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Guilty I May Be (but don't give up on me)

Chapter Text

The fight raged around him as the Asset remained confined to the chair. The doctors had all run off, nobody bothering to unstrap him or disconnect anything. At least they’d flipped the switch as they fled, and the machine wasn’t continuing to deliver shocks to him while he listened to the shouts and gunfire, helpless to assist. Finally, the door to the room burst open and a man entered. He was taller than his normal handler, appeared younger, and wore a different uniform than Rumlow and his team.

The Asset went on alert, prepared to fight this man, part of him screaming about an unfinished mission, he couldn’t fail again, HYDRA’s success depended on him. But then he met ice blue eyes, as blue as the sky on a cloudless day over the ocean, and felt...something...stir within him, a flicker of recognition, an order that overrode the previous command of kill.

A strangled sound came from the man and then he rushed to the Asset’s side, unclamping his arms and legs, releasing the strong magnetic cuffs that held his arm down, ripping the segments away from his head.

“Bucky? Bucky, can you hear me?”

Bucky? Must be they needed a code name for him this mission.

“Ready to comply, sir.”

Com—? Okay,” he said, cutting off whatever he’d been about to say. “We need to go. Now. Can you walk?” he asked, pulling the Asset from the chair.

“Yes sir.” He glanced off to the side table, where the rest of his uniform and many of his weapons remained, having been brought in in readiness. There was an important mission they needed him for...he quickly strapped everything on, checking gun safeties and cartridges as he shoved them into their slots almost absentmindedly. The man watched him intently, a mix of concern and desperation on his face.

“Good to go?” he asked, as the Asset slipped the last knife into its hiding place.

“Yes, sir. Where is the threat? My target?”

The sounds of fighting had diminished significantly, but he could still hear pockets of resistance in the distance. The man—he really wished he could remember his name, but that damned chair had only run a half cycle and nobody had been there to brief him before his handler arrived—looked frustrated. The Asset was about to explain the problem when the man spoke, and he knew better than to speak over his handlers.

“Your mission is to stay alive. Anyone shooting at us is the enemy. HY—HYDRA, this base, has been compromised and must be brought down. The rest of my team is out there, and they need our help. Got it?”

“Yes sir.”

The Asset pulled the gun from between his shoulders and flipped the safety as he made for the door.

This new team is good, the Asset thought as he took in the bodies littering the halls and visible in rooms. Better than STRIKE, even. He didn’t have much cleanup to do, and it both impressed and infuriated him. They reached the exit with him only having killed a handful of men.

“Are you with me, Buck?”

The Asset shook his head, blinked his eyes, focused on the man. He still couldn’t remember his name, but he didn’t dare admit that. The Asset couldn’t remember the introduction, the handoff, but he was sure it had happened. His only real evidence for this was the unshakable belief, his complete confidence, in the fact that he must protect this man at all costs. But that wouldn’t have been drilled into him if it hadn’t happened. And sometimes, after the chair, he forgets small things like this. Like names. But not faces, not feelings.

They’d made sure of that.

So if every fiber of his being was screaming to follow this man, he would.

Even if he was calling him a strange new code name.

The Asset nods, falls into line behind him, scans his gear as someone approaches and speaks with his handler. Cap, the man in the leather with a bow and arrows calls him. Yes, that sounds right. Cap, short for Captain.

“She says she’ll meet us there. She’s going to go through some files, get what she can on him. There’s a lot in code, and I guess a good amount of it is in Russian?” The man with the bow glanced at the Asset before returning his gaze to Cap. The Asset thought a bow and arrow were an odd choice, given all the available weapons, but he’d also seen plenty of bodies with arrows sticking out of them as they’d made their way through the base, so he clearly was useful. “She and Stark are uploading everything they think is useful to JARVIS.”

“Understood.”

The Asset clears his throat.

“St—sir?” he calls, and he hears the uncertainty in his own voice. He’d almost said a different name, but he wasn’t sure what it was or why he’d felt compelled to say it.

Cap turns, a surprised look on his face.

“Everything okay, Buck?”

“Here, take this,” he says, pulling a gun from his belt and flipping it around, practically shoving it into his hand. He sees the arrow-man immediately tense, watching him, but he doesn’t pull his hand back. It is imperative Cap take the gun, after all.

“Buck?” Cap asks, clearly questioning his actions.

“You’ve lost your sidearm. Take it.”

Cap searches the Asset’s face, looks down at the gun held out to him.

“Okay, Buck. Okay. Thanks.”

The Asset’s eyebrows twitch in his confusion at Cap’s confusion and hesitation. But he took the gun, which made the Asset relax, and breathe easier, because he’d be damned if he’d get into trouble because some newbie handler didn’t remember the rules.

“You can put your own gun away now, you know. Our scans show the base is clear.”

The Asset quickly follows the order, though he remains alert for threats until the plane has lifted off.

 

*****

 

“We need to scan your arm. Make sure there’s no trackers or...whatever...in it.”

The Asset shrugged. He was used to maintenance. He lifted his arm and held it steady while Cap readied the device he needed. A three-dimensional display of his arm and the inner workings of it suddenly appeared in the air, which did startle him slightly. This new team had significantly better tech than HYDRA. Suddenly he wasn’t entirely comfortable with not remembering the transfer, though he wasn’t complaining about the upgrade in the abilities of his teammates.

“Alright, what the hell am I looking at here, Tony?” Cap asked of literally nobody. It was just him and the Asset in the back of the jet, with arrow-guy piloting. So when a voice came out of nowhere, the Asset jumped, head spinning wildly trying to find the source. He decided it was coming from the wall of screens, though that didn’t settle him one bit.

“Well, based on what Jarvis is seeing there, and what little red riding hood and I have found in these files, a whole lot of old Russian tech with some crazy HYDRA upgrades at random. But surprisingly, no signs of a self-destruct or any tracking or remote access receiver. I think you’re good to go. Bring your boy home, Cap.”

“Thank you,” Cap said, and the Asset heard the slight tremble in his voice.

The one answering to Tony and speaking from nowhere started talking again.

“I have the place on lockdown until we see how he is, and get him acclimated. Clint says he’s responding well to you, so that’s a good sign.”

Cap glanced over at him, and gave an encouraging smile.

“He’s the toughest guy I know. He’ll pull through.”

The Asset was thoroughly confused, which wasn’t necessarily a new state of being for him. But he felt like he was missing something extremely important here, that revolved around himself, and he didn’t like that one bit.

He sat in a stony silence for the remainder of the ride, watching Cap from the corner of his eye as he tried to plumb the depths of his addled memories to figure out why this man was so important.

“Two minutes out, guys,” arrow-guy called, snapping the Asset’s attention back to the present.

“Bucky,” Cap called, and he lifted his gaze to meet those blue eyes again. At some point he’d taken his helmet off, and the Asset saw a shock of blond hair on top of his head. As he took in Cap’s face, with the strong jaw and slightly crooked nose—it’d been broken, clearly, when we were kids?—his heart began to race to match his increased breathing.

“Hey, you okay, pal?” The concern—actual concern, not anger for not responding immediately, this new guy is so green, what the fuck—on Cap’s face and in his voice shook the Asset to his core.

“Bucky?” Cap squatted down directly in front of him, one hand on his knee.

The Asset shook his head, cleared his throat.

“Yes, sir. Sorry sir. Trying to remember the briefing. The doctors weren’t able to complete the procedure to clear my head. Where is Commander Rumlow? Shouldn’t he be with you on your first mission with me?”

Cap swallowed hard, telegraphing the answer before he even spoke. This man had a terrible habit of giving away his thoughts and feelings in his body language and on his face. The Asset had already ascertained that he couldn’t lie for shit.

“Commander Rumlow is dead. HYDRA has fallen. I’m going to take care of you now. You’re safe with me, Bucky. With my team. Do you remember me at all?”

“I failed...”

“No, Bucky. No. You didn’t fail. You performed your missions well. What happened to HYDRA was not because of anything you did or didn’t do. My team brought it down from the inside.”

“Cap, what am I doing here? We good to land or what?”

Cap turned his head to speak to arrow-guy and the Asset saw the faint hues of lingering bruises surrounding Cap’s eye, barely visible beneath the surface, and the silvery white lines of fresh new skin from recently healed cuts on that high cheekbone.

“Gimme just a minute, Clint.”

The Asset tipped his head to the side, studying Cap’s face, feeling his own brows draw together in concentration. Without realizing it, his arm snaked forward, metal fingertips ghosting over the injuries. Cap slowly turned his head forward to face the Asset again.

“I failed...you. You were my mission. But—” he paused, frowning, swallowing down his hesitation. Cap seemed to encourage him to speak, unlike Rumlow or Pierce. “But I stopped. Because...I know you. Just not in here,” he said, forcefully jamming a finger into the side of his head repeatedly.

