The Winter Soldier tried to ignore his left hand. It was supposed to be a weapon, but it barely functioned well enough for him to fight. He had compensated for it on missions for as long as he could remember. He had tried to tell his handlers multiple times that it wasn’t functioning properly, but he had been met with blank stares and been told that the equipment was working perfectly.
One, the one with the red moustache, he had taken the complaint seriously and started a series of tests. They had improved the performance of the arm significantly and the Soldier was aware that he should be… something. There should be something that he felt about that, he just wasn’t sure what emotion that should be. He didn’t tell the moustached man that the arm still wasn’t right. He had made the arm better, and he obviously been pleased about that. Asking for more would only bring pain.
They thought that the chair wiped the memories, the sons of the men that had taken him from the frozen river. They had lost the blueprints long ago, the original notes had gone up in smoke and the group that had held onto the Soldier like a precious family heirloom didn’t realise that he had never remembered anything from before he woke in a puddle of icy water. They had told the Hydra Agents that the machine would make him forget, and to always transport them together. The chair had originally been a torture device, one that had made it easy to pretend to forget everything each time they used it. If they thought they could make him forget they would think that they had more power over him. They thought that they were safe from long held grudges. They thought wrong.
It had taken time, a lot of time, for the Soldier to realise that he didn’t like the things that they made him do. A longer time to realise that he was not the person that they told him that he was. He didn’t know who he had been, and so he began to try to use the organisation that he had no choice but to be a part of to find that out. They had grown complacent, secure in their own power over him, so confident in their belief that they could make him forget everything that they told him too much.
They had learnt the truth before they died; he had made sure of that.
Once the carnage had cleared the red mist from his head, he had stripped the bloody gloves from his hands and taken clean clothes from the shelf in the corner of the storage room. Everything still functioned, but the facility they were keeping him in was quieter than he could ever remember it being. There had been no alarms; he hadn’t given them enough time to react. He enjoyed showering for more than the three minutes they usually allowed, lathering up his long hair and rinsing it through twice. It dripped down his neck and the shoulder straps of the tank top he pulled on after he was clean quickly grew damp.
He would need another layer if he was going to go out in public, something with a pocket to hide his metal hand in. No point in alarming the civilians.
There was nothing left for him in the Hydra facility once he had found a zipped leather jacket his size in a locker room, and so he went to the main office to activate the self-destruct sequence for the base. He wasn’t sure how it would work, but Hydra had always been thorough. There would be nothing left for Shield to find.
The red countdown screen told him that he had ten minutes to leave. It only took him four to run up the stairs, and then he was walking on a quiet side street between two warehouses on a sloping hill on the edge of the City. He could see the obelisk in the distance, making it easy enough to identify the sprawling mass as Washington, and decided to turn his back on the capital. It would be easy to disappear in the seething mass of humanity, but he didn’t want to disappear just yet. He no longer had a mission, but he did have a purpose, one that he had decided upon himself; Revenge.
First though, he needed a vehicle. The nearest Hydra facility was more than fifty miles away, although there were plenty of smaller offices and equipment caches close by, and all he had was the roll of bills in the pocket of the motorcycle jacket. He contemplated stealing a car, but the thought felt wrong. He didn’t need to be that person anymore. He would find another way.
Steve sat on the roof of the newly named Avengers Tower and stared at his hands, tracing the whorls of his fingertips with his eyes over and over as his memory replayed Bucky – the Winter Soldier – catching his shield with a metal hand. Of course, he hadn’t known that it was Bucky at the time, and it hadn’t been until after he had been found on the riverbank that he had had time to sit back and reflect on the events of the past few days. Bucky was alive. Bucky had a metal arm. Bucky had forgotten him, and then possibly remembered him, Steve wasn’t too sure about that, but he was pretty sure that Bucky had rescued him and he was taking that as a very good sign.
He frowned as a long forgotten fact floated up from his memory. Not something that had been written down anywhere, and it had never been that much of a big deal, but he was certain now that he thought about it that Bucky had been left handed. His breath caught in his throat in a way that it hadn’t done in years as he processed the implications of that.
