectacularly, but for the most part they just smirked and chuckled to themselves. Bucky himself would jump in from time to time, playing up the Brooklyn drawl, and generally tried to give Steve a breather from the interrogation. Because that’s what it really was, disguised though it may have been as friendly conversation. Peggy was cracking smart and from her pursed lips and narrowed eyes, she wasn’t one hundred percent buying the story they were spinning.

After a while, Peggy just sighed and looked at them. “You trust him.” It was a statement, not a question.

“With my life,” Steve answered without pause.

“Good enough for me.” Peggy smiled.

Steve felt relief so sweet it was nearly love. Steve marveled at the amazing person that Peggy was. A lesser person would have picked things apart until it ruined the friendship they shared. Peggy simply trusted him to make the right call. She had faith that he knew what he was doing.

It was a heady feeling, to be trusted so.

The rest of the evening passed pleasantly enough with the commandos catching up with the agent on the latest camp gossip. Since they were safely in the main camp, they didn’t need to put up their own watch. They celebrated by playing cards with Carter.

Normally, Steve had a tent to himself; the privilege of rank and the joy of extra strength to carry supplies. But that night Bucky shared Steve’s tent.

Steve was hyper aware of the gorgon settling in to sleep in the bedroll next to his. He turned on his side facing away from the other man. “I’ll look this way. I mean, if you want to take off your, you know. Mask. Stuff. I don’t know if you can sleep with them on. I’ll keep my back to you so it’s safe.” He felt like his face was on fire with embarrassment.

“You don’t need to. I’ll cover my head with the blanket. I really don’t like to sleep with the goggles, but I can manage fabric,” Bucky said after a long pause. Steve felt frozen. He ached to reach out, to hold, to feel, but he damn well knew that he shouldn’t. Even if it was okay, even if the other man wanted it, this was not the time or the place.

After a long stretch of awkward minutes later, Steve felt a very gentle touch on his shoulder, followed by a whispered, “Thank you.” The tent filled with the sound of swishing fabric as Bucky wrapped himself up and turned to face the canvas wall.

Steve didn’t sleep a wink the whole night, too caught up in lying so close to his friend but unable to bridge the gap.

Chapter Text

The following week saw them off again, cutting across wilderness to get to their next target. Steve was antsy as hell the whole time. It felt like that one night of lying next to Bucky had electrified his whole body and now he was stuck all wired up with no way to relieve it. He could tell from the occasional glance tossed his way that Bucky noticed. The rest of the commandos seemed oblivious and neither Steve nor Bucky chose to enlighten them, much to Steve’s vast relief.

After several days of this new awkwardness, Bucky finally broached the subject one night during first watch. Steve should have known something was up when Bucky led him out farther than usual from camp.

“What’s goin’ on, Stevie. You’re jittery as hell and you keep looking at me. Did I do something wrong? Is it because you had to lie about us being best friends?” Bucky’s voice was soft and worried. They were sitting next to each other on the ground, leaning on each other at the shoulder and leg, backs rested on the trunk of a huge oak.

“No! No. That’s. No, not at all. Bucky, you are my best friend. We just fudged a little on when we met, is all.” Steve blurted out.

“Then what’s the problem? You mad at me?” The tentativeness in Bucky’s voice stabbed Steve in the chest. He thumbed the edge of his shield leaning against his thigh.

“No. I’m not mad. I’m just. I mean.” Steve hung his head and briefly dreamed about melting into the forest floor. He gritted his teeth. He had never run from anything before, no reason to start now. He reached over and grabbed Bucky’s hand. “Gretel said some things to me.”

“Did she,” Bucky breathed out. He was frozen solid next to Steve, his hand clenched as Steve rubbed his thumb over Bucky’s knuckles.

“Yeah. She said that you maybe liked me. Not in a friend way. More in a l- lover kind of way.” Steve’s chest burned with the need to draw a full breath. His head felt light and he was reminded of his jump out of Howard’s plane on his way to Azzano.

“And if I did?” Bucky whispered hesitantly. Steve swallowed hard against the dryness in his throat.

“I was thinking. I. I might want that too.” Steve risked a glance out of the corner of his eye to gage Bucky’s reaction.

“Yeah?” Bucky sounded almost hopeful.

“Yeah.”

Bucky took a huge shuddering breath and gripped Steve’s hand hard in his own. “You can’t see it right now, but I am smiling like crazy.”

Steve had to remind himself to breath.

“Stevie...are you sure?”

“I’m sure that I’m willing to give it a try. If you want.”

“Yes,” Bucky replied thickly, shivering a little. “Yes, I want that.”

Steve turned his body towards Bucky and reached slowly toward him with his free hand. “Can I?”

“Anything you want, Stevie. Anything.”

Steve was frozen again for a moment, his mind racing between what he wanted to do and what he thought he might be allowed to do. He was excited and terrified at the same time. What if he stepped too far? What if he did something stupid? It’s not like he had ever really made time with anyone before.

“Anything you want, Steve, and only what you want. I’m happy with whatever you want to do,” Bucky said firmly. Steve felt his face light up in a quick smile.

His arm felt like it was moving through molasses; sweet and slow. Fingers brushed the bottom of Bucky’s scarf and hesitated a moment. “I won’t take it off. I just. I wanted to feel. If that’s okay,” Steve whispered.

“Anything you want, Stevie,” Bucky murmured back, and ducked his head down to butt against Steve’s hand.

Steve fumbled under the edge of the scarf, nerves making him shake. Bucky’s throat was warm against his palm; his adam’s apple thumped as he swallowed under Steve’s hand. Steve slowly dragged his fingers upward, caressing Bucky’s jaw, enjoying the slightly prickly stubble over soft skin. Bucky’s chin had a slight cleft to it and his lips were smooth and wet under Steve’s fingers. Hot breath brought warmth and feeling to Steve’s winter chilled hand. Bucky gasped; his mouth slightly open and trembling in the effort to not move.

“You’re…” Steve began.

“Yeah. Just a regular face under there,” Bucky huffed out. Steve could feel the smirking curl of Bucky’s lips under his fingers.

Bucky raised his left hand and held on to Steve’s wrist, holding the exploring hand near his face. A whimper escaped Steve’s mouth when Bucky gently sucked on a finger, his tongue lapping at the tip. That feeling of sucking wet heat went straight to Steve’s dick, making his pants uncomfortably tight.

Bucky continued to explore Steve’s hand with his mouth; licking, sucking, even carefully nibbling his index and middle finger. Steve’s breath started coming out in gasps and he leaned his head on Bucky’s shoulder and closed his eyes.

“Bucky…Bucky, please,” Steve choked out.

“Tell me what you want, doll. Want me to touch you? Open your jacket just enough to slip my hands in, feel all that glorious skin underneath, just my hands between you and your clothes? That way you can think about it later, every time you zip up. Me feeling you up under your combat suit, running my hands down your back, just skimming the very top of your pants, just enough so I can almost touch every part of you. Maybe holding you from behind, get a big handful of those pretty pecs, so plump and gorgeous, just for me. Twist up your nipples till they’re all sore and stiff so you can feel ‘em rub against your shirt every time you move.”

Steve couldn’t stop the moan that escaped him. His face burned with embarrassment and want.

“Just tell me what you want, Stevie,” Bucky crooned, sucking briefly on Steve’s thumb. “Anything you want.”

A shudder ripped through Steve and his cock throbbed. They hadn’t even really done anything yet and he already felt on edge. Screwing up his courage, he swung his leg over and straddled Bucky’s lap. The gorgon automatically adjusted his legs to push on the back of Steve’s thighs, cradling their hips together. They both groaned from the contact.

“Oh sweet Fates, Stevie…” Bucky panted.

Steve rolled his hips against Bucky, nearly mad with the need for more friction.

“That’s right, sweetheart. Rub up against me. I want you to rub your pretty dick all over me. I bet you’re leaking now you’re so hot for it. Get me wet with it.”

Steve groaned and grabbed a fist full of Bucky’s navy coat to brace himself upright. Bucky fumbled with the fastenings on Steve’s jacket and tac suit, opening them both down to the waist. He shoved his right hand in and wrapped his arm around to rub Steve’s lower back. The chill of his fingers made Steve shiver and whimper, unsure if the cold hand on his furnace hot skin was good or bad, the intensity of the contrast shorting out his brain for a moment.

Before his hand even warmed up, Bucky eased it down to rub Steve’s ass. His middle finger pressed down on Steve’s crack, tantalizingly close to the tight hole hidden there. It felt better than Steve ever imagined it could; his whole body lit on fire and he was so hard it hurt.

“Wanna feel you, Buck,” Steve whispered as he ripped Bucky’s jacket open and sent a button flying. Bucky used his metal hand to help open his shirt up; skin bear to the cold air. Steve rubbed his hands up and down Bucky’s chest. His nails grazed over faded scars and caught on nipples, wringing a soft, “ah!” out of the man.

“Oh, oh, Stevie, please let me…”

“Yes. Yes.”

Bucky covered one of Steve’s hands with his metal one and dragged it down to cover Bucky’s crotch. His dick was hard and thick under his heavy pants. A little wet spot soaked through where the head was cruelly restricted by the durable material. Steve traced the outline of it. The heel of his palm caressed that little wet spot, rubbing right into the slit there. Another pained whimper eased out of Bucky. The closed space between their open jackets heated up. Time stalled out as they tentatively explored each other.

With his flesh warmed metal hand, Bucky reached down the front of Steve’s pants and gently gripped his dick. Steve couldn’t stop his hips from pulsing out, chasing friction against those smooth metal plates. The idea that his most delicate parts were being pleasured by the dangerous strength of Bucky’s metal arm made Steve moan. He barely registered the absolutely filthy things Bucky was whispering into his ear as he jerked Steve’s cock, slow and hard.

“…so beautiful, doll. How did I get so lucky? Having a sweet thing like you on my lap. Oh, sweetheart, the things I want to do to you. Jerk you off ‘til your dripping and then lick it all up. Open your pretty little hole with my fingers, nice and slow, ‘til you’re begging for it, then split you open with my cock. Bend you in half and fuck you so hard you won’t be able to walk for a week, even with that serum…”

Every word poured a little jolt of pleasure through Steve. He couldn’t help but picture everything Bucky was saying. He wanted it all so badly; it crawled under his skin and pooled deep in his gut. Each little pet name made him feel warm and loved like he never had before.“…Bucky, please!”

Steve’s hips jutted forward involuntarily, trying to get more friction from Bucky’s tight fist. Skin-hot metal fingers dexterously rippled up and down the length of his dick and milked little pearls of pre-come out of him. Every second or third stroke, Bucky’s thumb would swipe across the head, rub across the little opening there, and smear wetness around the end of his cock. Steve barely recognized the little keening noises Bucky pulled out of him.

He was overwhelmed with feeling; so much so that he completely forgot where they were, how cold it was, how far away they might be from camp, and even what his own hands were doing. The only things in his world were Bucky’s hands on his dick and his ass and Bucky’s voice.

His orgasm came out of nowhere. Toe-curling pleasure flooded him and his eyes rolled back into his head. Bucky worked him through each pulse of it. “That’s it, sugar. Let me have it. Let go. Look how pretty you are. Prettiest damn guy around. I’m so fuckin’ lucky to have my hands on you. There we go, sweetheart. So good for me.” Bucky’s metal hand slowed down, but Steve was still hard and panting. “Well, well. How about that?”

“S’the serum. Takes a couple times for me to, ah! To finish,” Steve gasped out.

“Oh is that so, darling? How about I take care of that for you then. Put your hands up on that tree behind me, there you go sugar. That’s just perfect. Now, eyes up, Captain. No peeking.”Steve could hear the wicked grin in Bucky’s voice. His cock twitched in Bucky’s hard metal fingers. He felt so good; treasured even. It didn’t matter what was about to happen, he trusted Bucky to take care of him. His body sang with pleasure.

Gentle hands guided his hips up so he was kneeling on the ground. Steve distantly noted that Bucky was shuffling under him a bit, scooting down and fiddling with his scarf. All of that seemed secondary, though, to the hand still on his dick, wet with come.

And then it wasn’t just Bucky’s hand on his dick, it was his tongue too. Liquid lightning shivered up Steve’s spine and made his head spin and his eyes roll back. That soft wet heat dragged over the head as if savoring a piece of hard candy. Steve was vaguely aware he was leaving hand prints in the bark of the oak he leaned on.

Bucky lazily stroked the shaft while he licked at the crown of Steve’s cock. His breath was hot on the wet skin. Steve shook with the effort to not jerk his hips forward.

“So good, Stevie. You taste so damn good.” Another slow lick. “I could suck you off all day. Just keep that pretty dick of yours warm.” Another slow lick.“All big and thick and just for me.” Steve couldn’t fucking breathe.

Bucky took the end into his mouth, licked circles around Steve’s foreskin, and then gently sucked. He nursed on the end of Steve’s dick and lapped up the precome that was freely dripping out of the head. Bucky slowly slid forward and flattened his tongue so it cradled the underside of Steve’s cock. Before Steve could get used to this new unbelievable sensation, he felt the end of Bucky’s tongue split and curl around the sides of Steve’s dick, gripping it tightly. A weak moan punched out of Steve and he lost control of himself, thrusting deep into Bucky’s glorious mouth.

“Buck! You! Your, ah! Ah! Your tongue,” he gasped out.

A delicious hum vibrated around Steve’s shaft as Bucky vocally approved of Steve’s thrusting. Bucky began to suck in earnest; his metal hand drifted down to fondle Steve’s balls and his right arm wrapped around Steve’s hips, guiding him closer. The suction, the tight wet heat, and the grip of Bucky’s forked tongue were all maddening. Steve’s frantic movements had shoved Bucky right up against the tree, holding his head still as Steve fucked into him.

“Please. Please! Ah! Ah, ah, I’m, I’m almost…!” His body was on fire. He struggled to keep quiet, though he couldn’t really remember why he needed to.

Bucky hummed his approval again and moved his metal hand, still wet from Steve’s first release, down and rubbed a ring around Steve’s hole.

Steve was incapable of coherent thought. Everything was too much; he was going to fly apart any second.

When Bucky shoved a single wet digit into Steve’s aching body, he came down Bucky’s throat. Bucky sucked him through pulse after pulse and coaxed the last little bit of come out of Steve’s twitching member. Steve was stuck, eyes screwed shut, panting and shivering in place as Bucky licked him clean and then gently tucked him into his clothes.

“Oh sugar, that was so good. You’re so good for me, darling.” Bucky’s voice was rougher than usual. Steve had a brief fleeting spike of guilt mixed with pride that it was his cock shoved down Bucky’s throat that made it so raw. Bucky held Steve close with one arm and stroked Steve’s side up and down with the other, easing him through the shaking. “Oh baby, my Stevie, that was beautiful.”

Steve leaned into Bucky and rested his forehead on the tree. Oh how Steve wished he could look at Bucky’s face; see how wrecked he surely must be with spit and come glistening over swollen lips. He couldn’t say how long they sat there; Bucky whispering sweet nothings to him and holding him close. After a time Steve croaked out, “Is it safe to look down yet?” He felt like he had run to London and back again.

The sound of rustling fabric floated up to Steve for a few minutes.

“Yeah, now it is.”

Steve just sat down right where he was, still straddling Bucky’s legs. He nuzzled the side of Bucky’s scarf wrapped face and huffed out a smile. He shoved his hands in the still open front of Bucky’s clothes and cuddled against that delightful expanse of muscle.

Which was when he noticed that Bucky was still hard.

“You didn’t…” Steve asked tentatively.

“Little busy with you, sweetheart.” Steve could hear the smile in Bucky’s voice as he rubbed his nose into the top of Steve’s head. Steve had never felt so loved, here in Bucky’s arms.

An idea floated across his pleasure hazed mind. He turned his head to lick one of Bucky’s nipples.

“Oh! Stevie, you don’t have to honey. I don’t need—mmmm!”

“Hush you. Want to. Want to make you feel good. Want to taste you,” Steve mumbled into Bucky’s chest.

“Oh baby, what did I ever do to deserve you. So good to me, honey.”

A little jolt of pleasure rippled through Steve. “Yes. Good for you. Please, tell me.”

“Always. Always, darling. You’re so sweet and wonderful. My best guy.”

Steve gently nibbled on the round nub in front of him; tasted it, pulled it in his teeth. All the while praise and endearments washed over him, making him glow with satisfaction. After the flesh in front of him was blood hot and puffy he moved to the other nipple. Bucky arched his back and clenched at the straps of the shield harness on the back of Steve’s uniform.

Eventually Steve worked his way down Bucky’s abs, kissing the hard lines of muscle and tracing each scar with his tongue. He rubbed his face against Bucky’s crotch and inhaled the spicy scent of arousal from the hard length hidden there. Bucky smelled so good; dry and spicy and warm. Bucky’s hands caressed Steve’s short cropped hair and Steve could feel the slight tremble in them.

“You, oh! Oh, yes, fuck, yes! Oh, sugar, you don’t have to if you don’t want…oh, your mouth, baby. Love your mouth, doll,” Bucky whispered.

Steve grinned into the fabric and popped the button on Bucky’s pants. He grabbed the zipper tab in his teeth and stole a glance upward. Bucky’s face was dark in the halo of his hair; the only definition coming from the red lenses of his goggles. They glowed so brightly they cast their own shadows on the fabric of his scarf.

“Stevie, sweetheart, I’m not gonna last,” Bucky growled out.

Little by little, Steve unzipped Bucky’s pants with his teeth. Again he wished he could see Bucky’s face while he did this. Steve quickly moved his underclothes down too and Bucky groaned with relief when his dick sprung free from the tight confines of the fabric.

Bucky’s cock was mouthwatering; around the same length as Steve’s but a little thicker. He rubbed his face into it and caressed the shaft with his cheeks and closed lips.

“Sweet Hera, look at you. Like a cat scenting me up. Is that what you are? Are you my sweet kitten?”

A shiver raced up Steve’s spine and he moaned softly as his dick twitched at the thought. “Only for you. Yours. Want to be just yours.” He delicately licked up the sides of that beautiful piece of flesh in front of him, around careful strokes of his hand.

Just as he gave the head a long lick, Bucky groaned and in pulsing shots came across his face. Steve smirked and stroked him through it, catching as much as he could in his mouth. The taste wasn’t what he was expecting; salty and nutty and slightly sweet.

Bucky dropped his head back to hit the oak and moaned again.

“S-sorry, I was so close already…” Bucky breathed out.

Steve just smiled and wiped his face off with the back of his hand, then licked it clean just like a cat. Bucky moaned again.

“Oh, Stevie, you’re killin’ me here.”

Bucky pulled a handkerchief out of one of his many pockets and helped Steve clean them both up. Afterwards he pulled Steve close so he could curl into Bucky’s lap.

“Stay with me. Just. Stay. I’ll keep watch,” Bucky whispered.

Despite the cold and the hard ground and the war around them, Steve was the happiest he had ever been.

It wasn’t until the wee hours of the night that Steve found his way back to camp. Monty was the only one awake, ready to take the morning shift standing sentry. Upon seeing Steve, the Brit just raised an eyebrow and smirked knowingly before getting up to patrol around the camp.

Embarrassment flooded Steve and he hoped the dim firelight would cover up what must be furious blushes.

Chapter Text

Despite his firm belief to the contrary, sleep claimed Steve quickly that morning. When he woke up the camp was all abuzz and the delightful smell of fresh roasting meat wafted overhead.

“Rise and shine, buttercup!” Dum Dum cackled at him. “Bucky found us some spring pheasant for breakfast!”

Steve rubbed the sleep from his eyes and poked his head out of his tent. Most of the guys were still breaking down camp, but Morita and Bucky were seated around the fire rotating several spits filled with small roasting birds.

As if pulled by a string, Steve’s eyes were drawn straight to Bucky’s. When their gaze met Bucky’s hair snakes all looked to Steve and his red lens goggles brightened for a moment. Before the others could take notice, though, Bucky dropped his head a bit and hunched his shoulders; as if suddenly shy.

“Mornin’ Stevie,” he said.

“Hey Buck.” Steve’s mouth was dry. Last night was amazing and Steve wanted nothing more than to run over and cuddle into Bucky’s side. As much as he wanted that to happen, he knew it couldn’t. Not in front of the commandos. Not in front of anyone.

A sudden bone crushing sadness crept over his heart. There would be no big wedding, no friends and family toasting to their health. That was assuming they both lived through the war, too.

Steve shook his head. That was ridiculous. Hansel and Gretel knew and wouldn’t care. Hell, based on the look he got last night, Monty probably figured it out too. Which, when Steve thought about it, must have been because he and Bucky weren’t as quiet as he hoped they had been. That thought alone made Steve blush furiously.

It took concerted effort to pull his mind back on track.

Neither Bucky nor Steve had any family to speak of, either, so that wasn’t even a consideration.

So maybe they did have to be a bit more careful than most couples. That was fine. They were careful kinda guys. What happened after the war would take care of itself in due time. Right now Steve was going to enjoy the hell out of every scrap of goodness he could find. If the last several months had proved anything, it was any amount of joy was a precious commodity out here.

He took a deep breath and tried to keep the ridiculously sappy expression off of his face while he quickly broke down his tent. From the sly look that Gabe gave him, he only partially succeeded.

Steve wanted to laugh. Was he just bad at hiding how happy he was, or were all of the commandos spectacularly perceptive? He had to concede to himself that the answer was probably both. It was also possible that discussions had already taken place between them. Steve wouldn’t put it past the commandos to spend what little free time they had speculating on what was going on with their captain.

As soon as he was packed up, he sat down at the place that was left open next to Bucky by the fire.

“Smells good, Buck.” Steve hoped that the redness that still burned in his cheeks would be written off to the chilly morning air.

“I saw them when I got up and figured it was a good time for something a little special,” Bucky replied and started to pass around skewers of meat. Their knees bumped together briefly. And if Bucky’s shoulder drifted a little closer to Steve’s than it normally would, well, maybe no one would notice.

A stroke of anxiety made Steve gauge the group around him to see who did notice. Most of the guys were busy digging into the delicious smelling birds or passing around cups of bitterly foul coffee, though Steve did notice the occasional curious glance at him and Bucky.

Shit.

Before Steve could really panic about that, Bucky handed him a skewer with three little birds shoved on it.

“Here ya go. An extra one for that bottomless pit you call a stomach,” Bucky joked. The words were right, but the tone was just a touch softer than it maybe should have been.

Bucky had made him breakfast. He went out of his way to hunt down something fresh and cook it up so it was ready right when Steve woke up.

Steve couldn’t stop the blindingly bright smile that stretched across his face and he didn’t even want to try. He had no illusions that Bucky wouldn’t give a shit what the team thought about him, and whether or not they would be open as a pair to the rest of the commandos was something they hadn’t talked about last night.

Judging from breakfast, Bucky was willing to let Steve take the lead on that. Bucky was showing him that he was happy about last night, that he cared about how Steve was doing, and was trying to do it in such a way that it wouldn’t be too noticeable in front of the commandos.

“What’s so funny?” Dum Dum demanded. “Cap, Bucky, why is everyone grinning at you two like you just stole a car? Did you two do something stupid?”

Chuckles erupted around the fire and Steve studiously ignored the question as well as the painfully hot blush on his cheeks. Instead he focused on eating his very delicious breakfast.

“Don’t worry about it, Dum Dum.” Morita said with a grin. “Nothing we need to worry about.”

Dum Dum continued to look around the group with a mixture of irritation and suspicion.

“Seriously, it’s nothing to worry about. We’re all just amused at our unusual breakfast is all,” Monty added with a charming smile. Steve was very briefly in love with them both for helping to smooth over this conversation.

“Huh. Yeah. Well, I’m not gonna say no to fresh meat,” Dum Dum said.

“Might as well get it in while we can,” Bucky added. He had already turned his back to the group so that he could eat without risking anyone seeing him. By this time that was routine for everyone there.

Steve nodded in agreement. “We’re not more than a couple days away from our next target. No fires after today.” All his discomfort was forgotten as he focused on their next target. “This one is a weird one, boys. Rumors from the Brass say that this might be another one of those weapons factories, but no one is really sure. Resistance members put Zola there as of a few months ago, but every contact we had dropped off the map as of last month.”

At the mention of Zola’s name, Bucky grew tense. Steve could hear the plates on his arm adjusting under his jacket.

“Weird, huh.” Gabe stated. “Weird how? Like, Han and Gretel kinda weird?”

“Maybe. Reports coming back from the area are jumbled at best…” On one hand, Steve really didn’t want to alarm anyone. On the other hand, maybe it was better to have his team prepared for the worst. “Nothing in the reports was particularly outstanding, but there was a lot of chatter about how the whole area was cursed.”

Bucky rattled out a deep quiet hum next to Steve and then said, “I’ll keep my eyes open. If anything looks like it might be a problem, I’ll try to let you all know.”

“Thanks.” Steve smiled at him.

Dernier mutter something under his breath that sounded vaguely like cursing and Gabe shook his head and muttered back.

Breakfast went quickly after that and soon the group was packed up and on their way.

Camp that night was a cold one and as much as Steve wanted a repeat of what happened the night previous, he knew they couldn’t risk it. They were too close to the next base. He and Bucky spent their watch together sitting in the dark, shoulder to shoulder, soaking up each other’s heat in comfortable silence.

The next day’s march was noticeably more subdued. The forest itself seemed to hold its breath. Steve could tell the others felt it too. No one wanted to speak in more than a whisper and Bucky’s hair snakes seemed to be constantly flicking their tongues out; scenting the air.

As afternoon wore on, their progress slowed to a crawl as the attempted to avoid the outer ring of sentries.

Steve brought them together under the cover of a group of scrubby evergreens. He consulted their map.

“I think if we press we can get there after dark, then use that to our advantage in the attack,” Steve thoughtfully considered. “Quiet kills on the outlying guards and then we sneak in. The less time they have to realize that we’re there, the more likely we are to get solid information on what that facility is for. Our primary task is still outright destruction, but the more we know about what Zola might be up to next, the better off we are.”

Something about the way Bucky was holding himself made Steve give him a close look. There was an odd tilt to his head; a stiffness in how he held himself.

“Thoughts?” he asked.

Bucky sighed and gave himself a shake. “Nothin’ that feels certain. Just something feels off about this place. I can’t place it.”

“Any reason why we might want to wait for morning?”

“None that I can think of,” Bucky replied. He tapped his metal fingers against his rifle butt in frustration. “We’re just gonna need to be careful.”

Steve nodded and soon they were on their way again.

With Bucky in the lead, the group was able to safely navigate well after sunset. Steve guessed that it was about midnight when they started to see lights.

A few scattered rocks were all that was left of what must have once been an impressive wall. A brand new chain link fence had been propped up in its stead and wound its way all around the squat castle that rested inside. Even with lights and trucks and guards scattered around, the building still had the sense of great age about it.

They rested for a few minutes while Bucky ghosted around the outer perimeter.

The silence of the forest was oppressive. Steve’s fingers itched to move; it was only by force of will that he was able to keep still and silent. He was always a touch antsy before the start of an attack, but this was different. It’s like the woods were watching him.

After what seemed like a century, Bucky came back. He didn’t bother with chatting, he just gestured for the commandos to follow. As much as Steve was desperate for a bit of Bucky’s homey Brooklyn drawl, they couldn’t afford to talk this close to the enemy.

They made their way inside with little difficulty. Bucky had already cut his way through the back line of watchers. A rotten tree had fallen down on a convenient portion of the fence and they were into the building with no one the wiser.

The commandos knew their assigned tasks and without a word the group split. Steve, Gabe, Dernier, and Dum Dum went to start planting explosives. Bucky, Monty, and Morita left to go search for prisoners and likely targets for interrogation.

Steve knew it was the best division of labor. He and Dum Dum were solid line fighters and could pretty easily play meat shield for Dernier and Gabe while they set up the bombs. Bucky, Monty, and Morita were all faster and stealthier, much stealthier in Bucky’s case. They were better choices for sneaking around inside the base.

Still, he hated the idea of being separated.

Despite his worries, the mission went bizarrely smoothly. Guards were distracted at just the right time for the commandos to quietly pick them off. The explosives were set up without a hitch. There were no random patrols to worry about.

Things went so smoothly that Steve’s group was done far sooner than they expected to be. In retrospect that turned out to be a gift, because of course that’s when things started to go wrong.

Dernier had just finished setting up the last charge; it was placed right on the back of a large fuel tanker in the parking area. Right as he armed it, an alarm started to sound off from the other end of the facility. Shouts started to drag people inside and a few distant shots could be heard.

Dum Dum swore.

“Well. Our good luck couldn’t last forever,” Steve said with a grim smile, and it was true. Things never went smoothly on the battlefield. “How long do we have on those charges?”

“Dernier set them a little long since we’re ahead of schedule, but we need to get the guys and get out of here,” Gabe replied.

“Alright, fall in behind me. We find the rest of the Howlies and we get out, no fiddlin’ around.”

A chorus of quiet, “Yes, Cap!” sounded out behind him.

And with that they were on the move. While Steve’s group was woefully outnumbered, they had the advantage of coming at people’s backs. They breezed into the building, but from there things got even more complicated. There wasn’t a clear idea of where the other commandos were and time was running out.

The more they looked around the more it became obvious that the building was a fucking labyrinth. Halls went everywhere and stairwells ran into nothing. Steve couldn’t help but feel like they were wasting time with fruitless searching. The more time passed the more he seriously considered ordering his group to fan out and search. In the end he decided that would be more detrimental.

He was just about to order everyone to fall back and just wait things out at the rendezvous point when they ran into Bucky running toward them from around a corner.

“Buck!” Steve cried joyfully. “What the hell? Where are Monty and Morita?”

Bucky just grabbed Steve’s arm and tugged him down the hallway he just came from. “Back this way. We got separated. I heard you comin’ up the way, thought it was them. They must be this way.”

Steve and the rest of the commandos fell in line and followed along. They took twist after twist through the halls; so many turns that Steve was surprised that Bucky could keep track of it all.

“The hell is wrong with this place,” Dum Dum bitched.

“The building here is what’s left of an old family castle. When the Nazis took over, the family were dissenters. It probably didn’t take long for the folks in power to get rid of them, pillage all their goods, and then set up ship.” Bucky’s voice was dripping with disgust. He pointed to the walls as they moved. “Take a look. There used to be family portraits and tapestries up; you can tell by the change in the color of the stone. This place used to be decked out. Now it’s just bare.”

“Still doesn’t explain why it’s such a pain to get through,” Dernier said.

“Sure it does. All these old castles and manors were built for defense. You got someone breaching the walls, you make the place twisty as hell. Easier for the folks who live there to get out or hide and harder for invaders to figure out where to go. Honestly, that’s probably half the reason the Nazis wanted this place to begin with.”

They turned another corner and the distant sounds of gunfire got noticeably louder.

Bucky pulled Steve to a stop. “Before we go further, I need you to know somethin’.”

“Bucky? Is now really the time---” Steve couldn’t help but notice just how cold Bucky’s had was on his arm; it wasn’t even his metal hand, either.

Yes. Listen. Things are gonna get bad. Really bad. You have to know that whatever happens, it is not your fault. Bad shit happens in war all the time and you aren’t responsible for it. And you gotta know that things will get better. No matter what happens, no matter how bad it gets, remember that eventually things will turn around and be alright.”

Now Steve was really worried. “Bucky…”

“Come on, we gotta get those lunkheads before they trip and fall into a pit or something,” Bucky said briskly, and then he was off again down the hall.

Steve cast a quick glance at Dernier, Gabe, and Dum Dum. They all looked as mystified as Steve felt. After a quick shake of his head, he sped after Bucky.

The hallway emptied into some kind of grand ballroom. A massive amount of equipment was strewn around; much of it looked like medical equipment. Monty and Morita were taking cover behind some storage containers placed near the hall where Steve and the rest of the group entered from.

Smack dead center in the room was Bucky; but not as they had just seen him. He had shed his jacket and the shirt underneath was ripped up one arm so that his metal limb moved free of any fabric. Both of his hands held wickedly long daggers and his goggles were glowing fiercely red. Blood soaked his forearms and he was surrounded by bodies. His face was still tightly wrapped in his scarf, but the hood had started to fall down a bit and a few strands of hair and snakes had poked through.

It looked like half the base’s personnel were on the floor already, with the last body falling right as Steve and his party had barreled into the room.

“Bucky?” Steve asked into the sudden quiet of the room. Bucky stood stock still, breathing hard and staring at the bodies around him. “What happened here?”

