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I

 

The next time he went on a mission, he did not wear the armor.

He was stripped of the Captain America mantle, stripped of his shield.

After the events of the Triskelion, Steve's head had experienced an unusual clarity. The lifting of a thick fog that blurred his criteria. All the SHIELD fiasco made him realize that what he once died for was a joke.

He'd find Bucky, he'd burn every lasting bit of HYDRA to the ground, even if it meant taking his reputation down with him. He'd protect the one constant in his life.

Natasha had disappeared after facing the court. She wouldn't allow for Steve or Sam to know her location, but a coded message made its way one morning through Steve's mail. It held the coordinates to a warehouse near South Hackensack. They followed through, carrying nothing but pistols and intercom to communicate. And Sam had insisted they went back to get some armor, his wings, Steve's shield. But time was ticking away painfully, and every moment gone decreased the possibilities of finding the HYDRA agents. They drove for hours along Balt-Wash Parkway in a stolen sedan.

Bucky had saved his life, had dragged his body out of the water before he drowned. Steve knew that much, but there were no records of his location whatsoever after the fall in the Potomac. Bucky was a trained assassin, a KGB spy, a fucking myth . There was no doubt he could get away, hide from his captors, take another name, he had the tools needed to get rid of the ghost of The Winter Soldier. That's what Steve hoped for, even if it was infantile, or selfish. It was a better option that the idea of the new members of the terrorist organization getting him and continue to use him as their attack dog. It was unbearable.

They had gone in, cautious of open fire or any sign of distress that might put them in danger. And it came storming through the doors right behind them.

Somehow, the federals had gotten the coordinates for the warehouse as well and had decided to go inside at the same time that Steve and Sam.

"FBI, drop your weapons!"

It was a SWAT team. A squad began registering the place in detail as a second pointed guns at their heads and sent them to their knees. Sam and Steve dropped their guns and raised their hands above their heads, facing surrender.

Until the enemy came out of their holes like rats.

They moved to take cover. 

HYDRA made the late SHIELD's weapons look like toys. As Steve rolled and pistol whipped one of Sam's attackers, he realized that was by design. One of HYDRA's operatives had a weapon that didn't fire bullets and it was bigger than any firearm Steve had ever seen. He looked, helpless, as he fired it and a it deployed a device that attached itself to the floor, Steve heard the unmistakable sound of an electromagnetic field being powered on and watched as the guns of three SWAT members were snached from their hands by the device and pinned to its surface.

When he found a moment to look back, his breath caught painfully, like it hadn't done in decades.

There was Rumlow, covered in heavy armor. Standing behind the handrail of the facility's emergency stairs, holding a metal baton, hiding his face behind a mask.

And Bucky curled by his feet.

The SWAT team was still holding down the other HYDRA agents, gunshots could be heard over the ringing of his ears.

"Got visual on Rumlow!" Steve shouted over the intercom, even though he knew he was not getting backup.

For a moment, Steve felt every piece of his self crumbling as Rumlow started to strike Bucky's head with the baton, knowing Steve was watching. A blunt noise echoed in his head and he had no way to stop him, had nothing to do but run towards them and hope it wasn't futile.

HYDRA agents clogged the path, blocking his vision but not the sound. God, the sound. Steve plucked a man from the ground like weeds but it was inefficient, slow . He heard the crack of electricity behind him, without looking he snached the gun from the hands of the man behind him and fired. The device attached itself to the chest of the agent in front of him and the guns of his assailants--some still strapped to their backs--hit the man and knocked him to the floor. The chaos ensuing was enough for Steve to clear the remaining  feet to get to Bucky. 

He heard Romlow growl as he approached but Steve had no time for him, he hated him, but had not time for him. Steve had never punched someone so hard in his life.

Steve sank to his knees next to Bucky. He watched his blood seeping through his dark clothes over his sternum, and was pooling underneath his limp body. Steve couldn't see Bucky's face behind long strands of his hair covering it, wet and plastered with sweat and blood.

He's dead.

"Bucky," Steve breathed, kneeling in front of the gore that was his body. Since the Triskelion, Steve had several dreams-- nightmares-- of Bucky shooting bullets through his flesh, of Bucky breaking his bones with the metal arm like sticks, of Pierce slitting Bucky's throat in a fluid movement. This had just to be another nightmare to wake up screaming to. Steve snapped his eyes shut and a choked sob escaped him, suddenly feeling his mouth wet with tears and snot. Before he could hold Bucky's face a voice called to him and held him back.

"Don't move him, the paramedics are coming," It was Sam, grabbing Steve's elbow with a punishing grip.

He didn't understand.

He's dead, he wanted to tell Sam, yell at him for trying to keep him away.

But the next thing he knew, he was being dragged away from Bucky and the medical team was crowding his friend, hollering frantic commands and words he couldn't make out. Something drowned his hearing as he watched the paramedics cut through his clothes and squeeze his flesh with their fingers to plug Bucky's veins with lines.

"240 we're stabilizing, any further units can reduce code , " a female voice said over the radio. "The base has been taken down, eight subjects under arrest, one of them requires urgent medical care."

"Step back, please."

"240 to 376, you were broken. Repeat."

"GCS 4, let's bag him."

A paramedic inserted a tube down Bucky's throat with the help of a large, curve blade. He attached a bag with a bulb to it and started pumping. Sam put his hands on Steve's shoulders and turned him around to look at him.

"Steve? Listen to me," he pleaded, his eyes focused and severe. "They're taking Rumlow in custody, I will overlook the detention process and I'll meet you at the hospital, okay?" Steve didn't know what he answered.

The ambulance reeked of chemicals that made Steve's head and stomach swim. The paramedics took turns to bag Bucky. The drips and equipment rattled with every bump on the road and Steve waited for them to arrive into the nearest hospital, staring with sick awe at the fluid leaking out of Bucky's ears and nostrils, yellowish and merged with small blood clots.

 


 

"Incoming!" A medic hollered. They rushed the stretcher through the double doors of the ER. Steve followed close, the superserum making everything painfully brighter: the fluorescent lights, the blood.

"What do we got?"

"Male in his thirties, frontotemporal depressed skull fracture, a punctured lung and several lacerations due to instrumental violence. Initial GCS of 4 decreased to 3 en route, extensor response."

A team of medics and nurses gathered, eyes focused with purpose and worry. Their expressions changed when they caught a glimpse of the metal arm. Steve saw the instant they understood whose life was in their hands and hesitated. Those precious couple of seconds felt like a kick in the gut-- BuckysomeonepleasebuckyBUCKY --they exchanged stares and nodded finally, regaining their initial determination.

"Let's move to trauma 2," The medics rolled the stretcher into a small room with white hot lights. "BP?"

"50 over 35. Heart rate at 39."

"Ready? On my count. One, two, three." Bucky was all dead weight and rigid muscles, and the medics grunted as they transferred him into the examination table.

"Put in a groin line."

"Diminished breath sounds on the left side."

"His lung collapsed, he needs a chest tube now."

"Nonresponsive."

"Sir, I'm going to ask you to step away," a nurse said although he couldn't focus on anything but someone dabbing iodine on Bucky's side before digging a scalpel between his ribs to stick a plastic tube inside. "Captain Rogers, please. Step this way."

She stepped on his personal space, making him desist and take a step back.

"Wait," Steve said, or thought he said.

"Stabilizing."

"Tell radiology we're on our way for a CT scan, then up to the OR."

"Captain, Agent Madani is here to talk to you," said the nurse that drove him away.

She extended her hand for Steve and if his grip wasn't good or his hand was shaking, she didn't mention it. He attempted to speak but was at a loss of words.

"Captain Rogers, I'm willing to let go the fact that you and Wilson entered a HYDRA base without authorization," she addressed but the look on her face suggested the opposite. "Due to the fact that there is a more important matter at hand."

They both turned their heads at Bucky on a gurney being rolled into a wide corridor, followed by screaming medics and nurses holding IV bags above him.

"I will be responsible of the legal proceedings of this case," Madani continued.

"W… What do you mean?"

"The crimes of the Winter Soldier."

Steve couldn't hold back a wince. "You are talking about locking him up?"

She placed her hands on her hips, under her blazer. "He will face a trial and be held accountable for his actions if found guilty by the jury, if I may remind you that there's enough evidence to process him for the crimes he committed as a member of HYDRA."

Steve's mouth was dry, he rubbed a hand on his forehead, wiping sweat, looking away from the agent.

If he makes it. The missing piece of that sentence, if.

She must be kidding, or didn't see Bucky up close.

Didn't see his brains leaking from his nose.

A blur came into Steve's vision. A woman in her fifties wearing a striped pantsuit approached them, seemingly undignified and nauseated. "Foremost, Agent, he is my patient, and as such the priority right now is to provide him with the adequate medical attention," she said before pressing a thin line on her lips. "I'd appreciate it if you waited until he was conscious to begin pestering my patient's relative with paperwork, Madani." She approached Steve and held her hand out. "Kirsten Anderson, I'm the Director of the Hospital. Nice to meet you, Captain."

"Pleasure's mine," Steve mumbled, thrown off at Anderson's contrasting amiability, especially when Steve knew Bucky's public image was that of a prolific murderer. Also, he wasn't expecting to be called Bucky's relative, even though it wasn't a secret they had been friends since they were kids, it stated that Anderson knew Bucky had no one in the world but Steve.

"I would like to inform you that my team is taking Sergeant Barnes to get a CT scan, we need to assess the extent of the brain injury before operating," she said.  "We've alerted neurosurgery to prep him immediately." She shifted on her feet. "We will file the medic legal case as soon as possible, which will allow the federal agents to make decisions about your relative's procedures."

No. That couldn't be, no federals, no overpowering, no more people taking decisions about his body, his life, his fate. "I need to see him," he stated firmly, the only coherent thought that came out of his mouth through the brainstorm.

"We understand how you--" Anderson began but Steve cut her off with aggression in his voice.

" No- - You couldn't possibly begin to understand."

Anderson swallowed and continued. "No relatives are allowed at the OR complex, Captain. You need to step aside and let my people do their work."

"Your people? Why would I trust your people when federal institutions all around are known to be soiled with neo-Nazis? Let me be very clear, Director. Sergeant James Barnes was drafted to serve his country and went M.I.A. not to die, but to become a war prisoner and get confined and used to HYDRA's twisted desires for seventy years. I will not let that happen again."

Anderson shot a glance through Steve, conveying sternness and acerbity, and Steve could only clench his jaw to stand his ground.

"That is a very serious accusation for you to assert," said Madani, breaking the silence.

Finally, Anderson sighed. "No," she looked away, giving up the tight expression. "I understand his position. After the exposed files last month I took some measures within my own personnel. If we are done here, Agent Madani, I'd like both of you to follow me."

Anderson showed them the way through the first floor, passing many patients in stretchers and wheelchairs that didn't spare a glance and medics that turned their heads to see the three of them and nod at the Director. There was an old lady laying down on a gurney, she had a blue shower cap over her head and a nurse was reassuring her. Eventually, they went through a long corridor that lead to the operating room complex. They walked beside rows of occupied operating rooms and doctors and nurses wearing scrubs and cloth caps walked by hurriedly.

They stepped along a taped area on the floor through a door leading to an operating theater with stage seating and a glass window. For a moment, Steve hesitated to step forward, while Madani and Anderson approached to see the OR. He had just seen Bucky with his head blown, spinal fluid coming out of his ears, nose, and blood covering all his facial features. The images from his recent memory mixed up with those in the HYDRA files. Off focus pictures of Bucky tied to operating tables, bounds over his middle, wrists, ankles, his forehead. His friend in a state of total defenselessness and subject to the handling of others. Which was exactly the image that he was about to see. He did not know if he was ready for that, if he'd ever be ready for that.

"Call the blood bank. I need two units of B neg and keep two units ahead , " a hoarse, measured voice took him out of his musings

"ICP's still 45," another doctor stated, her voice muffled by the surgical mask.

Madani turned his head slightly to catch Steve on her peripheral vision and then looked back to the front. Steve then took a step closer, crossing his arms to keep himself steady.

Bucky was on his back, a soft blue fabric covered most of his body. A large gauze was secured over his nose, his eyelids taped closed. He had been intubated and connected to a ventilator and his arms were extended horizontally and tied to the operating table. The layers of skin and muscle of his head were peeled away and secured. They were removing a piece of his skull. There were screens and other machines all around him and two doctors stayed by his head, one of them using a small drill that whirred quietly, drowned by the sound of a loud and urgent beeping.

"He's bleeding too much," said another doctor, and Steve felt a rush like ice travelling inside his veins. "I need vascular clips."

