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Down the rabbit hole

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Baron von Strucker does not like this new HYDRA.

He does not respect the bureaucrats like Pierce who insist that this new way is the better way. He yearns after the era of Johann Schmidt, the time of miracles – terrifying, horrendous events which reveal the true nature and power of HYDRA. Why do they have to hide inside the institutions of the world, like rats in their holes? He will not. He will not wait for the so-called new world promised by Pierce and his ilk. He will use Loki’s Sceptre to bring about HYDRA’s victory, and then Pierce will have to answer to him.

When it all starts to go wrong – scratch that, when it all starts to go insane, Sebastian can’t understand why he accepts his new reality so quickly. Because it is insane, all of it, and he wishes he could be like Chris, sitting where he’s put, in some kind of armored truck, his hands zip-cuffed behind his back, just muttering “This isn’t real; this isn’t happening,” over and over again.

What the fuck is he doing, though? This isn’t real, it can’t be. Look, an hour ago they were both in D.C. Aren’t they still in D.C., though? Whatever, Sebastian, focus, he tells himself. He’d been there as a kind of anniversary to the whole start of things for the Winter Soldier, which is as fucked up as it sounds. Not the least because Sebastian never actually filmed in D.C. – all of his scenes are in Cleveland, and Atlanta.

It’s the actual Captain America who gets to film in the nation’s capital, he thinks, not the Soviet/Hydra knock-off with the metal arm, who might become Cap one day if he plays his cards right – of course it’s gonna happen, Seb, just gotta be patient, you know, remember, nine picture deal! Sure, and if he’d known that one of those nine pictures would involve around five actual minutes of screen time, two of which were spent as a fricking goat farmer, and another one and a half minutes with him being made some freaky alien’s bitch, he would have . . . he still would have done it, ‘cause five minutes of Infinity War is nothing to balk at. But he wouldn’t have been so fucking grateful.

Back to the present situation, which isn’t fixing itself any time soon. So Sebastian is in D.C. for reasons which suddenly seem weirdly trumped up, but he goes along with it, because that’s what he’s like, easy-going, right? He meets up with Chris, because gotta give the fans something. We’re the best of best friends, right? Sure. Ok, Sebastian isn’t even gonna start with that one. The reality is that, besides the whole Marvel thing, they have absolutely nothing in common. Also, while Sebastian doesn’t have so many friends that he feels he can afford to not have Evans in his life anymore, Chris is different. Clearly.

Otherwise they’d meet up in between movies and publicity stunts like this one. In between interviews and photoshoots, a name comes up – the name of a street. Sebastian, try as he might, can’t remember who said the name, and who suggested they have a look, see if it looked like the intersection from the movie. It’s not like they’re going on their own, anyway. So they find this street, which looks nothing like the movie, of course, because Cleveland, and then . . . and then the world blows up.

Or just one police car. It’s a suspiciously familiar shot, which Sebastian remembers watching on the movie screen, because the talent is never there when awesomely cool explosions happen. Though it isn’t so cool in real life – it’s actually kind of scary. The movie doesn’t show how the smoke wraps around everything, choking you, your eyes on fire. It doesn’t show the smell, at which your brain starts hammering insistently with words like ‘there were people in there, Jesus fuck, there’s people on fire in that car’.

In the midst of it all, he’s strolling down the avenue, all in black, mask covering half his face. Sebastian looks around him, ready to ask the PAs, and the assistants to the PAs, and the assistants to the assistants whether they’re seeing this shit, but everyone’s gone, except Chris, who’s just staring, mouth open.

So Sebastian has to take charge, ain’t that a kick in the head, and he drags Chris to a nearby building, where they crouch down, trying to make themselves smaller, less visible. He wants to reject this new reality, like Chris is doing. But it doesn’t feel like a dream, or a nightmare. He wonders what will happen if he just runs through the line of fire, lets himself get shot. If you die in a dream, you wake up, right? But what if this isn’t a dream? And anyway, who’s dreaming? Sebastian is pretty sure that he’s real, and if he asks Chris, he’ll probably say the same.