It was Morita who answered. “We got in to search the place and Bucky caught the scent of something. Next thing we know he’s dragging us through the building and we come across these cages.” Morita pointed to the far end of the ballroom.

The wall was lined with small dog kennels, each one the just big enough to house a large hunting dog. Inside each cage, though, was what was left of a human.

Steve turned his head, but the details were already burned into his mind. His stomach turned.

Vileness. Absolute filth and vileness.

“And Bucky…he just lost it. Dropped his coat, grabbed his guns, and just started wasting every guy in here. He took out the knives when he ran out of bullets.” This was the first time Steve had ever heard Morita sound subdued.

Monty’s face had twisted into something that skirted the line between fear and awe. “From his blood spills poison,” he mumbled and took a swig from his flask.

Steve glanced to the side quickly while he tried to get a clear idea of what happened in his mind. “Wait. You three were never separated? You were with Bucky the whole time?”

“Well. ‘With’ is sort of generous,” Monty replied a bit shakily. “We mostly tried to stay out of his way and pick off some strays, but, yes, we never lost sight of him.”

Now Steve was really worried. It was clear from the looks on the rest of his half of the commandos that they were too. He took a breath and shoved all of that aside for the moment.

“We need to get out of here. Buck?” He took a step towards Bucky, not sure if he would be welcome.

A bone deep shiver broke across Bucky’s frame and he tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling.

“Yeah. Yeah, Stevie. I’m here. I’m fine.” His voice sounded rough; one part raw and two parts rattle.

“We need to get outta here. Come on.” Steve almost reached out to grab him, but thought better of it at the last minute.

Bucky nodded and then gave another full body shudder. The glow in his goggles had faded by then and he quickly moved to join the group. Monty held out his jacket for him and without another word they all quickly made their way out of the ballroom and back out of the building.

They ended up just barely getting out of the enclosure before the whole place started to blow. No one bothered to stop and congratulate each other; they just gathered their heavy packs from where they stashed them before the attack and hurried away with Bucky leading the way through the dark.

Steve didn’t think that there would be much of an organized force left that that facility to start looking for them, but he didn’t want to risk being caught by hanging around the area longer than they needed to. It was nearly dawn before they found a relatively safe place to collapse at.

They made camp next to a tiny trickle of a stream. Heavy juniper shrubs and towering pines hid the camp site from view.

Steve and Bucky immediately started working on building a small fire. Dernier and Dum Dum didn’t even bother to set up a tent; they dropped their packs on dry beds of pine needles and promptly fell asleep. Gabe, Morita, and Monty didn’t look far off from sleep themselves, but they managed to dig out some k-rations and started to inhale the contents. Somewhere along the march out, Bucky had put back on his blue jacket though he didn’t quite get it buttoned up.

Steve laid a hand on his shoulder. Bucky stilled and tilted his head a bit towards Steve.

“Go ahead and clean up in the stream. I’ll have the fire going for you by the time you get back,” Steve said quietly.

Bucky lifted his head just a tiny bit, as if he were about to say something. Then he looked down and nodded. “Thanks, Stevie,” he replied. His voice was still deep and raw, but there was no hint of a rattle in it at all.

Good to his word, Steve had the little blaze going quickly. He tried not to watch as Bucky stripped off his jacket and shirt and started washing up in the freezing stream. As much as he wanted to stare at the smooth expanse of Bucky’s back, it didn’t seem right. Not like this. Not after a night like they just had. The shirt Bucky was wearing ended up being left in the water for a while, lodged under a large rock. Given how heavily stained it was with blood that was probably a wise course of action.

By the time Bucky had cleaned off, put his shirt back on, and rejoined Steve, the rest of the commandos had fallen off to sleep. The exhaustion of a day and a half of marching, followed by a night attack, followed by another several hours of marching had caught up to all of them, and caught up hard. Steve figured that the serum was the only reason he was still functional.

He offered Bucky a few opened tins of food. They ate together in silence for a moment with Bucky wedged as close to the fire as he could get without being burnt; back to the flames so he could eat without risking anyone looking at him.

Something had gone on with Bucky back at that castle and Steve struggled to find words to talk about it. He wasn’t sure how hard he should press. Talking to people was never Steve’s strong suit, and he had never felt that deficiency more keenly than he did right then.

Words withered on his tongue before he could even get the start of them out.

“You can ask, Stevie. Anything, you can always ask,” Bucky said quietly after he had finished his food. He rewrapped his face and turned to bask his hands and arms in the warmth of the fire.

Steve huffed out a ghost of a laugh.

“What happened?”

Bucky ducked his head and wrung his hands. “I could smell him. One of the guys who…who worked me over back in Azzano. I could smell him there and I just. I couldn’t let him get away. And then I saw those cages, and Hera’s Breath, Steve, those people. That was me. They were just like me. Caged and hurt and fucking fuck the only reason I’m not as dead as them is because of what I am.” His voice broke at the end.

Steve’s heart hurt. He didn’t even bother to stop the impulse to hold Bucky close to him, he just wrapped Bucky up in his arms and buried his head into the soft folds of the scarf at his neck. After a moment’s hesitation, Bucky returned the gesture.

He wasn’t sure how long they sat there but it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes. When Bucky pulled away, it was obviously reluctantly.

“Thanks,” he whispered. Wonder filled his voice and Steve’s heart broke a little bit again. Steve knew what it was like to need comfort but to have no one around. He was glad that he was there to offer it to Bucky when he needed it.

“Anything for you, Buck,” Steve responded.

“You mean that.” He sounded surprised again.

“Yeah. I do.”

“You know that goes both ways, right?” Bucky asked. “Whatever happens now, we’re in it together.”

Steve couldn’t stop the smile that spread across his face. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. I’m with you to the end of the line, pal. You’re stuck with me now.” Bucky leaned his forehead against Steve’s, giving Steve the impression that they were staring right into each other’s eyes, despite the goggles.

A happy warm glow filled him up to the brim. This was what he had always craved without ever knowing he was missing it; closeness, comfort, and partnership. The two of them sat there for a long while, heads together and arms entwined. Steve knew that eventually they would need to move apart but he wanted his quiet moment to last as long as it could.

When they did finally separate, it was just enough so that they both could wolf down a second k-ration each. They were headed back to friendlier territory after this, so Steve wasn’t terribly worried about resupplying. Bucky was always able to hunt them up something along the way, too, if they found that they really needed extra food. And after the night they both had, Steve knew they both could use the extra food right away.

“Something really weird happened while we were in the base,” Steve said in between bites.

“Oh?”

“Everything was going smooth, real smooth, and then we heard the alarm. When we went in to find you, you showed up and led us to that ballroom. Said that you all had been separated and then led us to that ballroom. But Morita said that you never split up at all. And then we saw all the—I mean, it was pretty clear that you were busy.”

Bucky hummed in thought for a moment. “Musta been a domovoi. At least that’s what the Russians call ‘em. House Spirit. They’re protective spirits. Watch over the house and lands, that kinda thing. If you’re a good land owner, that is. Rumor has it that they can look like anyone they want. If you’re a shitty owner and let your house fall into disrepair then they can get kinda nasty. Gods, it musta been pissed at what the Nazis did to its family. No wonder everything went so smooth. It was paving the way for us. Explains the weird feeling too.”

Bucky shook his head and draped his jacket over his shoulders, huddling inside it while he continued eating.

Steve poked at his food for a bit longer and then said, “You said—I mean, the other you, he… said some things. Talked about bad times coming.”

They both paused in their eating for a moment. Steve wished he dared look at Bucky to see how he was taking that bit of information. All he could tell from how their shoulders rubbed together was that Bucky was tense as hell.

The moment passed quickly, though, and Bucky took a deep breath before saying, “Domovoi are supposed to be oracles. If he said something to you, Stevie, it’s worth listening too. Especially since he was so helpful to us breakin’ in.” Before Steve could say anything else, Bucky interrupted him. “No, I don’t wanna know what he said. That was for you. Keep it in mind, but don’t dwell on it. We make our own fates and nothing good comes from obsessing over prophecy. Trust me on that.”

Of all the people in the world, Steve had to concede that Bucky would know what he was talking about. And really, the spirit didn’t tell Steve anything that he couldn’t already guess at.

This was a war. A terrible, awful, war, against people who had no qualms about using the worst possible methods against their enemies. Bad things were bound to happen and Steve knew intellectually that he wouldn’t be able to stop all of them, no matter how much he might want to.

So in the end, he decided that Bucky was right. It was better just to take some small comfort in the idea that everything would work out and put the rest of it out of his mind.

No sense dwelling on maybes, after all.

Chapter Text

It came as no great shock to Steve that word filtered back to them that they were all to report their findings to command in London. In a lot of ways Steve’s team were the advanced eyes and ears for that part of the front. They didn’t always check in between missions, but it happened.

He knew that Col. Phillips would be eager to hear that Zola had been taken out. Steve wasn’t looking forward to delivering the news that their secondary target got away.

Then there was the additional worry of returning back to the city with Bucky in tow. This would be the first time he joined them back at base and there were bound to be questions; a great many uncomfortable questions.

It was enough of a worry that one night while Bucky was out on watch, Steve had a chat with the rest of the commandos. Or, rather, he started to have a chat with them. After only a few halting words into his talk with them, they interrupted him with grins and rolled eyes.

Monty snorted at him and said, “Do you think we’re blind, Captain? This is bound to be…well, stressful to say the least.”

“That’s a lotta people to be looking at him, wondering what’s under that scarf,” Gabe added. Dernier just nodded along with them. “No one likes to be stared at.”

“He’s had our backs more times than we can count. We’ll keep an extra eye out for him,” Dum Dum said reassuringly.

Morita patted his shoulder. “Commandos stick together. No one is gonna mess with him, not without messing with us too.”

Even with their assurances, Steve was nervous.

He could tell that Bucky was nervous, too. A quiet focus fell over Bucky the closer they got to the channel and to civilization as a whole. By the time they boarded the boat, Steve could feel the tension rolling off of him. It showed in every precise movement and unnaturally gliding step.

After some thought, Steve realized that Bucky was physically preparing for an attack, even if he would never verbally admit it. Steve considered the possibility that Bucky might not even know he was doing it.

The trip across the English Channel was really the first test of how things would go. The boat was crowded as hell; they weren’t the only ones headed back to talk to the Brass. By silent consent, the commandos stuck Bucky in the middle of the group; insulating him from the jostle of the soldiers around them.

It was obvious the moment Bucky realized that was what they were doing because his shoulders and head dropped a bit and he let out a great big sigh.

“Thanks guys,” he said quietly and let out a small huff of a laugh.

Steve’s heart grew a little lighter. Maybe this would work out after all.

Once they were in the city, they got rooms sorted out, cleaned up, and immediately reported to the higher-ups. Best to get it all over with as soon as they could.

Steve ended up wearing his dress uniform, but the rest of the commandos didn’t bother. As unit leader he knew it was part of his job to make sure everyone fell in line, but truthfully this was part of the group’s plan to keep Bucky’s unusual qualities under wraps.

After all, if the rest of the group showed up in their dress mess and Bucky was still in his jacket and scarf, the difference would be noticed and likely punished. But if they all showed up in their field gear, then Steve could fumble his way through the blame himself. Play up his rush through officers training and talk about how he didn’t think that it mattered for the rest of the commandos, so he didn’t bother having them get polished up.

He knew the army wouldn’t do a damn thing. One grunt they could afford to bawl out. Captain America was another story. It helped that they were continually successful and wildly popular. Steve knew it gave him a bit more leeway and he was willing to play that up to the hilt if it made Bucky’s life a little safer and easier.

So while they all got the stink eye from Phillips and a raised eyebrow from Carter, that’s as far as it went.

Right up until the end, that is, at which point a British army brigadiers, one of the three British officers present at the meeting, decided to get a stick up his ass about both their appearance and their performance.

“Why is it, exactly, that your team wasn’t able to acquire any pertinent intelligence from that last factory? You said you had extra time before your charges were set to blow. But all we’ve heard so far is how you got into a needless brawl and wasted all of your time---”

“Now that’s enough,” Col. Phillips interrupted with a glare.

“No, it’s not enough,” the Brit interrupted right back. “Information about what Zola and Schmidt might be planning could save thousands of lives! And these hooligans managed to fight off half the base and still got nothing out of it!”

“With respect, sir, our primary objective was to wipe that facility off the map and that’s what we did,” Steve said firmly. “Anything additional on top of that was just that; additional. Sgt. Barnes discovered they were doing human experimentation and given that all of the cages had bodies still in them, it seems likely that their experiments were unsuccessful. No one made it out of that room, so whatever it was they were working on, unsuccessfully working on I will remind you, is a moot point.”

“The good captain is right, your lordship. This is a win for us. Nitpicking about the details is neither relevant nor useful,” Phillips added.

If anything, that just seemed to steam the man more, because at that point he stood up and glared at them all.

“You’ve given your merry band here a bit too much give, Colonel. Not only did they fail to accomplish their secondary tasks, but they can’t even find their proper uniforms. If they don’t want all of those medals they’ve been winning, perhaps they didn’t really earn them to begin with.”

Several people surged to their feet after that, each clamoring their outrage.

“Enough! Enough!” Col. Phillips shouted over the chaos.

Most of the commandos were on their feet, Steve included. He felt Bucky’s arm across his front, holding him back.

“Easy. This prick is just pissin’ in the wind, kicking up a fuss because he wasn’t his team that’s doin’ all the flashy stuff, takin’ all the wins,” Bucky said quietly.

Not quietly enough, though, because the brigadier slammed both his hands forward on the table that stood between them all. “Watch your mouth, you common freak. You wouldn’t want to have your master permanently muzzle you. Or, is that what that getup on your face is already? Do you think you’ll scare off widows and orphans with your bloody ruined face, or do you just prefer to be gagged?”

The rest of the Howlies surged forward with furious shouts and several more people cried out for order.

That’s ENOUGH!” Steve yelled. Now he was well and truly pissed off and from the concerned looks on the faces around him, people noticed. “Guys, get outta here. I’ll finish up.” He jerked his chin to the side, pointing towards the hallway out. There was some grumbling and Bucky’s arm lingered for a moment across Steve’s chest, but they started to shuffle out.

“Oh no! Here in this country, soldiers aren’t allowed to leave until their superiors dismiss them!” The brigadier raced around the end of the table and grabbed Bucky’s arm.

Fast as a blink, the brigadier was face first on the ground with Bucky holding his arm straight up, bending the man’s wrist at a painful looking angle.

“You. Will. Not. Touch. Me.” Bucky’s whole body exuded menace. He twisted the man’s wrist a bit more forcing a pained whine to erupt from him.

“Easy, Buck,” Steve said quietly, and moved to stand next to them. “I’ll take care of this. Go ahead and head out.”

Bucky tilted his head slightly towards Steve, maybe looking at him out of the corner of his eye, and then gave a short clipped nod. He dropped his hold on the brigadier and was out of the room before anyone else could say a word, with the rest of the commandos right behind him.

Before Steve or the grounded brigadier could say anything, one of the other British generals jumped in. “Not a word, Sir Pennwood. You deserved far worse than that face plant you’ve just received. You’re to retire directly to your quarters, immediately if you please. We’ll discuss your future post at a later date.” With that he turned to look at Steve. “Captain Rogers. You and your men have my deepest apologies for Sir Pennwood’s egregious behavior. It was completely uncalled for. Trust that I will personally make sure that he won’t bother you, or any other American soldier, ever again.”

Steve let his jaw jut out a bit and briefly contemplated finding Pennwood and breaking his arm. “Thank you, sir. If that’ll be all?”

“Dismissed, Rogers,” Col. Phillips stated from where he was still seated. “You too, Carter.”

They both nodded to the remaining people assembled and quickly headed out. Peggy gave Steve a look and the two of them made their way through the halls and towards Howard’s labs.

While they walked, Steve ran the whole afternoon through his mind.

“This wasn’t just about us, was it,” he finally said.

“No, I’m afraid it wasn’t,” Peggy replied. She spoke with her voice lowered and Steve knew it was so that their conversation wouldn’t carry in the halls. “This is all speculation, mind you, but I’ve suspected for a while that the local brass has been looking for a way to reassign Pennwood somewhere useless. The man has breeding. His father’s a duke. A duke who has a great deal of money and influence; things that we can ill afford to lose because we offended his son.”

Steve snorted in disgust. “So we’re the sacrificial lambs to get this guy to screw up so he could be kicked out of the barracks without the men in charge looking bad for doing it.”

“If it makes you feel any better, it wasn’t your team specifically. After all, who knows what eventually would have been the final straw? But since it was your team, your very noticeable and well liked team, Pennwood has very little wiggle room to get out of his gaffe. Honestly, while I am sorry to see you and your boys take the brunt of this man’s stupidity, I am far more relieved that he made such a public ass of himself at a mission debrief. Better here in a planning room than out on the field with men’s lives at stake.”

That thought was a sobering one. Pennwood was a brigadier, which meant he had pull in battle plans. More than just lives were at stake if a selfish shortsighted asshole were to make the wrong suggestion at the wrong time.

“You don’t think that he’s been…” Steve didn’t even want to suggest the possibility of treason out loud. The hall they were in seemed deserted, but some things were better left unspoken no matter where you were.

Peggy understood immediately what he was getting at and just gave him a tight smile. “I don’t know. And now it doesn’t matter. He’ll be shuffled off to some place quiet and out of the way.”

At least until enough people die that he’s brought out of exile simply because he’s the only one of his rank left, Steve thought with bitter venom. He quickly banished that thought from his mind, though. Sometimes it was hard to remember that the war would end at some point, even if some days it felt like the only way it would end is when there was no one left to fight it.

He gritted his teeth, took a breath, and nodded thanks to Peggy. She gave him a tight smile and went ahead into the labs, probably to talk with Stark about what might have been going on in the facility they just blew up. Steve left to go find the rest of the commandos.

His first guess of where they might be proved accurate; the whole group, sans Bucky, had found a table at the pub next to their rooms and from the looks of things they were already on their second round.

“Didn’t waste any time, did ya boys?” Steve said with a smirk.

“Gotta make sure we’re getting the most out of our time in town,” Gabe replied with his glass raised.

“And a little drink or two seemed like the perfect way to soothe riled up tempers,” Monty added.

Steve snorted and took a seat. It wasn’t crowded yet, but Steve could tell that in a half hour or so, it would be. “When was the last time you saw booze make a guy’s temper sweeter?”

“Better than hanging around there,” Morita grumbled into his glass.

That was a fair point.

“Well, as far as I can tell, I think that guy is gonna get tossed into a storage office and forgotten. So bright side is I don’t think we’ll need to deal with him again.” Steve couldn’t help but feel like whatever hole they were going to dump that Pennwood idiot in wouldn’t be nearly deep enough.

Pleased grumbling came from all around the table and Steve allowed himself a little bit of a smile. The commandos were good guys.

“So. If you were looking for Bucky, I think he went up to his room,” Monty said with a sly look towards Steve. “He still seemed upset. Maybe you should go talk to him?”

Instantly, Steve’s cheeks were on fire. “Y—yeah?”

Gabe and Dernier grinned at each other and Morita snorted into his drink. Dum Dum raised an eyebrow at them all. Steve just blushed harder. In that moment he was sort of thankful that he and Bucky had to be quiet about their relationship, because he knew that if it was out in the open the sheer amount of shit he would get from the Howlies would be ridiculous.

It was with that grateful thought that he said his goodbyes and went to go find their room. All of the commandos had double bunked while they were here. It was easier to find a smaller block of rooms together and Steve refused to have the group spread around the city; probably paranoia talking, but he was unrepentant.

The arrangements had side benefits, though, not the least of which that it was a bit easier on the wallet, something all the Howlies were pleased about. Since the group was used to living in each other’s pockets anyways it wasn’t much of a hardship.

Although given the reactions from the guy’s down at the bar, it was possible that they were trying to give Steve and Bucky an excuse to get a room together without needing to answer too many questions.

The Howlies were good friends.

When Steve got to their door, he was suddenly nervous. This wouldn’t be like a quick bit of pleasure grabbed in the dark where no one could see. Sharing a room was a different type of intimacy and though Steve knew that Bucky wasn’t a flighty kind of guy, he was still worried that this might change things for them.

Everything was still just so new and it was causing Steve’s anxiety to go into overdrive.

He gave himself a good mental shake. There was nothing to be nervous about. They would be fine. Steve just needed to get in there and make sure Bucky was okay. If anything else was going to happen, well, Steve would deal with that when it happened.

Biting his lip, he knocked on the door. The last thing he wanted to do was surprise Bucky by just walking in; that might end up terribly for everyone involved and for more than one reason.

A muffled, “Who’s there?” came through the door.

“It’s Steve. Um. Can I come in?” he asked into the seam of the door. Footsteps moved across the floor and door rattled as the lock slid open.

Steve took another moment to gather himself before he slipped in. He tried to open the door as little as possible; he had no idea if Bucky had his hood off or not, but the last thing they needed was for the hall to get a peek of those hair snakes. As soon as he was inside he locked the door behind him.

When he turned around he was treated to the sight of Bucky seated on a stool in front of the dresser, staring at the mirror. He had his goggles and scarf on but his shirt was off, revealing the full length of the metal arm and a torso lined with faded scars. His shoulders were rounded and his back bowed, as if an incredible weight pressed upon him. The pale expanse of his back seemed to glow in the yellow lamplight and Steve noticed the faintest glimmer of something gold on his skin.

“Hey, Stevie,” Bucky whispered. Steve’s heart broke with how sad that greeting sounded.

Steve moved to stand behind him and rested his hands on Bucky’s mismatched shoulders. “Hey, Buck.” A few of the tiny snakes in Bucky’s hair lifted up out of the wet tresses they were nestled into nose at Steve’s hands. They smelled faintly of the lavender soap that Bucky must have just bathed with.

Bucky dropped his head, unwilling to look at Steve even through the mirror.

“Whatever bad thing you’re thinking, it’s not true,” Steve stated after the silence went on for a little too long.

“Isn’t it though? But it’s not just runnin’ and screaming I’m worried about. No, one look at my ugly mug and people die.” He shook his head. “I’m not ashamed of what I am, but I’m so damn tired of worrying about hurting people all the damn time. I’m tired of never being able to be… to just be.”

Steve rubbed Bucky’s shoulders carefully, willing heat to go into the air chilled skin.

“Mirrors,” he murmured.

Now that he was closer he could see that the glint of gold on Bucky’s back was actually something like a tattoo; an image of a golden scaled snake decorated his skin. The body winded and twisted around all across his back while the tail ended somewhere underneath Bucky’s waistband. It looked like the head of the snake would probably lay under the hair and snakes on Bucky’s skull.

The scars which radiated out of Bucky’s metal shoulder were still red and livid looking, but those left over from Bucky’s torture in Azzano had already smoothed out into thin white lines. It seemed likely that in another year’s time, there wouldn’t be any additional scarring at all.

It was just another thing that the two of them had in common. Ever since he’d gotten the serum, Steve noticed that scars just wouldn’t stay on him. In the last several months he’d gotten hurt on numerous occasions and yet his skin would turn unblemished within weeks after the injury had healed.

Looking over Bucky’s nearly smooth skin and the angry seam around his metal appendage, it was easy to see both that Bucky healed far better than the average human and that something about the arm continually aggravated the area around it.

“What?” Bucky lifted his head a bit to look at Steve through the reflection in front of them.

“In the story. Perseus was able to see Medusa in the mirror of his polished shield. Is that true? Could we…?”

“Steve, no. I mean, yes, the whole stoning thing doesn’t work through a mirror, but it’s too dangerous. I can’t risk it,” Bucky said.

He was shaking a little under Steve’s hands and Steve had the weirdest suspicion that Bucky might be crying.

“Bucky, do you trust me?” Steve asked.

“Stevie, it’s not about trust---”

“Do you trust me?” Steve interjected.

Now Bucky was staring right at Steve’s reflection. The red lenses of the goggles were glowing a bit again and his hands were clenched tight. “One slip up, Stevie,” Bucky pleaded. “Just one and you’d be gone forever.”

“Buck,” Steve said calmly. “I trust you with everything that I am. I know that you’ll do everything in your power to keep me safe. Please. Let me see you?”

Silence fell over the room as Bucky considered things.

“First sign of issue, you close your eyes and cover them with your hands, and I do the same,” Bucky said quietly.

“Absolutely, Buck.” Steve tried to give his best encouraging smile to Bucky in the mirror. “And if it gets to be too much, if you think you need to stop and cover up, you just say the word.”

Bucky took a huge breath a let it out with a shudder, and then nodded.

It was dangerous, Steve knew it was. He very vividly remembered all the statues in Azzano, the looks on their faces. But more importantly, he knew just how much Bucky was hurting, how much the isolation hurt him.

The truth was that Steve did trust him, deeply. As risky as it was for Bucky to be unmasked, Steve knew that Bucky would rather cut off his other arm than accidentally turn his head at the wrong time.

Time seemed to stretch as Bucky slowly untied his scarf. Right before he let it fall from his face, he looked at Steve again. “You’re sure?”

“Yeah. Do it. Let me see you.” Steve tightened his hands on Bucky’s shoulders in what he hoped was a comforting way.

With one hand Bucky let the scarf fall and in the same motion he took off his goggles with the other hand. Steve couldn’t stop the gasp that left his mouth.

Bucky was beautiful.

His luscious dark brown hair and snakes framed a clear pale face with a strong jaw and a slightly dimpled chin. Just a hint of pearly white teeth peeked out from around where he was biting his lower lip, making it plush and red. His cheeks were freshly shaven and smooth. Only the barest hint of white scars lined his face, left from the cruel mask that held him in Azzano.

And his eyes.

His eyes were gloriously silvery blue, the same color as a cold winter sky, and they were shining. No, not shining, glowing.

“Bucky…” Steve didn’t know what to say.

A sad half smile, half grimace twisted Bucky’s face. “Yeah. The gods think they’re funny. Looks run in the family, in more ways than one.”

Steve ran one hand up the back of Bucky’s skull and through the soft writhing strands of his hair and snakes. That simple caress was enough to make Bucky’s head loll into Steve’s palm and make his eyes go half lidded.

“Stevie, please…” Bucky’s whisper was pained and he took a short sharp breath.

“You’re beautiful, Buck,” Steve whispered back to him. Unable to resist the temptation, he gently tugged on Bucky’s head and leaned down to nuzzle the back of Bucky’s neck and shoulder. “I’m so lucky you let me see. Thank you.”

He licked a stripe up Bucky’s spine, right over those golden scales, and felt Bucky arch into him. Steve kept his left hand in Bucky’s hair and snakes but the other he let roam over Bucky’s skin; first along his back, delicately tracing the image of coils twisting there, and then around his side and up and down his chest. Eventually he paused to gently pinch one of Bucky’s nipples, wringing another shuddering gasp out of him.

Another gentle tug exposed Bucky’s neck even further and Steve moved up to lick at the pulse point there.

Bucky reached up with his flesh arm and held Steve’s head in place, making sure that his face was pointed forward towards the mirror and not upwards towards Bucky’s face. The metal arm he let rest on the dresser top. They locked eyes and Steve continued his slow exploration of Bucky’s skin with his right hand.

“I’m gonna draw you, Buck,” Steve said.

“Yeah?” Bucky breathed back.

“Yeah.” Steve punctuated each sentence with a lick or a nibble to Bucky’s neck. “Yeah, I’m gonna draw you. Everyone is gonna see how pretty you are every time they look at my sketches. You’ll be famous.”

If anything, that made Bucky’s eyes shine brighter.

Steve urged him up to standing and pressed him forward so he was supported by his metal arm on the desk. After that he gently pulled back from Bucky’s grip and guided his other hand forward onto the desktop as well.

Seeing all of Bucky’s well muscled top laid out in front of him was driving Steve a little insane. He wanted everything all at once and he wasn’t sure what any of that was. But the vulnerable look in Bucky’s eyes, eyes that still were locked on Steve’s face above him in the mirror, reminded Steve that this wasn’t about him. This was about making Bucky feel loved.

And, oh, did Steve love him.

He leaned into Bucky’s back, slotting their hips together and grinding his erection up and down the crack of Bucky’s ass. The metal plates in Bucky’s arm recalibrated on their own and softly whined. Bucky panted and twitched his hips back into the sensation.

“Can I see you, Buck?” He ran a finger along a seam on Bucky’s pants. “All of you?”

It was like those words finally got Bucky’s brain back on track because after that the filthy commentary started to flow.

“Fuck, Stevie, yes. Oh fuck yes. Please. You do it for me, take ‘em off and let me spread myself open for you.” Steve’s eyes rolled briefly back into his head and his dick twitched hard at that thought. Bucky ground his hips against Steve’s erection. “I’d let you do whatever you want, Stevie. Rub me, feel me, kiss me, lick me, anything you want, Stevie. I’m so fucking hard for you, I’m leaking with it. Please, Stevie.”

A quick grope around the front of Bucky’s pants proved that he was right; a little wet spot had formed where Bucky’s dick strained at fabric. Steve ran his hand along the outline of it, circling the head. He shoved his other hand down the back of Bucky’s pants, grabbing a firm handful of ass cheek. Bucky’s hips rocked, not sure which side to move towards to get more sensation.

“Yeah, doll, hold on to me, feel me up all over…” Bucky moaned.

It took a little bit of work, but Steve was able to get Bucky’s trousers unbuttoned and unzipped with one hand. Once they were undone, Steve gave Bucky a feral grin in the mirror and dropped to his knees, pulling Bucky’s pants down with him.

Bucky’s only response was a long low groan.

Steve shoved the little stool Bucky had been sitting on out of the way and then guided Bucky’s bare feet out of his pant legs, one foot at a time. Once that was done, he ran his hands up and down the sides of Bucky’s legs, noting a bit of a shiver in them as he did so.

That’s when Steve noticed that the golden snake tattoo coiled across Bucky’s ass and down and around his right leg, ending right at the ankle. There didn’t seem to be any difference between the texture of those metallic scales and the skin around it; it was as if the image were just painted on with liquid gold.

“Beautiful,” Steve whispered into the skin on Bucky’s thigh. Bucky let out a nearly inaudible whine.

Right at that moment, Steve felt like the luckiest man in the world.

Very slowly, he brought his hands up to cup Bucky’s full round ass, pinching and kneading the flesh there just for the sake of feeling it move around in his hands. He watched the shimmering snake image gleam and shift in the lamp light.

“Steve, you fucking tease, your hands feel so good. Just like that, sweetheart, oh sweet Hera…” Bucky groaned above him.

“Thought you were gonna spread yourself out for me, Buck.” Steve’s voice felt raw and he knew that he had to sound like he’d been screaming for hours already. He gave Bucky’s cheeks another tight squeeze and then gave one side a quick little bite.

“Oh sweet fucking Fates…” Bucky moaned. Very slowly he shuffled each leg out a little wider.

“I think you can do better than that.”

Bucky moved his legs out even wider giving Steve the lovely view of his cock and balls hanging heavily down. His ass was sticking out so far that he had to lean on his elbows to keep balance. To Steve’s mild surprise, Bucky was totally hairless.

It was the sexiest thing Steve had ever seen. He leaned back a bit to try and get himself under control. At this rate he was a little worried that he was going to make a mess of his uniform.

As soon as he started to move away, Bucky let out a small whimper.

“Oh, no, sweetheart, don’t you worry. I’m just trying to get the best view.” Steve ran his hands up and down Bucky’s legs again. “You’re good, Bucky. My Bucky.”

“View, huh, Stevie? Liking what you see?” Steve glanced up to the mirror and saw an absolutely wicked smirk grace Bucky’s flushed face. As soon as they made eye contact, Bucky’s grin grew. He slowly levered himself down closer to the desk and held out his flesh hand to Steve. “My bag, glass bottle in the second small pocket.”

Curious, Steve crawled across the floor to dig through Bucky’s rucksack.

“Mmmm honey, seeing you on your knees in that uniform…” Bucky growled.

Steve’s face burned and he turned to look at Bucky with astonishment.

“Are you kiddin’ me?”

Bucky just leered at him from the mirror’s reflection, as if Steve was the one totally naked rather than Bucky.

But, God, was he gorgeous! Legs spread, ass up, head leaning on that gleaming metal hand, and a face full of mischief. Muscled and firm, big as a tank, and skin nearly glowing silver and gold in the dim room. The snakes around his face twisted around each other happily and Bucky’s eyes were nearly white with how bright they were glowing.

