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Sto per andare

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“You killed my parents,” Tony says, standing in front of James. 

 

James blinks. “I’m sorry,” he says. “You may punish me as you see fit.” His face is perfectly composed. 

 

“Oh, no, no, no, Terminator, we’re not doing that. We’re not. I’m gonna be paying for your shit, so if you want to kill me too, that’s gonna be an issue. Are you gonna kill me?”

 

Now Barnes just looks confused. “I do not have any orders to kill you. And you are not HYDRA. I don’t -” something changes in his tone. “I don’t want to kill people anymore. I said I was done. I don’t want to kill people anymore.” 

 

Tony looks concerned, like he can tell that James might be on a knife’s edge of a breakdown. “That’s okay, James,” he says, in a gentler voice. “No one is going to make you kill anyone here. I’m gonna make you a better arm.” 

 

James still looks confused, but he looks almost worried when Tony mentions the arm thing. That’s probably understandable, given all the pages and pages of horror written on the device. Still, James seems to take in stride, in some sense of the word. “That is not what people usually do. Why?” He looks like he’s expecting to be hit. 

 

“Human nature’s a weird thing, Terminator.” Tony shrugs. “You’re right - I should hate you or avoid you for what you did. And I’m gonna be honest with you, I’m a little freaked out about letting you stay in my home. There’s reasons for that. Ask Steve, he’ll give you the cliff notes. So maybe I’m not gonna be singing campfire songs with you, but you were tortured for years. I think you’ve paid for everything you’ve done. And I told myself that I was going to be a better man. So this is me trying to be a better man.”

“Okay,” Barnes replies. When he next speaks, his voice is soft and uncertain. “If you make me a new arm can you - can you make it all one color. Without - without the star?”

 

“Dude, whatever you want. No star, fun stripes? I can do that for you. I’m getting that hunk of medical malpractice out of your body as soon as I can. It’s going to mean that I’m gonna have to get scans of it from you. I read what the freakshow cabal did to you, but I need to know how it really works.”

 

James looks a little overwhelmed at that. “I will submit to testing.”

 

Sam steps in at that. “I think, what Tony hasn’t said yet, is that we’re not going to do anything without your consent.” Difficult, because no one’s really sure what Barnes knows about consent, but Tony had looked a little green at the gills when he, Natasha, and Sam had had their talk about Barnes’ acceptance of everything thrown at him. Steve had looked like the guilt was going to swallow him up when Natasha had explained the situation to him. “We’re also not gonna do it right away. We all just fought a battle. We all need rest.”

 

“Birdbrain mark two is right. I need my beauty sleep and you need to have a place to stay as well. You’re getting your own room and all that. Because, you know, privacy is a right, no matter what the big tech companies say.” Tony pauses. “But I’m going to warn you about something. I’ve got an AI in the building. His name’s JARVIS and he’ll talk to you if you talk to him. He’s got cameras and mics everywhere, because that’s how I do things. That being said, the cameras on your floor are deactivated except in case of emergency. And no one but JARVIS has access to all recordings.”

 

“Jarvis is a name,” James remarks. There’s a little bit of an edge to his voice. 

 

Tony seems to pick up on whatever question that came unasked. “He’s one hundred percent code. I call the program a ‘he’ because that’s what humans do - humanize their tech. Massive problem, but that’s for future generations. I promise you, James, he’s nothing like you.”

 

James nods, seeming more relaxed at that. 

 

“All right, cool, let’s get you settled.”

Chapter Text

James stands in the middle of the room that they told him was his. He considers the windows, the clothes closet, the bed. Some of these things are unfamiliar. He holds his bag by one strap. He doesn’t know what to do. He remembers that they told him that he’s got his own bathroom, and goes to investigate that. He opens drawers, figures out how to turn on the shower, though he jerks back at the cold spray. There is no window in the bathroom, he notes. 

 

He pokes around further, finding cameras. Tony Stark said they were deactivated. James finds that idea laughable. Or he would, if he was more in touch with humor as a concept at the moment. He’s getting there, but he’s not quite there yet. They are watching, because everyone always watches. There is no escape. It is a thing that happens. He will simply have to be careful. He doesn’t know how far their mercy extends. The exhibit said that Steve Rogers stood up for people. But James is only sort of people, and he is not the Bucky that Steve Rogers knew. So he will have to be careful. This is nothing new. Just this time, he has a consciousness. Adjustments can be made. 

 

James considers the room once more, where the windows are, where the sightlines are. They cover the whole room. However, there is a spot between the closet, a standalone piece, and a desk that is reasonably safe. He places his bag there. This means that he ought to put his most current journal either on the desk or on the floor. He hesitates. They are watching. Or so he assumes. He does not know how far his privacy extends. They will see him writing with it. He refuses to give that up. So they will know either way. He places the journal on the desk, the pens he’s collected on top, held together by a rubber band. That is all the unpacking he will do. It makes him feel more secure to know that he could run at a moment’s notice. 

 

He feels...he feels. He does not know how he feels. Perhaps restless is the best description of it. The plane ride was the first time in a very long time that he had allowed himself to feel less tense. He would accept it if they had wanted to kill him. So he had sat there and watched. Attentive, but not entirely on edge. 

 

He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do now. They did not give him any indication of what was to come - not really. And he did not ask. James hasn’t asked for unnecessary clarification in a long time. He wonders if being completely free has made him regress to a more mechanical state to deal with the added confusion.

 

He decides to make a detailed list of everything that happened since he last wrote in his journal. He grabs it and sits under the desk for safety. He does not think the cameras have blind spots, but at least he can see the door from here. The list takes some time, but he is relatively unhindered by flashbacks, so it goes efficiently. 

 

When he’s done writing, James eyes the bed warily. There is nothing wrong with it, as far as he can tell, but it was far too squishy. It would feel...like too much. As he is thinking it over - is it even worth attempting to rest? - he emerges from his cave to lock his door. He does not have any illusions about them being able to open it, but can at least take that small amount of agency. He turns the lights out as well, guessing as to the purpose of the switches on the wall. 

 

Returning from that, he pulls the blanket from the bed, bringing it back under the desk with him. He does not fully fit under there, but it feels safer. He removes his boots, putting them in front of his bag. He removes a knife from the side pocket of his bag, sliding it carefully under the bag so that the cameras will pick it up less. James is not sure what safety feels like, but this seems close enough to it. The blanket goes on the floor for some padding and he lies on top of it, head near his bag. 

 

Sleep comes too easily. 

 

He is tense. They have been starving him, the Germans, he thinks. He doesn’t know. His arm hurts. He can’t move. He’s tired. It hurts. They laughed at him when he woke up and screamed. His memory struggles, his mind moves at half the speed it should. But he think they said they were keeping him. Forever. He knows he’ll die with them. He will die -

 

A shift. 

 

“You cannot leave us. You cannot die without our command. You are nothing without us. There is nothing you can do that is not without our command.” This is in Russian, though the shift doesn’t register. “You may not die. Your life is ours. You must do everything you can to return to us. You are not allowed to kill yourself.” He was screaming. They were screaming? He crushed - he was crushed - they tore - they tore, they ripped -

 

A shift. 

 

He is carefully doing maintenance on his arm. A panel was damaged due to contact with a vehicle. This is a permitted fix for him. He is allowed to do this. He is allowed - they shock him. They shock him and they shock him and they shock him and the metal in his spine, the metal in his spine, it jerks him, he is burning but he cannot do anything they have gagged him he can't stop it - he will die - 

 

A shift. 

 

“This does not come off.” The wound is still sore. The wound? The gap where his arm no longer is? The horrible contraption? No. He does not understand. “This does not come off.” And he remembers the pain. The shooting pain of it. It went on and on until he passed out and now he is awake and it hurts. He is shocked for a whimper and that is the true pain. Like a lightning rod, his brain provides. He’s not sure what a lightning rod looks like anymore. “This does not come off. You will be punished. You will die. You cannot leave.” They shock him and shock him and shock him and it hurts and it kills his brain and leaves him empty and leaves him empty -

 

James jerks awake silently. That was always important, the silence. He was not to scream unless they allowed him to. Or if he lost control, which would be punished, so it all amounts to the same thing. He hasn’t bothered trying to undo that. Tactically, it makes sense. He reaches his metal arm around the desk to grab his journal, bringing it down to him. It’s dark in the room, the light from the windows not hitting him in his nest. He does not want to expose himself just for the sake of being able to write the dream down, but the journal itself calms him somehow. 

 

He grips it in his flesh hand, consider his options. Judging by the light he can see, his own internal clock, and his watch with glowing hands, he’s been asleep for a couple hours. This will be sufficient, he decides. For now. He didn’t average much more when he was alone. 


So he sits there, on his blanket on the floor and thinks. About his future, about Steve Rogers, about the others, about his arm .

Chapter Text

“Can I touch you?”

 

That’s been the first item on the agenda - getting James to understand that he’s in control of things. Sam had talked to him about this, but it’s not really clear how much James actually internalized. And pretty much no one’s sure where he’s already at, because getting him to talk is like pulling teeth.

 

“No.” James looks at Sam, staring him down.

 

“Okay, that’s fine. But you’re gonna need to scoot over so I don’t bump you. Need to get into the fridge.”

 

James gives him a light glare and leaves the room entirely. Sam thinks that it was probably a test. To see if what Sam had said was really true. It’s understandable.

 


 

 

When James and Clint meet, Clint seems to know what he’s doing. Or something like that. He doesn’t offer to shake James’ hand, at least, which is an interesting choice. But when you consider that Clint was the one to bring Natasha in - as much as anyone could make Natasha do anything - then it’s clear that he’s got a particular, and potentially very useful, track record with former Soviet assassins.

 

“Hey, I’m Clint,” Clint says with a smile. “I’m not new here. Just been doing cleanup for SHIELD. The, uh, non-HYDRA part of it. Or so I hope. Natasha says that you know each other from way back. It’s nice to meet you.”

 

James stares at him.

 

“I’m James,” he says in that soft tone of his. “Natalia is right.”

 

“Nice to meet you, James. She usually is,” Clint replies with a wider smile. “And she knows it, too. Gotta love that confidence. Gets you anywhere you want.”

 

“It was part of training,” James says. Clint is picking up ‘idiot Americans with no training’ vibes from the man, similar to the way Natasha was at first. But that’s okay. These things take time.

 


 

 

Steve, after that first hug, is very careful. He announces himself when entering a room with James in it. He doesn’t attempt any more hugs, but pretty much anyone could see the way he looks over at James. Or so he thinks. He knows that he needs to be careful, he knows that people could ask questions, but god , it’s been so long. So fucking long.

 

He knows that he’s faltering around James. The narrowed eyes he gets when he directs an uncertain smile his way makes that clear.

