Bucky had been on the run from Hydra for all of a week. He went in to pay for his gas at a little gas station way, way off the beaten path. When he came back to his (stolen) car, there was a guy lying on the gravel by the driver's side door, pressing down on his stomach with one hand and trying to lever himself up with the other.
Bucky was only slowly figuring out how people worked again. Even so, he'd figured out enough already to know that stepping over this guy and driving away would probably be rude.
"Are you okay?" he asked instead.
"What does it look like?" snarled the guy. Blood wasn't seeping through his fingers, exactly, but both of his hands were stained red--he'd left a red streak on the side of the car--and he was really pale.
"Looks like you pissed someone off. What happened?"
"A miscalculation," the guy said. "It's been known to happen when faking one's own death."
Before Bucky could ask anything else, the guy passed out.
Leaving someone to die out in the middle of nowhere: also rude, Bucky figured. He threw the guy in the back of his car, and drove a few miles down the road, until he found a place to turn off where they wouldn't be seen. Then, he got out his emergency kit and got to work. Couldn't do anything about the blood the guy had already lost, but the bleeding had stopped, and the wound--obviously a knife wound--didn't smell like shit or anything else that would have been extra alarming. Bucky cleaned it and dressed it, and didn't think anything about how maybe he should have gone to the hospital until quite a few weeks later.
By the time the guy woke up, they'd been on their way again for about forty minutes.
"If I may ask," he inquired from the backseat, where Bucky had ended up leaving him, figuring it was easier all-around, and probably more comfortable, too, "who are you, and where are we going?"
"I'm Bucky," Bucky said, which felt weird, and at the same time, better than 'the Soldier,' 'the asset', 'you' or 'it.' "And I dunno."
"How encouraging," the guy said faintly.
"If you've got a suggestion, I'm open to it."
Bucky halfway hoped the guy would. Some part of him would have been much happier with a direction from someone else, even as another part of him hated everything about that idea. But all the guy said was, "Aren't you the least bit interested in my identity?"
"Should I be?"
"This is Midgard, isn't it?"
"We're on Earth, yes?"
"If not, my problems are a lot different than the ones I thought I had," Bucky said.
"Then, yes, I would be quite concerned about my identity if I were you."
"You're a big talker, huh," Bucky said, looking in his rearview mirror at the thing he was more concerned about right at this particular second. "Shut up a second."
So saying, he rolled down the window, picked his gun up off the passenger seat, and shot out the tires on the car he'd seen behind him a few times in the last twenty-four hours, which had waited to start closing in on him until the last couple minutes. When it rocked to a halt behind him, he put a bullet through the driver's head, just to make a point. By then, they were shooting at his car, too, but didn't even come close to hitting it.
"What was that about?"
"Don't worry about it," Bucky said. "What were you saying your name was?"
The guy's name turned out to be Loki, and it took him about sixteen more hours to get around to accusing Bucky of trying to kill him.
"You're dosing me with something. Admit it," he said, waking up again after having been out for another few hours. "There's no other reason I'd be sleeping this much or this often."
"Bloodloss will do that," Bucky said. "I think."
"Having holes in you definitely will. Relax."
Loki sighed, but he didn't exactly refuse the painkillers when Bucky found some at the bottom of the first aid kit.
"There's something very wrong with you," Loki said, about a week later.
"I could say the same thing about you," Bucky pointed out. He hadn't missed the way Loki had turned a little blue during some of the early dressing changes. He also hadn't missed Loki's picture on the cover of a tabloid at a pit stop a few days ago. He still didn't know the whole story there, but it hadn't really changed anything either; it wasn't like they suddenly needed to stay off the grid more than they had before.
"No, I mean there's something wrong. Someone did their crudest work on you. I'm surprised you have any mind left at all."
"What are you talking about?" Bucky demanded, but he was already thinking of how easy it would have been to set this up. Stab a guy you didn't care if he lived or died, then drop him on the ground by Bucky's car to see what he'd do. If he left him, you hadn't lost anything. If he took him, then you had someone to report back to you on his movements. The kind of thing that would be a win-win for everybody but the target, and this time the target was him.
Before Bucky could get too worked up about it, Loki said, "I believe it's fixable."
Something shifted inside Bucky's head. Later, he'd wonder why it didn't seem like a bigger thing in the moment; he'd wonder how all of it didn't come rushing back right then and make him crash the car.
For right now, though, he said, "What the hell did you just do?"
"Something you're not going to tell anyone about. Ever."
Over the next few hours, Bucky was too busy remembering things in a small but insistent trickle to argue about it. His life before he'd fallen, and his life after. The people who'd been important to him, and all the ones he'd hurt. And he remembered himself, better than he had in the weeks before now. For the first time in a long time, he remembered, really remember being a person, not just someone fumbling around trying to figure out how to be one again.
The next time they stopped, Bucky was still so busy remembering that it took him longer than it should have to realize Loki should have come back from the bathroom by now. When he went to go look for him, there was no one there.
"You could've at least said goodbye," he said, but by the time he was done digging back through the past he hadn't been sure he'd ever get back, he was pretty sure Loki had, in a way.
And by the time the next person who tried to use words from a book to bind him figured out it wasn't working, he was sure of it.