It was at that moment that it really hit Steve just how unearthly Bucky was, how utterly not-human. But rather than scared or repulsed, Steve just felt all the luckier that he was able to spend any time at all in Bucky’s presence.

Through months spent together, all the shared words and firefights, the long nights and hard marches, Bucky had become Steve’s closest and best friend. In all that time Steve had never imagined that he would be able to see Bucky so gloriously unadorned. He never dared to hope that he would get to have Bucky’s love as well as friendship.

The trust and the caring that he knew they both felt made his heart squeezed painfully in his chest.

Bucky must have sensed what Steve was thinking, because his wicked smile softened. “Yeah. Yeah, come on, kitten, bring that bottle on over and I’ll show you how to make us both feel good.”

Steve hurried to do as he was bid.

“Good. Open that up. It’s peach oil. Pour a little in my hand. There we go. Now just stand back and watch, Stevie. I’ll give you a good view.”

Bucky rolled the oil around in his flesh hand for a moment, coating his fingers, and then he reached back to rub in between his ass cheeks.

“Ah, ah, ah! Hands off, eh Stevie? We’ll get that pretty dress mess of yours all messed up. Just stand right there. Watch.” Steve stood just behind and to the side of Bucky, close enough he could reach out and touch. It was pretty difficult to remember that he was just watching for now. Everything in him screamed to reach out and touch; he wouldn’t though, not while Bucky told him not to.

Very slowly, Bucky rubbed his hole up and down, teasing both himself and Steve at the same time. After a few moments, he carefully slipped one finger inside himself. “Oh, fuck, yes. Feels good, doll. Gonna feel better when it’s you. Maybe next time we do this you’ll work me open yourself, get me all nice and loose and ready for that big cock of yours…”

When Bucky worked a second finger into himself, Steve couldn’t stop himself from opening up his dress pants and stroking his cock in time with the movement of Bucky’s hands. He was so hard he could barely stand it. It was torture keeping his hands to himself.

“That’s right, doll,” Bucky said, watching him from the mirror. “I want you to get yourself all hot for me. Come on my back before you fuck me. Mark me up as yours.”

For a moment, the only sounds in the room were the soft wet sound of Bucky fucking himself on his own fingers and the heavy panting breaths of both of them.

When Bucky shoved a third finger into his ass, Steve felt the electric heat in his groin and his gut that signaled that he was close to coming. He sped up his strokes, chasing that feeling. “Bucky, Bucky, I’m gonna---”

“That’s right, kitten, come all over me,” Bucky moaned and then managed to get a fourth finger into his ass. His chest was flush with the table and there were deep gouges in the desktop from where his metal fingers had clawed into its surface. After a particularly deep thrust, he half closed his eyes and groaned low and deep, breathing out Steve’s name.

That’s all it took for Steve’s first orgasm to wash over him. The room blacked out for a moment as he came in long pulsing spurts. Most of it landed on Bucky’s golden lined back, some landed on his ass and hand, and a little bit dribbled on the floor.

Looking at Bucky marked with his come, radiant and debauched, and still desperately seeking to pleasure himself was earth shattering. There was no doubt in Steve’s mind that it was the most glorious thing that he had ever seen.

Without even letting up, Steve continued to stroke himself; he still burned with want and ached with the need to be buried inside Bucky.

“Yes, oh fuck yes, all over me. Make me yours, just like you’re mine. Come on, sweetheart, I’m ready. Fuck me. Please. Please!” Bucky’s eyes had closed to mere slits as he tried to roll his hips into his fingers.

“Yes,” Steve gasped out. “Yeah, anything for you.”

He grabbed the small bottle of oil and spilled a bit onto his right hand, heedless of his uniform. The prospect of stains was the last thing on his mind. Rubbing that oil onto his dick made him moan; it felt amazing after that fast dry rub from his first orgasm.

“Stevie…” Bucky breathed out, his voice low and intense.

Steve nodded in response. Getting out coherent words seemed impossible right then and he was practically shaking with need. Very carefully he moved to line up his dick with Bucky’s slippery hole.

“That’s it, sweetheart,” Bucky crooned. As Steve moved closer, Bucky guided his dick right into place.

The moment that wet heat encased his cock, Steve nearly came again. It was so good; tight and slippery. He gave himself a minute to adjust to the feeling before slowly pressing in. Bucky’s rim gently pulsed around him and the sounds that were coming out of his mouth were positively obscene. Each one drove Steve right out of his mind.

Soon enough Steve was all the way in; the moment their hips slotted together Bucky’s ass clenched hard. A deep guttural groan escaped Steve’s mouth. It felt so fucking good and seeing them joined like that nearly short circuited his brain.

“That’s…yeah, that’s it sweetheart, oh fuck yes. Fates, darling, you feel so damn good! Oh fuck…” Bucky moaned. “Now, uhhhh, now start moving. Yeah, fuck me, just like that, doll.”

Steve started out slow, and not just for Bucky’s benefit. He was certain that anything more would completely drive him mad. It was a damn good thing that he had already gone off once, otherwise he never would have lasted more than a few seconds once he was buried inside of Bucky’s delicious ass.

The slow slide in and out made Steve feel like his whole body was on fire. Bucky growled underneath him and Steve could hear a touch of rattle in the sound. That hint of danger only made him want to drive himself harder into Bucky’s sweet flesh.

He ran his left hand up Bucky’s back and grabbed a fist full of his hair and snakes. With a steady pull he dragged Bucky’s head upwards and arched it sideways so they could look right at each other through the mirror.

And Bucky looked beautiful, so fucking beautiful it made Steve’s heart ache and his fingers twitch for a pencil. Bucky lips were cherry red and wet from where he’d been biting them. His eyes shined like captured moons and his snakes rubbed sensuously against Steve’s hand. The arch in his back caused all his muscles to pop and strain, and the hard length of his cock dripped all over the desk in front of them. Steve’s dark uniformed figure loomed behind him, making him look far more imposing in the mirror than he had ever felt in regular life.

That was all Steve could take; he slammed into Bucky as deep and as fast as he could. The force of it was enough to cut off Bucky’s dirty talk and leave them both grunting with each thrust. Steve wasn’t sure how long that lasted. Each moment seemed to float by on a wave of arousal and bliss.

Bucky’s whines and grunts became more and more desperate and eventually he found enough words to start begging. Each word lit Steve up inside; to know that he was pleasuring Bucky so completely was nearly as intoxicating as the physical act itself.

“Please, please, please, I need it, Stevie, please…”

Without breaking stride or releasing his grip on Bucky’s hair and snakes, Steve quickly began pumping Bucky’s cock in time with his thrusts. The oil that was still on his right had mixed in with the precome that was steadily dripping out of the head and created a smooth hot glide up and down Bucky’s shaft. Steve was already so close himself, he tried to stroke Bucky quickly so they would come together.

Next time I’ll take my time with this, Steve promised himself, enjoying the weight and feel of Bucky’s dick in his hands. He wanted to taste it again, get it all the way in his mouth.

After only a few more rough pulls, Bucky clenched down hard on Steve’s cock and started to come all over Steve’s hand and the desk. The pulsing seemed to last forever and after a moment or two, Steve’s orgasm followed.

His whole body shuddered and froze as blissful wave after blissful wave crashed through him. Everything else in the world faded away; there was only Bucky and Bucky’s skin and the places where they were joined.

He moved his left arm down to wrap around Bucky’s chest and pulled him back to rest on Steve’s front. Bucky wrapped his arms around Steve’s, hugging him tight. They stayed there for a long time, basking in the hazy pleasurable after-glow and in the warmth they both shared.

Steve nibbled a little at Bucky’s neck and felt a few of the snakes lick his cheek in response. A soft chuckle escaped from Bucky. His eyes had returned to a soft grey-blue, their glow already fading in the afterglow. Steve smiled softly back at him in the mirror.

“Sweet Fates, Stevie, that was…” Bucky’s voice sounded rough as hell. He stroked his metal hand up and down Steve’s arm.

“Yeah,” Steve replied. He felt completely wrung out; they’d gone through battles that were less draining on him.

There was a tickling sticky feeling as his softened cock slowly started to slip out of Bucky’s ass. Very carefully, he pulled backwards; they both groaned as he slipped out completely. Steve didn’t even want to think about what he’d have to do to get his uniform cleaned up. He briefly considered burning it.

Before he could move any farther away, Bucky held his face and tugged him so they were staring at each other in the mirror again.

“Thank you,” Bucky said softly; his face shone with love and gratitude.

Steve couldn’t stop the sappy smile that spread across his face. “I love you, Buck. Thank you for letting me in.”

The sappy smile must have been contagious, because the two of them stood there mooning at each other like idiots. Eventually Bucky jerked his chin to the side, pointing towards the bathing room.

“Go on. Get cleaned up. Don’t take too long though, I want another bath.”

Steve flashed a huge smile at him and kissed his neck. “I’ll be quick. Maybe after we’re both all cleaned up, I could spend some time sketching you?”

“What?” Bucky’s eyebrows raised in surprise.

“Didn’t think I was serious, huh? Of course I want to draw you. Every inch of you, face and all, even if we have to set up a mirror to do it properly.”

The shock on Bucky’s face deepened and his mouth fell to a soft ‘o’.

“You’re amazing Bucky and I want to spend every second I can trying to get that beautiful mug of yours down on paper.” The sentiment was serious and heartfelt and he hoped that Bucky would take it in the way Steve had intended.

If Bucky hated being an anonymous face, well then Steve would draw him. Remind him that he wasn’t something to be feared, that he was loved instead. And if Bucky couldn’t stand how isolated being a gorgon made him, then Steve would spend every moment he could being as close to him as Bucky would allow.

Given the pleased look that Bucky was giving him, Steve figured his message got through.

“Gonna put my picture in your compass, punk?” Bucky teased.

“Maybe, jerk.”

Bucky laughed, loud and happy, and Steve’s heart soared.

Chapter Text

To Steve’s great relief, the rest of their time in London passed uneventfully. Phillips opted to have all further mission planning sessions be in private; only he, Steve, Peggy, and sometimes Howard were involved. Before he knew it they were back across the channel and off on their next mission.

Every chance he got, Steve was drawing Bucky. He still had a small sketch book that he’d brought from home, each page carefully conserved for the maximum amount of use. Bucky’s features graced those pages frequently. But Steve also found himself saving up scraps of other paper, too, and more than one cute little cartoon hair snake graced the margins of any page he happened to be reading.

As the broiling hot weeks of summer bled into early fall, Steve was forced to acknowledge that the drawings were as much for himself as they were for Bucky.

Their missions had become more and more brutal as men on both sides of the conflict got more desperate.

Captain America and his Howling Commandos were making a tangible dent in Hydra’s forces, which only made the Nazi troops fight all the fiercer. Rumor had it that the Red Skull was shooting anyone who survived Allied attacks. Because of that, each Hydra trooper fought to the death no matter how badly they were outnumbered.

It made planning the attacks on Hydra bases and facilities that much harder. Even a cornered rabbit would fight back and men were at their most dangerous when they had nothing to lose.

Each mission left the Howlies hurt and exhausted. Having Hansel and Gretel’s woods to retreat to was a godsend; Steve was pretty sure that without that safe haven smack in the middle of enemy territory, they wouldn’t have been able to accomplish half of what they did.

After every mission, whenever Steve got a chance, he’d sit and draw Bucky. At first it was just his face but soon Steve found himself sketching out graceful gloved hands, the curve of solid shoulders, and a masked head bent over a propped up rifle.

Even when Steve wasn’t sketching Bucky, he still kind of was. He’d draw the commandos sitting around their fire playing cards with Bucky’s darkened figured mixed into the group. Or when he drew his memories from Brooklyn, he’d add a child-like Bucky in to play with his skinny child self. And everything acquired stars, shield, and tiny little snakes; the cuter the better.

For a while he was pretty torn about drawing Bucky’s hair snakes. He wanted to portray Bucky as he was, not only because he was beautiful but because Steve wanted Bucky to know that he accepted Bucky for who and what he was.

On the other hand, if someone else got a hold of those drawings it might put Bucky in danger. There was no telling what someone might do if they found out. When the potential outcomes ranged from Bucky being run off or killed to Bucky being experimented on and then beheaded…well, Steve was pretty leery about leaving around anything that might increase the possibility of that stuff happening.

It was Bucky who came up with the solution.

“You’re an artist, Stevie. Why not draw all of the Howlies as monsters or myths?”

The laughter around the fire was encouraging.

“Ol’ Dum Dum here would prob’ly be a big sea turtle; huge, slow, and impossible to crack,” Morita joked.

“Har-de-har-har-har,” Dum Dum said back sarcastically.

“Creatures from myth he said,” Monty added. “A sea turtle hardly qualifies. Maybe a griffon? Large, strong, stupidly noble.”

“I like the sound of that!” Dum Dum said. “Hell yeah. Strong and noble!”

Dernier said something and pointed at Monty. “What about you, Monty? You a lion or a unicorn?” Gabe translated.

More chuckles all around.

“If anyone is a unicorn here, it’s gotta be Cap,” Dum Dum said.

Steve tried to stammer out objections over the roaring laughter that followed that statement.

“Nah, Stevie ain’t no unicorn,” Bucky said. From the tilt of his head, Steve strongly suspected that he was being leered at.

“Well fuck you all, I’m a dragon.” Morita jumped in. “Just laying that out there before one of you comes up with something dumb. Wise and powerful.”

“Humble, too,” Steve teased. Morita laughed and threw a stick at him.

“Dernier should be a fire sprite,” Gabe said. Dernier raised an eyebrow at him. “Because, man, you have an unhealthy obsession with lighting stuff on fire.” Dernier just laughed and nodded in agreement.

“Monty should be a fawn,” Steve said with a grin. “They’re earth spirits; little men with goat feet. They like to sit around and drink. A good meal, a bottle of wine, and a shady tree, that’s all he needs.”

“Sounds good to me,” Monty replied with a smile. “Hrmm… what should Gabe be.”

There was a quiet pause as they all thought about it.

“I know! A book wyrm! Get it? Wyrm? Instead of treasure, he’d be hoarding books.” Dum Dum grinned. Everyone let out a groan but Gabe seemed pleased.

“Books are a treasure, you ass,” Gabe replied.

“Steve would be a pixy.” Bucky said and got a whole lot of confused looks in return.

“You have seen him, right?” Morita asked incredulously. “Quite a fair sized lad! I mean, sure, he was tiny before, but now…”

“Nah, it ain’t about that,” Bucky said. “Pixy’s are small, sure, but they’re smart as hell. They plan and they know exactly how to use their size to their advantage. And, hoooboy, they are stronger than they look. Stubborn as hell, too. Once a pixy has its heart set on something, you might as well just give up and let them have it because your life is gonna be hell ‘til they get it. And they know how to fight in groups. Pixy swarms are nothing to scoff at.”

Steve raised his eyebrows and considered that for a moment.

“Ha. Yeah, that’s Cap all over. Pixy, huh.” Dum Dum laughed. The others nodded in agreement.

“Well,” Steve said. “Pixy it is. So. Does that make you all the pixy swarm?”

More sticks were thrown at him.

“What about Peggy?” Gabe asked. “She’s one of us, even if she isn’t always in the field.”

Nods were exchanged all around the fire as they sat and thought.

“Athena. Goddess of wisdom and warfare,” Monty said.

“Good idea, but it’s bad luck to dress someone up after the gods. They get kinda pissy about that sometimes,” Bucky cautioned.

Monty blanched, and given what Steve remembered from his reading of Greek myth he didn’t blame him one bit. If the Greek gods were anything like their fictional counterparts, bringing attention to oneself was just asking for trouble.

“What about a phoenix?” Bucky said. “A beautiful firebird, but also a wise ruler. She brings as many gifts as she does dangers.”

Gabe’s eye crinkled and a huge smile plastered itself across his face. “Yeah, that sounds like her.”

“If we’re doing Peggy, we should add Howard, too.” Dum Dum said firmly.

Dernier said something rapidly in French and then mimed a hammer hitting something.

“He says, ‘What about a dwarf? They can craft the finest things and are stronger than they seem?’” Gabe translated.

From the tilt of Bucky’s head, Steve had the sneaking suspicion that he was laughing, but without seeing his face he wouldn’t have been able to tell.

“Makes sense to me,” Morita said.

So in addition to drawing Bucky in his true state, he drew the rest of the commandos as mythical creatures, too. Dum Dum the Griffon sat around with his signature hat playing cards with Morita the lung dragon with a deck of cards in his many-toed hands. Gabe’s large winged wyrm form sat in a pile of pulp novels with a fiery Dernier next to him trying to light them ablaze while he wasn’t looking. Monty the fawn sat at his leisure with a pile of wine bottles and bowls of fruit around his furry legs. Bucky lounged in the middle of the group in all his snake-haired glory with a tiny Captain America pixy perched on his shoulder. A short burly version of Howard was standing to the side with his anvil and hammer at the ready and Peggy stood behind them all with fiery wings mantled over them in protection.

Soon enough, sketches of the myth versions of themselves were as common as the regular ones.

It became a meditation for Steve; a way to let go of the war and the death that surrounded them. Just for those precious moments he could escape. And when he drew Bucky and the rest of the guys, it was like they were escaping with him.

The Howlies teased the hell out of him for doodling all over every paper they got. Steve would blush and stammer, but in the end he paid them little mind. He knew how much Bucky liked Steve’s efforts and the teasing was a sure fire way to lighten everyone’s mood; a nice safe topic in the middle of all the horrors.

Even Peggy got in on the teasing, during the few times they saw her. Even though she was only rarely in the field with them, Peggy always felt like one of the group. She and Gabe often sat aside and talked books while Steve sketched and the rest of the team played cards.

Steve did end up putting a picture in his compass. He didn’t dare put one in of Bucky’s face, though he wanted to. In the end he ended up shoving a little sketch of a coiled snake in the compass top, its scales the same pattern as the golden snake image that writhed across Bucky’s back.

Honestly, Steve didn’t think anyone would notice the little picture there. He only used his compass in the field, and the only people usually around then were the commandos. It wasn’t until the film crew showed up one day at the main army camp that Steve realized his little picture might be observed by others.

After a brief moment of panic, he decided not to worry about it. What would it matter if someone filmed him with his little snake picture in his compass?

Both Peggy and Howard were around for the filming and they all held up under the irritation of a press crew with reasonably good graces. That was significantly better than Steve and the commandos took the invasion.

While he was doing the USO tour, Steve filmed all kinds of things for the Army, but it turns out that his tolerance for the process had nearly completely disappeared. Intellectually he knew that films like these were important. It kept the people at home connected with what the troops were doing and kept up support and moral for the military.

Even if it did feel like all they were doing was just standing around looking at maps and pretending to be important.

But hours turned into days as the reporters and film crews found new positions to pose them in and new angles to shoot from. Patience everywhere was running a little thin as the commandos got more and more restless and the film crews got more annoyed with that restlessness.

The final straw came while during a shoot of a few of them pouring over an open map. They were all talking in general terms and pointing meaningfully. The director assured them that the Army would never allow actual audio recordings of what was going on, so they should feel free to talk about their missions as normal.

Steve found this ridiculous. First, because he would have to just trust whatever this guy was saying and in his experience, a director would say anything to get the shot he wanted. Second, because even if no audio was ever recorded, they would still be saying things in front of that film crew. Those guys could be working for anyone. Even if they were on the up and up, all they had to do was repeat that information to the wrong person and the commandos would be in a world of hurt.

So Steve made sure the Howlies kept their mouths shut and they all talked a lot about how the trees were green and the sky was blue and gosh that map sure was pretty. Bucky in particular had some commentary that almost made all the standing around worth it.

But with all that in mind, Steve was still pretty irritated. They’d been at this crap for a week and a half and Steve was just about done with it. He’d been pointing over this stupid open map all morning and he was about ready to let Dernier blow it up.

And then he pulled out his compass.

What he was going to do was pull it out, check the needle and do some more dramatic pointing.

What he ended up doing was pulling it out and seeing that his little snake picture was gone and a photo of Peggy’s face had been put in its stead.

He tossed it on the map and turned murderous glare upon the film director.

“…good, good, now get a close up of that picture. Perfect! That’s a wrap, folks,” the director said. Which was right about the time he noticed the look on Steve’s face; his face paled and he visibly swallowed.

“What did you do?” Steve growled.

“Now, now, Captain. You all did wonderfully, that was a great shot! I’m really excited! The ladies at home are gonna---”

“I said,” Steve interrupted. “What. Did. You. Do?”

“Stevie, what’s going on?” Bucky whispered beside him.

Monty grabbed the compass, looked inside, and swore.

“Captain! I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that Col. Phillips guaranteed me that you and your men would cooperate fully with us---” The film director was taking small steps backwards now and his film crew had already fled.

“Where is my picture?” Steve asked, his voice gone deadly quiet.

There was some shuffling behind him as Monty showed the compass to Bucky, who let out a quiet, “Son of a bitch.”

“Captain Rogers, may I remind you that this is a film to raise moral, and nothing raises moral like a good love story. I’ve seen that dame hanging out with the Howling Commandos, so of course it would make sense for you two to---”

“Give it back.” Steve was right on top of the man now, and just seconds away from lifting him off the ground by his neck.

“Captain!” the directory squeaked.

“I said give it back.” He wasn’t shouting, but he might as well have been for how the film director reacted.

“I don’t have it! I swear! I asked one of the boys to switch it out of your gear while you were busy with a different shot!”

“Easy, Stevie,” Bucky laid a hand on Steve’s shoulder. “It’s just a picture. You can draw another one.”

Monty was whispering in the background to Dum Dum, who then promptly hurried off in the direction of the film crew.

Steve took a deep breath. And then another. He resisted the urge to grind his teeth, but couldn’t stop from clenching his jaw tight.

“Fine. We’re done here. Get out.” Steve finally said to the film director.

“…For the shoot tomorrow---” the man started.

“No. We’re done here. Get out.”

With that the man fled.

Bucky put a hand on his back and leaned close; it was as much as they dared to do with so many people around to watch them.

“Don’t worry about that pissant, Stevie. Just forget about it,” he whispered soothingly. Everyone around them had already taken off except for Monty, who moved to stand a little ways away. It looked like he was trying to give them a bit of privacy all while hanging around to glare at anyone who tried to approach.

“He shouldn’t’a touched it, Buck,” Steve whispered back. “You know why.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I do. But since I do know why, I know that you never would’a switched it out. And another picture will do just fine.”

The slight glow of Bucky’s red goggles comforted Steve more than he cared to think about. Eventually he nodded.

“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right, Buck.” He still hated the idea that someone went through his things and took something personal and important to him. And then they had the gall to replace it with Peg’s picture, something he was sure she’d be no little bit annoyed by. She spent a long time getting to where she was with the SSR and rumors of a romantic relationship wouldn’t help her one bit.

“Come on. Let’s go find Peggs and tell her what happened. That way, at least, she’s not blindsided by it when it comes up.”

Bucky pushed Steve along until he got with the program and then they were on their way to the other side of camp where Howard’s tent was. This time of day it was pretty likely that Peggy was trying to herd Howard into finishing whatever upgrade he was working on.

Later that night, long after nearly everyone had already gone to sleep, Bucky slipped into Steve’s tent and handed him a little slip of paper.

It was the snake sketch from Steve’s compass.

“You found it,” Steve said.

“One of the film crew kept it as a keepsake. A picture drawn by Captain America himself.” The sardonic humor was heavy in Bucky’s voice.

Holding that little picture again in his hands made his eyes prickle and his cheeks burn. He couldn’t explain why it meant so much to him.

The best he could come up with was that it was a picture of his sweetheart held close; except it was more intimate than that. The scale pattern was one that he’d only ever seen on Bucky’s golden lined back. It was private. Precious.

“Thank you.” He tried to put just how grateful he was into his gaze. Given how brightly Bucky’s lenses were glowing, maybe the message got through.

Bucky leaned in to rest their foreheads against each other.

“Anything for you, Stevie,” he whispered.

Steve lifted one of Bucky’s hands and kissed his knuckles. They stayed that way for as long as they dared.

Chapter Text

Happily, that was the last time the Army tried to embed film crews with them. Given the secret nature of their tasks, that was really all for the best as far as Steve was concerned.

Fall bled into winter and the Howling Commandos found themselves on the trail of Dr. Zola himself.

“The information is solid,” Hansel said. He and his sister had met up with the commandos right on the edge of their forest territory. The information that they’d discovered was too valuable to send through an intermediary, so they’d sent a message asking Steve to meet them partway. “Zola is gonna be headed to Schmidt by train, right through here.”

The map he was gesturing on was barely illuminated by the firelight. The winter was bad enough that Steve had tried to make sure his team had a real army camp or roof over their heads as often as possible, but it just wasn’t possible with where Hansel and Gretel asked to meet them.

“Brenner Pass? Must be going by train. Anything else would be too slow,” Steve mused.

Gretel nodded and took a drink from her flask. “Word is that Schmidt’s pissed. You’ve wiped out all but their main base, wherever that is.”

“Yeah, that’s what we’re hearing too. If we can get Zola, he’ll lead us right to Schmidt.” Steve pursed his lips as he studied the map. They’d have to leave first thing if they wanted to try and make it to the border in time to catch the train. In winter. Through the mountains.

He sighed.

“Could be a trap,” Hansel added. “Seems really lucky that we find out about this trip with enough time to get you guys there to catch him.”

Steve had to agree. It probably was a trap, but it was a trap they couldn’t afford to ignore. Zola was Schmidt’s head scientist; he’d know the ins and outs of every plan Schmidt had going. It could mean the end of Hydra, and maybe the end of the war.

“Can’t be helped. Got anything that might lend us a hand?”

“Yeah,” Hansel said with a sigh. “We’ve got some stuff to add to your gear before we sleep for the night. Little extra damage protection.”

“Can you do anything about the weather?” Bucky asked. He was perched nearly on top of the tiny fire they had going. Most of the other commandos had already retired to their tents, tired from a day on the move.

“It’ll be hard,” Gretel said with a wince. “This is the proper season for snow storms and in an area that typically has nasty ones. They’ll have the full weight of what should be driving them. We’ll do what we can though, even if that’s just keeping the snow to a slow steady fall rather than a white out blizzard.”

“We’ll take what we can get. Thank you.” Steve smiled at her, all the while making sure it was as genuine as he could muster. It had been a long brutal season so far; to the point that when he and Bucky got time alone they’d mostly spent it just cuddling with each other. The sex was always wonderful, but more often than not the physical closeness was what they both wanted more.

“Before we go, we’ll put something on your tents too. Make them a little extra sturdy,” Hansel added.

“Thank you.” Bucky’s voice was deeply grateful. Again Steve wondered just how keenly he felt the cold. What little he knew about snakes told him they didn’t like it one bit, but he’d never known Bucky to be hindered by it. Grumpy, yes. Hindered? No.

Next time they got back to Allied lines he’d talk to Howard about making a little something extra to keep warm. It would be worth whatever teasing came out of the request if it made Bucky a little happier while they were out on the move.

Hansel and Gretel spent the rest of the night working on updating the protections on everyone’s gear; all while bullshitting with Bucky and Steve. Edward was out on watch, so they had a relatively relaxed camp that night.

“Soooo, what are your plans after the war, Steve?” Gretel asked. She quirked an eyebrow between him and Bucky.

Bucky snorted and said, “You think you’re subtle.”

“Please, I don’t need to be subtle. Besides, it would be wasted on Steve,” she laughed.

“Yeah, yeah,” Steve said with a roll of his eyes. “Head home to Brooklyn, I guess. That’s home for both of us, you know?”

From the tilt of his head and the glow of his lenses, Steve could tell that Bucky was probably smiling at him. Even though everyone there knew about his snakes, he was still all wrapped up from the cold; one or two of the little guys poked their heads out of Bucky’s heavy hood to flick their tongues at Steve.

It was ridiculously adorable.

“For fuck’s sake, guys, give us a break with the heart-eyes,” Hansel griped good naturedly.

“Ignore him, he’s just jealous because he’s been stuck living with his sister for the last several centuries,” Bucky responded.

Steve laughed while Hansel sputtered.

“Seriously, though, you three should come visit us,” Steve said. Gretel raised an eyebrow and Hansel just nodded his head back and forth as if weighing the idea in his mind. “I’m sure there are ways to get into New York for Edward. We might have to be discreet, but we can make it happen. It would be good to see you all.”

“Too much of a pain in the ass,” Gretel said. “Just come visit us. Spend some time in the hot spring. Enjoy the woods. We’ll be sure to leave you guys some alone time.”

The lascivious leer on Gretel’s face was both embarrassing and hilarious.

“Now that sounds like a good deal,” Bucky laughed.

They talked long into the night about the fantasy of After The War. It was nice to make plans, even if Steve had a hard time actually imagining that they’d get around to making them happen. He tried to hold on to the feeling, kept close to stand against future hurts.

Before they parted ways in the morning, Gretel pulled Steve aside for a moment.

“I added sound proofing to your tent. Just in case you want to be a little loud.” She winked at him and then was off into the woods before he could even get around the sputtering denials.

“What was that about?” Dum Dum asked from behind him.

“Nothing!” Steve squeaked. “Nothing! Time to head out.”

Bucky’s cackling followed him to the front of the group.

It took them two and a half days of hard travel to get to where they needed to be. Every single one of the commandos was thankful for Bucky’s enhanced senses and familiarity with the land. Because of him they were able to avoid any enemy complications on their way.

Even the weather cooperated; the worst they had was light snowfall the whole way. Pretty and had the added benefit of covering their tracks.

They ended up arriving at Brenner Pass a night early.

Steve knew what he was asking everyone to do would be near suicidally dangerous. For that reason alone he was glad they got there early. It gave them all time to settle in for as comfortable a night they could manage and the team deserved every comfort he could supply for them.

While he and Gabe scouted around the pass to find the best launch site for their mission, Steve had Bucky go out hunting for fresh meat. A large filling hot meal was a small luxury in the long run but it would go a long ways towards making their night a good one.

Luck was with them because by the time Steve and Gabe got back to the fire, the tents were all fixed up and a whole stag was split open and roasting on the fire. From the smell of things either Bucky had foraged up something for seasoning, or one of the guys had donated a bit of their precious reserve spices for the evening meal.

Once again Steve was grateful for Bucky’s uncanny ability to find meat nearly anywhere. Having plentiful food made all the difference in the world.

Halfway through their meal, the snow started to fall a little heavier. Steve urged everyone to eat their fill as quickly as they could; once they were done Bucky took the remains to dump away from the camp to lure off predators. The rest of the guys took hot rocks from the fire and shoved them under their sleeping rolls and settled in for the night.

In addition to that, Steve used the remains of their fire to heat up a pot of water, not only to have something to drink but also because he knew Bucky would appreciate being able to clean up a bit once they were in their tent.

During winter time the Howlies doubled or tripled up in their tents. Their winter gear was spacious enough and the warmth from an extra body was worth the trouble. So it didn’t look unusual at all that Steve and Bucky shared a tent.

Or, at least, Steve didn’t think it would be unusual. The first time Bucky had stayed in camp to sleep in Steve’s tent, they both got a number of smirks and raised eyebrows. But beyond that no one said a word. It was just accepted that they were doing the same thing the rest of the group was and were sharing to conserve heat.

By the time Bucky had slipped into their tent, Steve had their little brazier going in a corner. It was the size of a large coffee can and ran on a single brick of charcoal, but it was enough to heat the inside of the tent to a more reasonable temperature.

None of these things were standard gear. Much of it was pressed upon them by Hansel and Gretel once winter started. Buried as they were under all the snow up in the Alps, Steve was grateful; even if it did mean they had extra gear to carry. The guys had bitched a bit about the extra weight at first, but Steve bet they were all happy for it now.

“All set?” Steve asked quietly.

Bucky nodded and settled in next to him. The tent was just barely large enough for both of them, their bags, and the brazier.

“The way it’s snowin’, no one’s gonna be moving around tonight. No need to worry about keeping watch.”

Steve hummed in agreement. Since he and Bucky would be sleeping cuddled up together anyways, he had arranged their sleeping rolls so that they were in one big pile. Usually they slept back to back with the scarf around Bucky’s head just in case one of them rolled around at night.

