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A Lot of First Impressions (and a Second to Grow On)

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I.

Bucky is the first and last person to notice something’s wrong when they set up a very shambled camp. They came across a dilapidated town about eleven miles—and what is normally a four hour march became a six hour march and the sun is minutes away from peeking over the horizon—from the now defunct HYDRA compound; all the personal inside aforementioned compound are long gone and Captain America deemed the town safe enough, no one is going to argue the man who just saved them all single handedly—even so, he gave watch shifts to every able bodied soldier no matter what nationality and he claimed the first three himself so some of the more tired men got rest.

            Anyway, Bucky is the first—and last—to notice something’s wrong because he’s Bucky and Captain America is Steve—stupid, boneheaded, stubborn Steve who never learned to take a hit and stay the fuck down. There are hundreds of men walking to and from, there’s screaming from the wounded, and loud celebration at being saved even though they still have days until they make it back to friendly territory and even longer until they’re back at base.

            But it’s not difficult for Bucky to pinpoint where Steve is. Even with his new body, he’s still Steve. He still manages to sit with his shoulders curled as if that will make it easier to breath when his lungs fight him. His knees are close together to make himself small, less of a target when he’s not feeling his greatest, out of habit though it’s probably uncomfortable, and his hands are in his lap as he fiddles with his fingers. His head is up though, searching the tree line for any enemies coming from the north.

            This is not what worries Bucky, no. What worries him is that when Bucky comes closer Steve fucking flinches. He stops, frozen and unsure. This is not what he’s expecting when he finally reunited with Steve.

            (Ignoring the fact that, well, Steve isn’t suppose to be here and in the army or, you know, apparently bleeding from a shrapnel wound in his shoulder.)

            “God damnit, Steve,” he hisses, dropping down on his knees in front of his friend. It’s disconcerting to realise that Steve’s a lot taller than him even when he’s sitting, but he ignores it to look at the wound. “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”

            “Can’t,” Steve mutters.

            Bucky glances up at him and shouts a very loud: “For fuck’s sakes, Rogers!” Several people turn their heads, but when they realise it’s Captain America they suddenly become too fucking bashful to look in his direction. “What did you do?”

            The underside of Steve’s jaw and the right side of his face are blistered and red with burns from the explosion he had to jump because Bucky wouldn’t leave without him. He swears again, this time at himself for not noticing how much pain his friend was in during their nighttime trek to this town. There’s some imprint of something, like a brand on his cheek that makes Bucky’s stomach churn.

            “Smashed my face when I made the jump,” Steve says quietly. “How fantastic is that?” He adds sarcastically. “Didn’t have time to tend to it. Probably too late now, it doesn’t matter.”

            “What do you mean it doesn’t matter?” Bucky hisses. That’s what he’s alternating between hissing his anger and shouting his anger. There’s no in between right now when Steve doesn’t’ give two flying fucks about his own well being—as usual, but there’s usually not any guns or explosions involved.

            “It’ll heal,” Steve answers so dismissively that Bucky actually sees red and smacks him upside the head. “Ow! What was that for?”

            “Because you’re a fucking idiot,” Bucky replies, almost fondly. Almost, because he’s still very, very pissed. “Now, tell me with every little detail why you didn’t tell anyone sooner and what do you mean you’ll heal? We all heal.”

            “I heal faster now.” It is the second question Steve answers. Oh, Bucky’s sure he’s not going to like the answer to the first one if this is how Steve’s acting. “Because of this—.” He gestures at his body.

He then launches into what is an obviously shortened version of what’s happened the last few months Bucky’s been over in the trenches. He vows to get the full story from him later, and if not him then Howard Stark—fucking Howard Stark of all people—or this Agent Peggy Carter.

Steve’s leaving something out, but even Bucky knows when to leave well enough to know.

“Can you heal around that?” Buck asks.

Steve glances down at his shoulder and blinks like he hadn’t known the wound was there. Bucky resists the urge to smack him again. “Oh, no. Actually, I can,” he clarifies. “But that means the metal will get stuck and we can either leave it in forever and a half or have a fun time trying to get it out. We should probably take it out now.”

Bucky eyes him warily. “You’re taking this more calmly than you should,” he all but accuses.

He rolls his eyes. “Adrenaline,” he supplies. “I’m still high off it. Didn’t you see? I barely noticed it was there ‘til you pointed it out.” He reaches up to grab the metal, wincing a little.

Bucky smacks his hand away. “I’ll do it,” he snaps. “Just do…whatever.” He doesn’t know if Steve’s preparing to scream or bit down on something or whatever, what he does know is that something suspicious is going on and Bucky doesn’t like it.

“I’m going to count to three,” Bucky warns. Steve nods in response. “One…Tw—!” He rips it out before he finishes saying ‘two’ and he tosses the metal to the side when Steve gives a hoarse shout then doubles over.

Bucky catches him, Steve’s head landing on his shoulder, and his own arms going around the now-taller man’s back. With the new size difference this is incredibly awkward, but Bucky can feel the cloth on his shoulder dampening and he sighs.

“You’re okay,” he soothes. “You’re okay.” He glances up to see if anyone’s noticed, but it seems only Gabe Jones—who’d introduced himself on the trek over—noticed and is doing his best to distract anyone else. Bucky gives him a nod of approval and the black man grins in return.