Cap brought a hand up to cover the Asset’s metal hand, cupping it against his cheek fully. The Asset sucked in a sharp breath. He wasn’t supposed to touch his handlers unless they were sparring or he was delivering medical attention.

“It’s okay, Bucky. We’ll figure it out. Together. I’m with you, pal.”

The words tugged at something inside him, he felt it somehow in his chest and his head at the same time, and his lips parted, words falling from them in a whisper.

“Til the end of the line,” he said, and Cap nearly breaks down in front of him.

“Yeah, that’s right, Buck. That’s right. I’ve got you, buddy. Til the end of the line.”

Cap’s bottom lip is trembling, and the Asset somehow knows this man, knows him in ways he can’t remember, and that certainty enrages him, though he doesn’t show it. Right now, he has to be strong to protect Cap. Because Cap is hurt. It may not be physical, but the Asset can recognize the fact that Cap is in no condition to be in the field. So he’ll keep him safe. It’s his job. It’s what he’s always done—protect Cap. That was always the prime mission, above all others. He remembers that much. Protect this man, keep him safe, no matter the cost.

Til the end of the line.

Whatever that means.

 

 

Chapter Text

The Asset looks back and forth between Cap and the pile of clothes he holds in his arms.

“Why?” he asks. He’s more concerned about the break in protocol than he is about the ramifications of questioning his handler. Being out of uniform and not ready to fight is definitely not allowed. The only times it’s allowed are when he’s showering, having maintenance performed, serving as stress relief, sparring, or being punished. What Cap is telling him to do...regular clothing? Standing down, remaining awake with no mission, no punishment, no use? None of it is right.

“Because there is no threat here. This is our home. You don’t—” Cap was interrupted by the buzzing of his phone in the pocket of his civilian clothes. “What?” he snapped as he answered it. The Asset’s enhanced hearing caught the sound of a woman’s voice, and watched the way Cap’s body visibly relaxed at something she said. “Yes, thank you...yeah, my floor...okay.”

They stood staring at each other in silence in the middle of the sitting area, Cap with his arms folded across his chest, the clothes now in a pile at the Asset’s feet, and the Asset standing at ease, refusing to pick them up for fear of reprisal. The soft ping of the elevator opening drew Cap’s eyes away and his face relaxed, though his stance never changed.

“Thanks for coming, Nat.”

The Asset turned his gaze to the woman striding purposefully into the room. She wore skin-tight black leather head to toe and had startlingly red hair, a sharp contrast to her dark clothing and pale skin. Again, he felt the pull of memory, recognition, as he studied her, and felt himself standing at attention in response to her presence.

“солдат, отчет о состоянии!” she snapped out, and a curious sensation of relief flooded him at the command. Soldier, status report!

“готов соблюдать,” he answered, tension seeping from his body even as he prepared himself for instructions. Ready to comply.

Then comply!” She stood toe-to-toe with him, so much larger than her tiny frame, formidable in her confidence as she barked at him in Russian. Odd, how such a simple thing as the right language could calm him so. “You are to follow this man’s instructions, do as he tells you. So why are you still in uniform, soldier?”

The Asset swallowed, glanced over her shoulder to Cap, and quickly returned his attention to her.

His orders are contrary to all previous instructions.”

His orders are now the only ones that matter.”

The Asset shifted slightly on his feet as fear, deeply seeded in his subconscious, tried to overwhelm him.

Soldier?”

Is this a test, sir?” he whispers the words, afraid to ask, afraid of the punishment. This new team is so advanced from Rumlow’s, the tech they could conceivably have on hand to hurt him...he suppresses a shudder. “More training? I will comply, I swear. Please, I don’t understand.”

Her face softens as she studies him. He is aware of Cap’s distress behind her, but can’t focus on him at the moment. This woman appears to be his superior, at the very least she seems to understand the Asset, understand his confusion, his needs.

Not a test, soldier. Not training. This is not HYDRA. You will not be punished for making mistakes here. He is...nothing you are used to. I am sorry for that, but he is also the only one best suited to handle you physically should the need arise.”

 

*****

 

“Bucky, you need to stop this. Eat. Rest. Anything besides follow me around.”

The Asset stares at Cap. He’s heard other members of Cap’s unit refer to him by another name since their return from the mission, and something inside him had clicked at the name Steve, but the Asset wasn’t allowed to call him that. He wasn’t allowed to use informal names.

“Can’t.”

“Why not?”

Cap is looming over him, hands on his hips, while the Asset sits on the floor outside Cap’s door, just as he’s done the previous two nights. He’s got a few fuzzy spots from those days, but he knows he’d been doing his job properly and guarding Cap, silent at his side and waiting for instruction, either from him or from the Widow.

“Protocol!” the Asset snaps, pushing up to his feet. “I get that you’re new at this, but stop testing me! I haven’t forgotten any of the rules in a very, very long time. Even if my last session in the chair was interrupted!”

Cap froze, and the Asset saw what appeared to be understanding dawn in his eyes, followed immediately by sadness. Sorry to disappoint, Cap, but I’m not getting ‘disciplined’ again any time soon. The Asset catches himself from actually saying the words. Being tired is no excuse. As it is, his outburst should earn him a strike, and he braces for the hit that never comes. Instead, Cap swallows hard and closes his eyes for a few seconds. When he looks at the Asset again, he sees resignation in the blue depths and the firm set of his jaw.

“Asset,” Cap says softly, and the Asset immediately straightens himself, standing at attention. Cap sighs and buries his hands in his face. “S-, status report,” he orders, squaring his shoulders with a deep breath.

Finally, the Asset thinks.

“Functional. At the current rate of exertion, I have two more nights before I am unsafe for use. If there is a mission between now and then, I will require a reset after. Supplement supply is low, but rationed and adequate for another three days, again, mission dependent.”

The muscles in Cap’s jaw tic, and the Asset again braces for reprimand.

“Asset,” Cap says, and this time his voice is hard, his eyes holding anger.

“Sir.”

“You are capable of showering, washing yourself, and feeding yourself, yes?”

“Yes.”

Cap nods.

“Good. So. I am ordering—” Cap’s voice breaks on the word, and the mask of anger slips for a moment, “—you to go to the kitchen and eat a sandwich. Make that two. And drink something while you’re in there. Bring another sandwich and a drink back to your room. Take a shower. Eat the other sandwich if you’re still hungry. And then go to sleep. You are to sleep every night and eat when you are hungry, at minimum twice a day. Drink as needed. You need more than just supplements to survive. This location is safe. I am in no danger here. If I need you I will come get you.”

The Asset stares at Cap. None of this follows typical procedure. However, the thought of food is quite welcomed. As is showering, especially if he’ll be alone. But as to the sleeping...

“Is there a problem?” Cap asks, and the Asset mentally shakes himself.

“No sir. Thank you sir.”

The Asset turns and strides down the hall, waiting for the inevitable laughter, the calling of him back, the snatching away of the dangled rewards that he didn’t think he’d earned in the first place, the punishment for daring to think he was allowed to do something for himself.

And if instead he hears a heart-wrenching sob behind him as the doors to the elevator open to admit him, he pretends not to hear it.

 

Chapter Text

Steve waits until the elevator has closed behind Bucky to reach for his phone.

Are you free? he sends.

My floor in ten? comes the reply, almost instantaneous, and he wonders if he’s the only one in need tonight.

I’ll be there in five.

I need a shower first.

Like I haven’t seen it before?

Is that really the distraction you need?

Dunno. You’ve got four minutes to find out.

 

He ran his shaking hands through his hair and turned all the lights off except the one in the hallway. He’d left some lights on the last two nights in case Bucky had woken and needed him. He now wondered if perhaps Bucky had seen them on and thought he’d needed to stay awake. Either way, hopefully turning them off would get him to sleep in his own room. He didn’t feel like having to worry about accidentally waking him when he returned.

Steve was sitting on Natasha’s couch smoking a cigarette when she exited her bathroom eight minutes later.

“You’re late,” he said, smirking and looking pointedly at the clock on the wall.

“Couldn’t even bother with a shirt, huh?” she asked, eyeing him and ignoring the statement.

“Not like many people are awake and roaming the halls at this time of night. And you’ve all seen me shirtless.”

Natasha straddled his lap, pulling the cigarette from his hand and taking a drag.

“You want to talk about it?”

“Later.”

“You’re here at one-thirty a.m. and with cigarettes. You’re fucking talking about it, Rogers.” Natasha held the cigarette to his lips and he took a long drag, holding the smoke as long as he could, only exhaling when she leaned to the side to tap the ash into the ashtray.

“I said later. This first,” he said, slipping his hands under the edges of her robe. She shifted her position and the silky red material fell open, revealing her bare skin, still warm from the shower.

“Didn’t think I’d be getting this call so soon,” she breathed into his ear as he teased two fingers through her folds and toyed with her.