 

And the thing is, he knows. He knows what they did to him. For years and years and years, they tortured him. Steve’s got nothing on that shit. He was fucking asleep the whole time, for fuck’s sake. There’s no way that Steve’s got the right to pretend like he deserves to ask for even the barest affection from Bu-James.  

 

They’re not the same person, and yet Steve has to physically hold himself back from saying things, from reaching out, because even with the change in the luster of James’ eyes from Bucky’s, the face is the same. This is Bucky, but not Bucky. And it hurts.

 


 

 

Natasha curses in Russian when the door opens and the (former) Winter Soldier himself finds her eating something from the fridge that is absolutely not labeled with her name. He’s just lucky that she didn’t throw her fork at him. He looks at her, taking the scene in.

 

“Clint wouldn’t eat that sort of thing willingly,” he says, keeping to the Russian theme. “And none of the others lie well enough.”

 

Of course he knew, she thinks. He trained her. He was a starving dog too, once.

 

“And you didn’t say anything?” She doesn’t expect him to, but she wants to gauge who he is right now. Or, really, which memories of a personality he’s working off of.

 

He gives her a flat stare. “No one asked.” That’s the man she encountered during her training. She doesn’t know if that man is Bucky Barnes, but he’s not the dead-eyed machine they turned him into. Fucking Americans. “Hide yourself better next time. Or they will know.”

Chapter Text

“Jesus Christ, Terminator. It’s not an execution.”

 

Tony indicates a spot on the floor. It’s green, and there’s not parts of things everywhere for a certain radius. “Stand there. I might ask you to go all Vitruvian Man on me, but you can just stand there. These are just initial scans, anyway.”

 

James stands on the spot, waiting for something. He doesn’t know what, doesn’t dare ask. 

 

“It’s just going to be JARVIS doing a quick scan. Nothing’ll touch you - I’m just going to wave sensor wands at you until we’ve got a clear picture. Is that still okay?”

 

James nods.

 

“Vocally, please.”

 

“It’s okay.” James focuses on some mangled metal in the distance. 

 

“Thanks. I’m going to start now.”

 

It doesn’t hurt. 

 


 

 

James is drinking from a water bottle when the scans become fully formed, expanding above what’s probably one of Tony’s workstations. 

 

“Hey James?” Stark’s tone is tight. 

 

“Yes?” James sets the water bottle down and comes over. 

 

“What’s your baseline level of pain?”

 

He frowns. He doesn’t understand the question. Baseline level - doesn’t that mean nothing? Is this a trap? “Nothing to report.”

 

Tony runs a hand through his hair, breathes, closes his eyes, and breathes again. “Let me rephrase this: how do you feel the arm’s weight? Where do you feel pressure or tension from it, if any? Because that’s a big fucking hunk of metal and it’s attached to your spine with string, basically.”

 

James shrugs. Tony looks a little uncomfortable at the gesture. “I feel...I guess it pulled a lot. I think. At first. Maybe. I got used to it. It’s just there. It doesn’t impede me functioning.”

 

Tony still looks uncomfortable. “Okay, different tack. Do you remember ever having your prosthetic off of you? What did it feel like?”

 

James has to think about that, diving down into the pit of his memories - crushed entirely...doesn’t come off...fever...can’t understand...3255...Fuck, he’s so far gone. Get it off him, we got him back. You know why we warned you? Acknowledge. You will not run. You will comply. Acknowledge - James - James Buchanan - James - Acknowledge - 

 

He staggers back. Got to find cover. Cover. He’s got to. They’re coming for him. Or is this. Is this real? Is this real? Does he - what’s happening?

 

He snaps the bone in his his finger. The pain brings him back. Order through pain. Tony’s staring at him. 

 

“Can you tell me your name?”

 

“James. Your lab.” He can do one better, apparently.

 

“Can you walk me through that?”

 

Of course he can. The Asset is nothing if not good at explaining himself. “I got lost in the memories. Pain brings me back. It always heals, and the suddenness of it reminds me what is real.” It’s also a very twisted way of affirming his own agency. They wouldn’t have let him break his own bones, unless it was part of an exercise. 

 

“Okay, we’re getting that doctor as soon as fucking possible. That’s on me. I think this is a Sam sort of situation. Maybe Natasha. Fuck, well, we’re all fucked up in our own ways, but you shouldn’t be hurting yourself, James.”

 

The Asset will take that under advisement. But it’s not an order, so he decides that he doesn’t have to follow it. He says nothing for a moment. How else will he make the memories stop? He doesn’t like drowning, doesn’t like being buried in them. He’s going to have to write all this down, to make sure it’s truly real. 

 

“Order through pain.”

 

Tony looks afraid. That is normal. “That’s a HYDRA thing, buddy. That’s not - Christ, I need someone with a PhD. I mean, one of the ones I don’t have. Fuck.” He takes a deep breath. 

 

James shrugs. “It’s my thing. It’s my brain. They put things into me but I use them now. I’m not theirs.”

 

Tony covers his face with a hand for a moment. “Okay, I won’t debate you on that right now, but Christ. There’s some shit all of us are going to be talking about. James, there’s ways of dealing with things that aren’t breaking your own bones. Just, I know it sounds dumb - I sure thought it did - try to like, breathe. Measure it - seven in, hold three, seven out. And if that’s not on the table, try touching things, naming things, listing things.” He sighs again. “We’re not friends, I’m not sharing my shit with you, but what I am going to tell you, is that this isn’t going to end with you alive, especially as you get to sit down and have time to process it.”

 

“I can try that,” James says, but he doesn’t actually know if he will. His way works. Why shouldn’t he do things his own way? They’ve told him he can. Things are only if he wants to, for the most part.

Chapter Text

“Okay, members of the Get James Barnes His Mojo Back Committee, come to order.” Tony ignores the face that both Clint and Sam make at him. Steve looks like he’s combing through what’s probably a rolodex of things he’s seen, looking for the right answer. Natasha looks like Natasha. “It’s about to get real horrifying, real fast. Birdbrain number 1, the quick version is that it turns out that when you’re torturing someone for 70 years, there’s a lot of shit you can do. Caught up? Cool. Let’s get into the latest development. JARVIS, cue the freakshow.”

 

The scan of James that he took yesterday shows up. Tony zooms it in with a hand gesture, showing metal bars and a spine. 

 

“What you’re seeing is pretty much the best way to keep a man tortured even when he thinks you’re going easy on him. I’d want an actual medical doctor and an X-ray for the bones, but just from an engineering standpoint, that arm is way heavier than his spine should be able to support. There’s no way it doesn’t hurt him, even with a healing factor. So,” Tony takes a breath, “we need to get that shit off him as soon as possible. With or without a replacement ready.”

 

“But won’t that limit him?” Steve asks it, but Sam nods his agreement. “Do you think he’d agree to it?”

 

Natasha cuts in at that. “He’d probably agree to it, especially right now. I know we’re trying to get him fully independent, but his mind isn’t there and it isn’t going to be there for a while. That, and he could kill us all without the metal arm. He knows this. He probably knows I know this. So he might be willing to take the risk if we present it properly.”

 

“Did you ask him anything? About taking it off?” Steve again. 

 

Tony nods. “Oh, yeah, I asked him. It was real educational. Really just, thrilling. I asked him if it had ever come off, he proceeded straight to a flashback, did not pass go, did not collect 200$, but sure did break his finger.”

 

Various people wince. 

 

“And when he came out of it, guess what he said? First off, he said ‘order through pain,’ admitted that it was a HYDRA thing, then said it was his thing because he owns his brain. Also that snapping his own bones is what helps him snap out of flashbacks. So that’s some goddamn horror that I got to live through. Oh, and I have no fucking clue if he registers the pain his arm is causing him, because I don’t think he understands that - I don’t even know - that his pain is worth feeling if he’s not fucking dying? That’s one for the guys who patched him up to help clarify.”

 

That’s a whole lot for the room to take in. 

 

Sam speaks up. “He was unconscious by the time we got to him, so I have no idea what he’s like in pain. Well - we talked to him a little bit, but there wasn’t much going on. He seemed like he was in pain once, but it was only for a second. At that point he didn’t trust us at all, so I’m not surprised. He had a fever, we thought, which might have been just us not understanding the serum, but he could have easily had other injuries.”

 

So they’ve got a whole fuckload of nothing. Great. 

 

“Right, so we’ve got no baseline pain level for him, but we do know that he feels pain in general, with the whole finger thing.” Normally Tony would be thrilled at the depth and difficulty of this problem, but this is a real human person, for all his flaws and missing memories. If he wanted his revenge, it wouldn’t be continuing HYDRA’s work. 

 

Natasha murmurs something under her breath and Clint looks at her sharply, but doesn’t say anything. 

 

Steve sighs, closes his eyes, and only speaks once he’s opened them back up. “We found something about the arm in his files. The Germans put one on, but he got fucking gangrene from it. The Russians cut off more and put what he’s got on. While he was awake. And they also,” his voice shakes a little, but he powers through it, “they also made it heavy enough that if he gets below a certain weight it’ll tear his spine apart. It does come off, I think, doesn’t it, Sam? I thought we found something.”

 

Sam nods. “Yeah, you might have seen this too, Tony, when you were looking at the arm specs, if you saw those. They said they took it out of the socket in, I think, the 60s and maybe the 80s, too. It comes out, but I don’t know if he’s aware it does. He got taught how to do some repairs, I think the documents said.”

 

“That’s something good at least. We’re not completely fucking blind. The only good Nazi’s a dead Nazi who took good notes.” Maybe not Tony’s most understanding of quips, but well, it’s going to be tense anyway. “So it can probably come off, but messing with it is probably gonna bring up a whole bunch of bad shit for him. But we need to get it off. Fuck.”

 

“Clint and I will talk to him,” Natasha says. “He’ll agree to this. And once he’s agreed, we can figure out the details.”

Chapter Text

He wonders idly, if he’s allowed to kill himself. They have told him, and his mind confirms, that he’s got full control over his body. It is his body. He wonders if he’s broken the programming that prevents him from doing so. The people here are fools - besides asking him to surrender his weapons back at the destroyed HYDRA base, they haven’t checked again. What they should have done was search him, his room. Maybe it’s back to his apparent autonomy that they haven’t, but either way, he’s got a knife of his own. He carries it everywhere with him. It makes the building seem a little safer. 

 

But Natalia should know. He’s seen how she looks at him, how she was the one to keep him at a distance back in the dusty hills, he’s had memories with someone with her face in them. She should be monitoring him. They keep telling him that this isn’t SHIELD, isn’t HYDRA, but James barely knows anything else. What is he supposed to think?