That is, if Chris ever manages to man up some time this century, Sebastian thinks, irritated, then feels ashamed. It isn’t fair on the guy. He’s never been in a situation where he’s had to uproot himself not once, but twice, the second time to a country which values blending in seamlessly, not easy for a weird little boy with a weird accent. Chris doesn’t have experience with situations that can change in seconds – and here Sebastian thought he’d forgotten all that. Seems like it wasn’t buried that deep.

But all that’s irrelevant, Sebastian thinks. Because just as he decides to dismiss the fricking Winter Soldier strolling down the street, shooting people and cars at leisure, as some kind of weird MCU re-enactment, he and Chris are surrounded by the STRIKE team. The actual fucking STRIKE team from the movie. There’s Grillo, and that Australian actor he never caught the name of, and he hears Chris take a breath to ask Frank what the fuck is going on, which is when Sebastian commits fully to the madness.

“Chris, shut the fuck up!”

Chris has the gall to look at him, hurt, like Sebastian just kicked his puppy, but the snicker from Grillo – no, it’s Rumlow, it’s fucking Rumlow, in the flesh – tells Sebastian he did the right thing. He puts his hands up, trying to look defenceless. It isn’t hard.

“We’re not them, ok! We might look like them but we’re not! We’re just actors!”

He makes the mistake of looking straight at the guy, right in the eyes. Holy shit. He’s always thought Grillo was overdoing the crazy eyes, weird expressions thing, but he really, really wasn’t. Might even have been downplaying it a little. Sebastian swallows, but keeps going.

“We have ID in our wallets.”

Now that the STRIKE team are closer, Sebastian can see the SHIELD logo on their uniforms, which, on a bright sunny day, don’t look like costumes at all. A drawn-in breath from next to him tells him that Chris sees it too.

“Get up.” Rumlow gestures with his gun. “We’re going for a ride.”

“No, you can’t fuckin’ make us do anything, what the fuck’s goin’ on here-“

Sebastian isn’t fast enough to stop Chris, and not nearly fast enough to stop Rumlow’s murder boyfriend, who slugs Chris in the gut. Then Rumlow gets out his stun baton, and this time Sebastian freaks out.

“No, no no no, what are you doing? He’s not a super soldier, you’ll kill him!” Sebastian is standing between Chris and the stun-baton, holding his hand out, even as his mind is screaming at him to get away from that thing. Sebastian really doesn’t like the speculative look on Rumlow’s face right now, the half-smile. It’s never good when a bad guy is smiling like that, he thinks, and barely reacts when the rest of the STRIKE team surround them, zip-cuffing their wrists.

They’re bundled into this armored truck, which is where things get really freaky, because sitting across from them is the Winter Soldier himself, the guy who Sebastian is starting to call his brother from another mother. Only in his thoughts, of course. Chris is full in his denial mantra, so Sebastian ignores him, in favour of studying the asset, because what else is he supposed to call him?

It’s him, it’s Sebastian, that’s all it is. He’s looking at his own face – and they’re both clean-shaven, because Sebastian is just the master of good decisions today – the long hair for the role, the slightly bulked up physique, the blank look which is just his thinking look, source of endless amounts of “What the hell?” memes. But then there’s the arm, which is where the resemblance ends, even taking into consideration his prosthetic on set. Because it never sparked like that (CGI), it never smelled like that, like circuits shorting out, it never whirred alarmingly, enough to make Sebastian want to back away.

It’s not only the arm that’s losing it, though. Looks like the guy’s brain is developing a short circuit too. The asset keeps looking at his metal arm, turning his hand over and over. Then he stares at Chris, head cocked to the side.

“I knew him. I know him.” The voice is his own, small and quiet, a contrast to the larger than life, powerful image the asset projects.