“Don’t know why,” he answered, nuzzling her neck as he drove his fingers into her welcoming heat.

“Thought you might be a little preoccupied,” she said with another exhale of smoke.

“Said I don’t want to talk about it yet.”

A moan escaped her as he crooked his fingers and dragged them over the magic spot.

“Christ, Steve, get your damned shorts off.”

He didn’t hide his grin as he lifted his hips. Natasha pressed the cigarette to his lips again and he took it from her as she pulled his pants down just enough to free his cock.

“You first,” she said, like always, and like every other time they fucked, Natasha slid down to the floor to take him in her mouth. She knew he needed more than one release, that he could go on for much longer than was necessary for any man to go, and always sought to give him as much as she could. Some nights that was more than others, and she seemed to understand that tonight was a quick and dirty night, a venting of anger and frustration, not a marathon of built-up tension release.

Steve let his head fall back and rocked his hips into her ministrations, taking the last pull off the cigarette. He met her eyes as he stubbed it out and she doubled down on her efforts, bringing him off in no time, and milking him through his extremely short recovery period.

She climbed back up onto his lap and guided him inside, breath hitching when he grabbed her hips and snapped up into her.

“It’s like that tonight, huh?”

“It’s like that,” he growled, pulling her flush against him. She always topped him—he was afraid of getting carried away and hurting her, so regardless of his need, she was in control as much as possible. She braced her hands on the back of the couch and began riding him, fucking him as hard as she could as he held her hips. Natasha was perfect like that, always able to read Steve’s moods, anticipate his needs, and give him exactly what he needed. Hell, if he thought she’d settle down some day, he’d try to keep her. But Natasha was kept only by herself, and he knew that even though she enjoyed their times together, they were too different to be together.

“Fuck, Nat,” he groaned as he came, head thrown back against the couch. She grinned and slowed her pace, but never stopped, again milking him through the rebound until she was panting, soft sounds of pleasure that let him know she was close.

“You got one more for me, Rogers?”

It was a tease, he always had one more, but it was part of their dance.

“Why, you gonna finish without me?” He reached up and caught a nipple between his thumb and forefinger, giving it a firm tug.

“Fuck, Steve, c’mon, I’m—” Natasha cried out, her back arching as she fell away from him, trusting him to hold her. His orgasm followed on the heels of hers, and he froze, his forehead pressed to her stomach as they remained locked together in some sort of bizarre acrobatic hold until he straightened and she collapsed against his chest.

“Damn, I needed that too.”

“You know, you are allowed to call me, once in a while. If you weren’t so willing I’d feel like a jerk.” He lit another cigarette and leaned back, his free hand rubbing a gentle caress up and down her back.

She held her hand out and he passed the cigarette over. Aside from JARVIS (which meant possibly Tony, and definitely Pepper,) Natasha was the only person who knew Steve still smoked on occasion. Of course, they didn’t do anything for him or to him, but when he was particularly stressed he still had a few. The shared cigarettes were as close as he and Nat got to kissing. It was like an unspoken agreement between them, as if that would somehow change the nature of their relationship. She’d occasionally give him a quick peck on the cheek, and of course there were plenty of times he’d left her room with his chest covered in bite marks, but kissing was a line they didn’t cross.

Steve pressed a kiss now to the top of her head and let out a heavy sigh as he rested his cheek there, an uncharacteristic show of emotion, of his appreciation for what she did for him.

“I need your help, Nat. Tell me how to be his handler. He’s still trapped in there. He still thinks he’s the Asset, the Winter Soldier. I think I’m hurting him by not understanding. By giving him too many choices.”

 

Two hours and a few more orgasms later, Steve opened the door of Natasha’s room to be met by a pair of stormy gray eyes glaring at him from the wall opposite. A wave of guilt washed over him, even though he knew he had nothing to be guilty of. After all, it wasn’t like he and Bucky were together right now. Bucky was still lost, buried beneath layers and years of brainwashing, and Steve was not about to initiate a relationship with the Asset and further complicate matters. Especially not in less than a week of his rescue from the hands of HYDRA.

Bucky eyed him up and down and Steve squared his shoulders, hardening his resolve and setting his face into a firm mask as he strode past Bucky and to the elevator.

“If you needed a release you should have said something. I can do that for you,” Bucky said. Steve heard him inhale deeply. “You stink.”

Steve rounded on him, getting right in his face. A small part of him hated himself for it, but more than that, he was angry at Bucky. How dare he judge Steve’s actions? How dare he get upset at Steve being with Natasha, when their entire teens and twenties before the war were spent with an endless parade of women on Bucky’s arm, on his dick, on his lips, on that body that belonged to Steve, not some random floosie of the day.

“I don’t recall needing your permission, soldier. In fact, I seem to remember giving you explicit instructions to return to your room and shower and sleep. I don’t smell any soap on you, though, now do I? Yet you think you get to make a comment about the state that I’m in? You think you get to disobey orders because why?”

The fear in Bucky’s eyes broke Steve’s heart, but he couldn’t let down. Natasha’s advice still rang in his ears, shouted as some of the words had been as Steve had coaxed another orgasm from her with his tongue. It always brought him some sort of perverse joy to test her, to see how focused he could keep her on something else as he held her at the edge for as long as possible. Stay strong. Don’t let him see any weakness. He’ll exploit that, turn it around and manipulate you to get his way. You need to keep him grounded in what he knows until we can break the programming.

Bucky shrank in on himself, posture immediately turning submissive and his eyes dropping to the floor.

“I’m sorry, sir. I—”

“I don’t want to hear it,” he interrupted. The elevator had long since arrived at Steve’s floor, the doors standing open, waiting patiently for them to exit. “You were given your orders. Go to your room and stay there. I don’t want to see your face before oh-nine-hundred. Is that understood, Asset?”

“Yes, sir.” Bucky’s voice was barely a whisper, but Steve could hear the tremble in it, see the slight shake of his body.

Without another word, Steve spun on his heel and stormed for his room before he lost control of himself. He slammed the door behind him and turned and punched the wall for good measure. It wasn’t for Bucky’s benefit, but for his own. He wasn’t sure he could hate himself more than he did right then for the scared, broken husk of his best friend that he’d just left standing helplessly in that elevator.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Bucky, you don’t need to guard me while I’m working out.” Despite having to handle his best friend, Steve still had a hard time calling him ‘Asset’ unless it was absolutely necessary.

“I’m not guarding. I am assessing.”

“Assessing?” Steve pauses from his assault on the punching bag—number five this morning—and turns to look at Bucky. The man has been slowly circling the room, watching him while Steve first lifted weights, and then started in on the heavy bag. Clint was hanging around to spar with him, but Steve needed to drain himself first.

“Yes. Form, function, training. I need to know where your weaknesses are in order to help you better. To do my job.”

“Your job?”

“Yes, my job. Protect you. To do that, I must know you better than anybody else. Must know you better than I know myself.” Bucky pauses and cants his head to the side, as if something has just occurred to him. “Surely, you know this? It is my ultimate function. To be completely indispensable to you. Be your right hand. Your shadow. Your ultimate weapon.”

“You understand that I am enhanced as well? I know how to fight.”

“You are good at fighting, yes. But not as good as you should be. You aren’t skilled with any weapons. You can shoot, but not like me. You can’t use knives. I have much to teach you. I don’t know how you made it this far with such little tactical expertise.”

Steve feels as if his head is going to explode from this conversation. He walks over to his water bottle, tapping out a message on his phone as he drinks.

Need to talk ASAP. And ALONE.

Natasha’s reply comes about a minute later:

Roof in fifteen?

I’ll bring the drinks, he sends back immediately.

Oof, that bad?

Worse.



Steve is on the roof in five minutes after ordering Bucky to remain in the gym and do a one hour workout.

Natasha is already there.

She cocks an eyebrow at the bottle in his hand.

“You ask to meet and bring me a bottle of premium Russian vodka from Tony’s stash at ten in the morning. You trying to woo me or something, Rogers?”

“You’ve broken brainwashing before, right? On yourself, and on Clint when Loki controlled him with the scepter.” He tossed the bottle to her as he headed for the railing, staring out over the city below them.

“It’s not easy. It’s gonna take time. Certainly longer than a couple weeks, if they’ve been doing it for over half a century.”

Steve sighed and leaned back into her as her arms came around his waist.

“I can’t fucking do this, Nat. It’s killing me. I have to order him—order my best friend—to eat. To sleep. To do anything! He expects punishment for making a mistake, doing something that I don’t like. He thinks he’s not allowed to do anything without explicit direction and permission.” He pulled a small flask from his pocket as she slipped her hand inside his pants.

Fuck,” he groaned, a combination of the taste of the liquor and the way she ground against his ass while giving his dick a sharp tug.

