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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.”


“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.

Chapter Text

The hot water washes away the vomit and tears and Chris starts to feel human again. He resolutely meets his own eyes in the small, fogged-up mirror. He isn’t going to make this worse than it was. All they did was drown him, a little. They didn’t do to him what they’d done to Seb, which . . . God. Jesus fuck.

When he closes his eyes he’s still in that room, feeling a fleeting moment’s joy at being upright, ‘cause they can’t waterboard him like that, right? That means it’s stopped.

Then Rumlow- and let’s digress a little. Like, what the fuck? What the fuck, man? When did he accept the reality of all this? Well, it had taken his own panic at not being able to breathe, the black spots in front of his eyes, the stream of piss down his leg, and he accepted it. So, back to the vault. Then a death-happy rapist shoves his crotch in Seb’s face with a grin, and Chris’s whole world turns upside down.

The look of despair and acceptance in Seb’s eyes still haunts him, hours later. At the time, Chris had no doubt that Rumlow would do all of the things he said, but ultimately, wouldn’t they be as dead anyway? He’s still ashamed that he didn’t offer to take Seb’s place, that he wasn’t strong enough. All I did was fuck things up even more, he thinks. It's like a nightmarish vision he can't scrub away: Seb choking on that asshole’s dick, a vein popping in his neck as he tries to breathe.

Chris can’t look at himself any more. He investigates the storage space under the wash-basin, discovering tons of supplies – disposable razors in their packaging, shaving foam, unopened toothbrushes. He shakes his head. Man, they really treated Rogers like some caveman, like they needed to do everything for him. He came from the forties, not the Stone Age.

Chris has an idea. It won’t take long.

When he comes out, Seb is sitting at the kitchen table, writing furiously. They found some paper and pencils, but Seb had shooed him into the shower, insisting on him taking the first one. Chris realises that he’s only wearing a towel, and wants to retreat into the bathroom, but Seb’s already seen him. His eyes go blank for a second, then his mouth twitches into a half-smile.

“You shaved?” Seb’s voice is still a little hoarse, and Chris wishes he has Rumlow in front of him, so he can tear his dick off with his bare hands.

“Yeah. Thought maybe Rogers will be more likely to help us if he sees a face he recognises.” That comes out snarkier than he intends. Or does it?

Seb raises an eyebrow. “Ooh. Shots fired!”

Chris slaps a hand to his chest in mock surprise. “What? What’d I say?”

Seb just shakes his head. “It’s possible that he really is that altruistic.”


Chris wants Seb to get in the bathroom, he wants something to wash that hurt look off his face, that little puzzled crease between his eyebrows, that expression of ‘what just happened to me?’ He knows it’s just a superficial thing, just a stop-gap, but still.

“Hey,” he starts, “why don’t you see if I left any hot water in the tank?”

Seb grins, finally. “Oh, you fucker.”

Chris grins back. He hopes Seb won’t stab him with the toothbrush he laid out on the wash-basin. He wanders into Captain America’s bedroom (mindfuck number one) and starts rummaging through his drawers (mindfuck number two).

At first, he’s not sure if he should steal the man’s underwear as well as some sweats and a t-shirt, but then decides to go all in. They can try to repay the guy later, right, he thinks, ignoring the little voice in his head which asks, how? How are they going to repay him? They don’t exist, here. They have no money, no bank accounts, nothing. That is, if they trust what a murdering rapist told them, while they were restrained and tortured, but why would he lie about that?

As he’s getting dressed, he remembers Rumlow talking about the clothes they were wearing – heh, he thinks. Maybe I can sell them for some cash.

Chris can hear the shower running so he decides to see what Seb’s been writing. Wow. He’s managed to start a goddamn list of all the plot points after the Winter Soldier – some things from Ultron that he doesn't even remember, and he’s in the goddamn movie.

In the corner, Chris sees a list of the trigger words, the ones Seb used in the bank vault, and with a feeling like a hand grasping his heart and squeezing, Chris sees that Seb has penciled in a little note next to them, which says spelling? He rubs his face – it doesn't matter if the spelling is wrong, they’re not in that weird Russian font which makes Chris think of old spy movies from the seventies – but it’s so typical of Seb, especially since he took that writing class.

Suddenly, he’s back in that room, waiting for Seb’s supremely terrifying alter ego to come in and blast them away, wondering if it’ll hurt and how bad, when he hears Seb start reciting words in what sounds like Russian. He remembers it feeling painful, the sudden hope. Of course, first he wonders if Seb’s losing his mind, if it was too much for him, what that motherfucker did to him. It’s only when the Winter Soldier actually answers Seb that Chris remembers, because the press tour for Civil War had been full of the words, and the responses, and expecting Seb to be word perfect in lines from a movie that had wrapped over a year before.

What he mostly remembers is Seb getting annoyed over YouTube commenters bitching about his Russian pronunciation, which is when Mackie threatened to take away his phone. Chris didn’t blame him; the fifteenth round of ‘do they know that Romanian is actually not the same as Russian’ or ‘Bucky Barnes was from Brooklyn’ even made him roll his eyes, and he loves Seb. Wait, wait, not loves. Likes. As a friend? Some friend you are, the little voice in his head jibes – you let him get face-fucked by a sociopath.

“Don’t you know it’s rude to read someone’s writing behind their back?” When he jumps, he looks around to see Seb, with wet hair and a supremely skeptical look.

“Oh, I’m sorry, didn’t realize you were writing in your journal. What’s this, your Romanian shopping list?” Chris pretends not to notice that Seb is wearing his own clothes, not anything 'borrowed' from Captain America, and Chris doesn't think it's because they'd be the wrong size.

Sebastian rolls his eyes. “You know, you were in Civil War, would it kill you to- oh, you are so fucking with me, right?”

Chris grins. Of course, that’s when Captain frickin’ America climbs through the window. “Jesus tapdancing Christ!” No, it’s not his suavest moment, he realises. “You almost gave me a fucking heart attack, bro!”

Steve Rogers isn’t wearing his cowl, and he isn’t carrying his shield, but he’s got the WWII version of the suit on, and Chris is suddenly swamped in nostalgia for it. His favorite is still the so-called stealth suit, but the WWII one is ok. It’s better than the Avengers one – to be fair, a potato sack with arm-holes would have been better than the Avengers one. He knows his mind is trying to distract him from looking at the guy’s face, and then he bites the bullet: it’s his face, but it isn’t, just like it was Seb’s face on the Winter Soldier, yet not.

Cap raises both hands in what’s supposed to be a calming gesture, Chris supposes. Chris hopes it’s working on Seb, but a glance down, where Seb’s hand is clenched into a fist, tells him otherwise. Cap’s eyes follow Chris’s, and suddenly there’s agony in them. It’s Seb’s left arm, Chris realises, and it’s made of flesh and blood.

“I guess it’s pointless to say that I’m Steve Rogers,” Cap starts, and they both nod like puppets on strings.

Chris realises that he’s fuckin’ starstruck, because this, in front of him, isn’t him. Steve Rogers, the real one, has a presence, a larger than life feel, that Chris needs fifteen cameras and various filters to even approach. Also, there isn’t one fuckin’ wrinkle on his perfect face.

Seb clears his throat. “Sorry for breaking in.”

Steve (‘cos yeah, he has to start calling him Steve) shrugs. “I wasn’t coming back here, anyway. Hey, I gotta let them in, ok?”

Chris is bracing himself for a pissed off Winter Soldier, when he thinks, wait . . . them? Then Mackie comes through the door, and Chris knows he makes some kind of movement to, you know, hug the guy, when Seb grabs his arm, shaking his head a little. ‘Cos yeah, it’s not Mackie. It’s Sam Wilson. Followed by . . . Chris actually can’t tell. Is it the asset? Is it Barnes? Whoever it is, he isn’t happy with them. That’s Seb’s pissed-off look, right there, and it’s much scarier on a superstrong man with a metal arm.

“Bucky, no!” Rogers can tell what his friend wants to do when he starts murder-strutting his way towards them.

“You used the words on me. You sent me after them.” That’s Seb’s voice alright, but no emotion in the words.

Seb says nothing, just raises an eyebrow and folds his arms. Rogers looks from one to the other, like he doesn’t know what’s going on, which is probably right, Chris thinks. One minute his friend’s been dead for eighty years, next minute he’s got two versions. Well, Seb’s mine, Chris thinks. You can’t have him. Wait, what?

Barnes has that same weirded out look that he had in the bank vault. He looks at Rogers, like he knows he’s supposed to know him. Then he looks back at Seb.

“It was a good plan.” He licks his lips, giving Rogers another sneaky look. “I know you.”

Rogers’ eyes turn all shiny, and Chris wonders: do I look that dopey when I look at Seb- uh – Barnes – in the movies?

“Yes, you do, Bucky.”

They probably would all stand there for hours, Chris thinks, except Wilson, at least, still has some sense. “Don’t you need to get that uniform off? It weighs a ton dry, let alone wet.”

Rogers pulls himself together and puts an arm over Bucky’s shoulders, then winces when Bucky flinches, like he’s expecting a slap. No wonder, Chris thinks, remembering the scene from the movie, with Pierce. At least Redford was old school, and knew how to fake a slap so that it looked good on camera.

They go into Rogers’ bedroom, and he and Seb look at Wilson, who looks back again. Awkward.

“Man, this is weird.” He even sounds like Mackie, which, why shouldn’t he? Wilson is holding the shield over one arm and a small backpack in the other. “Hey, we found these in the car Robocop was driving.”

Chris looks inside, and it’s their wallets and phones. Both screens are cracked but the phones still light up. He looks at the picture of himself and Dodger on the home screen and wants to cry.

“Cute dog.” Chris looks up, and Wilson is looking back at him, eyes warm and kind.

His eyes sting and he has to blink fast. Come on, Chris. Keep it together. Seb is still looking down at his own phone, showing a picture of himself as a kid, with his mom. There’s a muscle twitching in his jaw, and he’s taking deep breaths through his nose. He’s never seen Seb like this, operating on his last nerve, trying hard to keep himself together. Well, he has – once before – in the vault.

Seb looks up, meeting Wilson’s eyes. “Sebastian,” he says, going for a handshake, and Wilson nods, pretending, Chris thinks, that he hasn’t been told this.

“Sam,” he answers, and Seb nods.

Chris plays along with the introductions. An uncomfortable silence falls over them and Chris can see on Wilson’s face that he’s trying to come up with something non-confrontational to break it.

“Hey Rogers! Tell me you still have those beers I brought over the other night!”

“Yeah! There’s those godawful chips too!” Steve’s voice is slightly muffled, like he’s getting dressed. There’s also the faint sound of thuds, probably Bucky’s guns and knives hitting the floor.

“How dare you man, cool ranch doritos are the bomb!”

“Oh, my man, you are so wrong. The wrongest, in fact,” Chris finds himself saying, and just like that, the ice is broken. “Come on, let me give you a hand with that.”

