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Dust to Dust

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Prologue

            Showing up at Tony's door wasn't exactly planned. It just happened to be the most convenient location after he found Bucky. It had taken months of searching, carefully coordinating with Sam, before he even got a trace of his old sergeant. It had taken even longer to find footage of Pierce entering and exiting the bank vault that led to Bucky. So many things had happened. So many battles with Hydra. Quite frankly it was exhausting.

            But none of it mattered, he had Bucky back.

            It took Steve a while to get Bucky to trust him, or even stand within striking distance of him. It was painful to see the man he trusted above all others look back at him without a shred of human feeling in his eyes. He'd followed any orders Steve gave to the letter, unless they required contact. He'd point blank refused to allow Steve to touch him, flinching or twitching any time he approached. Raising his arms up in a defensive motion, settling into a fighter's crouch, he'd even pulled a knife a few times. Until Steve had ended up finding them all and taking them all. One by one. 'You're my mission.' They're at the bottom of a river somewhere, now. Much to the Winter Soldier's anger and disgust. Steve doesn't speak much Russian, so whatever insults had been hurled had just gone over his head.

            The hardest part for Steve had been dealing with the screaming. Any time the other man fell asleep, he would start screaming. Pulling at his hair, hands pressed flat against the sides of his head, and he'd wake up and stop. Just go dead silent and stare at Steve, daring him to say a word. When he'd looked away, Steve had quietly thrown up. This night is no different. He settles himself in a tree, keeping watch. Bucky sleeps under him, or keeps his own vigil, Steve isn't sure. Not until he hears the screaming. Bucky just sounds so angry to him, so full of hate. He can barely hear in those sounds the voice of the man who once said 'not without you.' Dropping out of the tree, he waits, their position is compromised and it's time to move on. Hydra's been tracking them for weeks now.

            "Let's go," he says softly, chivvying the other man up onto his feet. Tries not to reach out to steady him. Super soldiers or no, they're both exhausted, both swaying on their feet. Heavy bags under their eyes. They can't continue on like this for much longer. But he can't bring Bucky to anyone like this, the risk to their lives is too great. Not to mention they haven't killed everyone on their tail yet. Soon. Steve's pretty sure this is the last few. The first time they fought Hydra, Bucky froze. He got shot. A flesh wound, and one he dug out of his own skin without the bat of an eye. That made Steve throw up, too. Not that he's eaten much. Not that either of them have eaten much. There's been some grass, some other edible flora, but not food the way most modern people would think of it. It's enough to keep them alive. Iodine in water. Steve hasn't felt warm in weeks.

            Setting off into the undergrowth they keep a forced march forward, back to civilization. He watches the way the man next to him moves, at once so like Bucky and so terrifyingly different. Steve finds himself wanting to reach out and pull Bucky out of this shell, bring him to the forefront.  Nothing works.

             Until finally they're ambushed, more men than Steve expected. And that's the first time he feels Bucky at his back in over seventy years. They fight them off. It's brutal, it's short, and Steve feels sick again. It's not that he's balked against taking lives, especially not the lives of Hydra operatives. It's how swiftly Bucky does it. A punch to the throat, jabs to the eyes, he has no compulsion against ripping a man's ear off while snapping the neck of another simply by striking hard enough with that metal arm. The kills aren't necessarily slow, but they're not clean, either. His companion is splattered with blood and gore by the time they finish, and Steve wonders if he looks that bad, too.

            They hike up through the river for a ways, and Steve hopes that if they have any cuts, nothing gets infected. He's too tired to check himself over, and Bucky won't let him near enough to be looked over in turn. They do run across a great many creatures and things that forcibly remind Steve of leeches. He sincerely hopes they don't run into leeches. They'd probably somehow enhance the stupid things and create a new race of serum-enhanced blood sucking fiends. Not to mention he just hates leeches. They abandon the water once they're both sure no one's following anymore.

            When Steve had wanted to burn the bodies, or bury them, Bucky had just said "Leave them as a reminder of what they're dealing with," in a heavy Russian accent that didn't belong to him. It wasn't the soft Brooklyn accent Steve had grown up hearing, the accent he still heard in his dreams. 'Let's hear it for Captain America.'

            When they got back to the outskirts of the city, it was like Bucky was starting to come back to him. Some outbursts in Russian, still some nighttime attacks, but nothing like when they first started. The final attack finds them fighting back to back, and the bodies they leave in their wake is disturbing to Steve. But he can't find it in himself to care. These people hurt millions. These people wanted to kill anyone who might stand against them. These people hurt Bucky. There is no regret when he snaps a neck, no regret when he puts a bullet between goggled eyes. The only regret he has is that he can't kill them all.