While Bucky was busy washing off his hands, Steve thought about taking off his boots. It would be a nice change, but they were still camped in enemy territory. He was mildly concerned about frostbite on his feet, but with the brazier going, hot rocks shoved in their bedrolls, and the snow building up outside and blocking the wind it was already becoming comfortably warm. There was also the hope that with him and Bucky all snuggled up there would be enough warmth to be really cozy.

In the end he took the boots off and burrowed into the bedrolls so he was sandwiched between the thick layers. After a quick drink of tepid water and a wipe down of his hands, Bucky scooted in behind him. Steve wiggled a little in pleasure as Bucky nuzzled his neck.

“Can I wrap my scarf around your eyes, Stevie?” Bucky purred.

Steve’s whole body tensed up. The only reason why Bucky would want to have Steve blindfolded was if Bucky wanted his face and mouth free. Steve loved it when Bucky wanted his face and mouth free; the things he did…

Being physically intimate with Bucky was sometimes challenging. They’d had to come up with a protocol of sorts so they both would know what to do in case of any kind of interruption, be it from someone else or because one of them needed to stop.

Steve knew that if it ever got to be too much, all he’d have to do is say something and Bucky would immediately hide his face so Steve could take off the blindfold as fast as he needed to. Likewise whenever they had a private moment in front of a mirror, they both knew to turn their gaze at the first sign of objection from either person. It was the best they could do to mitigate the risk of having Bucky unmasked.

But it was worth it. Having Bucky free to touch him, to kiss him everywhere. It was very worth it.

A heavy shiver ran up and down Steve’s spine and he nodded his head.

“Yeah. Yeah we should do that,” he said, and closed his eyes in preparation.

There was some shuffling behind him and then he felt Bucky’s heavy scarf settle over his eyes and the top of his head, almost like a cap that had been pulled down too low.

Being blinded like that made everything sharper, more intense. Bucky’s scarf smelled like him; warm and spicy, like a mix of ginger, plums, and winter blankets.

“Gonna kiss you, Stevie,” Bucky said between nibbles on the back of his neck. Each touch left his skin tingling and made delicious waves of heat pulse through im. “Gonna touch you and kiss you all over.”

“Yes,” Steve whispered back. The need to stay quiet was so well ingrained by now that whispering was automatic.

While Bucky licked and nuzzled the nape of Steve’s neck, his hands were busy undoing the many hidden buckles and buttons that kept Steve’s uniform top and bottom together. Steve tilted his head sideways to give Bucky’s mouth better access.

It only took a few moments of fumbling to get Steve’s armored jacket loose; from there Bucky was able to unbutton the protective flaps and get the whole thing unzipped. A little niggling part of the back of Steve’s mind worried about what would happen if he needed to be out of his tent and combat ready quickly, but the chance of that was vanishingly unlikely and he knew it.

“Can I take the blankets off us? I wanna see you,” Bucky asked while letting his hands roam over the skin of Steve’s chest; the contrast between his flesh hand and his metal hand was fantastic. Steve nodded furiously. Yes, he would always be okay with Bucky looking at him. “It’ll be a little chilly…”

“Don’t care,” Steve mumbled. They hadn’t even really done anything yet and already his breath was coming in sharp pants.

Blankets shuffled around him and then the cool air hit his skin where his uniform was unzipped. At Bucky’s urging he shifted up onto his hands and knees. From there Bucky pulled Steve’s uniform top and undershirt upwards, trapping his arms above his head in the fabric. Steve shifted forward onto his elbows to help accommodate the bulk of all that material in front of him.

He was suddenly struck by how vulnerable a position he was in; blindfolded, arms bound, and ass slightly sticking up in the air. Shivers raced up and down his spine but he didn’t feel cold at all; he felt like he was burning. Melting, even.

Despite all that, Steve trusted Bucky implicitly and he knew Bucky felt the same way. Steve might be the vulnerable one right now but there were nights where Bucky was the one stretched out; pliant and ready to please.

It tickled something deep inside Steve that they both could be whatever the other needed, whenever that need manifested. He liked that it was another way they could provide for each other. And right now what Steve needed was for Bucky to wrap him up in care and make the world melt away. Since Bucky was the one who initiated things that night, Steve thought maybe he needed it too.

Bucky ran his metal hand soothingly up and down his back. The delicate tickle of hair and snake’s tongues told Steve that Bucky must have his face right above him. A warm puff of breath confirmed it. He squirmed as his cock swelled in his pants.

“Look at you. Sweet Fates, you’re gorgeous.”

A delicate stripe of wet heat ran up Steve’s side, causing a pained groan to bubble out of him. His pants were started to feel painfully tight.

“You doing good there, doll?” Again, Steve nodded. This was fine. More than fine.

The pressure on his back slightly increased as Bucky kneaded his shoulders. Each pinch and rub was accompanied by a kiss and a lick. It felt so damn good, it was all Steve could do just to sit there and take it, head hung and panting for breath.

Then he felt a sharp pinch right on his nipple, just enough to make him yelp a little. Steve tossed his head up, pushed his chest down, and pressed forward into the feeling.

“Like that, huh? My sweet little kitten. You like being petted, don’t you?”

Steve whimpered and his dick throbbed. He really, really did. Each time Bucky called him a sweet name or told him how good he was being, it went straight to Steve’s dick. He loved the praise, the adoration in Bucky’s voice; it made him want to writhe around like the kitten Bucky liked to call him.

“My good kitten. I’m gonna get you all taken care of. Will you let me do that for you, Stevie? Can I take care of you tonight?”

“Y-yes, please, Buck. I want that,” Steve whispered hoarsely. He was rewarded with another light pinch to his nipple and a long stroke down his back. A deep shudder rolled through him as pleasure tingled up and down his spine.

Bucky gently rolled his nipple between his fingers, every once in a while pinching it, making it stick out as far as possible. He continued kneading and stroking Steve’s back with his left hand. With each pass down to the base of his spine, Bucky edged closer and closer to slipping under the waistband there.

It lit a burning need within Steve. He moaned softly through bitten lips and rolled his back into each stroke. Spreading his legs a bit wider helped ease the building pressure in his pants, but once he did that he realized that the new position gave him just enough room to get a little friction on his dick when he moved.

“Fuck, Stevie,” Bucky groaned. “Look at you rolling your hips like that, grinding on nothing. You need it, don’t you, sweetheart. Need me touching your dick, don’t you.”

Again Steve nodded. It was hard to gather words together; everything was too clouded up with the sensation of hands on him and the tickle of Bucky’s breath over his skin.

A deep growling rattle was all the warning Steve got before his pants were brutally ripped downward, showing his bare ass to the open air.

Steve keened with want. His dick hung swollen and damp, now free from the torture of being trapped in his uniform pants but also without any friction on it at all.

Bucky dragged his metal fingers down Steve’s back, raking him with their smooth tips. Each finger left a hot trail on his flesh. When Bucky’s hand reached Steve’s ass he gripped the left cheek firmly and then bit down on the other cheek.

A gasp punched out of Steve. He tried to open his legs wider as Bucky played with his ass but his legs were caught up in his pants. The best he could do was strain against the fabric. Steve knew he could probably rip through the material holding him, but he also knew he didn’t want to. He could stay and be good.

Bucky’s metal hand gripping and teasing while he nibbled and nipped all along Steve’s skin. Every so often Bucky would whisper endearments mixed to Steve; each word caused his nerves to burn.

“So fucking sexy. Look at you. Love how you taste. Love you so fucking much, my Stevie. Mine. Just like I’m yours. Gonna eat you up. Can I do that, doll? Lick you open? Stick my tongue in you and get you wet?”

There was no way Steve was able to put together a sentence. The best he could do was just lay his head down on the bedroll, rest his weight on his chest and shoulders, and then stick his ass back towards Bucky.

“Please, please, please…” he moaned.

“Fuck, Stevie. You’re gonna kill me.” Bucky sounded as wrecked at Steve felt.

Suddenly his cheeks were spread and Bucky’s tongue was licking up and down Steve’s hole. He didn’t even bother with teasing, he just shoved it right in; fucking him in and out with his tongue.

Steve thrashed around at the feeling, but between his legs and arms being trapped by his clothes and Bucky firmly holding his ass in place, there wasn’t much room for him to move. Somehow that made it all the hotter. Like he was set up just for Bucky’s pleasure.

His dick throbbed in time with his pulse and he could feel little drops of fluid leaking out of him. All this time Bucky hadn’t touched it at all and the limited amount of hip rocking that he could do did nothing to give him relief.

The soft wetness of Bucky’s tongue lashed all around his hole, getting him sloppy wet. There was a slight burn from the stubble on Bucky’s cheeks; Steve leaned into the feeling. He wanted more, all of the sensations; anything Bucky would give him he would take.

When Bucky plunged in deep and split his forked tongue to swirl around the inner rim, it felt so fucking good he screamed; free for the first time he could remember to be as loud as he wanted, thanks to Gretel’s magic. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t see, all he could do was feel the duel tips of Bucky’s tongue in and around his hole.

Then he felt himself stretch open as a single slippery flesh finger was shoved in right along with that tongue; too slippery for just spit alone. The delicate smell of peaches filled the air; Bucky must have added a bit of oil to his hand. His finger prodded and probed around and finally found that delicious spot that caused white hot sparks to flare across the back of Steve’s eyelids.

Steve was reduced to rhythmic grunts and cries as Bucky slowly rubbed his prostate over and over, drawing him closer to coming without ever crossing over. Fluid was freely dripping out of his cock head; every little twitch of his hips sent a bit of it trailing around, sometimes even hitting his legs.

A second slick finger was shoved in and Steve howled. He was on fire, shaking with need, and gripping his uniform top like it was his last lifeline. Before he could really adjust to that intrusion, a third finger was shoved in. He cried out again and floundered for breath.

Just as he started to adjust to the feeling, all of those fingers pressed down hard on that nerve bundle inside him. At the same time, Bucky grabbed hold of Steve’s cock with his metal hand.

Steve came screaming, with Bucky working him front and back through his orgasm. It seemed to last forever; waves and waves of warm goodness flowed through him. He felt so full and held and treasured. His muscles clenched tight around the fingers still deep inside of him and he slowly rocked his hips with each pulse.

After an eternity of moaning and coming he slumped forward; his cock still tightly cradled in Bucky’s hand and fingers still buried up to the knuckles. It was a relief just to sit there, quiet and panting. Bucky didn’t move either of his hands but he did start licking around Steve’s still twitching hole, tracing the seam between fingers and ass with tiny little movements.

A soft weak moan escaped from Steve’s mouth.

“Beautiful. Hera bless, you’re fucking beautiful, Stevie.” A few more licks worked their way around Steve’s rim. “I’m so fucking lucky. Luckiest guy in the world.” Lick. Lick. Lick. “Look at you. So perfect for me. You did so good.” Lick. Lick. “My sweet kitten. Taste so good, doll.”

All the praise was starting to rile Steve up again and his cock twitched in Bucky’s firm grip.

“Yeah, there we go.” Lick. Lick. “Get ready for me, sweetheart. I’m gonna fuck you, just like this.”

Another soft low moan escaped Steve’s throat and he felt his cock throb again.

When Bucky removed his fingers Steve cried out at the loss. It felt so empty to have his loose rim fluttering around nothing.

“Shhh, I got you. Fates, doll, I don’t know how slow I can take this. You’re so fucking hot,” Bucky murmured behind him.

Steve felt the hot hard flesh of Bucky’s cock pressed against him and then slowly pushed in. Bucky didn’t stop and let him adjust at all; he just kept a steady thrust forward until Steve felt their hips slot together.

Which is when Steve felt the fabric of Bucky’s pants and the top of his jacket. Bucky was fucking him fully clothed.

The thought of that was so fucking hot that Steve nearly came again right there. He was stretched out, spread open, fingered and licked until he was screaming with want, and Bucky was still in his fighting gear. His legs were still trapped in his uniform pants, limiting how much he could open himself up, and causing his ass to be even tighter around Bucky’s dick.

Bucky stayed fully seated for a moment, just stroking Steve’s back up and down with his flesh hand. His metal hand still held onto Steve’s cock, unmoving.

Steve was crying, his tears leaking into Bucky’s scarf. He tried to move but he couldn’t. Not only was all his leverage gone, but also the moment he started to squirm Bucky shoved his shoulders down into the ground.

“Stay still, kitten,” he rasped. Steve whimpered in response. His brain was taffy; all he could do was feel Bucky’s hand on his dick and on his shoulders, Bucky’s cock big and thick inside him.

One metal finger slipped up and smoothed a little bead of precome around Steve’s sensitive cockhead, making him groan with pleasure-pain and frustration.

“So damn pretty…” Bucky whispered. He pulled out nearly completely, letting Steve’s rim stretch around his glans, and then slammed back in. Steve screamed with the force and bone melting pleasure of it.

Again and again Bucky slammed into him, slowly picking up speed as he went. With every thrust, Steve let out a little gasp.

“Uh, uh, uh, uh…”

Bucky’s flesh hand moved to Steve’s hip, pulling him in to meet the thrusts. At first the movements only grazed Steve’s prostate, but after a while Bucky started aiming; hitting that precious bundle of nerves head on every time.

Every step of the way Bucky cooed gentle endearments, driving Steve’s pleasure higher.

Right as Steve thought he might die from all the sensation, Bucky started pumping his cock in time with every thrust. The hard slide of the metal digits on his overworked flesh and the knowledge of how strong they were flooded Steve’s mind.

“Come for me, Stevie,” Bucky ordered.

Steve screamed and obeyed. All he could think was, yes, yes, yes, yes, over and over again in his mind. He was floating; every nerve was blissed out as his orgasm pulsed through him. Bucky continued to grind into him and milk his cock, getting every last bit of come out of him.

Distantly, he heard Bucky groan and felt the extra throb of Bucky’s cock coming inside of him. Everything felt so good; full and wet and tight. They rode out the aftershocks together until Bucky finally slumped over Steve’s back, slurring endearments and laying soft kisses up and down his spine.

Gently Bucky eased Steve over onto his side, letting his dick slip out with a soft squelch. Steve couldn’t do more than just lay there and gasp for breath. He was completely wrung out, fucked into senselessness and high on how good it felt.

A damp cloth slowly wiped around his back and front, cleaning him up with careful love. Once he was finished, Bucky slowly moved up Steve’s pants to redress him, even going so far as to carefully tuck him into his undergarments and button up his trousers.

The top part of Steve’s uniform was gently untangled from his arms and removed. Bucky tut-tut-ed over the sore spots on his forearms from where the fabric bunched up and probably left a few marks.

Bucky covered them both up with the bedroll and cuddled up behind Steve. He ran both hands up and down Steve’s body, soothing him, and kept up the endless stream of sweet praise that had been the constant throughout the evening.

“…That was amazing, Stevie. I’m so lucky, so fucking lucky. You’re beautiful. I love you, doll. I love you so much. I’m so happy. You were wonderful. I’ve never seen anything so sexy in all my life. So good for me. The best...”

Steve drifted for a while, warm and safe in Bucky’s arms.

Eventually Bucky moved a hand to the scarf still over Steve’s eyes, but Steve grabbed hold of his wrist.

“Just a little longer, Buck,” he whispered. It was the first words he’d spoken in hours, but his voice still sounded like he’d been gargling with pinecones.

He could feel the curve of Bucky’s smile on his neck.

“Sure thing, Stevie. Anything for you.”

They held each other close long into the night.

Steve kind of wished it would never end.

Chapter Text

Steve and Bucky gazed out across the deep ravine and looked at the railway that skirted the side of the mountain opposite them.

“When we get back to Brooklyn I am gonna make you ride the Cyclone until you throw up,” Bucky said solemnly.

“Revenge, huh?” Steve asked.

“Yup.”

“They were right,” Gabe said from behind them, one ear glued to the headset on their radio. “Dr. Zola is on the train. Hydra dispatcher gave him permission to open up the throttle. Wherever he’s going they must need him bad.”

Steve grimaced a tiny bit and buckled his helmet on. Everyone hurried to get into position.

“Let’s get moving because they’re moving like the devil,” Monty said.

It only took a few seconds to hook up the zip line; the commandos lined up behind him.

“We only got about a ten second window. We miss that window…we’re bugs on a windshield,” Steve said to the group. He did his best to sound nonchalant. Nerves would serve no one here.

“Mind the gap,” Monty added with no little bit of irony.

The train was coming around the bend already. Steve took a couple of quick breaths to steady himself.

“Better get moving, bugs!” Dum Dum called out.

Dernier waved them down across the ravine, one by one. Steve went first.

Wind tossed him around as Steve sailed down the wire. He knew that Bucky and Gabe were right behind him. A quick glance back showed him that they all made it safely onto the top of the speeding train.

The metal roof wasn’t as icy as Steve had feared, but it was slick enough that he breathed a sigh of relief when both he and Bucky made down a side ladder and into one of the train cars. Gabe continued crawling up ahead, set on dropping down into the engine room.

There didn’t seem to be anyone around, though. The cars looked like they were storage only; just racks of tubes and crates piled in the middle of each car.

Something was off. Something was very off here. The train should be crawling with agents. Both he and Bucky stalked forward, spacing out a bit to try in their search.

Right as Steve crossed over into the next car, the doors between them shuttered closed, separating the two of them. He spun around to look through the door window just in time to see troops flood into the far end of compartment that Bucky was in.

The muzzle burn of Bucky’s gun flared bright in the other compartment. Before Steve could try to pry the door open, he heard the sound of a weapon charging behind him. He quickly dodged behind a stack of crates nearby.

Steve clenched his jaw. They knew it was probably a trap; this was just part of it. Bucky could handle himself fine. Zola’s voice echoed over the loudspeakers, urging the Hydra troops onward.

Blue energy shots ricocheted around the room as he and the hydra agent exchanged fire. It didn’t take more than a moment for Steve to realize he’d need to get close. He just wasn’t the marksman that Bucky was.

Luckily, he had his shield. Between charges of the enemy’s weapon, Steve charged the man. The railing above him held some kind of sliding frame, probably for moving something heavy around. Steve grabbed hold of it and swung into the Hydra agent, knocking him down. A quick punch with the edge of his shield was enough to knock the guy out cold.

A quickly aimed blast from the fallen agent’s weapon was enough to bust open the door at the back end of the train car, back towards Bucky. When he got to the second door, the one that was on the end of Bucky’s compartment, Steve could see he was pinned down behind some crates by heavy fire.

Which was right when he noticed Bucky was out of ammo.

He got his gun ready, took cover, and opened the door. With a nod to each other, he tossed Bucky his loaded gun. They shared a quick look and another nod.

Steve charged into the compartment and shoved a stack of crates onto the Hydra agent who was hiding behind them. When he moved to avoid the collision, Bucky shot him in the head.

A quick look around proved that they were alone. Several bodies were already scattered around the car floor, but none of them had the strange weapon that Steve’s adversary was equipped with.

“I had ‘em on the ropes,” Bucky said. His tone was light, but Steve could tell from the tension in his shoulders that he was annoyed, probably with himself.

“I know you did,” Steve answered easily.

The high pitched whine of that strange weapon charged up behind them. Quick as a flash, Steve turned and threw himself and his shield in front of Bucky.

He barely had time to yell, “Get down!” before he was flung across the car from the impact of the weapon’s discharge on his shield. The train shuddered from the impact of the ricocheted blast.

Everything swam around him for a moment. He shook his head to try and get the ringing to stop. There was wind everywhere. He couldn’t place why there was so much wind.

Zola’s voice sounded off again and the weapon charged up.

Steve looked up just in time to see Bucky step in front of him, left arm held up to shield them both from the shot. The blue bolt hit Bucky’s arm straight on. Some of it seemed to absorb into the metal, but even more splashed around and covered his whole body in an eerie glow.

A primal scream rang out in the compartment, inhuman and brutal. Bucky stood rigid, arms flexed and head thrown back in agony.

Steve scrambled up and threw his shield at the Hydra agent with the strange weapon. He hit the glowing blue base of the weapon, causing it to leak and explode, and killing the Hydra agent who was wielding it.

A second wailing scream erupted from Bucky and his outline began to blur. Steve didn’t even hesitate; he reached out to grab hold of him.

But his arms seemed to sink right into Bucky’s outline. Steve screamed, “No, no, no, no, no,” but he could barely even hear himself over Bucky’s shrieking. All Steve could think about was the images of the weapons from Azzano disintegrating everyone they hit.

Steve scrambled to get purchase on something; Bucky’s jacket, his belt, anything he could. His arms just sank further into Bucky’s frame. But there was something there. He grabbed it tight and pulled, trying to drag Bucky away from the massive gaping hole in the side of the train car; the source of all the wind and cold.

Even though he was trying to hug Bucky close, Bucky’s spine straightened and then his whole body went limp. Time slowed down as Bucky’s body fell backwards away from Steve. Backwards and right out of the train, down the ravine. From the angle of his head it almost looked like he was staring at Steve the whole way down.

Steve screamed like his soul was being crushed, because it was.

Bucky couldn’t fall. He couldn’t. Steve was still holding on to him.

When he looked down to the heavy weight in his arms, all he cradled was an enormous golden snake; limp and lifeless. Its scales matched those from the golden tattoo on Bucky’s back.

Tears burned hot down his cheeks and he dropped to his knees. Bucky couldn’t be gone. It wasn’t possible.

He tried to cuddle closer to the snake in his arms but its enormous length just spilled all over the floor. It was an inanimate as a heavy length of chain.

“No, Bucky, please, be here, come back, no, no, no,” Steve moaned.

He had no idea how long he sat there. He didn’t really care.

Bucky was gone.

--

They made their way back to London with Zola in tow. The mission had been a success.

Steve wouldn’t be parted with the massive golden snake. No matter how many times he stroked the head or whispered pleas to its unblinking eyes, life never sprung into it. It was as cold as the metal it looked like and just as heavy.

He wrote his report on the way and gave it to the Howlies to hand in with Zola. Against protocol, certainly, but Steve couldn’t be forced to care.

Peggy found him hours later in the bombed out remains of the bar they all used to drink at.

He’d lost count of how many bottles he’d emptied. By the time he heard Peggy stepping carefully through the rubble towards him, he’d given up trying. He just sat there, glass in hand, staring at the beautiful dead snake gently coiled on the table in front of him.

“Dr. Erskine said that the serum wouldn’t just affect my muscles, it would effect my cells. Create a protective system of regeneration and healing. Which means…I can’t get drunk. Did you know that?”

When he finally looked at her, he almost couldn’t bear the sympathy and sorrow in her face. She wasn’t as close to Bucky as he was, but they were all friends. He didn’t know whether to be angry or grateful that she was hurting too.

“Your metabolism burns four times faster than the average person. He thought it could be one of the side effects. …It wasn’t your fault.” She managed to sound both caring and confident. As if she could convince him of his absolution by conviction alone.

“Did you read the reports?” he asked bitterly.

“Yes.”

“Then you know that’s not true.” He ran a slow finger across the snake’s eye ridge. It was so cold. Bucky was never this cold.

“You did everything you could.”

He snorted at her in disbelief. She pursed her lips and sighed a little, clearly worried. Now that Bucky was gone, though, there was nothing to worry about. What do you worry about when the worst has already happened?

“Did you believe in your friend?” she asked. “Did you respect him? Then stop blaming yourself. Allow Barnes the dignity of his choice. He damn well must have thought you were worth it.”

Steve digested this information. He looked for an end to his grief, but instead found only cold aching rage.

“I’m going after Schmidt. I’m not gonna stop ‘til all of Hydra is dead or captured,” he vowed.

“You won’t be alone.”

Steve scoffed. He would always be alone now; just sometimes he would share a room with other people too.

“What did Zola say about the weapon that did this?” he asked. Part of him was still struggling to understand what happened. The weapon looked different than all the others, but nothing else it hit had such a strange reaction. Granted, he wasn’t looking too close for a while…and then Bucky fell and he didn’t look at anything else for hours.

He ran another finger down the hard curves of the snake’s back.

“It was for you. You were right, the train was a trap. Zola said that the weapon was designed to separate the serum from you.”

Steve gaped at her. “What?”

Peggy just nodded grimly. “He said, ‘It would take everything special out of him, your Captain, and make it collectable by me.’ Apparently, Schmidt was done with Zola. He’d finished making enough bombs to wipe out half the world and now he needed a new way to earn his keep. Schmidt’s obsession with the serum was an easy target and the power source they’re using has near unlimited potential. With those to work with Zola was able to create the weapon he used on Barnes.”

Those words echoed around in Steve’s mind as he absently petted the snake.

This was everything special about Bucky, ripped right out of him.

The gun had tried to take the serum out of Steve, and lacking the appropriate target it had taken all of Bucky’s mystical powers away from him. Ripped the scales right off of him and gave them their own form.

Steve scoffed at the irony. Bucky had abilities, sure, but Steve knew he was special without all that. Steve knew, but now no one else new would ever have the opportunity to learn.

An endless replay of Bucky’s limp falling form played over and over again in Steve’s mind. Even if he had been alive when he fell there was no way he survived a fall that high, especially not if all of the special abilities had been sucked out of him.

This was his fault. That hit was meant for him.

The silence stretched on for another moment.

“Bucky…he…he wasn’t human, was he?” Peggy asked quietly.

“No,” Steve said with a sad shake of his head. He took another useless drink.

“This is what was taken out of him?”

He nodded. Mercifully, she left the details of what exactly Bucky was unasked.

“You won’t be able to take it with you when you go for Schmidt,” she said eventually.

Steve clenched his jaw. The idea of being separated from the last bit of Bucky he had left was revolting. He contemplated shattering the glass in his hand, but decided against it. No sense in wasting his rage on a cup when he could save it all for Schmidt.

And Zola, too, if he ever got his hands on the little troll.

“I know,” he admitted. He thought he might leave it with Hansel and Gretel. They’d protect it. They were Bucky’s friends, too.

He wasn’t sure when Peggy left after that. All he knew is he sat there drinking until dawn.

As things turned out, though, he didn’t have time to give Bucky’s snake to Hansel and Gretel. Schmidt was on his way to bombing all of the USA into the bedrock within the next day and Steve and the Howlies had to move out.

Steve ended up leaving it with Peggy. Of everyone he knew she was his next best choice.

The assault on Schmidt’s mountain fortress went mostly to plan. Steve threw everything he had into it.

And in the end, when he was flying towards the ice in the Valkyrie, he couldn’t even bring himself to be sad.

He was on his way to see Bucky, after all.

Chapter Text

The being known as Bucky was falling.

Everything hurt and then he was falling and the most beautiful face was watching him fall; a light haired man with brilliant eyes and a sad, sad face.

He was an empty husk, devoid of memory or context, but he thought he liked that face. That face shouldn’t ever be sad.

He didn’t know why.

He was falling down a deep ravine and he must have blacked out when he hit the bottom because the next thing he knew he was being dragged along by soldiers. Everything hurt; a fiery wracking pain.

There was a small trail of blood, but everything seemed to be still attached. His left arm felt weird, though; sort of numb and cold. Another dizzy spell hit him and he blacked out again.

It was the screaming that woke him up. Not his, though he could tell there was some sort of shrieking coming from near his head. No, the people around him were screaming.

Screaming and turning to stone.

He raised his hand to his face. The little metal cuff that was wrapped around his left wrist broke easily, but the one on his right he had more issues with.

With careful fingers he felt along his mouth and eyes. No scarf or goggles. He…wasn’t sure why he needed them.

A quick glance around at the stone statues added another piece to the puzzle.

There was something moving on his head. A quick tilt of his head and a glance explained that.

Snakes.

He had snakes on his head.

No. He had snakes coming out of his head.

The soft sound of feet coming up a distant hallway broke him out of his worried self examination. He was chained up in a cell. Clearly he was in the hand of enemies and he needed to escape.

With his free hand he crumpled the rest of his bindings and took stock of the room.

There was an image of a skull with…octopus legs coming out of it?

For some unknown reason, the image filled him with a seething hatred. Whatever was going on here, he despised these people. And on top of that they had him chained up in a cell.

His body already knew what to do. In seconds he was out the door and down the hall. Each person he encountered, he killed; by petrifaction if they came at him head-on, or by a knife to the back if he snuck up behind them.

Each kill lit a tiny blaze of satisfaction within him. Wherever this murderous rage came from, it was both soothed and fed every time he killed another of the skull-octopus troops.

He hated them.

Even with this body on fire with pain from his fall, cracked and broken bones, bruises and bloody cuts, he easily cut through every human in the building.

Without knowing how he knew what to do, he collected items and secured bombs all around the base.

Watching it burn to the ground made him feel warm and gleeful inside.

But there was only so long he could wait here. He knew that. More people would come, and who knew how soon. And it was winter out, which was awful. The biting cold air made it even harder to move away from the blazing building.

He jumped into a tree and slowly jogged from branch to branch. He had no idea where he was. Hades, he had no idea who he was. But it was winter and he was hurt and tired.

He needed to sleep, and the best place for sleeping was a cave.

Soon enough he found himself searching rocky outcroppings until he came across one with a likely looking fissure. He limped in and hid as deep as he dared.

Sleep. He needed to sleep.

He lay drifting in a haze of pain and weariness. The touch of something at his right arm startled him awake. It was a snake.

“Well, come on,” he said roughly, and made room for it to curl into his lap. The next snake that showed up didn’t even disturb his drifting mind, he simply made room for it. After a while he was covered in their little bodies, each of them sharing in the warmth of the others.

Sleep. It was time to sleep. They would keep each other warm for the winter.

And when spring came and he was awake and healed and warm…maybe then he could figure out what the fuck was going on.

Chapter Text

Seventy years flew by while Steve was frozen and he woke up in a world that he didn’t recognize.

Those first two weeks were the worst of his life, including the time right after his mom passed away. Times were hard then, sure, but at least the world still made sense. At least his life still made sense.

But now, not only had he lost the most important person in the world, but he’d lost everything and everyone he ever knew too. Not only that, but he was without his last relic of Bucky, too.

Steve went round and round in his head. He’d wished again that he had kept it close, but it was just too large, too unwieldy. He should have found a way, but then there was no guarantee that it would have survived the battle without damage. He should have found a way to get it to Hansel and Gretel, but then there was no way they would have gotten to Schmidt and the Valkyrie in time.

There was a vast well of static that lived inside him; too deep for despair, too quiet for rage. It was all he could do to put one foot in front of the other.

No one recognized him. Sure, they saw him and saw Captain America, hero, patriot. But Steve Rogers was just as dead and gone as Bucky. So Steve straightened his spine and put on the mask. He still had a job to do, a duty to fulfill. Steve Rogers could stay dead. Captain America was what people really wanted anyways.

Contacting Peggy had been his first order of business once his situation had finally been explained. So much had changed, though, that he found himself spending every waking hour just trying to figure the world out. Sometimes it was almost enough of a distraction.

Cars were faster. Everyone had a phone in their pocket instead of a single box for the whole building. Politics had drastically changed. Food had drastically changed. People had changed; how they talked, what they talked about, who they talked to.

When he read Peggy’s file and learned about her dementia, he realized that what little hope he had of getting Bucky’s golden snake back might be futile anyways. When he read about the Howlies and Howard passing away, he knew he was truly alone.

He dared to hope that Hansel and Gretel would still be around.

Steve just needed to make some plans. First, he’d head to DC. That’s where Peggy’s nursing home was.

Just thinking those words made him want to kick something. Or cry. Maybe both.

He’d see what she had to say, follow up on any leads, and then head to Europe to see if Hansel and Gretel still had a farmhouse in the woods.

No matter what else changed, maybe that would still be there. They’d been living there for who-knows how long back when Steve first met them. It stood to reason that they were still around.

It was worth hoping about.

Steve didn’t feel a lot of hope.

While he would have never admitted it to anyone else, he was bitterly disappointed that he hadn’t joined Bucky after the crash.

Before he could head off to DC, aliens attacked. He was picked up, taken to the helicarrier, and sent off straight away to go bring in some nut named Loki.

That…could have gone better, but on the upshot he got a chance to see Ironman in action.

And then he had a chance to talk to Stark.

The moment the Ironman faceplate popped open on the quinjet, Steve felt like he’d been hit in the teeth. It was Howard. From the look on Howard’s face, he knew that Steve recognized him, too.

But rather than greet him like the old friend he was, Howard started babbling about freezing and exercises and whatever else must have been on the top of his head. While Steve was scrambling to think of a response, Howard just looked at him and tapped the side of his helmet.

To anyone else it might have seemed like a nervous gesture, but Steve knew it for what it was. Howard was tapping where his ears would be.

They were being eavesdropped on.