Sebastian can’t stop to feel sorry for the guy. He can’t. This isn’t a shared hallucination. They’re going to die here. They’re going to vanish out of their world, and no-one will ever know what happened to them. He needs to get it together.

“Hey. Hey! Listen to me-“

The asset’s head turns and his pitiless eyes stare at Sebastian, whose mouth is suddenly dry. Why did he think this was a good idea, anyway?

“You have my face.” The words are said in a low voice. “Who are you?”

“That’s not important right now; you gotta listen to me.” Sebastian’s trying to match his own tone, which is freaky enough, even if there was something behind his own eyes, which there doesn’t seem to be.

“There was snow . . . they cut off my arm.” The asset’s brows draw together, and Sebastian is desperately trying to remember what that flashback sequence was like.

“Look, I get that you’re remembering right now, and you want to know who that guy is. But you can’t tell them that!”

“They’ll help me.”

“No, they won’t! They’ll get Pierce, is that what you want?” Sebastian regrets the question as soon as he asks it, because all of a sudden, the fearsome Winter Soldier looks like a terrified little boy.

“They’ll help me,” he repeats, as mulish as a child, even though there’s terror in his eyes. Sebastian hates that he’s doing this, but he’s never wanted to live as much as in this moment.

“They’re just gonna wipe you, you know that, right? That’s all he’s gonna do. They’re gonna put that thing on your head and shock the fuck out of you, and you’ll never know who that man is.”

The asset can’t meet Sebastian’s eyes.

“I’ll tell you everything. Everything,” Sebastian insists, almost desperate now. He’s pretty sure the truck is slowing down. “You just gotta keep it together while they fix your arm.”

Time’s up. The truck stops and the doors fly open. Before Sebastian fully understands what’s going on, he and Chris are hustled through an underground parking garage into the re-purposed bank vault which looks so much like the movie set, it’s uncanny. But there’s no cameras, or sound equipment. Only two technicians, waiting with their tools, to work on the arm. For the first time, Sebastian wonders what kind of people they are. He and Chris are clearly prisoners, civilians, unarmed, being dragged off to god knows what, and they’re not interested. Like, actively bored.

When they reach the end of the vault, there’s another room. Sebastian’s mouth dries up and he wants to struggle, to resist. He’s flying blind now, because this hadn’t been in the movie. Chris is dragged to what looks like a table, but is in fact a board, and is strapped to it, wide leather straps across his shoulders, chest, waist and thighs. Sebastian is forced to his knees, back to the wall, his wrists cuffed to an attachment which forces him to kneel up so that his arms won’t be wrenched upwards behind his back. No, this isn’t scary at all, his inner voice opines, and he has to hold back a shudder.

Rumlow and the other guy (Collins? Rollins?) stroll up and behind them, in the adjoining room, Sebastian can see the technicians working on the arm. The asset is looking straight ahead, and Sebastian hopes he stays as calm as he looks right now. A second later, he realises he shouldn’t have been so easily distracted, because with a creak, the board Chris is strapped to swivels so that it’s horizontal – no, not perfectly horizontal. Chris’s head is lower than his legs, and Sebastian can feel his stomach churning as he realises what’s about to happen. It’s like he’s in a nightmare, frozen, because he can’t react when one guy covers Chris’s face with a cloth, and the other brings up a hose-pipe, and starts pouring water over his face. Chris starts to choke and struggle, and Sebastian breaks out of his trance.

“What the fuck are you doing? Stop, please stop!” Sebastian’s voice is hoarse, almost a scream.

Rumlow gives him a gentle smile. “Are you gonna talk?”

Chris’s heels are drumming against the board.

“You never asked us anything!”

Rumlow waves a hand, a small gesture, but the men see it, taking off the cloth. Chris turns his head to the side and retches, helplessly.

“Look, we told you, we’re actors, we’re not from around here!”