 

There’s not really a clear why - maybe it’s because he completed the mission he’d set out on. He’s with Steve Rogers. What else is there to do? Nothing. There’s no mission anymore, nothing to focus on. Like Stark said, he’s got time to sit and think. Things are just happening to him. He’s no longer in charge, whatever they have told him. 

 

The whole business with his arm didn’t help either. He should have come down from everything that flashback entailed by now, but he still feels on edge, like someone’s going to come for him at any moment. He can’t calm down. 

 

The only way to calm down is pain. He is in control of his body. 

 

The mission is over. He has no new mission. They haven’t told him a new one. 

 

He considers his metal arm, looking at how the plates slide over one another. The one that had some of its components bent back in DC still isn’t smooth. He hasn’t bothered to fix it yet. Well, that and no one has given him the tools to do it. He’d thought about taking a screwdriver from Stark’s lab, but things had fallen apart so completely that he hadn’t remembered. 

 

It doesn’t matter now. 

 

He considers his options. There shouldn’t be any. He’s not allowed to do this. They own him. They own him. They own - no. 

 

He grabs a knife, heads to the bathroom. He’s going to figure it out. 

 

He’s hyperventilating, sobbing, screaming. Or he would be screaming if they hadn’t tortured it out of him. 

 

He slams his head into the wall of the shower that he’s sitting in. He doesn’t feel clearer, but it gets them out of his head, even as he reels dizzily from the impact. 


Now he can do it. He can do it. He chose this. He’s allowed. He should . There’s no mission.

Chapter Text

Natasha and Clint don’t get to talk to James about his arm. However, they are the closest when JARVIS blasts a warning through the tower. 

 

She takes off running as soon as she hears it. Later Clint will wonder if she was waiting for something like this to happen. He’ll know the answer. It was and always will be yes. She went through this once before, after all. She knows the protocols, she knows what they do to people's’ heads. 

 

Natasha doesn’t have time for what-ifs and regrets. If she did, she’d regret not bringing up the possibility of suicide earlier. Dealing with James brings up memories she’d rather not relive - and he shot her. Her memory is long. But all the same, neither of those facts should have mattered when the goal was always keeping him alive. 

 

The door is unlocked when she arrives, JARVIS having apparently overridden everything. Natasha knows that there’s no way that James wouldn’t lock the door. It’s what she did when she was allowed a room of her own for the first time. Even if it could be overridden, it’s another laying of security, another choice. It says good things for James’ recovery - or it would if he hadn’t taken the idea of autonomy too far. 

 

“Bathroom,” the program tells her. It makes sense. She wonders if the tiles bother him. 

 

There’s so much blood. He heals, she reminds herself. He’d have had to pushed himself past what a normal person might. She’s kneeling in the blood instantly, assessing his wounds. And even as she applies pressure, she knows that he’s had worse injuries. They gave him worse injures. This is the worst that James can do to himself, but it’s nothing like what they already did to him. And she wonders if he’s an abused dog, too shy, too hard to predict, needs to be put down. She wondered it about herself years ago. She wonders if Clint ever had a similar thought when he was keeping her together after everything was supposed to be solved. 

 

James doesn’t throw her off when she grabs him, manipulates him so she can get to all the wounds that she can see. He’s out, or just out of it, and either way, it’s probably a mercy. Clint’s there, silent, handing her the first aid kit he must have found in one of the cabinets. She can wrap his wounds and they’re probably already healing, but who knows what he’ll be like when he regains consciousness, what he’ll remember. And they’re deep. All wounds are, with him. 

 

“Doctors have been notified.” That’s compromising James’ position, but they need to keep him alive. She will hunt down and personally dispose of anyone who leaks this. She still wonders if death wouldn’t be the most merciful end for him, but it’s not her call. It’s not even Steve’s, even if he’s essentially James’ next of kin, for all intents and purposes. They’ll just have to save him. It’s what they did for her.

Chapter Text

Bucky Barnes wakes up restrained. He knows this. He stares up at the ceiling. He starts the litany. They will come soon. They always know when he’s awake. He is afraid. He is resigned to death. They will hurt him. 

 

“Barnes, James Buchanan. Sergeant. 32557038. Barnes, James Buchanan. Sergeant. 32557038. Barnes, James Buchanan. Sergeant. 32557038. Barnes, James Buchanan. Sergeant. 32557038. Barnes, James Buchanan. Sergeant. 32557038. Barnes, James Buchanan. Sergeant. 32557038. Barnes, James Buchanan. Sergeant. 32557038.”

 

He’s not sure he knows any other words than those anymore. He fights the restraints. They don’t come off. They haven’t come off. He’s stuck here. He’ll die here. He doesn’t want to, but he’s going to have to be okay with it. It’s better than this happening to one of his guys because he was too much of a coward to step in. It’s what - It’s what -

 

His mind shifts. 

 

They have removed the restraints. He does not move. Movement is pain and this is a test. He knows this, because he ran the first three times. They dragged him back, screaming and fighting, until someone thought to hit him with electricity. That got him back in the chair pretty easily. He stays in the chair, on the table, wherever they put him. He is doing better. They told him this yesterday. He believed them. He knows that they’re trying to train him, but they are so damn thorough that it doesn’t really matter. 

 

He hears a voice. He doesn’t understand it.

 

“Ready to comply.” He’s supposed to say it. “Ready to comply,” he says again. There is no pain. This must be right. “Ready to comply.” It feels wrong to speak.

 

“325-” He flinches.

 

His mind shifts. 

 

A child crying. There’s a child crying and he can’t see it anywhere, but he knows she’s there. He wants to tell them that he didn’t want to, that he didn’t want to, but he doesn’t have the words. He killed her because he had to. No witnesses. “Please,” he begs, he begs, he always begs. “Please.” Anything but this. Anything but - 

 

He doesn’t have any words left but he sees her looking up at him, tears and a question in her eyes before he shoots her - she looks up at him, her hair and eyes darker this time. “Come on, didn’t you hear the knock? He’s here -”

Things fade.

Chapter Text

Steve is lost. Steve doesn’t know the last time he didn’t feel that way, honestly. He knows that Sam is concerned about him and that Natasha probably knows, because she’s just that perceptive. But he doesn’t want to burden either of them with his problems. He’s sort of just floating through life. That was fine, honestly, when there were threats to the Earth, to other people. He could put himself aside to protect others. 

 

But now everything’s paused. James is here, but Steve doesn’t know what he can do for him. If there’s anything at all. He doesn’t remember Steve, not fully. He’s not fully the Bucky that fell off the train. Steve’s still trying to come to terms with that. At least the man who was Bucky is alive, he can see his face when James deigns to make an entrance into a common space, but it still hurts. 

 

But now - now that James has tried to kill himself, Steve’s set loose from the shakiest of moorings. 

 

Steve cries sometimes, even if he tries not to. Quietly, at night. It’s easier here, where he’s got his own room. During the war, he might have had his own tent, but the walls were thin and the guys didn’t need to bother with his shit either. None of them are alive anymore. He checked. He’d cried then, wishing that he could have gone to any of their funerals. They should have kept him frozen longer. He’d put that plane in the ice because if Bucky was gone, what was the point? He could make the ultimate sacrifice. He’d thought maybe he’d see Bucky again, honestly. But instead he’d hurt Peggy, who now only remembers him on occasion when he visits. It’s probably what he deserves. 

 

They’re sedating James after the first time he woke up wrong and seemed to run from flashback to flashback every time they tried to help. Steve had broken at that - he’d been sitting there, his turn sitting at James’ bedside - he’d gone whitefaced when James started repeating his name, rank, and serial number. And then he couldn’t hold back the sobs when he’d started saying something in Russian, sounding like he was pleading. And then James had started begging in English and Steve just couldn’t stop. 

 

Clint and Sam pull him out of there. He just goes. There’s nothing he can do to. Once more, there’s nothing he can do to save his - to save James, who was Bucky. They pull him out into a hallway and he just - he can’t stop crying. He slides down a wall out there, curling into himself. He doesn’t know if they’re still there, doesn’t really care at this point, honestly. He doesn’t stop for a long time. This is decades of tears that he should have cried, but could never allow himself to. 

 

It’s less of a conscious decision to stop and more like there’s nothing left in him. He feels empty, like there’s nothing worth doing, and so he stays curled up, even though there’s no tears left to hide from Clint and Sam, both of whom he can hear breathing next to him. 

 

They let him sit with it for a little while, the emptiness.

 

“Hey, Steve?” That’s Sam, who Steve dragged over continents, though piles of descriptions of torture. He doesn’t deserve him. 

 

Steve makes a sort of grunt. It feels like all he can do. 

 

“They’ve gotten him hooked back up to the drugs and he seems stable again. They’ll try to taper him off the anesthetic better this time. It’s going to be okay. We’re taking care of him. Do you want to try sitting up a bit? Stretching out?”

 

Steve is well aware that the position he’s in isn’t comfortable at all, but he hesitates. He doesn’t know why. He just feels like he’s got absolutely no energy at all. 

 

“It’s okay if you don’t,” that’s Clint. “I mean, all of us sitting out here is probably the least strange thing that this place has seen.”

 

Steve shrugs as best he can.

 

“Can I help you sit up? Just pull you up a bit so you’re a little more comfortable?”

 

Maybe. They’ll see his face, but the Steve that cares about that is far away. He nods, barely. 

 

“Okay, it’s gonna be both of us. Sorry, princess, but you need two princes to sweep you off your feet.” That’s Clint again, the humor. 

 

He helps a little as they maneuver him into a position where his back is against the wall, spine straighter than before. 

 

“There you go,” Sam gives him a soft smile. “You’re doing great.”

 

Steve shakes his head at that. “Don’t think I am.”

 

There’s concern on both their faces, but it’s not pity. Steve hates pity. He’s not sure if this version of himself can manage that, but he’s still vaguely relieved that it’s not there. 

 

“That’s all right. You don’t have to be doing great. Fine is better than bad, bad is better than awful. You know? It’s all relative.”

 

“I just -” Steve stares off into the middle distance. “I heard him saying it. And it was just like before, a few years ago in the war, when I found him in that - in that lab.” He has to cover his mouth with a hand, struggles against tears that won’t come anymore. “I just - this is all my fault.”

 

“Why do you think that?” Sam’s gentle, he always is.

 

“They were trying to make another serum. If I hadn’t been so - so fucking pigheaded. They wouldn’t have had the chance or the need. And then,” his voice breaks, but he powers on, “then it was my stupid plan about the train. And then he fell and I didn’t look for him. And then I just - he was gone.” So he’d put the plane in the water. “And then - and then I should have done something. Should have made sure that HYDRA was gone. But they weren’t, and they tortured him. And then I hurt him. And I thought maybe after he came home, maybe I could explain or apologize, but he’s not who I knew and I should respect that but I just - I still miss him. I wish - I just - I miss him so much. And it’s all my fault.”