“F-bombs and Thor’s special liquor. You really are overwhelmed, aren’t you?”

“I just want my friend back. The man who sleeps outside my door every night because he thinks he has to protect and guard me is not Bucky. Oh God, yes,” he gasped when she teased a finger around the rim of his hole.

Tonight,” she promised, biting down hard into his shoulder blade, and he shuddered as the pain tipped him over, already, she was so damned good at playing his body, and so willing to give him what he needed.

“Wish I had my cigarettes,” he grumbled after, as they sat drinking in silence, his boxers growing uncomfortably stiff as his come dried, and he was thankful he’d worn his loose-fitting black sweatpants to the gym today. Natasha just grinned and took another swig of vodka, waiting for him to say whatever else he still needed to unload.

“You know what he did last night? He brought me paper and some pencils. He said, ‘You are clearly distressed. Yet you are not utilizing me to manage your anger like you should.’ And then he fucking, he says—” a sob breaks from Steve and he scrubs a hand over his face before he continues.

“—He goes, ‘If you aren’t going to see her tonight, perhaps you should try drawing. It always used to relax you in the past.’ But when I asked him what he remembered about it, he couldn’t tell me, just that he knew I liked to draw and I was very good at it. So he’s in there. He is. He’s trying to break through. I just didn’t know it’d take so long.”

Natasha eyes him and takes a deep breath, as if she knows the answer to the question before she asks it. Or she’s afraid of it. Either way, Steve almost doesn’t want to hear what she has to say, even though he asked her up here.

“Did you ask him what he meant by ‘utilizing him’ for your anger?”

Steve laughs, and the tears start in earnest.

“Yeah.” He takes another deep pull from the flask, cursing the serum for his inability to forget anything and for the inability to get raging drunk. Thor’s alien liquor mostly does the trick, if even for only a few minutes at a time.

“He told me. What HYDRA thought he was good for. Two things. Killing and fucking. They fucking raped him. All the goddamned time. They used him for ‘recreation.’ For ‘stress relief.’ And they’d do worse as a punishment as a way to control him and keep him ‘compliant.’”

Natasha cursed and chugged half the bottle Steve had given her.

“Where is he?” she asks, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

“In the gym.” He sniffed. “I told him to work out for an hour.”

Natasha is on her feet and running for the door before he finishes speaking.

“Nat, wait, what are you doing?”

“What you can’t.”

Steve rushes to catch up to her, tries to stop her from whatever it is she’s going to do, but she reaches the door first, slams it and locks it. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Steve to destroy the door and get in—he’ll owe Tony one hell of an apology later, especially after the wall repair just the other day—but it buys her the time she needs to get to the elevator before him. He runs for the stairs, leaping down whole flights at a time, and crashes through the door to the gym.

“Natasha, what are you doing?”

“Steve, not now!” she snaps, never taking her eyes from Bucky as they square off. She’s got a cut over one eye, but Bucky’s nose is bleeding so she clearly got a good hit in already.

Bucky’s eyes, though, do flick over to Steve, and unbelievably, down to his crotch, as if he knows what happened on the roof. Natasha takes advantage of that and lunges for him. He attempts to deflect her, but she’s fast, and in no time she has her arms around his neck in a choke hold, her legs wrapped around his waist, and is speaking to him in Russian. Steve doesn’t know what she’s saying but by her tone and the way Bucky stops fighting and falls to his knees, it’s clear he’s being reprimanded.

She drops her legs but maintains the hold on his neck, giving him just enough air that he can breathe.

Bucky responds by reaching up and grabbing onto her by the shoulders. He flips her over his head and slams her into the mat, his hand—his right hand, not the metal one, Steve notices—around her neck. The cold detachment has left his face and Steve sees anger, real and potent, in Bucky’s eyes. He speaks to her in Russian, his tone conveying the anger that Steve sees is barely contained.

Mine,” Steve hears Bucky say, in English, and is momentarily dumbfounded. Natasha gets her legs up between them, plants her feet on his chest, and shoves him away, pulling one of his own knives from his belt as he goes. She follows after him, landing on his chest, her knees on his shoulders, knife at his throat.

Bucky lays still, holding the back of his head as he shakes it. He’d landed off the mat and his head hit the concrete floor pretty hard from Steve’s vantage point. Bucky’s brows draw together as he studies Natasha, eyes unblinking.

“I trained you,” he said, sounding uncertain. Then— “Oh my God, I—”

“You did your job, soldier.”

Bucky stared up at her in wide-eyed horror, and to Steve’s horror, he can see that in this moment, he is one hundred percent Bucky, not the Asset.

“You had no choice. And neither did I. We were following orders. Neither of us were ourselves,” she ends on a whisper. Natasha’s gaze flicks up to Steve, and Bucky’s follows suit. She swallows hard and continues speaking. “Nobody here will give those kinds of orders. Those punishments are over.”

Natasha stands and drops the knife onto Bucky’s chest as she walks over to Steve.

“The more uncertain he feels about his position here, the more he’ll lash out at you, try to get you to punish him. The more stressed you are without taking it out on him, the more uncertain he’ll be.”

“I’m right here, you know.”

Steve’s heart breaks at the sound of Bucky’s voice and he meets his eyes as he stands.

“The problem is when you don’t stay,” Natasha quips.

Clint drops down in front of Bucky seemingly from nowhere. Bucky reacts instantly, and the knife he hadn’t put away yet is at Clint’s throat. Clint, to his credit, doesn’t even flinch.

“We should talk,” he says calmly, holding eye contact with Bucky.

“It’s okay, Bucky. Go with him,” Steve says softly.

Bucky steps back and puts the knife away, eyes still on Clint who has started to walk confidently away, sure that Bucky is following.

“Go on. We’ll talk later,” Steve says when Bucky looks to him for confirmation, and tips his head in Clint’s direction.

“Hey, guys, listen, if you’re going to have a party on the roof on a Tuesday morning, at least invite me?” Tony enters the room, holding the discarded bottle and flask. “And you owe me a new door,” he says, pointing at Steve.

Natasha grabs the bottle from Tony’s hand and takes a long pull.

“If you’re not going to...punish...him, spar with him. Make him feel useful. Make him feel needed. That’s what will help the most.”

“Who’s getting punished?” Tony asks, watching Natasha stalk from the room.

“Nobody,” Steve mutters, grabbing the flask and storming past him in the opposite direction from Natasha.

“What did I miss?”

“Not now, Tony,” Steve grumbles, jerking the door open so hard that the top hinge breaks.

“This is why we can’t have nice things!” Tony yells after him.

 

*****



Bucky stays in his own room that night and Steve only feels mildly guilty as he slips out his door and heads for the stairs, trying to be as quiet as possible. Natasha and Clint are at the bar waiting for him. He takes the glass Clint passes him silently, downing it without hesitation.

“He says you told him to trust me.”

“More or less,” Clint answers, shrugging. “Of course, he replied that he already did. So I reminded him that he doesn’t when he’s not himself. He didn’t like that too much.”

Steve sighed.

“I know that Bucky went to bed about an hour ago. Lord knows who he’s going to wake up as though.”

Natasha gave Clint a long look before turning to Steve.

“Steve, were you and Bucky an item? Before he...fell?”

“We...yeah,” he said softly, propping his elbows on the bar and burying his face in his hands. “It wasn’t accepted back then, of course. It was a pretty big secret. So naturally everyone we fought with during the war knew.” He dropped a hand and took his glass when it appeared in his line of sight, filled again.

“Steve, I think the Asset knows that. At least on some level. He essentially told me to keep my hands to myself.”

Beside her, Clint snorted into his glass.

“Yeah, I think we all caught that part, Nat. Didn’t need to be a spy to pick up on that vibe.”

“Shut up,” she said, pushing her elbow into his side.

Steve watched their interaction and cleared his throat.

“We probably should keep our distance though. I didn’t tell you that he was acting strangely—even given the circumstances—after the other night. He knew where I was and didn’t seem very happy about it.”

Clint sighed.

“Man, you get so bitchy when you’re not—”

“Yeah, I know,” Steve cut in. “But if it makes it easier to manage Bucky and help him recover, it’s what I have to do. Besides, you really gonna complain about me not stealing your girl from you all the time now?”

“Oh God, it’s already starting,” Clint jested. It worked, though, because Steve laughed. “Besides,” Clint continued with a side glance at Natasha. “Nat’s not my girl.”

“Bullshit,” he immediately shot back. “If you two aren’t fucking you damn well should be. Everyone else already thinks you are, anyway.”

Natasha choked on her drink.

“Thought so,” Steve answered, finishing his drink. He snagged a bottle and took it with him as he left. He still enjoyed the alcohol, even if it didn’t affect him. Much like his cigarettes.

 

 

Chapter Text

The knock on his door at two in the morning the next night surprises Steve.