Steve heaves a great sigh and sits up, using one hand to wipe his face until the tear tracks are gone and the other pressing against the wound on his shoulder. It’s bleeding freely now, but as the silent minutes pass it seems to be slowing. The only reason why Bucky’s not freaking out about an open wound is Steve’s detached calmness.

“What about my first question?” Bucky asks quietly after a full ten minutes pass and the bleeding stops. Steve had assured him the muscle will heal and by the time they set out again a day and a half from now he’ll be in top form.

“I’m Captain America,” Steve says. And, yes, Bucky is vaguely aware of what that means. He may not have known it was Steve behind that stupid knitted cowl, but most soldiers heard of the USO chorus girl who fancied himself a soldier. Now he sort of regrets thinking that. “It’s a stage name, but the point of me is to show strength and courage now matter what. I just got those men out of a HYDRA base. Do you see how they look at me? If they knew that I actually got hurt, I don’t they’d be so celebratory right now.”

Steve’s not as oblivious as most people thought he is, sometimes Bucky even forgets that and he feels like a horrible friend. It makes sense, with the name ‘Captain America’ and the way he just liberated them all (and he noticed the way Steve didn’t say ‘liberated’ or ‘saved’ to describe what he did for them all.)—with the way everything is set up Steve can’t look weak.

Bucky sighs and rests his forehead on Steve’s knee. “I hate you,” he mutters.

Steve laughs, throwing his head back and jostling Bucky off his knee with the force. He watches with wonder as his friend laughs loudly and heartily without dissolving into body wracking coughs that always had Bucky scrambling.

“No you don’t,” Steve says when he finally stops, not taking more than a few seconds to catch his breath. “You do a little,” he says. “But, no you don’t.”

Bucky shakes his head. “I don’t,” he agrees. “But next time you want to keep an injury from me, don’t. Say any argument you want, mine’s this: if Captain America dies it’ll lower moral a lot more than if Captain America gets injured.”

And, damn it, that’s not the argument he wants to make. He wants to shake Steve and tell him his life isn’t worth less than any other soldier, it’s probably worth more if you ask for Bucky’s honest opinion. But this is Steve Rogers; if anyone were to be the self-sacrificing Captain America then it’s him.

Steve looks away, guilty. “Okay,” he says quietly, sincerely. He runs a hand through his hair. “Go to sleep,” he says. “We’ve got a long march ahead of us.”

Bucky leans against a tree and crosses his arms. “I’m comfortable right here,” he answers. He’s exhausted, but the nightmares that are waiting for him scare him from sleep. He has a feeling he knows what’s in them and doesn’t want to give them the chance to get him. Steve doesn’t argue.

When someone finally takes the north watch the sun is almost high enough for noon and Steve’s face is clearer. He keeps his head ducked though, under his helmet he still wears, and most soldiers think he’s shy and humble. This isn’t far from the truth, but Bucky knows he’s doing this to hide the burn.

A day from then they pack up to march out, his wounds are gone from his face and he’s already washed off the blood from his jacket so it looks like the hole’s been there this whole time. Bucky falls in line with Steve, finding himself not as put out as he thought he would be that he stands behind Steve like he’s a shield. It’s actually kind of comforting.

Jones trots up next to him and Bucky gives him a glance. There’s a question in his eyes, like he’s asking permission, and Bucky nods.

“Is he okay?” He asks quietly.

Bucky sees Steve’s shoulder twitch. “Yeah,” he says. “Captain Rogers is fine.” The subtle slouch of Steve’s shoulders indicates he can hear their conversation despite the dull roar of soldiers and a pilfered HYDRA tank that Stark is going to love.

Jones presses his lips together and takes that answer, though he doesn’t look completely convinced.

Well, that makes two of them.

 

 

           II.

            Dum Dum Dugan first realises this gig isn’t going to be all roses and beer when his new CO opens up a tab with no argument whatsoever for five men—practically strangers. Though, he probably should’ve first realised this when his new CO failed to mention a shrapnel wound and third degree burns as a result of rescuing all the POWs months before. They didn’t even find out until an hour ago when Barnes made Rogers tell them. He had some sort of goal in mind when he made his friend tell them, but Dum Dum can’t figure it out just yet.

            The next time he realises this gig isn’t going to be as easy as he thought is a month later—yes, he knows there’s a war going on, but he’s seen Captain America in action and he’s been training with the man for the past month, that equals a bit easier time than a normal regiment.

            They’re in a little town in France that has Dernier very happy. The locals are nice enough, perhaps a little wary of the soldiers, but Dernier’s enthusiast French more than makes up for that. Rogers is…helping people. Not just by being there, but by helping them fix houses and fetch firewood. Strangely enough, the kids love him. Dum Dum knows exactly how weird kids are about strangers, especially foreign strangers who wear dirty fatigues and guns on their shoulders.

            (In hindsight, what Dum Dum hates the most about what’s about to happen is that Rogers gets injured when he’s around. It’s not from a gun or a bomb, but because the man is too damn heroic.)

