Actions

Work Header

The Progress Remains

Chapter Text

Classified:
September 10th, 2014.
Avengers Compound; 4 Lamont Landing, Esopus, NY 12429.
S.H.I.E.L.D. operations have been shut down, therefore intel stays within Stark confines until further notice.
Subject B is held in a lower confined room.
Entered: April 19th, 2014.
Release date: Unknown.
Subject responsive?: No.
Subject aware of his/her/their surroundings?: Yes.
Subject injured/medical issues?: Not eating enough.
Subject hostile?: Potentially.
Additional notes: Subject becomes visibly upset talking about the past · Programming still intertwined · Progress slow.

 

Subject responsive?” Is a line that shouldn't have baffled him as much as it did. Was Bucky responsive? Apparently not.

He felt responsive, and had a vague knowledge of where he was and what he did. It doesn’t mean that he’s got no clue, of course. He has talked to people; Steve, the therapist, Agent Hill every now and then. And it wasn’t that he started any of the conversations. He was just talking because he had to, and the sooner he listened, the sooner he’d get out of this place.

The asset was to be seen, not heard.

Even if the rules didn’t apply here, he still felt mentally tied to them.

Bucky's done terrible, terrible things. Things he's never going to forgive himself for. Screw the brainwashing and torture, he let himself get to the point to be controlled; No more fighting, no more begging. He gave up when Steve never came to get him; realized that he was on his own for good.

How is he going to move on when he can't even handle looking people in the eyes?

His therapist- Delilah, the nice lady with bright red lipstick, curly brown hair, and thick-rimmed glasses- she would know what to say when Bucky brought up his problems. She'd pity him, tell him it's not his fault and that progress feels slow, but it's better than nothing. Bucky watched her scribble notes down in that paper so many times before. The writing was clear, stated his obvious issues, yet she still managed to stay positive and find something to show for. He often wondered what that was like; wondered what would happen if he stayed that happy.

That's why Bucky doesn't bring it up. He stays quiet like he should, does the daily routine he was scheduled to do, then carries onto another night plagued full of nightmares.

The routine was the only thing keeping him alive.

It's the differences that leave panic under his skin. One switch of the lunch menu had brought the asset out one day. It’s why they have a subsection of food for him, complete with a giant cocktail of chocky pills. He’d rather let his mind run free and relieve the stress, but it was considered dangerous. He agreed.

He wish he hadn’t.

Steve visited during his lunch time earlier that day. It was distracting, made Bucky twitchy and short of breath, and before he knew it, he was rushing to his room and pressing against the door so forcefully it's a miracle it didn't dent.

This isn't Steve's fault. It's Bucky's own goddamn mind punishing him for trying to move on. But he knows that look, knew it like the back of his hand in the forties: Steve is blaming himself again.

He would pull down the goddamn moon to wipe that look off his face. Wasn't it enough explaining to him that Bucky was the one at fault here? It should be. It was more than enough to account for. HYDRA at least listened before reaming his thoughts off as worthless garbage.

It’s one of the reasons why he didn’t mind the muzzle so much. It fit snuggly like a second skin, had holes poked throughout to help him breathe, and the best part? Bucky didn't have to worry about speaking. He couldn't possibly say something wrong to step out of line and get a punishment for. His handlers snapped it on, and without a second thought, Bucky could just let his body do what he was trained to do.

It’s a shame that it got destroyed. Life would have been so much easier on autopilot mode.

But then again, he shouldn't be missing the torture he had finally escaped from. Was it the pain the missed, or was it the order? It was hard to distinguish the two sometimes…

“Barnes? Stark wants to see you. Says he wants to check out your arm.” Came a voice through one of the intercoms. Bucky nodded to himself, then answered with a small glance to the camera. He couldn't get privacy anywhere. Not without somebody worrying he was either escaping, hurting himself, or planning some sort of attack.

This was an Avengers building. Would he really be the type to bring the place down? Granted, Bucky could without breaking a sweat, but that didn't mean he’d ever go through with it. The HYDRA coding is what he's been trying to dissociate with, not encourage, goddammit.

The hall leading out of his room was long and narrow, stretching out like a tree to branch out into other compartments and rooms in the place. He was put in the back with the least amount of light to account for his sanity. Seventy plus years kept in a cell without a window wasn’t hard to adjust to; it’s the brightness that made it so difficult.