Rollins (or Collins) was holding what Sebastian recognised as their wallets and phones. “I’ll say. No-one’s bought an iPhone in years. And what the fuck is SAG-AFTRA?”

“It’s the actors’ guild,” a STRIKE team guy volunteers, the one who was pouring water over Chris’s face, Sebastian realises with impotent rage. “It’s really hard to get in.” He sees that his colleagues are giving him looks shaded in varying degrees of contempt, so he subsides to a mumble. “A buddy of mine tried to-“

Rumlow rolls his eyes and interrupts him with a glare. “More important, you guys don’t exist. If these are your real names. I mean, ‘Chris Evans’? Plenty of guys with that name, none who’re the spitting image of Captain America. And Sebastian Stan? What kind of a name is that?”

“It’s Romanian, you ignorant fuck!” Oh, Sebastian, he hears his mother say in his head. No, that’s not the way, not with men like these. And she’s right, as mothers often (always?) are.

Rumlow bends over to look him in the eyes. “You got a mouth on you, kid.”

Sebastian shrinks back against the wall and swallows. “We’re not from around here, we’re from . . . I don’t know . . . another dimension? Where we come from there’s nothing like this – there’s no HYDRA, there’s no enhanced humans. It’s all movies. It’s not real.”

He chances a look to the side at Chris, who’s just staring into space. He’s shivering.

Rumlow stands up and cocks an eyebrow at his buddy, who stares back and shrugs. They don’t believe him, Sebastian thinks, his heart sinking.

“Look, I don’t have any proof, but-“

“Oh, we believe you,” Rumlow says, his tone mild.

Sebastian’s mouth falls open.

“Rollins, tell the boss that Strucker has been fucking around with his fucking staff again, even though he was expressly told to wait until after Insight. Now we’ve got surplus liabilities we need to deal with.”

He turns back to Sebastian and grins. “Don’t look so surprised. The resemblance is too close to be a coincidence. And you know about HYDRA – yeah, buddy, you didn’t say SHIELD, which is what it says on our gear.”

Sebastian wants to cry, conscious of having fucked up to a spectacular degree. He blinks a couple of times, trying to stave it off.

“So, movies, huh?” Rumlow goes on. “Now that sounds interesting. It would help us a lot to know what’s coming.”

Oh, God. Oh, fuck me. Sebastian hopes he can keep his horror out of his face, because he’s just majorly made things worse. If he tells them the truth, there’s nothing to stop Rumlow from killing them straight off. Think, you fucking moron, think fast.

“Maybe you need another incentive,” Rumlow adds in the tone he uses at his worst. He waves a careless hand at Chris, and the two fucking goons start on him again.

“We only finished the second movie!” Sebastian is shouting now. He can’t bear it, they’re killing him, he’s losing his mind. “The Winter Soldier, and that’s it, that’s all we know!”

The water stops. Chris retches again. Rumlow gives Sebastian an inquiring look.

“HYDRA wins! The next one is gonna be dystopian, but we haven’t started on it yet!”

Rumlow sneers. “That the best you can do? You think we’re stupid? Some big Hollywood studio blowing all that cash on a loser? You think I can’t tell that what you two are wearing could have bought me my first car, and change?”

“It’s the second movie in a trilogy, they’re always downers,” Sebastian counters, almost believing his own lie now. “You never seen Empire?” He tries to sound pure New York, the way it sometimes comes out in interviews, unplanned.

Rumlow stares at him for a few seconds. “You know, kid, I can’t tell if you’re lying or not. Persuade me, come on. Tell me something about the actor who plays me, let’s see if I buy it too.”

Oh, fuck, Sebastian thinks. And here I was trying not to associate you two. “He used to be a boxer. Doesn’t pull his punches.”

From the outer room, Rollins walks in, followed by the asset, who seems not to have freaked out, Sebastian notes in relief. There’s been no Pierce, no ‘wipe him and start over,’ nothing like that. Rollins says something to Rumlow, too low for Sebastian to hear, and Rumlow nods. He snaps his fingers at the two goons around Chris, and they bring the board upright again.