The metal arm was his left arm, the arm that he had used to push his hair back with – did it get caught in the joints now? Could he write with it? He’d been ambidextrous with a lot of things, could shoot equally well with either hand but he had always written with his left, held a spoon with his left – was the arm dextrous enough to do that? Sure he pick things up with it and fight with it and Steve had seen the thing moving with his own eyes, but how much movement, how much feeling did the Winter Soldier actually have?
Questions Steve knew that he had no chance of answering simmered in his brain and he climbed to his feet, taking the lift back down to the 57th floor and its communal gym. He passed the Stark employees running on treadmills and cycling machines, pulling his ID card out of his back pocket and using it to access the private gym in the south corner of the building – Jarvis had less presence in the communal floors; Stark had told him that the knowledge that an A.I. oversaw everything tended to freak his employees out, so he didn’t remind them more often than he had to. Doors opening without ID cards would apparently have been a dead giveaway. However, other than a mild slap on the wrist from Pepper, no-one really seemed to mind when he forgot the card and had to ask Jarvis to open doors for him.
Natasha was working out on a set of three parallel bars wearing a black fitted tank top and a pair of blue shorts so brief that he had though they were underwear at first glance. When she spotted him she swung to the ground, landing lightly on the blue mat.
“Captain, what can I do for you?” she asked, her breathing a little quicker than usual. His eyes were distracted by the way the light shone on the light sheen of sweat over her breasts. He wanted to draw her, but he crushed the urge and focused instead on his reason for seeking her out.
“I’d like to see the files on the Winter Soldier,” he told her.
Natasha frowned. “Wilson said that you intended to go after him. He’s not the man you knew,” she warned him. “He’s not even the man I knew anymore.”
“Can you get me the files or not?” Steve asked, hearing the impatience in his own voice.
Natasha considered for a long moment, her eyes searching his. “All right,” she agreed eventually.
Natasha’s mouth quirked up into a smile. “Always so polite, Captain Rogers,” she said lightly, turning to walk back to the parallel bars.
Steve shrugged, although she couldn’t seem him. “My mother didn’t leave me much of a choice,” he told her retreating shoulders before he left the gym.
“I’ll have those files on your desk in the morning,” she called after him.
Steve paused in surprise, one hand on the door. “I have a desk?” he asked.
“Steve, you have a whole art studio,” she informed him, re-chalking her hands. “It’s on floor 65, which is the floor for the main graphics department of Stark Industries. I guess Stark thought you might be more comfortable there.”
“It’s weird how he’s nothing like Howard and yet completely his son,” Steve pushed a hand through his hair and tried to feel grateful rather than exasperated. It was easier than he expected. “I guess I’ll go find my office so that I know where the file will be in the morning.”
He took the stairs to floor 65, taking the steps two at a time. It didn’t take him long to climb the eight floors that separated the gym from the art department, he completed the journey in a fraction of the time it would have taken him in the early forties, before he because a willing lab rat for Erskine and Stark’s experiment.
The art department was quiet, no ringing telephones or urgent chatter. He would almost have thought that it was deserted if it hadn’t been for the multiple interns trotting from office to office carrying rolls of paper. The majority of the people that he passed as he walked down the corridor in search of a door with his name on it had unnaturally coloured hair. One was white at the roots, although the woman looked about twenty, and darkened to blue and then purple at the tips. He found it fascinating, although he did his best not to stare, and wondered how such a colour transition had been managed, because unless the woman was a mutant, it couldn’t be natural.