No wonder his missions were based solely during the day. Aside from the whole bridge incident and few days he had gotten away from the lake, staggering and in pain, he was practically seething with pain every time he opened his eyes to a bright afternoon.

Bucky clenched his jaw, feeling the dull pain spike up and ground himself. Now wasn’t the time to get lost in his thoughts. He’s already been scolded enough for not listening, and he never really enjoyed the fearful look on peoples’ faces when they considered he was ebbing back to the asset. A few minutes of daydreaming meant he was suddenly a cold-blooded killer? Hell, even Fury thought that was a ridiculous assumption.

It didn’t hurt to be safe, he guessed, but that didn’t excuse the offence in the slightest.

He stopped at a corner with caution, eyes kept to the ground and shoulders so squared it would’ve hurt if it weren’t for the nerves. His expression was schooled more emotionless after hearing the familiar, confident voice just a mere wall away. If Bucky was going to be seen, he wasn’t going to let the feelings show, especially now that a genius was in the room.

Stark. Anthony Edward Stark. People called him Tony, Bucky called him an asshole.

This wasn’t a some mission, and he wasn’t assigned to do anything terrible. Bucky was going to get his arm looked at, is all. It hasn’t happened yet, and the thought was a little terrifying, but he was open to finding out whatever technology was stored in his arm. Who knows, maybe they’ll find a way to reset his trauma.

He could only wish that was real.

What if he messes up somehow? There’s no way he’ll be able to escape a building owned by the genius, for fuck’s sake, without going through another traumatizing event that just ends in him feeling worse.

It’s not your fault, Buck. You were brainwashed.” Steve had reminded him at least over a hundred times before.

Jesus, even his own thoughts had betrayed his whole sense of self-hate. Bucky pushed that away, though, and silently stepped out past the wall to be seen, his left arm whirring quietly as its metallic fist tightened. He wanted so badly just to punch that stupid, charming grin off of Stark’s face.

The universe must've agreed, because the instant Tony gave notice to Bucky's presence, his grin dropped to be replaced with an unreadable look-- Unreadable to Bucky, at least. Expressions and emotions were still a thing he was trying to grasp the concept of.

Frowning was bad. Frowning meant Steve was unhappy with Bucky, but never enough to punish him.

Smiling was good, but sometimes he saw people smiling when they didn’t feel like smiling. The sadness lingered in their eyes, perfect enough for Bucky to notice and accommodate for.

He related to that more than he’d ever admit.

“Look who emerged from the darkness. How was the tower, princess?” Tony chirped out in one gulp of a breath, hands pocketing automatically.

Bucky wasn’t sure if it was a sign of no harm, or his way of seeming trustable. Either way, Bucky tensed up and stared at the floor just incase he was getting the whole situation wrong. He wouldn’t be surprised if that was the incorrect route to take.

“He’s not much of a talker. Stick more to orders and he might follow ‘em.” Agent Hill added with a nod, then ushered them both away as she returned back to whatever she was doing. Accountant work, maybe? Bucky’s only seen her operate a few systems and chat with Fury, so it was a little unclear as to what she was.

She helped bring the carriers down without harming him. She was to be respected, He noted to himself silently.

“Right,” Tony sighed. He pulled a face that obviously meant this whole thing wasn’t so much of his idea, then ran a hand through his neatly-kept hair, before returning it back to his pocket. Was there a knife in there, or was that the shine of his watch?

Bucky gulped.

“Look, I know we’re not the type to get along,” Tony continued, eyes forward. “But work with me on this and i’ll see what I can do to get Capsicle off your back. Deal?”

Bucky wasn’t sure how Stark knew about that. It wasn’t that he didn’t want Steve around- he did, he really, really did- but it was a little stressful having to worry about another person involved into this mess. Bucky has a bad day, Steve’s there to comfort him; but then he gives those worried eyes that has his damaged heart cracking.

Yeah, maybe Stark really does want to help.

“I’ll take that as a yes. If you got any questions, save ‘em for later. I can’t be bombarded with stuff when i’m working with--” He made a motion towards Bucky’s metal arm as if that’ll explain it all. “I’d ask for a safe-word just in case, but that sounds a little too suggestive.”

Bucky didn’t quite know what that meant, but he nodded anyways.