 

“Steve, it’s so fucking far beyond being your fault. No one knows the future.” Clint doesn’t really cut into Steve’s babbling so much as he prevents more of it. 

 

“Missing him’s one thing, but Clint’s right, you absolutely aren’t at fault here.”

 

Steve just shakes his head. It’s fine. No one ever understands. Not now, not before. 

 

The three of them sit in silence a little while longer before Sam speaks up again. 

 

“Do you think you want to get up now, maybe go back to your place?”

 

Steve doesn’t want to leave Bucky - James. That’s the only thing he knows. But also, he’s just so fucking tired. Maybe this is what almost a hundred years is supposed to feel like. 

 

“I want it to be the 30s again. We were happy.” Relatively. But anything’s better than the way it is now. He shrugs. “I’ll go back now, I guess.”

 

They help him up, and even though he’s not sure he needs it, he leans on them more than he’d ever admit.

Chapter Text

James wakes up. Steve Rogers is there. James looks away. Shame is a funny concept. 

 

“Hey,” Steve says softly. His gaze is considering, James thinks. 

 

James looks at him. There’s not much in his head right now. It doesn’t feel empty - just like it’s currently a still pool that no one’s thrown a rock into yet. Anything could happen, but that stone will be thrown. 

 

Steve looks down at his hands. “They sewed you up. You’d lost a lot of blood. They had to tranquilize you.”

 

James thinks that he appreciates knowing what happened. He doesn’t remember much, but that’s par for the course. 

 

“And then you woke up. But you weren’t there. I think you were having memories. Flashbacks, Sam said. They had to put you under again.” Steve sniffs, his gaze still on his hands. “You were saying things. From the war.”

 

There’s the stone. James doesn’t remember. He doesn’t remember saying these things, either then or this time around. He won’t ask what it was, even if he wants to write it down in his journal. That’s where those things go. Maybe he would remember more if he wrote it down. He’s stuck now, because this is Steve Rogers and Steve Rogers is supposed to be the mission. But James cannot mold himself into what Steve Rogers wants. He is trainable, but nothing has been asked of him. “I don’t remember,” he whispers. 

 

Steve takes a shuddering breath. “That’s okay. It was bad things.” He straightens up, looking at James once more. “Why did you do it?” Tears roll down his cheeks. 

 

James separates himself from any shame towards these displays of emotion. He stares at Steve a second. “I could. There was nothing to do. I don’t - I’m supposed to. I - can. I’m allowed to.”

 

“Did you want to? Die, I mean.”

 

He blinks. The stone sinks deeper, the ripples spreading out. “I could.” He repeats it like it’s supposed to mean something. 

 

“Christ.”

 

James looks at his bandages. He feels tired, confirming the blood loss. He wonders how long he was bleeding out. 

 

“Do you want to now?” Steve frowns, speaks again before James can even try to gather his thoughts. “Do you - is it something you’re supposed to do? Still?”

 

That doesn’t make James relax, but at least he’s classifying his injuries as something other than what he wanted. He thinks he wanted to, but he doesn’t really know. “I don’t know.” It’s a bad answer. He’s supposed to know things. Always. But he’s too tired and maybe he’s a little afraid, so the truth comes out. It’s better than just silence. 

 

Steve nods. “That’s okay, I think.” James isn’t sure about that, but he doesn’t say anything. “I just. Don’t want to lose you again. I know it’s selfish and it’s stupid, because you’re you and I don’t have any power over you, but it’s true.” He wipes at the tears on his face. James looks away. “Was it because of the arm thing? Tony said you - had a flashback, I think.”

 

Of course they talk about him behind his back. 

 

Steve looks apologetic. “We should have tried to be better. I’m sorry. This doesn’t change - we’re still going to get you a new arm.”

 

James stares at the ceiling. He doesn’t know things, and he doesn’t know how to deal with things anymore. There are emotions creeping into his mind, and it makes everything so much harder. He tries his best never to show them, but they’re present now, and it makes him, well, afraid for the future. “Okay,” he says softly. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

Natasha looks tired. “This was a distinct possibility,” she tells Sam. “Clint or I should have brought it up.” None of her life is private. It’s never been private. And yet, somehow she selfishly wanted to keep this close to her chest. And then Clint, because he’s too good of a guy for the work he does, honored her privacy. “I honestly don’t know how to describe it. It’s probably too big of a change. Even if he didn’t have a mission from HYDRA, he was still being propelled along by what he was doing.”

 

“And so once that was over you think he felt cut loose, adrift?”

 

She nods. “Absolutely. If he thinks that the power structure here is the same as it was with HYDRA, we’re not doing what he expects. We haven’t given him things to do, and he’s deferring to us, so he’s not creating larger tasks for himself.” She sighs, running a hand through her hair. “I think I’d hoped that doing a mission on his own would help.”

 

“We’ve all made mistakes working with him. And that doesn’t excuse us,” he says, before she can object, “it doesn’t excuse us at all. We need to do better. We need to stop hoping he’ll fix himself with his own free will, because he’s just not there yet. And you need to be more truthful about the process. I know it’s not the same situation, but you’re the only one with experience that even sort of matches what he’s going through.” He also knows that something like this is deeply personal, but James could have died. He’s going to keep that man alive any way he can. And maybe now Sam understands how Steve felt while they were looking for James. 

 

“I know. It was naive of me to expect that he would be different.”

 

“That’s alright. I need your help with this, but I don’t expect you to share anything that isn’t immediately relevant. We need to pick that psychologist for him. We can do that first, or you can tell me what we need to know first.”

 

Natasha shrugs. “I don’t really care. Picking a doctor will probably take less time, so let’s do that first. That way any emotions won’t get in the way of that, either.” Sam wonders who she’s talking about with that statement. 

 


 

 

“Usually people don’t get cleared for surgery if there’s a risk that they won’t be stable enough after.” He does have to bring this up, in the interest of everyone being as transparent as possible. 

 

“But you know that this isn’t a normal situation. You saw Tony’s scans. You’ve read his files. So have I. If anything is going to get him out of the ‘pain is only pain’ mentality, it’s going to be taking the arm off. Because that’s where he is right now - repeating what they taught him to deal with all the uncertainty. 'It hurts now, but pain is only pain. Don’t scream.' That sort of thing. He doesn’t know what’s good for him right now. He will probably try again, if we don’t start making things happen. Him being resentful is better than him being aimless. We know how to take him down if we have to.”

 

Sam sighs. “I know. It just doesn’t feel ethical.”

 

“None of this is ethical. Welcome to this life, Sam. If you want him to stay alive, we’re taking the arm off. With or without you. You can step back if you need to, but it’s going to happen. You’ve been valuable to this effort, but you’ve never dealt with what they put in your mind. Steve has the emotions, you have the counseling, and I have the hard fucking choices. So I’m making one. We’re going ahead. If you want to ask him - tell him what’s happening, we can do that, but we’re moving forward with this.”

Chapter Text

James is up and about again, though the cameras in his room are activated for emergency purposes now. Not that they weren’t before, but now they’re accessible. He was told this, accepting the surveillance with a nod and a blank expression. Natasha told him they didn’t touch his things, and that seemed to settle him a little bit more.  

 

But anyway, they know that he’s in his room, and so the three of them - Sam, Clint, and Natasha - troop up there to knock on his door. 

 

James opens it quickly, and only Natasha seems to have anticipated the speed at which he reached the door. He may not have the resources they do, but he’s got what HYDRA gave him - and they were always very thorough. 

 

“We’d like to talk to you,” Sam says. 

 

James looks at him. There’s not much in his gaze. “Okay.”

 

“Let’s find somewhere we can sit. That sound all right?”

 

James nods. 

 


 

 

“We’ve fucked this up for you. We haven’t gotten you what you need and that they promised you when they picked you up.”

 

James doesn’t really react to what Clint says. Sam thinks that he might be closer to the wounded animal they encountered in Steve’s old apartment than the more confident man they saw when he surrendered himself. He thinks that maybe he’s been that way for a while.

 

“We need to include you in things,” Sam says. James’ gaze flickers over to him. “Things need to happen as a group.”

 

“Steve Rogers is not here,” James says. 

 

Neither is Tony, but Sam’s pretty sure they can put that oversight under the whole ‘Steve and James Have a Thing’ heading and move on. He shakes his head. “No he’s not. In the future, he can be.”

 

James nods. “Okay.”

 

“We’re here to tell you things, not decide them, this time,” Natasha says, brutally efficient. “When we feel that you can make decisions that don’t include killing yourself, you can help us make them. So we’re telling you two things - first, you’re going to see a psychologist and secondly, you’re getting a new arm. Sound okay?”

 

James snaps something in Russian at her.

 

Natasha’s clearly ready for that, as what sounds like a whole speech comes pouring out of her. 

 

James seems to accept the argument. “I’ll do both of those. If,” and this he seems to gain confidence for, chin raised, “you tell me what will happen during the arm surgery.”

 

At least James has gotten down what informed consent is. That’s a step in the right direction. Sam nods. “Of course. When everything is ready, we’ll go over the procedure with you.”

 

“And the psychologist?” Even if James seems to be challenging them now, interest is a good thing.

 

“You both do and don’t know what HYDRA did to you,” Natasha points out. “It hurts. You tried to kill yourself. You may not understand it, but that was HYDRA, in its own way. Sam could explain it in a nicer tone, but this is so you can get HYDRA out of your head.”

 

“What will you put in?”

 

“We don’t put things in people’s heads,” Clint says. “That’s kinda the whole thing.”

 

“You are the same. It is always the same.”

 

Sam hopes this doesn’t go pear shaped. Natasha said that aggression was better than acceptance, and he agrees, because it means that James is reacting as a person, but he doesn’t want this to turn into a physical fight. 

 

“They would have punished you for your attempt,” Natasha says. “Am I not right?”

 

James hisses at her, eyes narrowed, but he nods eventually. 

 

“Exactly. Have we violated your privacy?”

 

Sam would say yes, but James seems to think that over.

 

“No.”

 

“Natasha - we kind of have, with the cameras, and -”

 

She glares at him. “That’s not his privacy. He knows what his privacy is.”

 

Clint steps in.

 

“Will this help? We’re the Avengers, not SHIELD. And the Avengers is kinda just a bunch of assholes. You saw what Steve did to SHIELD, right? He’s not gonna be on board with putting anything into your head that you don’t want.”

 

Sam’s got to agree with that point. 

 

“Understood.” Sam’s not sure that James really does, but he’s calmed down at least. 