He fixed his eyes on the screen they were using to operate and though the image was unclear a wave of nausea hit Steve. All he could see was the photographs from the HYDRA files, the vivisections, Bucky's bones exposed and held open by tools, and the doctors above him staring like one would to a broken car engine. He rubbed his face with one hand and attempted to drive away the knot on his stomach.

Anderson cleared her throat, noticing his reaction. "I would like to assure you, Captain," she said with a gentler voice that seemed off with the bold exterior she radiated. "That your friend is in good hands."

Friend.

Steve turned to look at her, and she gave with a comforting smile, one that went past the limits of their strict relation.

The operation seemed to last too long. It was exhausting to see. Funny, the neurosurgeon asked to get his brow wiped just twice. His hands were as steady as a rock, and his touch gentle. It seemed almost impossible for the team to continue working, while Steve felt his energy drain out of him. His vision blurred from time to time and there was nothing the serum could do. The shooting at the HYDRA warehouse, days of restless searching, endless driving, sleeping in sketchy motels. Nightmares waking him up in the middle of the night. Sam sitting by his side in silence.

Madani excused herself, the fact that she was starting to get bored more likely than being tired from standing still. The sounds were already becoming familiar to Steve, drilling, high pitched beeping, the splattering sound of a tube suctioning fluids.

"Captain, I must attend some business at my office, can I escort you back to the waiting room? The surgeon will give you the report as soon as they're done."

The anaesthesiologist had settled down by Bucky's right side. He kept his gaze up, focused on his vitals while he rubbed a gloved hand over Bucky's naked shoulder absentmindedly.

"Can I take a look at the pre-op scans?"

"Of course, Doctor."

"We'll need an MRI," a surgeon stated and added, lowering his voice, "We'll have to wait and see."

"Captain?" Anderson asked.

Another wave of nausea. He wanted to be right there by Bucky's side, saying reassuring words, holding his hand, rubbing his shoulder, waiting until they were finished with him. Instead, he nodded at Anderson and turned away.

 


 

When Steve was a kid, Steve's mom would pray with him at night, thanking God for another day, another plate of hot soup at the table. After the war and waking up alienated from everything and everyone, Steve had stopped believing in the Supreme Good that God offered. Although, as he sat at the waiting room, head on his hands, Steve's thoughts circled over and over for the possibility of someone listening to his pleads. Anger and dread pulsed through his veins waiting for the surgery to be over.

"Captain Rogers?" said a low and husky voice. Steve looked up to find a slim and tall man in dark blue scrubs, brow furrowed. He got on his feet and hated the rush of his heart against his chest. "Doctor Stephen Strange, neurosurgeon."

"Nice meeting you," Steve cleaned the sweat off his hand before shaking the Doctor's, as firmly as he could manage. "How's he?"

Strange took a short breath before explaining. "We performed a left frontotemporal craniectomy, it's a procedure that involves the removal of a portion of the skull to repair the bleeding vessels and remove the damaged tissue caused by the trauma. The bone that was removed from the skull was not replaced to create room for the brain to swell and not cause other complications. We froze that section of his skull so the tissue doesn't die, and stitched the dura and scalp over the exposed brain. We'll perform a cranioplasty in a couple of weeks to reconstruct the skull.

"We also placed an intraventricular catheter by a hole drilled on the skull to drain the cerebrospinal fluid that could cause the pressure to increase. Right now he's being transferred to the ICU. He's in a coma, and we'll make sure he stays that way until his brain heals. He's on antibiotics and an antiepileptic, even then he might have seizures, it's expected after brain surgery."

Coma, drilled, bleeding, damaged, remove, pressure, replace, procedure, die.

Steve let out a breath and looked away, flooded by the information. "Whe- When is he waking up?"

"We want to wait for his brain to decompress, if he wakes up sooner we'll have to induce a medical coma."

"The serum... Makes him heal faster."

"We do not know what to  expect, we don't have any clear records on the matter."

"Can I see him?"

"Sure, please follow me."

 


 

They had taken an elevator to the sixth floor when Strange's beeper alerted him he was being required, so he apologized and left Steve at the entrance of the ICU, reiterating he'd be overlooking Bucky's recovery and that they'd be in contact. He thanked the Doctor, sincere in his gratefulness, Strange nodded and attempted to smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. The floor had a sign in front of the elevator, reading: Welcome To The Trauma/Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit .

A guard sat by the entrance, reading a paperback that seemed to had seen better days. She eyed Steve up and down, with an unimpressed expression.

"ID, please," she ordered, putting her book down.

Steve dug a hand in his jeans pockets, he was almost sure he kept his wallet after the FBI agent climbed on him and started registering him. He finally found it in his back pocket and handed the guard his driving license. She read it and raised and eyebrow.

"Go ahead," she said with an air of petulance.

The flooring was wooden linoleum and light gray. Steve walked towards the main desk, a station with computers, a couple of chairs and a green plant that was probably not real.

Behind him someone asked, "Sir? Can I help you?" A lady with a messy ponytail and huge brown eyes stood, holding a metallic clipboard, she wore a pink shirt underneath her blue scrubs.

"Ah- yes," Steve said, being caught off ward and the nurse raised her eyebrows and smiled nervously. "I'm looking for James Barnes."

"Right, the Director told me you'd be here any minute," she tucked a strand of her behind her ear. "This way, please."

The floor had a pristine atmosphere and the air was filled with a sickeningly sweet scent. It reminded Steve of endless nights of coughing fits and vomit that seemed to be sucking the life out of him, gasping for air and not being strong enough to squeeze the hand that held him. It reminded him of his own mother. 

Around him, nurses moved in and out of rooms, serene and deliberate. The natural light of the evening did not reach the floor, and there was only fluorescent and warm light. The abstract pictures on the walls and the reminders for the visitors to wear a surgical mask and gloves in the isolation units could only distract Steve enough until the nurse pushed open a light wooden door with the number 16 at eye level. As Steve went inside, he was caught up by different noises, more beeping and bubbling water and air compressing and decompressing. Then, his body went cold.

He couldn't count the monitors and equipment around Bucky. It made him look terribly small, his body sunken on the bed, white sheets draped over his lower half. The metal arm stayed hidden underneath the sheet, while his other hand laid limply, wrapped by tags and cables.

The monitor was too loud. It made Steve's ears ring.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

And stopped for a few seconds.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

Steve shuffled forward, making a fist around the plastic side rail of the hospital bed until his knuckles went white. Like looking into a casket. In front of him there was a ghost. A body of mauled flesh. It was the vessel of a loved one, lost. He had to swallow. 

A bandage was placed to cover the missing portion of his skull, it went around his forehead and nape. Covering the deformity of his head. All his hair had been shaved off, as well as his beard. This was a corpse. Steve couldn't look at his face very well, just his bruised eyelids, bottom lip and chin, crusts of dried blood here and there. He wanted to ask the nurse if this really was Bucky. It was difficult to believe it was. Looking so weak. Barely alive. Gray tinting his skin and bright red bruises visible around the gauze that hid his nose.

There were tubes doing all the work Bucky's organs couldn't. They tangled on the bed, and he couldn't see which connected to his inner arm, or his chest, or his hand. The one coming out of his skull was gray and thicker. Surely, the ventilator was the most evident one. A tube keeping Bucky's mouth open, and going into his trachea, maybe it was too large for his throat. It kept his neck at a weird angle and looked fairly painful.

He would hate this.

It had been seventy years since they shared an apartment after Sarah Rogers died, but for Steve it had only been a blink of an eye. A gap in history that made him estranged to this new era. But Bucky linked everything back to the past, to his childhood and Steve could close his eyes and see Bucky's toothy smile and hear his laughter. Could see him take off his shirt and tank top with grease stains on them, could smell the sweat and smoke on him after a day of work.

Steve hadn't realized the nurse had stayed outside, until soft steps announced her entrance. She carried a plastic container with a kit for a whole new rubber tube. He stepped forward.

"Don't be afraid," she said. "You can get close to him and touch him. Patients in a coma state are able to feel and hear what happens around them." She gave him a small smile, welcoming and sincere. "I'm going to be in charge in the evenings, my name is Claire."

Steve stared at her, putting on latex gloves and decided to sit back on the couch beside the bed. "Thank you, Claire."

"I'm going to place a Foley catheter now," Steve wasn't sure if she was explaining this for him or for Bucky because next she tapped her hand on Bucky's thigh and said, "I'll do this quickly, sweetheart."

 


 

Before leaving, Claire told him the visiting hours for ICU patients. Steve spent the forty minutes he had left before he was escorted out holding his head on his hands. The images of what had happened at the HYDRA base played over and over in his mind. Gunshots, surrender. His heart hammered in his chest, he grabbed his hair. He couldn't do anything for Bucky, even like this. He couldn't even look at him before a fury began to burn in his gut. It felt as if he stared at Bucky a little longer he would storm off to find Rumlow and bash his head until his brain was smeared all over the ground.

Claire made another appearance, this time scribbling down on a clipboard and nodding at Steve.

"You have a friend back in the waiting room," she said. "I guess I'll be seeing you tomorrow." That was her gentle way to shoo him.

"I guess you're right," Steve replied.

A sharp pain screamed on his ribs as he stood up.

"Probably should get that checked up," Claire suggested. He thought he had winced silently.

"Yeah," he breathed out.

"At least consider getting some rest."

One of the machines blared off and Steve jumped.

"Don't worry," Claire moved to the ventilator like a reflex. "Most of the noises these things do are either false alarms or unimportant stuff."

Steve thought he would stand sparing another glance at Bucky before leaving. The yellow light of the lamps by his head created shadows under his eyelashes. He stood over him for a while (don'tyoudareleavemeyoujerk) and took his hand, squeezed lightly, careful not to jostle his IV.

"G'night, Buck," he shushed.

 


 

The waiting room had a whole set of mauve upholstered furniture. Sam was sitting on a chair next to an old woman. He had his elbows on his knees and his head hanging, he typed on his phone with dexterity.

Steve approached him and put a hand on his shoulder to catch his attention.

Sam's head shot up in a startle. "Jesus-- Steve." His left eye was swollen and a nasty gash was on his cheek.

"Sorry," Steve said. "You okay?"

Sam stood up. "Yeah," he croaked. "HYDRA asshole punched me but it's fine, got plenty of time to rot to the bones in max." He scratched the back of his head. "He and the other seven, including Rumlow. Well. He's stepping max surely as long as they're done with him."

Steve nodded and looked down at his shoes.

"How is he?" Sam asked, his voice suddenly softer like he feared a doctor coming out of his room to tell him he hadn't made it.

"Recuperating," Steve said bluntly.

"Surgery went alright?"

Steve sighed. "Yeah," he pressed his lips in a tight line. "He was on the table for four hours."

Sam stayed silent and just watched Steve for a while, waiting for him to say anything else and a pressure began building behind his eyes. Steve swallowed and looked away. The old woman started a game on her phone, it played an melodic song that reminded Steve of an ice cream truck.

"How are you feeling?"

That was the thing about Sam. He was direct and honest and if Steve wanted to tell him how fucked this situation was and how utterly disgusted he felt at himself, he wouldn't give him shit for it. But he couldn't, not now.

"They want him to face trial," Steve said, as if the simple sentence explained his feelings for this fucked up situation.

Sam looked at him for a moment, assessing his reaction. Steve had to shake his head to dissolve the tension on his throat.

"I know."

 


 

It seemed almost as if Steve was working to build an army of remarkable people who would follow him into the gates of hell. He loved trouble as much as it loved him. He would seek the fight or he would start it if he needed to, or at least that's what he had done over the years for Bucky. He had already taken him down with him to a path that fractured them and changed them forever. These were ashes he stood on. Ashes of a past life that could not be. And still he would fight for it, even if it meant giving his own life, we wanted to die knowing Bucky would be safe.

He wanted to tell Sam that he did not have to keep doing this. He had tried to do so before and all he'd gotten was the unending insistence that  Sam wanted to be there with him.

"Go home," Steve pleaded.

"You kidding," Sam simply chided. "I'm not going through the wave of reporters at the gates again."

 


 

At ten past four in the morning, two Federals came through the gates, each holding a long range gun. Anderson walked beside them, now her face seemed contorted with tension. The federals walked straight to Bucky's room and Steve bolted from his seat. Anderson stood in front of him and gestured him to sit back down closing her eyes. She was exhausted.

"FBI requested security."

Sam offered to grab coffee for both of them after they stayed silent for forty minutes. He came back with two plastic cups, talking about the twenty reporters he had to reject on the way.

The old woman who played with her phone offered Sam and Steve a piece of gum.

Claire chatted with the guards at the door of Bucky's room, smiling curtly. 

The Director emerged from the nurse’s station and stood in front of Sam and Steve. 

“I suggest one of the back exits, we’ve called in security to block the entrances, there are reporters trying to sneak in.” 