The lab opened up before they finished the track down the stairs and whirred quietly from the automatic doors installed. They weren’t really necessary, Bucky had heard from the ever-complaining assistant Tony had, but that didn’t mean the man wasn’t going to refrain from going all out. The glowing lights added a nice touch, he guessed, even if it made the place look straight out of that movie Steve loved. Space Odyssey might’ve been the name for it. Space, sentient robots, and great music: The complete recipe to turn Captain America into a complete and utter dork.

From the right of where Bucky stood, there was a few benches seeming to make a half-circle around a chair. Compared to the one he had at HYDRA, it looked fairly comfortable and even dropped the whole idea of having cuffs on the armrests. It wasn’t that he expected to be cuffed down, it was just a little surprising to see the length Tony had gone just to make the situation at least differ from his handlers, if he knew that’s what they did to him at all.

Nothing excused the panic gnawing at his insides, though. Maybe one day it’d be easier to ignore, but today was not that day. So long for progress, then.

“Go ahead and sit down while I get a few tools,” Tony ordered, loosely motioning a hand towards the chair Bucky was inspecting.

He did as told, of course- was there even a choice?- and sat down after taking a not-so-deep breath, situating himself with his left arm on the small armrest, then the other off to the side as to not get in the way.

It was basic protocol at this point. No noises and no moving was to be expected, from what he assumed. He’d ask if that was right, but the question seemed a little too daunting for his spirling head to manage.

When Tony looked back over to the soldier, his expression had softened slightly. He no longer looked absolutely ready to get this over with and get out of there, but more like someone who was cautious of completing this.

For all Bucky knew, the engineer could just be scared that he’d attack, if it ever got to that point. He was determined to stay as neutral and good as possible, even if it made his insides flip and chest heave with anxiety.

Anything to make Stark stop looking at him like he was a sick goddamn puppy.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Barnes.” Tony spoke up, voice oddly soft. “And if I was, Cap would’ve had my head chopped off before I even got the chance. To even say he’s protective is one hell of an understatement with you around.”

Bucky managed to huff out a strained noise close to a laugh. It must’ve been over forty years since the last time he did anything other than flash a barely-there smile, and it had to have showed.

He liked it; liked the change that he usually feared; liked the way Tony’s face lit up with surprise at the sound.

“You really don’t talk much, do you?” Tony continued as he made his way over to the soldier. He had a few tools in his hands now, one oddly looking like a regular drill one might by at a hardware store, and the other presumably a device with a halo screen on it. There was such a contrast between the two that instantly drew in Bucky’s attention.

He stared, unaware of the question being asked in the first place.

Tony quirked a brow, glanced down at the tools in his hands, then set the screened device down on a nearby bench. “You’re going to have to tell me if something hurts. There’s going to be some pain when I tap into the circuits, but not enough to make it unbearable-- Unless I mess up somewhere, which is highly unlikely.” He explained, meeting Bucky’s eyes even if it were only for a brief second. “Have you thought of a safeword?”

“Becca,” Bucky answered after a few seconds of silence. His voice was rough, quiet, sounding like that painful hoarseness one will get when sick with the flu.

Tony’s eyebrows shot up, but he didn’t question it or ask. He simply just nodded a few times and instructed for Bucky to stay still and relax back into the chair, where his broad and tense shoulders were barely touching the back out of fear.

Bucky listened. He wasn’t even sure if he had the capability not to, but he pushed that thought away to remind himself that he had choice in the matter. If at any point he wants to stop, he can. It wasn’t like Stark was holding him against his will with clasps like HYDRA used.

Simple chair, simple tools, and a simple fix. It should be easy, right?

Apparently not.

Without any real warning, the tool in Tony’s hand came buzzing to life and scared the ever-living hell out of him. Bucky flinched, hard, lungs suddenly empty and vision blurry as an uncomfortable feeling rang through the metal arm.

He blanked out then and there; could barely register the sound of Steve’s voice or Tony’s small yelp. Everything felt so far away. Like he was in a tunnel at the bottom of a pool, his head about ready to explode with pressure as he barely kept track of the people around him, on him, touching him, talking to him, warning him.

He came back to his senses when a particular line caught his attention:

Don’t move.

It was Steve’s voice, set in a tone that screamed authority. Bucky didn’t move, didn’t breathe, just stayed tensed and blinked his eyes a few times until he got a good picture of what was happening.

There was Tony, his neck completely covered by Bucky’s metal hand, his face pinking and expression surprised. He didn’t like that look one bit and made sure to prove that point by slowly releasing his grip, the metal joints whirring and clicking to accommodate the sudden movement.