 

“Let’s leave it there,” Sam says, thinking that they all really need a fucking break. “We’ll let you know when we get together as a group and we’ll let you know when we have an update on the arm.”

Chapter Text

Tony’s been in his lab through a lot. Okay, he’s come out once or twice, given some dragging, but the rest of the time he’s been firmly barricaded in his workspace. It’s fine that he’s building James Barnes an arm. That’s fine. He can get over that. He’s made some sort of peace with that. But running into the guy, he sees that security footage again and again and again. 

 

Now Tony is smart - and he’s got the PhD’s to prove it. But nothing finds its way around smart like the death of parents. He never got along with his father, but his mother? She was the one good thing about growing up. And the man who took her away is in his own fucking home. He reminds himself about the brainwashing a lot. Reminds himself of how ready James was to take any punishment over what he’d done. It’s not perfect and it will never make him get over it, but he thinks maybe one day he could have a conversation with the guy over something random. Something that isn’t dealing with the deathtrap that the Soviets made for him. 

 

Until then, Tony’s gonna work on that arm. 

 

He’s gonna make it work and work well, because the guy makes Steve sad and that’s not allowed. Okay, he doesn’t always get along with Steve, but that’s probably because Steve’s a stubborn asshole when he’s not presenting some sort of professional mask to the public. Tony can live with that. He’s kind of an asshole himself, to be honest. Maybe he should implement a plan to try and be less of an asshole to Steve about things, but in terms of his ‘be a better guy’ plan, there’s a few more pressing concerns. Maybe he’ll get there. And besides, he’s not being a dick now, not when all the good Captain can do is mope and look stricken. 

 

Tony had thought that maybe bringing in Bucky would make him smile more, but it seems like he’s even more ragged than before. Maybe Steve hasn’t recovered from running around the world trying to find his boyfriend. 

 

Oh yeah. About that thing. He’s not gonna ask, but Tony’s got a question or two. Sure, he’d sacrifice a whole lot for Rhodey, but you don’t get tossed in a river by your best friend and immediately go on a whole medieval-romance-esque quest to find him. He doesn’t remember dear old dad saying anything about it, but he’s pretty sure dear old dad wouldn’t have wanted to carry on that particular trait on Captain America’s. Actually - not even pretty sure - he’s really fucking certain that Howard was not on board that train. Steve’s never said anything about it, and so Tony’s kept any and all teasing to normal levels of dickishness. 

 

But anyway, back to the arm. Tony wonders if once he gets this one to work, whether he ought to make this part of his ‘be a better guy’ plan. Prosthetics are kind of a big deal. He’ll have to look into that. Maybe Sam would know, actually. Or know a guy. He’ll look into that. Maybe call Pepper. But first. Arm. He needs a good, reliable model. One color, no star. He’ll start with black for now, but he thinks that it could probably be painted. That’s a consideration for down the line, though.

Chapter Text

They told him he had to, so James goes to therapy. It’s just an initial appointment, he learns, so nothing much happens. At least that’s how he sees it. Things are explained to him, and she seems reasonable. She doesn’t use any trigger words on him, which is about his baseline for things going well. She tells him that he’s in charge, that she can’t make him do things he doesn’t want to. 

 

James doubts that. He doesn’t want to be there. He doesn’t like the fact that she’s a stranger and he’s supposed to talk to her. He finds he’s flickering back and forth between acceptance and resentment at everything that’s happened to him. She says to call if he ever feels like he’s in crisis. He won’t, but he takes her card anyway. 

 


 

 

James returns to his room and sits on the bed. Fuck is really the only thought that’s clear in his mind at the moment. Maybe that’s proof that he’s slowly coming back into himself. Whoever himself is. But he was someone when he got to Kazakhstan, and that someone disappeared the moment he surrendered. Maybe he wants that person back. 

 

He gets up, crossing the room to get to his nest. He pulls out his journal from the bag. He’d put it there before he tried to kill himself, in the hopes that it would be harder to find. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do when he runs out of pages. It scares him a little. Maybe he could talk to Steve. Steve Rogers said he would do anything for Bucky, and that is maybe sort of James, so it might work out. 

 

He writes up his day, the nightmare he had, about how his wounds are almost healed. It’s all in English when he looks it over afterward, and he thinks that’s good. He writes that down. It’s good to keep his head in order. He’s still fucking….wound up about the arm thing. The arm isn’t supposed to come off, but now they’ve told him that it can. They showed him papers, photos, everything, when he didn’t understand. He still isn’t sure it’s true, but he wrote it down in his journal and it’s still there, so he didn’t dream it. 

 


 

They asked him about taking off the arm until the surgery. Natalia actually gave him a choice on it. He said no. He needs it. He knows what he can do without it, but it’s not supposed to come off. He doesn’t want to give it up. They said it was fine, that he could keep his arm for now, but she said that she’d be watching him. 

 

And she is. It’s not that she’s following him, not really. The others don’t notice, he thinks. But she’s always there, listening. And Clint too. Clint is interesting. He might like Clint, even if he’s the epitome of what the Russians complained about when they talked about Americans. Maybe that’s part of the reason why. James doesn’t talk much, but that doesn’t seem to stop Clint, when he’s in the right mood. Tony and Steve and Sam seem to think that Clint is harmless, and sure he can be clumsy, but he is close with Natalia, and she would not let anyone who was useless near her. She has not grown so soft as that. 

 

James does not intend to spend more time with people. It feels accidental most of the time. Perhaps it is that he does not mind as much as he used to. He’s not sure what to think of that. Perhaps he has been domesticated finally. Maybe he is seeking out a reprieve from the fear and uncertainty of the removal of his arm.

Chapter Text

The team and James get hauled into a meeting with Tony. At least it’s at a reasonable hour. At least Tony was good enough to provide food. Sam watches James watch everyone take things before he makes a move for any of it. Makes sense. He wonders if James is eating enough and then immediately wonders if he’s becoming his mother, trying to feed anyone who even looks like they might have skipped a meal once in their life. But still, he’s concerned about the guy. James catches him staring and looks at him blankly, though he leans in towards his food as if he might want to protect it but isn’t sure whether or not he can. Sam shrugs and looks away. 

 

“Everyone ready?” Tony doesn’t wait for a response. “All right, here’s the news. The arm is as good as I’m gonna get it in this amount of time. And by that I mean it’s pretty fucking great. I’m me, after all. But there’s probably going to be some calibration necessary once it’s on. The team of surgeons we all picked out are as ready are they’re gonna get in this amount of time.”

 

Sam can see James frowning, even if it’s very slight. Maybe it’s the mention of the surgeons that’s getting to him. James didn’t get a say on the medical team. 

 

“I’ll be hosting the surgery in one of my hospital wings.” Sam didn’t know that Tony owned those, but he guesses that when you’ve got Tony’s kinda money, you’ve got to do something with it. “And by my, I mean it used to be a SHIELD facility that I bought, stripped, and rebuilt. Thinking ahead for the Avengers, but this can be a test case.” Well that explains that. “It’s as private a place as I can make it, since we’re still trying to keep Terminator over here off the radar of every single government in the world.” Yeah, that’s definitely a problem they’re going to have to deal with eventually. “I’ll be getting the surgery team there - we’ve already talked equipment and I’ve gotten all that to their standards, and definitely beyond.” Sam gets why Steve doesn’t always get along with Tony. He’s good at this sort of thing, knows it, and isn’t shy about saying it. It’s the last part that seems to grate. 

 

James looks a little blank and Sam thinks that now’s the time that he or someone else needs to start asking questions. Luckily Natasha’s on that. 

 

“Could you detail the equipment involved? As well as the invasiveness of the surgery and methods?”

 

Tony nods. “Yeah, sure. I mean, I’m not a medical doctor, but the equipment is mostly a table that can support James lying on his stomach. You know the ones with the things for your face?”

 

“Show us,” she says, ice cold. Sam glances over at James, who is still very very blank. 

 

Tony brings up a picture. “No restraints,” he says, seeming to have gotten why Natasha was asking. “No wires on this either. That was the main piece of equipment. I’ve got JARVIS in the building for scanning purposes so that we can work around all the metal in his body.”

“That’s acceptable.”

 

“Will I be awake?” James says it very quietly, but he says it during a pause. Meant to be heard, but easily ignored. 

 

“No. Absolutely not. Not unless you would like it.” Sam thinks back to the papers they read on what HYDRA did, and from Steve’s face, it seems likely that he is too. “They’ve taken some of Cap’s records as well as observations from when we tranq’d you and have come up with a way to keep you under without fucking up your brain so much.”

 

James’ face is unreadable at Tony’s answer. “What will they do?”

 

Sam decides to add a little bit more to what Tony just said. “James, if you change your mind about the anesthetic, you can tell us on the day, too.”

 

James shakes his head. “If you won’t restrain me, it will be better to knock me out.” 

 

Sam’s not sure he likes that answer. “They can’t restrain your metal arm other than switching it off, since they have to remove it. It would be cruel and potentially dangerous to restrain you during this anyway.”

 

“Okay.” James seems done with that thread of inquiry. “What will they do?”

 

“I’ll be there in the room, observing,” Tony says, “since I made the new arm. What they’re going to do is switch off your arm, remove it and attach the new one. During that they’re going to stabilize the anchor points in your shoulder and spine. They can’t take them out yet, since we’d all need more time to fix your shoulder to fit an entirely new system in. However, they’re going to fix some of the tension issues, which should also get better because your new arm’s a lot closer to the weight of a human arm.”

 

“You’ll watch?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I’ll do the surgery. All of it. Whatever you want. As long as you’re there.” 

 

It’s not worth pointing out that doing most of this was never really  James’ choice, since they ganged up on him over this, but it’s very good that he’s taking it as one. The fact that he wants Tony there is definitely him setting up a boundary and that’s a huge fucking step. 

 

“I won’t leave the room while you’re out,” Tony promises. “We can’t have other people in there, even in the control room, but I don’t think they’ll fuss too much about the recovery room for when you wake up. So if you want anyone there after, you don’t have to wake up all by yourself.”

 

James shrugs. “You are capable of restraining me. And you have - you have -” he trails off with a frown. “Your interests are -” Sam’s a little bit worried about what James is trying to get out - and the fact that he can’t say it. “You would stop them because you don’t believe in medical torture.” There’s something unsaid in that, and Sam wonders if James wants Tony there because he isn’t blinded the way Steve is - and maybe the way Sam is too at this point. “You would deal with your problems yourself.”

 

Tony doesn’t seem to know what to do with that any more than Sam does. Natasha is making some sort of face that Sam doesn’t even know how to start to read. Clint is frowning, like he’s trying to parse through the conversation again. 