            But the kids love Rogers and Rogers loves the kids. Barnes stands off to the side with a fond smile on his face as Rogers shows a little girl how to draw a tree. She doesn’t speak English and despite Jones and Dernier’s attempts Rogers doesn’t know enough conversational French yet to actually talk to her—give it another week and he’ll be fluent, it’s only been half a day since he started learning and he’s good. They make it work, though, and they’re both laughing at something.

            “He got kids back home?” Dum Dum asks Barnes. It’s not secret the two of them are childhood friends—Jones never likes to add his opinion during those conversations.

            Barnes laughs like he’d said the funniest thing in the word. “Nah,” he says. “I bet he wishes he had kids. He absolutely loves the brats.” He still has that fond look in his eyes, but there’s a hint of sadness. “So, no. No kids.”

            Dum Dum decides not to ask anymore question concerning kids and Rogers, and options to ask about the teetering wreck of a church that no one is allowed to go in—especially the children. Apparently Rogers has a plan for it.

            “He’s gonna bring it down,” Barnes answers. “With his shield so everyone’s far enough away.”

            “Will it come back?” He’s seen that man calculate in a split second the perfect place to throw his shield so it ricochets and comes back. Though he’s only seen it happen when it hits solid concrete, metal, or even people. The church looks too wrecked for the shield to get enough force to come back. Dum Dum does not fancy digging through rubble to find it.

            Barnes shrugs. “He seems to think so.”

            The demolition is set for tomorrow, then the next day they’re heading out. This is just a checkpoint town for their advancement on a small HYDRA/Nazi base. It’s one of the few left that the Red Skull hadn’t completely taken over so the Nazis still had most of the control. It’s taking out two birds with one gunshot.

            “Camilla!” Rogers suddenly calls out, shooting to his feet. “Ne pas! Zone interdite! Vous souvenez-vous?”

            He and Barnes whirl around to see a little girl head straight for the church, too distracted by something to realise she’s going into a dangerous area. She’s right at the doorway when Rogers’ shout catches her attention and she turns to him.

            There’s a creak of wind bending branches; Rogers is already up and running. He’s faster than anyone in this town and faster than anyone in the Howling Commandos. The wind hits the church at just the right angle in just the right place and the whole thing comes tumbling down. There’s screaming and shouting, the whole town is here now. The little girl Rogers had been showing how to draw that tree starts to cry.

            “Steve!” Barnes shouts.

            He, of course, makes it first with Dum Dum right behind him. The rest of the Commandos are just a second later. Barnes starts digging through the rubble, shouting Rogers’ first name frantically. The men of the village—after making sure their wives and daughter are all right, unhurt and not about to have an attack of some sorts—start to help them. The kids love Rogers the most, but the whole town loves him too.

            Dum Dum notices something move out of the corner of his eyes, a few feet from where Rogers and the girl were when the church collapsed. “Found them!” He shouts, dashing to the spot just as a gloved hand bursts out of the rubble.

            He and Jones struggle to pull a bigger piece off them, but they manage it and Barnes grabs Rogers’ hand, yanking him with all his strength. It isn’t until Falsworth and Dernier grab lower on Rogers’ arm do they actually see his head.

            Rogers gasps loudly, panting, and looking like he’s in a huge amount of pain. “Stop, stop,” he gasps. Barnes lets go and drops to his knees. “Camilla.”

            Morita appears just as Rogers shifts and the little girl Camilla is in sight. She’s got multiple scraps and bruises, there’s tears running down her face, but she seems mostly unharmed besides that. He grabs Camilla, hefting her on his hip until her mother comes wailing in despite her husband’s attempts to keep her back. Dum Dum can appreciate her intensity, but vaguely wonders where she was when Camilla was wandering towards the church in the first place.

            “She’s fine, she’s fine,” Barnes says. “Where are you hurt?”

            And, really, they shouldn’t be so shocked by the question. Granted, they’ve never seen Rogers injured before, but right now he doesn’t look his usual perfect self. His face is bleached a deathly white and his lips are pinched thin and pale. The visible parts of his chest and shoulders are heaving, but minus the earlier gasps and four words he’s terrifyingly silent.

            “Arm,” he finally gasps out, squeezing his eyes shut. He wiggles the fingers of his free hand. “Other.”

            It’s a little worrying he only has the breath for one word at a time.

            “Anything else?” Falsworth prompts suspiciously.

            Rogers hesitates before nodding miserably. “Side,” he murmurs.

            Dum Dum can’t figure out why he’s so reluctant to tell them he’s injured. Wounds are a liability, especially for special operations.

            “It’s gonna be okay,” Barnes assures him, voice soft.

            “Besoin d'aide!” Falsworth shouts to a few men because Denier is trying to calm down the mother and Camilla so he’s no use for calling for help.

            There’s a large slab trapping Rogers under everything. They finally move it and are treated to a sickening sight. Apparently Rogers tried to shield them with one arm while the other held the girl close to his body as he curled over her. Well, that shield didn’t protect the arm, it’s mangled and bloody with a flash of white bone peeking from his forearm. There’s a small wooden beam piercing his side from front to back.

            The movement of the slab jostles him and Rogers bites down on a whimper. He can’t stop the tears running down his cheeks, though. Really, the man must be in a shit ton of pain yet he manages to be so quiet.