“You two join Rollins; he’ll tell you what to do. No, not you,” he says, turning to the asset. “Stay here, got something to show you.”

The two STRIKE members and Rollins leave the room, shutting the door behind them. The place isn’t soundproofed, though, so they all hear what happens next: gunshots and screams, then silence. The asset looks at Rumlow, jaw working. Rumlow shrugs.

“Pierce’s orders. After Insight, we won’t need them no more.”

Sebastian wonders if the asset realises what this means – that they won’t need him either. In HYDRA’s brave new world, there’s no place for assassins, not when they have the helicarriers to keep order. He looks up, only to see Rumlow’s eyes on him, sparkling.

“Now, about you. Pierce had instructions, too.”

Sebastian’s eyes are burning. This is it, they’re gonna fucking die here.

“It can go one of two ways, now,” Rumlow continues. “I shoot your buddy Evans here in the gut, take him a couple of hours of agony to die. And you, I can pour gasoline all over you and light a match.”

Sebastian is breathing heavily through his nose, chewing on his lower lip, trying to find a loophole, anything – wait, he’d said one of two ways.

“Or?” he croaks, shaking.

Rumlow smirks. “Or I can get the asset here to make it quick. He’s good at that. Been doing it for longer than any of us were alive. But you knew that, already.” He waits, but Sebastian has nothing to add. He’s not sure where this is going, but he is sure that he won’t like it.

“All I want is a little favour from you, Sebastian.” Rumlow lingers on his name as if he’s chewing it. He walks closer and closer, until Sebastian’s face is buried in the man’s crotch, and he has to turn his head to the side so he can breathe. “Maybe not so little.”

What. The. Fuck. Is this real? Did he fucking just say what he said? What? On a rational level, Sebastian understands what this is, but his thoughts are flying around like there’s a tornado in his head, rushing noise included.

“What? Why?” is all he can splutter in the moment. It’s because he’s facing in that direction that he catches the look on Chris’s face, eyes wide, jaw clenched. Chris gets it, too.

“I thought you knew all about us,” Rumlow says, mildly.

“Sure, I do. ‘Order through pain’, right? This is order?”

Rumlow shrugs. “Final offer, pal. Take it or leave it.”

Fuckin’ hell. Rumlow is strangely focused on him, and Sebastian can’t understand why. That is, until he looks past Rumlow’s legs and sees the asset, standing in the doorway, perpetually puzzled look on his face. Oh. So that’s how it is. They have the same face, but no-one’s allowed to touch the asset. Sebastian’s no asset, though. He’s just a poor schmuck who’s gonna get buried in a shallow grave on some building site. If they even bother with that.

Sebastian has a plan. He does. He’s just not sure how messed up he’ll be after . . . after. But he needs time. So. This. It’s just a blow-job, right? One he doesn’t want to give, but still. How bad can it be? He looks up into Rumlow’s face, and is unsurprised to find the man looking down at him.

“Fine,” he says, “ok. I’ll do it.” Is that consent? Sebastian wonders. It doesn’t count, right? He doesn’t think it counts, what with him being tied up and on his knees. He doesn’t look up again, but can hear the smile in Rumlow’s voice when he answers.

“Good choice,” he says, and Sebastian wants nothing more than to beat him to death, to tear at him with his teeth. But he’s not going to do that.

Time, that’s all they need. Just some time. It’s nothing. This is nothing. Rumlow’s zipper going down a few inches from his face snaps him out of a trance, and there it is. His dick. Hard already, beaded with precome, this asshole really wants it. It’s not like he’s never done this before, Sebastian thinks, though not for a while. Like falling off a bike, right? The worst thing about it was that it could be pleasant, in another context. That is, the context in which you actually want it, moron.