“Thank you, Director,” Steve croaked. 

 


 

Every time Steve started to calm down, thinking the night would be over any moment and Bucky was still okay, a loud beeping took him out of a make-believe tranquility and his heart rate ricocheted, fearing that was it.

But it wasn't. None of the other relatives at the waiting room even blinked.

“First night’s tough, darling,” said the old lady. 

The ICU was timeless, drowned by fluorescent lights. Steve didn’t realised when it dawned. 

“Nat’s outside, she’s got company,” Sam said, reading a text on his phone.

Steve hesitated visibly, he just had to exit the unit, a few feet from the waiting room, but he felt like he had to stay right where he was. 

“Go, I’m here,” Sam said, reassuring. 

Three figures lingered behind Natasha. She had a grim expression on her face but a small smile was drawn when she saw him. She greeted Steve with a hug. He felt thankful and relieved to see her friend safe again after she exposed herself and SHIELD to the world. 

“Thank you for coming,” Steve said, considering that Nat had disappeared for months and just resurged to help them out. 

“I heard…,” She said softly against his neck. “I’m sorry.” 

Steve held her closer, “He’s with us, thanks to you.” 

The muscles of his back relaxed as Natasha rubbed him affectionately before breaking the hug. 

“I thought we’d need help,” she said, stepping aside to introduce her company. 

A man with blond hair down to his chin cleared his throat. “Captain,” he stepped forward to shake his hand. “My name is Franklin Nelson. These are my associates,  Karen Page and Matthew Murdock.”

Chapter Text

II

 

The waiting room of the ICU was the meeting point for Natasha and the firm. It was as far as they could go, and as far as Steve wanted to go.

“Miss Romanov thought Nelson and Murdock is fit to represent Sergeant Barnes’ bests interests.”

“He is in a coma,” Steve said, he hated to state the obvious.

“The public defender is all but ready to hand him over,” Page murmured.

“We want you to take custody,” Nelson said. “Before he wakes up.”

“Before the feds get any chance to get to him,” Murdock added. “District Attorney wants the death penalty, they are willing to extradite him out of Jersey if that's what it takes.”

“Once he wakes up…” Nelson continued, making a pause, uncertainty in his tone. “Barnes will be evaluated by psychologists and neurologists. They'll determine then if he's got to stand trial, or not.”

“If the defense is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity and it is successful, there's a possibility he'll get committed to a psychiatric facility,” Natasha said.

“He is not insane."

“But he is brain damaged,” Natasha asserted.

Murdock rubbed the bridge of his nose. “We’ll request house arrest.”

“Captain,” Page interjected, clearing her throat. “If you obtain guardianship, Sergeant Barnes will have a home to go to, and you'll be able to make decisions in his name in court.”

A throbbing pain inside his skull started nagging Steve.

“We can't tell at which rate he'll heal, but in most cases, a severe brain injury results in cognitive disabilities.”

For the first time in days, maybe even months, Steve felt like there was still a certain chance they could give Bucky what he deserved. Even after the trauma and injury. If Steve did everything right, he'd be able to be there for him at last. He supposed he rather keep him locked up in his home than see him die in the chair.

“What do we need?”

 


 

The New York Times @nytimes

Winter Soldier among the seven alleged HYDRA agents captured by the FBI this morning w/@jessicaNYT

 


 

James Barnes: The face behind the crimes of The Winter Soldier

By Edward Brock

When Captain Steve Rogers' body was found in the ice, no one in the room believed the man was alive.
It is odd, how the world started filling itself with cases of super humans. Certainly, the serum used in one of those WWII famous experiments did see the light again.

Dr. Erskine was not the only person who pursued the dream of a super soldier in times of war. In the United States, that super soldier is remembered as a hero, and now faces charges for sixty six murders.

READ MORE AT DAILYGLOBE.COM

 


“Good morning,” Steve hesitated, he did not remember her name.

“Claire,” Claire answered with an easy smile.

The room looked different with the natural light coming in from the window. Surely different than the hospital rooms back in 1930, back when there was glass and metal everywhere around. Now, the place felt warm, even familiar.

As he stepped forward, he could see Bucky’s torso was exposed. His chest didn't rise and fall as a reminder that Bucky was dead if not for the machines around him.

Steve tried and failed to not look, stare really, at the scars on his left shoulder. He had never taken a look before and now he couldn't stop. The skin had folded in thick, hardened tissue. There was a twisted mass of scar that extended toward his pectoral, and several long marks around it all.

Marks like claws that had dug deep in the skin, in the same direction. Steve’s stomach revolted. Bucky had tried to take the arm off.

And HYDRA couldn't be more proud of their creation.

Steve remembered the files, -did he ever-. The compilation included a dozen of redacted names of the doctors describing the tests they did on Bucky to attach the prosthetic and make it fully functional.

A list of the muscles removed to make room for the metal to have a better attachment to his left side, that included the pictures of the procedure. Steve knew there was metal all the way down to his bones.

An urge to hit something bloomed in his gut. When initially Steve felt nauseated, exhausted and sadguiltyashamed… now he wanted someone to pay. Wanted to rile up all those nazi scum to face court, at least. But who really was going to pay was Bucky, they wanted to lock him up for the rest of his days and he really couldn't get to breathe in peace knowing that his best friend had been a prisoner his whole life.

His teeth hurt from clenching his jaw, and Steve willed himself to stop. He took another look at his friend’s injuries. The tubes pierced and penetrated his body, the image all too familiar to the files.

He wondered if Rumlow had wanted to kill him. But he could have done that long ago, when the winter soldier came back empty handed when he should have held Steve's head. He represented no purpose in the state they had him in. And if Rumlow wanted him to see Bucky die he could have simply shot him.

It was all too theatrical, it was almost ridiculous, thinking of a high ranked HYDRA agent gearing up and waiting for Steve to find him.

Rumlow had wanted Bucky to die slowly, in order to hurt Steve, nothing else. What did he know exactly? About their relationship before the war.

It hit him suddenly. He thought he knew that his friend was barely alive. He saw a hole in the dirt in his head, pictured himself staring at his friend’s grave. Then Rumlow would've won. And if Bucky died, all this pain that he was going through wouldn't be worth it.

Steve shook his head and swallowed, attempting to calm down.

“You alright?”

Steve sighed. “Sure, yeah.” Claire lifted an eyebrow and went back to change the solutions at the IV pole. “Still working?”

“My shift ended a few hours ago, but I'm covering a friend.”

“How is he?”

“Behaved pretty good all night,” Claire said, as if Bucky could decide whether to go into shock or not. “I'm sure he appreciates being safe now.”

Steve nodded and sat on the chair next to the bed.

“You haven't tried speaking to him?”

“I'm sorry?”

“I wasn't lying. He is listening, he feels you when you touch him. I've been around long enough to know that much,” Claire said as she was preparing a shot. “When they wake up they remember, I think your buddy could use some of that.” She administered the medicine, not on one of the lines but in Bucky’s abdomen.

Steve just started at her, puzzled.

 


 

“Thought you might want to take a shower,” Natasha waved a plastic card in the air. “‘Cross the street, I got room 405, if you need to talk.”

Steve accepted the key. “Thanks, Nat.”

“Don't take it the wrong way, but you look like shit,” Nat crossed her arms. “Still hot, though.”

Steve couldn't resist to let out a small chuckle.

“I gotta go talk with Murdock, just consider leaving the hospital once visiting hours is over.”

 


 

“Hey,” Steve turned around. “You gotta get a new phone, I've been wandering around looking for you,” Sam said.

“Agent Madani wanted a statement.”

“Yeah, she found me too, a good bad cop.”

Steve had to agree, even when Madiani had been a pain in the ass since the beginning and her intentions were to nag them into court, a part of him understood that she was doing her job and she was pretty damn good at it.

“I'm going back to DC,” Sam said. “I'm guessing it will take me two days to feed my cat and find her a sitter. Get some sleep, get a number and call me.”

 


 

The smell of the ICU room was thick, it clung to his nose. Steve had learned to simply label it as illness, at lack of a better descriptions. As he sat on the chair with no better thing to do than feel miserable about himself, he tried to trace the sources of the odor.

Ethyl alcohol, disinfectant, blood, Bucky’s urine, burnt skin, infection.

His head started to get very heavy. Steve leaned his temple on the wall, tried to get comfortable on the chair. The odor was sweet, although, as Steve closed his eyes, he couldn't get rid of the vivid image of a butcher's shop.

He dreamed of darkness, an open space in the shadows, and a loud, repetitive, banging.

A hollow on flesh.

Someone falling.

Tears on the planes of his face.

A hand on his shoulder.

Gritting of teeth.

An RPG knocked Riley's dumbass out of the sky. Nothing I could do. It was like I was up there just to watch.

Alarms

Alarms blared out.

His chest tightened. He lunged forward as soon as he woke up.

The seizure wasn't like anything Steve had seen before. His body, which was limp and lifeless, mostly, suddenly tensed. Bucky jerked, his legs tensing, muscles spasming. He convulsed onto his back repeatedly.

Panic rose to Steve's throat and for a moment he couldn't breathe, his head feeling heavy and his body stiff.

“Claire!”

He didn't know what to do. He went to him to pin his upper body down. He felt his body against his for the first time since the Triskelion. He could feel Bucky was hurt, and frail, he felt like he was going to break.

Claire and another nurse stormed inside, a medic followed behind. All surrounded them immediately.

“Move!”

Steve stepped aside, watching Bucky arching painfully. His chest lifting into the air like he was being electrocuted. The pictures of the chair. It hurt to see.

Claire prepared an injection quickly, the medic watched the tube of the ventilator inside his throat. He was as stiff as a board for a moment. The medicine was shot into the IV and then his body flopped to the bed.

Drool started to flow from Bucky's mouth, the beeping stopped.

Chapter Text

III

 

“I’m gonna be honest with you, half of all coma patients die within a month.”

Dr. Strange fished his phone from his coat’s pocket, and discreetly checked it for messages.

It had been two weeks since the shooting at the HYDRA base. Steve tried very hard to call it an accident, when really he knew he had been the cause of Rumlow almost killing his friend.

If Rumlow hadn't seen him, maybe…

“The CT scan is not clear enough, we precise to inject a contrast agent to get a better idea of what we're dealing with before he comes out of the coma.”

Dr. Strange stood taller, staring at Steve with cold eyes.

“I suggest we wait. His intracranial pressure has decreased significantly, over the days. We may be able to schedule him for a cranioplasty on Friday.”

 


 

Before Nelson and Murdock took Steve with a judge to request legal guardianship, Steve figured he and Bucky needed a place to live.

The apartment SHIELD had got him was tainted now, too many painful memories. A pair of piercing eyes like steel, and Fury bleeding to death on his couch in the dark. Sharon and the rest of SHIELD agents. There were eyes everywhere. Certainly Bucky wouldn't like that.

It was the beginning of October and nights started to get chilly. Being outside stated how warm the hospital room actually was. Steve zipped up his leather jacket and sighed, his breath condensing into the cold air.

The hotel where Nat had booked them rooms was a four star place with a chandelier hanging from the lobby's ceiling. Steve made a beeline to the elevators, ignoring everyone that passed him by. When he got to fifth floor the silence struck him, his ears were ringing.

There were chocolates on the pillows and a pile of civilian clothes on the bed. Steve washed himself and prepared a cup of coffee with two shots.

He knew he fell asleep at some point.

The next morning, he knocked on Nat’s door. She wore her hair in braids and had a robe around her. He thanked her again and asked to borrow her laptop before heading back to the hospital.

While Claire changed Bucky’s bandages, Steve distracted himself by browsing the Internet for places on sale in Brooklyn Heights. When Steve visited Brooklyn for the first time since he woke up in the twenty first century, he had been alone, and he could only feel a hole in his chest. He had felt out of place, the illusion that he had died seventy years ago took over him.

But this time Bucky was there. Would be, there. They could try to adjust to the new era together.

Besides, Steve reasoned that if Bucky was surrounded by anything familiar, it would help him remember. In time, they'd go outside to wander the streets, and find the alleys where Steve got beat up and shops where they used to share soda and hot-dogs.

As it turned out, many buildings from the Historic District were still standing and functional.

Steve took his time to browse the digital maps and read about the historic places he hadn't given too much importance before. Once he located Hotel St. George he used it as reference to find a new place. Bucky and him used to live a couple blocks from there. A particular apartment for sale in Schermerhorn Street caught his attention.

Apartment ¾ was located at the top floor of a pre-war building erected in 1900. Hardwood floors and high ceilings. Three bedrooms, three baths and a fireplace. The photos showed two adjoined departments with new appliances. Steve seemed it as enough room for Bucky to explore and make his own once he recovered. Maybe he would even learn to feel safe, and call it a home.