            Barnes grabs him by the face when he starts to turn his head. “No,” he says fiercely. “Keep your eyes on me, Steve.”

            Rogers gives him a wobbly smile, it actually looks like he’s trying to be assuring. “Can’t be—.” He takes a breath. “—That bad.”

            He laughs, but it’s choked and bitter. “Oh, Steve. The worst you’ve ever gotten is a rib or two broken, dumbass.”

            “Yeah,” he breathes. Rogers’ eyes flutter close and his head starts to lean despite Barnes’ hands.

            “No, no, Steve.” Barnes shakes him. “You gotta stay awake for me, pal.”

            Dum Dum crouches next to him as Falsworth and Jones go to inspect the wooden beam. Morita—who Camilla will not let go off even though her mother is right there—and Denier are with the townsfolk who are clustered in a group, staring worriedly at Rogers. The children started crying as soon as they saw the state the soldier is in, no one is crying as hard as Camille and the little girl.

            “Why’d you do it, Rogers?” Dum Dum asks. It’s not as callous of a question as one would think. They would all have done it, but why Rogers? He has a thousand or so dollars invested in him, he’s the forefront of bringing down HYDRA and Schmidt. He really shouldn’t be throwing himself in harms way for a little French girl.

            Rogers gasps, sharp and painful when Falsworth touches the beam. “Because—.” He closes his eyes again, breathing harshly through his nose. “Right thing—to do.”

            And that’s how Dum Dum learns Captain America doesn’t give two shits about what the government wants; he just wants to help people. He glances at Barnes to see that fond look in his eyes again.

            Well, shit.

 

 

III.

            It’s Barnes who notices something’s wrong. It’s always Barnes who notices what’s wrong with Rogers first, Gabe thinks distantly. Captain Rogers has a habit of disappearing for days—sometimes even weeks—at a time when they return to base between missions. When they had ventured to ask about it he actually pulled rank, a little shocking because the only reason Rogers’ has ever pulled rank before was to protect them. Gabe cannot, for the life of him, figure out what he is protecting them from.

            This is one of those times. It’s been six days since Captain Rogers was last seen. He’d hop into a truck that was driven by a weedy looking man; he’d looked resign to his fate. They drove off with no backward glance, it seems Rogers hadn’t even realised they’d seen him. To be honest, most of them didn’t think much about it. Everyone knows Rogers hates doing paper work and meeting with higher-ups. He would much rather be in the field than anything else. So, they just thought that’s where he was off to.

            Barnes, though, finally has enough and storms up to Agent Carter, demanding brashly to know: “What the fuck is going on?”

            There’s a long silence were in Agent Carter just stares at him, her frown deepening on her pretty face, but here’s a spark of triumph in her eyes. She neatly sidesteps the question by asking her own, “What do you think is going on, Sergeant Barnes?”

            “I think my captain has been disappearing,” Barnes hisses. “And I think it’s something not good.” He jabs a finger at her and if she’d been a man Barnes wouldn’t have refrained from actually making contact. “Your people did something to him. I know, I know. Muscles, endurance, that stupid memory thing he’s got going on—he’s always had that, but now it’s better. But this, this is something different. So, tell me, Agent Carter, where is Captain Rogers?”

            Gabe gapes at the audacity Barnes had in him. But Agent Carter just smirks and turns heel, marching away with a clickclick on the wooden beams that make up the floor so when it rains it won’t turn to mud. She doesn’t say a word, but Barnes follows her and, in return, so does the rest of the Howling Commandos.

            Denier leans close and whispers, “This is going to be bad.”

            He couldn’t resist the bitter chuckle. “Oh, yes it is.”

            Stark and Colonel Phillips are in his tent, drinking together. Stark looks like the weight of the world is on his shoulders while Phillips looks like he normally does. The only thing that betrays the same thinking as Carter and Stark is the amber coloured drink in his hand.

            “Colonel Phillips,” Agent Carter says. “These men are inquiring the location of their captain. It seems the deal is broken.”

            Phillips smiles, actually smiles, and puts his drink down. “Well, then.” He stands up. “Follow me,” he orders.

            And they’re left following him out of the colonel’s tent towards a truck. They have to take two—Phillips, Denier, Morita, and Gabe in one truck with Stark, Carter, Barnes, Dum Dum, and Falsworth in the other. It takes an hour before the reach the back of the base, well away from any enemy lines. There’s an old brick building, shoddily made but still standing.

            Inside takes another ten minutes before they enter a room full of doctors and scientists. They’re talking in low voices, writing notes down on clipboards and checking machines.

            There’s a window into an empty, tiny room. Except it’s not really empty. Rogers is in the corner, curled into a ball so small it actually seems impossible given his size. His feet are bare and his legs are pulled to his chest, his face is buried against his knees, and his arms are over his head protecting his neck from something. Both his ankles and wrists are bound with tight, thin wire that cuts into his skin. There’s blood pooling under his feet and running down his arms, the areas around the wires are swollen and makes the wires look like they’re cutting deeper than they actually are—at least, that’s what Gabe hopes.

            “What the fuck is going on?” Barnes roars.