 

Tony speaks, saving them all from their individual headaches. “You’re right. If for whatever reason, one of the surgeons turns out to be a plant, I’ll get you out of there. I’ll have the suit if anything goes wrong. That make you feel better?”

 

James nods. “It is a good plan.” He sounds a little out of it, but Sam’s going to let that be okay. He just asked for something - in a bit of a roundabout way but it happened all the same. He’d understand if that was a lot to do. 

 

They wrap up the meeting and scatter to the four winds. Sam’s kind of concerned about James, and the way Steve looks, he is too. It’s a hard line to walk - intervene or not, especially when there’s been a lot of information handed down to James over something he doesn’t have a ton of control over. JARVIS is watching, and Sam tells Steve he should try and get James to have dinner with them. That seems like a decent compromise.

Chapter Text

James is doing just fucking fine, thank you for asking. He feels tense. 

 

He doesn’t know whether he’d prefer to be awake for the procedure or not. He remembers - he remembers a lot. That’s what his nightmares are about. He doesn’t know everything they did to him, but ever since his arm came up, that’s what’s been haunting his mind. James, according to things he’s learned should probably either try and confront that head-on or talk to someone. He decides otherwise. 

 


 

It isn’t hard to find Clint when he’s off-duty (though really, James could find anyone even if they were trying to hide, so that’s not a helpful metric), though the man almost knocks over a mug when he turns around to see James there.

 

“What did you offer Natalia to bring her in?” 

 

Clint looks at him for a moment, considering. “I should probably just go ahead and tell you the whole story.”

 

James nods at him.

 

“I’m gonna give it to ya quick - fuck, no, that sounds wrong. I’m gonna tell you the short version without all the weird details, ‘cause I think that’s what you’re after anyway.” 

 

Clint might be nervous about this. James understands. He’s nervous too, though that’s dissipating, since Clint didn’t punish him for asking a question. 

 

“So, it was a while ago, when I was pretty young. Wasn’t my first time out, so I got to make my own decisions and all that. HQ just told me and my handler that there was some KGB in the city and to keep an eye on that. Well, the KGB found me, and it was Natasha. Didn’t know it then, that she wasn’t just KGB, but I was too busy trying not to get garotted to try and ask. Anyway, I get her pretty good and she’s just laying there, breathing, like she’s gonna try and get up again and I’m like, ‘well shit, this might be more than I was thinking,’ so I stick around, ‘cause I’m pretty sure as soon as I leave, I’m gonna have a tail. And I was looking at her and she was looking at me, and I figured that she looked kinda like she might be my age, which sets off some fucking alarm bells ‘cause, like, KGB and that’s never good.”

 

James isn’t sure that Clint’s abilities lie in storytelling, but he’s pretty sure the man’s telling the truth. 

 

Clint keeps going. “So I look at her and really my next thought after that is, ‘well, maybe she’d be a good agent.’ Then she kicked me in the face and I had to try not to die again. That time she stabbed me and ‘cause I’m an idiot, I used that opportunity to tell her if she ever wanted to use her skills better, we’d take her. She didn’t say anything, but she didn’t kill me. So she listened. My handler got me patched up and I told him what I’d said. He thought it was a gamble, but he’d let me try, because he believes in second chances or whatever. And I got one, too. It was just chance that we both got thrown into some behind-the-scenes shit that people way up above us wanted to get done. It wasn’t going well for her, it seemed like and so when I saw her again, we were sheltering from gunfire and she wasn’t killing me, so I asked her about it. She asked me what the catch was, I guess, what we wanted from her. And I was truthful about it - we wanted her to defect so we could use her. But I told her that she’d also have a different kind of freedom there. Like, she’d get told what was happening on missions and that she could live on her own. Have free time.”

 

Huh. James doesn’t know what to make of that. 

 

“So she said yes. I mean, it took a little bit more than that, but that’s the answer to your question. That’s what I told her. Choice, minimal spying on you, free time.”

 

Clint shrugs. 

 

“She kicked and screamed a little  and I know I’m making it sound simple, but I think it was really right place-right time just then. She kicked up a fuss at our safehouse, but with hindsight, it was the last time that she had a clear escape route and she wanted to see what we’d do to her. Smart. Why do you call her Natalia?”

James figures he probably owes Clint that one. It’s an answer he can give, too. 

 

“I don’t know, not fully. She said her name, back in the desert, but I knew that her name was Natalia. And I think that I knew her. I think I trained her. There were children once. When I was with the Russians. When they let me speak. They wiped me less and they used me for training, for a while. I was punished in the end. But she was there. And she was Natalia. So she is Natalia now, sometimes. My brain doesn’t know always.”

 

Clint nods, seeming like he’s understood in some way. 

 

“They fucked her up good; must have been your kinda training they did before she got sent out. It’s personal to her, but you gotta know that she didn’t do so great free of them either, at first. She got sent to some de-prog site and they mishandled her completely. ‘Cause no one knows about your deep brainwashing shit, you know? She wasn’t just KGB and we didn’t know until she told us. Ended up calling me in, ‘cause my handler said that putting me in charge might help. And I don’t think I saved her. I don’t fucking save people, you know? I just think that I was familiar and, well, maybe the fact that I’m not all buttoned up in a suit asking her what she thinks about the Decadent West or whatever, maybe it helped. It’s the humanity, I guess. And I don’t know, support or something.”

Clint shrugs, looking out of his element. 

 

“I guess I’m trying to say is that if you find something familiar here, it’ll help. Think about what we promised, and if no one else, I’m gonna make sure they deliver. And so is Natasha. And Steve. And Sam. Even Tony, I think. You got people now. I can’t change what they did to you all in ten minutes, but you gotta know that we think you’re a person, not an asset. And that’s part of why we fucked up, probably, ‘cause of what you expected. Of course you’re gonna go off the deep end if we don’t give you anything to do, ‘cause how else are you gonna prove you’re worth the effort? And if we don’t have expectations of you, then you’re all alone. Healing’s kinda a big concept up in the sky. So think about that arm we’re gonna get you. That’s real. You’re gonna have a new arm without the red star, ‘cause you asked for no red star. That’s the familiar thing for now. You’re working on it.”

 

James nods. “Thank you for your answers. I will remember.”

 

Clint grins at him. “No problem. Happy to answer questions. Whenever. You can ask.”

 

“You aren’t a threat,” James tells him, because he’s trying to do his best. “I will ask you.” Maybe Clint’s right about the humanity.

Chapter Text

James got knocked out with elephant level anesthetics and wheeled back about ten minutes ago, but it really looks like Steve’s going to be pacing this entire time. Sam guesses that super strength’ll let him do it. He’s made the smart choice and started out sitting - if he’s gotta pace later, then he’ll have the strength for it. 

 

His prediction is proven wrong when Steve suddenly stops, turning to face Sam where he’s still sitting like a normal concerned person. 

 

“Do you think he’ll be alright?”

 

“They’ve got him highly monitored. They’re knocking him out based on your samples and his, and hopefully we’ve learned from our mistakes there. I think whatever’s gonna happen is gonna be alright.”

 

“Christ. I wonder if this is how he felt all those times I got so sick everyone thought I was gonna die.” Steve frowns, a concerned look on his face, but he smooths it away soon enough. “I got last rites so many times I’m pretty sure I’m set forever.”

 

Sam has to smile at that, because it’s kinda fucking funny, and anything’ll make sitting here better. “It might be. But it’s the future now, he’s in good hands.”

 

That seems almost to actually help Steve. “You’re right. This place is...it’s fuckin’ something else.” 

 

To be fair, this is something that Tony’s bankrolling, so Sam’s pretty fucking impressed as well by the facility and everything that’s gone into it. He’s also pleasantly impressed by how much Tony’s been willing to do, given everything. The guy really seems to have his heart in the right place, most of the time. That’s not to say he’s easy to deal with always, but he really does try. 

 

But anyway. Steve plops himself down onto the chair next to Sam’s with a bit of a sigh. “If you want, I can probably text Nat for food.” Steve’s probably looking for an excuse to stay here and honestly, Sam gets that.

 

“Yeah, you do that. Tell her something reasonable and not weird. I feel like she needs that reminder sometimes.” He’s seen her make combinations of things that should never have been combined and Sam really just wants something easy. 

 

“I’ll tell her to get Clint’s opinion -”

 

“Do you want me to die? I’m pretty sure I saw that man put hot sauce on a peanut butter sandwich by accident. And then realize what he did and still eat it.” Yeah, Sam’s slightly scarred by that one. That’s just not how you do things. The Avengers, they’re just like us - except they all eat really weird shit. And yeah, Sam’s eaten some weird shit too, but that’s just how Riley’s dares worked. 

 

“He’ll probably just say pizza, you wuss,” Steve replies, smiling down at his phone. It buzzes soon after. “She says she’ll get us something decent.”

 

“I’ll hope for the best, then.”

 

Natasha delivers and it is something entirely reasonable, which Sam is thankful for. Honestly, she probably understands the two of them enough to know that they’re not going to want a wild experience while waiting for James to get through his surgery. 

 

“How are you two holding up?” she asks easily, once Steve’s started on destroying the food set in front of him. 

 

Sam shrugs. “Decent. It’s gonna be a long surgery, so I think we’ll probably be more than a little sick of these fucking chairs by the end, but hopefully that’ll be all.” If all goes well. Sam doesn’t want to jinx it. “Tony sprang so much money for the rest of this, but apparently chairs were a step too far.”

 

“He’s got to draw the line somewhere,” she replies, with a hint of a smile. “If you don’t have shitty plastic chairs, you lose out on the experience.” She takes a seat on one of them, next to Sam. 

 

“You want any?” he asks, offering up a container he hasn’t opened yet. 

 

“No, I got this for you two, because Steve -” the man in question looks up for a moment - “isn’t going to budge and he’s got that metabolism. You,” she continues, poking Sam’s shoulder, “won’t be going anywhere either because he’s not and you’re a normal person. So you both need food before you pass out for those reasons.”

 

She’s kinda got him there.

 

He eats and Natasha watches the hallway.

 

“And how’re you doing?” he asks, once he’s eaten enough to not be hungry anymore. 

 

She gives him a look. It’s searching. “I’m fine,” she tells him. “All those hearings are winding down, so I’ll finally be able to get back to doing something interesting. They wouldn’t dare put me in prison,” she tells him with a jagged smile. “And they won’t be so stupid as to try.” But she sighs. “I’m burned in so many places, though, so it’s looking more and more like I’ll have to make some changes in my work life. But, if nothing else, I’m very adaptable.” 

 

Steve looks over, apparently having finished already. “There’s the Avengers, even if SHIELD’s whatever the fuck it’s become.”