Steve set his jaw and narrowed his eyes and got a smirk in response. Message received.

After that it was easy to fall into the antagonistic role that Howard had set up for him. Howard would find a time and place for them to talk.

While the group discussed their options at the helicarrier, Steve mulled the facts over in his head.

Back in the 50’s, Stark was light years ahead of everyone else in his industry; everyone but Zola, who had the cosmic cube to fiddle with. In the seventy years that Steve had been frozen, he hadn’t aged at all. Howard had a hand in Project Rebirth, too. And in their acidic banter, Steve discovered that Howard had searched for him in the arctic for years.

An immortal inventor.

While he was thinking about that, he started to remember some of the random things Bucky had to say about Howard. How he always seemed to come off vaguely knowing.

Watching Stark interact with Banner sealed the deal for him. Stark didn’t mind enhanced people, had no fear of a ‘giant green rage monster’, and only really wanted to talk science. He’d become an expert in a totally new field over night just by reading the relevant papers.

When Steve figured it out he swore out loud.

Hephaestus.

Son of a bitch.

That’s why Bucky laughed at Steve’s shield. Hephaestus was the same one who gave Perseus his shield to fight Medusa. When Steve had picked his out of the pre-made one’s from Stark, it was shined to a mirror finish, just like Perseus’s.

It was the same fucking shield.

After that it was hard to keep up the charade. He tried to find Stark in his lab, only to see him there with Banner. That’s when Stark dropped the info about searching through Shield’s files.

Of course Stark would want to know what was going on with the cube, and if he was worried about his identity being discovered then chances were good that he had good reason to be suspicious. The Howard that Steve knew was canny as hell in addition to being smart.

Honestly, Steve didn’t blame him one bit for his caution. The way Shield tried to pull the wool over his eyes from the very start didn’t set well with him. It spoke of a system that was comfortable with creating falsehoods, manipulating much larger events to influence the viewpoints of key assets.

What would have happened if Steve hadn’t realized that he was in a fake room? How long would they have kept him there? What other kinds of tests or information would they try to get out of him by pretending to be the superiors that he once knew and respected?

When he found the Hydra weapons on the helicarrier, Steve was furious. After everything he went through and here were the supposed ‘good guys’ doing the same damn thing he died trying to stop Hydra from doing. This was the same kind of tech that killed Bucky. No wonder Stark was cagey and snooping.

Fury was a man of secrets and expediency, it seemed. A troublesome combination. Steve wanted to believe that Fury had everyone’s best interests in mind, but he also knew that good intentions often went awry.

So Steve kept his mouth shut and played along with Stark’s game.

And then the helicarrier was attacked, by one of their own no less. It was only after the attack that Steve realized just how significant that agent was.

He’d talked with Stark, trying to both comfort his friend and continue their little play acting for whoever might be watching. Because after sitting around their conference table and observing Loki in that very same room he eventually found Stark in, he had no illusions that someone wasn’t watching them there, too.

Howard pulled through as usual, figuring out Loki’s next move just in time.

When Steve went to find Natasha, that’s when he met Clint.

Clint was Hansel. He looked just the same as he did seventy years ago. From the set of Hansel’s jaw, he recognized Steve, too, and had mixed feelings about it to boot.

It was all he could do not to break down right there. He had friends. There were people he knew and, hopefully, could count on here in the future. The relief that thought brought was both overwhelming and slightly desperate. But they had a job to do, so he buried it and kept moving. Afterwards, they were going to have a talk.

When everything was all said and done, when all the Chitauri were dead, and Thor and Loki had left for Asgard, the rest of the Avengers Initiative ended up back at Stark Tower.

The moment Steve walked into Stark’s penthouse, or what was left of it, Hansel was on him with a huge hug.

“Steve,” he said with a smile.

“Hansel,” Steve breathed back. If the hug was harder than it needed to be and lasted a few seconds too long, neither one of them said anything about it.

“Wait, what?” Bruce asked from the couch there. Stark handed him a drink which Bruce took absently. “Do you to know each other already orrrr are you just very friendly? How would that even be possible? The knowing each other part, not the friendly part.”

Steve smiled. At least he wasn’t the only one who occasionally put his foot in his mouth. Before he could say anything, Hansel jumped in.

“I know you worked hard to make this place secure, Stark, but there have been Shield guys all over this floor. We should reconvene before we talk more. And there’s someone we need to see.”

Steve felt the tiniest trickle of excitement bubble up. He’d worried when he didn’t see Gretel with Han. Hopefully the someone they needed to see was her.

Banner looked confused as hell, Natasha was her usual impassive self, and Stark just grimaced.

“Yeah, good call, Robin Hood. Pack your go-bags, folks, or not. I can have new stuff shipped to us. Whatever. Either way, rooftop, twenty minutes, let's jet. Literally. Jarvis, call Pepper…” Then Stark wandered off to another room down the hall.

“I’m missing something,” Bruce said.

“We’ll debrief when we get where we’re going,” Hansel replied and then pulled a duffle bag out from behind where Natasha was sitting.

Steve just shook his head and left to collect his shield and gear. As much as he wanted to burn this new version of his uniform, it was damn useful to have something armored to wear. It was too bright for his tastes and way too tight to be comfortable, not to mention the terrible placing of all the zippers.

He got the sinking feeling that while Coulson may have had some design input, Howard was probably right behind him grinning and egging on every suggested modification.

Within minutes they were all on a hastily-refurbished quinjet, headed across the ocean. Steve breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe soon everything would make sense.

He was just so damn tired. Ripped open and bloody inside from losing Bucky and then beaten down again by losing everything else, too. More than an explanation, he wanted a little rest. It felt like he’d been running every year he was under the ice.

Steve settled in to a seat in the back of the jet and curled in on himself. More than ever he missed the comforting weight of Bucky’s shoulder bumping his.

He just wanted his Bucky back.

Sooner than he expected the quinjet landed on a rolling green hilltop. It was already dark out here and the surrounding forest had been cut back a bit to allow for a couple more fields, but Steve would know this place anywhere.

Hansel and Gretel’s house was just the same. Its weathered colored glass windows were lit softly from inside and lit up the porch in a red and green glow.

Steve stumbled when he got off the quinjet ramp. His eyes prickled. It really was here, even after all this time. It was here and so was he.

Hansel clapped him on the back and gave him a gentle push towards the house. “Welcome home, Cap.”

A silver blur streaked out of the house and suddenly there was a silver haired young man standing in front of Hansel.

“Old man! You’re back! We saw you on the news. Glad you got out. Ma kinda wants to kick your ass for fighting aliens without her.” Steve couldn’t quite place his accent; something Eastern European maybe.

Hansel grinned and shared a quick hug with the man.

“Hey kid,” Natasha said with a smirk.

“Auntie!” he yelled and tackled her in a hug.

“What? I don’t get a hug? Ew. Never mind. Never touch me. Touching is gross. Be a pal, kid, and take our stuff inside. It’ll take you, like, half a second,” Tony said.

The kid just rolled his eyes and flipped him off over Natasha’s shoulder. Clint laughed.

“Guys, this is Pietro, kind of part of the family now. Pietro, this is Bruce Banner and Steve Rogers,” Clint said.

Pietro straightened in surprise. “Steve? Steve, Steve? That Steve?” He looked dubiously over at Hansel.

“Yuuuuup, it really is. Come on, let’s get inside. No sense standing around out here.” In another silver streak, Pietro was gone and Clint herded them towards the house.

Bruce sidled up to Steve and whispered, “Do you have any idea what’s happening here?”

Steve shook his head in confusion. “Only sort of.”

“Great,” Bruce mumbled back.

Once they were inside, Steve found himself wrapped up in a tight hug.

“Gretel,” he said with a pained smile. She was just as lovely as ever, though dressed in a slightly more modern version of her hunting leathers. A soft tight long sleeve shirt replaced the billowing linen one he remembered and her brown hair was pinned up with a bright stick with a little white cat on the end, but the leather pants and tall boots were the same.

“Steve, you stupid fucking idiot. I’m so glad you’re here,” she said in a whisper.

Tony laughed behind them. “With a greeting like that---” he started.

“Howard, I swear to god,” Steve said with an exasperated laugh.

“Come on. In. Just drop your stuff, Wanda made us all dinner.” Gretel hustled them all towards the massive dining table, the same table they all used to play cards at back in the war.

The interior of the house had changed a bit; there were electric lights for one and some of the furniture had been replaced. But walking in here was like stepping back in time.

For one brief crazy minute Steve wondered if it was real, or if this was some kind of fevered ice dream.

“It’s real,” a young woman at the table said. Steve raised an eyebrow at her but she just smiled softly at him in return. She was dressed similarly to Gretel, but in black and red instead of Gretel’s favored black and white. Long brown hair framed a wide pretty face with large dark eyes. Each finger was adorned with a silver ring. Her accent matched Pietro’s.

“Wanda, I’m guessing?” Bruce asked.

She nodded to him and smiled. “Sit, eat, and we will talk.”

Bags were dropped and everyone gathered to sit at the table. Steve couldn’t stop staring at the massive fireplace and imagining Bucky snoozing happily in front of it.

Wanda flashed him a startled look and then quickly turned away.

“Alright. We’re here. At a very nice looking table. Someone want to explain what’s going on?” Bruce asked.

Gretel poured herself a tall glass of what looked like iced tea and then passed the pitcher over to Bruce.

“My name is Gretel. That,” she pointed a thumb to the chair next to her where Hansel was sitting, “is my brother Hansel. We’re witches.”

Hansel just smiled sheepishly, shrugged a tiny bit, and passed a dish to Steve. He added some to his plate and passed it along to Tony. He didn’t really pay attention to what it was; he was more interested in the talk going on.

“…Hansel and Gretel. You’re serious.” Bruce asked.

Both of them nodded at him. More dishes got passed around and people started to pick at their plates.

“We’ve been around for a long time. Centuries, as it turns out. We used to hunt evil witches, but there aren’t very many of those around anymore. We met Steve during World War Two.”

Eyes from all around the table turned to Steve.

“Bucky introduced us,” he said.

“…Bucky. James Buchanan Barnes? Where did he meet them? Working down on the docks?” Bruce asked, a bit of disbelief coloring his voice.

Steve smiled, or tried to. It may have come out a bit too bitter. “Bucky was his real name. The other was a fake. He…he’d been around for a long time.”

“Used to hunt with us,” Gretel added.

“Helped us clear most of the baddies out of Eastern Europe. After that we retired here and he kept wandering.” Hansel speared a piece of meat; some kind of bird simmered in red sauce. “The first World War kind of rolled over us. But the second one, Bucky brings us this crazy asshole and his group of lunatic friends…”

Steve grinned.

“And oh, the stories I could tell you about Captain America and the Howling Commandos. This shit they never put in the history books, I can guarantee it.” Hansel just gave Steve a shit-eating grin.

It was so familiar; the teasing banter back and forth. Steve wanted to laugh until he fell over, because he knew that Han would roll out the longest string of embarrassing stories he could think of. He wanted to cry, too, because Bucky should be here with him, holding his head in his hands moaning about the shitty Winter Soldier stories.

“We’ll save those stories for another time,” Gretel raised an eyebrow at him. Hansel just shrugged.

“The official story was mostly true,” Steve interjected. “I found Bucky at Azzano along with the rest of the POWs. I sprung him along with the rest of the guys and he later joined us as our sniper. The best shot anyone had ever seen.”

“He should have been,” Stark grumbled. “He had long enough to practice.”

“Okay. So you are all old war buddies. Sure. We’ll go with that. How do you fit into this Tony?” Bruce asked.

Stark raised a challenging eyebrow to Steve.

“He’s Hephaestus, god of the forge,” Steve replied.

“And the no-prize goes to Elsa! Bob tell him what he’s won!” Tony cried.

“Wait, what?” Bruce asked.

“Bucky mentioned that he knew Hephaestus. They helped each other out from time to time. I didn’t put the pieces together then, but it makes senses. God, you must have been laughing your ass off every time I used that shield, weren’t you?”

Tony looked smug as hell. “Yeah, I knew Frosty. You two were cute together, you know.”

“Stark…” Steve sighed.

Anyways,” Hansel interrupted them before the teasing war could start in earnest. “Yeah, we all kinda knew each other back in the day. But that’s really only half of what we needed to talk about.”

Now all eyes were on Hansel.

“Look. There was that train mission. And Bucky fell. And Steve…” Hansel winced.

Steve looked down at his plate and tasted nothing but ashes.

“I took it badly,” Steve said into the quiet.

“Yeah. Oh yeah. But anyways. Bucky was gone and Steve nose dived into the ice. Gretel and I weren’t really in touch with the rest of the Allied command, you know? We just worked right with the Howlies. Gabe and Monty kept in touch, Dernier once in awhile, but for the most part we were independent.”

Steve looked around at the group and finally noticed who was missing.

“Edward?” he asked quietly.

“Didn’t make it out of the war,” Gretel said with her head bowed low.

“I’m so sorry,” Steve said. He knew it wasn’t enough, though. Edward had been with Hansel and Gretel for a long, long time.

“Anyways,” Hansel said a little awkwardly. “Gretel and I are enjoying our time here. Relaxing---”

“Taking a few side jobs here and there---” Gretel interjected.

“---relaxing, tending the farm, fixing up the house, that kind of thing. And these two kids wander into our lawn.” Hansel pointed at Wanda and Pietro. Wanda smiled and Pietro added a third round of food to his plate. “Now, so you know, that should not be possible. Not with the kind of safeguards we’ve got around here. Only people who know how to get here can actually get in our property. But here are these two kids, just wandering up.”

At this point, Tony wandered into the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of booze from a glass covered display shelf. He grabbed a few glasses, first pouring one for himself and then pouring Steve a triple.

Steve shot him a confused look. Howard knew he couldn’t get drunk.

“Trust me,” Howard whispered and shoved the glass towards him.

A slow creepy dread coiled into Steve’s chest.

“We were taken when we were just tiny children,” Wanda said matter-of-factly. “Taken by a group of people who called themselves Hydra.”

“What.” The word was ripped from him; deep and biting. Bile rose in his gorge and he fought hard to stay still, not knowing how much damage he would do if he allowed himself to move.

Hansel put a comforting hand on his arm.

“As far as I know, we were gifted from birth, but Hydra capitalized on those gifts. With additional experimentation we grew more powerful. We were with them for three years.” Wanda ducked her head and played with her fork.

Pietro gave her a gentle shoulder bump and then picked up the story himself. “So, one day, we hear these explosions. We hear screams. And, not like the usual amount of screaming. Lots of it. Gunfire too. Eventually this man comes into the cage room. He took one look at us through the bars and ripped the locks right off the doors. Never said a word, just moved us out of the base and then blew it to hell. Then he brought us here.”

Wanda shook her head slightly and looked right at Steve. “The man wore a mask and hood. Even his eyes were covered with some kind of tinted goggle. Every inch of him was concealed, except his left arm. His left arm was open to the air and it was made of metal. There was a red star painted on his shoulder.”

Steve’s jaw dropped and the world fell away.

They were in Paris, holed up by themselves for the whole weekend; some well deserved rest for the hardest working guys Steve knew. The rest of the boys were off drinking the house dry, but Bucky and he were taking advantage of something that only nicer establishments had; a large mirror.

Bucky was seated on Steve’s lap, still panting from their earlier exertions. Steve traced a finger down his left arm, admiring the shine and the feel of it.

“You should paint a star on my arm, Stevie,” Bucky said.

“Hrmmm?”

“Paint me a star. I wanna match you. Something I can wear on me always to say I’m yours.”

Steve’s heart fluttered. They’d never be able to exchange anything like rings, but this? They might be able to do this.

“What about me, jerk?” Steve said and continued to lazily stroke Bucky’s beautiful skin. God, he was gorgeous; perfect blue eyes and generous, kind soul. “Where do I wear mine so folks can see I’m yours, too?”

“You’ve already got yours, punk, on that silly shield of yours and stapled all over your uniform. It’s as much a part of you now as your hair or your hands.” Bucky smirked and leaned back into Steve’s chest, sighing with contentment. A few tiny hair snakes licked Steve’s cheeks, causing them both to smile.

There was some truth to that. His shield had become an extension of himself, to the point where it felt awkward not to have it.

“I don’t think that’s what the Stars and Stripes are supposed to stand for, Buck,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Symbols mean what you want them to, Stevie. We get to choose. So what if everyone else looks at that shield and uniform and sees ‘America’ in big bright letters? I’m looking at it and seeing, ‘This is our sign.’”

Steve nuzzled into the skin behind Bucky’s ear, making him squirm in response.

“So you want a star, huh. Big white one on your shoulder?” He asked.

“Nah. Make it red. You might be pure as the driven snow, but I’ve got a lot of red on me,” Bucky said quietly. The strange mix of joke and bleak honesty was Bucky all over, and Steve treasured it. “We’re warriors and weapons, both, Stevie. So let’s have our marks on the tools of our trade. It fits us better than rings any day.”

He laid a kiss on Bucky’s neck and murmured into the skin, “Red it is.”

The star was on Bucky’s shoulder by the end of the weekend.

“No,” Steve said hoarsely. There was broken glass in his hand and his hand was wet. It didn’t make sense because nothing right now made sense. “No, it couldn’t have been---”

“He was fast. Strong. Inhumanly graceful and unbelievably deadly. The best marksman I have ever seen or have ever heard of since.” Wanda added grimly. “His metal arm moved like it was flesh and he smelled of ginger and fruit. And his mind was a blank slate.”

“Wait, what?” Steve’s mind reeled. “How---?”

“You’ve seen my brother, how fast he is. I can manipulate energies and see into minds. I saw into the Soldier’s. There were no memories. Flashes of things, from time to time, but no solid memories. Instinct, yes, as well as skill and a hate for Hydra so powerful that just seeing their icon made his mind burn. He was a blank slate hunter, set out to kill an enemy he didn’t remember making.”

All possible words had shriveled up and died within Steve. Bucky was alive. All this time, alive. Alive and…damaged, somehow.

And then it hit him.

The snake. The fucking golden snake.

Zola’s weapon was designed to rip out everything special out of a person. That’s what the man himself said. Steve, hell, even Zola thought that meant it would take out abilities. They’d wanted the serum, after all.

Instead it took out what really made Bucky special. Himself. His mind and his memories.

The enormity of it slammed into Steve and nearly crushed him. He’d assumed wrong, and because of that he’d never gone to look for the body. It should have been pulverized to dust by a fall from that height.

He could have had Bucky by his side if he had just fucking looked.

To make matters worse, the snake was gone. Gone and the only person who knew about it was in a nursing home with her mind nearly destroyed by age.

This was all his fault.

“Steve.” Hansel was at his side. “Steve I need you to breath for me. We need your help, to help Bucky.”

The mention of that name was enough to force Steve’s focus on Hansel, though he couldn’t have gotten any words out to save his life.

Hansel kept talking. “When Wanda told us her story, Gretel and I knew we had to find him. Something left over in Bucky knew that this place would be safe for two kids. And not just any two kids, enhanced ones. But with their powers we couldn’t let them go out into the world; not without training. So Gretel took care of the teaching and I rejoined the world as Clint Barton, mercenary extraordinaire.”

“Which is where he was recruited by Shield, and then he eventually in turn recruited me,” Natasha added.

“Turns out the Winter Soldier became a myth again, moving through the intelligence community. Shield thinks he’s an assassin for hire. Nat, Gretel, and I think he’s hunting down grudges.” Hansel’s hand on Steve’s arm was painfully tight and Steve was so fucking grateful for it. He needed the grounding.

“From his blood spills poison,” Steve whispered.

“Yup. Apparently he doesn’t need his memories to know how much he hates Nazis.” Hansel looked both amused and impressed. Tony snorted next to him.

“After Clint told me what he was really after, we started looking into the Soldier together.” Natasha said and leaned back in her chair. “His targets appear random; that’s why Shield classifies him as a merc. They’d make no sense unless he was getting paid.”

“Unless he knew something no one else did,” Steve said quietly.

“Yup.” Tony jumped in. “If anyone could track the untrackable, it would be a gorgon. Not just that, but one of Stheno’s get. Of all the creepy snake people, she and her kids were the best at killing.”

Bucky always was amazing, Steve thought with bittersweet pride.

“When I joined back into the world, I got in touch with Stark.” Hansel said. “He’s been helping us get info. Helping see a wider view of things.”

“And after that hack into Shield’s helicarrier, oh boy am I excited to see what they’ve got going on there.” Stark did look downright gleeful.

“You think they’ve been infiltrated,” Steve said flatly.

“And this, kids, is why Captain America was the best soldier in the world. Not been defrosted three weeks and he’s already smelled a rat in Shield’s ship.” Hansel grinned and gestured at Steve.

Another full glass was shoved into Steve’s hand. He swallowed its contents mechanically and was surprised to find out that the liquid actually did burn going down.

“The Hydra weapons in their cargo hold were a big clue,” he responded dryly. Even though his heart and his body felt shattered, now his mind had kicked in again.

“To be fair, the Tesseract fueled WMD designs were a big clue, too,” Stark added and took a swig from his own drink.

The rest of the group at the table were quietly listening, the food long forgotten by now.

“We’re still missing something, though,” Gretel added. “We know Bucky is still out there, somewhere, but tracking him is like tracking a single snowflake in a blizzard. We have an idea of who he’s going after, and quite frankly we’d like to see them all dead, too. What we don’t know is what happened to him.”

“He got hit by a weapon,” Steve said haltingly.

“Yeah, I read the interrogation notes with Pegs and Phillips,” Stark interrupted. “We were never able to duplicate it or even analyze it much. Too damaged and no power source. Buuuuuut, Zola said it was supposed to take something out of him.”

“The snake,” Steve whispered. “I couldn’t take it with me, it was too big. I gave it to Peggy before we went after Schmidt. And then…”

“And then you fell into the fucking arctic, you asshole,” Gretel grumped at him and took a swig from her own drink. Both Hansel and Wanda kicked her under the table. She just glared at them.

“After the war, Pegs asked me about keeping something very, very special safe. Said it belonged to you, but she didn’t want anyone else to get a hold of it. I thought she was talking about something you may have picked up while raiding bases. Artifact. Maybe a weapon. We set up a max security vault inside of Shield. Top clearance only. Seems like a likely hiding spot.”

“Shield,” Steve said flatly. “The same Shield we were just thinking might be infiltrated by Hydra leftovers.”

Silence echoed around the table.

“Well, shit,” Hansel said.

“Stark, couldn’t you---?” Steve asked.

“Hold it right there. No. No I can’t. And do you know why? Because someone tried to kill me, just to get me out of Shield, and did such a fucking good job of it that I had to reinvent myself as the next generation. No one is gonna give me shit.” Then a sly look crossed his face. “However…that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on a few things.”

Steve sat back and thought.

This was unreal. For the third time in such a very, very short span of time, his whole world had changed. He thought the war was over but it turned out it had just shifted theaters. Instead of open battles they had secret organizations and seemingly unrelated facilities…doing, what, exactly?

One didn’t build an army without an endgame.

His mind raced through possibilities.

“…Sooooo,” Bruce said awkwardly. “What I’m getting out of this is that you,” he said, pointing at Stark, “are really an ancient god of technology creation. You two,” he pointed at Hansel and Gretel, “are centuries old witches. You two,” he pointed at Wanda and Pietro, “are enhanced humans that were liberated from a secret Nazi laboratory by another guy who is your,” he pointed at Steve, “old sergeant and also an ancient Greek snake person?”

“That about sums it up, jolly green,” Stark said with a smile.

Bruce turned to Natasha. “What are you, some kind of ancient fairy? You seem like the type to keep a list of things owed to you.”

“Just a simple assassin and spy,” she said with a smirk. “Though my true name is a secret.”

Bruce huffed out a laugh.

Steve shoved all the turmoil and regret and guilt down, promising himself that he’d look at it later. Now they needed him stable and ready to plan. He had the love of his life to save and a scourge upon the world to root out and destroy.

He straightened up in his chair and looked around the table.

“Whatever Hydra is up to, we can’t let them continue on. These are the same people who tried to take over the world by destroying half of it. The same people who torture and experiment on captives, towards who-knows-what ends. The same people who are right now, as we speak, spreading out around the world; gaining momentum. Gaining resources and men and power, all to further an agenda that no one else knows is even a possibility.

That cannot stand. I won’t let it.

I know I’ve just met some of you, and it’s true, my motives here are divided. There are no words for how much Bucky means to me and I will do everything in my power to get him home safe. But I think that finding Bucky will be just as important to stopping Hydra as it will be to me personally. He’s already hunting them and he already knows where to find them; better than anyone else to-date.

I won’t presume that you want to join this fight. It’ll be dangerous. Hydra has always played for keeps. And if I have to do this by myself, I will. Gladly and with no recriminations. But as a team we have a better chance of stopping Hydra and bringing Bucky home than any one of us would have alone.”

Another heavy silence settled around the room, but this time it was one tinged with grim determination.

“Captain America, folks,” Hansel whispered.

Stark coughed and said, “I think what he means is that we’re all in.”

“Sure, why not,” Bruce said. “First aliens, now Nazis.”

“You know Han and I are in,” Gretel added.

“Yeah. It’ll be fun,” Natasha said with a smirk.

Wanda, and Pietro simply nodded.

Steve felt the beginnings of a smile tug at his lips.

“Time to make a plan, folks,” he said. “We have work to do.”

Chapter Text

It had been six months since that meeting at Hansel and Gretel’s house in the woods. That’s how long it had taken to set up the first stage of Steve’s plan. The team had split up, each playing to their strengths.

Gretel, Wanda, and Pietro were investigating previous destruction sites for the Winter Soldier. Between Gretel and Wanda’s magic, they were able to find quite a bit more information than just what physical evidence would have left. A good thing, too, because the Soldier was thorough.

All of that information was being funneled to Bruce and Tony. Any information on the experiments they were running went to Bruce, who then analyzed it for patterns and possible project plans. Everything else went to Tony who cross referenced it with the Shield files he hacked, seeing what matched up.

From what little they were able to dig up, a disturbing amount of it was at least alluded to in the Shield files.

Steve destroyed a lot of punching bags when they told him that.

Any actionable information Tony or Bruce dug up was then investigated by Clint. Officially, he was on extended leave after the whole Loki-mind-control thing. That gave him the perfect excuse to be gone and out of Shield’s eye.

Privately, Steve thought it was fortuitous. He could see how badly the incident had shaken his friend. In between investigating leads, Clint could spend time with Gretel and their kids. Even out a bit.

It also helped that this was legitimately the best use of Clint’s abilities, and everyone knew it. Steve could give his friend time to get his mind settled and also have every team member placed to their best advantage. From Wanda’s smile when he thought about that, he wasn’t the only one who was pleased with that outcome.

One of the more dangerous tasks went to Steve and Natasha. Which, honestly, was just how Steve liked it. He knew he could take the damage and everything he’d seen from Natasha proved that she was wily enough not to take damage in the first place. Besides, he’d need her expertise.

From the moment that Steve had woken up in the future, Shield had been gently steering him towards working for them. Dropping hints, supplying files, setting up ‘catch-up’ activities; that sort of thing. All the while they hinted at how much good Shield did in the world and how dangerous the missions were.

After the Battle of New York, the gentle steering became open pursuit.

It was the same old spiel. Help save the world. Do important work that others can’t do. Work with a team to make things better.

Except everything Steve had seen about Shield was dubious at best. Some of the missions surely would be cut and dry, but an agency like that seldom worked in absolutes. There would be no way for Steve to know what exactly these missions would accomplish, or even who he would be fighting.

Especially considering how little he knew about the modern world. A two week crash course wasn’t going to cut it. Which made him wonder what exactly they expected would happen? Maybe that they’d give him a pamphlet on the most jarring changes in the world and then just fire him like a gun at whatever situation they felt needed a super soldier?

It would be far, far too easy to just feed him what they wanted him to know and then tell him whatever they needed to get him to fight. And with no real friends in the future, he would have no alternatives for support.

But he did have alternatives and now he also had a pressing need to get close to what was going on inside of Shield.

After they returned from the farm house, Steve made tentative noises that he was ready to serve again. He was shipped off to DC so fast it was funny.

Since Natasha had fought with him in New York, he requested that she be assigned with him. ‘To help integrate him to the world’ was how he put it. Fury agreed and soon they were both on the active duty roster.

The best part was it wasn’t even a lie. Natasha really was helping him fit into the modern world. There was so much that had changed and so much more that people hadn’t even realized had changed.

Hand gestures that made no sense but everyone seemed to know what they meant. General attitudes on a very wide variety of subjects, ranging from the gauge of how eatable canned meat was to what the acceptable age for marriage was.

So while they were being sent out on missions, Steve did what he does best. He was obvious. He attracted attention beforehand; asked questions, grilled people about how up-and-up everything was. Embodied Captain America. Not only would he likely have done this anyways, but it provided the perfect cover.

While everyone was busy pussyfooting around Captain America and his 1940’s morals, less attention was on Natasha who was digging up the real dirt. She was better at espionage anyways. No way Steve could even lie his way out of a paper bag, so trying to dig up the information himself would be tricky at best. But Natasha was perfectly suited to digging up everyone’s dirty secrets.

In addition, he was out and about doing charity work; being Captain America the Good Soldier for everyone who needed him to be. This accomplished many things.

First, this was a far better use of his image than propaganda. He really did want to give back to people in need. Punching things wasn’t the only way to save the world. Steve firmly believed that lending out a helping hand should always be the first step.

Second, this reinforced his status and identity as the Goodest of the Good Guys. If he was going to be an icon, he wanted to get every ounce of benefit out of it as he could. One never knew when one might need to turn a crowd to a cause or convince people on reputation alone to pitch in. He’d seen how much reputation could affect moral and motivation during the war.

Third, and most importantly, he was playing bait for Bucky. It was possible that Bucky might just come to them if he saw Steve. This was probably a long shot, but it was worth playing since the risk was low and the rewards great. Despite everything, Steve had to hold out hope that Bucky would recognize him.

Steve was often amused how people assumed that being direct was mutually exclusive with acting with craft and guile. It made it even easier for him to convince people that he was exactly as he seemed; no one would even look for secondary goals. In the end, it was all about playing to one's strengths.

It sort of felt like a waiting game to him. In a way, it was. Everyone was busy, but the real conflict hadn’t really started yet. As much as it frustrated him at times, he knew that this is what fighting was really about; ninety-five percent waiting around and getting ready for things and five percent adrenaline soaked panic.

In a way, he was also glad for it. It gave Steve a chance to try and catch up with the world, brush up on new fighting techniques with Natasha, and spend time with Peggy.

Visiting days hurt as much as they helped. He always asked the nurses about how she was doing before he went in. On bad days it upset her too much for him to visit.

Good days, though, those were the best. Bittersweet but treasured all the same. They talked about all sorts of things; the old team, Peggy’s early days at Shield, what they both thought of newer ideas or products.

Peggy had always been a close friend; he was glad to spend time with here, painful as it was at times. A quick trip to the Smithsonian exhibit proved that most people thought that the two of them were an item. That terrible film with the compass picture was prominently featured. Peggy talked with him a bit about how that little rumor both helped and hindered her as the years passed.

Through their talks he confirmed what Stark theorized; Peggy really did put the snake in Shield’s most secure vault, built by Howard before he was ‘killed’. Further investigation by Clint and Natasha had shown that at some point between then and now, the golden snake disappeared.

The time for planning was coming to an end, though. Steve could feel it.

When he and Natasha were sent to settle a hostage situation on the ship The Lemurian Star, he knew things were going to get heated fast.

Natasha picked him up from his morning run. The moment he was in the car she flipped on a disrupter; a little gift from Stark and something that would jam any transmission or recording in their area. Neither Steve nor Natasha had any illusions about their privacy, so it was a must.

“Fury gave me a secondary mission,” she said, not even bothering with a lead up. Their time was limited even with DC traffic taken into account. “Hostages on a satellite launch ship; you’re there to save people. I’m to slip into the launch stations and download everything they have onto a thumb drive.”

“Who’s going with us?”

“Strike.”

Steve internally groaned. Brock Rumlow was the head of that team and Steve did not like that guy one bit. He was friendly, sure. Respectful and informative, too. But something about the way he looked at Steve made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Steve tried to dismiss it as admiration, but he couldn’t help but think it was a little...possessive, too.

“Who’s the ship belong to?” he asked.

“Shield.” She side-eyed him and smirked.