His office was about half way down, a smaller space than some of those he had passed, but still large enough for two desks and several shelving units filled with brand new art equipment and enough space left over for an easel and stool. Steve closed the door behind him and lent against the wood, looking around in astonishment. He hadn’t expected the studio to be empty – this was Tony Stark after all – but he had expected it to be impersonal. Instead, someone must have taken his old sketchbooks out of storage and put framed pages up on the walls – usually the more completed artwork he noticed. He wandered around, remembering the time he drew each sketch. The mountain scene marred by a coffee ring because Dum Dum hadn’t been paying attention, the sketch of Bucky with a rip across the bottom third because Bucky had wanted to know what he was drawing and it was just a bit too personal for Steve to be comfortable showing him. Bucky had been smiling that day, cocky and proud with his sniper rifle in pieces on the scratched wooden table in front of him as he cleaned each part, meeting Steve’s eyes over the top of the sketchpad and completely oblivious to the smudge of gun oil above his left eyebrow. Steve was glad that that moment had been immortalised on paper, and that the paper hadn’t been destroyed during the seventy years he had spent frozen in ice.
Moving as quietly as he could, he picked one of the new sketchpads up from a shelf and a small tin of pre-sharpened pencils. Bucky’s face was different now, thinner. His eyes seemed darker, his hair was much longer. His skin had lost the perpetual tan he had always sported in Brooklyn from working on the docks. Memories of their fights flashed through Steve’s mind as the pencil lead marked the pristine paper of the sketchbook, tracing the outline of an anguished expression, an outstretched hand.
This time he had been the one to fall. There was something reassuringly symmetrical about that, as if a loop had been closed and now he could move forward, they could move forward.
A tap at the door broke his concentration and he looked up to find a woman with purple rimmed glasses and a paintbrush stuck haphazardly through her brown ponytail at the door.
“May I help you?” he asked.
“We – the art department that is – just wanted to welcome you to the floor, Captain Rogers.”
Steve stared at her for a moment, suspecting an ulterior motive, but she seemed sincere. “Thank you,” he replied.
“And we were wondering if you’d mind if a few of the interns popped in from time to time to look at your work.”
“I can’t promise that there will be all that much,” Steve said slowly. “I don’t expect to have all that much time to draw, Ma’am.”
“Lottie,” she corrected him. “And I wasn’t referring to anything current, Captain Rogers. I meant the old sketches and drawings in the file cabinet.”
Steve stared at the grey metal box that stood against the wall by the door. “All my old drawings are in that?” he questioned.
Lottie shrugged. “I don’t know about all, but everything from the flat you shared with Sargent Barnes was picked up by Shield and put into storage. Mr Stark brought it here after you were found, and I think he liberated a few originals from the Museum and left them copies instead.”
“I’m sorry, can you give me a minute?” Steve requested holding up a hand to attempt to stem the flood of information. “This is a lot to take in.”
“Of course, Captain Rogers.”
Belatedly, he realised as she was leaving that she had been calling him Captain for the whole conversation. “You can call me Steve!” he called just before the door closed, and heard a muffled assent that sounded positive in return.
Alone in the studio, he approached the innocuous filing cabinet with a large amount of trepidation, and slid open the top drawer. It was full of hanging folders, each one containing a picture in a plastic wallet. He pulled out the first one, a charcoal sketch of his mother in her hospital bed and stared at it for a moment.
The face in the picture didn’t look a whole lot like the face in his memory, but he hadn’t been very good back then. He stared at her for a long moment, tracing the smudged lines with a finger, and then he put the paper back in its folder and closed the drawer. That was enough emotional drama for one day, he decided.
Still, it was only mid-afternoon, and a lovely sunny day. Steve left the studio and headed for the elevator. “Jarvis, please take me down to the garage,” he asked as politely as he could, not sure which of the seven basement levels the buttons indicated was the one with the underground car park in it.
“Are you going for a motorbike ride, Captain Rogers?” the A.I. asked as the elevator began to move.
“That’s the plan, Jarvis.”
Black tarmac under the wheels of his Harley and the wind in his hair would help get his head back on straight he was sure.
Steve took the interstate to the edge of the City and then turned down a side road that skirted a small industrial area. There were grassy fields to his right, the green dotted with a few large oak trees. Impulsively, he stopped the bike and left it standing sentinel on the grassy verge. He had an old sketchpad and a few pencils in one of his saddlebags, and the grass looked soft, although he knew that it probably wouldn’t be for more than two minutes.