 

She nods. “I know. And there will be less reason for me to be away from that team now, I think, but I’m not quite adjusted to being me in that type of spotlight.”

 

“Fair enough.” He smiles at her. “What I said in the car still stands. I don’t know where I’m gonna be living, but you’re always welcome. As a friend. No business.”

 

She smiles at him, and Sam’s pretty sure that’s genuine. “Thanks, Steve. I’ll keep it in mind.”

 

Natasha leaves eventually, leaving the two of them alone until they’re told that James is stable enough that they can clean up and wait till he wakes up.

Chapter Text

James remembers counting back from ten and seeing the lights go funny and then nothing. But now he’s here. He’s in a bed. He remembers who he is. That’s significant. He’s James and he’s waking up. From surgery. Right, his arm. He’s shaking a little. He mumbles something about that, maybe a question. A nurse - he thinks its a nurse - says it’s the anesthetic wearing off. He asks again and a new voice - Steve Rogers? - tells him that it’s the anesthetic wearing off. Right. Yes. He’s not panicking about it. 

 

“Don’t try to move too much,” Steve tells him. “Even with your healing factor you’re going to be in bed for a little while. They had to cut into your back and your shoulder.”

 

“That’s why it hurts,” he mumbles. Fuck. He’s not supposed to say that. “Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. It’s fine. I’m fine. It’s not -”

 

Sam? he thinks, cuts through all that. “It’s okay for it to hurt and for you to tell us, James.”

 

“Yeah,” Steve chimes in. “It’d make a fucking change…” He trails off and James thinks that maybe Steve was thinking of the old version of him. “You should tell people when you’re in pain. That way we can deal with it.”

 

“Okay.” It’s a simple reply. They want it from him. He still feels like he’ll be a burden, which isn’t the right feeling to have. He is simply not supposed to complain. There’s not supposed to be things behind it. He frowns. “I’m feeling feelings,” he tells the room at large.

 

“It’s probably the drugs. Or maybe something in your brain got knocked loose.”

 

“Knock your head loose,” James says with absolutely no venom behind it. He hears Steve snort. He doesn’t move to see it, because they told him not to move too much and he believes it. 

 

“Have they put the new arm on yet?” he asks, because something isn’t quite right.

 

Steve comes to stand in a better line of sight. “It’s on you. There’s no power to it yet, so you won’t get touch yet or be able to move it - they wanted the stitches to pop out first.”

 

James frowns. Steve gets on a worried face. “But it doesn’t - hang.”

 

“What?”

 

“I could feel it lying down. Is it on there? Can I turn my head?” He’s feeling panic rise, even if he thinks that Steve is probably telling the truth. 

 

Steve shrugs, looking over at what’s probably Sam. “Do you think that’s all right?”

 

“I’m not the doctor, man.” Sam joins Steve in James’ line of sight. “But I think if you did it real slow and careful, it’d probably be okay. You should look. It’s there.”

 

James bites his lip and then very carefully, not moving more than he needs to, looks over to his side. 

 

The arm is...there. It lays on the bed, clearly arranged as he was transferred to this this position. “What did Stark make it out of?” Is it really there? Or is he hallucinating? What drugs did they give him? 

 

“I think in the briefing meeting he said it was some sort of weird alloy. Really lightweight.”

 

That helps. His eyes flick to the two of them, as he brings his head back into its original position. “Can you -” he doesn’t know if he can ask for this - “touch it? Just - I don’t know if it’s the drugs or if it’s real.” He shouldn’t be telling the truth like this, but it’s out of him. 

 

Steve steps over to the side and James turns slightly once more. He watches as Steve places his hand on the wrist of the new prosthetic. “It’s there.”

 

He turns back. “Okay. Okay.” It’s really there. He’s really got an arm. And it doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt. He knows that the incisions on his shoulder and his back hurt, but he expected that. 

 

“It doesn’t hang.” Both Steve and Sam look at him. “It doesn’t hang.” They don’t understand, but he’s crying anyway. He shouldn’t be crying, but the anesthetic is wearing off and he’s weak and he didn’t know relief like this existed. It takes a moment, but he gets it under control, sniffing a little. 

 

Steve smiles at him and it’s not a smile of pity at all. “I’m glad it feels good. I’m glad it’s better. I’m so happy that it went okay.”

 

James gives him what might be a weak smile. “Yeah, I guess.” He’s feeling quiet at the moment. Wants his notebook. 

 

Maybe Steve picks up on that somehow. “We’ll let you rest. In a few days, Tony’ll get the arm working right. There’s anything I can get from your room, I can do that. You can ask. I won’t pry or anything.”

 

“I’m okay,” James says. He can’t show anyone the journals yet. 

 

“Is it okay if we come back tomorrow?” Steve asks. 

 

James wants that more than anything. “Yes.”

 

“We’ll see you tomorrow then,” Sam says with a soft smile. “Get some rest.”

Chapter Text

Sam and Steve do visit for the days that James is given to recover. He seems almost happy, instead of just fine. That’s good. It’s really good, actually. It may or may not last, because clearly there’s still a lot going on in his head, but they all need those kinds of victories. 

 

“Today’s the day,” Sam says, grinning at James, who is looking a little bit more nervous. “Get ready for Tony’s ego and for that thing to get moving.”

 

“He said it won’t hurt to turn on.” 

 

James clearly jumped from Point A to Point F for Freak Out without giving any indication of what came between, which seems to be something that happens a lot when he’s stressed or not thinking completely about what he’s saying. Steve said it’s new, so it’s probably all part of his brain healing. 

 

“I don’t get the mechanical explanation of it, but from the dumbed down version he gave, the arm’s got some sort of power source in it that isn’t really electricity, so all that metal won’t be conducting anything it shouldn’t be.”

 

“He said that,” James says, seeming like he’s somewhere else. “I would understand if it did hurt, even if he doesn’t believe in what HYDRA did.”

 

“We’re both gonna be here as he does it, if you’re okay with that. And we’ll both stop him if he tries hurting you.” Sam doesn’t know exactly when he got this protective - well, okay maybe it was around the time he had to read about the way James was tortured - but he’s worryingly close to Steve levels of being ready to rip heads off. 

 

“Okay. That’s fine.” Sam isn’t quite sure what James is agreeing to, but he seems a little less frowny, so he’ll take it. 

 

Tony takes it upon himself to bustle into the room, carrying a very brightly colored bag that looks like it’d normally be much more at home in a woman’s purse. It clanks, though, so Sam assumes it’s got tools in it. 

 

Tony shakes the bag at both him and Steve, who looks like he’s about to ask something. “Pepper had something she got free samples in and I figured the less torture dungeon-y this looks, the better. I can carry my screwdrivers in style and I gotta say, the looks I’ve been getting are hilarious.

 

Steve smiles a little bit at that, cautious almost. 

 

“You ready, big guy?” Tony’s moved on already. James nods. 

 

“Alright. I’m gonna take this slow and you’re gonna tell me if it feels like your flesh is tearing, because that’s not supposed to happen here. Got it?”

 

James nods again. “Yes.”

 

Tony walks through the whole process, explaining the arm and making sure that James understands what it all does, what he can do easily for himself and what changes they made to the metal already in the body. “This is just temporary - at some point we need to haul out all that shit in you and get you better anchor points, but that’s going to take time to develop.”

 

He taps something. “Should be on now. Try making a fist.”

 

James does, looking a little awestruck at the gesture. “It doesn’t hurt,” he says softly.

 

“Good. Then it’s working right.”

 

Tony walks him through a few more exercises before he stands up. He takes out a set of screwdrivers, rubberbanded together and sets it on the table by James. 

 

“These are yours. If you’ve got questions you can ask, but all the small stuff should be doable. The doctors want me to tell you that you can do normal shit with that arm but no getting in fights, no tearing up freeways, and certainly no ripping of steering wheels for at least a month, healing or no. Got it?”

 

James nods and he’s almost smiling. “Understood. Thank you.”

 

“You got it, buddy. Anything to prove I’m better than fucking HYDRA.”

 

Tony goes on his merry way and Sam and Steve are left with James in the recovery room. 

 

“You can go home tomorrow, I think.” Steve says. 

 

James nods. He’s only paying half attention, carefully moving his new arm with a shadow of a smile on his face. “Understood.” He’s still whispery, but it doesn’t seem like anything bad is about to happen. He looks at the two of them. “It works,” he says, awe in his tone.

Chapter Text

Bucky wakes up one morning with all his memories intact. This had been a possibility floated by someone, who he ironically cannot remember. That can be blamed on him not being entirely awake yet. But he remembers every goddamn thing. It’s all there. Well - he can’t remember the days he spent in cryo when he tries to do that - but that’s hardly a surprise. He remembers the killings, the pain. He remembers Steve. 

 

And then he feels the guilt. For everything he’s done - even for pushing one of his sisters, way back in the twenties. And then more recently for - well, for making Steve cry. Trying to die is fuzzy in a way. He feels worse about making Steve cry than for hurting himself. Maybe getting his memories back hasn’t fixed absolutely everything. He should have died. He doesn’t deserve this treatment, doesn’t deserve to be saved. 

 

He needs to talk to someone. Tell someone. He thinks he’s supposed to do this if something big comes up.

 

He calls to the ceiling - “JARVIS?”

 

“Yes, James?”

 

“Is Sam here?”

“Yes, sir, he is. Currently in the kitchen.”

 

“Can you send him here?”

 

“Right away.”

 


 

 

Sam walks in, his expression schooled as perfectly as it can be. 

 

James goes right in for it. “I remember it all,” he says.

 

“That’s really good!” Sam looks actually, genuinely fucking happy about it. “Can I sit on the bed?” At James’ nod, he sits, leaving enough space between them that James doesn’t feel the need to stand. 

 

“I made Steve cry. I shouldn’t have. I don’t want to do that again. I want to fix things - myself.”

 

“Is this you asking for help?” Sam’s quick. 

 

“I think so? You know things about - about this. What am I supposed to do?”

 

“Honestly? You’ve already started.” Sam starts to count off on his fingers. “You came in. That’s a big deal -”

 

James cuts in. “But does that really count? I wasn’t - me - I thought that - things were different in my brain.”

 

“It counts. You could have run off to live in a tent somewhere and you’d have been justified probably, but you made the decision to come back, no matter how you came to it. You’ve already started therapy and you’re telling me you want to do better. Those are some big fucking deals, man.”

 

James isn’t sure about that, but fine, he won’t argue it with Sam. He looks down at the bedspread. “What if they can’t fix me?” he whispers. “What if I’m just bad now? I killed all those people.”