For once, money wasn't a problem.

 


 

Steve sighed and took his sunglasses off to rub his eyes.

Upon nagging Dr. Strange and their medical team to deem Bucky as unable to make decisions in his own, Steve was on his way with Nelson and Murdock to a Probate Court office.

Being Captain America shouldn't make it easier for him to get legal guardianship of his friend, even with his criminal record.

“We believe Captain Rogers is fit to make decisions for the ward and ensure that the ward’s medical, social and emotional need are met,” said Nelson. “Here are the required court forms.”

He let the attorneys do the talking while he stared impatiently at the judge. He tried to ignore his stinking in his eyes.

The judge raised an eyebrow at him. Steve made an effort to look capable and responsible enough to carry such a task, at least convinced. He couldn't focus.

It was Friday.

 


 

James didn't look like the person Natasha left behind in her childhood.

His body had always been a vessel for some entity much bigger than his bones. Now, he looked like an empty carcass. His skin looked gray, his cheekbones more prominent than ever.

Natasha grazed a finger along his cheek.

“Hey,” she whispered.

She asked a nurse for a razor and some shaving cream. Her voice was small and hoarse when she sang the lullaby she once knew. Half an hour went by as Natasha shaved his stubble gently, until his skin was smooth again. The cop watched intently, as if he feared she'd slit his throat.

In the next two hours, James had two seizures, with durations of four and six minutes accordingly. They were tonic clonic, instead of the absent ones he used to have when she met him.

Natasha messaged Matt, asking him to tell Steve that James had been transferred to the OR.

While she waited for the surgery to be over, she wandered around the ER and the blood bank. She eyed the female nurses and medics, smiling teasingly at the ones that looked back at her.

When James made it back to his room, he had lost at least a pint of blood and won back a part of his skull. His head looked swollen and his lips blue. When the nurses left, she leaned down to place a soft kiss on his cheek.

Twitter was plagued with news, articles and paparazzi shots of everyone involved, even one of James, attached to a gurney at the ER entrance.

Her eyes darted back to him.

“I know you are scared, you haven't allowed yourself to be in a long time, so it's okay. You'll make it back, give it time, and now go to sleep.”

Chapter Text

IV

 
Закрой глаза скорее,

Кто-то ходит за окном,

И стучится в двери.

 

A song.

Кричит ночная птица.

Он уже пробрался в дом.

К тем, кому не спится.

Он идет...

A girl with braids sat on the floor, legs curled and eyes lost. She watched him step closer.

The girl opened her mouth, said something but he couldn't hear her. His ears could only focus on the non stop ringing.

“I know you are scared,” the girl said and finally he could hear her. “You haven't allowed yourself to be in a long time, so it's okay. You'll make it back, give it time, and now go to sleep.”

So he did.

 


 

More often than not, he would wake up and people would be screaming. At him, near him, it did not matter.

"Steve, look at me." 

"No, you can't possibly be okay with this, Tasha.” 

"We have to comply, Captain. If we want to get house arrest instead of jail time or worse--"

"No." 

“I assure you, he will be released on parole.”

"I thought I'd be able to make decisions for him." 

"The judge is requesting it, we have to comply.”

"It's a part of his body. They are asking to mutilate him." 

"The arm is property of Hydra, it is evidence--" 

"There is enough evidence of their atrocities, it does not justify that they amputate him." 

"Captain Rogers, please calm down." 

But he wasn't really awake. 

 


 

“How’s it going, sweetheart?” a melodic voice asked. "You have a fever, huh? I'm going to place this here, it'll help." 

As they prepared him to enter the chamber, his body shivered. Dread overpowered him, every time he heard he was not needed anymore, he knew it was time to put him to sleep. They stripped him and laid him down on a metal coffin.

“How do you know he can hear me?”

“It is as if he’s fast asleep. Patients in comas may benefit from the familiar voices of loved ones, which may help awaken the unconscious brain and speed recovery. Right now he is dreaming.” 

"Dr. Strange mentioned an infection?" 

"Yes, the antibiotics don't seem to be working. We will need a spinal tap to rule out encephalitis."

The cold bit at his skin, iron on flesh. Ice burnt like no fire could. Something inside his veins ran and it itched.

"I hope this feels better, honey."

 


 

Pushing up the collar of his jacket, Pierce, no. Zola, no. Vasiliev stepped outside into the icy wind. He trailed behind him. In that dream, he was wearing a Soviet uniform, he looked down and saw his boots sinking on the snow. He followed the man, whose breath transformed into small clouds when he spoke his orders. He knew the air was burning. It smelled of smoke and gasoline

The building’s rooftop was covered in debris. A fire alarm rang in the distance. 

“Where’s the American gone?” A voice barked. “Gear him up, the fire brigades from Pripyat are coming.” 

 


 

The world was upside down. No. He was upside down. That what his body felt like. Suspended, and upside down. 

He knew it was dark, it was all he could see, but his mind wondered without his permission, took him places, convinced him he was there. Or wasn’t. At least, that was familiar. 

“Are you taking him to the OR?” 

“No, just help us turn him over.”

Their gloved hands made fists around his shoulders. Being a ragdoll.  He was in a vault, he was barefooted, he was tied to a table, exposed. He lied cold with terror.

“Don’t move,” they used to say. 

Cut. 

Snip. 

He was sure he moved when they pierced his skin, a needle penetrating his lower back in one swift agonizing motion. A larger needle, replaced the initial puncture. It was screwed, an inch deeper with every twist. Tighter and tighter. Breath was caught in his throat. His leg kicked a little, he thought.

 


 

So he dreamed, and kept on dreaming against his will. Dreamed of a journey, long and tiring. He had to be carried around as they tried to reach his destination. He was unable to speak and he could not or did not want to either. 

He shifted in and out of awareness and the scenarios changed, but he remained the same bloodied lump of war. 

He turned his head:

Soldat Yasha Yakov Barnes James  “Bucky--” a broken sob.  

He listened intently. An image became clear before his eyes. An angel, or a god laid wounded next to him. “‘Til the end of the line, remember?” the god said in a whisper, smiling. 

An attempt of a smile was drawn on his own face.

“I’m not going anywhere,” the god said. “I thought I’d lost you. Close your eyes.  They know. ” 

He closed his eyes in obedience.  A brief touch of lips where there was always a little fresh blood. 

And then he left. 

Someone had his wounds dressed. He blacked out or fell asleep, and when morning came, he noticed was missing an organ. Or something from his insides that had been ripped without his consent. 

 


 

He had his finger on the trigger. The job was finished. What was the job?, a silent voice asked. 

A putrid smell, like dead meat. A perfume then, dead flowers. He looked like a monster had just eaten him by bits. One of his legs was missing. 

He was the monster. 

What was the job?  

There was dry blood on his hands, it was not his. His knife had just went through a man’s pelvis. He tried to rub it off with the palm of his prosthetic. He had a packet of cigarettes in his pocket and a feeding tube in his stomach.

 


 

"Hey, Buck." 

Something took his hand. It was warm. 

"Do you..." 

"It's me, Steve. I don't know if..."

Silence. The warmth left him for after a while.

"We used to be friends, back then." 

"I need to thank you. You... made me who I am, you were there and taught me the best thing a human is capable of.”

Rain was pouring, cold and menacing. He could feel the walls trembling with every thunder.

“It was you,” someone said, inviting. The voice stopped. A cough.  “I remember once, after my mom died, I had pneumonia and I tried to look okay, but I couldn't fool you. You knew everything I tried to hide. And then, you took me to the ER. It was raining and your feet were soaking wet, I tried to convince you to go home, but you stayed. Had to sleep on the floor because there was no chairs left.”

He followed a small source of light. A candle, a tiny flaming dancing on top. He felt like the world was bigger, if he could have looked at himself he would have, to see if he had shrunk. 

“You saved my life, one too many times. And I wanted to do the same thing for you”.

If he could have spoken, he would have, to answer to the voice.

Who am I?

Please?

His voice was sweet like candy, and it ached him beyond his skin.

 

Chapter Text

V

 

"Coming out of a coma is a gradual process," Strange said. "James scored very low on the Glasgow Coma Scale, which gives him less possibilities to make a good recovery. However, we'll need to evaluate and measure signs of progress of his conscious state now that his brain has decreased the swelling and that he’s off the propofol."

Steve knew what that really meant. They wanted to know if it was time to declare Bucky as brain dead. He remained silent and stepped back to let the doctor do his job. Bucky’s skin was still grey, eyes taped shut but the bandages were off for now, exposing the horseshoe-shaped line of staples keeping his skull together. Half of his face looked normal, handsome like Steve remembered, the other half was a mess of blood, bits of gauze, and deformity.

Dr. Strange removed the tape, pulled up his eyelids and waved around a penlight. Then he tested his pain response, pressing one large, delicate but strong knuckle into Bucky’s sternum. Steve stood behind him, assessing the situation with his brow furrowed. He had to kill the urge to tell him to stop hurting him. Then, a small, almost unnoticeable flinch. A poor sign of protest against the aggression and perpetual manhandling and pain.

Seeing his face making an expression of discomfort, eyes tight, nose flared, a small jolt, meant so much more. Steve gasped and genuinely smiled for the first time in a long time. 

“Is he…?” he asked, unsure of what to expect from that small demonstration of life. 

“Not quite awake yet,” Strange said. “Please engage in Coma Arousal Therapy. Take James through sensory stimulation for up to six hours every day, we’ll continue with the evaluations.” 

Steve nodded, he went straight to Bucky’s side to hold his flesh hand. 

 “Let me know if he shows any other signs of improvement.” 

 


 

The day after, Nat brought an arrangement of yellow flowers into Bucky’s room. She sprayed perfume on the air as the guard eyed her with disdain before shutting the door behind him.

“I can assume you’ve been talking to him?”

“Sure, you can assume that.”

Steve had not left Bucky’s side since the last visit from Strange, he had fallen asleep to the hum and whir of all the medical equipment too many times to count now.

“Well,” Nat continued, dragging her syllable with a slight provocative intention. “You’ve been holding his hand alright, smoothing his sheets and kissing his broken jaw.”

“I’ve also been brushing his teeth, y’know. I don’t get your point.” 

She crossed her arms and shot a death glare at Steve. He didn't bulge. “Y’know. When he wakes up, he won’t let you get close to him,” she said. “Won’t let you touch him or even talk to him.” 

Her words felt like ice against skin. Steve wanted to convince himself it wouldn’t be the case, but Strange had been preparing him for Bucky’s expected behavior once he was conscious. Mood swings, depression, anger, indifference. So, as always it was safe to assume Nat was right.

“They are watching,” Steve replied.

“Yeah, the cameras don’t stop your PDA’s.”

“Natasha,” he snarled. 

“Whatever,” she waved him off. “Don’t you miss this when it’s gone.”

Steve cried that night, sobbed and pulled at his hair in frustration. He didn't care for the cameras or the possibility of the nurses coming in. He let it out from his throat, an ugly grunt. Why, he asked out loud. He allowed himself to feel mad at Bucky for being such and idiot. He wanted him to be awake so he could tell him off on no grounds. To yell at a receiving end and then feel awful and guilty for it. 

His mind kept running with no permission of his, ended up saying “why didn’t you just die and make it easier for both of us”.

Shaking his head, mouthing apologies. Snot and saliva wetting his beard. 

“I’m sorry… Sorry… No, forgive me…” he said and the heart monitor slowed. 

 


 

Bucky had an appointment with the respiratory therapists on Friday. Steve waited outside as they ran their tests to see how his lungs were functioning after the puncture wound. 

Ms. Page sat down next to him, clearing her throat when she thought her presence was unnoticed. 

"I'm sorry," Steve said, turning his head at her.

"No, I get it," she replied smiling curtly and nodding her head. "It's been a rough couple of weeks."

"Yeah..."

"I just, I mean, I work for the New York Bulletin, and if you could concede me an interview maybe that would help with the case and the general opinion of the jury."

“Oh,” he said. “Yeah-- I guess that is right. But right now…” Steve sighed. “Guess you don’t mind if I’m honest.”

Karen chuckled nervously. “We can go off record, if that’s what you want.” 

“I mean,” Steve looked away and his expression dropped. “They are taking his arm anyway. And he’s just getting out of a coma so they declare him insane. And what can I really do-- About it. The State wants him in the chair and Rumlow and Rollins-- unless they stop providing intel, they’re there. They win. They take everything out of Bucky either way.” 

“No,” Page said. “They don’t get to win. As long as there is something we can do, we will. And people will listen to you, and get to know James Barnes from your lips. It will be okay, they are not going to win.”

 


 

Sam had made several phone calls to Steve’s hotel room and had finally convinced him to take a weekend off to actually sleep through the night. 