He finds himself in Captain America’s kitchen nook (what the actual fuck) opening cupboards, getting out bowls for all the snack foods he can find – chips, nuts, the works. He comes back out and hands Seb a beer.

Seb looks at the bottle like he doesn’t know what it is, and Chris feels a chill down his spine. Is this shock? Is he going into shock? There was a second, in the vault, when Seb spaced out, but managed to pull himself together. Now they’re kinda safe, but Chris doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t, and looks at Wilson, telegraphing his panic.

“Hey, what about you, too good for cool ranch?” Wilson says, and it’s just as breezy as Mackie always is. There’s nothing deep, no ‘do you wanna talk about it’ hidden question.

“Just give me all the carbs,” Seb answers, finally back and present in the room with them. “All of them.”

Wilson laughs, and they sit down around the kitchen table. Steve and Bucky (might as well go all in, Chris thinks) join them, both wearing some version of athleisure wear, and Chris wonders if Rogers has any clothes left.

“Shit, bro, I took your clothes, man-“ he starts, but Steve cuts him off with a wave.

“If you’d looked in the other closet, you’d have found so much more, all still in the packaging.” Steve grins, a wide smile. Chris is reminded of the notes in the margins of his ‘USO’ scripts – bigger smile, cheesier. “After Natasha saw what I was wearing in New York, just after I came out of the ice, she left specific instructions. Not sure I’m fine with a lady buying my underwear for me, though.”

Seb finally smiles, and Chris feels like he does on a spring day back home – the sun comes out, the birds are singing . . . what the hell is happening to him? Besides being marooned in another dimension.

Barnes is just staring at the food and Chris wonders if he can eat it. Steve seems to reach that conclusion at the same time, as does Wilson.

“Homie, don’t know if that’s good for his stomach – don’t know what they’ve been feeding him. You,” he adds, looking straight at Bucky this time. Bucky shrugs.

“Sometimes I got solids. If I spent longer out of cryo. Nothing too . . . too . . .” He’s chewing the inside of his mouth, like he’s looking for a word, and Chris watches Rogers’s heart break a million times in a few seconds. “Nothing spicy, I guess.”

Steve looks resolute, jaw clenched, like he’s on a recruitment poster. “You’re getting some oatmeal. There’s that instant stuff, for the microwave.”

“Shit, Stevie, you know I hate oatmeal,” Barnes says, and everyone gapes at him, Chris included. They recover quickly, and there’s a smile in Steve’s voice when he answers.

“No arguments, Sergeant.”

“Gonna pull rank on me now?” Barnes grumbles, and subsides. Then he goes blank again.

“So, in another universe, there’s all kinds of movies about us?” Wilson is trying to change the subject, Chris gets it, and he reluctantly looks away from Bucky, who’s sitting there like a switched off robot. “Tell me Denzel Washington plays me.”

Seb snorts, looking up from his phone, where he’s been scrolling through his photo gallery. “Denzel Washington is in his sixties, man, seriously.”

“That doesn’t matter!” Wilson’s voice is loud and offended. “Black don’t crack!” Steve, who’s just coming back with a bowl of oatmeal and a spoon, opens his mouth, and Wilson makes a ‘stop’ hand gesture. “And I can say that, because I’m black.”

Seb shrugs, a half-smile on his face, which is as much he’s been able to manage since . . . yeah, since. “Fair enough. Nah, man. A guy called Anthony Mackie plays you. A really good friend,” he continues, switching to Safari, “who doesn’t exist here. Come on! He was in the fricking Hurt Locker! That movie won Best Picture!”

Chris shakes his head, distracted for a second by Steve murmuring to Bucky, getting him to eat his oatmeal by making it an order. Even though Bucky seemed more lucid than he’d been at the end of Winter Soldier, it wasn’t going to be that easy to get him back.

“Hey, look up Robert Redford,” Chris says, and Seb gives him the supreme stink-eye.

“I don’t know what would be worse, finding out he exists, or finding out he doesn’t. Seriously.”

Oh, of course. Because he looks like Pierce, Chris thinks.

Steve grabs a beer and some chips and sits down, finally satisfied that Bucky’s eating. He stares at Chris and Seb in turn. Chris finds himself almost hypnotised by the guy’s presence; has to hold back from telling him everything at once.

“So. Bucky told us everything he remembers from the bank vault, but I’d still like to hear it from you.”

Seb winces, and just like that, he sees an expression of sympathy form on his own face, which is weird, as he's not looking in a mirror.

“I didn’t mean . . . just tell us how . . . “ Captain America is lost for words, Chris thinks. Guess it’s not so easy when there’s no script to follow, huh.

Wilson shakes his head, mumbling, “Come on, man.”

“I think I know how we got here, but I’m coming to that last.” Seb has Steve’s attention immediately, and once again, Chris feels the irrational impulse to put himself between them. “Basically, we were on a press tour, for the latest Avengers movie. Someone suggested going for a walk under the Roosevelt Bridge-“

Seb pauses, like he’s wondering who that was, and why he can’t remember, just like Chris. He shakes it off. “The next thing I know, a police cruiser blows up, the Winter Soldier is walking down the street, shooting people, and we’re on our own. Me and Chris.”

Chris nods. “Could have been on your own, for all the use I was,” he says. Wow, that came out bitter. Seb meets his eyes, shakes his head.

“Hey, I grew up with Communism, remember? I know from crazy shit.”

Sam and Steve exchange looks.

“I was born in Romania,” Seb explains. “Came over here when I was twelve. Anyway, we’re trying to keep a low profile, when we get picked up by the Strike team. That . . . Rollins? He’s one crazy fuck.”

“Is he the one who punched me in the gut?” Chris asks, still feeling it.

Seb nods. “After I talked Rumlow out of shocking your reckless ass,” he continues, smirking a little at Chris, “they cuffed us and put us in a van with Bucky. I thought, if he doesn’t get wiped, maybe he’d be able to help us, later. And he did.”

Steve gives Sam another careful look. Bucky, who’s finished eating by now, butts in. “They don’t know what that means. The wipe.”

Seb is chewing on his lower lip. “They had this sort of chair. They would strap him in it and zap his brain with . . . oh, I don’t know. A million volts. His memories would be gone.”

Sam is sitting there mouth open, while Steve rubs his forehead, slowly and deliberately, his eyes unfocused.

“Before you ask if it hurt, pretty sure it hurt like a motherfucker,” Seb goes on. “’Cos I lost my voice with all the screaming I had to do.”

Bucky just shrugs. “It was HYDRA. Everything hurt. It’s what they do.” It looks like he’s passing through a lucid phase again, Chris thinks.

“Anyway, they waterboarded Chris, and then Rumlow made me an offer I couldn't refuse,” Seb says, and Chris bristles, angry at Seb’s light tone, at the impression he's giving, that it was nothing.

He wants to say something, but Sam catches his eye, shaking his head. Sure, Chris gets it, Seb has to control the narrative at least, because he couldn't control what happened to him. Still, he wants to convey how helpless he felt, how it was the worst thing in the world for him to watch Seb being raped. Oh, it was bad for you, was it, you selfish prick, his inner voice taunts him.

“When Rumlow- when they all left, I tried to talk Bucky into helping us, but it was just too much, the conditioning and all. So, I used these words – they’re in Russian – they were revealed in a flashback, in a later movie.”

Bucky spoke up again. “You told Rumlow that there aren’t any later movies.”

“I lied.” Seb shrugged. Bucky raises an eyebrow. It seems like an admiring eyebrow, as far as Chris can tell. “The Winter Soldier was released almost five years ago. We’re from 2019.”

“So, that list you made . . . “ Steve asks, and Chris remembers: Steve Rogers has an eidetic memory. Comic books, again – Seb had told him all that.

“Everything that happens after this movie. The ending’s already changed a bit – before, you still manage to talk Bucky down, but he shoots you three times and beats you half to death first.” Steve’s mouth is hanging open.

“This is all pretty hard to believe,” Sam mumbles, and Chris rolls his eyes.

“C’mon, Seb, give them the line.” He’s heard it often enough, had it shouted at him in conventions, proof of the enduring Stucky love. He’d have thought throwing away his shield twice and defying 117 countries would be enough.

Chris starts it, modulating his voice, toning it down, turning to Seb, who doesn’t want to meet his eyes. “Thank you, Buck. But I can get by on my own.”

Seb answers with a tired smile. “Thing is . . . you don’t have to. I’m with you to the end of the line, pal.”

Both Steve and Bucky are stunned. Steve is the first to avert his eyes, which are shiny, while Bucky is frozen in shock, breathing heavily. Steve bites his lip, shaking his head.

“Can’t read about that in a museum.” He gets up, knuckling at his eyes, and bends over next to Bucky. “C’mon buddy, you need some rest. You’ll feel better after.”

“You were smaller, before. Right?” Bucky is mumbling the words, agitated, and Steve looks like he’s gonna burst into tears.

“Yeah, Buck.” He puts an arm around him, leading him to the bedroom. He’s back in a few minutes, and Seb is now busily peeling the label off his beer bottle.

“So, this list,” Seb starts, turning the notebook around to face them. “Over here, there’s the trigger words. They’re actually in a red notebook, which they kept in Siberia. Along with Bucky. I know, it all sounds crazy, but that’s how it was in the movies, at least. One of Bucky’s handlers, a guy called Karpov, he’s hiding in Cleveland. I think Black Widow should be able to track him down.”

“What’s all this other stuff?” Sam asks, and Chris sees him pointing at the list Seb made, of all the things that happen to lead to Civil War.

Chris decides it’s time to show that he’s not completely useless. “Back in the vault, Rumlow mentioned a guy called Strucker, and a staff. I remember that from the second Avengers movie. This Hydra guy had found Loki’s Sceptre and the Avengers went to get it. All sorts of shit happened after that. If he’s the one who brought us here, maybe he knows how to get us back.”

Seb is grinning at him, now. What? he wants to ask. Not just a pretty face, bro.

“If the Avengers got it the last time, maybe we can do it again,” Steve says, lost in thought. “Maybe if we ask Tony-“

“No!” Chris and Seb speak at the same time, like a chorus, but it turns out they didn't need to. Steve is stuck on something Seb wrote and underlined twice, and which Chris can read upside down: “Tony Stark creates Ultron – this is bad!!”

“It’s not just Ultron – who’s a fuckin’ killer robot, by the way – it’s the effect the staff and the twins have on Tony,” Seb mumbles, and then covers his mouth. “Shit. I forgot about the twins.”

“You’re forgetting that the Winter Soldier killed Tony’s parents,” Chris says, mildly, and then wishes he could take them back.

“So it was him they sent,” Steve says, his voice tired.

Sam is drumming his fingers on the table. “He had no way of saying no, Steve. He wasn’t even him anymore.”

“Tell me, Sebastian,” Steve says, and Chris wants to stop him right there. Seb looks star-struck, in a ‘Captain America just said my name!’ way. “How understanding was Tony when he found out?”