Opening it to find Bucky there is somehow less surprising, despite the state he’s in.

"Sir," he gasps. "Cap. Please. I need assistance."

Steve immediately goes on high alert as he notices the fine sheen of sweat on Bucky's naked torso and the trembling of his shoulders.

"What's wrong?"

"Please, sir, may I come in?" His head is down and he isn't making eye contact with Steve, as if he is uncertain about his actions. It's an affectation of his posture that Steve has come to recognize when Bucky is feeling out of his depth in a situation, usually when things are going contrary to whatever his HYDRA training has conditioned him to expect.

Steve scans the hallway but finds nothing amiss, so he steps aside to let Bucky pass. It’s when he turns after closing the door that he spots the erection under Bucky's gym shorts.

"What's going on, Bucky?"

No answer. Bucky shifts nervously from foot to foot.

Steve crosses his arms over his chest and hardens his voice.

"Asset, report." Steve barks, and Bucky instantly stills.

Fuck, it's going to be one of those nights.

"I require assistance for...routine body maintenance," Bucky says.

"Routine…" he really hopes that Bucky isn't going where he thinks with this.

Bucky tugs at his shorts, dropping them to his feet, displaying his gorgeous cock in all it's hardened glory. Despite himself, Steve feels his own cock twitch in response, in memory, and wishes he'd answered the door in more than just his gym shorts. He swallows hard and takes a deep breath before he speaks.

"Explain your situation, Asset. What is your problem?"

Bucky seems relieved that Steve hasn't turned him away.

"I'm sorry, sir. I know you don't have the book. You might not know about this. As part of my routine body maintenance, my previous handlers would cause me to have a...release of pressure. Usually they initiated it during my punishments, or when they were relieving themselves with me, in order to save themselves time. It has been an overly extended period since my last maintenance. I find myself in extreme discomfort."

"So do the maintenance. Or do you need my permission first?"

Bucky chews his bottom lip and God help him, Steve is beginning to have his own situation.

"I...I don't know how to. I...wasn't allowed to do it myself."

This might be the night Steve dies. He can't possibly do what Bucky is asking...can he?

"How did you get like this, then?" He asks, perhaps a bit rougher than necessary, waving a hand in the air between them.

"I...woke up like this. I was sleeping. I was...dreaming." The way his eyes flick up to Steve's face and then down to his own growing erection, Steve has an idea what the contents of Bucky’s dream might have been. Like the fucking masochist he is, he asks anyway.

"What were you dreaming about?"

"It…" Bucky actually blushes. "I was dreaming about you. Please, sir, is there a way you can perform the maintenance? Without doing the punishment? I know you don't like the punishment. But do you understand what I need? Can you help me?"

Steve tries to keep his eyes above Bucky's waist while he thinks. The trouble is, he knows from past experience that the longer he's silent, the more anxious Bucky will get.

"I know what you need done," he answers vaguely, and the relief in Bucky is visible in the way his body relaxes. "Let me think about my options," he says quickly, before Bucky can get too eager.

The best option Steve can think of is to give Bucky a handjob, instruct him to pay attention to what Steve does, and then tell him he can do it to himself whenever he needs to.

It's a plan he's about to commit to when a sudden thought strikes him. He knows how the serum affected his own system…

"Asset."

"Sir?"

"When you...release...does it happen more than once, before you are finished?"

Again, Bucky's relief is clear, this time on his face, how the lines in his brow soften and his eyes brighten.

"Yes," he breathes. "I knew you'd understand."

Fuck, fuck, fucking motherfucking fuck.

It's not rape, he tells himself. He's asking me, begging me to do this. He wants this.

"Can you…" Steve swallows, closes his eyes briefly, and takes a deep breath. "Can you tell me what I was doing in your dream? That will tell me how best to help you. Because that dream is what caused your...need."

Bucky pulls his bottom lip between his teeth again and eyes Steve up and down in a look that is just so Bucky that it goes right through Steve, makes him even harder remembering how he'd received the same look the first time Bucky saw his new body naked.

"You, we, were, um...it was like the way some previous handlers would use me for stress relief. But it was different. You were...nice to me about it. Gentle. But we were younger...and, my arm wasn't metal. I wasn't as strong as I am now, but you were the same as now. You just looked younger. I was in a military uniform? And you had your uniform, too, but an older one. Like the pictures I’ve seen.”

Goddamn it. It wasn’t a dream, it was a fucking memory of him and Bucky together during the war.

“Is that...is that something you’d be able to do?” he asks sheepishly. “I...I liked it very much. In the dream.”

Steve wonders if there is any more of Thor’s private stash of Asgardian liquor left in the common room bar still...and if so, if there’s enough to wipe this night from his memory.

“I’m not kissing you,” he says finally. His heart could only take so much, after all.

“Okay,” Bucky answers, looking equal parts confused and relieved. “I’m not sure I’d know how to anyway, even though I did in the dream,” he admitted.

Steve says a silent prayer to a deity he wasn’t even sure he believed in any longer.

“Go to my bedroom. I’ll be right in.”

“Thank you, sir!”

“Go.”

Steve finally uncrossed his arms and held his shaking hands out in front of him. How the fuck was he going to do this without hating himself for it? But it wasn’t fair to Bucky to make him suffer like this. He has to help him. He stops in the kitchen and grabs the bottle of vodka he keeps in the freezer for Natasha and chugs the remaining half. It won’t do much for very long, but it’s extremely strong, extremely expensive vodka that makes him feel something for a few minutes at least. At worst, it’ll be burned off by the time he makes it to the bedroom. At best, it’ll get him started on the sex.

Considering the time and his empty stomach, he’s hoping for option number two as the alcohol hits his bloodstream faster.

Steve makes another quick stop in the bathroom to grab the jar of vaseline. He doesn’t have any regular lube in his room, as all the toys are in Natasha’s room. Plus, he hadn’t been expecting to need it any time soon with Bucky’s mental status being what it is. He doesn’t have any condoms, either, since Natasha can’t get pregnant, but he’s pretty sure that Bucky won’t care if he uses them or not.

Bucky is sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for him.

“I, um, wasn’t sure how you’d want me,” he rushes to explain as soon as Steve enters the room.

“How were you in the dream?” Steve asks again, and every time he does, he dies a little more inside.

“On my stomach,” Bucky answered. “But, uh, there have been other dreams, and I’m on my back...or, on...on top of you,” he stammered.

Steve takes another deep breath.

“Okay. Well, we’ll start with how you were in the dream tonight, because that’s the one that sent you here in the first place.”

Bucky scrambles to comply, and Steve is surprised to note the shine of lube on Bucky’s ass.

“I tried to perform the maintenance myself, the way my handlers have before. Except I didn’t have any of the implements they used, only my hand, so it wasn’t working,” he explains when Steve comments on it.

He doesn’t know how to masturbate, Steve thinks. Despite likely having to do it for the others. Christ this situation is so fucked up.

“That’s okay, Asset. I’m glad you came to me for help. You were in quite a state of distress, and that’s not good. I’m pleased that you felt it was okay to try to do it yourself. I’m not upset about that at all.” As he speaks, he caresses Bucky’s ass, teases his fingers along the seam, dipping into the copious amounts of lube seeping from him and toying with his hole. He doesn’t even question where Bucky got the lube. At this point, nothing much surprises him anymore.

Bucky is stifling whimpers and moans, and that won’t do. Especially if Steve wants to not feel like a piece of shit afterwards. He used to live for the sounds Bucky would make when Steve really set to driving him crazy. But then he remembers what he’s dealing with here.

“Asset, were you allowed to make any noise during your...punishments, or when a previous handler was using you? Or performing maintenance?”

Bucky goes even more still.

“No, sir. I’m sorry, sir. I’ll do better. I’m only supposed to make noise if it hurts, so you know you’re being effective.”

Goddamn those motherfuckers.

“Were you being quiet in the dream?”

Bucky swallows.

“No, sir,” he whispers.

“Good. Because that’s what I want. New order, Asset.”

“Sir?”

“As your handler—” Steve dies each time that phrase leaves his mouth, and this time is no different, “—and the person in charge of you, I have a new order for you. You are to make as much noise as you’d like. This isn’t punishment, my goal is not to hurt you but to make you feel better. So if you like something, let me know. You have explicit permission to make noise and do anything—anything—you want to that you did in your dreams with me.” Steve closes his eyes, steels himself for the next part. “Any time that you come to me in need of maintenance.”

Bucky gasps.

“Thank you, sir,” he whispers, as if he can’t believe it’s a real order.

Steve slips two fingers into Bucky, listening for a response. He hears a heavy exhale, feels Bucky’s body begin to relax around him. Gently he strokes over Bucky’s prostate, and his hips lift a fraction.