Sebastian sighs, flicks a glance up to where Rumlow is grinning down at him, and opens his mouth as wide as he can, sliding it down over the guy’s dick, careful with his teeth. He doesn’t even want to think what Rumlow would do if he accidentally hurt him. Rumlow’s cock twitches in his mouth with another spurt of precome, and Sebastian wants to gag. Instead he starts sliding up and down, using his tongue as much as he can, trying not to think of the taste and the smell; which aren’t bad, just . . . unwanted. He doesn’t want this man, he doesn’t want to be doing this, is suddenly ashamed of the picture he must make, on his knees, sucking a man off, being made to do that.

A heavy hand lands on his head, fingers tighten in his hair, and he’s forced down even further, until the blunt tip is in his throat. Rumlow is fucking his face now, and Sebastian just has to keep his mouth open and take it, which he can. Turns out he managed to train himself out of a sensitive gag reflex years ago – good for you, Sebastian, his sarcastic inner voice says. You can make it really good for the guy who’s raping you.

A rumble above his head which he can feel in his jaw - it's Rumlow, groaning.

“No, don’t look away, friend,” Rumlow says, and the guy sounds blissed. Still got it, Sebastian thinks, bitter. “You know, Cap had that exact same look on his face, the day we jumped him in the elevator.”

“You’re a fucking monster,” Chris spits out.

Rumlow doesn’t answer, just puts his hand on the back of Sebastian’s head and pushes, until his mouth is stretched around the base of Rumlow’s cock, and his nose is buried in the man’s pubic hair. Great, Chris, thanks. Now I can’t fucking breathe. He swallows once, twice, trying to get Rumlow to come, because his jaw is aching, and he’s sure his throat is gonna be wrecked, and he wants this to be over, to be done. Without warning, Rumlow’s cock twitches, and a couple of spurts come down his throat. Rumlow pulls out a little, so that a lot of it fills his mouth, too. Rumlow curses, shoving in again for one last thrust, and it’s over.

Sebastian zones out for a few seconds, wishing away the taste and the ache in his jaw and the sore feeling in the back of his throat. When he comes back, Rumlow is zipped up again, looking down at him with a strange look in his eyes. Was that regret? Who the fuck cares, Sebastian thinks, wondering why everything around him is muffled, muted. No, fuck that. Freak out later, use brain now.

Rumlow walks to the door, stopping to speak to the asset.

“Pierce left your orders with me.” It doesn’t escape Sebastian’s notice how the asset shivers when he hears the name. “Shoot them, rig everything, blow this place up.”

The asset looks into the other room. “The chair too?”

Rumlow rolls his eyes. “Yeah, brain trust. Everything.” He looks at Sebastian, who realises he was right the first time. That’s regret. “Sorry, kid. Orders.” He shrugs and leaves, and Sebastian doesn’t miss the look of hatred the asset throws after him.

Sebastian knows that it’s pointless, but he still has to try, before his last resort. The asset is doing something in the vault, probably setting up bombs and shit – Sebastian has no idea.

“You don’t have to do this, you know. You can let us go and get out of here. If they don’t need the chair anymore, they don’t need you.”

“I have orders,” the asset mutters. “Pierce gave the order. I can’t disobey. I. You said you’ll tell me everything, but. He gave an order.”

Jesus. This is pointless, Sebastian thinks. Let’s hope the rest isn’t, because otherwise, it’s over. Sebastian leans back against the wall, and tries to remember, wishing he could stretch out his arms. They hurt like a motherfucker.

“Seb, I . . . I’m so sorry, bro.” Chris is staring at him, yearning, his eyes shiny with tears.

Sebastian tries to smile through trembling lips. “Wait, Chris. Just wait.”

So. It’s been a couple of years, but he has a good memory. It can’t fail him now. He takes a deep breath, and starts, pitching his voice so that it can be heard, even in the vault. "Zhelaniye. Rzhavyy. Semnadtsat. Rassvet.”

In the next room, the asset stops, freezing in place. “What the hell?”