            The doctors and scientists standing around the window jump and whirl around, eyes wide at the sight of the enraged Sergeant.

            Gabe takes a glance at Stark and Agent Carter to see them horrified. It seems they were not informed of everything. Phillips looks resigned, but the man’s always been hard to read so Gabe can’t tell if he knew the extent of what Rogers has been going through.

            One of the doctors scowls. “You are not authorized to be in here,” he says sharply. “Colonel.”

            Colonel Phillips shrugs. “What was the deal? You do all your experiments on Rogers, just don’t touch the Commandos and they’re not supposed to know? Well, they know and if I kick them out on your orders then that’s touching them. They know, looks like the deal is obsolete.”

            “That makes no sense!” The same doctor says.

            “Makes enough sense,” Phillips says darkly. “Do you really expect these boys to let you keep doing this now that they know what you’re doing to their captain and friend? These are Rogers’ Raiders,” he says, using the nickname that doesn’t pop up as often as Howling Commandos. “I’d like to see you try.”

            Apparently they look intimidating enough that the scientists gulp and back away. An argument builds up between the scientists, Agent Carter, Stark, and Phillips. Barnes pays them no heed, he doesn’t even bother finding a key, and he rams his shoulder into the flimsy door and knocks it down with a bang.

            Rogers jumps with a choked yelp, glancing up through his eyelashes to see the Commandos standing there. His eyes widen and he tries to say “Guys, what?” but it barely comes out. Barnes crashes to his knees in front of Rogers, frantically running his hands over the captain’s arms with no attention to the blood getting on his hands. He carefully pulls Rogers’ arms until they’re in front of him again, but there’s still a pained hiss.

            Gabe gets a better look at him and winces at the hollowness of his cheeks and the dark circles under his eyes. Now that he’s closer he notices skin stretching over the wires like it’d grown around them in an attempt to heal the wounds.

            “What the fuck, Steve?” Bucky asks quietly. He’s no longer visibly angry and his words are hard in worry.

            Rogers is blinking rapidly, like he’s trying to clear his head. “I don’t—.” He licks his chapped lips. “They would—disband us?” He says it like a question, like he isn’t really sure. He must be really out of it. “Something—Something about Gabe and Falsworth? Morita and Denier?”

            Ah, he gets the gist of it now. The only integrated team, not only that but a Japanese American as well with what’s happening state side. Falsworth and Denier aren’t even American; they should be in their own armies. They threatened to have Captain America’s handpicked team disbanded and the good Captain, being the dumbass that he is, made a deal to keep them together.

            “Is this—?” Barnes seems to struggle with himself. He heaves a great sigh. “Steve, you are the most idiotic, fucking dumbass I’ve ever had the privilege of being friends with.” He reaches to grip his face tight. “If you ever do something like this again,” he threatens. “Protecting us at the cost of yourself. I will tie you to a chair and make you sit there for the rest of the war.”

            Rogers actually manages to huff a laugh. “Sir, yes, sir,” he whispers, voice raspy. He closes his eyes when Barnes rests their foreheads together.

            Gabe smothers a ridiculous smile.

 

 

 

IV.

            Peggy’s hair is in a loose, short braid flipped over her shoulder. It’s the first time anyone’s ever seen her less than perfect and she doesn’t give a damn. Howard leans his back against her shoulder and would’ve pushed her to the side if it weren’t for the wall keeping her upright. They are back Stateside for the first time in what feels like forever.

            They aren’t enjoying their leave, though; instead they’re in this waiting room, the air tense and heavy. The Howling Commandos are here too. Dum Dum is the only one in motion, pacing from one side of the room to the other, and gnashing on his unlit cigar in worry and anger. The rest are sitting, looking loose and completely unlike soldiers and more like worried friends.

            Barnes is alone in his own seat, shoulders curled and hands in his lap. He’s fiddling with his fingers as he stares at the lines in his palms. Peggy remembers this position, it’s the same one Steve gets when he trying too hard. They’re both positions of guilt and worry. She wonders who learned it from whom.

Colonel Phillips comes from down the hall, the lines in his face deeper than she’d ever seen and his posture stiff. Everyone jumps to their feet. Peggy takes comfort knowing that it’s the colonel who’s come to them instead of a doctor.

            “He’s going to be fine,” he says gruffly. “In a whole lotta pain, but fine in the long run. It’s going to take a week or so for him to get back on his feet.” He jerks his head towards the hallway and strolls out of the building before anyone can ask him questions.

            She sees Barnes take a deep breath, but she’s the first to start moving with Howard right behind her. The rest of the Commandos follow and Barnes is last.

            Steve is on the bed, stretched out on his front and cradling a pillow to his head. He’s asleep, but it’s restless. His eyes are flickering under his lids, his brow furrowed, and there’s a frown twitching his lips down. His back is a mess of burns and deep wounds that stain white bandages pink.

            She runs her fingers through his hair, making it even messier than it is. Steve groans and mutters something under his breath, leaning into the touch.

            “He’s in a lot pain,” the doctor says like this is news. “But he’ll heal. We’d like to keep him here until the wounds close up and the deep healing starts, so you can take him tomorrow afternoon. After that, no training for at least two days and no missions until the week has passed.”