“Does this feel good? Do you like this?” he asks, knowing the answer full well. He knows Bucky’s body better than he knows his own, knows exactly how to bend his fingers, exactly what angle to hold those hips at to make Bucky come apart around him.

Bucky nods his head, face buried in the mattress.

“I can’t hear you.” Steve strokes again, harder, and Bucky lets out a soft moan.

“What was that?” he asks, adding a third finger to the pressure.

“Yes!” Bucky cries, rocking his hips, grinding against the bed while Steve massages his prostate. “Please,” he begs. “Please, sir, yes, I like that.” He’s trembling, on the verge of orgasm already, and Steve can’t begin to imagine how desperate he must have been before finally coming to Steve for help. He knows how horny he gets himself from the serum, how often he relieves himself, how often he seeks out Natasha when he needs more, and feels a pang of guilt for not thinking that Bucky might be feeling the same way.

Steve slides his fingers in and out, fucking Bucky with his hand, until he sees the telltale clenching of Bucky’s fists, the way he sucks in a deep breath and holds it, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, mouth open as he finally releases the breath with a pleased sigh.

It’s a sight he thought he’d never see again, and it’s enough to make Steve come, too, all over the front of his shorts.

Bucky is shaking, tears running down his face.

“Thank you, sir, thank you, thank you…”

“Next time, don’t wait for it to get that bad before you come to me.”

“Yes, sir,” he gasps.

Steve withdraws his hand and Bucky lets out a soft moan.

“Everything okay, Asset?”

“I...I want more. Please.” His voice is barely audible, as though he’s still afraid to say the words despite Steve’s orders.

But Steve smiles, pleased to have gotten that much from him right now.

“Don’t worry, Asset, I know you still need more. Just gonna get my shorts off.”

He’s not sure exactly when he decided to use more than just his hands, but the sight of Bucky before him, begging Steve to fuck him...Steve might be superhuman, but he’s still human. It’s been a while since his last visit to Natasha and Bucky—the Asset—is giving very clear consent. Conscience be damned, Steve is going to fuck the Asset senseless.

The tense set of Bucky’s shoulders relaxes.

“Thank you, sir.”

Steve fights the urge to take him in his arms and hold him. The Asset is not used to contact that isn’t to inflict pain, and Steve doesn’t want to overwhelm him. He knows they’re already pushing his limits with the concept of consensual sex, where he has a say in what happens, and it’s purely for pleasure.

He coats himself with the lube on his fingers, not that he’ll need much of it. Bucky had to have used half a bottle on himself earlier, and there’s still plenty coating and filling him.

“Ready, Asset?”

“Yes, sir,” he says, though the way he holds himself still says otherwise.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Asset, you know that, right?”

“Yes.”

“Have I ever hurt you before now?”

“No.”

“Right. So I need you to loosen up for me. Relax a bit. If you’re too tense, it will be more difficult.” Steve began massaging the muscles in Bucky’s lower back. “Think about your dreams,” he murmured, leaning over him. “Think about how good it felt to have me inside you, touching you.” He trailed feather-light kisses along Bucky’s spine, recreating one of many possible memories that Bucky had dreamt about. “Think about how much you wanted me there, doing those things.” He ground against Bucky’s ass, his cock slipping between his cheeks.

“Goddammit Stevie stop teasing and fuck me already!”

Steve bites his bottom lip hard enough to draw blood, but he doesn’t let the slip throw him off for more than a second.

“Shhh, easy now, sweetheart, I’ve got you,” he purrs through the tears stinging his eyes, providing the next line in the memory that the Asset has fallen into. He lifts Bucky’s hips and pushes in gently, shuddering when he slides in to the hilt.

“More,” Bucky pants, pushing back against him. “Harder sir, please.”

And just like that, it’s gone, and Steve hates himself a little more.

“I’ve got you,” he repeats, and begins moving, picking up speed as he goes.

The room is soon filled with the sounds of their grunts, slapping skin, and heavy breathing.

“More,” Bucky gasps, even as he pushes shakily to his hands and knees after his sixth orgasm.

“Christ, Buck,” Steve groans.

“Please, sir. It—it feels so good. So much better than…” Bucky trails off, doesn’t finish the thought as he raises to his knees and turns to face Steve. “Even better than my dreams,” he says softly, and they both pretend that’s what he’d meant to say all along. “Unless…” Bucky looks off to the side, a slightly embarrassed look on his face. “Unless you’re getting tired. You’re doing this by yourself. I don’t want to be selfish, if you’ve had enough…”

“Oh I can do this all day, Asset. I’m just worried about hurting you.”

“I don’t believe that is something you are capable of doing, sir. I know, physically you could do it. But I know how you look at me, when you think I don’t see you. I know what you see: your lost friend. You could never hurt me, because you’d only be hurting yourself in the process. I mean too much to you for you to hurt me, even if I still don’t fully understand why.”

Steve exhales sharply, as if he’d been punched in the gut, and hangs his head.

“I’m sorry, sir. I shouldn’t have said anything. I’ll, I’ll just go. I’m sorry.”

Before Bucky can scramble from the bed Steve lunges forward and grabs him by the waist, dragging him back and slamming him back onto the mattress. There’s a moment where fear flashes across Bucky’s face, which is quickly replaced by acceptance, as Steve covers him with his body.

“You asked for one more,” he says softly. “And I told you that I would make you feel better. If you need one more, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

“Sir…oh.” Bucky’s head tips back as Steve pulls Bucky’s thighs over his and slips back inside him, rises up onto his knees, and rolls his hips in long, slow, gentle strokes.

“Oh, God, that’s, fuck, that’s, yes…”

Despite the ache in his chest, Steve smiles at how expressive the Asset has gotten over the course of the night. He’d done what he’d promised, he’d shown the Asset how pleasure felt as opposed to pain.

Even if that meant taking advantage of his intimate knowledge of this body, using it in his favor.

Even if that meant he hated himself for every moment of it.

Beneath him, Bucky is whimpering, panting, as Steve builds the fire to an inferno that will consume them both. He falls forward, bracing one arm to the side of Bucky’s head while supporting his lower back with the other. Bucky’s arms wrap around him, metal hand clutching his shoulder, warm fingers squeezing tightly at the nape of his neck.

Their eyes lock, and Steve loses himself in the stormy gray depths that are nearly eclipsed by pupils dilated wide.

“Steve,” Bucky gasps, and pulls him closer. Before he can stop it, they’re kissing, hot, open mouthed kisses, tongues taking teasing licks as they meet and come apart again in rhythm with their bodies. “Steve,” Bucky says again, wonder in his voice.

“Yeah, Buck, it’s me, I’m here, I’m here Buck,” he answers, and the tears blur his vision as his heart seizes in his chest, the knife he’d been driving into it all night finally hitting its mark.

“Steve!” Bucky cries, and his hands tighten and his back arches as he shatters, just the way Steve knew he would, and his come coats their stomachs as Steve fills Bucky.

Bucky clings to him, holding him tightly, and Steve buries his face in Bucky’s neck, trying to hold back the flood of tears threatening. Beneath him, Bucky’s breathing slows, and his heartbeat soon matches, and he falls asleep, finally spent.

Steve carefully disentangles himself from Bucky’s hold and collapses to the bed, face buried in his pillow, and cries himself to sleep.

 

 

He wakes several hours later to the late morning sun flooding his room, and he’s not surprised to find himself alone. Guilt washes over him as he lifts his head and sees the sheets next to him that the Asset had ripped to shreds. But if he’s honest with himself, the guilt isn’t all for the activities. It’s also for how damned good he feels after fucking the Asset into oblivion. It had been more satisfying than any other sex he’d had since the serum. With a sigh, he gets to his feet. He showers quickly, bags up the ruined bedding for the trash, and checks his phone while the coffee brews. There are several messages from Natasha, and he looks at those first.

 

Nat: hello? Where the fuck are you?

Nat: we’re supposed to be in gym right now what are you doing?

 

Crap, he’d forgotten about that. She was going to kick his ass.

 

Nat: Jarvis says you’re SLEEPING still? You never sleep past 7am.

Nat: WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED LAST NIGHT HE JUST SAID GOOD MORNING TO ME

Nat: HE’S IN A GOOD MOOD AND HE’S NOT B. WHAT DID YOU DO TO HIM

Nat: …you didn’t

Nat: you must have

Nat: did you really?

Nat: I’m coming up there

 

The last one was from about five minutes ago, which meant he had approximately thirty seconds or less by his estimation before she came barging in. He reached for a second mug from the cabinet and filled it just as his door flew open.

“Rogers!”

“Morning, Nat. Want some coffee?”

She rounded the corner into the kitchen and stopped, staring at him. He stood with his back against the counter, one arm draped casually across his stomach, the other holding his cup as he sipped. He met her eyes over the rim of the cup and raised one brow slightly.

“It’s fresh,” he said, gesturing with his own cup.