Sebastian counts off in his head, trying to make sure he has the correct number, that he doesn’t leave any out. ”Pech. Devyat. Dobroserdechnyy. Vozvrashcheniye na rodinu.” He’s not hundred percent sure of the pronunciation – they weren’t in his script, after all – but he’s doing his best, and he’s heard them often enough, either sitting in the pod thing, as Daniel practices, or in the Siberia set.

The asset is moving closer, shuddering, holding onto the doorway. Sebastian has to hurry.

”Odin. Gruzovoy vagon.” Ok. Now for the moment of truth. He stares at Chris as he says it, because if this is it, if this is when he dies, he doesn’t want to see it coming. ”Soldat?”

For a few heart stopping seconds, there’s silence in the bank vault slash torture chamber. Then Sebastian hears it: ”Ya gotov otvechat.”

His head whips back to where the Winter Soldier is standing upright in the doorway, eyes blank, waiting for instruction. Sebastian licks his lips, and then regrets it. He can still taste Rumlow in his mouth. He shakes off the thought.

“Do you understand me?”

“Yes.” It’s his own voice, which always sounds weird outside his body, even more when it’s completely stripped of any feeling.

“Free him, then me.”

The asset (the soldier?) walks over to Chris and rips out the straps, just like that. Then it’s Sebastian’s turn, and his arms fall down, tied behind him so long his hands are numb. Chris staggers over to him and pulls him up, shaking, patting him down.

“You ok, man? Fuck, that was amazing, what you just did, amazing!” Chris’s voice is shaking too, as bad as his hands, and Sebastian pats him on the shoulder. He knows Chris is having a little breakdown, but there’s no time for that.

The asset is just standing there, waiting for more orders. Sebastian needs to think, but he already has something in mind.

“Do you remember where your last target was hiding, the one you shot through the wall?”

The asset nods, and Sebastian continues. “Is there surveillance on the apartment?”

The asset takes out his phone, and checks a few things on it. Sebastian would like to roll his eyes – so HYDRA’s got an app? Figures.

“There’s a team on it – just two people.”

“Will they be missed?”

The asset shrugs. “Insight goes up soon. Probably not.”

Sebastian nods. He had the idea the only minute he had real time to think that day – they were going to hide in plain sight.

“This is your mission. Get us out of here. Blow it up behind us.” The asset needs to follow Pierce’s last orders, as Sebastian doesn’t want any alarm bells to start ringing at the Triskelion before it’s too late. “Take us to the apartment. Get rid of the surveillance.” He thinks some more. “Quietly.”

The asset nods and strides through the front part of the vault, which is now awash in blood and bodies. Sebastian and Chris follow, trying to avoid the pools of blood, and soon they’re in the parking garage. As they get in the SUV, Sebastian can feel Chris’s eyes on him, but he ignores it. Let them get out of here, first. The minute their car is in the open air, the asset taps his phone, and there’s a muffled crump in the building they just left.

Chris leans over the gear-shift, grabbing Sebastian’s shoulder. “Listen, bro, you can’t just let him kill two people, even if they are HYDRA.” Fucking impatient asshole, Sebastian thinks.

“Watch me.”

“Seb-“

“They were gonna’ kill us, Chris!” Sebastian is suddenly consumed with rage. He’s just spent hours being alternately terrified for himself and for his friend, has watched his friend being tortured, and oh – let’s not forget the dick in his mouth. “They tortured you.”

“They’re not the guys who tortured us, Seb.”

Sebastian stares at Chris; he can't possibly be this naive, can he? “What, you think just ‘cos they’re surveillance, they don’t do that shit? Hey, soldier – go on, tell us that there's people in HYDRA who don't do the dirty shit.”

The soldier gives him a sidelong glance. “Everyone does what is necessary.”

Chris sighs, rubbing his face. He scratches the back of his neck, and subsides, the picture of mutinous annoyance. Sebastian shakes his head – you really are Captain America, he thinks. Not everyone deserves a second chance, dude. Some don’t even deserve the first one.