            “Understood,” Some one says, it might be Gabe.

            The doctor leaves and they all crowd around Steve’s bed. Telling them to give him space is at the tip of her tongue before she swallows the words. This is Steve they’re crowding; he practically strives on the presence and touch of other people. It’s actually a little sad, but she’s never gotten the courage to ask about it. Guns she knows, how to sew she knows, how to talk to people about feelings? That’s a little more difficult.

            They are silent, standing around him. Steve, ever the soldier, starts to get even more restless, sensing the presence of others in the room while he’s vulnerable. His eyes flutter open and he shifts to sit up, but Peggy presses down on his shoulder, digging her nails into his skin ever so slightly when he tenses at the first touch. A shot of awareness brightens his dazed expression and he lies back down.

            “Wha—?” The pain he’s in but not so readily projecting slurs his speech.

            “You’re an idiot,” Gabe says, a mixture of exasperation and fondness in his voice. His expression softens. “No one died. Some pretty bad burns, but no deaths.”

            All the tension just floods out of his body and he relaxes a bit. “Good,” he says softly, rubbing face against the pillow like a cat. His hand swings out before anyone can stop him and he gropes the air, searching. “Bucky.”

            Barnes materializes from the shadows and grabs it tightly. “Right here, Steve.” He sighs, pressing their clasped hands against his forehead. “Dumbass.

            Steve snorts then groans a little. “Takes one to know one,” he mumbles tiredly.

            “Don’t do that again,” Barnes orders though his voice is faint.

            Peggy can see it happening whenever she looks at them. It’s a simple night, for once a night of fun instead of death though is still lingers like a reaper over their heads. Somehow the Commandoes managed to convince their Captain to go to the Stork Club, they were a block away, chatting and laughing until Steve suddenly trailed off. He waved off concerned questions, glancing around until he shouted “Bomb!” and yanked Barnes—the one closest to the building—down, using his body to cover his sergeant/childhood friend. His shout scattered the crowd and they were all mostly out of the way when the vacant building (some times they’re lucky) exploded.

            Steve caught burns and debris with his back, Barnes nearly had a heart attack when Steve collapsed on top of him.

            And here they are.

            Barnes looks like he found God as Steve talks to him, sounding more and more coherent the longer he’s awake and average. His smile is fond and full of love, directly fully at Steve. Steve’s eyes are closed, but his face is tilted just so that if he opens them only Barnes would be in his sights.

            Peggy’s accepted a long time ago that Steve is complex. He has strong feelings for her, she knows this. One of those feelings could be called love, but love is complicated and hard to pinpoint. She also knows that they way Steve looks at Barnes is the same way he looks at her.

            She’s not going to pick a jealousy fight with Barnes, mostly because she’s not jealous. She understands how life works.

            And, right now, life is working so that Steve keeps getting hurt and Barnes is perfecting his mother hen skills.

 

 

 

V.

            Falsworth is one of the first people who matter to learn about their good Captain’s senses issues because he told the group as a whole—forced by Barnes—about a month after they raided those damn scientists who thought experimenting on their only super soldier and threatening his team was the best way to go.

            [It went a little like: “Bombs…are a problem.”

            “What?”

            “And thunder, in the right moments. Or wrong, depending on how you look at it. Lights, sounds, smells, touches. Taste too, but that I can ignore easily.”

“I don’t get it.

“My senses are better. I can…control it? Sometimes, hyper focus on some things and I can filter it. But, some times they’re a problem.”

That conversation sounded very foreboding at the moment. Gabe dropped his head to his hands in exasperation and Dum Dum make a half-serious, half-joking suggestion of strapping their Captain to a chair to keep him out of trouble.]

Just a few weeks later finds him wishing that Steve never participated in Project Rebirth and just stayed in Brooklyn. Looking at Barnes tells him he’s wishing the same thing. He’s clutching at Steve desperately, holding him tightly even though the super solider thrashes around violently, knocking him back. He’s got a black eye forming and his lip is split from the punch Steve threw by accident.

A keening wail builds in Steve’s throat, but Barnes presses a hand over his mouth to keep it from escaping. There’s a tragic expression on his face as his best friend continues to thrash around in pain.

There’s a high pitched noise, just a few pitches below a dog whistle maybe—he can’t be too sure—and it’s annoying to Falsworth and the rest, but to Steve? He winces when he spots a trickle of a blood seeping from his ear.

“We’ve got to get him out of here,” Morita says, his voice louder to make it heard over Steve’s muffled wailing. He glances up from Steve, his expression twisted in pain, empathy for his captain, and checks behind him. “Or shut it off.”

The almost dog whistle is coming from a fledging HYDRA base that was abandon only a few weeks after HYDRA became a big player in the War—or so the information says—it’s some sort of defense mechanism that Falsworth cannot for the life of him figure out what it is suppose to actually do other than be annoy and incapacitated their super solider.

Steve claws at Barnes’ hand, trying to dig under his grip. Welts appear on his cheeks and Barnes’ fingers, blood wells up when he presses deeper with his nails. Barnes hisses, grabbing Steve’s hand and wrapping his leg over his arm to keep it pinned.