“I don’t know, take a shower, change your clothes and eat whatever super meals you need to feel full,” Sam had said. “Keep the beard though.” 

It was Monday morning and Steve was wearing some Dior cologne samples instead of old spice, which Natasha had found repulsive.

After he made it through ICU security, he knocked on Bucky’s room and opened the door slowly. He found Nat next to the bed, leaning over Bucky’s body, her face very close to his. She was caressing the back of his head as she wore a smile that actually reached her eyes.

“Hey—“ Steve stopped short when he noticed Bucky’s eyes were open. 

Chapter Text

VI

 

The wall of machines bleeped far less often since Bucky got off the ventilator. The room was turning into a more amiable and benign environment with the passing of days. Nat brought fresh and colorful flowers and dumped the dead ones every time she could. This time there were purple carnations, pink daisies and gerberas and a limonium in the vase by the bed. Once Bucky opened his eyes Steve made sure the keep the artificial lights dim, so that it wouldn't shine directly on his face. Sam had a new phone delivered to the hotel where Steve was supposed to be staying at. In the package there was a wireless speaker and a get well soon card with the illustration of a cartoon rabbit crying theatrically. Steve placed the speaker on the nightstand and the card next to it. 

He browsed long forgotten albums and played the most streamed songs by Paul Whiteman and Louis Armstrong. Steve tried to remember the name of song that had played on the radio one hot summer evening. Bucky had been drinking his fourth beer while sweating his ass off, while Steve laughed at him. 

"You think you're a smooth talker, fine," Steve had said, "bet you can't dance for your life."

Bucky had chuckled. "I'll teach you how to dance, punk.” 

And they had danced to some jazz song with swing and blues notes. 

Strange often sent residents into the room to evaluate Bucky’s conscious state. At first they just squeezed his shoulder or dug a nail on his cuticles, waiting for Bucky to pull his arm away or reach towards the site in pain to make it stop. The first days he barely moved at all. Steve had expected him to be more responsive, but he spent most of the day sleeping. On the joyous occasion he had his eyes open, he’d stare forwards at nothing in particular, barely blinking. Moreso, his eyes seemed to be haunted, lost. Stripped of any emotion or any other sign that could resemble to the friend he used to know. Steve sighed and attempted to focus on the fact that he had just gone through severe head trauma, a couple of skull and brain surgeries. What exactly could he expect from Bucky right now? It was a borderline miracle that he wasn’t brain dead. 

“You are doing great, Buck,” Steve said, without really thinking it. He cleared his throat. Bucky just stared forward. “Uh, Sam-- Remember Sam? He was there when-- When we went to get you. He uh, sent you this card.”

Steve picked up the get well card and showed it to Bucky. “And he wrote inside,” He turned it to open it and read: “Hope your tail is wagging again soon-- see? He’s…” Steve snorted lightly. “I think you two will get along.” 

 


 

"Hey, can you hear me?", the doctor asked. "Can you tell me your name?”

Bucky blinked.

The doctor scribbled something down on her clipboard. 

“He’ll get there,” she assured. 

Until that day, Bucky hadn't shown evidence of purposeful behavioral responses to external stimuli. No cognitive awareness. No language expression, read the neurology report.

 


 

It was ten past nine, Steve had just came back from breakfast with Nelson and Murdock. They couldn’t avoid the news reporters anymore and at that point they didn’t care if they had their photos taken if it meant they could discuss the case while eating something at the hospital’s cafeteria. 

“Hey,” Claire greeted Steve as he closed the door behind him and took off his jacket. “Nice tunes, James and I really enjoyed the ambiance.” Steve had forgotten he left his phone streaming music the night before. “James? Can you hear me?" She turned to Bucky without further care of Steve’s response. 

Bucky didn’t move at the call of his name. Claire sat on the chair next to the bed and proceeded to assess Bucky’s reaction as she applied pressure into his nail beds. He opened his eyes and frowned.

He fell asleep shortly after. 

Claire stood up and went to change the solutions hanging in the IV pole. “The infection has given in with the antibiotics and his vital signs have improved significantly. He's been breathing on his own just fine now, which shows his lungs are healing and his internal injuries are stabilizing. We'll have to see about the brain injury.”

 


 

He was off the ventilator, so he was still testing his lungs. Steve noticed it as soon as it began, like coughs and groans and thought he was having another seizure. There were noises of protest followed by a wail of pain. 

Steve jumped out of his seat. "Bucky, stop, I’m here."

The monitors were blipping faster by the second and Bucky was thrashing his arms and legs. He babbled nonsensically, tried to sit up and sluggishly lashing out in anger. Steve held him down and screamed for help. Bucky grunted and squirmed away from Steve's grasp. When security, Claire and another nurse came running to the room Bucky was simply writhing against his bed.

“Give him 10 mg of diazepam.”

The nurse pinned him down as Claire prepared a syringe. Gut-wrenching sobs tore through Bucky's throat when he realized he couldn't move, his chin trembled and his eyes were tightly shut. The incoherent things he had been mumbling were now replaced by whimpers. Claire injected the drug into his thigh and Bucky moaned, a choked noise of frustration. 

“Hey, can you look at me? Mr. Barnes,” the nursed called out. 

“You can stop holding him now,” said Claire, placing a hand on Bucky’s heaving chest. 

Two doctors made their appearances into the room. They walked past Steve and made him step back.

"A hundred over seventy eight, heart rate one twenty,” Claire said.

A doctor lifted one of his eyelids and shone his penlight, the monitors started to slow down and Bucky's body went limp. 

“Sir, I’m going to ask you to leave.” 

 


 

A man with a proud stance, an open lab coat and an easy smile flashed his hospital ID at the officers guarding Bucky’s door.

The doctor nodded amiably at Steve, “Hey, how you do.”

Steve was caught off guard by the informality. “Hey.”  

“I’m Doctor Wells,” he said, “the psychiatric ward sent me to evaluate Mr. Barnes,” he fished a pen from the pocket in his coat. “I’ll be right back with the report.” 

Natasha had sent Steve to voicemail for the fifth time now. He hadn’t been allowed into the room since the incident and the monotony and timelessness of the ICU was starting to get on Steve’s nerves. He leaned against a wall nearby and clutched his phone with one hand. Not fifteen minutes had passed when Doctor Wells exited the room and walked over to Steve.

“The patient experienced a restless excitable delirious state. He is disorientated as a result of the coma and brain injury, which means Mr. Barnes has reduced comprehension, coherence and capacity to reason, this state can fluctuate over hours or days. Nonetheless, this state doesn't mean he can’t have interactive communication. You'll notice him to be more responsive now.” 

“Is he aware?” 

“Yes, only his level of alertness and judgement is altered, I’ve prescribed medication and will pay him a visit in a week to see how he’s evolving. Now, I would like you to sign this form

Dr. Wells passes him the clipboard. 

Physical restraint informed consent. 

"We cannot use a physical restraint without your expressed written consent.”

Reason for use of restraint:

The patient is exhibiting behavior that endangers their own or another’s safety.  

To  keep the patient from pulling at tubes, drains, and lines 

Equipment used:

Wrist, ankle, and waist restraint

Keeping all side rails up to prevent the patient from getting out of bed.

 


 

The dietists had suggested Bucky started eating bland meals. Every morning, at nine o’clock, there was a soft knock on the door. One of the kitchen personnel stepped in carrying a tray that had previously been inspected by security outside. Milk, boiled vegetables, juice, oatmeal, chicken broth. The doctors hadn’t restraint Bucky’s limbs yet, only his waist. Still, Steve had tried to spoon feed Bucky, to no avail. The first week or so, Steve would elevate the head of the bed until Bucky was in a sitting position. But he didn’t move, wouldn’t open his mouth or look at Steve. He was as unmanageable as a new born. He would just keep his haunted eyes fixated on a nonexistent point in space. Steve had given up on trying to get him to eat. He watched as a nurse tried to open his mouth by squishing his cheeks together. She introduced a spoonful of Jell-O into his mouth but Bucky did not swallow and the contents fell out of his mouth into his chin.

The nurse proceeded to reprimand his behavior while wiping his face with a napkin. Steve wondered if Bucky had awoken properly from the coma yet but was too exhausted at this point to ask. 

“I’m going to eat this if you don’t,” Steve threatened that evening, when dinner was served. He was leaning on the wall, arms crossed and held a judgmental look down at Bucky. 

Bucky blinked and turned to look at him. 

It was like seeing a porcelain doll behind a shop-window suddenly turn to make eye contact with its glass eyes.

He had dark circles under his eyes, even though the swelling had subsided, the dark purple bruises from the beating refused to heal. His eyes had sunk into his skull and his complexion was reducing to skin and bones. Steve was left paralyzed for a moment, sinking in how unfamiliar the person looking back at him was. 

Bucky just silently glared at him. Flat, steely blue-grey eyes weighing down Steve’s heart. 

Steve uncrossed his arms and took a step closer. “Buck?” It was all that he managed to blurt out, which felt like an idiotic thing to say, like he had assumed that Bucky hadn’t been really listening before. 

Sluggish, Bucky turned back his head to face front and closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

VII

 

Ah.

 

Wide

 

your mouth.

 

As if you were yawning. 

 

I will take it out.

 

Ah.

 

Open wide.

 

As if you were sleepy. 

 

You are going to sleep. 

 

This little piggy went to the market.

 

One of his phalanges out of its socket.

 

Now say "ah". 

 

As if your skin was being teared and it really hurt. 

 


 

Awareness wasn’t easy to tell apart from sleeping and dreaming. It came like waves and flashes of movement, of being able to find himself in a place close to reality. The light above him was warm and yellow. A cramp. Came, gone. Colics in his belly. Small pulses electric. 

Remember this, he told himself. Holding on to memories sometimes worked. Not right now. So, remember this.

There was padding on the inside of the restraints that held him. He thought he tested them, but they didn’t really move. Wrists, ankles, chest, held down. In place. For what? 

He wanted to take the cotton out of his head, it bothered him, more padding he did not need. Didn’t think he needed. Where is the cotton? He tried to reach his head with one hand, the restraints didn’t let him. He wanted to touch, feel. Where is the cotton? His eyes were open but he could not see the top of his head. 

It nagged him, behind his eyes, his teeth and jaw, something wasn’t quite right. He tried again to touch his face with his hand, he was held back down. An intake of breath, his throat made a noise. 

Was the cotton behind his eyeballs? In his nose and mouth? It was everywhere and it was inside. Wanted to crack his skull open and take it all out. Bit by bit. 

He thought his body felt as if someone had opened him up and replaced his insides with stuffing. 

 


 

“Hey,” the man said. His eyes were light and his frown was framed by thick eyebrows. “How are you today, Buck?” 

The man spoke when his eyes were open. So, he must be awake. A cough rattled through his throat. 

“Your throat still hurts from the respirator, huh? The doctors say it will take some time for it feel better.”

He tried to reach his head, something was bothering him there, he wanted to feel it. He couldn’t. Looking down he saw a body covered by sheets and restrained by straps. 

The man flinched. “Sorry, Buck,” he said very quietly. “I know what this looks like, but I swear you are safe here, okay?”

The man’s eyes were rimmed with red. 

 


 

“Okay, open up,” the man said. 

He stared at the man. There was an itch inside of him, somewhere he couldn’t reach, anger boiling inside his throat. His teeth hurt when he clenched his jaw.

“C’mon, Buck,” he urged. “You have to eat. The doctors want to put a tube through your nose to feed you.”

The drugs made him itchy. He wanted to scratch at his face. 

The man was trying to spoon feed him, but all he would think about was clawing at his face. He turned away when the utensil touched his mouth, his eyes were shut tight, lips pursed. He wanted to scream, he wanted to move his arm to knock the spoon out of the man’s hand. None of these sequences of actions were happening and he wondered why.

“Please,” the man insisted, raising his voice. 

No, he wanted to say. Something wasn’t right, it was eating him up from inside. He thought he knew he was scared. Or angry. He growled. He slammed his head back on the pillows and growled.

“Okay— okay fine, you win,” the man said. “I’ll give you a break, but you have to promise to try at dinner.” 

 


 

He accepted the drugs, took them in, open your mouth, take out your tongue a small square like paper with a colorful cartoon puppy. But these drugs didn't give him chills up and down his spine, didn't make him sweat cold. Just made his head drowsy, far from the voices and far from sleep.

The blonde woman with the big eyes knocked and entered, winced again at seeing him, something about him was terrifying to see, faked a smile.

"Sorry," she said, diverting her gaze. " I thought Captain Rogers was here." 

 


 

“It’s Steve, remember?” 

“Probably not” 

“I know you are very uncomfortable and that you are pain and that you don’t know why.” 

“But the doctors act like you don’t care.” 