Seb shrugs. “The third Cap movie is subtitled ‘Civil War,’ he answers, with a rueful look. “To be fair, it was kind of sprung on him, in a suspiciously clear and multi-angled security video.”

“Yeah, but you were right about the twins, Seb.” All this is starting to come back to Chris, now.

For the last few years he’s been too caught up with the whole Infinity Gems shitshow, and Thanos, and so on (call him chicken, if you like, but he’s only watched Infinity War once, and he actually closed his eyes as soon as Seb said “Steve?”, so he didn’t have to see it happen. He’s not sure why, though), so he’s forgotten how much trouble Wanda caused with her mind stuff. If none of that happened, well, maybe Sokovia and all that crap didn’t need to happen here.

Chris comes back to the present, and sees a look of polite inquiry on his double’s face. “Um. There’s these two – they’re teenagers, really – their family was killed by Stark weapons, so they let themselves be turned into weapons by Hydra. But they’re not bad people – just-“

“Lost,” Steve says, and he’s looking towards his bedroom as he speaks. “Why would they help you, though? Or us?”

“Because they don’t really know what’s going on, and they think the Avengers are the bad guys.” Seb answers him, and Chris knows he should be taking point here, but Seb’s doing just fine. “Also, if things happen like they did in the movies, Pietro, the brother, will die. I’m sure that Wanda will do anything to prevent that.”

Chris wants to add something clever, maybe something like a line from the movie (“he’s fast and she’s weird”), but when he opens his mouth, what comes out is a huge, potentially jaw-cracking yawn.

“Wow, that was – “ he yawns again, unable to even keep his eyes open.

“Delayed reaction, dude,” Sam says.

Chris doesn’t think the beer helped, either. Steve tells him to take the couch, or the armchair, and Chris just falls into the first comfortable thing he sees, trying to forget that he’s pretty sure Nick Fury was shot in it. He dozes off, waking up from time to time, catching snatches of a conversation between Seb and Steve.

”So, yeah, Tony wants to solve all the world’s problems by creating Ultron – but maybe if Wanda never messes up his brain, he won’t want to-“

”I don’t understand – she’s a witch? Like, magic is real?”

”It’s a thing, with comic book IPs and shit – let’s just say it’s science fiction and leave it at that-“

”I don’t know if Thanos has the same intentions here, or if the Infinity Gems are even a thing, but just in case they are, here’s the thing-“

Chris swims upwards through a deep, dreamless sleep – what really wakes him is a patch of sunlight on his hand, which is hanging over the armrest of the chair he’s in. He wants to open his eyes, but it feels like they’re being weighed down. He can still hear, though, and Scarlett Johansson’s whisky-soaked voice is unmistakable – no, not Scarlett. Not Scarlett at all.

“It’s remarkable. The resemblance. I mean, the hair is darker, and he looks . . . older somehow. Still.”

Chris hears heavy footsteps, like someone is moving clumsily on purpose, to be heard.



A groan, which is very familiar, because it’s his own voice he’s hearing.

“No, no, no! Bucky, this is Natasha, my good friend. Nat, this is my friend Bucky.”

“I’m sorry I shot you.” A pause. “Twice.”

Chris makes a supreme effort, and practically pries his eyes open. Seb is lying full length on the couch opposite, snoring. He finally dares look in the direction of the supersoldiers and spy – fuck. Black Widow is fuckin’ scary. Beautiful. But deadly. A snuffle from the couch draws his attention – Seb twitches, and kicks.

Steve breaks the silence. “I think he’s dreaming.”

“Yeah,” Chris answers, and gets up, trying to straighten his back without looking too much like the youngest guy at the retirement home. No shit, he looks older, ‘cause he is older than Steve Rogers, who is always going to be in his mid to late twenties. He pats Seb on the shoulder, and he blinks awake, eyes wide.

“Hey man, we got company.”

Seb gets up, easier than Chris did, and there’s another round of introductions. Before long, they’re sitting around a table with coffees and bagels, courtesy of Natasha. Sam went to check on his apartment, so it’s just the five of them. Chris is halfway through his second bagel when Natasha produces a couple of passports, which, opened, are theirs. Under their own names, even.

“Fuck, man! How long have we been asleep?”

Seb laughs, a low puff of air, nothing like his usual chuckle. “I gave them some photos off our phones; but yeah, this is really fast. Amazing.”

Chris wonders if he’s still asleep, dreaming all this. “Why do we need passports, though?”

Steve nods at Natasha. Seems like it’s her mission, too.

“We’ve located the Hydra base in Sokovia – it’s a medieval fortress – and we’ve hardly done any recon; Steve told me that it didn’t go well in your . . . movie?”

She looks pretty skeptical, but open to being convinced.

Seb shakes his head. “Don’t look at me – I wasn’t even in this one.”

Chris rubs his face – it’s not like he doesn’t remember Ultron, it’s just that so much of it was fuckin’ greenscreen. The longest stretch was on Clint’s farm . . . wait, wait. Natasha was the only one who knew about the farm. No-one else knew a damn thing. That’s the way to convince her.

“This happens later on in the movie – we’ll talk about the attack later, if you don’t kill me first, haha – but at one point the Avengers are up shit creek, and need a place to hide out.”

Natasha raises an eyebrow, and Chris isn’t sure if it means he should go on, or if it means that she’s keeping her options open as to the whole killing thing. Both? Yeah, let’s go with both.

“Clint Barton has a wife and kids on a farm somewhere,” Chris says it very fast, hoping to get it out before she garrotes him or something.

Steve is shook. That’s the only way Chris can describe it, though he’ll never say it out loud. Natasha is pretty thrown, he can tell because of the slight narrowing of her eyes (he’s perceptive like that).

Bucky is nose deep in his fourth bagel, and his shoulders shake slightly. He mumbles something; Chris isn’t sure, but it sounds like “Shakh i mat, Natashenka.”

Natasha rolls her eyes. “Your accent is terrible.”

Bucky shrugs. “I’m not actually from Russia.”

Steve’s face is just . . . full of joy, he’s painfully open, and Chris wishes he could learn to hide his feelings and teach Steve the technique.

“Fine. You’ve convinced me. Now tell me why the attack on Strucker went wrong.”

“Ok,” Chris starts. “Ok.” He’s had time to think about it, himself. He thinks he realises what went sideways – he knows it had to be like that, to be the inciting incident for the creation of Ultron, but maybe they could, you know, not do that, this time?

“So, it’s a full-frontal assault, with the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Cap, Hawkeye and you, Black Widow. There’s no sneak attack, nothing. As far as I can remember, the tactics were just ‘bash on their defenses until something gives.’”

“Bozhe moi!” Wow, Natasha really says it, Chris thinks. “And I was ok with this . . . bashing?”

“You were front and center with it,” Chris says, “literally. There was this really amazing shot of all of us, from the side, in slo-mo . . . very cool.”

Natasha gives him some very Russian stink-eye, and Bucky just shakes his head.

“Pfft,” Seb says.

Chris widens his eyes theatrically. “Did you just ‘pfft’ my amazing side shot?”

“Yes. I did.” Seb smiles wider than he has in a while. “I guess you forgot: ‘language!’”

“Ugh.” Chris buries his face in his hands, not before he glimpses Steve, Natasha and Bucky exchanging puzzled looks. He sighs. Best get this one out of the way. “The running joke in Age of Ultron was that Cap doesn’t like people who curse – Tony says ‘shit’, and Cap says . . . you know . . . “

Steve is mouthing along like he doesn't believe what he’s hearing, and Barnes snickers even more. “I guess no-one heard you turn the air blue that time some pencil pusher tried to transfer Gabe to a segregated unit, huh, Stevie?”

Steve shakes his head. “Guess not, Buck.”

Bucky is getting more and more of these lucid moments, Chris notices, which are then followed by a sort of switching off, like his Winter Soldier persona is fighting back. His face goes blank with scary speed, and he gets up and stands by the window. Steve gives him a worried look, but turns back to Chris.

“Anyway, what we need is a sneak infiltration,” Chris goes on, “not some full attack, maybe someone going undercover, getting to talk to Wanda.”

Natasha and Steve exchange looks, and Bucky turns away from the window.

“You don’t need anyone to pretend to be Hydra. You’ve got me. If they think I’m coming in, they won’t be suspicious. I can tell them all the American bases went dark, so I headed for Strucker. I’ll need to bring something with me, though.”

“Yeah,” Seb says, “I’ve been thinking about that.”

Chris is swamped by a wave of horror so great, he can hardly breathe. No, Seb can’t be saying what it sounds like. Why does he even raise this possibility? They’re not superheroes, they’re just actors, what the fuck is Seb thinking? Seb isn’t even looking at him. He’s tearing a bagel into pieces, then smaller pieces, then crumbs.

“I’m thinking that bringing us here wasn’t an accident,” Seb says, as if he heard the question Chris was screaming in his head. “That Strucker thought he could, I don’t know, destabilize the Avengers somehow, or find out about their future, something, who knows. If the Fist of Hydra comes back with me in tow, maybe he’ll think his plan worked.”

“Seb, no! What the fuck, man?” Chris feels tears pricking at his eyes, the closest he’s been to crying since this whole shitshow started. “What if he just kills you, what then?”

Seb rolls his eyes. “Don’t you want to go home? ‘Cos I want to go home, man. There’s no other way.”

“Tony Stark-“

“That’s not a solution, Chris!” Seb is annoyed, now. “Even if we can persuade him to help without creating, oh, I don’t know, a frickin’ world-ending murder robot, he’s not the one who brought us here.”

“You’re putting a lot of trust in Rumlow; what if he was wrong?” Chris wants to take the name back as soon as he says it. Steve is shaking his head, and he’s getting identical Winter Soldier glares from two different sources.

He tries to start a clumsy apology, patting Seb’s shoulder. Seb shrugs his hand off with an irritated gesture.

“Don’t treat me like a victim, dude. Not cool.”

“So take me to them. Or take me with you, either . . . what? Why won’t that work?” Chris is seriously close to losing it now.

“You’re the copy of their greatest enemy.” Barnes is talking now, and Chris takes back everything nice he ever said about the dude. Fuck that guy. “If there’s someone they’ll kill on sight, it’s you. And if this works, we’ll need to get out of there, fast. Maybe possible with just one civilian. Not with two.”

Chris gets it, he does. He’ll only be a liability. But this is . . . it’s shit, that’s what it is. He buries his face in his hands, mostly to hide the fact that yeah, he really is crying now. This time, it’s Seb who’s got a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it. Come on, Chris, come on. Get your shit together. Be a man. Fuck.

He rubs his eyes, angry that he’s let his guard down so badly. He glares at Barnes where he’s standing in front of the window. It’s hard to really make out his expression, with the sun behind him like that. “You fucking get him back, d’you hear me? You get him out of there.”

Barnes nods, face solemn, arms crossed.