“You fucked him.” It was a statement, not a question, with a hint of accusation lining her tone.

Steve sighed and dropped his gaze.

“Don’t even try it. You have the worst poker face in the world. And you’re more relaxed than I’ve ever seen you.”

He cleared his throat.

“He doesn’t know how to masturbate,” he said into his cup. “And apparently the serum affected him in a similar manner to me. When they would...use him...he’d release, so it wasn’t an issue. But since he’s been here, and who knows for how long before that...”

“Jesus Christ,” Natasha exhaled, finally taking the cup he’d poured for her.

“Last night he came to me in extreme distress. Begged me for help. What was I supposed to do? I know I said I wouldn’t...but you didn’t see him, Nat. And I didn’t, I wasn’t, he asked. Remember how bad I was the first time I approached you?”

Natasha nodded.

“You were pretty far gone.”

“This was worse, because he couldn’t even help himself in the slightest.”

Fuck,” she said softly. “It never occurred to me—”

“Sorry I missed our training session,” he said loudly, jerking his head toward the door. Natasha, bless her, understood the cue.

“Well, you don’t normally sleep in this late, so I thought I’d check in on you,” she answered. Through the front door, still hanging open from Natasha’s entry, the ping of the elevator sounded. Natasha’s eyes widened and she shook her head with a small grin on her face. She was always amazed at his hearing when he alerted her to something so far off.

“I appreciate the concern, but I’m fine. Just had a bit of a late night last night and overslept.”

“Sir?”

Steve heard the hesitation in Bucky’s voice and knew he was stopped in the doorway, uncertain if he should come in or not.

“Come in. I’m in the kitchen.”

A moment later he appeared, a plate heaped with fresh fruit in his hands.

“I brought you this. You don’t have much fresh food here. I know you normally eat in the main hall, but you should have more on hand. Just in case.”

“Thank you, Asset,” he said, his word choice deliberate. While the Asset needed a harsh tone for control, praise was just as important, if not more so, as far as Steve was concerned. He wanted the Asset to be comfortable, feel encouraged to speak up and think on his own.

“That was very good, very considerate of you.” Of course, his training would have included instructions on thinking about his handlers, anticipating their needs, and acting accordingly, but acknowledging the act was still important to Steve. And judging by the way the Asset seemed to almost preen under the praise, he’d made the right decision.

“Did you want...” the Asset paused, took a deep breath, and started again. “Are we still having that exercise today? I need to set everything up if you are...feeling up to it.”

Steve smiled at the change in word choice. He’d been working with him on phrasing, on not making everything sound like he was asking permission to do things, but instead to make himself an active part of the decision.

“Yes, that would be great. Let me know when you’re ready for me.”

“Thank you, sir.” Bucky nodded and turned to go, then paused and looked at Natasha, eyeing her up and down. He spoke, one word, low and guttural, in Russian, before continuing on, leaving Natasha staring after him, wide-eyed.

Steve cocked his head, brow furrowed, in silent question.

Natasha met his eyes.

“He said, ‘mine’.”

 

Chapter Text

“Hey, I’ve got an idea. You’re probably pretty sick of being cooped up in this tower, right? Let’s go for a walk. It’s still pretty early in the morning, there won’t be too many civilians out and about.”

Bucky lifts his head and tips it to the side, staring at him in utter confusion. JARVIS had woken Steve because Bucky was having a nightmare. That in itself wasn’t anything new, but he’d been thrashing about more violently than normal, and his vitals had been more distressed than usual. So Steve had gone in, and after an initial struggle, he’d discovered it was, in fact, Bucky who’d woken, and they’d ended up sitting across from each other on the floor as he narrated yet another horrific memory—this one was about one of many surgeries on his arm—in a dead, lifeless tone.

Steve pushes to his feet and holds his hand out to help him up.

“Come on. On your feet, soldier. We’re busting out of here.”

A sudden grin splits Bucky’s face, and for a moment everything is right in the world.

An hour later, they’ve managed to wander all the way from Midtown Manhattan to the Brooklyn Bridge. Steve supposes he always had the destination in mind when they left the tower, though he wasn’t conscious of where they were headed until they drew nearer.

“It looks so different from this side,” Bucky muses. “Everything is so different.”

They’d walked most of the way in comfortable silence, Steve watching Bucky closely as he took everything in.

“Can we keep going?” he asked Steve.

“We can. I’ll be honest, whatever you remember from whatever time, it’s probably gone.”

They started across the bridge.

“This feels familiar. Like...I used to watch the sunrise from the bridge.”

“You used to work at the docks,” Steve said, trying to hold back the emotion from his voice. “We shared an apartment, and I used to be sick a lot, before the serum. So you’d pick up extra shifts, work early mornings for the extra money to help pay for things when we were short. Many mornings you’d leave before sunrise, and yeah, you’d watch it from the bridge as you walked to work.”

It hurt to talk about it like this, second hand, as if it had happened to two other people. Which was why he’d been holding back from talking about the past at all with Bucky. In fact, he’d kept a surprising amount of distance from Bucky, encouraging him to talk to the others, to the doctors, the therapists, read, anything that limited their interactions, thereby lessening the guilt Steve felt every time he looked at him. The thought had occurred to him that he’d likely been doing more harm than good by being so distant with Bucky about it all, but since the night with the Asset two weeks prior, he felt weird around Bucky when he was actually Bucky.

They reached the Manhattan tower and Bucky looked around, took in all the buildings along both shorelines, and then looked up.

“Can’t see anything anymore from down here,” he grumbles, and before Steve can stop him, Bucky is climbing out onto the rails and scaling the outer cables.

“Bucky! Where are you going?”

“About two hundred and seventy feet up so I can see the damned sunrise, what does it look like?”

Bucky is laughing—laughing—and the sound is so pure, so Bucky, that Steve can’t help but feel like a kid again, tagging along behind Bucky, trying to keep up, to catch up, to stay by his side.

“Wait up!” he calls, forgetting for the moment that Bucky is a trained, deadly assassin suffering a mental break, that they’re not teenagers being reckless, that they’re not breaking laws by doing this—although who is really going to arrest Captain America?

Steve clambers up onto the top of the tower next to Bucky, who is sitting with his feet dangling very near the edge, looking happily to the east.

“Much better,” Bucky says, and his smile is infectious as Steve sits next to him. “Sunrise is way better than sunset. I don’t care what anyone else says. Sunsets are an ending, and everything gets dark. Sunrise, though, it’s a new beginning. A chance to start over. Everything is bright and cheery. And the colors are just as beautiful.”

“Geez Buck, all these years and I never knew you were a poet,” Steve teases.

“Shut up, punk.” Bucky shoves playfully at Steve’s shoulder and Steve’s heart breaks at the companionship he’d been missing all these years. Tears prick the corner of his eyes and he tells himself it’s the cold wind causing them.

“If I’d known you’d have us climbing the bridge I woulda stopped for a coat first,” he says, changing the mood. It’s autumn, after all, and this high up, with a clear night, even for their enhanced bodies it’s cold when they’re only wearing t-shirts and sweatpants.

“Are you cold? I don’t ever notice it much. Not sure if that’s from training or from all the freezes. Any time I complained about anything they’d beat me, so I really don’t know. I’m sorry, I didn’t think about it.” Bucky moves as if to stand, and Steve pulls him back down.

“I’m fine, Bucky. I was just teasing you. We’ll stay. You wanted to watch the sunrise, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Cautiously he sits back down. Steve leans back, bracing his hands against the cold stone.

“I always wanted to see the world from up here,” he says softly, trying to help Bucky relax once more. “But I was so small and weak, I’d never have been able to climb up here when we were kids. Now it’s just not the same. It’s too noisy. Too bright. The skyline is all wrong. Everything is wrong.”

“I’m wrong, too.”

It’s soft, almost too soft even for supersoldier ears to pick up, but Steve hears it and laughs bitterly.

“Being here with you is the only thing that feels right.”

“Even if I’m not the same person?”

“None of us are the same. I’m certainly not the same person I was then either.”

“I want to be him—me—again. The longer I’m awake, without being in the chair, I have...flashes. Like memories. Of him. Of you.” Bucky bites his bottom lip and looks hesitantly at Steve. “Of us,” he says, his inflection and tone clear as to what he remembers. “Especially after you...But then they’re gone, they don’t stay. And I wonder if they’re even real.”

“They’re real,” Steve whispers, knowing he shouldn’t say anything, meeting Bucky’s eyes.

The sun breaks over the horizon, over the tops of buildings, and bathes Bucky in light. Steve’s breath catches in his throat, and he would swear that his heart stopped. His gaze roams Bucky’s face, taking in every line, every angle, every curl of hair and storing it for later so he can try to paint it, though he doubts he can do the image justice.

Bucky looks to the sun, squinting his eyes.