“He won’t be able to move like this,” Barnes says, breathless. It’s amazing he’s able to keep the solider down and mostly over power the strength. “He’s barely coherent.”

As if to prove his point Steve tries to roll, but it blocked, and lets out a string of gibberish. His eyes are grey and clouded over in pain, more blood trickles from his ear, and there’s a smear of red around his nose now.

“Buck. Buck,” Steve gasps out. “Stop. Stop.” He sounds manic, tone full of pain.

Dum Dum squeezes his eyes shut. “There’s a mine field out there. We can’t get close to whatever the source is. Best idea is to tie him up and carry him out.”

Barnes blanches at that. “I’m not going to tie him up!” Gabe shakes his head.

Falsworth sighs. “We’ve got no other choice,” he says. “We’ve got to get him out here before it get’s worse.”

Steve suddenly goes limps and Falsworth thinks that’s an answer to their problems, they won’t have to tie him up but they can still carry him out—then Steve spasms, his back arching, his free hand scrabbling at the dirt ground.

“Fuck,” Barnes snarls. He scrambles off their captain to give him room. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”

The wailing Barnes had stopped finally escapes and he’s screaming loudly.

“Steve,” Gabe calls. “Come on, Steve.” It’s like he’s trying to coax him out of the haze of pain.

“Screw this,” Dum Dum says. He surges to his feet with a length of rope in his hands; he struggles around Steve’s frantic limbs. Morita lunges to stop him, but Dum Dum holds him back with an arm.

“You’re gonna hurt him,” Barnes shouts. “Stop!”

The whistle gives its last stuttering noise then trails off, the only sound left is Steve’s screaming. His convulsions have stopped—with his hands free he’s clutching at his head, covering his ears even though there’s no painful noise anymore.

“Stop, stop, stop,” he wails then moans, “Bucky.”

Barnes is at his side immediately. “Look at me, Steve.” The blonde’s head lolls, his blank gaze seeing nothing. “Steve. Steve. Come on.” He glances up at the Commandoes. “He’s out.”

He doesn’t look out. His eyes are open and his fingers twitch with spasms. There’s no barrage of HYDRA soldiers or krauts crashing through the trees, Denier hasn’t come to warn them of anything so they have to be fine now.

“I don’t see why we can’t stay here,” Falsworth says, voicing his thoughts. “It seems we’re safe enough.” He eyes Steve warily, the man’s face is pale and he looks a little green actually. “I don’t think we should move him now.”

“No,” Steve murmurs. He waves a limp hand in Falsworth direction, almost like he’s agreeing. “Don’t move.”

Barnes rolls his eyes. “Fine. We’ll set up camp and Steve can heal tonight. It shouldn’t take too long.”

They set up camp, Morita going to tell Denier the new plans. Barnes doesn’t move from Steve’s side, actually shifting their captain so his head is on the Sergeant’s lap. He’s threading his fingers through his blonde hair, pressing the tips of them against his forehead and temples. It looks like a well-practiced move, like he’d done that when they were back in Brooklyn.

Steve mumbles something under his breath that makes Barnes chuckle and say, louder: “Yeah, well next time you decide to check out a defunct HYDRA base how ‘bout we do more research about it?”

Their captain huffs then groans. Barnes covers his eyes with a hand, accepting the damp rag Gabe hands him, and using it to wipe the blood from Steve’s ears. Steve reaches up slightly, tangling their hands together.

“No,” Barnes says, voice low but it still managed to carry. “You don’t get to be a dumbass then try to be all gooey. It doesn’t work like that.” Despite his words he doesn’t shake Steve’s grip away.

“Sorry.”

“Shut up, punk.”

“Jerk.”

 


 

 

I.

            Tony is the second to learn Steve doesn’t completely have a death wish, but it’s a close shave. It’s easy to see why most everyone would think so, though, with how he likes to throw himself into danger.

They haven’t been on a lot of missions as the Avengers, after Loki they went their separate ways. When Killian hit, Romanoff and Barton had been on some SHIELD mission, Bruce back in New York, Thor was on Asgard, and Rogers was…somewhere. He thought Rogers would go on a cross-country tour—world tour too—but the next he heard from the super soldier was when a slightly-smaller-than-the-original-but-only-slightly helicarrier crashed into SHIELD’s Triskelion HQ in D.C and two more crashed into the Potomac.

He’d been in New York at the time.

So he’s a little surprised when JARVIS informs him: “Sir, Captain Rogers is in the lobby with a Sam Wilson. Shall I let them up?”

Tony pulls his head from the guts of a totally-not-a-self-sufficient-Iron-Man-suit and stares into space, confused. “Er, yeah. Send them up. Direct them to my workshop and let them in.”

Bruce is in India and has been for the past month, it’s only a little vacation to see how his little village is doing then he’s coming straight back. So it’s only Tony in the tower, Pepper’s in Malibu where the strongest of Stark Industries’ corporate buildings are. He’s thinking about switching the power to the one in Manhattan, but Pepper likes being in Malibu even though she can no longer stay in the house (you know, since it blew up). She took back the CEO position just as long as Tony doesn’t shove everything onto her.

A beep notifies him that someone’s about to walk in and he turns around. “Ah, Capsicle. Long time no see. Did you enjoy crashing those helicarriers?”