There was a pause, he was sure he was falling into unconsciousness. 

“They are taking your arm.” 

“I just want you to know what’s going to happen. They’re going to take you on a gurney and run some tests. Sam told me to remind you to breathe.”  

“You are going under surgery, and they are taking the arm off, but you won’t notice, you’ll be sleeping. I promise.” 

You don’t have to be afraid, I’m going to be here when you wake up.” The man grunted. “Fuck,” he said, “you can be afraid, I think you should, a— at this point I don’t even know anymore.” 

The man sighed. 

“I just want to do something else for you, but all that keeps happening is this,” he waved at the air. “I wish I could do something to make it stop.” 

 


He woke up in a gurney, something cold and liquid was running in his veins, he shivered. 

It hurt, but there was nothing he could do to ease that pain and discomfort. 

When he opened his eyes he was blinded by a white light.  

“Anaesthesia safety check complete,” a voice said. 

“Anyone here an engineer?” 

The lab coats gave a forced laugh.  

An alarm of recognition rang in his head. Someone placed a mask on his face. He was cold, he wanted to move, curl in on himself. But he found his body was paralyzed and he fought against his eyes sliding shut again.  

 


 

He woke up and his left side was missing.  

He woke up strapped to a bed. A small, helpless noise left his mouth but nobody noticed. His head was swimming with drugs that made him want to vomit. The sheets were wet, he was missing something that belonged to him, he thought. 

They must have used the drugs again to paralyze him again, all because he wouldn’t. Shut. Up. This was like that before, but he couldn't place his finger on it exactly, like a fleeting fish in the water. 

 


 

“Hey, Bucky? It’s me, Steve.” 

Bucky.

He woke to the man’s hand on his knee. 

“It’s okay, I’m here, it’s over.”

Bucky looked down, he mused, they took the arm again. It was all gone, it seemed as if his clavicle had been fractured to get rid of the metal. He wanted to touch it but couldn’t. 

They had brought food, a liquid in a bowl. 

“We are going to try again, okay?”

The man pressed a button on the side rails of his bed, it whirred and he was in a sitting position. He grabbed a spoon, took some of the contents of the bowl and pressed it against his lips. 

“Open, please.”

He did as he was told. 

Ah. 

Wide, your mouth. 

“Ah.” 

“Good! That’s really good, Buck.”

He was fed. 

He threw up afterwards. 

It confused him, because maybe they did need him to eat or they were just punishing him by making him eat and seeing him retch after with all the muscles form his side pulling like fire ablaze.

A nurse came into the room later and changed his bandages. All the while he marveled at his flesh exposed, naked.  

The man asked if it hurt. 

He had to nod.  

The man looked away. 

Chapter Text

VIII

 

The man had settled next to him at night, after he had begged him to try to sleep, it’s five in the morning. Defeated, he collapsed in the chair next to him. Shoulders slumped and reddened eyes. 

What do you want from me, he wanted to ask the man.

“It’s november thirteenth, the year is two thousand and fourteen,” he said with newly found determination. 

He wanted to sleep. 

“Bucky,” the man continued. “That’s your name.” He stared into his eyes, looking for some kind of response. “James Buchanan Barnes,” he said, then, “Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes,” he sighed. “A mouthful I guess. But since we were kids I’ve known you as Bucky, simply. I don’t remember why exactly… It’s engraved in history now.”

“Bucky?” he asked, his voice barely audible, it was a whisper. 

The man’s eyes lit up, he managed to frown and smile. “That’s right and my name is Steve Rogers-- Steve, can you--?” he cut himself off with uncertainty. “Say it back?” 

“Steve,” Bucky complied. 

“Yeah,” Steve’s smile reached further into his eyes. Then a full blown laugh. 

 

Why. 

 


 

“What year is it?”

“Nineteen… nine,” he said, it wasn’t right. 

Steve sat at the back of the room. His hands were clenched tightly in his lap, working against each other. 

“Look here,” one of his fingers in front of his face. 

Eyes stern, cold, piercing through him. He stood close to him, he waved a light over his eyes. “Look at me,” he demanded. Face clean shaven, the smell of a certain cologne that made his head hurt. Bucky tried to ignore the light that he thought he knew from before, a light that stared back at him when he lied in panic. 

“Oтчет,” he said before he struck his face. 

Quiet,

Quiet!

“Look up,” the white coat said. “Now bare your teeth for me.”

He did as he was told. The pulling of the muscles of his face brought attention to the discomfort of the bones in his mouth. 

He was expected to be given a mouthguard, but the doctor took a hold of his face, he got close to him, examining something with a blank stare. Bucky willed himself to stay compliant, against the fear growing in his gut at what. was. next. 

Bucky had cried out a little… no… no… he screamed. He saw himself pulling at the restraints, chest heaving, thinking I’ll be good, I promise, please. 

He gagged at the thought of a calloused hand holding his chin, caressing his cheek, worse than a slap in the face. His body crumbled against his will, his skin crawled and he started shaking uncontrollably. 

“Fucktoy,” the white coat snarled. 

His own voice, estranged as he screamed. 

 


 

“I’ve requested another visit from psychiatry,” the doctor said, “it could be necessary to adjust his medication. His symptoms seem to be diverging from a confusional state and now that the metal arm is gone we can proceed to perform an MRI scan, we’ll take him now.”

“You have to stay very still, okay?” Steve said when Bucky sat on a wheelchair. He was crouching to be at his eye level, Bucky could only focus on the lines in his inner arm, he turned it around and was cut off short to the impulse of yanking them out with his teeth. “Bucky? Look at me.”

He did. 

There were lines of worry across Steve’s forehead, his hair was sticking in different directions and his lips were pursed with worry. 

“It’s going to be loud in there but nothing is going to hurt you, I promise,” Steve whispered, as if he didn’t want the doctors listen. “Can you do that?”

When he was rolled through the facility, riding elevators and going through long crowded halls, people stared at Bucky with disgusted condescension. Eyes weighing down, shocked expressions. It was until he saw his own reflection on the tinted glass of a door that he understood why. 

He had no recollection of how his face looked before that day. But he wanted to look again, look closely like others did. The MRI had a repertoire of noises that resembled the spinning of an old movie theater projector, the urgent knocking of a door. Bucky resisted the urge of testing his own movement response without the restraints while he laid on the machine. It was probably best for him to stay still. He remembered willing himself to stay still, despite what happened around or in him.

He was asleep at some point of it.

“You did very good with the scan,” a nurse chimed. He didn’t know how or for how long, but he was back in his room, back with the lines inside his skin, the cuffs around his ankles and wrist. “I’ve convinced the doctors to let you have a tv in your room if you eat your meals,” she continued, turning to look at him and at Steve.

“That would be nice,” Steve replied politely.

“And if you cooperate for shower time we can get you whatever you want from the cafeteria.”

 


  

That night Bucky woke to a beam of agony. His left side and his head were screaming for his attention, he felt it like fresh wounds and broken bones. He bit down on his lip and waited for it to leave him, but it sticked to him like a sickly sweat.

Lights on and eyes open. He made sure his eyes were open. There was blood on his thin blanket from where it had seeped through the bandages around his chest. 

Something told him breathe but the blinding lights were all he could focus on.

 


 

 

Bucky wondered if he had died. He wondered if once you died all the memories from your life were faded until they disappeared completely. It made a certain rational sense, even when Bucky hadn’t felt like he was making any sense of anything. But he thought that being dead would feel like before being born, a whole lot of nothingness. He wondered if he had died, because it would explain the nothingness that faced him. The only constant was the presence of a man who asked him to call him Steve, and his voice saying Bucky, once, twice, over and over as it meant anything. 

“Can you tell me your name?” the white coat said.

“Bucky,” he replied. He had learned to reply.

“Can you remember me?”

Bucky shook his head no. 

“I’m Doctor Wells, I’m the psychiatrist from last week, I came here to ask you some questions.” 

Many had come into the room, stared down at him, fixed their glasses, tapped their nails on the railing of his bed, scribbled down, touched his face, undressed his bandages, handed him pieces of paper, showed him drawings, asked him questions that made no sense to him. 

Can you draw a clock?

Can you draw a flower?

Do you think of hurting yourself or others?

And so he drew flowers and clocks and interposed hexagons. Named objects, had trouble making his brain obey to his own orders, as if it wasn’t his.

“How are you feeling?” asked Doctor Wells, “Have you been angry, irritable, edgy lately?”

“Do you ever feel that life isn’t worth living? Or that you would just as soon be dead?”

He answered I don’t know, I don’t know, feeling sad and desperate and angry but being unable to tell why he was feeling all and nothing at once. He tried to obey, eat this, sit, don’t touch, stayed very still when his anger made him want to yell, crying when his throat closed up, clinging to a painless prophecy that he swore he had heard before, it’s temporary. 

“It’s temporary,” said one of the doctors. “This will keep the swelling down.”

“It’s temporary.” said another. “The involuntary eye movements and dizziness are just your body adjusting to the antipsychotics.”

“It’s temporary,” said Steve, “once we get out of here you won’t be restrained all the time.”

Temporary.

Chapter Text

IX

 

Mornings came usually when the halls were fullest, people dragging their feet, or walking hastily, high heels and squeaky shoes on squeaky clean floors. Mornings were loud and smelled of chemicals and food. Mornings were for checking, reading charts, taking vitals, doctors saying contradictory things about his brain, nurses saying, look up for me, Steve saying, today it’s the fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth of November, two thousand and fourteen. Bucky had the idea he had been transferred to another room at some point between waking and passing out. Because even with the regular movement of people that came like waves, place was much quieter than the other ones before. 

"Okay, listen. One across. Home to Santa's workshop,” Steve said inquiring, “Four letters, ends with an e.”

“Good morning,” a nurse called as she stepped in the room, the one who was short and small and had young wide eyes and a voice that drilled into Bucky’s skull. “Still moody today?” she asked, wasting no time in approaching Bucky and changing the IV bags.

“Not exactly chatty today,” Steve said.

The nurse gave an acknowledging nod, “Can you remember my name?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at Bucky.

Outside of Steve, who introduced himself as often as he told him the date, and his own name, which was present in at least half of the sentences he heard during the day, Bucky could not remember any other names.

Steve, Bucky. 

Bucky, Steve. 

The nurse called for his attention. Bucky shook his head no.

“I’m Ava Díaz.” 

Steve gave up the crossword he was pretending to be solving with Bucky and discarded it, now forgotten on the bedside table. 

“Ate anything yet? Breakfast?”  

“Some broth last night, no breakfast yet,” Steve answered, disappointed. His efforts on getting Bucky to eat the single cookie and boiled broccoli, were futile. 

Nurse Díaz picked up his chart. “You are starting PT today, uh? And we want you to re-learn to watch after yourself,” she commented. “And your doctors really want you to start eating before we can let you go, that and maybe answering us when you are being addressed.” 

It was her words, her tone maybe. Or it was the drugs, it was the odd sensation of recognition of a situation he felt like he was reliving, and suddenly Bucky was lurching forward and vomiting into the bed, startling Steve. 

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Nurse Díaz remarked. “You gotta tell us when your stomach hurts and you are nauseous, you have to read those signals in your body, hunger, thirst, bowel movement, peepee time,” she looked angrily at Bucky as she wiped the vomit from his chin and stripped off the sheet. Tell us that and you get the cuffs off to go to the bathroom.” 

Bucky looked over at Steve, who seemed distressed, then looked down. He was sorry and ashamed, but he thought it would be better off if he kept quiet.

Nurse Díaz sighed as she proceeded to change the sheets. “Let’s make a deal,” she said now defeated and exhausted, “if you do very, very well on PT, I’ll bring you one of those ice-cream milkshakes from the cafeteria that I craved for when I was pregnant. We got a deal?” 

 


 

He was half asleep, half there, it was the medication in his head, drowning out the exterior, noises submerged in water. The room was dark and Steve had convinced the nurse to turn on the television for Bucky, so the screen was the only light that casted itself into the room, changing colors. Bucky wanted to let his eyes shut, but he kept on blinking them, shhh, said Steve, rubbing his good shoulder. 

The touch, so punishing yet enticing. Primal, all-consuming urge to either flee or lean in. A warm shiver that ran over his body and he could only breathe in to relieve the fact that his body refused to cooperate. Close like that, he could tell Steve smelled like cotton candy.

“You can’t sleep?” Steve asked. “Are you in pain?” 

It wasn’t just pain. It hurt like fire, like blades, like sawing, like he knew exactly how it felt when their saws whirred away his bones, like he had opened his eyes and saw his body severed, lost in pieces, blown away from the parts that were supposed to make him whole. So far, that was all he knew he was. A broken head, a bleeding body. A bed with wheels that rolled him to get looked at, pictured, examined. A ghost in the machines that showed him how his insides were shaped.  