Then, he felt it: The sting. It rang straight up his metal arm and brought a hoarse cry from his lips, slumping back against the chair while trembling wildly.

Bucky's shaking worsens when he looks over to Tony, whose eyes are big in his face, watching every movement the soldier makes. He knows that look like the back of his goddamn hand: Tony is scared of him, everyone is. Steve's a whole different story on the part because he knows he's scared for Bucky, and no matter what option he takes out of this, the situation will still read loud and clear:

He's a danger to everyone around him.

He feels tears well up in his eyes and head spin, and stomach lurch dangerously. “I- I- I,” Bucky spluttered, not being able to grasp words. What could he say? He nearly just choked Tony out then and there like the heartless, evil person he was created to be.

Or maybe was all along, a voice echoed darkly.

The metal plates in his upper arm were still open, still sparking at every movement of his. It hurt; god, did it hurt. It was like somebody reached a hand right down his spine and dragged a pinprick through every connecting nerve; A bee sting with searing heat.

If he focused hard enough, he could practically feel his shoulder throb with aching pain and he felt his trust drain a little when he thought of Stark's words: “I won't hurt you.

Bucky was hurt, was in seething pain in the middle of a panic attack. He wasn't protected as much as Tony said he was, even with Steve's lingering, worried eyes on him. He was unabashedly and utterly alone; a speck of uselessness in a tower full of good, non-broken people.

He was the person your Ma’ would insist on warning about. And right when everything goes right, the carpet beneath his trembling body gets yanked out from under him, torn away from him like everything else in his life.

Bucky was a soldier who should've been left bleeding out on the snow years ago.

Steve interrupted his self-deprecating thought process with a mumbled “Breathe, Buck,” as his hands held forward, a defensive position if not for the obvious comfort he was trying to express. He took another glance over towards the shaken-up Tony, back down at the offered hands, then forced himself to inhale until his lungs burned, then breathe out like the air got punched from his chest.

He could do this. Just be a little more stable. For Steve. Who seemingly appeared out of nowhere at the first signs of something going wrong.

“There you go,” Steve praised, taking a daring step forward into his space. Bucky wordlessly complied to let his shoulders drop and body lean towards Steve's direction, offering himself up to physical comfort. His therapist said that it worked better, and he was just starting to understand why.

Tony cleared his throat as a small way to signal that he was still there with them. Then, he took a step back from the workbench, only to brace himself on a separate table away from them. He must've been avoiding any of the tools in case Bucky gets set off again. He appreciated it, really, but couldn't force himself not to take it to heart at the action.

He wouldn't hurt Tony-- Not intentionally. The most he'd ever do while in control, was a thought that he'd have to push away for much, much later. Feelings came with a catch.

Especially ones that had no right to bear themselves in Tony's presence.

“Are you okay?” Came Steve’s voice again, though this time it was directed towards both of them. His tone was soft, gentle, a real ground to keep them all in the moment. It had to be some sort of tactic he learned from Sam, because there’s no way he figured that out on his own.

The softer he talked, the better Bucky could distinguish what’s in his head and what’s real. Loud, mean thoughts in Russian were his head’s doing; Steve’s soft voice and blue eyes were real, close enough to reach out and touch.

Which he did.

Bucky didn’t give much thought, all he wanted was to feel those arms wrap around him as his breathing subsided to a normal pace. He both hated and loved the comfort of it all. This was his job back then; keeping Steve steady enough to breath after having an asthma attack. And now he was here, unable to breath in without feeling his lungs compress heavily.

God, what a mess he’s become.

~

Bucky always sleeps in a tight, curled up ball, forehead pressed to his knees and arms wrapped around his legs. It's the safest way to feel calm enough to let his mind drift. Blankets are never an option on him. He's still getting used to having a bed, no less, and nine times out of ten, he'd find himself in the corner of the room just as he is right now; opting out to not disobey the orders that haunt him at all times of the day.

He wants food? Well, asset status reports that he shouldn't have food until given, which was usually fed through IV. But then there's the dilemma; Steve feeds him on a different schedule without the IV and he doesn't get punished for it. He know he shouldn't, that that lifestyle was no longer his case, but that didn't mean it felt right. His stomach lurched at the thought of what punishments would be if it was more accepted. Then he took a few, deeps breaths to calm down.