Steve hummed. If Fury was sending out Natasha to gather information on one of his own ships, then he was worried about the possibility of double agents. That could just be regular suspicion; he did run a spy organization, after all. Or it could be that he was tailing Hydra, too.

“Get two copies; one for Fury, one for Stark. I want to know what Fury thinks he’s looking for there. And what it has to do with satellites. If you can, give me an opening to find you. That way I can put some pressure on Fury afterwards. If he’s making a move this might tip things off.”

“Roger, Rogers.”

Steve rolled his eyes and sighed, knowing that if he responded she’d only go harder.

The mission went textbook perfect, at least according to their private plans. Natasha timed her absence perfectly, giving Steve the opportunity to ‘find’ her in the middle of the download thus giving him the excuse to go grill Fury about it.

Confronting Fury after the mission was…enlightening.

In what looked like an honest-to-god olive branch, Fury showed Steve their big secret project. The Project Insight Helicarriers.

To say Steve was horrified was a bit of an understatement. This was exactly the kind of thing he was worried about. Preemptive strikes on people who might commit crimes in the future; killing people for things they hadn’t done yet. The idea itself was appalling and the potential for abuse was staggering.

The first thing he did was head somewhere where he could contact everyone without raising suspicion. The Smithsonian exhibit was perfect; plenty of people, lots of confusion on signals, and easy to set up an untraceable call.

It also gave him the opportunity to look at Bucky’s face again, because apparently after he went into the ice someone found his old sketchbooks and used those pictures to repaint Bucky’s face right alongside the rest of the commandos. It seemed like their lies to Phillips spread farther than he ever expected they would.

So when he found a dark mini theater in the exhibit to send a text to the group telling them to meet, it was only a coincidence that the short movie showing was one of him and Bucky, standing around laughing.

Just a painful coincidence. Surely.

Chapter Text

The Soldier had many names by now.

When he ghosted through Russia and Europe, stalking the red sigil that made him scream with hate, people whispered, The Winter Soldier has come for us, the ghost that never sleeps, the hunter that never dies.

When contacted spy networks and secret organizations spread the world round to initiate delicate dealings that would bring him more targets, they said, The Asset has been hired, the impossible marksman, the assassin that never fails.

But when he saw the beautiful blond man on the television, the one who haunted his few good dreams and many of his nightmares, he went in search and found himself in Washington DC. There the people who saw him said, Look at that poor Soldier, another broken fighter, lost and alone. They pointed him towards food banks and homeless shelters and support groups.

Food and shelter he had covered. Instinct told him to hoard these things, so he had well stocked safe houses all around the world.

But the support groups…that was new.

He started showing up to one near where the Blond Man lived. The first time he went he barely made it in the door. All the people made his skin crawl. He stood near an exit and left within minutes of it starting.

The allure was strong though. He watched and listened from a distance and he could see common threads. People lost in the world, trying to adjust to something they didn’t feel like they fit into any more.

The second time he went, he managed to stay through most of the meeting, though he fled right near the end. Eventually he was able to sit down, sit closer. Be near people and not be killing them for a change.

No one said anything about the glove on his left hand, or how his face was hooded and covered. He left his right hand bare. He couldn’t show these people much of himself, but he wanted to show them something.

He felt bad about it, but it was the best he could do.

The first time he talked, he barely got any words out. He talked about how scrambled his mind was and how much his shoulder hurt in bad weather. No one pressed him. No one made him feel bad about being covered. There were a few others with gloves and longs sleeves, too, and a lot of sympathetic and understanding looks.

Eventually, he came to talk more. He talked about the flashes of violent memory, though he was careful to leave the details out. They didn’t need to know the ins and outs of how he killed people or the torturous things that he dreamed were being done to him. It was violent, sure, but these people were used to violence.

No, the reason he couldn’t tell them was because the killings were inhuman; impossible things that he did, or dreamed of doing, or dreamt was done to him.

The Soldier couldn’t tell these people that he wasn’t like them. That fear of discovery was so far ingrained that it was a fundamental part of his operation procedures. Never let people know how different he was.

Occasionally he talked about how he knew he was missing something, something precious. The rest of the soldiers assumed he was being metaphorical.

He wasn’t. There was a thing inside of him that was gone, a physical thing, and he had no idea what it was. Only that it was important and that he had to get it. And whoever had it was hurting him with it.

The other group members assumed he had been a POW, that he had been tortured. The truth…didn’t seem that far from that. He was being tortured, still. The dreams were not just dreams; they were happening to that other part of him, the part that was missing.

Group meetings were where he met Sam.

Sam worked at the VA. He was a good guy; kind and generous. Unlike a lot of people, Sam really cared. Whenever he got a chance he’d stop and check up on the Soldier, see how he was doing. It was the first time that had happened to the Soldier in…in forever.

Privately, he thought that if he ever screwed up the nerve to meet the Blond Man, the Blond Man might care too. This notion was quickly tossed aside each time it came up. Why would a stranger even bother?

This was on his mind when Sam opened the group up for sharing.

The Soldier was always nervous when he raised his hand.

“Go ahead, man,” Sam said kindly.

“…The guy,” the Soldier started. “The, uh, blond guy that I think I know. I…I tried to talk to him again today. Saw him coming out of work. I just…I couldn’t. I get right there and I see him and how perfect and great he is and…” He hung his head and flexed his left hand. “Everything is so jumbled. I barely remember knowing him. I don’t even remember his name! Besides, how would he even know me? It’s not like he’d recognize my face.”

Quiet sympathy flowed around the room for a moment as people waited to see if he had more to say.

“Thanks for sharing, man. I think we all get how difficult it can be to confront someone from the past, and it’s extra hard with things stacked against you. Those anxieties are part of being human. Maybe it might help if you brought a friend along, someone to help give you confidence and smooth the way a little? And no matter what happens, you can talk to us about it.”

Murmurs of assent popped up all around the room.

It helped immensely that the Soldier could taste the sincerity in the air. He could see it in the body language of those around him, too.

He stayed quiet for the rest of the session and then quickly made his escape. There was an itching in the back of his head, trailing down his back. Someone was handling the missing part of him and he could taste the cruelty in the air.

The Soldier barely made it to his nearest safe house before the vision hit.

Men in lab coats, standing over him, strapping him down, cutting him open. It was dark and what little he could see was skewed; twisted with knives and wires and bubbling tanks. There were screams, he thought. Maybe it was him-the-person or him-the-missing-part or maybe he was just going fucking crazy because there were so many screams. They had little scoops and were carving him up.

“Why are we taking so much?”

Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain.

“Because we can’t afford to fuck this up. Fury is a crafty bastard, so who the fuck knows where we’ll be able to slip this stuff to him. Collateral damage doesn’t matter at this point, we just need to get the job done. Besides, you know how fast this stuff goes bad. It grows back, so who cares?”

His life was slipping out. Away. Everything was dark. White blurs around him in the pitch.

“Ug, this is so fucking nasty.”

Pain. Pain. Pain. Please, stop. Please. I don’t want this.

“Shut. Up. And help me get finished. Here, take the first batch to the centrifuge while I’m getting the next. We need confirmed kill in the next two hours.”

The digging went deeper and his skin peeled back over his flesh.

He screamed and screamed and screamed. They were carving him up. They were carving him up.

The Soldier came-to curled up in a ball next to the door.

He was in a room. It smelled like him. A safe house. Yes, a safe house. Somewhere he could hide. Simple, small, and quiet. Enough food to last several weeks and enough weapons to resupply him in case of three emergencies.

Ghost-like pain crawled over and through him, wracking his body with bone rattling shuddering. He waited it out.

The last few months were all jumbled. He was just starting to piece together some of his older memories too, and now those were gone as well.

Fat tears pooled in his goggles and trailed down to soak into his scarf. His back and right leg burned. Every fucking time he thought he might be getting somewhere his mind got scrambled again.

He wanted to sit and pour over his note books, trying to bring back whatever was just lost, but something about the vision he just had nagged at him.

Fury.

They said Fury. The Soldier grabbed his notes and started frantically flipping through pages.

There!

Shield. Nick Fury was the Director of Shield. This was the same place that the blond man worked. The blond man.

He knew him.

The Soldier knew he knew him.

He shook his head. Now was not the time to get lost in the little bits of leftover flashes from fucking decades ago.

The bastards who had his me-that-is-missing, the fucking skull-squid assholes, were about to move on the Director of Shield which meant that something big was about to happen. A shit storm of what was sure to be epic proportions, if his notes had anything to say about it.

And his big beautiful blond man who he knew he knew was right in the goddamn middle of it.

There was this sudden nagging feeling of familiarity.

The Soldier brushed it aside and got his work gear on. He couldn’t put this off any longer. Time to intervene.

He paused a moment before he left his safe house. Something Sam said floated through his mind. Was that this morning? The Soldier considered it and then nodded to himself. Sam was right. Maybe having a friend to be there with him would help.

--

Sam walked into his kitchen, still panting from his morning run around the Monument Mall. It was beautiful out, but already too damn hot. Morning runs were the way to go in DC; anything else was attempted suicide.

He bee-lined straight for his fridge and popped open a jug of OJ. His mamma wasn’t there to scold him so he drank straight from the container.

Then nearly dropped the whole damn thing when he turned around and saw one of his VA vets sitting at his kitchen table.

It was the masked guy. No one ever caught the dude’s name and the guy actively avoided bringing up names himself. Even without the excessive coverings it was clear he had been through some serious shit. That mixed with the overall presence of badassitude that the guy just exuded made it easy to assume that he’d been in some kind of special ops. Every time this guy talked, Sam hurt for him

Still, that did not excuse a break-in.

But it was possible that this guy was having a bad episode and needed a safe place to be. Still not okay, but on the grand scale of not-okay things it wasn’t so bad. Either way, Sam needed to tread carefully.

“Hey man, what are you doing here?”

“Sam.” He hesitated. Not unexpected. He didn’t talk much in group and didn’t talk at all outside of it. “I need your help.”

Yup, Sam thought grimly. Knew it. He was glad he didn’t jump right to panic or suspicion. Carefully and slowly Sam walked around the kitchen island and sat down opposite him at the table.

“What’s up? And why did you feel the need to break in? I’m happy to help, man, but breaking into places isn’t okay.” It’s important to set boundaries and Sam did not want this to become a habit. He had enough crazy shit to deal with.

The man sighed like he was about to pull teeth.

“I’m pretty sure I’m a centuries old monster who used to fight in World War Two with Captain America. I’ve done a bunch of digging and I know the agency the Captain is working for now is filled with Nazis and I just got some information that they’re going to make a move and the Captain is stuck in the middle of it. So I need to go save him. But he’s the big blond guy I can’t get the nerve to go up to and talk with. So I’m asking for your help to go talk to him. Because I’m sort of freaking out about it, but I can’t let him walk into a shitstorm.”

Sam blinked.

He opened his mouth and then closed it again.

Finally he said, “Can you run that by me one more time?”

The man sighed again.

“I’m old. Very old. I used to fight in World War Two with Captain America. But something happened at the end of the war and it scrambled my brain. I can’t remember jack shit anymore. But I know him, and I know he’s headed for a big pile of trouble. I just.” He shook his head. “I just need a friend to go with me to go talk to him.”

Sam blinked again and set down his juice.

“Look, man. I think you might be having an episode. I know a nurse who works odd hours, she can---”

“I can prove it,” the man blurted out and then he pulled down his hood.

His hair was standing on end a bit, kinda frizzed out. And moving.

His hair was fucking moving on its own.

His hair was filled with goddamn snakes!

“What the fuck!” Sam quickly shoved back away from the table.

“Sam. Listen to me. I am not human. I am very, very old. I used to fight in World War Two with Captain America and now the Captain is about to get his ass handed to him and I need to be there to help. My brain is fucking swiss cheese, though, and I can’t remember anything for shit. I need your help to go talk to him. Please, Sam.” The last bit was said with such a sad pleading.

The goggles this guy was wearing got…kind of lighter? Like they were being lit up from the inside.

“Holy shit,” Sam whispered. “Dude, who are you?”

The man ran his hand through his hair / snakes and growled in frustration. It was a strange rattling sound and Sam was thoroughly fucking weirded out.

“I don’t know! I can’t even remember my own goddamn name and every time I get a grip on it, these fucking assholes do something to me. They’ve got something of mine and I can’t even remember what it fucking is! And they keep using it to kill people and, Sam, they’re gonna do it again and kick off something really bad and Cap is walking right into it!”

The man dropped his face onto the table in front of him and sighed.

“Sam. Please,” he said, voice doubly muffled by the table and his scarf.

Sam sat back in his chair.

This was crazy. But…it did kind of fit. The hood, the mask, the goggles…the way the guy moved like he was the meanest thing in the world and didn’t even have to try to prove it. The end of the war trauma.

Falling off a train had to be some pretty crazy trauma.

“Sergeant James Barnes,” Sam said. “If you’re… I mean, if this is true, and you did fight back in the war with him…you’ve got to be Sergeant Barnes. I mean, the face covering and everything, dude. It was a dead give away.”

The man sighed into the table top. “That name means nothing to me. Doesn’t ring a single damn bell.”

Sam couldn’t stop looking at the little snakes. They were fucking moving on their own, flicking their tongues out and everything. He was pretty damn sure that level of sophistication wasn’t possible to fake. They were too tiny, too mobile.

“What’s with the mask? Your face something…different, too?”

“If anyone sees it, they’ll turn to stone.”

That…actually did explain things. Kind of. And if this guy was what Sam thought he was, then he was a hell of a lot older than World War Two.

Unless there were whole families of snake headed greek myths out there, building little snake communities.

Sam blinked and shook his head. He needed to stop thinking about this shit before he drove himself nuts.

“Alright. So what happens now, if I go with you?” he asked.

Barnes, because that’s who Sam was just assuming was sitting across from him, sat upright again and tilted his head considering.

“We go to where the Captain is. You hang out and offer moral support while I try to talk to him. Then I offer to help blow all the Nazis the fuck up, because you have no idea how much I hate them.”

“Nazis. Like, straight up World War Two Nazis, or, like, punk ass red neck modern Nazis?” Sam crossed his arms. He was probably looking judgy. He found he didn’t care.

“World War Two Nazis. Hydra, so evil science Nazis,” Barnes replied evenly.

“And these guys are in the organization that Captain America works for?”

“Yup. Been hunting them for years. Finally traced them back to Shield.”

Well. Shit.

The fact that this guy even knew about Shield, and organization that Sam had only barely heard of, and when he did it was in the most hush-hush of tones…well, that said a lot.

He dropped his head back and stared at the ceiling. What the fuck was he getting himself into?

“Alright,” he said with a sigh. “Yeah. I’m in. And if by some crazy ass chance you really do know Captain America and he’s not just some big beefy blond you’re crushing on, I’ll help you with the Nazis. I ain’t gonna stand by and let that shit just happen.”

Sam was already kind of kicking himself.

“You know, I kind of wish I had my wings,” he added ruefully.

“Yes, the EXO-Falcon suit,” Barnes said with a nod.

“Wait, what? How do you know about that! That shit is top tier classified!”

Barnes just tilted his head in what was probably confusion. Or bemusement. Sam was gonna go with confusion because bemusement just felt condescending. “Because I look into everyone I come into regular contact with. And if you need your wings, that’s not a problem.”

“The fuck do you mean, it’s not a problem? The last set is at Fort Meade, behind three guarded gates and a twelve-inch steel wall.” World War Two vet or not, creepy ass snake haired mother fucker regardless, this guy was fucking crazy.

Barnes just pulled a large bag out from under the table and set it down between them with a heavy clunk.

“Because I already got it for you.”

Sam closed his eyes for a second and then looked up to heaven for a moment and prayed for strength.

What the fuck even was his life.

Chapter Text

In the time it took for the team to gather up and Steve to meet up with them all, things had changed drastically.

Steve was notified by Agent Sitwell that Nick Fury had been attacked in his car on the streets of downtown DC and was killed. Deputy Director Hill was the suspected culprit and every agent in the area was being called in to search for her.

Steve was then ‘invited’ to speak to Alexander Pierce, Undersecretary to the World Security Council. The same council, Steve reminded himself, that sent a nuke into New York City during the Chitauri invasion.

In some ways it went exactly as Steve expected, and in others very much not.

He expected to get grilled about any knowledge of Fury’s death and what Fury was involved in. It also wasn’t much of a surprise that Pierce played up how close he and Fury were and how it was really everyone else who thought Fury was a double agent. This simultaneously cast doubt on Fury’s motives and attempted to build trust with Steve, insinuating that Pierce was on his side.

What he didn’t expect was just how often Pierce let Steve direct the tenor of the conversation. First Pierce said things to build up his credibility with how long he’d been in service, how long his father had been in service, and how long he’d been friends with Fury.

Creating rapport, Steve thought.

Then he started laying down evidence that suggested that Fury was a double, or at least independent, agent. When Steve expressed disbelief, Pierce agreed with him. Steve wondered if he had expressed agreement if Pierce would have agreed to that, too.

Steve counted at least three ambiguous statements like that.

There was a lot of talk of loyalty and bringing everyone in to be held accountable. Right about the time Steve was wondering just why he was called in to speak to Pierce, the point of the whole endeavor finally came around.

“Captain, Nick was my friend. I want to make sure whoever is responsible for his death is caught. No matter who it is.”

Steve fought the urge to smile. “I completely agree, Sir.”

The guy was smooth. Impressively smooth. Steve would have never been able to pull of Pierce’s level of conversational savvy, but he could admire a master at work. He probably wouldn’t have even noticed at all if he hadn’t already been tipped off that something very wrong was going on inside of Shield.

Steve reviewed events in his mind, rattling them around until he could see the patterns.

Fury had Natasha infiltrate a Shield ship to get information. As soon as he got that information he was killed and his second in command was blamed. Not only did this make Steve increasingly curious about what was on that thumb drive, but it also made it more likely that Fury wasn’t with Hydra.

All of this ran through his mind as he made his way home. By force of habit he picked up his mail on the way up the stairs.

Inside his regular junk mail was a flyer for a shopping mall on the Virginia side of the river, just outside of the District. Steve lived in Dupont Circle, which was right next to downtown DC. He shouldn’t be getting a flyer like that based on where he lived.

Natasha, Steve thought.

Old Tyme Freezy Twist! Best frozen custard in the DC area! Early bird specials available, bring your friends for group discounts!

Steve rolled his eyes. ‘Old Tyme Freezy Twist’ meant him. ‘Early bird special’ meant that he needed to be there soon. ‘Bring your friends’ meant that he was being followed.

He’d had his gear packed and ready since he got off the Lemurian Star mission, so all he had to do was grab his stuff and go. It wasn’t even worth it to him to try and get rid of a potential tail. That wasn’t really in his skill set, and besides, Natasha likely had some kind of plan in place for getting where they needed to go.

Sure enough, the moment he stepped into the main area he was pulled into a passing by crowd. Natasha shoved a hat and a hoodie at him and the two of them ducked, walked, and wove their way out of the mall again.

“Who was on me?” Steve asked on their way out of the mall parking lot.

“Rumlow and the rest of Strike,” Natasha replied with a smirk. Steve suppressed a sigh. Of course it was Rumlow. The number of times Steve had caught that guy watching him was slightly disturbing. “I got a tip off from Clint. Maria’s been in contact.”

That made Steve sit up. “Really?” He thought things through for a moment. “What are the chances that she actually is responsible for Fury’s death?”

“Zero. She and Nick were close, as close as Nick and Phil were. No way she’d turn on him.”

Steve nodded to himself. That was his read on things too, but he wasn’t the spy.

“We should bring her in. She might know more about what’s about to go down,” he said. After a second more thought, he added, “Get Stark to check her out as best he can. See if he can dig up anything about her in the files he downloaded. Just in case.”

Natasha pulled out a phone and started texting.

An hour or two later they arrived at their safe house; the maintenance facilities attached to a dam a fair ways outside of the city. Remote enough that they weren’t going to get unintentional visitors but close enough to the District that they could get there in a reasonably short amount of time. Tall trees surrounded the area, blocking a great deal of the main building from view.

The group he walked into was a bit of a surprise.

Most of them sat around a large table with various papers and cardboard coffee cups scattered around. Banner was seated next to Clint and stitching up a nasty looking cut on his head while Gretel hovered nearby. Stark was busy with some kind of clear tablet. Wanda was passing her coffee cup back and forth in her hands while Pietro munched on some trail mix, feet propped up on the table.

Waves or grunted hellos greeted Steve and Natasha as took their seats.

Across the table from them, Maria Hill was seated next to a very alive and very shitty looking Nick Fury. He had bandages in various places, several bruises and cuts on his face, and his left arm was in a makeshift sling. Dark hallows rested under his eyes; it looked like he hadn’t slept in years. He practically radiated weariness.

“Hi there, Cap,” Fury said. Steve raised an eyebrow at him.

“Death didn’t stick, huh?” Steve asked.

“Any attempt on the Director’s life had to look successful,” Maria responded.

“Can’t kill you if you’re already dead. Besides, I didn’t know who I could trust,” Fury added.

Steve gave a purely internal wince. Natasha leaned back in her chair, dropping herself out of Fury’s line of sight. It was the kind of body language that looked casual but couldn’t possibly be. First of all, nothing Natasha did was casual. Second, he knew that Nat and Fury had a history and for Nick to blatantly say that the trust between them meant nothing…it was a blow, and even Steve could see it.

“Yeah, well, welcome to the Order of the Phoenix, Mad Eye. Let’s get this debrief started. We’ve got Nazis to kill and a Bucky Bear to save,” Stark said while tapping away at a tablet.

“What happened?” Steve asked Fury.

“My car was attacked on the street. Aggressively. I got out, but I was hit with some kind of poisoned knife.” He shifted his left arm which was all wrapped up in a sling.

“How’d you survive the poison?” Natasha asked, the very image of equanimity.

Fury smirked and lifted his eye patch. On the underside was a coil of braided white hair. Clint snorted and Wanda laughed.

“Unicorn hair,” Wanda said. “Impressive.”

“Sovereign cure for any poison. Can’t be too careful,” Fury replied. “Even with it, I barely made it. Whatever they were using was tough stuff. When I couldn’t get into that thumb drive that Natasha brought back, I called up Hill and requested she meet me here. Then the two of us got in touch.” Fury leaned back into his chair and barely suppressed a wince. Whatever he’d been through, it was still affecting him.

What he meant without saying it was that they called Clint, and probably Stark, but not Natasha. This was going to bite Fury in the ass later, Steve was sure of it. He’d spent a lot of time with Natasha and they’d come to trust each other; something Steve knew was rare for her. Watching Fury toss that aside was nearly painful for him.

“Patches here is lucky we were already involved,” Stark added. He didn’t even bother to look up from his tablet. “Turns out that what was on that drive was an algorithm. And not just any algorithm, it’s the one that will control those lovely helicarriers. Kinda kicking myself about giving Shield those repulsor engines now, but whatever. It’ll pick off anyone who poses a threat to Hydra, now or in the future.”

“The future? How could it know?” Steve asked.

“Technology, grandpa. Everything is online. Bank records, school records, voting habits, shopping habits. Evaluates people’s past to predict their future. The design is brilliant. Awful, but brilliant.”

“Tony sent Gretel and I to check out where the information originated from,” Clint said, “and, Cap, you are not going to fucking believe this. Zola.”

“What.” If there was one person Steve had an ax to grind with, it was Zola. “How is he still alive? How did he even get into Shield?”

“Operation Paperclip,” Natasha answered. “After the war, the Allies recruited German scientists with…strategic value.”

Images of burnt of bodies in cages, of Bucky’s broken cut up form, flashed through Steve’s mind. “Who the hell thought that would be a good idea?”

“British Intelligence, headed up by a Sir Pennwood and later adopted by Shield command,” Maria added.

Of fucking course. Steve really wished that he had let Bucky kill that idiot. He kind of wished he’d killed the guy himself. Someone that criminally stupid shouldn’t have been let anywhere near a command position. If they all lived through this, he was going to hunt that moron down and punch him right in the teeth.

“Yeah, turns out ‘alive’ isn’t quite the way to describe him. Zola managed to download his brain into a computer before his body died back in the 70’s. Kept us busy and then requested an air strike on us,” Gretel said. Bruce was finally done with the stitches and she had taken his place and started to rub a spicy smelling ointment on the wound. Stark mumbled something about ‘Nazi amateur’ and Banner hid a grin.

“Who’s got the authority for a domestic air strike?” Banner asked.

“Pierce. He called me into his office to feel me out. See where my loyalties lay,” Steve said.

“Pierce?” Fury asked incredulously and then sat and thought about it. “Son of a bitch.”

Bringing the subject back to focus, Steve said, “So the Insight Carriers are in the hands of Zola’s algorithm.”

“We have to stop that launch,” Natasha said.

“According to what I can dig up with Jarvis, Insight is scheduled to launch tomorrow,” Stark said.

Maria put a case onto the table and opened it up. “These chips are targeting chips for the Insight carriers. Once the helicarriers reach three thousand feet, they’ll triangulate with the Insight satellites becoming fully weaponized.”

“We need to breach those carriers and replace their targeting blades with our own,” Fury added.

“One or two won’t cut it. You need to link all three carriers for this to work, because if even one of those ships remains operational a whole lot of people are gonna die,” Stark said grimly. Maria nodded at him.

“We have to assume everyone on those carriers is Hydra,” Steve said.

“Maybe, if we’re good enough, we’ll be able to salvage what’s left---” Fury said.

Steve interrupted him. “We’re not salvaging anything. We’re not just taking down the carriers, Nick, we’re taking down Shield.”

“Shield had nothing to do with it,” Fury started.

“Shield has everything to do with it. The whole organization has been so thoroughly compromised that Hydra was operating at every level there with no one the wiser. Shield, Hydra, it all goes.”

Fury looked mutinous and glanced around the room. Wanda and Pietro completely ignored him. Gretel raised an eyebrow at him. Natasha just stared.

“Cap’s, right,” Clint added. Maria nodded too. Stark didn’t even bother looking up from his tablet.

Steve set his jaw. He was right about this and he would not be swayed.

“Looks like you’re giving the orders now, Captain.” Fury slumped in his seat, somewhat resigned.

All the tension that had been building up in Steve’s shoulders eased a bit. They were all on the same page; now it was time to plan for tomorrow.

“Alright. Natasha, you, Clint, and Fury deal with the World Security Council and Pierce. You’ll need to sneak into their little meeting. Get their files, put them online. All of them. Secret organizations can’t hide if they aren’t secret anymore.”

Fury opened his mouth to object but then shut it just as quickly.

“Easy as pie.” Natasha smirked.

“We need flyers on the Helicarriers. Stark? Do you think we can get War Machine to help out?” Steve asked.

“There is no need for this. I can fly,” Wanda said casually.

Eyebrows raised around the room. Steve was a little disappointed he wouldn’t be able to see that.

“I’ll see what I can do. No idea if my Honeybear is free. More the merrier, right? If not, we’ll figure it out,” Stark said.

“Bruce, I’d like you on standby. As a last resort, we know that the Hulk can take out one of those carriers.”

Bruce pursed his lips and nodded. “I can have some first aid ready too, if people need it.”

Steve smiled gratefully at him. They all knew how difficult it was for Banner to reconcile with his alter ego. Steve very much hoped that they wouldn’t need him.

“Maria, I’d like you running the comms. We’ll get you into the Triskelion and set you up there. Pietro, you’ve got the speed. I want you on comms and ready to emergency evac anyone if they need.”

Maria nodded and Pietro tossed him a lazy salute.

“Gretel and I will be headed into the Shield vaults. There’s something there we need to find. If the carriers are still in the air after we’re done, she can fly up and help.” Gretel nodded.

“No.” The voice came from behind Steve. Half the people in the room jumped up in surprise, including Steve.

A hooded figure slipped in the door; his face was covered with a scarf and he sported red lens goggles and black leather gloves.

“Bucky,” Steve breathed.

“Who the hell is Bucky?” the figure asked. A dark skinned man walked in behind him; he had close cropped hair and the look of a soldier about him.

The faint sounds of weapons being drawn or charged behind him tickled in the background, but Steve wasn’t paying attention to anything but that figure in front of him.

“Bucky.”

Silence stretched on for a solid minute until the hooded man’s friend rolled his eyes and said, “I’m Sam Wilson. This guy,” he poked the hooded figure hard, “said he thinks he knows you. And he’s got some important stuff to say.”

Sam looked pointedly at the hooded figure. Bucky. It had to be Bucky. Steve could read his body language like a favorite book. He was nervous. The tilt of his head, the way his shoulders were held. Steve tried to look encouraging and not like his heart was being ripped out of his chest.

“You can’t go in there.” His voice sounded rougher than it once did. A lot like it did right after Azzano, actually. Steve bit his lip.

“People are gonna die, Buck. I can’t let that happen.”

Bucky tilted his head. Steve just knew he was getting the ‘you can’t fool me’ look. “Which is why you’re going vault raiding.” He shook his head. “This is bad. You can’t go in there. Too many of them are enemies.”

“They’ve got your snake, Buck. I have to get it back.”

“…Is that a euphemism?” Sam muttered. Gretel grinned at him.

“Oh I like this guy,” Stark said behind them.

“Snake?” Fury asked. “A gold snake?”

Faster than lightning, Bucky lunged forward, intent on flying straight over the table towards Fury. Steve was pretty sure that the serum was the only reason he even registered the movement. He caught Bucky before he could get past the chairs.

Bucky let Steve hold him back and a deep rattling growl rumbled out of his hood. Somewhere in the half second between movements, Bucky had drawn a dagger so long it was almost a short sword. The goggles glowed red, lit from within.

“Holy shit,” Sam exclaimed behind them. Natasha and Maria had drawn and raised guns, but no one else bothered. Bruce got up and walked out.

“You’ve seen it. You have the me-that-is-missing,” Bucky hissed. “You’ve seen it and you were there when they were cutting me up.”

“Easy there, soldier. I didn’t know that thing was yours.” Fury raised one hand, placating.

Bucky did not look placated.

“We’ll get it back.” Steve held onto him and rubbed his back soothingly.

“You know this guy, Cap?” Maria asked.

“This is Bucky. Sergeant James Barnes, though that’s just a name we made up for him,” Steve said with a smile. Bucky was loosening up in his arms, but still staring pretty intently at the Shield agents.

“I don’t remember,” Bucky said absently. “They took it and they cut it up and rip it out and I think I’m killing people.”

“Son of a bitch. Poison. Fury was poisoned,” Hansel said. All the blood had drained out of his face as he looked back and forth between them in horror. “They’re chopping up bits of your mind and memory made flesh and using it to kill people.”

“That fits the pattern of a number of other deaths throughout the last fifty or sixty years,” Stark added thoughtfully.

Steve saw red for a moment. He was going to kill them all.

It must have been obvious on his face because Bucky had turned to him.

“I do know you, right?” he asked.

“Yeah. Yeah, you know me,” Steve said brokenly.

Bucky leaned in and sniffed up the side of his neck and cheek until they were eye to eye. Steve’s pulse jumped in excitement and he took a quick inhale. He smelled just the same; fruit and scales and spice and warmth. It ripped open something ragged and sore inside his chest. Like the purging of an infected wound, it was both painful and a joyous relief.

They both moved at the same time. Bucky shoved his right arm under one of Steve’s legs and picked him up and set him on the table. Steve could feel the dagger still held Bucky’s left, the full length of the blade pressed against his spine like a shield as Bucky hugged him close. In the same movement, Steve shoved one hand under Bucky’s hood and tangled his fingers in the hair and snakes there. With the other he grabbed Bucky’s jaw and pressed them together in a frantic kiss.

He could really care less that there was a scarf between him. Bucky was there. Maybe he wasn’t the same, but he was right there in front of Steve; holding him and kissing him back. Steve tried sneaking the hand on Bucky’s jaw under the scarf at his neck. He craved the feel of Bucky’s skin again, more than anything.

“Hey, free show! Bet they didn’t have this in the ol’ propaganda films. Or maybe they just charged extra. Damn, I should look into that,” Stark said with obvious amusement.

“Awwww scarf, no. I swear, Steve, if you kill all of us because you can’t keep your hands to yourself I will come back and haunt you,” Clint said. There was a faint thunk sound followed by an, “Ow!”

Steve’s face burned. He took a deep breath and pulled slightly away from the kiss. A glance around the group showed some very nonplused stares from Maria and Fury and shit eating grins from pretty much everyone else.