He felt loss, missing. Losing blood, missing a limb. 

“Let me get the nurse.” 

Bucky ached in his chest when Steve looked at him. His eyes were sad and it stirred something in what was left of his psyche. He focused on the screen instead. There were arctic foxes walking on snowy scenarios. Steve liked the animal documentaries, so he played them for Bucky. They were quiet and induced sleep, they were safe, he had said. 

Then, a tall, muscular man entered the room. His arms were covered with black ink and Bucky felt hypnotized for a moment, as he tried to tell figures apart, figures that danced and hid away under his sleeves.

“Mr. Barnes? Can you look at this?” He placed a chart in front of him with drawn faces, sad, sadder, crying. Brows furrowed. Tears on its cheeks. "Each face is for a person who feels happy because he has no pain or sad because he has some or a lot of pain," the nurse said. "Face zero is very happy because he doesn't hurt at all. Face two hurts just a little bit, face four hurts a little more. Face six hurts even more, face eight hurts a whole lot and face ten hurts as much as you can imagine.”

“You don't have to be crying to feel this bad,” Steve added gently when Bucky turned to look at him.

He thought Steve was right, even though he would have given anything to cry at that moment but he did not know how, he guessed it was one of the things he had to re-learn, like walking and brushing his teeth. He wanted to point at the chart but was cut off short by the handcuff.

“This one?” asked the nurse, pointing to a face that frowned and had big downturned lips.

Bucky nodded.

His line got injected with morphine which caused him to itch terribly. Small ants running under his skin. The pain eventually dimmed out, and in its place, a growing itch in his skin that made him restless. He did not know why they would take it away, and in some way he missed the hurt. There was something good about it. Pain, he owned, provided him of a scratch of his identity, familiar. It weaved a net to memories of existence in the past unknown. 

 


 

The doctor had gentle hands but a firm grip, he grabbed hold of his head and turned it at his will, “don’t be afraid,” he commanded, but Bucky couldn't help it, he shivered in his grip. 

A negative print, a sick skull.

“Mine?” Bucky asked Steve. 

Steve widened his eyes, eyebrows furrowing, “yeah,” he said painfully. “It’s you.”

"I will read a list of words, and you must remember it, ready?,” the Doctor said, glancing at Bucky. “Face, velvet, church, daisy, red."

The velvet touch of a calloused hand on the wet skin of his face, ageless, wrathful grimace and piercing eyes that made him shrink in on himself. 

Sitting on the top of Reims Cathedral, a disarmed rifle in the inside of his coat.

And a field of flowers, threading their stems in a child’s red hair.

Images so clear in his head, memories that were quite his, maybe in another body, in another time.

“Buck?”

 “We can try one more time, but you have to pay attention, okay?”

 


 

They said he needed to look at himself in the mirror. 

To give him an idea of what he was.

The woman with the red hair spilling across her shoulders was there. “Here,” she had said, showing him the mirror, the mirror showing him a pair of bruised, drooping lids, bewildered eyes and no one behind them. 

“That’s you, James.” 

His face was a pasty gray color. His eyes were sunken on his skull and had the blank look of someone on the verge of fainting. 

The lady sat on the edge of the bed, crossed her legs, smiled. “Handsome little thing, huh?”

Bucky’s brow wrinkled. He couldn’t help it. 

He sat there, examining his absurd face, feeling equal parts anger and curiosity. His hair was just coming back out, he turned his face so he could look at the scar, it looked just the way it ached. The cut was contained by metallic staples, the skin around was bulgy and red. He fought against the nagging that dawned in his weak stomach. He would have asked for the bandages to hide behind them, he would have asked to get unchained so he could poke at the healing wound. 

“They broke your skull,” Steve pinpointed, “you probably don’t remember that.”

They.

“Brock Rumlow,” the woman explained, Bucky thought she might have heard his thoughts.  “He did this to you.”

“Where are they?” Bucky asked, turning to look at her. 

“Prison,” she said matter-of-factly. 

At that moment, Bucky’s eyes filled with tears. 

It was the thirtieth of November when his brain learned how to cry

It wasn’t so much as he’d expected, like tears rolling down his face and sniffling. It was that just for about ten seconds before his lungs started took control of the rest of his body. He thought he might choke at some point, he struggled to breathe, struggled to form words in his head and tried to answer accurately when Steve demanded him to tell him what was wrong.

words 

didn’t 

work 

A snake opening his mouth so wide it could swallow him whole. 

 


 

When it was dark and he was alone in the room, no sight of Steve, no lights on anywhere, the sound of high-heels click-clacking as they stepped in the hallway. The blink of an eye, seconds, hours maybe. And a face with a n upside down grin stared at him closely, a grimace, malicious. Four nurses, carrying taking him away, lifting him from the bed into a metallic gurney, steel cold against his naked skin. They tied him down, this leather straps around over his chest.

No

Don't cut me

Let me go

Flesh crawling, his breathing rate accelerating until he was choking in tears. Rocking from side to side, kicking against the restraints. They rolled him into the dark hallway, his screaming echoing on the walls, no one was watching. Looking up, a nurse looked down at him, laughed. He struggled and fought, he was in an elevator that went down, down. 

Ding and the doors opened, dirty blue tiles and his skin shivered, it was freezing, he saw his breath in the air and he knew this place. The reflectors shone on his face, exposing him and he cried and wallowed when the hands made fists around his flesh, holding him in place, quiet, they said but the animal noises that came from him he couldn't stop.

He screamed, trying to sit up, a nurse stabbed his arm with a needle. The sharps intakes of breath making his throat feel like burning and his face, defeated into the subjection, like the face of young innocence. 

Please, he cried. 

A mask on his face and soon he was laughing hysterically, too. 

 

Chapter Text

X

 

He recognized that drop in his blood pressure when his eyes were slowly opening and adjusting to the light, seconds in which he couldn’t tell where he was. Moments that felt like hours of just not-knowing. It bothered him because he knew how terrifying it was, and he knew there was nothing he could do about it. He woke up and started rocking, flashes of memories from the night before. His body being manhandled, rolled around ready to cut open whenever they felt like it, and the hands, dozens of them keeping him in place, holding his head down—

His breath was caught in his throat and he felt like he was choking

“Hey, Bucky, stop. It’s me, Steve, it’s your friend please, it’s safe in here I promise.”

A hand moved towards him and he flinched away violently.

Fuck.” The hand disappeared. “It’s Steve, I’m not going to hurt you, breathe c’mon, slowly. There...”

Steve.

It was light out. The sun coming in from the window warming the entire room.

“That’s it, come back,” Steve said and Bucky looked at him, his vision just a little less blurry than before, easier to focus on his eyes, pools of worry and maybe fear in there, too.

“Do you know what year is it?”

It took Bucky a minute to clear his head completely but he could understand the question and work from there. “Nineteen six—“ Steve’s eyes were very big suddenly. Bucky knew he had fucked up but there was something else behind them. “Nineteen— I… I don’t know.”

“It’s okay,” he said, shaking his head a little. No it’s not. “Today it’s the twenty fourth of November, two thousand and fourteen.”

“Can you tell me my name?” He asked after a while 

Bucky ignored the question, too bothered to care, he thought to himself when there was also a voice telling him he would mess up and wouldn’t like what came afterwards.

He tested the restraint around his wrist. His left side screamed in agony when he tried to move. Steve understood his body better than he did. He shifted the position of the bed until Bucky was sitting. He wanted to ask about what had happened the night before, why had he left him for so long, why was he so calm about it all. But he couldn’t. His head was pulsing and throbbing in his temple and he was all too tired to get the words together with intention. His eyes were too heavy now and he was fighting to keep them open a bit more.

He looked down at himself and realized the gown had been changed at some point, and so had his bandages, he tried to pat himself down in search of a puncture wound but he couldn’t, he sighed eventually just about defeated.

Steve hushed him softly, he said, “It’s okay, you can go back to sleep, you had a rough night.”

 


 

Bucky was sitting on a pink mat. They had taken him — on the wheelchair this time — to another wing of the building, some place with a much larger flow of people in wheelchairs, missing limbs like him. Now he sat on a pink mat, clenching and flexing his hand, moving his ankles and wiggling his toes, staring marvelous at all of it like he wasn’t sure it was his body until it moved. 

“Good, good,” the therapist said with a small voice. She was just a girl and had a gap in her front teeth that Bucky could see when she smiled at him.

Then she asked nurses to help him up, as she continued talking to Steve, showing him pamphlets and posters of cartoonish figures with their nervous systems dissected. Bucky swung his legs while sitting on the edge of the examination table. The therapist checked his reflexes with unnecessary tenderness. Bucky focused on it instead of listening to her words, or looking at Steve’s worried, troubled expression.  

“... higher-level brain functions, such as judgment and reasoning skills. Because of this, damage to the frontal lobe sometimes results in impulsive or uninhibited behavior. It may help to spend time with others to help provide guidance and support as you readjust.”

There were framed posters of hairy and feathered animals on the walls. The therapist’s uniform was a vivid purple, and she had several lollipops in the breast pocket.

“You should be walking just fine in no time,” she said, now referring to him. 

After that, he spent the next minutes— hours—, being ordered around: stand, now sit by yourself, use your abdominal muscles, good, now stand, good, again. He was sweating at some point, he hurt, he felt sad and pathetic. Spent an undignifying amount of time to get his legs to move, tripped on his own feet and fell, he braced himself on the wall and listened when the girl said, get up! We are not done.  

 


 

At sundown, white coats came and administered him drugs. Pills to swallow and medication to be injected. They had yelled at him, or he had yelled, or both had happened when the bandages were being changed. The remains of his shoulder were still in the flesh, he saw. And then he had yelled. 

There wasn’t much else after that, just the vague feeling that he was paralyzed. 

“Is he awake?” Somebody asked, gentle, hushed. 

“He’s pretty dosed up with opioids,” Steve’s voice, small. “Thanks for coming, Sam.”

“Don’t mention it, man. How are you?”

“Despite the serum, exhausted, good otherwise.”

“Wouldn’t expect anything else, you’re probably days behind your sleep schedule, aren’t you?” 

“I cannot leave him for too long, I don’t care how much they try to justify themselves, I don’t exactly trust these people.” 

“Yeah… It feels like we’re surrounded in here.” He took measured steps forwards. “I’ve seen head injuries like this in the past,” the man said, “Whatever variation of the super soldier he’s got running saved his life.” 

“They said that, too.” 

“When are they discharging him?” 

“Once he’s done with PT, I guess.”

There was a pause that dissolved into the night, just the tv talking by itself. 

“So you got a place in New York, uh?”

“Brooklyn Heights.”

The other man laughed softly.

“What?”

“Eh, it’s turned into a trash can over the years but whatever you need, man.”

“I know, I’ve seen it. It’s just… Those streets and buildings. I want him to be someplace familiar.” 

“Good,” he said light-heartedly. “I’m moving to Manhattan, actually.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, new job, VA Healthcare System. Better facilities, better pay.” 

“That’s real good to hear.” 

A moment gone, Bucky stirred, thought he did anyway. They paid him no attention. 

“Have you talked about it?” the man asked.

Steve went rigid next to him. “We told him what happened to him, not much else. I don’t know if he remembers his captors, or his time with them. He… He started crying and panicking when we told him they were locked up now. I don’t know what to do.” 

Bucky heard the other man flopping down on of the couches and sighed. “He is disorientated, we don’t know what he thinks this is exactly, he might think he is still being held.”

“He is,” Steve asserted, then groaned. “I’m sick of this, nurses, guards, doctors come in and talk down to him all the damn time. He is brain damaged, god’s sake… Like he hasn’t had enough of it. Being submitted, humiliated, manhandled…” Steve stopped talking, he sighed and then chuckled bitterly. “He doesn’t even care about it.”

“You cannot blame him for it either.” 

“I know,” Steve made a noise, like a cough or a sniffle. 

 


 

Steve was talking. He usually went on monologues for hours, filling in the silence of Bucky’s waking moments. He wasn’t really paying attention, sometimes just focused on the cadence of his voice. 

“...and the street is lined with maple trees, every thirty feet or so. They have these vibrant red and orange colors, you’ll be able to see them from inside. Well, you can choose whichever room you want but the one with the big window...”

Most of the time, he could tell people were speaking, lips moving and voices but he recognized none of the words, the cotton in his skull drowned them out. He stared at the sandwich on the table in front of him. It was cut into small triangles and the bread was slightly toasted. His stomach acted up, he thought he was hungry, or going to throw up again. It hurt anyway, but he couldn’t stop staring at the food. 

It was until his stomach grumbled audibly that Steve stopped talking, directing a puzzled look at him.

“You’re hungry”, he stated. 