You're supposed to be sleeping, not worrying about things that no longer exist.

He almost wanted to call Steve up. His presence alone rests Bucky's mind at ease. But it's late. Who would want to deal with him at three in the morning? And that's when the thought hit him:

Stark.

He was always in the lab at ungodly hours of the night, even when there's nothing to do. Bucky sees it as an opportunity, Sam sees it as insomnia at its finest. He guessed he got it; understood why it was such an unhealthy thing to do. But he couldn't judge because hey, Bucky was doing the same thing in his room, and if he was just going to sit there all night when he could be watching Tony work on some robot, then he'll be damn inclined to change that.

So, he got up. Slow enough to keep his head from spinning and careful enough not to trigger the camera from beeping his presence. There's no way in hell he'll sneak past that without getting caught, but it didn't hurt to try and test what he could get away with.

Bucky took a step forward, then another, and then another because yeah, he had been detected already. The guards he knew in the place didn't take sleep in account for safety. Which, props to them, but it would've been awfully nice not having to leave his room and deal with somebody concerned with the well-being of everyone in the compound. He wasn't going to hurt anybody, dammit. He just couldn't sleep, and if that goes on for any longer, then he might result to hurting someone.

Likely Sam because he was annoying as all hell, but that's besides the point.

He finally gave in on his idea and shot an appointed glance towards the camera in his room, before opening the door with his flesh hand. The metal used to screech against the heavy door and bring back far too many memories that he didn't want to deal with right now.

The halls were empty, save for the few guards and glowing cameras in every inch of the place. His footsteps echoed, and it wasn't exactly because of the floor; he wanted to be heard, to be acknowledged of his presence, all so the “threat” title could trade itself for something more neutral.

Steve was on the upper floor along with Bruce, Nat, Clint, some weird Robot that apparently doesn’t live here anymore, and Tony's room that didn't serve any other purpose other than holding the majority of the engineer's clothes. He's only been up there twice: Once during a panic attack, and once out of sheer curiosity.

His spine tingled with familiar nerves at the memory. Either that, or the sudden realization at what he was doing. The lab was barely ten steps away, and from there, he didn't exactly plan on what to do next.

Bucky could walk in, state that he couldn't sleep, and then…

He didn't exactly know. But it wasn't too scary not having a plan; it used to be the norm when he was the asset. Even then, with orders and somebody there to decide for him, he still had no clue what the hell was going on.

Take out the target, then we'll speak,” Came a gravelly, heavily Russian-accented voice in the back of his head. Bucky gave a bodily shudder, dipping his head low when the camera at the door scanned and let him in.

The doors made a distinct, mechanical noise when they opened, leading out to panes of glass that were most likely there just in case. Stark bulletproofed anything and everything. Hell, Bucky wouldn't even be remotely surprised if the communal kitchen mugs were shatterproof.

Speaking of the billionaire, he immediately tensed after noticing Bucky’s presence, and quirked a brow as a curious way to ask what the hell he was doing here. Bucky didn’t know how to answer; his throat went dry and he just stared blankly at the floor, bottom lip worrying between his teeth.

“You can’t sleep,” Tony spoke up after a few, long seconds of studying the soldier. It wasn’t even a question. He saw the dark circles under Bucky’s eyes and assumed correctly, which was more than a relief.

Bucky nodded, slowly, metal arm whirring off to the side as an attempt to force himself to calm down. He felt the tension in the air, enough to cut with a knife, but paid no mind to it. If he ignored it long enough, then maybe everything will clear and the dust will settle upon his and Tony’s past. Their relationship was unlabeled after the incident from a few weeks ago, if there was any relationship in the first place, and now it was up to him to repair some trust.

Wordlessly, Tony pointed his head towards a small couch pressed up against one of the walls in the lab, then continued on with whatever piece of equipment he was working with.

Bucky would’ve collapsed then and there if he could. Tony trusted him enough to keep him in the room, and not only that, he didn’t order FRIDAY to keep watch. If anything, now was the best chance Bucky’ll ever get to show that he had some control over himself.

He walked over to the couch with newfound confidence, sat down, and practically slumped against the cushions. They were soft, a bit cold from the leather, but soft and comfortable nevertheless. It was such a great contrast to the hard and unforgiving floor he slept on, and if not immediately, pretty quickly he was staring off into space as his eyelids fluttered tiredly.