Sam had snuck up onto the other side of Bucky, flanking him. “So when you said you knew Captain America, you meant you knew him.” Bucky turned his head to look at Sam and hissed at him. “Dude, did you just fucking hiss at me? Naw, man, naw.”

Gretel snickered and Sam smirked at her, eyes twinkling.

“That it, this guy is a keeper,” Stark declared. “What’s your name? Never mind, I’ll learn it later. So, the plan.”

“I get the feeling that I’m not gonna be able to stop you from running headlong into this clusterfuck, am I?” Bucky asked with a sigh. The dagger had disappeared from his hand, though Steve had no idea where it went to. He didn’t really care as long as Bucky was still holding him.

Steve just grinned at him. “Wanna come with, Buck? There are some Nazis to kill. Pretty gold snake at the end of it.”

“Pretty blond in the middle of it,” Gretel said under her breath. Both Clint and Wanda kicked her; she just snickered in response. Sam bit back a laugh.

Steve hung his head and huffed out a laugh. It was just like sitting around planning with the Howlies. He didn’t think he’d get this feeling again.

Bucky looked at Steve again. They were still wrapped up in each other’s arms. Steve couldn’t think of a better place to be. Bucky leaned forward just a touch; catching his scent again.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll follow you. Someone’s got to keep your ass out of trouble,” he said.

“Don’t say it!” Steve leveled a glare to Stark, Gretel, and Natasha, all of whom had their mouths open, ready to say something inappropriate.

Bucky turned to Sam. “You in?”

“Captain America needs my help. No better reason to get back in.”

“Wait, who is this guy?” Maria asked.

Sam smiled and shrugged. “Extra air support.”

Steve grinned. Things were looking up.

Chapter Text

The moment they were done with the planning and all that was left to do was wait, Bucky dragged Steve out of the room and down the hall.

Since Steve was just as eager to get some alone time as Bucky seemed to be, it was maybe more apt to say they dragged each other. There were a few catcalls, some snickers, and at least one, “Wow,” that followed them out the door.

Steve couldn’t care less. Bucky was with him; alive and holding his hand. Nothing could ruin that, not even his friends and teammates being assholes.

A few turns and some fast walking later, Bucky shoved them both into a side room and slammed the door behind them. Steve barely registered that it was some kind of storage area before Bucky was on him.

He expected kissing, but what he got was the fiercest hug he’d ever had.

“I know you. I know you,” Bucky whispered over and over again.

After everything that had happened, Steve didn’t think his heart could break any more, but it turned out he was wrong. He buried his face in Bucky’s neck and breathed in the scent of scales and spice and sweetness that was so distinctly Bucky that it couldn’t be mistaken for anything else.

“Yeah,” Steve choked out. “You know me. You’re my Bucky. And I’m your Steve. We belong to each other. If. If you still want that.” He clung tighter. It was important that Bucky know that even though nothing had changed for Steve, he was leaving the possibility open for things to have changed for Bucky.

It would kill him and he didn’t think it was likely after that first kiss, but a long time had passed for both of them and Bucky had been through a lot. Steve wouldn’t take the choice from him.

Bucky just snorted a laugh at him and held him tighter; the noise was one part humor and two parts desperate.

“Even when I had nothing, I remembered your face. It was my first memory. Watching you float up and away from me while I fell. When stuff gets ripped out, that’s one that always comes back.”

The tears that had been threatening to come to the surface all evening finally spilled over.

“Bucky. I missed you so much,” he cried.

Bucky just nodded back to him. They sank to the floor. Steve knocked their heads together, just like they used to, and stared into the lenses of Bucky’s goggles. He cradled Bucky’s covered face in both his hands.

“Hey there, beautiful,” he whispered and sniffed a bit.

From the shake in Bucky’s shoulders, he was crying, too.

“I don’t remember this,” Bucky moaned. “I know you and I know you’re the most important thing in the world but I can’t remember anything else. Please. Tell me.” He clung to Steve’s jacket.

“Anything. I’ll tell you anything.”

And he did. He talked about how they met and their missions with the Howling Commandos. He talked about how Bucky made friends in the most unlikely of places and how he had a soft spot for cats. He talked for what must have been hours, until both of them were stretched out on the floor together, still held tightly in each other’s arms.

The whole time, Bucky gently caressed Steve; rubbing a hand down his arm, kissing his fingertips, nuzzling his cheek. Reassuring touches that told them both they were real, that this was really happening; touches filled with comfort as well as wonder.

Then somewhere mid-story, Bucky slipped a hand under the back of Steve’s jacket and reached one finger under the back of Steve’s shirt.

Steve swallowed hard.

“Can I?” Bucky asked.

“Yes. Very, very yes,” Steve replied. “But…you sure you want to?” The very last thing he wanted to do was put undue pressure on Bucky.

There was a long pause as Bucky thought about it; the whole time he kept running his finger along that thin patch of skin between Steve’s pants and shirt.

Steve bit his lip to keep from making some truly embarrassing noises, but he couldn’t stop the shiver that ran up his spine.

“If we can’t do this, tomorrow. If I never get back the me-that-is-missing…is there is an ‘us’?” His tone was serious, but it carried no hint of judgment.

“Bucky.” Steve gently lifted Bucky’s chin so they were looking eye to eye again. “There will always be an ‘us’ no matter what happens, to either of us. ‘Cause I’m with you to the end of the line.”

A dim glowing grew inside Bucky’s goggle lenses, getting brighter and brighter until they cast shadows around them and wreathed Bucky’s hair and snakes in red light. Steve tried to pour every ounce of sincerity and love into his gaze. Being truthful was what he was good at. He just hoped it would be enough.

It must have been, because once again Bucky pulled him in tight and smashed their lips together. Bucky’s hand went straight down Steve’s pants, under his briefs, and grabbed a big handful of asscheek.

Steve moaned into it and rolled his body against Bucky’s. One hand he kept on Bucky’s head, but the other was frantically working to pull off Bucky’s jacket and shirt.

There was a great deal of shuffling, all of which was hindered by the fact that neither of them wanted to stop kissing one another just to get clothes off. They both managed to get bare chested and pants unzipped, but that was as far as they got before they gave up trying.

For a brief moment, Steve paused to look at all that gorgeous skin left bare. It was his, all his to touch and taste and feel. He noticed a tiny bit of black on the back of Bucky’s right shoulder, but quickly got distracted by the full glory of Bucky’s metal arm.

Steve pulled away from their tight embrace for a moment, just long enough that he could grab Bucky’s metal hand and begin to lick the fingers. The taste of the metal, the weight of it, the innate danger that lay in its hard unyielding strength; it made molten hot want rush through him and coil in his groin. His eyes rolled back a little. He’d forgotten how fucking hot this got him.

From the breathy moans coming from Bucky, he was enjoying it, too.

The whole endeavor, Bucky was strangely silent. As Steve thought about it, Bucky was unnaturally quiet the whole evening, only saying a handful of sentences at most. Just for a moment, his heart broke a bit more and he tried very hard not to be buried under a mountain of guilt.

It didn’t matter. He’d told the truth; he would love Bucky regardless.

Steve shoved all that aside and focused on making Bucky moan louder. Bucky had once told him that he did have sensation in the arm, just not as much as he did with his flesh arm, with the exception of the finger tips. Those were actually more sensitive; designed so that he would lose no functionality from having an inorganic limb.

He ruthlessly took advantage of that knowledge and took his time slavering attention on each of Bucky’s fingers; licking them up and down, kissing them, and gently scraping his teeth along the plates. From the way Bucky was kneading his ass and grinding their hips together, he was doing a good job.

“Buck, you taste so good,” he whispered. It was alright if Bucky couldn’t find the words that once flowed freely. Steve would say them. “I missed you so much. Want your hands on me. Want this hand on me. On us both.”

Bucky groaned and rolled onto his back, moving Steve around so that he was straddling Bucky’s waist. Another jolt of pure desire flooded through him at being manhandled. Steve knew he was a heavy guy now and Bucky’s ability to move him like he weighed nothing always went straight to his dick.

Steve sat up a bit. He rested Bucky’s hand on his pec, squeezing the fingers to that they squeezed his chest. It didn’t take long for Bucky to get the hint and soon he was pinching and rolling Steve’s nipple.

It felt so fucking good. Steve let his head drop back as he arched forward into the feeling. Bucky’s flesh hand moved to the other side of Steve’s chest and started teasing there too.

Between panting breaths, Steve tried to remember there was something he should be doing. Oh, right. Talking. Reminding Bucky what they both liked. Bringing that part of their relationship back; different, yes, but still good.

“So fucking good. Yes. Bucky. Yes, like that. Tease me. Yeah, just like that…”

Bucky pinched both nipples at the same time and pulled them out, causing Steve to arch further, then released them. Tingling pleasure shot through him with each tug. Still Bucky kept at it, pulling and releasing over and over until the flesh was red and tender and Steve was outright begging.

“Please, oh yes, please fucking touch me, oh, oh!” he whispered. The need to be quiet was still ingrained even after all the time that had passed. He rolled his hips into Bucky, grinding the still partially-covered lengths of their cocks together.

Just as Steve was about to break down and finish pulling both of them out of their underwear, Bucky stopped his assault on Steve’s chest and trailed both his fingers down. He pulled the waistband of Steve’s briefs down, letting his drooling dick bob free.

“Oh fuck yes,” he moaned. Steve couldn’t even look at what was going on; he was sure he’d come right away if he did. Instead he kept his head tilted back and his eyes closed and focused on every sensation that he could. He gripped the material of his jeans tightly, letting Bucky set the pace.

A soft rub right on the tip of his cock made his hips buck forward, chasing the feeling.

“Please,” he whispered again, begging for Bucky’s pleasure just as much as he was begging for his own relief.

He was rewarded when that soft rubbing continued, smoothing pre-come up and down his shaft. Steve couldn’t stop moving; rocking his hips into it, chest heaving like he’d been running all day. His lungs burned.

When Bucky wrapped his metal hand around Steve’s dick, a broken, needy groan escaped Steve’s mouth. He’d forgotten how fucking good this could be.

A ridiculously loud knock at the door caused both of them to startle in place.

“Hey!” Clint yelled through the door. “Time to get our shit together and go.”

Bucky let go of Steve and let his head fall back to the floor with a thump. Steve wanted to scream.

“Go away,” Bucky yelled back.

“Uh-uh, my friend. You two had alllll night to bone. Time to go save the world. Do not make me come in there to get you. Seriously, though. Please. I really don’t want to see that. I might actually die.”

Steve flopped next to Bucky on the floor and groaned in frustration.

“Fine,” he said and started to look around for his shirt. “We’ll be out in a minute.”

“Yup. You will. Because I’m gonna stand here and talk at you until you come out.” Clint sounded completely unsympathetic. Bastard.

Bucky hissed and threw a knife at the door, making a loud ‘thunk’ sound as it embedded into the wood right at head height.

“I will list off the symptoms and side effects of leprosy and the Black Death. Don’t think I won’t.”

“Fine! Fine!” Steve yelled. He tossed Bucky his shirt and started pulling on his own.

“Think of it as added incentive to get through the day in once piece,” Clint called back through the door.

“I don’t remember you, but I think I might hate you,” Bucky grumbled loudly.

Clint just laughed.

Chapter Text

When Steve saw Bucky in the new version of his tactical gear, they almost didn’t make it out of the safe house.

Black Kevlar covered him from head to toes, complete with hood and a tight form fitting face mask. A pattern of straps stretched horizontally across his torso, reminding Steve of the pattern on Bucky’s old blue jacket. The top was missing its entire left sleeve, putting that beautiful metal arm on display. Weapons were attached everywhere.

He looked unbelievably dangerous and completely gorgeous.

The way he moved, God. Like he could stalk right through the world if he had to; like nothing could stop him. The casual way he flipped a knife while he was standing still, waiting.

Gretel caught him staring on quinjet ride into DC.

“Easy there, soldier,” Gretel whispered to him with a wink.

Steve couldn’t even respond. It was like his brain had completely derailed.

And then Bucky looked at him and the lenses of his goggles lit up bright red.

“We match,” Bucky said in a low rattling growl. It was half question half statement. He jerked his chin slightly, gesturing at the red star on his shoulder.

“Yeah, Buck,” Steve said with a pained smile. The lust from a moment earlier was chased away by a aching pressure in his chest. “We match.”

“What’s that about?” Sam asked, tightening the buckles on his flight suit. “Is that like a unit thing, from the war?”

“Nah.” Steve ducked his head, a blush gracing his cheeks again. “Nah, Bucky and I, well. We figured that things like rings weren’t for guys like us. Warriors and weapons, is what Bucky said. We put our marks on the tools of our trade. We figured that we could look at each other and see right away, even if no one else did, that we were a pair.”

Steve hefted his shield and briefly touched the star on his chest. He smiled shyly at Bucky.

“Huh. Wow. Did it work?” Sam asked Bucky.

After a long pause, Bucky turned to stare at Sam; the glow in his eyes steady and bright. “Yeah. It did.”

“Uggg I thought you two were bad before, you’re gonna give me cavities,” Stark muttered behind them. “Come on, buttercups, time to go take out some helicarriers. Jarvis? How are we on sneaking in?”

“We remain undetected, Sir. Excellent work modifying your stealth technology to fit with the quinjet. ETA is in twenty minutes,” the AI answered from the main console of the jet. Steve had never met the man that the AI was named and modeled after, but Stark must have really admired him to immortalize him that way.

They landed on the far side of the river in the trees.

Natasha, Clint, and Fury had already left earlier that morning; their part of the plan required a great deal more setup time. Bruce stayed with the quinjet, waiting to help whoever needed them most. Wanda, Pietro, Stark, Sam, Maria, Gretel, Steve, and Bucky all made their way towards the Triskelion on foot.

Breaking into the communications center was disturbingly easy. That was where all of Steve’s hard work could be harvested; where the weight of ‘Captain America’ might actually influence armies and change the course of a battle.

Because that’s what this was; a battle. One that might change the lives of more people that he wanted to count.

He had Maria set him up to speak all across the building, on every loudspeaker, in every room and hall. Steve told them about Hydra and the real plan for the Insight Helicarriers; how this was Hydra’s bid for power.

When he thought about what he wanted to say, he remembered something his ma told him years and years ago.

Most people are good folks, Steven. They just need to be inspired and empowered to do the right thing. Believe in people and they’ll surprise you with how much they’re willing to help, how much they’ll give. There’s always going to be a few that disappoint, but so many more jump at the opportunity to make the world better that we all owe it to ourselves to give them the opportunity to try.

So that was what he tried to do; to inspire and empower. From the looks on the faces around him, he dared to hope that he did a good job. They’d need all the help they could get.

From there, the team split up again. Stark, Wanda, and Sam headed to the Insight decks to manually replace the targeting chips, just as planned. Maria stayed to handle comms and information flow with Pietro stationed with her on standby for whoever needed additional coverage.

Gretel, Bucky, and Steve headed deep into the Triskelion, intent on finding the vaults.

What they found was all of Strike waiting for them.

Steve turned the corner first, using his shield and his bulk as cover for Bucky and Gretel behind him. The entranceway to the triple locked vault area was guarded by men in black tactical hear, with Rumlow at the lead.

There were a few faces missing and a few more had hastily wrapped bandages around various limbs. But there were even more unfamiliar faces in the mix, too, making Steve’s group woefully outnumbered.

“Hi there, Cap,” Rumlow said with a leer. “Ooo, you brought friends. Lucky me, I brought friends too.”

“A talker. Goodie,” Gretel muttered behind him and Steve stifled a smirk. Both she and Bucky had weapons leveled and ready.

A flicker of a sneer crossed Rumlow’s face and he tossed a grenade at them. Before Steve could move, Bucky darted out. He grabbed the grenade and tossed it back at Strike.

The explosion roared in Steve’s ears and the fight began in earnest. The blast knocked several of them off their feet and allowed Steve and Bucky to get into close quarters with them.

Steve caught a glance of Gretel out of the corner of his eye. The blue of her eyes had bled out onto her cheeks in streaks. Her hair lifted up in an invisible breeze and she began to float, rising behind them to get the high ground.

Bucky was a blur of motion at Steve’s back. They fought like a single entity; passing the shield back and forth between them as needed. Steve lashed out with fists and the edge of his shield, ricocheting it around the room. Knives flew from Bucky’s hands; a near invisible rain of death.

Every few seconds, blasts of white energy came from above and behind them. Gretel, Steve thought. He’d seen her fight in the war, so he had an inkling that’s what she would do. She used to favor bows and guns then, but he knew that the energy blasts were something that she pulled out for the big fights.

“It doesn’t have to be this way, Cap.” Rumlow cajoled at him between jabs. He had two stun batons, both of which had to be maxed out on their voltage because each tap with them made Steve seize up for a few precious seconds as pain wracked through him. “Hydra brings order to the world.”

Bucky was busy fending off several people at once, fighting so gracefully that he flowed like water. He wove in and out of Steve’s peripheral vision as the swarm of soldiers slowly but surely separated them.

The close press was an advantage for him, especially with the shield but at a certain point Steve had to admit that it might not matter how good of fighters they were. Sheer numbers were becoming a problem especially in the confined space of the vault atrium. He thought they were winning, but it was hard to tell through the press of bodies.

They were piling up on the floor too, making it harder to fight. Footing became a thing he had to think more about. From the sound of the gunfire, a group of Strike had sectioned themselves off to go specifically after Gretel; keeping her from lending supporting fire to him and Bucky.

That was about the time where Steve realized that Rumlow wasn’t trying to kill him; he was trying to subdue him. The stun batons weren’t just the weapons he happened to have on hand. Strike always carried knives as their mandatory hand-to-hand equipment.

It must have showed on his face, because Rumlow lit up with an evil smile.

“Figured it out, did ya? Yeah, we want you, Cap.” He swung with the batons. Steve blocked, but that allowed left an opening for someone else to jab him with a baton in the side.

Pain raced through him.

“Hydra has plans for you, my friend. We’ve got some tech left over from Zola. One trip in The Chair and you’ll be ready to fall in line.”

Two more jabs to Steve’s side gave one of the Strike members just enough time to slam a heavy duty magnetic cuff on one of his wrists and ram him into a wall, causing the cuff to snap onto the metal plating that lined the wall panels.

“Then you’ll be just as useful as Sergeant Barnes has been.” The evil grin stretched wider.

“W-what?” Steve gasped out. The magnet on the cuff was strong enough to hold his full weight, but they still only had the one arm pinned. He twisted and turned his body around that tethered point; avoiding blows and lashing out with his hands and his feet.

“Yeah. We knew we had a piece of him. Didn’t know he was alive…” Rumlow dashed in to electrocute Steve in his briefly exposed back. “…not that he will be for much longer. We’d been carving up that fucked up snake thing for poison for years when Pierce went to have a little talk with Former Director Carter. Did you know that sometimes she doesn’t remember things so well? And it turns out Pierce looks enough like you to fool some batshit crazy old bitch. She told him all about how she’d saved that filthy snake for you. Kept it safe. Just for you.”

Those bastards

Tears stung at Steve’s eyes. Rumlow was trying to distract him and it was working. With every word Steve struggled to keep moving, but the shocks were starting to add up.

Behind his dwindling group of assailants, he could barely make out the crowd of agents that Bucky was fighting in; so many that Steve couldn’t see Bucky at all. There was just a flash of silver or black, and screams and grunts from injured Hydra agents.

Gretel was pinned down in the upper corner of the room; crouched right where the ceiling and the walls merged and sheltering behind a flickering white energy shield. Incoming fire poured into it and Steve could see her straining under the pressure.

Two more Hydra agents went down, but Steve was bruised and bleeding and every time Rumlow opened his mouth Steve fought slower. He couldn’t help but listen to what was being said; picture it in his mind.

“You know that thing thrashed around when we cut it up? Had to strap it down. Turns out it heals faster if you peel off the skin first. You think the good Sergeant Barnes felt all that? I think he must have. Your pal, your buddy, your Bucky. Since he is alive, maybe we’ll keep him like we’re planning to keep you. Pierce said I could do the breaking myself.” Steve froze in horror for just a single critical moment.

It was long enough that Rumlow was able to lean in and stab him right in the stomach with the stun baton. While Steve was caught writhing in pain, Rumlow leaned in and whispered right in his ear.

“This isn’t personal, Cap, but it’s about to be soon.”

Then Rumlow was off of him, pulled away by the throat and flung across the room. Steve leveraged his feet against the wall and pulled his cuffed arm away, breaking him free from the wall. He jumped down and stomped on his shield with one foot, sending it flying straight up into his hand. Then he used its sharp edge to break the mag cuff off.

He looked up just in time to see Bucky shove himself between Steve and the few remaining Hydra agents, Rumlow included.

“Eyes!” he yelled.

Steve immediately crouched down behind his shield and covered his face with his arms; he hoped Gretel was able to hide too. There was an ear piercing shriek; the sound of dozens of shrieking inhuman mouths all wailing in rage all at once. Underneath that was the high pitched cry of several humans screaming in agony.

After a few moments the screaming tapered off, until the silence echoed around the room.

“You can look up,” Bucky said quietly. When Steve peeked over his shield, Bucky was adjusting his face mask and goggles.

In front of them stood several statues; the last remains of the Hydra agents, Rumlow included. Each one of them was petrified in a pose of terror or pain. Stone tears ran down cheeks and hands were raised up as if to ward off some kind of blow.

This was the first time Steve had ever seen Bucky turn anyone to stone and it was absolutely terrifying.

Steve looked across the room to Gretel. She slid down the wall and landed with a soft thump. The strange energy had drained out of her face and she looked her normal self again. She slowly walked around the bodies on the floor and peered at the statues, her face a mask of knowing horror. Gretel had known Bucky for a long time. She’d probably seen this happen before.

She swallowed hard and walked up to Bucky; close enough to be a comfort, but not invading his space.

“Thank you,” she said quietly. Bucky finished settling his mask and nodded. A silent sigh made his shoulders heave as he looked around the room.

Steve shook himself. Gretel was right. Whatever happened here, Bucky did what he needed to protect them all. Now he needed their support.

Not wasting another moment Steve stood up and walked over to Bucky. Slowly he moved a hand to caress Bucky’s masked face, giving him enough time to move away if he wanted or needed to. But Bucky stood stock still; tension and unhappiness in every line of his frame.

Steve leaned in and softly kissed Bucky’s cheek.

“Thank you,” he said.

The tension fled Bucky’s stance and he huffed out a laugh. Rather than saying anything, Bucky just bumped his forehead against Steve’s.

They couldn’t stay like that for long and they both knew it. So after only a moment, they separated. Gretel was already at work on the vault doors. They’d talked over the specs with Stark, who gave them specific instructions on how to get around the security. Most of it had to be done with Gretel’s magic manipulating the locking mechanisms. Thanks to their intel, Gretel knew exactly what needed to be altered to get in.

Steve and Bucky flanked her and faced outward, wary for more trouble. Despite the fact that they were several stories down, they heard the faint booming of bombing above.

While they had a moment, Steve tapped his comms.

“This is Cap, checking in. We’re at the vault.”

Maria’s voice popped up. “Good. The helicarriers got launched; the fliers have two out of three locked. When they come down, they’re gonna make a mess. Get out of there as soon as you can.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Steve replied, and then turned off his mic.

A few seconds later Gretel cried out in triumph and the vault door swung open. Steve wasn’t sure what he was expecting; something like a glorified safe-deposit vault, maybe.

What they actually found was closer to a large lab. There were locked cases in the walls, as well as computers and filing cabinets, but there were also glass display cases and several examination tables.

Bucky shuddered next to him and twisted his head like something was slithering around inside of it.

“It’ll be kept in water,” Bucky choked out and then shuddered again. Steve shared a worried glance with Gretel and then the three of them quickly moved to search the room.

It turned out that Bucky was right. The snake was in a water filled tank along the wall.

What was left of it, anyways.

The once glorious and golden serpent was suspended from hooks in the bubbling tank. Bloody loose skin flapped in the water where huge chunks of meat had been carved out. The spine was showing in many places and the scales had taken on a dirty black-bronze color. Scars covered its whole length; all in varying stages of healing.

A wounded noise echoed around the room and to Steve’s vast surprise it came from him. Bucky was rigid and silent next to them; his goggles burning incandescent with their intensity.

It was Gretel who shook herself into action first.

“Come on. Let’s get it out,” she said softly. After what seemed like a thousand years, Steve got his limbs into some semblance of working order and the three of them were able to open the tank and retrieve the sad remains of Bucky’s mind.

Steve and Gretel carefully helped Bucky wrap it around his neck. With every touch, Steve burned with guilt and recriminations.

This was his fault. That weapon was meant for him. Even if Bucky did get his, Steve should have been able to find him. He should have looked. If only he hadn’t assumed

“We’ll have to try and merge it with you later.” Gretel looked at Bucky with worry and sympathy.

As they exited the vault, the entire building shook to its foundations and didn’t stop shaking. They all shared another split second look of worry and then started to race out as fast as they could.

By this point, they didn’t encounter much in the way of opposition. It was a good thing, too. The building was falling apart around them. More than once they had to detour around a collapsed hallway or a small fire.

Eventually they got above ground. After all the detours they had to take, they ended up a couple stories up. The view out the window was…unreal.

All three helicarriers were in flaming wreckage scattered up and down the river. One of them was still lodged in the side of the Triskelion; half hovering, half stuck in the building. Molten debris smoked down from the sky like heaven itself had opened up and rained down death on the land.

None of them lingered there long. They ended up jumping out of the window. A two story drop was nothing to Steve or Bucky, and Gretel was able to slow her landing with magic so she wouldn’t be hurt.

It took time, but they made their way back to the quinjet. They were the last to arrive. Bruce never needed to turn into the Hulk so he was busy patching people up. Clint and Natasha both had been injured, though not seriously. Stark and Wanda took a fairly serious beating. Sam seemed to be mostly alright; he was busy helping Bruce give emergency treatment. Pietro was fine, but impatiently hovering over Wanda. Fury and Maria had apparently already disappeared into the city.

Gretel and Steve both took a fairly serious beating during their fight with Strike, but nothing that had to be dealt with right there. And Bucky…

Steve was sure that Bucky had just as many bruises, cuts, and stab wounds as Steve did. But Bucky refused to acknowledge anyone else at the jet. He just stumbled in, found a seat, and sat cradling his snake; petting its limp head and rattling softly to it.

It was like Steve’s heart was being crushed all over again. Someone steered him into the quinjet. He barely registered that they had taken off before someone shoved him over to the seat next to Bucky.

Steve couldn’t even look at him.

“Steve. Steve. This wasn’t your fault.” It was Bucky who was talking to him.

This was the first time he’d used Steve’s name, here in the future. Maybe it was the adrenaline crash, maybe it was all the pain in his heart, but Steve’s eyes started to overflow a bit.

“Bucky…” he started.

“No. No this isn’t your fault. You did the best you could, and whatever happened I made my choices. This isn’t on you. This is on those motherfuckers we just killed. Those are the people responsible for all the bad things that happened. Not you.” Bucky gently lifted Steve’s chin so they were looking eye to eye again.

But anything Steve thought of to say withered and died on his tongue. Bucky saw it anyways and wrapped Steve up in his arms. By some miracle, no one bothered them.

The spent the whole flight that way, too hurt on the inside to deal with the hurts on the outside and clinging to each other for comfort.

Chapter Text

The quinjet ended up taking them to Avenger’s Tower. At the speeds the jet could go it was probably a quick trip, but for Steve it all kind of blurred together.

At Wanda and Pietro’s urging, Steve and Bucky managed to stumble in to the apartments that Stark had built specifically for Steve. Wanda quickly set out a bunch of food onto the kitchen counter; non-perishable things; stuff that could be left out indefinitely so they could nibble at it whenever they got around to eating.

As unappealing as food sounded, Steve knew that soon both he and Bucky would have to eat regardless of whether or not they wanted to. The downside of faster healing was that it drained a lot of energy very quickly.

He shook his head. They’d get to that when they got to it.

Pietro zipped around the rooms for a moment and then paused in front of the two of them.

“Hey, you both need a shower. Go. Or I will call Mother and she will come down and make you shower.” The words were light, but Pietro’s face held real concern.

Then Steve and Bucky were left alone, standing up but leaning heavily on each other. Steve closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

Shower. That was doable.

He deeply considered just grabbing Bucky and lying down on the floor right there.

Steve took a breath and straightened up. He could do this.

“Come on, Buck. We should listen to him. Gretel will attack us with scrub brushes if we don’t get clean.”

He tugged them both towards the elaborate shower in the master bathroom. It seemed that part of Pietro’s patrol around the floor included getting the room set up for them, because the shower was already running and steaming up the air. Two sets of clean lounging clothes were laid out on a padded bench that was positioned on one side of the bathroom. A fully stocked first aid kit lay next to a pile of fluffy white bandages and extra scarves.

Steve huffed out a smile. Pietro and Wanda were good kids.

Bucky stood stock still, head tilted enough to show that he was probably just staring into space.

Very gently, Steve guided Bucky to sit on the bench, moving the clean clothes first so that there was a space for him to sit. Then Steve stripped out of his own uniform and shoved all the dirty material in the corner. He’d put it in its proper place later.

His shield he set right next to the shower. Old habits died hard and as much as everyone liked to think that World War Two was a lifetime ago, it was only a matter of months for Steve.

A quick glance in one of the vanity mirrors showed that he looked just as messed up as he felt; bloody, bruised, and dirty. He was sure he had some cracked bones and there were definitely a few cuts that needed to be stitched.

He also found that he didn’t much care.

Steve knelt in front of Bucky and put one hand on his knee.

“I’m gonna undress you and get you in the shower. You want me to leave, to stop, to do anything different, just say the word. I’ll only ever want what makes you happy.”

At the first sound of his words, Bucky jerked up his head; almost like he’d forgotten Steve was there. His lenses glowed a bit but after Steve was done talking he nodded and looked back at the floor.

Steve sighed a bit in relief.

He unstrapped a lot of the weaponry first; always careful to leave several options within grabbing distance of Bucky. A few of the knives and guns ended up near the shower too, just in case. With careful nimble fingers he unpicked the knots on Bucky’s boots and stripped off the many buckles of his tactical jacket.

Bucky just sat there, shoulders slumped in an intense weariness that seemed to radiate off of him. The snakes in his hair writhed sluggishly, too, and seemed to stick close to his skull.

Very cautiously, he got the jacket off and out from under the heavy snake still coiled around Bucky’s neck and shoulders. The skin around his metal arm was still scarred and puckered and his torso matched Steve’s in bruises and dirt.

There was a moment of hesitation where Steve swallowed nervously, suddenly a bit shy. Bucky leaned forward and nudged him. When Steve looked up, Bucky nodded at him, giving him the okay.

Steve huffed a sigh of relief and moved in between Bucky’s legs. He trailed his fingers down Bucky’s chest until they settled on his belt. It took a bit of fumbling, but Steve eventually got both the belt and pants open. There wasn’t any grace to the movement; after the day they’d had, Steve wasn’t sure he had any grace left. He was just too tired.

Hands at Bucky’s waist, Steve urged him up to standing. And then Bucky was looming over him, beautiful and broken, half-dressed and hurt. The limp tarnished snake draped around him several times with its head and tail hanging down the front, just barely reaching the level of Bucky’s elbows. His masked face was framed in that beautiful brown hair, ragged and wild from the day. Steve couldn’t help but hold on to Bucky’s thighs and look up, pleading, though he wasn’t sure for what.

Forgiveness, maybe. Absolution for a lifetime of horrors.

With all the care and softness that Steve had just used on him, Bucky gently ran one hand through Steve’s hair and cupped his jaw.

Time stretched for a while as they looked at each other; wrapped in the feeling of being together again, painful though it might be. Then Steve slowly dragged Bucky’s pants down and then lifted each foot to pull them off completely.

That was when Steve noticed the black scarring down Bucky’s right leg; a deep, rigid, coiling mess of rippling skin that trailed from his ankle, across his back, and all the way up to his neck.

Where the golden tattoo used to be, Steve realized with horror.

“Not your fault,” Bucky whispered above him. Steve rested his forehead on Bucky’s thigh and clung to him a bit tighter. The hand on his head combed slowly through his hair, soothing him.

It was a balm. Things still hurt, but at least they were together. Bucky didn’t hate him. Maybe that would change once Bucky rejoined with his snake and healed up, but for now Steve held on to that acceptance. He would enjoy this moment more just in case Bucky changed his mind later.