Bucky looked up miserably. 

“Can I feed this to you?” Steve said, achieving a whole new level of vitality. “Please, you should try. You haven’t kept down anything, you really must be starving. The pills you are given are irritating your stomach, that’s why it hurts.”

Steve talked like he knew more about Bucky’s physical state than Bucky himself, which he had proved to be true over the past days. He wonder what it would be like to be able to tell about it himself, he wondered what kind of knowledge Steve held to himself, wouldn’t like Bucky to know, he wondered what would happen if he asked about it, about the men in prison and his own past. 

Bucky came back to himself as Steve prodded a piece of the triangle sandwich to his lips. He parted them, compliant. He was rewarded with half a smile, Steve’s eyes and expression finally softening, a pretty shade of grayish blue. Bucky felt fulfilled. 

“Take it easy, okay? We can do this.” 

 


 

Steve wasn’t there when he opened his eyes. Bucky scanned the room and spotted the red headed lady. Unlike Steve, she didn’t feel entitled to start a conversation, even when she had noticed his awareness. She just sat on one of the couches by the door, with her legs crossed, and typed away on her phone. Bucky stared at her with curiosity. Her hair was straight, flat and looked soft. Her nails were long and pointy and were painted in different pastel colors. He remembered her sitting next to him on the bed, showing him his face, telling him what had happened, she held that information. 

“N- name… You,” Bucky muttered warily.

She looked up, said: “Hm? My name’s Natasha.”

Why are you here?, he wanted to ask. Who are you and why are you here and who am I and what am I doing here? 

No words came out. Bucky wanted to kick himself. 

“You know,” Bucky croaked finally.

Natasha raised an eyebrow.

“What happened… They.” Bucky pointed at the mirror she had used before to show him his broken face. 

She placed her phone on the couch and leaned forward, face serious all of the sudden. “What happened to you? You were held hostage by a terrorist organization, you were, for years, until Rogers and Wilson took down the base they had you in. A man, Brock Rumlow beat you and broke your skull. You lost blood, brain tissue, cerebrospinal fluid, one of your lungs collapsed. You almost died. That was almost two months ago.”

“Rogers?” 

“Steve,” she said. “And Sam Wilson.” She paused. “You remember Steve, right?”

Bucky didn’t say anything. 

“What do you remember?” she asked. 

Nothing, at first. 

But then, a dark room, his knees against the hard, cold concrete floor. A person bending down, a sneer on their face, balling his hair with their fists. Uniformed figures, holding uzis close to their chests. A boot kicking him, stamping on his face, the image of his own body subdued, cut and dirtied. Not quite a cell, just a dark empty room, faceless persons coming in and dragging him out. They wanted him, needed him, they had a use for him. 

Those memories sparked, triggered at the lady’s voice. There was something else underneath. 

The asset hid away. A dark alleyway.

It was dark, it had got dark but he hadn’t realize when, as he walked away from the Potomac. 

He stripped the clothes they dressed him in. Took off the straps and the holster, loaded with guns. Stayed in the undershirt, something he could blend in. Placed a knife in his left boot. It gave the asset a sense of security.

Somehow his body knew.

How to move, where to go.

There were no thoughts, no speculation.  

But the unclear image of a convenience store, slipping in, a hand in his pocket, ignoring the dislocation of his shoulder, facing away from the security cameras, stealing what he needed. What his body thought he needed.

A window breaking. 

The apartment smelt of humidity and cigarettes. It was unoccupied, the asset made sure of that before going inside.

The sound of scissors, snip. Needle and thread. 

It was like the body ran on automatic, but then he realized what he was doing. The asset sewed himself, to help stop the blood from coming. He learned this motion somewhere, piercing the skin with diagonal stitches. 

He sat through the night, coughing dirty water and blood. Days later he had gone in search of himself, his face on a temporary exposition about the man with the broken blue eyes.

But they had found him, and taken him back. They had saved his life, closed his injuries, nurtured him, gave him a purpose, even when they had made him scream they were making him better, they held him with wires because that’s what they had to do. 

And they had said “You helped us shape the century, we're going to give it a push. But, if you don't do your part, I can't do mine.” And that was all he had to do. 

“You don’t have to believe me, but you are safe here,” Bucky was yanked back, away from the memory by the woman’s voice. “No one’s gonna hurt you, or force you to do anything you don’t want to, not like them.”

Bucky didn’t understand. 

 


 

That night he dreamed of violence. The wielding of power and dominance over bodies not his own, his hands around a writhing larynx. 

Stifled grunts.

Gunshots silenced at open fields. 

The unstoppable running of blood from a clean cut, pooling on the concrete, reflecting the moonlight, cartridges scattered around. 

Evidence. Holes in the flesh.

The crisp winter air, raindrops hitting the skin on his face like daggers. 

Paris. 

Kiev. 

His forehead being kissed by the lips of an old man that smelled like cedar and lemongrass. 


 

Chapter Text

XI

 

He woke up on the back seat of a car. He waited until his vision became less blurry, closed his eyes, opened them, closed, tried again. His torso was strapped by a seat belt. He lifted his hand to feel what was the pressure on his head, which was wrapped tightly with bandages that held his jaw, under his chin, and back up around his forehead. Then he looked forward, looked at the driver’s face on the rear-view mirror, it was a blurry face. There was someone sitting on the passenger's seat, too. They talked in quiet, careful voices. It was dark out and he entertained himself with the street lights, the cars passing by, absent from the rest of the world, until his head started hurting bad, until he felt dizzy and there was pressure behind his eyeballs. He was lulled back to sleep, the soft whirring of the car’s engine, swaying with every turn.

When he opened his eyes again, the sky was white and completely clouded now, it was hard to tell what time it was, Bucky thought, maybe morning or late in the evening. The car was now parked and as Bucky turned to look forwards, a pair of pitiful eyes looking at him. 

“Hey...” Steve said. “We’re home. Brooklyn, remember? I told you we’d move here.”

Bucky’s lack of response, how he ducked from the eye contact, shameful. 

As they got ready to get of the car, Bucky recognized the person on the passenger's seat from the hospital. 

“Just call me Nat,” she said, calm and indulgent, when Bucky struggled to recall her name. 

She was carrying a duffel bag on her shoulder and a couple of plastic bags with pill bottles that rattled in them. 

He was shaky on his feet, and Steve wrapped and arm around him to help him support his weight and walk towards the building. Brittle yellow aspen leaves tumbled around their heels as they crossed the street. It was a tall building made of brownstone and old orange-red bricks, black metallic accents on the windows and doors. He was told to hold on to the railing to climb the stairs leading to the front door. 

Bucky let them shepherd him, faltering and stumbling, towards the foyer. The place was fully furnished, as if someone had been inhabiting the place and then disappeared. As Steve ranted about city traffic and marveled at the high ceilings and clear hardwood floors of the place, Bucky let him guide him to sit on one of the big cushioned couches by the chimney. His head hung, he looked at the clothes he was now in. Fleecy blue sweatpants, sweatshirt, a blue cardigan that was one or two sizes too big and white sneakers. He wondered who had dressed him, or got the clothing for him. Bucky ended up pressing himself into the crook of the couch, as he looked at Steve and Nat accommodate the contents of the duffel bag in the space.  

Later that day there was a knock on the door. Bucky’s whole body tensed up at that, his legs ready to carry him out of there, he was sweating, and he couldn't move, and he felt anguished, trapped. 

Nat said, “Hey, look at me. Steve’s gonna get that, just one of his friends, people who won’t hurt you, I promise.”

He passed out, or fell asleep. It was all the same to him. 

His head was groggy and his body had tremors, and he was cold. Bucky hunched in on himself. The lights were on in the kitchen and slipped through the door to the living room. 

“He’ll have to tough it out,” Nat was saying. There was a savory smell in the air, spicy, pungent. Bucky thought they must have been eating in the kitchen. “Let him take his time and rest for now, patience, thassall.”

“But he doesn’t even make eye contact now. He wasn't this bad in the hospital, it’s like he isn’t here.”

“His body is in drug withdrawal, you saw those doses, what did you expect.” 

In the darkness, he could decipher the outline of what seemed to be a balloon. It was round and filled with helium. Bucky blinked his eyes a few times, until the head of a puppy with a band-aid on its head appeared on the balloon. 

“...check with him every now and then, but do not pressure him to do anything...”

The clothes his body was wrapped around were cold, and wet. He shivered, the head-dressings had soaked up his sweat and his forehead was itchy. The balloon caught his attention again. It bobbed, as if it had been pulled down by its string. Bucky strained to move his neck, but he wanted to look around, the windows and doors were closed, no air currents. It bounced again.

Up

Down

Up 

Down

His heart rate picked up, a hitched breath. 

 


 

Bucky woke up, buried between the folds of the couch, not knowing anything else but pain.

The hurt woke him, coming not just form the now empty space where his arm used to be, but his jaw and his head, too.

The sharp, acute pains had been coming at steadily shortening intervals from the stump, and a dull constant buzzing that hammered down his skull, like his brain was throbbing in there. His mind zeroed in on the pain, and nothing else existed beside that, a body in the darkness, his own agonizing awareness. He battled it, stirring where he laid, curled in on himself, moved one foot frantically to contain himself. The distant sound of the tick-tack of a clock, until he had screamed in exhibition of his hysterics.  

Bucky— What- What is it? What do you need? Talk to me, c’mon.” 

Even though he could hear Steve, could swear he was right there, he felt far-off, from his body, from reality, from Steve's touch, secluded and isolated, alone, gone. He felt as if he was talking in his sleep, made no sense, even to himself. The only thing that was undeniably real was the wave of agony that washed through his body. Grounding and present. Necessary. 

 


 

Sleep had taken him again, he thought because his eyes were heavy and it was light out, daybreak. He was dimly aware of a muffled noise somewhere.

“He hasn’t moved from that spot since we set foot in here,” Steve was saying, a hint of panic in his voice. “Didn’t eat, or talk. Didn’t as much as looked at me.”

“The painkillers are wearing off, huh. He must be aching a whole deal.

“I didn’t want to pressure him or anything,

“I know, 

Bucky realized his eyes had been closed, he didn’t know had long it had been, but there was a man crouching down in front of him, not too close to his face, but enough to catch his attention. They hovered around him like he was a time bomb they were supposed to dismantle before it kills them all. 

“Hey, Bucky?” the man said, offering a small smile. Bucky looked at him in the eye. “You are probably in a lot of pain, and I think that if you had something to eat and took your medication, you’d feel much better.”

Bucky swallowed and dried his clammy hand on the soft material of his pants.

“Buck?

He opened his eyes. 

“Hi, there.”

He turned to Steve, who was looking at him, puzzled. 

“Uh- This is Sam Wilson, he’s a friend of mine.” 

Steve introduced more about the man, Sam Wilson, as Bucky was falling back asleep. Eventually, they said something, asked- if it was okay, if he was with them, he didn’t know, just knew whatever they asked elicited a nod from him, maybe that was the kind of confirmation they wanted because moments later he was being pulled back on his feet. 

And then he was sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of soy milk, cereal flakes, a mush in a tiny bowl that seemed to be vanilla pudding — the only thing he used to had actually seemed to like of all the food they made him try—  and at least a dozen pills in various shapes and colors sprawled out in front of him. 

Steve helped him make a fist around a spoon. His hand trembled, Bucky wanted to fuck it all, throw it away in anger against the wall, but Steve tenderly guided his hand and arm to bring a spoonful of pudding into his mouth. 

It gave him visible pain to chew the cereal. Bucky noticed how it made Steve grimace. 

“Try to take it easy, slowly, okay? We’re here.”

 


 

The stairs were made of wood and creaked as the three of them made their way up, Bucky gripping the polished railing, even when it was on the opposite side of his arm, and Steve giving him gentle pushes to haul him up.

“This is the master bedroom,” Steve said, switching the lights on. “The room has its own bathroom, that’s why I think you should take it, might make everything easier for you while you acclimate.” 

Bucky looked at the table by the window. There were piles of clothes- all folded neatly, as well as blankets and a water bottle made of some material that looked like marble. Then he was sitting at the edge of the bathtub, Steve crouching in front of him, undoing the laces of his shoes to take them off. And later, his head was tilted back, Steve held his hand to wrap it around a buzzing toothbrush. 

“You gotta hold the toothbrush like this, it spins on its own, so you just have to guide it through all your teeth, front and back, like this, got it?” 

 


 

It’s the thirtieth of November, the year is two thousand and fourteen, we are in Brooklyn, New York. 

Your name is Bucky Barnes, you served in the one o’ seventh, you were shipped off to Europe, you were taken a prisoner of war.

My name is Steve Rogers, we used to be friends.

It is two thousand and fourteen. You are no longer captive, you are safe.