“Come on, Chris.” Seb’s got an arm around his neck. “It’ll all turn out well.”

What the hell is he saying? “How?”

“I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”

What the – “Motherfucker. Did you just ‘Shakespeare in Love’ me? Not fucking cool, bro.” He’s caught between laughter and wanting to punch him.

Seb produces his best Bucky Barnes pre-war smirk, even though Chris can see that he’s teary-eyed too.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know any relevant Disney songs – nope. Don’t even go there, Evans.”

“I guess my word-perfect rendition of Under the Sea will be saved for another occasion.”

“Guess again, crab-boy.”

Steve, Natasha and Bucky have been giving them a little privacy while they hash this out, and Chris realises that this is going to happen. He doesn’t like it, he’s scared out of his mind, but there’s nothing he can do.

It hits Chris like that time he almost concussed himself when he mistimed a stunt – he needs Sebastian. He loves Sebastian. He might even be in love with Sebastian. And this is where he finds out. Stuck in some kind of fictional construct made real, which might be the death of them both. He is so fucked.

Chapter Text

Rumlow is standing over him.

Sebastian keeps his head down, his arms pinned behind him. A heavy hand lands on his head, carding through his hair with chilling familiarity. Any minute now, it’ll happen again, and there’s nothing he can do. He feels frozen in place, unable to move his arms, his head, or even open his eyes. Do something, he tells himself, move! He tries to shout, but all that comes out is a whisper. He tries again, and . . . wakes up.

He doesn’t spring upright, ‘cause this isn’t a fucking movie. He just lies there, eyes wide open, sucking in sobbing breaths. He rubs his mouth and his eyes, trying to stop the tears, and basically succeeding, until he hears a hushed question from the other bed.

“Seb? You ok, man?” Fuck, now he woke up Chris.

Maybe he should ignore him, tell him to go back to sleep. But there’s a bit of light bleeding through the heavy curtains, and it’s probably time to get up, anyway.

“Fine, I’m fine.” Sebastian sits up, finally. Sleeping in an actual bed does something to repair the strain on his back from two nights on Steve Rogers’ couch.

“Bad dream, huh.” Chris sounds sympathetic.

“Yeah.” What’s the point of hiding it, he thinks. Anyway, Chris understands this shit, and always has.

They aren’t in D.C. anymore – hell, they aren’t even in the U.S. In this new and improved cinematic version of Eastern Europe, Sokovia shares a border with Bulgaria, so that’s where Natasha rented an apartment for them to use as a base, while they try to solve the problem of Wanda, Loki’s Sceptre, and inter-dimensional travel, without drawing too much attention. They end up all coming over in the quinjet when it’s decided that using commercial air is a bad idea. Sebastian is glad – he’s still wearing his own clothes, and he feels grimy and unclean, in spite of having showered frequently in the past day or two.

Sebastian is standing in front of the shower attached to their bedroom when he remembers that he can’t actually use it, and can’t swallow a muttered fuck me. It wouldn’t be realistic for him to be freshly washed after having been dragged from one HYDRA base to another. He wants to stare at himself in the mirror, but can’t meet his eyes, at first. Then he does. He doesn’t look any different. He wishes he doesn’t feel like it’s written all over his face. He wonders if Chris despises him – for giving in, not fighting. He wonders how he’s gonna get past this. Sebastian is a firm believer in therapy, has been for years now. But this . . . is something else. He feels like it won’t go away that easy.

Back in their shared bedroom (Chris insists on it, and Sebastian gives in almost immediately, though he does wonder if Chris thinks he can’t be trusted on his own), Chris is up, looking out the window. It’s a beautiful sunny day in the suburbs, and it’s weird – it just seems real, as real as home. Sebastian doesn’t know what to make of it.

They go into the huge kitchen/dining area, and Steve is fussing over Bucky, strapping him into his Winter Soldier outfit. Sam is looking on, his expression a mixture of distrust and worry, while Natasha is oiling all his weapons, which are laid out on the kitchen island. There sure are a lot of them. The knives call his attention, specifically the Gerber Mark II – he remembers spending days with a plastic replica, practising the flips and throws, only to be told that they were going to use the stunt guy instead, sorry, Seb! Ah, water under the fucking bridge, right.

Even though it’s his idea they’re following, he feels like he doesn’t even want to speak. For a second, the world is turning fuzzy and indistinct, and he wonders if he’s gonna pass out. Then the moment passes, and everything is in sharp focus again. He glances quickly to the side, and Chris has a face like a small storm cloud.

“Seb, are you sure you wanna-“

“Dude!” He can’t keep the frustration out of his voice.

How many times does he have to justify himself? They need that staff, and whoever used it to get them there, Wanda, probably. Otherwise they’re stuck here, for good. What the fuck are they supposed to do here? It’s not like they have any skills, besides acting. Maybe Chris can dress up as Captain America for children’s parties, but he highly doubts anyone wants the Winter Soldier to craft balloon animals or organise dance offs.

“Sorry, man,” Chris answers, abashed.

Bucky is halfway through stowing all his guns and knives, while suddenly, Sebastian blinks and Natasha is in front of him. She’s holding one of those plastic zip-cuffs in her hands, and he can practically sense Chris building up to a protest.

“I get it,” Sebastian says, not waiting for her to say anything. “Can it be in front, though?” He has bad memories of being restrained with his arms behind him.

Bucky answers, keeping his distance. There’s a reason they asked Natasha to do this, even though she’s scary in her own right. “Sure. Not like I have much experience with taking hostages.”

Sebastian puts his hands together and she attaches the cuffs. “Any second thoughts?” she murmurs, trying to lighten the atmosphere.

“Plenty,” he answers, “but . . . “

Chris drops a heavy hand on his shoulder, and he tries not to flinch. Sebastian is starting to get pissed off. Not at Chris, at this . . . this thing which takes control of his body whenever it wants. He wants to get over this already, to be past it. He gets drawn in for an awkward hug. Chris has tears in his eyes. Sebastian pretends not to notice.

He and Bucky need to drive out to an old abandoned Soviet bunker, where the quinjet is stowed. It’s difficult to get into the car with his hands tied, even in front of him, but he needs to look like he’s been restrained for days. He has a jacket over his lap, while Bucky is wearing long sleeves over his one-armed bondage outfit, in case they get stopped.

Sebastian stares out of the window as the suburbs go by, and they start to emerge into the countryside. Bucky doesn’t say much, anything really, and Sebastian doesn’t really feel the need to break the silence. Until he does, because he’s starting to get antsy.

“So, how did you get off the Helicarrier, then?” There are a few seconds of silence.

Sebastian is starting to get the idea that maybe, small talk with the Winter Soldier is a less than good idea, when he gets his answer.

“Steve told me that when he put in the last chip, we were attacked. So, he ordered Hill to fire, the Helicarrier came apart, I hit my head, fell into the river. He came after me.” Sebastian can see a tiny half-smile on Bucky’s face. “Stupid punk.”

Huh, so the other way round, then.

“I woke up on the riverbank. The last thing I remembered was you saying the words. And something about his apartment.”

The quiet tones don’t seem to hold any recrimination, but Sebastian feels guilty anyway.

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t think of any other solution.”

Bucky shrugs with one shoulder. “I would have killed you. Anyway, I didn’t stop Rumlow.”

Sebastian knows that Bucky could have killed everyone in that room, no problem. “They would have hurt Chris.” He sneaks a look to the side. “They ever try anything like that . . . with you?”

“No,” Bucky says, then frowns. “Not that I remember.” He narrows his eyes. “Now I know what Rumlow’s stupid rules were all about.”

They’re on a highway now, and Bucky speeds up.


“Yeah,” Bucky answers, while going off into a side road, into a bunch of trees. “First rule of STRIKE Team: You do not fuck with the Death machine! Second rule of STRIKE Team: You do not fuck with the Death machine!”

Sebastian choruses along with the second rule, and he notices a sidelong glance. “It’s from a movie, kind of.” Bucky just looks blank. “What’s the third rule?”

“No one talks about HYDRA.”

So, they were all dirty, Sebastian thinks. Then he registers what he just heard. “You’re not a death machine.”

“Pretty close, though.”

“No, you’re not. What they did to you was wrong and fucked up. They’re the ones with blood on their hands, not you.”

They pull up at the old bunker, finally. The quinjet is under a camouflage tarp, and Bucky pulls it off without breaking a sweat. When they get on, Sebastian sits in the back, and lets himself be strapped in.

“Listen.” Bucky sounds hesitant, more than usual. “From now on . . . we can’t talk. I need to get . . . my mind . . . “

Sebastian gets it. He has to be the Asset, from now on. “Sure, ok.”

They fly the rest of the way in silence.

Sebastian has enough time to second guess the plan over and over again. After the third round of ‘what if it goes horribly wrong, and I get a bullet in the face?’, he takes a decision, and starts going through all the events of Age of Ultron, in order. The climax is always the death of Pietro Maximoff, and Sebastian visualises that as best he can. But he also needs to show how Wanda and Pietro join Ultron first, which leads to Pietro’s death, and that’s kinda complicated.

His thoughts are interrupted by a squawk from the onboard communication system. Bucky answers with some muttered words in Russian, which seem to satisfy whoever’s on the other end, because they land in front of what looks like a castle.

Bucky grabs Sebastian by the arm and drags him off the quinjet. They’re faced with a group of men, all in black like the STRIKE team, but the badge on their shoulders is the red octopus of HYDRA. Guns are drawn, and a confrontation seems imminent, when a figure comes strolling up, straight out of central casting, Sebastian thinks. He’s wearing a fucking monocle, for fuck’s sake.

Bucky, again, says something in Russian, but the guy, who must be Strucker, Sebastian thinks, shakes his head.

“Come now, Soldier, you have been in America for long enough!” Sebastian hears the heavy German accent and would roll his eyes if he weren't so terrified. Talk about stereotypes.

“You wanted this man,” Bucky says, cold. Not Bucky anymore, though. Zimniy Soldat, I presume.

“There were two, I believe.”

“One got away,” the Soldier answers.

“Good enough,” Strucker says. “Well done, Soldier. Take him inside.”

Just like in D.C., everyone ignores Sebastian. He wants to scream at them that he’s a fucking person, how can they treat him like that, but he knows it’s pointless. He guesses they’d say that it’s all for the greater good. Bucky drags him through the main room, full of people in black uniforms at computer terminals, just like he vaguely remembers. Somewhere near the back there are holding cells with benches, and he gets shoved into one of them. It’s weird to see his own eyes glaring back at him as Bucky spits out “Don’t move.” He knows Bucky doesn’t dare reassure him. They could have cameras everywhere, hell, they could have Wanda spying from somewhere. That doesn’t make him feel any better, though.

Sebastian can’t help the stinging in his eyes. He’s all alone here – Bucky can’t help him. He feels eyes on him and looks up – Strucker is standing next to Bucky in the door of his cell, looking in at him.