 

“Hey - James.” He looks back up at Sam. “I’m gonna tell you now. The therapy you’re probably gonna be doing is going to be hard. Now that you’re really wanting to try it, Dr. Sampson is probably going to go in on the harder stuff. You’re going to want to stop and you’re going to suffer through it. I know. I’ve done it. It’s going to be bad. And it doesn’t fix you. You’re never going to be who you were before. Expecting that will - it’ll kill you.”

 

He gives a short uptick of his lips at the bed. “Thanks. Sounds great.”

 

“And look at that - sarcasm’s good too.” He can hear Sam shrug. “But back to what you’re worried about. I don’t think you’re bad, and you ripped off my fucking wings, so I don’t know what to tell you, man. I think you’re a decent guy. Steve thinks you hung the fucking moon, and Steve’s pretty clear about not wanting to be friends with bad people. And I get that it’s different from your perspective, but you should know that we’re with you through this. Bad days and good ones and all that shit.”

 

“I don’t deserve this.” It’s hard saying it out loud, making it real outside of his brain. “I don’t deserve this. It’s - I killed them. People keep saying I was tortured, but I was there. I should have fought back. I should have let them kill me, I don’t deserve -” he starts crying, right then and fucking there, because it’s really not his day. 

 

Sam doesn’t shift closer, which is good, because James doesn’t know what he would do. Sam lets him sob like a fucking child.

 

“This is why we’re here,” he says after a moment. “To tell you that you’re safe, and that we think you deserve healing, even if you don’t think you do. You deserve happiness.”

 

James forces the tears down, wipes them off his face. He’s not supposed to scream, to cry. Or maybe he is. He doesn’t know. 

 

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry. For tearing your wings off. And giving you problems. You’re good. Steve is good. He always has been. But me? I think there’s always been something wrong.” 

 

Sam shrugs again. “I accept your apology. I don’t hold it against you at all. Also, if you’re worried you’re bad, I think apologizing for things isn’t the usual MO for bad guys.” Sam shifts. “I’m gonna let you know something about Steve. He’s a good guy, yeah, but no one is perfect. I’m not gonna tell you his shit, but let me tell you, he was ready to tear every government in the world apart if he had to. He’s got his faults, and I think they boil down to being a stubborn bastard, even if he’s got the right intentions. No one’s perfect. All we can do is try. And I think the fact that you’re willing to put the work in means that you’re gonna find out what you think is wrong with you and maybe it won’t be as bad as you think it is.”


James rolls that around his brain. He remembers Steve being like that. Remembers yelling at him. But fondly, he thinks. 

 

“Okay. I want to try. I want to tell Steve, but can you not let him know?”

 

Sam nods. “Of course. Take your time.”

 

James nods. “You’re a lot like him, I think.”

 

“Yeah?” Straight from the horse’s fucking mouth, Sam guesses.

 

“You’re also a fucking idiot.”

 

“Gee, fucking thanks for that, Barnes.”

 

James grins at him, even as his face is still red from crying. “You tried to drop kick me from the air. Sounds like him and sounds like you.”

Chapter Text

Steve’s alone. This is good. He sits, not close, not far. Steve looks up at him, and he feels, well, he might feel fear. He doesn’t know. He still doesn’t have names for the emotions that are working their way up through him. 

 

“I remembered things this morning. It all came back.”

 

Steve stares at him, probably in shock. “You did?” It comes out as barely a whisper. James can’t quite believe it either. He told Sam and he wasn’t sure if maybe it would get snatched away, if he was just pretending to be someone. But he’s got memories, mostly of bad things, so it can’t be too farfetched of a situation.

 

James nods. “Yeah. It all - it’s all there. I remember you. I really remember you. In the 20s and the 30s and the 40s.” That’s part of what scares him, to be honest. 

 

“I’m so glad,” Steve says, still whispery. “I’m so glad, James.”

 

And then there’s that matter to be dealt with. 

 

“I think you can call me Bucky.”

 

Steve’s eyes get big, get watery. He plunges ahead. 

 

“Just you. Just when it’s - us. But you can call me Bucky. I think - I want to fix things. I remember it. I remember a lot - and it’s me. It’s all me. The killing and with - with you. It’s all there.” James doesn’t know how to do this. “I want to be better. I want to be him, because he’s me and I hurt you. I don’t want to hurt you. I know I -” he’s lost what he wanted to say a long time ago - “I don’t deserve - I made you cry.”

 

He’s done it again, because Steve’s shoulders are shaking and there are tears trailing down his face. 

 

He ripples his false fingers against his thigh. His new arm is nothing like the old one.

 

“I can’t be like I was. There was - is - still so much shit in my head. But I want to be happy with you, like we were. You can - you can hug me if you want.” Steve looks a little uncertain. “I want you to,” his voice is a whisper. “I want to be who we were. You don’t have to want it. I’d understand. I’m a monster -” he’s supposed to think of himself differently than that, but he can’t do that and say these things at the same time. The effort’s too much. “I - I-”

 

And then Steve’s moving forward, slowly, telegraphing his movements. “I do want to hug you. Can I?”

 

Bucky just gave him permission, but he nods all the same. “You can. Please?”

 

And then Steve’s wrapping his arms around him. Bucky can feel his tears on his shoulder. It’s a moment before he returns the gesture, but he does. And then he can’t let go, because this is right. This is right, like nothing else has been ever before. And then Bucky’s crying too, sobbing, clinging. Steve holds onto him, face buried more in his neck, his hair than just his shoulder. And that feels right too.

Chapter Text

“I’m not a victim.”

 

“Can you take me through that?”

 

“I killed people. They were my victims. I remember each and every one.” He avoids thinking about that for now. It’ll make him spiral, and he wants to be understood. “I didn’t fight back when I should have. There were times that I could have escaped.” Now that he’s got the privilege of hindsight, he’s noticing every time he fucked up. “And they didn’t treat me that badly. They never killed me. They fed me. They bandaged my injuries.” Most of the time. “It just - they could have been worse.”

 

“You’ve admitted before that they hurt you and that memories of those experiences are often a part of your dreams at night. Does that not make you a victim? We’ve talked about PTSD in the past.”

 

Bucky shrugs. “It was training. Training was supposed to be hard, or else I wasn’t going to be perfect.”

 

“Was your Army training like that?”

 

She’s got him there. “No, but it was the ‘40s. They needed to throw as many people at the war as possible.”

 

“I’m going to talk to you a little bit about something that I think might pertain to you. As always, I can’t make you believe something, but at least hear me out.”

 

Bucky nods, chewing his lip. 

 

“Here are the facts - you’ve told me them yourself: you were put through extreme methods of training. You were punished without necessarily knowing the rules and you were punished even when you were following all the rules. You were electrocuted repeatedly at a voltage high enough to cause brain damage. This was intentional. You were subject to medical experiments and tests without your consent? Have I got this right so far?”

 

Ah, fuck, he can tell she’s gearing up to absolutely wreck his shit, and he’s not sure how that’s going to go. Bucky nods. “Yeah,” he says, gaze off to the side. 

 

“If that happened to your best friend, what would you say?”

 

“That he went through a lot,” he mutters, glaring a hole in the carpet.

 

“I’m not saying that something like this is easy to come to terms with. But if you find yourself in one of these situations, talk to me about it. Or if you feel comfortable, someone else you trust. But what happened to you - they made you rely on them. So it’s in some ways natural to feel some obligation to them. But also think about what you just said. People who take care of you should not make you feel like that.”

 

“I guess,” he mumbles. 

 

“I want you to think about it. Give yourself some credit, James.”

 


 

 

“Go alright?”

 

“Yeah,” he mutters. “It was fine.”

 

Bucky’s got his defenses up again, Steve can tell. “Do you still wanna help me cook something tonight? I think Sam’ll be there too. Maybe Natasha. She said that her calendar’s classified, so who knows.”

 

Bucky nods. “Yeah, I’ll be there. Stop you from burning shit.”

 

This is the Bucky that Steve knows and loves. “It was one fucking time, and we didn’t have a fancy kitchen then.”

 

“It only happened once ‘cause then I was there to stop you.”

 

It’s not as easy as one hug and suddenly everything’s fixed, but Steve’s seen Bucky change a lot. There’s a lot of bad days - it’s why he asked about dinner. It’s a way to gauge things that’s better than asking him outright if he’s okay. Steve hates it when people do that to him, so he’s trying to extend that courtesy to Bucky.

Chapter Text

They’re sitting up on the roof one day, because Bucky likes it. He likes the feeling of the sun on his face. 

 

“You said you remember everything,” Steve says. “Does that mean everything? How we - what we did?”

 

Bucky nods. “Yes. Sometimes I can’t put feelings to things, but I remember it all.”

 

“This is stupid,” Steve continues. “Things have changed so much since then - socially, I mean. It’s kinda a given that we have. I don’t know if you still feel the same way, but I still love you, Bucky. So much. I want you to know that even if - even if I’m still afraid the others will say something.”

 

Oh. Well that’s quite the bomb to drop. 

 

“I remember everything,” Bucky replies. He doesn’t know how to build to this. “That’s also strong emotions. I remember how fucking scared I was - with HYDRA and that shit. I remember how much I loved you. They made me forget it. But that’s the stupid fucking fairy tale part of this - they couldn’t get rid of all of it. I just -” he loses momentum a little. “I’m the opposite of what you are.” They’re negative images of each other, even if Bucky’s no long part of HYDRA. “You’re - you’ve been so good. And I - I’m not.”

 

“I don’t care,” Steve says. “I don’t care what you’ve done, because I’ve known you forever and I’ve loved you forever and you’re good. You’re good for me, and that’s what matters.”

 

“I love you too,” Bucky whispers. “No one can take that anymore. I didn’t know if you’d want that. You’ve got it made in the future. I didn’t want to ruin anything.”

 

“Bucky, if I was going to ruin anything for anyone, I’d ruin my entire goddamn life for you.”

 

“Shit,” Bucky murmurs to himself. He wipes at a tear. Fucking emotions. They’re good for him, everyone says. 

 

“I put the plane down into the Arctic because you were dead,” Steve says. “I couldn’t enjoy the future without you. You should have been alive to see all the technology and everything and you just - weren’t.”

 

“You’re a fucking idiot, Steve. I’m going to yell at you for that,”” he says before he’s consumed by a sob. 

 

Steve scoots closer and Bucky preempts any more conversation by shoving himself into Steve’s chest area. Arms enclose him and he cries. He thinks Steve cries too. 

 

“Fat fuckin’ lot of good we are at declarin’ our undying love,” he says later, still wobbly. 

 

“And it isn’t even the first time,” Steve points out helpfully.

 

“We’re a fucking pair of idiots.” Meant for each other.

 

“Can I kiss this better?” He really does love Steve. 

 

“Yeah.”