He likes to ignore the fact that they were going to be used to kill millions of people and were running off his propulsion tech. Pepper tells him that he didn’t know they would be used with a weapon, and that Rogers stopped them. He didn’t know it was HYRDA and not SHIELD.

He didn’t know Stark Industries weapons were killing American soldiers. He didn’t know Obadiah was Ten Rings—and, apparently, he might have been HYDRA too, but he’s not sure on that one.

            “As a matter of fact I did, Stark,” Rogers says brightly. Wow, he actually looks like a human being who didn’t grow up in the 20s. He’s got jeans on, a tee shirt with a black leather jacket, and messy blond hair not parted on the side and swept up. It…looks like he’s got helmet hair. “Very satisfying. Would absolutely do it again.” He turns towards the man following him into the room. “Sam, this is Tony Stark. Stark, this is Sam Wilson.”

            Sam Wilson looks to be in awe as he approaches him. “It’s an honour to meet you,” he says, shaking Tony’s grease covered hand like it’s not…grease covered.

Rogers grumbles under his breath that sounds something like: “You get the hero worship and I get the mocking about my running speed.” But he doesn’t sound angry, he sounds utterly amused.

Wilson ignores the grumbling for the most part and says, “You made my wings.”

            “I did what now?” Because that makes no sense.

            “Sam Wilson of the 58th rescue squadron. Pararescuemen,” he elaborates. “I had the EXO-7 Falcon.”

            “Oh!” And he smacks his head, probably leaving a smear of grease there if Rogers’ smirk means anything. “Loved building those things. You know what? I’ll build you better ones. Need a project to work on. JARVIS, pull up the schematics for EXO-7 Falcon.”

            Wilson looks like he’s died and gone to heaven as the schematics for the EXO-7 appear and condense into one hologram. “That’s good,” he says. “That fantastic. Mine were torn apart.”

            That’s when the air gets tense; Wilson immediately looks as if he wants to backpedal from that remark and Rogers, who had been looking at the gutted not-an-Iron-Man-suit with interest (and when did JARVIS pull up the schematics for that so Rogers could flip through them? Traitor), stiffens just like he was when he was pulled from the ice.

            Tony’s not stupid, he’s read every single file Natasha let out into the world and he’s watched every mobile phone taken video of Project Insight crashing and burning.

            “By the Winter Soldier, right? Who was he again? A dude from the 40s? Cap, you knew him? Someone you saved?” Tony is stupid because he’s baiting Rogers. Really, he should learn from past mistakes.

            Rogers doesn’t take it, though, he just keeps his back to them and his hand clench to fists. “Yes,” he says. “James ‘Bucky’ Barnes, formerly of the 107th and the SSR special operations team unofficially known as the Howling Commandoes and Rogers’ Raiders.”

            And then he has no words, because he knows who Bucky is. His own father even said Tony reminded him a bit of Bucky. Not the Bucky he knew, but the Bucky Rogers would tell childhood stories about.

            “Oh.”

            “Yeah, ‘oh,’” Wilson says. “We were hoping you could help us, actually.” He hands him a folder with Russian written on it. He opens it and Barnes’ frozen face is there, with a smaller picture of him in his dress uniform back in the 40s. “We were hoping you could link up video feeds to my tablet so we can catch him a bit easier.”

            Tony raises an eyebrow. “Really, now? You were hoping for only that?” Even with his teasing he’s already running through what he would have to do. He’d have to keep JARVIS running the program 24/7 and he’s trying to figure out if it’d be too much for the AI.

            Probably not, but Tony’s got stuff for him to do and can’t have him distracted on video surveillance.

            “Sir, Ms. Potts is here to see you. She’s in the penthouse.”

            He freezes and Rogers fixes him with what is probably supposed to be a stern look, but is more amused than anything else. Tony blinks, trying to match this relatively easygoing man with the out of time, stern soldier from the Battle of New York.

            “You aren’t supposed to be in a meeting right now, are you?” Rogers asks.

            He shakes his head. “No, nope. Pretty sure I’m free all day. Right, JARVIS?”

            “Correct. There is nothing on sir’s calendar for today.”

            “Aha!” Tony says triumphantly. “So, why don’t you go keep her company for a little bit, Cap? She loves you.”

            Rogers looks like he’s going to argue, but he actually sighs and heads back to the elevator. Tony blinks at that, glancing between Wilson and the elevator. He expected more of a fight, not…that.

            “Wow,” is all Tony can say.

            Wilson sighs. “Yeah. The idiot is basically blaming himself for all of this. He’s gonna run himself to the ground at this rate and it’s only been a week.”

            Tony rolls his eyes. Doesn’t surprise him. “Man has a death wish, I swear.”

            That’s where Wilson shakes his head. “Not a death wish. He’s willing to lie down on the line for someone, but he’s not looking to get himself killed. I don’t know about before, but James Barnes coming back, even as the Winter Soldier, gave him a reason to live. He doesn’t have a death wish, not anymore.”

            Shit, Rogers is even more screwed now than before, and that’s saying a lot.

            “Keep an eye on him,” Tony says.

            Wilson snorts. “Trust me. I am.”