“The resemblance is quite remarkable.” The look he gives Bucky makes Sebastian worried. “How did you know that I brought him here, to our reality?”

“STRIKE commander said your name. I looked in the U.S. bases first. But there was nothing.”

Strucker laughed. “I always said they were not using your full potential, Soldier.”

Now two more people come to gawk at him – Wanda and Pietro. They looked exactly like Elizabeth and Aaron, probably because they were closer in age to how old the twins were supposed to be. Strucker turns to someone standing in Sebastian’s blind spot.

“Are you not pleased, now, that the Soldier did not kill the men? We would have nothing!”

Sebastian feels his breath stop in his chest. It’s like a big hand, squeezing his heart. Who the fuck is the guy talking to?

“Yeah, I don’t know that I like anyone disobeying my orders,” a familiar voice answers.

His vision whites out. When it clears, Brock Rumlow is standing in front of him. Not Crossbones, no. There’s no scarring – he looks exactly the same as he did in the vault.

“Missed me?”

Sebastian wants to bare his teeth and growl but supresses the impulse. His shoulders are trying to dig their way through the wall behind him, but he turns it into a lean. He knows Rumlow isn’t fooled, though.

Strucker wanders off, saying something to Bucky, who has to follow, Sebastian knows that. He can’t help wishing they’d stay. A light slap on his cheek brings him back to reality.

“Hey. I asked you a question.” Rumlow doesn’t like being ignored. Got it.

Sebastian glares. “Fuck you.”

“Still mouthy, huh. Thought I taught you better.”

Sebastian can see Wanda’s face in the background, her eyes growing ever wider, and maybe, maybe he has a chance here. Then his whole train of thought is derailed and set on fire when Rumlow’s thumb traces over his lower lip, and he jerks back so fast that the back of his head hits the wall.

“Don’t fucking touch me.”

“You didn’t mind before,” Rumlow answers, with a gentle smile that turns his blood into ice. “Didn’t fight me.”

There’s a roaring in Sebastian’s head that is blocking all ambient noise, so it takes him a while to realise that when Wanda asks, ‘What is he doing?’, horrified, she isn’t speaking in English. Is he going completely crazy, or is that Romanian?

Rumlow is called away by Strucker, and when he strolls out Sebastian feels his heart rate return to normal. He doesn’t know why he does it, at first – maybe the sound of it reminds him of his mom, maybe he just needs some comfort.

”Vorbeşti româneşte?” He feels dumb at asking them if they speak Romanian, when they so obviously are, but maybe over here Sokovian is Romanian.

Wanda and Pietro exchange puzzled looks.

“Este una dintre limbile noastre,” is Pietro’s answer, and that makes sense, he thinks. Small country would be bilingual, maybe more, even. When Sokovia was part of the Soviet Union they’d have had to study Russian, for sure.

“De ce ești cu acești fasciști?” Maybe he doesn’t have to let Wanda violate his mind to get out of here, he thinks; maybe pointing out what they’re really part of will wake them up.

He’s forgotten about Rumlow, though. “Hey, didn’t I tell you to keep your fucking mouth shut?”

There’s a red mist gathering in front of his eyes. Temper, Sebastian, he hears his mother saying; calm down. Too late, mom.

"Futu-ți pizda mă-tii!" Of all the ‘your mother’ related insults, it’s the worst one Sebastian knows. Pietro’s expression is even a little admiring.

Rumlow raises his hand, and Sebastian loses it, grinning at him. He’s sure he looks like a maniac.

“Wanna start a slapfight, Rumlow?” Strucker needs him, Sebastian knows that. Which is why he’s really pushing it, now. “You know what? The best part of the movie was watching you get your ass kicked in the elevator. No wait, it was watching Pierce die!”

Rumlow bends over to look him straight in the eyes, just like in the vault. “When they’ve used up your brain, squeezed it out, I’m gonna tell Strucker to give you to me. I’m gonna fuck you bloody.”

The fact that Rumlow doesn’t shout makes it even worse, but Sebastian’s temper is still running hot. He’s about to haul back and spit in his face, when they’re interrupted.

“Come, let us begin.” He can tell that Strucker is irritated by whatever Rumlow is doing, but not irritated enough to stop him.

Wanda is already approaching, her fingers sparking red fire. Rumlow straightens up, grinning, clearly thinking that he’s going to stay there, help out. Wanda gives him what looks like an apologetic smile.

“Please, I need some room.” Wanda sits next to Sebastian, and his heart is beating double time. Why did he ever think this was gonna work?

She starts waving her hands around his head, and suddenly she’s inside, somehow. He can see her – he can see both of them – they’re standing in a dark space, but Age of Ultron is happening all around them. It’s exactly as he planned, and the relevant parts of the movie happen, in surround sound and 4-D, until Ultron strafes the Sokovian plaza and Pietro Maximoff collapses to the ground, riddled with bullets, eyes open and staring.

In his head, Wanda shrieks.

Sebastian tries to show her the inspiring speech Steve Rogers gave him, the co-ordinates of the apartment where the Avengers are waiting, but he doesn’t know if it works. Before he knows it, she’s dragged herself and him out of his head, and they’re sitting side by side in the cell.

There’s blood in Sebastian’s mouth, from where he bit his tongue. Still, he thinks his brain is ok. He tries some memories from childhood; his grandma baking, his mom trying (and failing) to teach him to play the piano, the last time he saw Constanța. They’re there, everything’s there. Wanda looks at Pietro, then back at him, eyes widening. He’s not sure what would have happened, except Rumlow decides to butt in.

“So, you got what you need? We got a date, me and Sebastian.” Rumlow says his name in the Romanian way, grinning. Sebastian glares at him.

Wanda looks like she can’t get enough air into her lungs. “No, I’m not ready. I need to see more.”

What? She saw everything, what the hell. But he can’t do anything, his hands are tied, literally, and once again they’re back in his head. This time they’re walking under the Roosevelt Bridge, so . . . what, he thinks. She wants to watch the Winter Soldier now? But he realises what she really wants, when he sees himself and Chris, crouching, then being dragged off by Rumlow and the STRIKE team.

“No, no, don’t make me watch this, fuck you!” He tries to pull away, but she’s too strong, in here.

There are tears in her eyes. “I must know, don’t you understand?”

Of course, next thing, they’re in the vault. Sebastian wants to look away, but can’t, even when Chris is choking and smothering, puking. He wants to look away, can’t, even when Rumlow fucks his face.

Wanda has her hands in her hair, tears streaming down her face. “I did this!”

Sebastian wishes he can be enough of a gentleman to deny it, but he’s tired, he’s watching himself being violated, and he just wants to get the fuck out.

“Then do something about it! Take the staff, get to the apartment. Steve Rogers will help you, I promise.”

“Stark . . . our parents . . .”

“Stark isn’t gonna be there, and me and Chris did fuck all to your parents!”

“How will you get away from him?”

“Don’t worry about me – the Winter Soldier is on our side. He’s been hurt by HYDRA too, for much longer than us.”

She looks like a child who’s just heard that Muma Pădurii is real and is coming for her. Huh. Another sign that his brain is working fine – he hasn’t thought of the old witch in years. He blinks again and he’s back in the cell, hands tied and chafing, Rumlow lurking, much worse than any bogeyman from a children’s story.

He can actually see the exchange of glances between Pietro and Wanda – and then . . . and then things happen very fast. Pietro and Wanda are just gone, between one second and another. Rumlow is still looking around, grabbing at his gun, when Bucky stalks up behind him, pulls him away, and cuts his throat, in one quick movement.

“Don’t want to get any on ya,” he explains, as the arterial spray coats the rest of the room. It’s weird how he can sound like Bucky Barnes while doing this shit, Sebastian thinks, even as he wonders how calm he’s acting. Is he in shock? Probably.

Rumlow collapses to the ground, gurgling and grabbing at his throat, and Sebastian wants to crouch next to him, to tell him that he’s lost, that he’s dying. He resists the impulse, and follows Bucky as he cuts a swath through all the goons, using gun after gun, throwing them away once they’re empty, ending up with the Skorpion from his back holster, which he uses to place a perfectly centred hole in Strucker’s forehead.

There’s just one HYDRA guy left, and from the sound of his pleading and begging, Sebastian recognises the comic relief from the Ultron movie. He puts a hand on Bucky’s arm.

“Leave him.” Sebastian bends down to glare at the guy. “Get a better job. Change your life.”

When he straightens up, Bucky is holding up his knife, which he uses to cut the cuffs. They get outside, and Sebastian remembers something else from the movie.

“Don’t they have tanks and shit?”

“Not anymore,” is Bucky’s short answer, and Sebastian wonders if all the HYDRA guys are dead, before deciding that he doesn’t fucking care.

The flight back to the car is uneventful, and the ride to the apartment is even more so, although the highway looks different in the early dusk. After a few speculative looks from Bucky, Sebastian gives in.

“Just ask, ok? Whatever you’re wondering about.”

“You said you know what happens to us.” Bucky’s voice is quiet.

Sebastian hopes he’s not going to ask about Infinity War, because he hasn’t written down anything about it, about Bucky. He remembers mentioning the goat farm in Wakanda, only to hear a snort from Bucky, followed by a quiet ‘they know you’re a city boy, right?’ out of Steve. Sebastian chooses to believe that he’s asking about the two years between Winter Soldier and Civil War.

“You go on the run, end up in Bucharest.”

When he looks to the side, Bucky is looking . . . contemplative. Sebastian’s heart sinks. This is what he wants to avoid, this whole Civil War mess.

“Don’t do it, man!” he pleads. “What if someone else blows up the UN complex and blames it on you? If you stay with Steve, they won’t be able to put it on you.”

Bucky doesn’t sigh – Sebastian imagines that any and all involuntary noises have been beaten and shocked out of him – but he looks like he wants to.

“You said I killed Stark’s parents – that’ll drive a wedge between Steve and the others, if he sticks with me.”

“You remember Steve? That you’re . . . friends?” Sebastian doesn’t know if it’s more than that, if it’s the way a large percentage of the internet insists it is. He’s fine with playing it that way, always has been, until Marvel comics put their foot down and slathered Civil War with a thick layer of no-homo.

The smirk Bucky aims at him tells him that he heard the heavy pause.

“I just woke up from seventy years of having my brain fucked with, fella. Friendship is all I can deal with right now.”

“You sounded very Brooklyn right now,” Sebastian blurts out, and enjoys the way Bucky’s smile grows. “It’s just . . . they can’t get you for that, anymore.”

“Yeah . . . I seen stuff.” Bucky’s concentrating on the road ahead. “You ok with that? Some guys gotta problem with it.”

“Dude, I’m the wrong person to ask. Got no problem playing gay. I hate that every puff piece has to insist how straight I am, though. There’s nothing wrong with being bisexual; that’s when-“

“You go both ways, I know.” A faint note of irritation creeps into Bucky’s voice. “I was – am – mind-wiped . . . don’t mean I forgot what words are. I read.” He pauses, brows furrowed. “I used to read.”