They arrive near Steve Rogers’ apartment, and the soldier parks in a side street. He practically melts out of the vehicle, and before Sebastian even has time to think something like, this is gonna be awkward, he’s back, looking exactly the same, not even out of breath.

“Mission complete,” he says.

He gets them inside after Chris shows him the window he’d climbed through in the movie – sure, it had been on a set, but they’d taken exterior shots which for once, matched the reality.

Finally, they’re standing in Steve’s apartment, and it’s at this point that Sebastian’s stock of strength and sanity abruptly runs out. He’s tired, his throat hurts, his eyes burn with unshed tears, and in a crazy turn of events, he wants his mom. He needs her so bad. He pictures her reassuring him in Romanian, stroking his hair, and he wants to be small enough to hide in her arms from the world. Except she isn’t in this world, and he doesn’t know if he’ll ever see her again.

Sebastian takes a deep breath. Just one more thing, he promises himself, one more. “Soldier, this is your mission. You will get to Helicarrier C. You will kill any HYDRA operatives in your way. You will help Steve Rogers. You will tell him that you’re not Bucky yet, that you don’t remember yet, but that he needs to come here, and we’ll explain everything.”

The soldier leaves the way he came in, out the window, and Sebastian wants to collapse into a chair and just sleep. Sleep for days. But he senses that Chris needs to talk. He hopes that Chris doesn’t need reassurance, ‘cause he’s fresh out. He looks up and cringes. Chris’s eyes are full of an emotion he can’t pin down – is that pity? Fuck’s sake.

“Don’t feel sorry for me, man. I don’t need that shit.”

Chris’s hands land on his shoulders, and Sebastian has to hold back a shudder. Don’t ya know nothing, he thinks. You’re not supposed to grope a rape victim. Oh fuck. His face is crumpling into tears and he can’t stop it.

“You’re fucking amazing, you know that?” There’s actual adoration in Chris’s voice, as he wraps him in a bear hug. “You saved us. We’re alive thanks to you.”

In between hiccuping sobs, Sebastian wants to refute that. “I let some random asshole come in my mouth. Not sure there’s a medal for that. Anyway, I thought none of this was real, Chris.”

Chris is rubbing circles into Sebastian’s back, but he pauses and seems to consider it. “About halfway through them pouring water over my face, it became real. Pretty sure I never pissed myself in a dream – at least, not without waking up.” Then he draws back, like this is when he hears what Sebastian just said. “You didn’t let him do anything, Seb,” he snarls, eyes burning. “He raped you. I wanted to tear his guts out and feed them to him.”

Sebastian smiles through tears. “Very violent. I approve.” He nuzzles into the crook of Chris’s neck, closing his eyes. “You can take a shower and change your clothes – you’re the same size, right?”

Chris expels his breath in a low chuff which could be a laugh, if either of them were in a laughing mood. “Yeah. Do you think we’ll get arrested for stealing Captain America’s clothes? I mean, I’d pay him, except I got no money, and none of my cards will work, ‘cos we don’t exist here.”

Sebastian pulls back, reluctant. The smile on Chris’s face is tired and rueful. “I want to brush my teeth. That’s the extent of my wishes for the future. A toothbrush and toothpaste. Lots of toothpaste.”

Chris strokes his cheek, something he’s never done before, and Sebastian raises an eyebrow, wondering. But Chris doesn’t get into it. “Let’s get clean, and commit some grand theft clothing. Maybe Captain America has a solution for our problem.”

Sebastian would like to think so, but he’s pretty sure that Rogers will know as much as they do about their situation. Though he’s heard one thing which sounded familiar, back in the bank vault of drowning and sex crimes. Strucker, and a staff. Wasn’t that part of the plot of Ultron? Let’s hope Chris remembers what that was all about, because otherwise, Sebastian is pretty sure that they’re stuck here for good.