Steve raised his head and kissed Bucky’s hip, then slid up to standing. If the smile on his face was bittersweet, well, it couldn’t be helped. He leaned in to kiss Bucky’s masked cheek, just a soft peck, and then he turned and rummaged through the first aid kit.

The kit had just the thing he was looking for; a roll of ace bandage. The mirror in front of him reflected Bucky standing stock still behind him.

Steve looked right at him.

“Will you take it off for me? I won’t look out of the mirror.”

Bucky flinched back and looked at the floor.

“No.” His voice was soft, but he shook his head violently when he spoke.

After what happened at the vault, Steve wasn’t surprised. He kind of expected it, actually. Even during the war, Bucky had been sensitive about the petrification thing. And now he had no memories of just how much Steve loved him and how they’d worked together in the past. How they’d figured out their limits and what they were willing to risk.

Bucky had to be afraid of what he’d do, even by accident.

Steve knew just what to do.

He took one last good look around the room, noted where everything was placed, and then began to wrap the ace bandage over his eyes and around his head.

“What are you doing?” Bucky asked.

“Covering up my eyes.” There wasn’t even a hint of sarcasm in the response. They didn’t need that right now.

“…Yes. Why?”

Steve finished wrapping the bandage around his head and turned to face where Bucky was standing.

“Because I want to kiss you. I want to take off your mask and feel your face and I want you to know that you can have time to be you, too. No coverings, no fear of hurting anyone. Just us.”

All Steve could hear was the sound of the shower going next to them. Not that silence would have helped him, anyways. Bucky could be as quiet as a ghost when he wanted to be. Steve just trusted that he’d be there.

He walked forward and reached out, only to have himself guided into Bucky’s arms. It was more difficult than he expected to get the mask off, especially without being able to see the clasping mechanisms, but he managed.

Once he got it off, he held it up and kissed it right on the mouth. There was a puff of air as Bucky took a quick breath in and out. Steve smirked a little and tossed the mask towards the corner that held the rest of their dirty gear.

The goggles came off much easier; they were similar enough to Bucky’s old war gear that Steve didn’t have any issues.

And then Bucky was bare in front of him. He wished he could see it.

Steve let his hands roam over Bucky’s face, softly touching his lips and eyes. He could feel dampness from earlier tears and the rough burn of a couple days worth of stubble.

“I love you, Bucky. You as you are, any version of you. You never need to hide from me.”

The wetness came back as fresh hot tears rolled down Bucky’s cheeks.

“I don’t remember this,” Bucky said quietly. “Did we have this? Before?”

“Yeah, Buck. We did. We still do, if you want.” He tried to keep his voice even, tried to give Bucky the fairest choice he could. He wasn’t sure he completely succeeded.

“Yes, please,” Bucky whimpered, and then pulled Steve into a crushing kiss. There was an edge of desperateness to it that pained Steve. After the first breath, he gentled his movements and Bucky followed suit. They ended up forehead to forehead, lips barely separate, just sharing breath.

Steve combed his fingers through Bucky’s hair and snakes, soothing them both. Even though they were standing naked together, kissing even, it wasn’t really about sex. It was about comfort.

With that in mind, Steve pulled Bucky into the shower. He quietly blessed his eidetic memory and grabbed some shampoo off the wall rack.

Everything he washed with was from Hansel and Gretel. They claimed that each item was imbued with healing properties, but Steve had always secretly wondered if they were just bullshitting him. Right now, though, he couldn’t care less because he knew that all of the products wouldn’t have anything harsh in them. Nothing that might irritate Bucky’s heightened sense of smell or the delicate snakes in his hair.

With slow soft movements, he proceeded to soap up Bucky’s hair and hair snakes and give them a gentle massage.

Bucky leaned back into him, so much so that it felt like most of his weight was resting on Steve’s chest. After the soaping, he added a little conditioner and let it rest while he started soaping up Bucky’s skin.

He paid careful and special attention to the tarnished snake that hung limply around Bucky’s shoulders. The poor thing was so damaged. He couldn’t undo any of that, but he could at least try to make it a little better now.

It took a long time, but soon every wound was carefully cleaned and every spec of dirt and product was washed away. This was more than love, this was worship and Steve was glad to do it.

The moment he moved to clean himself, Bucky pressed him to the wall.

“I got you, Stevie. You said---” Bucky paused a moment. Their faces were so close that Steve could feel his tongue flick out and very quickly taste the air. “You said that I was yours.”

“Yeah, Buck.” Steve couldn’t help but nod along.

“Well. You’re mine, too. Let me…”

Steve could feel Bucky’s muscles tense and hear his teeth click in frustration; like words had just left him. While that was never a problem of Bucky’s before, Steve knew very intimately how frustrating it could be to try and get words out and have them absolutely fail.

“Whatever you want, Bucky. We take care of each other.”

He was rewarded with a soft kiss to his cheek, and then Bucky began cleaning him with the same thorough sweet care that Steve had just shown Bucky.

Eventually the two of them made their way out of the shower and wrapped each other up in massive plush towels. For the few wounds that actually needed attention, Bucky got them covered with antibiotic ointment and bandages.

They put on the sleeping pants that Pietro left out and then wandered into the kitchen area. Steve knew they both needed to eat, and soon, regardless of how they felt so he urged Bucky to load him up with trays of food to move into the living room.

Once there, Bucky disappeared for a moment. Before Steve could worry, he returned with what must have been every blanket in the bedroom and curled them around where Steve sat on the floor. Before they could start eating, Bucky pulled Steve into the space between his legs, Bucky’s chest to Steve’s back.

“I’ve got some fresh bandages. For your eyes. If. If you still want---”

“Yes,” Steve interrupted.

He could feel the slight lessening of tension behind him, and Bucky carefully unwrapped and then rewrapped Steve’s eyes with dry material.

Rather than move, Steve stayed leaning up against Bucky; content with their closeness. After a bit more shuffling, he felt something on his lips. A tentative lick proved that it was a piece of cheese.

He couldn’t stop the smile that broke across his face. Very delicately, he grabbed the morsel with his tongue and teeth, making sure not to accidentally bite down on any fingers. While he was chewing he could feel Bucky eat something himself.

And so it went, with Bucky alternating between feeding Steve little bits of food and feeding himself. Every once in awhile he would offer a sip of water.

It was unbelievably relaxing and astonishingly comforting. To know that Bucky was there taking care of him, treasuring him. The bandages around his eyes quickly became soggy again as his eyes overflowed. It wasn’t sadness, or happiness, or even relief, but maybe a mix of all of those things.

Bucky just kissed his bandages, hugged him tight, and added a few tears of his own to the mix.

“I’m so glad I know you,” Bucky said quietly. Steve’s tears flowed a little faster and he held Bucky’s arms tight to him.

After a little while they went back to eating, bit by bit. Once they were both too stuffed to even consider more food, Bucky set the plates and drinks aside. There was some rustling as he moved a few things nearby. Then he guided Steve down onto a bed of pillows and cushions and curled up next to him.

A little more shuffling got them both all wrapped up together in the blankets. Far sooner than Steve expected, he was drifting off to sleep, lulled by the soft sound of Bucky’s breathing and the safety of being wrapped up in his arms.

When Steve awoke, many, many hours later, the bandages on his face had been removed. He was still curled up next to Bucky on the floor, but Bucky had a scarf and his goggles on. Only a little bit of his covered face and hair peeked out from the mountain of blankets. The little snakes that were showing were all curled up together, still and quiet.

It was incredibly adorable.

Which was right about the time Steve noticed that there were a couple more warm bodies with them in the blanket pile. Two or three little snakes had found their way from somewhere else in the tower and had joined them in their rest.

Steve couldn’t find it in himself to be anything but bemused by the whole thing. None of the snakes that had ever been attracted by Bucky were ever anything but completely docile. With that in mind he gave a purely mental shrug and snuggled in a little closer to Bucky. The snakes could join them if they wanted; it wasn’t like Steve could stop them anyways.

From a quick glance towards the view out the windows, the rising sun was what woke him.

“Jarvis?” he asked very quietly. He didn’t want to wake Bucky.

A TV monitor in Steve’s line of sight blinked to life. The words, “Yes, Captain?” appeared on it.

When Steve had first set his rooms up here, he made sure that no active surveillance would be allowed on his floor. However, if he called to Jarvis by name, it would alert the AI and allow them to speak and letting Steve make requests as needed.

“Can you tint the windows?” he breathed out as quiet as he could and hoped that the AI either had very sensitive microphones or the ability to read lips.

Right away the room started to darken as the glass became opaque.

“Certainly, Captain. Please let me know if you need anything else,” showed up on the monitor. Then after a minute or two, it blinked off. Steve closed his eyes and fell right back asleep.

He woke again much, much later to the sound of knocking on his door. His eyes felt a little sticky and his head a little too big. Steve didn’t think it was possible to have a hangover from sleeping, but there he was.

“Steeeeeeeeeeve,” came a muffled call from behind the door. “Buuuuuucky. Wake uuuuup!”

Steve rubbed his eyes and yawned so hard his jaw cracked. Clearly Bucky was already awake, because as soon as Steve started to stir, Bucky was gently stroking his back. The little snakes in his hair looked active, too; flicking out their tongues on occasion.

“Morning, Buck,” Steve whispered with a smile.

“Morning,” Bucky whispered back and nuzzled his wrapped face into Steve’s cheek.

“Guuuuuuuuuuuys, it’s been two days! Wanda and Bruce made dinner. I can’t eat ‘til I can prove to them you’re still alive,” Clint bitched at them.

Steve yawned again while Bucky snickered.

“Do you mind?” Steve asked.

Bucky shook his head. “Go ahead.”

“Jarvis, would you please unlock the door? And open the windows, please?” Steve couldn’t find the energy to get up, so he just lay there and rubbed his eyes some more. Bucky did sit up a bit, resting on one elbow and looking at the door.

“Of course, Captain,” the AI said; it’s smooth British accent sounded distinctly amused.

“YES! Food time is noooooohhhhmygod okay this is not what I expected to walk into,” Clint said as he wandered into the living room.

Steve suddenly realized that neither Steve nor Bucky had bothered to put on shirts, so the way they were wrapped up gave the appearance that they were naked under all the blankets. In addition to that, there were snakes everywhere, all different shapes and sizes. Several lay on top of the blankets Steve and Bucky were curled into and even more were scattered around the room.

“Huh,” Steve said.

“Holy shit, I didn’t even know there were that many snakes in the whole damn tower. Are you hiding the Ark of the Covenant in here somewhere?” Clint sounded pretty impressed. Truthfully, Steve was kind of impressed too. Bucky just shrugged. “Anyways, dinner is nearly done. You guys gonna come join us?”

Steve gave Bucky a long look; asking without asking. Bucky just shrugged again.

“We’ll be up in a few minutes,” Steve said.

Clint just waved at them and walked out.

“Shall I relock your door, Captain?” Jarvis asked.

“Yes, please.” Steve said absently. He knew that the tower was probably one of the most secure places on the planet, but he always felt a little anxious with the doors unlocked.

Very carefully, he pulled himself up from their blanket nest. From the looks of things, most of his bruising was gone, though he still had some very tender knife wounds and a few cracked bones that hadn’t quite healed all the way.

A glance over at Bucky proved that he was in a similar boat. The bruising looked weeks old rather than days and any cuts were well on their way to being smoothed over.

The most amazing part though was how much better his golden snake looked. It was still fairly tarnished, but now its scales looked like worn antique gold rather than dirty bronze. The skin had formed back up around the flesh and bone wasn’t showing anymore.

It still looked so hurt, though; scarred and misshapen in some places from where flesh had been taken out and it hadn’t quite grown back yet.

Bucky thumbed Steve’s chin and slightly lifted it to raise up his gaze.

“It’ll get better. The me-that-is-missing is here now and we’ll be joined again soon. We’ll be better,” he said solemnly.

Steve’s chest tightened for a moment, but he nodded.

It took them a little longer than expected to get dressed. Part of that was that they both were moving slowly from their injuries. Part of it was just avoiding stepping on all the snakes. Once they woke up, they snakes had started to meander on their way, but a few still lingered.

Stark was going to flip his lid when he found out. Steve secretly hoped that Jarvis would take pictures.

They made their way up to the common room and the moment they entered they were hailed with calls of ‘hello’ and ‘yay food!’

For the most part, everyone looked alright; though Steve did notice that Natasha and Tony were gone. Sam was still there, which was a nice surprise. Steve didn’t get much of a chance to talk to him before, but the man made a good impression on him. Besides, anyone who helped out Bucky was automatically in his good graces.

Before he could ask about where Tony and Nat were, Bruce piped up with, “They’re back in DC. There was a congressional hearing, what with all the Nazis and exploding carriers. Jarvis has it all recorded, if you’re interested.”

“It’s hilarious,” Pietro said as he flopped down at the table, opposite where Steve sat down. “They school those old men so hard.”

Wanda smirked and she and Bruce started to put serving dishes of food on the table. There were flat breads and bowls of roasted vegetables in sauce and spicy smelling curries. Steve suddenly realized he was ravenous.

There was an awkward moment where Bucky filled up his plate then pulled his chair out and turned it around to face the windows.

“Let me know if you want more, Buck,” Steve said into the sudden quiet. He got a grunt in response and everyone sort of not-so-casually went back to their dinner time chatter. Bucky tapped on Steve’s shoulder for extra helpings three times; Steve ate four plate fulls himself.

Dinner progressed easily, with friendly cajoling and easy going banter. Sam fit in easily with their little family and soon conversation turned to convincing him to join up with the Avengers permanently.

“You are all crazy. I donno if I can take that,” Sam said laughingly.

“Says the guy who straps a jet pack to his back and flies into active warzones,” Bucky grumbled from behind Steve. It was the first thing he’d said all dinner. Steve could have kissed Sam for being the cause of it. As it was, he laid the best smile he could at him. From the look on Sam’s face, he realized what the expression was all about.

This did not stop Sam from snarking back.

“Dude, did I or did I not just hear a story about how you caught a live grenade that was thrown at you, and then threw it back? Crazy. Right there.”

Bucky just shrugged and said. “Made sense at the time.”

“Oh my god, how many times have we heard that.” Gretel rolled her eyes and winked at Sam, who just smiled broadly in response.

Steve laughed. He was still worried about Bucky, intensely worried, but this dinner was good. Looking around the table, these people were family to him and he was so relieved and happy to see that Bucky was finally with them all again.

Speaking of which…

“Gretel, when do you think…I mean, have you made any, uh, plans about. Or, what I mean is---” he started. This was a delicate subject and the words were just not working for him.

Clint just laughed and laughed. “Oh my god, Steve. How are you so good at speeches but so damn bad at talking to people?”

“Aww shuddup,” Steve groused; his face on fire with blushes. More laughter sprinkled around the room, including a soft chuckle from Bucky; which made the whole thing worth it in Steve’s eyes.

“To answer your question, yeah, I’ve been thinking about it. Wanda and I have been looking into since you told us about the snake. We’re pretty sure we’ve got something that will help, but both of you need to be healed up before we can try it.” Gretel looked serious, but not worried. Steve chose to take comfort in that.

“It will be a long and difficult spell,” Wanda said, “especially since we do not have the Tesseract’s energies to work with. But I am confident that it will be successful. For now, though, rest. Heal. Hopefully Tony and Natasha will have returned by the time the two of you are ready. We may yet need them to aid the ritual.”

Steve sighed in relief and noted out of the corner of his eye that Bucky did the same.

Soon. This would all be over soon.

Chapter Text

For the next couple weeks, all Steve and Bucky did was rest and recuperate. While Steve was back to feeling his normal self in just a few days, it was obvious that Bucky was still struggling; maybe not with the physical recovery so much, but with coping in general.

Every time Steve thought about insisting that he get back into action hunting down the remains of Hydra, all he had to do was look at the golden snake wrapped around Bucky’s shoulders. After that all he wanted to do was sit and watch movies.

The snake was healing, but very, very slowly. Day by day the flesh filled in and the skin smoothed out. Its metallic luster grew brighter and brighter every time Steve looked at it. Bucky spent most of his free time resting in a sunbeam or a plush chair and absently stroking its head.

It almost seemed to Steve as if he were petting the life back into it.

Steve tried very hard not to hover. He spent time with the other Avengers. At any given time there was usually a small group of them stationed in the common room, watching the fallout from Project Insight with bowls of popcorn and soda.

He watched Clint and Natasha delicately flirt with each other. So quiet were they in their affections that Steve didn’t think that anyone other than him and Gretel even saw it. But there was a closeness there, a caring familiarity that Steve couldn’t remember Clint ever having with anyone else.

After watching them at lunch one day, he caught the look on Gretel’s face and knew that she was secretly very pleased. Of course she caught him looking at her, but she just smiled and winked at him. Steve decided that she had the right idea in mind and decided not to give Clint grief about it.

Steve did wonder if part of the reason she was keeping quiet was so Clint wouldn’t retaliate by teasing her about Sam, who had decided to stick around and join the Avengers.

Though sometimes when Clint would come around to wake Steve and Bucky up from a mid-afternoon nap, Steve was awfully tempted.

There were a lot of knives thrown, though. Clint never even flinched. He knew that if Bucky wanted to hit him, he would. So Clint continued to harass them into being social and Bucky continued to be grumpy and quiet and if the walls got a few more edged weapons lodged in them, well, no one said anything.

Except Stark when he finally got back from DC. He had quite a few things to say; ranging from, “what the fuck is this, a gun and knife show?” to “I can build racks to put them on. Do you need racks? Jarvis! Get the fabricators going, Stabby McStabbums can’t keep his machete in his pants,” which was nearly always followed by a leer in Steve’s direction.

As much as Steve sort of felt guilty about not being out fighting, the majority of what he felt was relief. There was this tension that he carried with him. A weight he didn’t even realize was there until suddenly it was gone.

A huge part of that was that Bucky was home with him again. He was home and recovering and Steve blessed every good and kind being he could think of for letting that happen.

It also felt like for the first time in forever, he had breathing space again. He was allowed to take a break. Not only that, but he could do it surrounded by people he had grown to care about very much. For the first time in ages he was able to drop the Captain America persona and just be Steve.

So they watched movies and had group dinners and when they all got antsy and bored with that, they sparred and worked out and did target practice.

Natasha, Stark, and Jarvis continued to hunt down the remnants of Hydra. With all the new information from the intel dump on Insight Day, there were a lot of new leads to follow.

Steve knew that they would get to all of them, in time. But for now, they were able to recover.

The day of Bucky’s re-merging ritual eventually snuck up on him. Gretel and Wanda had been busy setting up a special room for it. Stark helped tinker with the walls so that the ambient energies wouldn’t escape and cause havoc in the tower; Clint and Pietro kept Bucky and Steve occupied as much as they could.

Both Steve and Bucky were anxious about the ritual and the magic users had been extremely quiet about what was involved.

When the day of the event arrived, Clint, Stark, Wanda, and Gretel all showed up to talk to them both.

“The ritual room is set up,” Gretel said. They were all sitting around the living room on Steve and Bucky’s floor. While there were drinks passed around, for once Stark wasn’t fiddling with a tablet. That alone told Steve how serious things were. “There’s a lot of delicate writing on the floor, so we won’t be giving you the tour before this happens. Bucky, we’ll need you to be in the center of the pattern with your snake rested on you. No clothes, no mask.”

Rather than object, Bucky just shifted his head and spine to the side a bit. Steve recognized it as a sign of contemplative confusion, but it reminded him a lot of how a snake readjusts itself to get a better view of a situation.

“Mother and I do not need to see while we are doing the ritual. We will be more focused on the energies in play anyways. We will wear blindfolds. As a precaution, we’d like you to rest face down with the snake on your back.” Wanda sat primly, legs crossed and dark, thick spiced tea in hand.

Bucky shrugged. “It should be on my back anyways.”

Gretel turned to Steve and said, “We have a special job for you. You won’t be allowed in the ritual room, but this is very important.”

Steve perked up. Yes, he was scared to death of Bucky going through such a dangerous ritual but he was also selfishly terrified of being there watching the whole thing. He wanted to be there, very badly in fact, but he knew that being there, watching but unable to help, would be torture.

Guilt still hung over him, too. He wanted, needed, to be a part of the solution. The drive to atone was intense.

He knew that Bucky didn’t see it that way, didn’t think that he had done anything wrong. Steve knew the truth though. All of this was his fault and he had to make it right.

And deep down, there was the niggling thought that maybe when Bucky was re-merged with the golden snake, once all his memories had returned, maybe then Bucky would blame Steve.

So the news that he would have a useful part to play was a vast relief.

“Yup. You’re coming with Clint and I,” Stark said. “We’ve got a thing for you to drink. It’s important. Aligns the energies, channels the chakras, opens the mind’s eye, makes birds fly out of your ass, whatever. It’s a spiritual experience. It’ll be great. We’ll bond.”

And suddenly Steve was worried again.

He didn’t have time to get worked up about it because Stark immediately jumped up and waved him over.

“Come on, Frosty, time to go to it.”

“Wait, what? We’re doing this now?” Steve was very confused.

“Yup! No time like the present. Clint? Grab him. Bye Buck-o! We’ll catch you on the flip side!” And then Stark walked out.

Bucky nodded to him, urging him to go ahead. After another moment of hesitation, Steve acquiesced.

He did not expect to end up in one of Stark’s auxiliary labs, though in retrospect he probably shouldn’t have been surprised. They were greeted by the rest of tower residents, all of whom were drinking and helping themselves to a rather opulent buffet that was spread out over one of the work benches.

Clint dragged him over to a couch that had seen better days and shoved a large dark blue glass bottle at him.

“Drink. All of it,” he ordered.

Steve sniffed it. It smelled potent. And…kind of minty. “What is it?” he asked.

“An ancient and powerful healing recipe,” Clint responded sagely and collapsed next to him on the couch.

“Healing? I’m fine.” Steve frowned.

“First of all, Steve, buddy, you are not fine,” Tony said, rolling up in a lab chair and sporting a drink of his own. “That whole noble suffering thing went out of style in the 60’s. Also, that crazy weapon was fire right next to you. Yeah, it hit Bucky-boy head on, but some of the ambient energy could have affected you, too.”

Steve scowled at them all skeptically. Right as he was about to object, Clint jumped in again.

“Also, Gretel and I were thinking that you two might share some kind of connection. In order to give Bucky the best chance at getting better, we need to make sure that you’re also energetically primed for healing while the ritual is going on.” Clint looked very serious.

It was true that Steve didn’t know much about magic. Clint and Gretel were the experts, after all, and if they said it would help maybe it was worth it? And it was also true that Steve did feel like he had a connection with Bucky, though he couldn’t have said if it was anything beyond ordinary love.

He mulled this over for a moment and then nodded. Clint and Tony exchanged a rather worrisome look of triumph while he popped open the lid on the bottle and proceeded to drink as quickly as possible.

It didn’t taste nearly as bad as he was expecting, but it did burn like battery acid.

“Gah! What was this stuff?” He choked out after the bottle was empty. The world spun around him for a moment as a wave of dizziness hit him. “It kinda tasted like moonshine. But I didn’t think I could even get drunk.”

Words were suddenly very hard.

Clint grinned. “As I said, it’s an ancient and powerful healing potion, going back thousands of years, and drank by all those who were sore at heart and sick with the world. To be used only sparingly, to be sure, but vital in it’s effectiveness.”

“Here, have another bottle,” Tony shoved one in his direction. “Eat something, first, though, and drink a large glass of water in between each bottle of, eh, potion.”

Steve stood up and felt himself sway. He definitely felt drunk. Kinda fuzzy and happy though.

“You sshure this is a healing thing?” he asked.

“Oh hell yes,” Clint replied. “Have some food. We got fried cheese!”

Two more bottles and several small plates of food later and the world had taken on a happy glow. From the look of folks around him, they were feeling it too.

There was a half assed card game going between Clint, Sam, and Natasha. Bruce was watching the action and nibbling on some kind of baked green chip while Pietro had already passed out in the corner. Tony sat next to Steve on the plush ugly couch, slumped over and sharing another blue bottle of potion.

“Why’d you do it, Howard,” Steve finally asked.

“Do what? Quit gambling? Hired a personal chocolatier?” Stark responded, confusion spread across his face.

“Why’d you become Ironman? I mean---” Steve had to pause a moment to let the words form in his mind and make sure the room stayed still. “I mean, you were never a fighter. Why become one now?”

Stark took another long drink.

“You heard about the cave stuff, right? Ten Rings? All that?” Steve nodded. He’d been briefed, not only formally by Shield, but also privately by Clint. “I saw all those weapons. All that death, made by me, and I thought back. In all the years I’ve been making weapons, powerful, dangerous, deadly weapons, how many times did they end up in the wrong hands? How many times had I looked at what I made and saw it turned to evil?”

His mouth twisted bitterly.

“And here it happened again. Those helicarriers were powered by my repulsors. I just thought…no more. I didn’t want that to be all I was good for. I’ll be the one to fix things, this time.”

Steve smiled at him.

“You’re a good man. By whatever name you’re called, you’re a good man.”

Stark looked bemusedly towards Steve and then gave a self-deprecating shrug. “I guess we’ll see.”

Steve’s smile grew wider. This was the part of Stark that no one else saw, and only the rare few got a peek at. That self-doubt, the recriminations, that were hidden under all the ego and confidence. Stark might not always make the right choices, but no one did, and Steve valued him all the more for his ability to see the mistakes in the past and constantly strive towards something better.

“Awwww, shucks, Rocket Pop, you’re making me blush.” Howard said with a smirk.

Shit. Steve must have been thinking out-loud.

“Yup, you totally are. This stuff is amazing and I’m making more of it,” Howard said with a grin.

Thoughts tumbled around in Steve’s head for a few minutes as he put these words into context.

“You made this stuff. Not Clint.” He glared at Stark. “You just wanted to get me drunk.”

Stark grinned wider at him.

“Oh yeah, we totally got you smashed. Legolas did bless it all, though. Said magic words and had glowy eyes and everything. I just supplied the high proof rating. Besides, sometimes getting trashed with friends is a healing thing, too, you know?” Steve tried to look judgy but wasn’t sure how that came out with everything so hazy around the edges. “Do you feel better?”

Strangely enough, though, he did. His worry for Bucky was a distant thing and hard to connect to. All he could really get a grasp on was how good it felt to be here with his friends, his family.

Stark must have seen that on his face because he said, “See? There we go.”

Steve let his thoughts wander to Bucky.

“I love him, you know,” Steve said suddenly. Stark looked at him in mild surprise.

“Yeah, I know. It’s obvious.”

“I think… I think I want to marry him. Do you think he’d want to be married? I never really thought about it before the war.” Steve knew he was rambling. The stupid ugly couch was eating him whole he was sure. It was very soft though. He slouched down further in it.

Stark shoved another plate of food at him and took a drink.

“Well. I mean, it’s legal now. Not that I think Buckaroo would care much with that. Governments rise and fall. On the other hand, he actually exists in the eyes of the government.” Stark sank a little lower in the couch himself.

Wait. What?

“What do you mean the government knows about Bucky?”

Before he could get himself worked up, Stark rolled his eyes and said, “Calm down, Tinker Bell. When you meatheads made up that crap about Sergeant James Barnes, I made up all the paperwork for him. Got him a social security number and everything. He’s a legal citizen of the US of A.”

Steve digested this information. That was…actually good to know.

“Tinker Bell?” he asked finally.

“Don’t think I didn’t see those pixy pictures. Very cute, by the way.” The shit-eating grin was back.

If Steve rolled his eyes any harder he feared he might lose them under his skull.

“So. You and Buckster. Tying the knot. Do you think there will be an actual knot? I could get some really good rope. I mean, if you guys are into that…”

The rambling went on for a while as Steve considered the whole idea. When he was younger he’d never dared think that anyone would be interested in him, what with how weak and small he was. And then there was Bucky and the war and even if he could have been with Bucky openly, he didn’t think any of them really thought they’d ever be done fighting.

Then another surprising thought hit him.

“I don’t want to stop fighting,” Steve said, interrupting the flow of words.

Stark just blinked at him. “No one said you had to, Buttercup.”

“But. There’s this whole…I don’t know, ‘after the war’ idea. But there’s always gonna be someone to fight. Someone who needs help, something that needs fixing,” Steve mused out loud.

“Yeaaaah, but… Steve. Bucky’s a fighter, too. I don’t think he’d want to stop either. But there’s nothing stopping you from fighting together. Happily Ever After doesn’t need to look like the fairy tales say it does. It can be whatever works for you.” Stark tilted his bottle in salute towards Steve, downed the bottle, and wandered over to check out the card game.

It was a revelation.

But at the same time, it wasn’t. Both he and Bucky knew they’d follow each other wherever the world took them. The thing that struck Steve was that maybe all the fighting didn’t need to be the endless soul destroying task that it once was.

Maybe they could fight and still have time to rest, too. Like right now.

There would be bad times, he knew that for a fact. Injuries and terror and all the horrors of violence. There would be times where they had to pull back, recover, and retreat. Just as there would be times when rest wouldn’t be an option, where they’d have to pull out every single measure of strength they had to keep innocents safe.

But they could do all that on their terms. They could set up their lives so they could enjoy the quiet soft times when they were available, so when the hard times came they’d have something real to look forward to. Something to come home to.

The fantasy of ‘after the war’ could be reality in between the fighting.

Drinking and eating and random merriment continued long into the night, but Steve kept coming back to those thoughts whenever a quiet moment struck him.

He didn’t remember how the night ended. He just woke up warm in his bed the next day. From the angle of the light through the windows, it was close to midday.

Not only that, but whatever was in that booze he was drinking managed to leave him feeling relaxed and refreshed when he woke up. Considering how drunk he was the night before, he should have been laid out in the bathroom puking up even the idea of food.

Maybe the blue bottles were magic.

The smell of baking bread and fresh sizzling bacon wafted into the room. Ridiculous hope filled him, and Steve stumbled out of the bed. His heart felt tight.

He’d been stripped down to his boxer briefs by someone before they put him to bed. Steve didn’t bother to try and find something to wear before he wandered out into the kitchen.

Sure enough, there at the stove was Bucky poking away at a couple of pans of food. Fresh loaves of bread and beautiful muffins graced the counter top nearby and the table was set with silverware and a pitcher of juice.

Bucky’s back was to the hallway. Steve could see that he was dressed just in a pair of soft ice blue sleeping pants, a white scarf that wrapped around the back of his head, and a white apron.

The golden tattooed snake graced his back once more, spilling up under his hair and down past the waistline of his pants. It was darkened and marred in spots, yes, but its glorious golden pattern shined in the afternoon sun.

Steve walked up behind him and wrapped him up in a hug.

“Bucky?” he asked quietly; that single word filled with more hope and trepidation than he thought was possible.

Bucky turned his head to look at Steve; the ever present goggles lit from within.

“Yeah, Stevie. It’s me.”

A painful sob escaped from Steve and he buried his head in Bucky’s neck. “I love you so fucking much and I am so, so sorry.”

Bucky turned off the burners and moved to wrap Steve up in his arms, too.

“I told you before, Stevie. None of this was your fault. I don’t blame you, not one bit. Not my beautiful, smart, kind kitten.” He kissed Steve softly on the lips; Steve could taste the wetness of Bucky’s tongue on the fabric. “I love you, too. My Stevie.”

Once again, any eloquence Steve might have possessed completely fled, and he blurted out, “Can we do this forever? I mean, you and I? Together?”

The tilt of Bucky’s head told Steve that Bucky was smiling. A tiny laugh escaped him. “Yeah, Stevie. To the end of the line.”

Steve laughed and kissed him again. He was so filled with joy that he didn’t know how he was still alive; surely he would fly apart with it at any moment.

“So, is this why Hephaestus was grilling me on what flavor wedding cakes I liked and if he needed to make a vibranium ring to add to my left hand?” Intense amusement was evident in Bucky’s voice and Steve found himself blushing so hard that it was actually painful.

“I mean… we don’t have to. It’s not. That’s not what we. We’re already so good, we don’t have to---”

Bucky interrupted him with a laugh and a kiss before Steve could dig himself any farther into that hole. “Yeah, punk. We can get married if you want. We’re forever already, what’s adding a piece of paper on top of that?”

The biggest smile Steve had ever worn split his face.

“There’s my sunshine smile,” Bucky murmured, and leaned in for another kiss.

They stayed that way for a long, long time; held tightly in each other’s arms and brimming with happiness.