There’s a sadness to his words which breaks Sebastian’s heart. “And you will again. But you have to stay with Steve. He’ll protect you.” Silence. “If you run, he’ll just chase you. Come on, man. You can’t shake him off that easy.”

Another half-smile – Bucky seems to be thinking about just how stubborn Steve Rogers is.

It’s fully dark when they arrive in the parking lot in front of their apartment. Sebastian knows no-one will be waiting outside – they’re trying to stay as covert as possible, which means no electronic communication, either. As soon as they knock, though, the door opens, and he’s enveloped by a cross between a friendly bear and a Labrador retriever.

“Chris . . . I’m fine. I’m ok.” Even as he says it, Sebastian can feel the shakes starting. He’s been holding it together for hours, but is slowly losing his grip.

Over Chris’s shoulder, he can see Steve slapping Bucky on the back, the affection glowing out of his face, the twins are in a corner, Sam and Natasha are watching them and pretending not to, and yeah – that creep-ass staff is lying on a low table, glowing faintly.

Chris pulls away, hands on Sebastian’s shoulders, studying him from head to toe.

“It’s wicked good seeing you again, Seb. Fuck.”

Sam shakes his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. ”Man . . . are you from Boston?”

Chris raises his head, eyes narrowed. “Cradle of liberty, bro.”

“Hey, I’m from New York,” Sebastian says, mildly. “By way of Constanța.”

“Pfft,” Chris answers, eyes crinkling. “Rockland County; hardly the Big Apple.”

Sebastian grins back, wanting to tease him about being from the suburbs, too, but then catches a glimpse of the twins, who seem to be feeling left out. He raises an eyebrow at Steve, and wants to go over to talk to them, but Chris grabs his arm.

“Listen . . . they said that Rumlow was there . . .”

Great. Thanks, Wanda, he thinks. He rubs his eyes roughly, shrugs.

“Did he . . . did he say something?”

Sebastian can’t hold back his irritation. “What do you think? ‘You wanted it; you didn’t fight me.’”

Just as Chris’s eyes are widening with fury, Bucky interrupts.

“He’s dead. I killed him.”

Steve’s face looks torn between regret and satisfaction – Rumlow betrayed him too. Sebastian doesn’t know if he can really believe it – does anyone ever really die in a Marvel movie? Still, he’s finding that he doesn’t care . . . he doesn’t. He wants this to be over. So, he shakes Chris off, ignoring the slightly hurt look that he can feel on the back of his head, and walks over to Wanda.

“You brought us here – now send us back. Please.” He’s careful to ensure that his voice doesn’t crack on the last word. Very careful.

Wanda nods, her big beautiful eyes shiny. “I need to hold the staff.”

“Wait, wait . . . slow down.” Chris is looking slightly wild-eyed. “What will we remember? ‘Cos I don’t know about you, Seb, but I really wanna forget – like, everything.”

Sebastian is so thankful for Chris right now, he could kiss him. Yeah, and wouldn’t that go over great. But, sure, he wants to forget everything. He doesn’t know how he’s going to deal with what happened, in what he’s starting to call ‘the real world’. What is he even going to say, to a therapist? And he needs to talk to someone about this, but who? Better if Wanda can make them forget.

Wanda must see the hopeful look on his face, because she nods. He looks around him, one final glance and then is surprised when Chris grabs his hand, squeezing. He remembers the vault, how he looked at Chris instead of at his probable approaching death, and does the same now. Well, whaddya know, there are a few flecks of green, mixed in with the blue. Not that they’re not beautiful, anyway. Zemo can go to hell.

Nothing happens. It isn’t working, Sebastian thinks. They’re stuck here.

The disappointment turns his stomach, and the pain spikes in his head as the babble of voices around him reaches a crescendo.

“. . . and then we can take a few pictures under the Roosevelt Bridge! You know, for the ‘gram!”

The pain in his head spreads to his gut, and he feels like he’s gonna puke. What the fuck did he eat? Sebastian looks around him, catching warm blue eyes he could drown in.

“You ok, bro? ‘Cause you’re not looking too good.” And Chris is looking good, Sebastian thinks, even as the pain doubles up.

The hubbub dies down, as the other people are distracted from their conversations by him making a scene, and great. Just great. Sure, there’s only their assistants and various hangers on, but he hates it, hates doing this shit, has always hated it. They’re in the lobby of the hotel, and he really doesn’t want to puke all over the fancy armchairs and plush carpets, so he gets up, abruptly.

“Sorry guys, can’t do it – maybe another day.” Emily is getting up too, and he waves a hand at her. “Seriously, no. It’ll be fine.” He really doesn’t want her to be there for the puking he feels he’s gonna be doing soon.

Sebastian makes it to the bathroom just in time, zooms into a stall, and proceeds to lose everything in his stomach. It’s like he’s turning inside out – the unfairness of it, he hasn’t even been drinking. He sits next to the toilet for a few seconds, enough for his head to stop spinning. When he’s sure that he’s not gonna puke again, because there’s nothing left to bring up, he carefully makes his way to the wash-basins, and starts splashing water on his face. He’s still feeling really wobbly, though, so he decides to go up his room. He’s not gonna be good for anything today.

Also, it’s weird, but he feels grimy, like he needs ten showers and one of those exfoliating wraps. He hasn’t been anywhere today, what the hell. When he studies his face in the huge mirrors, it’s like there’s a doubling effect, and he almost loses his balance. Ok, I’m done, he thinks. A shower, ten hours of sleep, and he’ll be fine.

The door opens, and Chris comes in. Thank God it’s him, not some stranger, or even, he shudders, a fan. He loves his fans, but he’s under no illusion that images of Sebastian Stan, looking like the end of a three-day bender, wouldn’t circulate on-line at light speed.

“You ok, dude? You’re looking-“ Chris hesitates.

“Like shit? You can say it, man.” Sebastian smiles, but he can see himself. It’s a weak effort. “I think I ate something? Fuck knows.”

“Probably that dumb idea, walking under the Roosevelt Bridge! Where’d Emily find that intern, anyway?” Chris is trying to make him feel better, he gets it.

“What do you mean, Emily’s intern? He’s one of yours . . . right?”

They stare at each other for a stunned second, then burst out laughing.

“No, ow, don’t make me laugh, everything hurts,” Sebastian gasps.

Chris pats him on the shoulder, consoling. “Why don’t you get some sleep, bro. I’ll deal with the case of the mysterious intern.”

Sebastian lets himself into his room, sends Emily a message asking her to cancel any commitments for the day. He’s pretty sure there’s nothing major planned before the next day’s read-through, and if there is, Emily will know. But she just tells him to rest and get better.

His head is worse, so he pours himself some water and finds a packet of dry crackers, which help. But he really needs that shower. He feels so much grimier after puking up what seemed like everything he’s eaten in the past week, and he suddenly hates the clothes he’s wearing, too. It strikes him that he was sitting on the floor of a bathroom stall, and he can’t strip fast enough.

After the shower, he feels like a new man. Project Rebirth, he snickers. He’s not ready for bed yet, so he pulls on a t-shirt and sweats, and is suddenly at a loss.

Sebastian checks the time on his phone – for one moment, he thinks his screen is cracked. But it isn’t, and he’s distracted by the wallpaper – man, he looked goofy, then. That’s an idea, he thinks – I’ll call mom. He doesn’t know why – he just spoke to her yesterday. Still. He’ll call. It’ll make her happy; and him. He feels like he needs cheering up, too.

Chapter Text

Chris isn’t thinking of much right now. He’s just chilling, with his team, and Seb’s team, and spit balling ideas how to make it interesting – fifth anniversary of the release of the Winter Soldier – to make it worth the effort in bringing a few of them together at the same time.

When it was first suggested, he thought it was Seb’s idea. But Sebastian doesn’t look at all interested in even being in the same city as him, let alone the same hotel lobby. In fact, for the past few hours, Seb’s looked . . . angry, more than anything.

So, yeah, this is kind of Chris’s fault. It’s not new to him, this thing of letting friendships lapse when they don’t meet so often. Seb’s made more of an effort than him – it was so sweet to see him on the opening night of Lobby Hero. And, his endlessly critical inner voice said, you could have returned the favour at literally any time.

Chris doesn’t understand why he hasn’t done that. Or rather, sure, he understands. He wants to be more than friends, he thinks, and he’s terrified of the fallout. He doesn’t want to be seen that way. He’s been making excuses, about Cap, and Marvel, and it’s all bullshit, really. Because this isn’t the ‘50s, he never signed off on badly disguised homophobia, concealed under the so-called morality clause. So what, homophobes wouldn’t watch his Cap movies – oh, no, Infinity War would have earned a bit less than two billion dollars.

It’s all on him. Ironically, it had taken spending so much time with Jenny to help him understand. She’s the one who lent him a few books, and sat him down and really explained toxic masculinity. And he still doesn’t get it, he thinks, really pissed off at himself, because he’s already coming up with excuses why he can’t just come out with it, tell Sebastian they’re having drinks later, and then . . . talk.

Sebastian just looks so angry with him, he thinks.

Then, in between one eyeblink and another, Seb changes. Now he looks sick – pale, sweaty, lost. Chris is frozen as Seb surges to his feet and excuses himself, waving off Emily, who looks like she wants to follow. With Seb gone, everyone looks at him expectantly. It strikes him – he’s had enough. This whole thing has been nothing but a disaster, and he regrets even agreeing to it.

Chris gets up. “Look, we’re all busy tomorrow – let’s call it a day.” He catches Emily’s eye. “Imma see if I can find Sebastian, see if he’s ok.”

Her face splits open in a relieved smile. That weird intern with all the ideas about social media presence is trying to say something, and Chris exchanges a glance with Susan. She gives a tiny shrug. He is not working out, Chris thinks. And he’s gonna tell Seb that. If Seb’s still talking to him. Now, should he go up to Seb’s room, or try the men’s room in the lobby?

When he pushes through the bathroom door, he sees Sebastian splashing water over his face, looking slightly better than he had. It’s like they can pick up where they left off last year, without the whole weirdness between them. Though it also isn’t that easy – Sebastian clearly wants to be alone, though Chris isn’t sure if it’s because he needs to puke some more, or if he just wants to be away from him.

They laugh together just like the old days, and Chris feels reassured enough to let Seb go up to his room on his own. Coward, his inner voice tells him. You’re such a fuckin’ coward.

Back in the lobby, though, he sees Emily and Susan, and their various assistants, but not the intern guy, whose name he doesn’t even know.

“Hey, Seb went up to his room – he’s ok, though.”

Emily nods. “I’m just getting a text from him now – I hope he’ll be ok tomorrow.” Chris must look blank, ‘cos she goes on. “He has that table-read – for the Winter Soldier and Falcon series.”