Steve left Captain America behind for a moment as he settled in the shade at the base of a tree and began to sketch the landscape. It was quiet so far from the city, and the warm afternoon sun seeped into his bones. He could feel his eyes beginning to droop, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to care.
The distant roar of a motorbike roused him some time later. His neck ached a little from resting against the tree, but he felt refreshed. The sketchpad had slid from his hand and landed on the ground by his hip. He picked it up and frowned in surprise. Someone had scribbled on it. How the hell had anyone got close enough to him to write on his sketchpad? The handwriting was angular and messy and it was hard to make out the words, but what he eventually read had him twisting to stare at the road in shock. His motorbike had gone.
Steve dug in his pocket for his starkphone and called Tony, Jarvis picked up after two rings.
“Captain Rogers, how may I assist you?”
“I need to talk to Tony, it’s urgent.”
“Of course Sir,” the computer replied politely. “He is in the lab. I shall put you on speakerphone.”
“Wait, Jarvis, is he alone?”
There was a pause, presumably while Jarvis scanned the lab. “Agent Barton is in the air ducts and I cannot confirm his location, but the last sensor he passed was on a different floor so I think it unlikely that he is in the vents over the workshop,” he eventually replied.
Steve shook his head. “All right, put me through please.”
Loud rock music blasted through the tiny speaker and he held the phone away from his head for a moment until Jarvis turned the volume down.
“What’d you do that for Jarvis?” Tony’s voice complained.
“Sorry Tony, its Steve. I’ve got a bit of a situation. Someone stole my bike.”
There was a loud clang as Tony presumably dropped whatever he was working on, or with, followed by a loud chuckle. “Who managed to get the drop on you, Capsicle?”
Steve stared at the message on his sketchpad. “An old friend,” he replied, reading the words again. You shouldn’t sleep outside, punk. I promise I’ll bring it back when I’m done. B.
“So, you want me to track the bike down? It has a beacon on it, you know.”
“No,” Steve replied. “I just need a ride back into town.”
“No problem buddy, Jarvis will send a car to get you.”
“Yes, Mr Stark,” the AI confirmed.
“Tony?” Steve said, wanting to ask one more thing before the conversation ended.
“What?” the billionaire asked, already sounding distracted.
“That tracking thing? Can you get the location up on the computer in my apartment?”
“You want a live feed? Sure, I can sort that out. Jarvis and I’ll make sure it’s there by the time you get back. And you know you’re welcome to borrow one of the pool cars until you get your bike back, right?”
“I didn’t expect you to be so nice about it,” Steve blurted out without thinking. “Sorry,” he apologised quickly into the stunned silence on the other end of the line.
“I don’t know where everyone gets this idea that I’m not a nice guy,” Tony muttered petulantly. “I mean, I welcome you into my home, I make you cool toys to play with, I think I’m a brilliant example of a human being.”
“Sorry Tony,” Steve repeated. “I really appreciate this.” He waited for a response but there was silence on the other end of the line for a few seconds, and then what sounded like a small explosion and the tinkle of breaking glass.
“Whoo! That was fun. Laters Capsicle!” the engineer said cheerfully, mood apparently forgotten, and then the line went dead.
Steve tucked the pencils and the phone into his pocket and walked slowly back to the road, turning towards the interstate once he reached it. No point in waiting on the spot, and whoever came to pick him up would be travelling from that direction he was sure.
He read the message on the sketchpad again and grinned. Bucky had borrowed his bike.
Bucky had borrowed his bike.
Tony was as good as his word. By the time he had returned to Avengers Tower, the computer in his living room was displaying a map of the area with a small red dot to represent his bike. The little window next to the dot let him know that it was the location as of four minutes ago, on the interstate heading west towards Chicago. Steve sat at the computer and stared until the five minute mark, when the screen refreshed and let him know that Bucky was a little further down the interstate.