            Stumbling, exhausted, half crazed with hunger and thirst, they find their way to Tony Stark's mansion. Or one of them. No idea if they can even get inside without getting vaporized, Steve knocks on the door first. It's almost a joke to him. Knocking. Especially when he has every single intention of just breaking the doorknob off and breaking inside. He can explain later. They need shelter, they need to be cleaned up, patched up, and they need to eat. He has no idea if Tony would leave food in mansions he's not living in, or which ones he does frequent, or anything else. Just that he has a few addresses from the Avengers Initiative and this one was closest.

            When someone opens the door, Steve pulls a knife in shock, Bucky raises his arms wearily to fight yet again. And then his befuddled brain realizes it's Tony. It's Tony Stark. Of all the chances he had to wind up at one of Tony's houses, he found the one with Tony in it.

            "Oh good, you're home," Steve mumbles wearily, rubbing at his hair, wincing when dirt and blood flake off and float in the wind.

            "What happened to you? Get hit by a mack truck? And whose your dance partner there?" Tony asks, ushering them inside before the neighbors notice. Bunch of rich assholes, if you ask him. Nosey rich assholes. When he sees the arm his eyes widen. "You brought the Winter Soldier here, with you? What did he just agree to come quietly? How the hell did you bring that about?"

            "It's Bucky. Tony, he's Bucky. He's not... he's not the Winter Soldier. I mean he is, but..." he's just so tired. "Can I explain later? Please? We just...we just need a bath, something to eat, and a few hours sleep and we'll be gone."

            "You'll do no such thing. Well, you'll do all those things except the gone part. You can stay for a while. You both look like shit. And I've got plenty of food and a couple of bathrooms, so you can have your pick. And a lot of spare rooms, so again. No reason you can't stay until you're not half dead on your feet."

            When Steve motions Bucky inside with him, he ignores the angry words in Russian that he can't understand, and tries not to cry in relief. "Thanks," he says softly. "I have no idea when the last time we ate was, you got water?"

            "What kind of water?"

            "Oh my god Tony, the kind you can put in a glass and drink."

            Thankfully Pepper was on the couch working from home, and she saves the situation. Getting up she just turns the tap on, filling two glasses and handing them over to Steve. She stares at the man with the metal arm, looking over how much blood and dirt cover him. The hollowness to his cheeks, the deadness of his eyes. She has a feeling that if he shaves the beard away, he'll look even thinner. More emaciated and hollow. Watching Steve try to hand him the glass, he shakes his head and mutters something about poison. She sees the blonde sag, taking a sip of the water and passing it over.

            "No poison Buck, no one here's gonna hurt you." He drains his own glass and goes to the sink to refill it, leaving little dust motes of filth behind with every step.

            "Dear god Steve, the hell did you two do? Have mud wrestling contests before swinging by?"

            "Something like that," he mutters. Bucky is just holding his glass, looking at it like he wants it but is waiting for something. "For that to do you some good you actually have to ingest it," Steve says, his voice is just a hair away from being annoyed. He's clearly at the end of his rope. The other man drains the glass the moment 'permission' is given, and then goes back into a holding pattern. Waiting. "You want more?" there's no response. "Bring me the glass, I'll refill it," Steve says helplessly. He's so sick of giving orders. Especially to the one man who usually ignored them.  He does this about four times before wondering if he's going to make the other man vomit. Although he's managed to drain about five glasses, so hopefully Bucky will be fine.

            Setting his glass on the countertop, he realizes his hands are shaking. Probably a combination of blood loss, exhaustion, stress, and now relief. It's okay to be shaky and tired now. They're safe. The man he's brought with him is so still, so empty it's painful. His eyes look bruised he's so tired, but he hasn't voiced a single complaint. Outside of Steve removing his arsenal, of course.

            "If you want," Pepper says quietly, just to break the silence, "I can trim up your hair," she tells Bucky. "After a nice shower and some food. Or whatever you want." She hasn't seen him touch it, but she has seen him do this minute headshake whenever it lands across his field of vision. And the ends are badly tattered as if he's ripped at it. Sees him look at her and really notice her for the first time. She feels naked as he looks her up and down, even though there's nothing sexual in the glance. He's just cataloguing her. As if she's not even human. He glances at Steve, unsure of how to respond.

            "I'm sure he'd appreciate it," Steve tells her quietly with a helpless shrug. "So, Tony, how about that shower?" he asks.