“Wow, they’re getting that off the ground, huh!” Chris senses some disappointment in Emily, and he agrees. Why didn’t he know that? “That is so fuckin’ awesome!”

Emily smiles, mollified. Susan is doing something with her eyes, like she wants him to split, but he’s really not interested. He doesn’t have anything on today, and tomorrow there’s just an interview and photoshoot in the afternoon.

“Listen, guys – about that intern . . . with all the Instagram ideas . . .” Chris starts, and Susan interrupts him.

“Yes, Em, where did you get him from? And can you send him back?”

Emily gives her the stink eye. “He’s not one of ours – I thought he’s your new social media guy.”

“Guys,” Chris interrupts, “Seb already told me, he isn’t with either of us.”

Susan goes pale. She immediately storms over to the assistants’ huddle and starts ranting. After a few seconds, she’s joined by Emily. What Chris can tell from the discussion which follows is that no-one knows who he is, and he’s gone – vanished. Good, Chris thinks. Whatever he wanted, he’s gone now. Even if he’s been setting them up for something, Chris can’t find it in himself to care.

“Oh my God, it’s Captain America!” The joyful scream, calculated to reach a pitch guaranteed to break glass, is immediately recognizable.

He braces himself, turns. “Mackie!”

“How you doin’, man!” Mackie comes over with a complicated series of fist-bumps and high-fives, ending in a hug.

“You’re over for the table-read?” he asks, glad that he’s found out before he makes himself look like the asshole who drops his friends on a regular basis.

“Yeah man, pumped for the FALCON tv show,” Mackie grins. “Oh, and there’s some asshole with a metal arm, forgot his name!” He holds it for a few beats, then pokes Chris. “Kidding! Where’s my sexy Seabass?”

“Sexy Seabass not feeling too hot, bro. Was just going to check on him.” Chris is finding it difficult to meet Mackie’s eyes. When he does, there’s affection as well as exasperation in them.

“You do that, my man.” Chris hesitates, ready to make an excuse, but Mackie wags his finger in an ‘oh no you didn’t’ motion. “Man up, bro. Tired of watching you two dance round each other.”

“To be fair to Seb, I think I did all of the dancing.”

Mackie’s eyebrows have a life of their own. “Stop stalling!” He gives him a little push towards the elevators, and drifts off to get his key-card, harmonizing a really melodic mash-up of Secret Lovers and Reunited. Ok, Mackie, God. The entire hotel doesn’t have to find out.

He knows which room Seb is in and knocks, prepared to give up instantly if there’s no answer. But the door opens, and Seb is looking good, he thinks, feeling a strange ache in the heart region. His hair is damp, and he’s . . . not looking to happy to see him, Chris thinks.

“Hey. Just wanted to see if you’re ok.” He stands there, like a moron, and rubs his head, wishing he stayed downstairs.

But Seb is smiling – it’s kind of a half-smile, like he doesn’t really want to, but it’s there, and Chris basks in it.

“Come in, man. I don’t know – feel like such a moron now. Feel so much better.” Sebastian has changed into some kind of yoga pants, Chris has no idea, except that his ass looks – fuck – looks so fucking good, and Chris is cursing his pale skin – he’s probably blushing right now.

“Do you want some . . . I guess I only have water? Shit.”

Chris comes back from a dazed contemplation of Seb’s arms and gives a hasty rebuttal. “No, dude – trying to cut down on the drinking.”

Sebastian is looking at him, arms crossed, head cocked, and Chris knows he’s gonna get right to it. He’s gonna ask why Chris is here, Chris will pussy out again, and that’s it, his last chance gone. It’s almost too perfect, the both of them in the same hotel room, no commitments, nothing.

Chris walks up to him, insanely wishing he’s shaved, just like Seb did. Some guys don’t like the beard, he thinks, as he cradles Seb’s face in his hands. He looks into those beautiful eyes and watches them widen in surprise. Here goes nothing, Chris thinks, and finally kisses Sebastian. It’s warm, soft, he keeps his mouth closed, not sure if using his tongue would be going too far. He desperately wants to lick his way into Seb’s mouth, but decides to hold back, for now. He’s trying to keep his hips back too, because he is as hard as fuck right now, and is glad he’s wearing jeans, keeping his dick contained just a little.

Sebastian kisses him back, squeezes his shoulders, and seems just about to turn his head to really get into it when he pushes him away. His eyes are flashing, now, and Chris wants to tell him how beautiful he looks when he’s mad, but he doesn’t want a broken nose.

“What the actual fuck, Chris? What the fuck?”

“I – Seb – I thought . . . we could . . .”

“Oh, you thought?” This is the side of Sebastian very few people have seen – the cutting sarcasm, blades out. “That’s a nice change. What, I’m supposed to drop to my knees because the great Chris Evans decided he wants a booty call?”

“I never - booty call?”

Sebastian’s lips look like a straight line. “What I’m trying to say, Chris, is that we’ve been here already. Are you fucking drunk again?”

“What? I mean, I just had a fuckin’ beer, Seb. What do you mean, been here?”

“Civil War wrap party? You really don’t remember?”

Chris shakes his head, angry at himself. Great, Chris – turns out you fucked this up years ago.

Sebastian lets out an exaggerated sigh, rolling his eyes. “You got so fuckin wasted, I had to help you to your room. Once we got there, you stuck your tongue in my mouth, grabbed my ass, said ‘I really wanna fuck you, Seb,’ and threw up. The next morning, or afternoon, ‘cos you didn’t come out all day, you forgot everything, and never mentioned it again. So, forgive me if I’m not up for this no-homo bullshit right now. Or ever.”

Chris can feel everything falling apart around him, and he can’t even deny what Seb is saying, ‘cos it’s totally something he does. He’s a fucking disaster when he drinks – all the time, really.

“I’m not drunk now,” he says, putting his heart and soul into it. “Sebastian . . . “ He cups Seb’s jaw carefully, rubbing his thumb over Seb’s lower lip.

Seb’s eyes flutter closed and his mouth opens, and Chris can’t resist, he goes in for the kiss again. This time Seb’s arms wind around his neck and pull him close, hips and all, so he can feel how hard he is, too. Before he knows it, Seb’s tongue is in his mouth, and it’s all he ever dreamed of, better. They somehow stagger over to the bed, which is a mean feat as it’s in another room, and they’re lying on it, side by side, just kissing until they’re short of breath, lips puffy, jaw aching.

They’re still fully dressed, which is ridiculous, Chris thinks, and he slides his hand under Seb’s t-shirt, until Seb gets the message and sits up to take it off. Chris decides he’s gonna be brave, and gets up, taking all his clothes off, while Seb lies back, his arms behind his head, grinning.

“Enjoying the show, Sebastian?” Chris wonders why he’s ever been nervous about this.

Sebastian stares at his chest, like he just remembered the ink. “Come here, I want to lick it.”

“That’s all you wanna lick?” Chris asks, trying for sexy and landing on bad porn.

“Fuck, you’re so ridiculously hot,” Seb murmurs, and Chris is pretty sure that his cock jumps. Seb gets his mouth on his collarbone, while his hand (such long fingers, something in Chris’s head whines) is wrapped around his cock, thumb rubbing the head and spreading the precome, so that it gets nice and slick.

Chris moans, helpless, caught. “How can you do those things at the same time, Jesus.”

Seb moves from one tattoo to the other, licking and nuzzling. “It’s called multitasking, you should try it.”

“How about I take your pants off instead,“ Chris gasps, and does exactly that, pulling at the absurd yoga pants and moaning when he makes a discovery. “Jesus fuck, you’re not wearing any underwear.”

Seb gasps, then grins. “Fuck you, I was going to bed . . . to sleep.”

Chris is transfixed by Seb’s cock, stiff, and long, and so pretty. Seb interprets his silence as hesitation.

“Sure you wanna do this?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.

Chris narrows his eyes, determined. “There’s one way to find out,” he growls, and swallows Seb’s cock down in one go, getting a very satisfying yelp from up above. Maybe he should have checked if he really like sucking dick before getting in bed with someone he can’t bear to lose, ‘cos he’s pretty sure that dick is a big deal, with gay dudes. Hell, it’s probably the deal, he thinks, as he starts licking and stroking, while Seb is sobbing now.

Chris finally admits to himself that searching for blowjobs on Pornhub was more about researching technique, than getting off, though there was plenty of that. Though next time he’s gonna look for ‘blowjobs, uncut’. Good thing he didn’t try it with anyone before, then.

He notices that Seb’s moans are getting more frantic by the second, and his cock is twitching even more. He risks a, hopefully seductive, look at Seb’s face, his mouth stretched around Seb’s dick, and gets more precome down his throat, and a hand in his hair.

“Baby, gonna come, so close right now,” Seb whines.

Is he gonna swallow, or what, Chris thinks. Do guys swallow? They don’t in porn, but that’s probably a health thing, right? He’s still sucking when the tell-tale twitches come hard and fast, Seb yells his name, and comes. It’s actually not that bad, Chris thinks. He’s tasted himself as a teenager, who hasn’t, right (don’t answer that)? It’s similar, not the same . . . not bad, really.

Seb collapses on the bed, chest heaving, hand over his eyes. Then he rubs them, looking at Chris, brows furrowed. “You ok, Chris? Was it too much?”

Chris crawls up so they’re face to face, then remembers his breath and what’s on it. Seb rolls his eyes.

“I have sucked dick before, Christopher. That’s not gonna bother me.” He strokes Chris’s face, fingers ghosting over his puffy lips. “So, you think you can do this, Evans?”

Chris grins, feeling the joy lighting him up inside. “I think I love it; your dick, I mean. Not sure about the rest,” and then bursts into giggles as Seb pokes him in the ribs. “No, no fucking tickling – that’s cheating.”

Seb rolls them so that Chris is on his back and Seb is straddling his hips, grabbing his cock and giving it a few tugs. He’s harder than he’s ever been in his life.

“Hmm, I think someone’s feeling a little neglected,” Seb murmurs, rocking slightly on Chris’s thighs.

“Yeah?” Chris whimpers, then tries to sound more manly. “What you gonna do about it, huh?”

“I think you’re the one who’s doin’ all the work today, buddy. Your cock, my ass, let’s do this thing.” Seb looks at him through his ridiculous eyelashes, eyes slivers of icy blue – fuck, he’s pretty.

“Yeah,” he moans, grinning like a moron. Then he frowns. “You got . . . stuff?” He’s only ever done this with a woman before, but there was still a lot of preparation involved.

“Man, this hotel room is amazing – there’s fucking everything,” Seb answers, scrambling off the bed, and coming back a few seconds later with lube and a condom. “How do you want me, baby?” he asks in an overdone bedroom voice, then can’t stop a giggle.

Chris has to kiss him, and they get caught up in that for a minute or two.

Then he pulls back, serious now, to look Sebastian in the eye. “I only ever did this with a woman – anal, I mean.”

Seb shrugs. “Then you know to be careful, use lots of lube.” He gets on his hands and knees, giving Chris a sunny smile over his shoulder.

Yeah, sure, be careful, got it. Chris coats his fingers, ‘cos he knows this much, and he slides one in - fuck, Seb’s so hot and tight, it’s . . . he’s scared he’s gonna hurt Seb, he doesn’t want to do that, like, ever. Seb whimpers a bit, then pushes back, slowly, so Chris adds another, trying to control the shakes.

He opens the condom using his teeth, which would have been impressive if Seb was turned around to see it, and he tells Seb that, getting another little laugh.

Chris lines up, and slides in, excruciatingly slowly, wondering if it’s even slow enough. Seb is tight, almost painfully so, and Chris is getting a horrible suspicion.

“Seb, baby . . . fuck, you feel so good . . . “ He wants to ask something and can’t remember what it is. “Jesus – Seb, have you done this . . . like, ever?”

A whine, and a moan. “Yeah, course I have . . . not for a long time, though.”

Oh, shit. “Do you want me to stop-“

“You pull out and I will end you, Evans!” Seb shudders, Chris can feel it in his cock, the vibration, and he has to concentrate not to come. “Deeper, come on, I can take it.”

That almost makes him shoot off like a kid. He eases forward, and Seb’s relaxing, until he’s all the way in, his heart pounding like he’s been through a practice fight for an hour.

“Sweetheart, oh baby . . .” He wants to drape himself over Seb’s back but isn’t sure if he likes that.

“Fuck, Chris, Chris, oh man-“ Seb is shaking, collapsing to his elbows. “Move, just move,” and when Chris starts, it’s like he can’t say words anymore, unless they’re “yes, yes” and “just like that, you’re amazing.”

He’s thrusting slowly, every time he bottoms out Seb tightens around his cock, and lights flash like he’s gonna pass out. He has the crazy idea that the next time he’ll put some music on, because the sex sounds are both hot and extremely embarrassing. Just like that he’s so close he can’t hold off any longer, whining, begging.

“I can’t – gonna come – Seb, oh God-“

“Yeah, yeah, baby, come on, give it to me, fill me up,” and just like that, Chris is gone, done – fuck, he’s turning inside out, he’s seeing stars, it’s fireworks on the fourth of July, it’s perfect. He knows enough to pull out carefully, still getting a whimper out of Seb, and that’s something they’re gonna talk about later for sure.

Sebastian turns over and grabs him for a kiss, hanging on to him until he collapses on top of him. Chris loses himself in Seb’s mouth, God, it’s fucking amazing.

Chris goes into the bathroom to throw away the condom and drink some water, and fully intends to give some to Seb, except when he comes out again, Seb’s already snoring. Chris wonders if he should leave, but only for a second. He gets in next to him, thinking, I am never fucking falling asleep.

Chris isn’t sure what wakes him, maybe the fact that he’s alone in bed. It’s still early, dark, and he’s not sure where he is at first. Then, when he remembers, he panics a little, sure that he’s gonna find a note, something like You suck, Evans, and not in a good way. But there isn’t one, and he finds Seb almost immediately, looking out of the window, still bare ass naked.

“Hey babe, you ok?”

Sebastian must have heard him coming, if only that he tripped over his shoe to get behind him. He wants to kiss Seb’s shoulder, and does, working his way up to Seb’s neck, which he desperately wants to nibble on. Seb smiles, lets him, but only for a few moments.

“Wait, Chris . . . stop a second.” Seb’s looking at him in the semi-darkness, biting his lower lip. “I just need to know; what is this? I mean, what is this to you? Look, it was great sex, really amazing, but-“

“But?” Chris isn’t sure what’s coming next, just that he’s fucking terrified.

“But I can’t do casual, I can’t do down-low – I used to think I could, but I fuckin’ can’t . . .” Sebastian is rambling. He’s not looking Chris in the eyes, like it’s a shameful thing that he’s asking for commitment, for some kind of acknowledgement.

Chris is only ashamed of himself, that it took him so long to get himself right. “Hey, hey . . .” and then, when that doesn’t work, “Sebastian, stop.” That gets him a look, half annoyed, half horny? Huh. He knows he’s smiling, cos Seb rolls his eyes.

“Why did I fuckin’ put that out there, why?”

“I kinda like it,” Chris says, mild, and he’s rewarded with a half-smile, and a steamy look through lowered lashes. “Seb, this,” and he gestures to them, to the bed, “is anything you want it to be. I don’t wanna hide . . . anymore.” He adds the last after receiving a sidelong glance which suggests that Sebastian thinks he’s full of shit. Which . . . fair enough. “So, what do you think: full page announcement in Vanity Fair?”

Sebastian laughs, full bodied. “Trust you to go overboard. No, I just want to go to stuff together, hold hands in public, no Hollywood beard-“

“Yes, everything. All of it,” Chris interrupts, because he wants this, he does. It’s starting to hit him, because he’s kinda slow with this shit, but he wants even more. He doesn’t want to scare Seb away, but he thinks he’s really falling for him. Like, for keeps.

Sebastian’s phone alarm wakes them the next morning, but Chris doesn’t need to get up yet, so he lies back, enjoying the sight of Sebastian getting ready, picking out clothes, coming back occasionally to kiss him. Chris happens to look at his phone and sees about ten missed calls from Susan, and groans. Just as he’s looking at it, there’s another silenced call. Ok, better take this one, he thinks, sighing. Sebastian laughs, getting himself behind the phone, ‘cause of course she’s gonna video call.

“Hey, girl,” Chris starts, and winces. What was that? Sebastian, in the middle of digging out his script, chokes.

“Don’t you ‘hey girl’ me,” Susan snaps, simmering. “I called you ten times last night.”

“Sorree,” Chris singsongs, batting his lashes. “Phone’s on silent.”

“Ok,” she says, calmer, though he’s pretty sure she wants to ask him exactly where he spent the night. “I just wanted to remind you about the photoshoot this afternoon.”

“Thanks, Susan,” he smiles, happy, because she’s always looking out for him.

“And I wanted to discuss your date for the premiere – I have a list of names, their people contacted me, and they’d be up for a few dates, after that, and before, so that it doesn’t look fake.”

“Uhh, what?” Seriously, what? He needs some coffee to deal with this. Also, Sebastian is standing right in front of him, arms folded, unamused.

“I know, you didn’t sign off on anything yet, but it’s been a while since you and Jenny broke up, and that whole ‘I need to have control’ thing in your last interview – the numbers aren’t good, just saying.”

Seb’s trying to keep up the annoyed face, but as soon as she said ‘control’, his lips started quivering.

“Ok, stop, hun, please.” Susan stops, brow furrowed. Chris chooses his next words carefully. “I don’t need you to get a date for me, ‘cos I’m already seeing someone.”

Sebastian sniffs, tossing his head. Gonna take more than that, he’s saying.

Susan doesn’t look pleased, either. “Well, who is she? And can we make her sign an NDA, ‘cos the Jenny thing was not good.” She sees him opening his mouth, and shushes him, “Ok, no NDA; just tell me her name.”

“Uhhh . . . Sebastian?” He turns the camera around, Seb waves. “His name is Sebastian. You’ve met.”

“Hey, Susan! And bye Susan, ‘cause I’m late!” Seb heads out the door, before Chris can call him a coward, ‘cause no way he’s late, then he turns at the last minute, gives Chris a kiss on the lips, and goes out. Not a coward, then.

“Chris . . . “ Susan says, her tone of one who is suffering past human endurance.

“Susan,” he answers, suddenly determined. He wants this. “This is happening.”

“Public?” she asks, chewing on her lower lip. “Is he ok with it? Does Emily know?”

“Yes, yes, and I don’t know. That’s up to him. We’re not married . . . yet.”

Her eyebrows rise even higher.

“Look, I don’t want anything formal, any announcements or whatever. It’s just gonna be out there, and if we’re holding hands or kissing, and someone takes a picture, I don’t care. He doesn’t wanna hide, and neither do I.”

Susan nods. “Ok. Fine then. Though before you make out in public, better tell your parents – don’t want them to get blindsided.”

That’s actually sensible advice, he thinks, and thanks her.

Chris sends a text to Seb asking if they can meet outside the hotel once the table read is over, with a heart emoji, and Seb answers yes, with an emoji blowing a kiss. Yeah, they’re both saps, he thinks – what of it?

Hours later, Chris is waiting outside, leaning against his car. He’s decided to drive himself – the team will be waiting there for him. He knows Seb has nothing on this afternoon – maybe he’d like to come along. Seb emerges from the hotel and spots him. Chris can’t resist – he looks so happy, like the read went amazing, and maybe it’s even something about them, too – he pulls Seb in for a hug, going for a kiss instead, deep and wet, until he’s out of breath.

Sebastian laughs. ”Oh, Chris. You never do anything by halves, do you?”

No, Chris thinks, never. He loves that laugh, and wants to hear it again, and again, so he whispers in Seb’s ear: “I’m with you to the end of the line, pal.”

“Oh yeah,” Seb murmurs, eyes smoky. “What if I called you Steve, in bed?” he smirks.

“Try it and find out,” Chris says, smiling back. He often remembers that line, and what it really means. How about ‘till death do us part?’ he thinks. Sounds fine by him.


John Winderfield has been in this other reality for three months, and he has hated every minute.

He is honoured to have been chosen for the task by Baron von Strucker, but the more time passes, the less use he sees for his mission. He can easily bring over the necessary information himself, but that is not how HYDRA functions. The main goal of HYDRA is order, which can only be achieved through obedience; yes, and pain, but he would rather not suffer that himself.

So, he insinuates himself into one actor’s management – so skilfully that they do not even know he is there. To him, this demonstrates how muddled this other reality is, how they too could benefit from the order of HYDRA.

Finally, all his plans come to fruition. The actors are there, in the specified place. Now, all he needs to do is bring them to the specific point, so that the Witch can bring them through. He is on the verge of success, has made the suggestion, but, unbelievably, something goes wrong. This actor, this weak invert, runs off, the other follows him, and all his plans have come to nothing.

When the hotel lobby vanishes around him, he thinks that von Strucker is retrieving him, braces himself for punishment. The nausea is great, and the pain in his head is even greater. Once they abate, he finds himself in a strange apartment, nothing like the fortress in Sokovia.

There are people facing him, glaring at him with varying degrees of hatred.

The first he sees is the great enemy himself, Captain America. The so-called Fist of HYDRA is there too, but he must be a traitor, as he does nothing to suppress the Black Widow, another enemy of HYDRA. His stomach plummets as he sees the twins, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff – they are HYDRA assets, but if they are here, they must have also turned their coats. Finally, a black man, dressed in red, arms folded. He has seen this . . . this Falcon, flying about, in footage of the Triskelion collapse. He prepares himself for death.

“Hail Hydra,” he cries, ready for his sacrifice, but the Falcon does not let him finish, taking a step towards him, fist aimed at his face.

“Man, shut the fuck up!”