“See? So much better than a sunset. Why set the world on fire when you can bring it to life instead?” He looks back to Steve, who still hasn’t torn his gaze from Bucky.

“You okay, Stevie?”

He nods mutely, pressing his lips tightly together to keep them from trembling as the tears break free. Stevie. He could count on one hand the number of times Bucky had called him anything other than Captain or Sir since they’d brought him to the tower.

Bucky reaches over and cups Steve’s face with one hand, thumb swiping over his cheekbone, wiping away a tear.

Two days after Steve had been with the Asset, Bucky tried to kiss him, and Steve shied away, explaining that he didn’t want to push Bucky into something he wasn’t ready for, when he was still recovering memories and dealing with traumas and psychological damage and losing time. He’d looked hurt, but the worst part was that he said he understood, and that Steve was probably right, and fucking thanked him for being so considerate. Steve couldn’t admit to the truth of why he didn’t deserve Bucky’s touch.

“I’m not worth your tears. I’ve done terrible things. But you’re not going to give up on me, are you?”

“Never,” Steve gasps through his tears. “You’re worth my everything, Bucky.”

Bucky’s mouth crashes into his and Steve forgets that he should stop this, because they’re just as soft yet demanding as they were all those years ago, and he smells the same, and when he swipes his tongue inside Bucky’s mouth he still tastes the same, and it’s Bucky, he’s got him back, and they can get through this, they can

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry sir, you said you didn’t want to—” Bucky quickly scrambles away from him, cowering on all fours, head down, something having tripped him back into Asset mode.

“It’s okay, please, listen to me, I’m not upset—” Steve sits up, reaches forward, and Bucky scrambles further back, only to slip on the stone that angles sharply away at the edge. His shoes don’t offer much in the way of traction or grip, and Bucky’s lower body shoots over the lip into nothingness. The oh so tormentingly familiar look of shock and fear spreads on Bucky’s face as his momentum carries him down, arms flailing but unable to catch on, and then he’s falling, again, falling, oh god, no, why, not again—

STEVE!” Bucky cries, but it’s not Bucky’s voice, it’s The Asset’s voice, that subtly deeper tone that sets them apart, and Steve is on his stomach, reaching, but it’s too late, he’s too far, he can’t reach, he’s going to lose him again—

Bucky!” And then Steve is running, pushing off, falling through the air, following after him, he won’t leave him again...he does his best to keep his body relaxed, vertical, hitting feet first to minimize injury. The impact is still jarring, extremely painful, but he’d seen Bucky hit back first, and knew from experience how that felt, what that would do to him. After what feels like an eternity of sinking below the surface, Steve finally slows enough to be able to kick forward, searching desperately through the dark waters for Bucky.

Lungs burning, he pushes up, breaking the surface long enough to look for signs of where Bucky fell, sucks in another deep breath, and dives. His fingers brush something metal and he grabs on, pulls, and is elated to see Bucky’s body below him as he rises to shallower water.

A small group of onlookers has congregated, and now cheer when he rolls to his back, hefting Bucky onto his chest to hold him as he begins to slowly swim for shore. Unsurprisingly, by the time he gets there, a large crowd has gathered. Steve is about to ask for someone’s phone when two of Tony’s Iron Man suits land. One immediately goes prone on the ground and opens, revealing an empty interior.

“Put him in, wonderboy,” Tony orders, sounding extremely annoyed, and Steve does so as the crowd takes pictures and videos on their phones. Bucky’s suit takes off as soon as it seals up. Steve steps back and braces himself in preparation of Tony picking him up to fly him back to the tower, and is surprised to have the armor open up and wrap around him as well.

“What’s the status on Bucky?” he asks the moment the mask closes.

“Uh, I believe the words you’re looking for are ‘thank you so much for saving our asses, Tony,’ which, by the way, you’re welcome for. I don’t particularly enjoy five am wake up calls from Jarvis informing me that you two flew the coop and decided to go base jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise.”

“Tony, did it occur to you that if he wakes up inside that suit without me there, there’s no telling how he’ll react?” The responding curse is answer enough for Steve. “Didn’t think so. And besides, it was an accident.”

“Sir, Sargent Barnes’ vital signs are stable, though elevated. His brain activity is quite accelerated, though he remains unconscious. He also suffers from a multitude of broken bones and some internal bleeding, which is already slowing due to his increased healing capabilities.”

“Thank you, Jarvis.”

“I shall bring you directly to the medical suite, Captain.”

Being inside one of Tony’s suits is highly disorienting, and Steve finds himself simply closing his eyes until he senses the shift in speed and alignment that indicates their return to the tower. Tony might be able to follow all the readouts and information constantly flitting across his line of sight, but Steve is thrown off by the lack of peripheral vision and the steady flow of input. His respect for Tony’s intellect and ability increases, though he’ll never admit it to his face.

“As predicted, Captain, Sargent Barnes has woken and is quite distressed,” Jarvis announces as they arrive on the medical floor.

“Goddamn it,” Steve hisses. “Get me out of this thing!”

The suit falls away as Steve runs into the room, where he can hear Bucky screaming, his name interspersed within the sounds of terror.

“Steve! Steve! Help me!”

“Sir, I should inform you, that among Sargent Barnes’ broken bones is a punctured lung that he has now re-injured, and he has broken the lower part of his spine.”

“Jarvis, get his helmet off. Bucky, Bucky, it’s me! It’s okay, I’m here, you’re going to be okay.”

Bucky thrashes his head, trying to get out of the armor, which is currently locked to a table in an effort to contain him.

“Bucky! Listen to me. Listen to my voice. It’s Steve. I’m here. I’ve got you. You’re safe now.” He jumped up onto the table, sitting on Bucky’s chest, and grabbed his head, forcing him still.

“Steve?” Bucky’s voice.

“Yes. Listen to me. You must calm down. I am here. I will not let anyone hurt you. I promised you, right? No more experiments.”

“They all promised me things. They all lied.” The Asset.

“I am not your goddamned handler! I am your friend! I have loved you since we were teenagers and I have never once lied to you.”

“Stevie...” Bucky.

“Yes Bucky. I’m here. I’m with you.”

“’Til the end of the line,” Bucky finished.

“Yes, Buck. ’Til the end of the line.”

He can feel Bucky’s heart racing beneath his fingers as he holds his head steady, but he stills, eyes wide with terror locked onto Steve’s.

“Stevie, I can’t move.”

“Well, for starters, that’s because I’m sitting on you. And you’re restrained. I need you to stay calm and listen to me, because otherwise they’re going to have to give you a sedative, which I know you don’t want. You have a punctured lung. You have broken bones. And you broke your spine. You need to let us set them so you heal properly.”

“I remember falling. I remember you, and the sun on your face, and you looked...” Bucky trailed off, a blush spreading across his cheeks that Steve knew was mirrored on his own. “Apparently, supersoldier or not, it’s not a good idea to fall into the East River from the top of the bridge, huh?”

Steve cocked an eyebrow at him.

“You think?”

Bucky swallows and holds Steve’s gaze.

“Steve? I’m scared. I’m afraid I’ll slip away again.”

“I’ll be right here when you get back, if it does happen. Promise.”

He climbs down from the table with a slight grimace, sore from the impact with the water, and he thinks he might have sprained something from jumping without any protective gear on.

Bucky’s groans accompany his as the suit slowly retracts, gently settling Bucky’s body onto the table.

“Christ, don’t ever let me climb up there again,” Bucky says.

“Yeah, what exactly were you two idiots doing up there anyway?” Tony enters the room in full armor and Steve eyes him up and down. “What, this? Sorry, but I don’t trust Robocop there just yet while he’s injured. And Banner is talking me through this remotely, so, I kinda need Jarvis for scans and whatnot.”

“Watching the sunrise,” Bucky grunts from his position on the table as Natasha arrives and begins palpating ribs.

“Ugh, that’s so cliché and disgusting. And we have a better view here, where it’s warm and dry. Why go there?”

“Ribs are set, his lung should heal shortly assuming he recovers at the same rate as Steve,” Natasha reports. Bucky stares up at her, head tipped to the side.

“I shot you. I’m sorry.”

“Twice,” she answered dryly.

“Then I’m sorry twice. And I’m sorry for...” his eyes found Steve and the returned to Natasha. “For that mess.”

“Eh, he’s not so bad once you get used to him,” she teased, and Bucky smiled up at her.

“Not what I meant, but yeah, he kinda grows on ya, huh?”

“Okay, so here’s the deal,” Tony interrupts, clapping his hands together. “We have to set your spine. Sooner than later. And it’s going to hurt. A lot. It’s not lined up, and yeah, you’re healing fast, and when Ken Doll here broke his after you dropped him from the carrier he was walking out of the hospital in two days.”

Bucky catches Steve’s eyes.

“Guess we’re even now, huh?”

 

Chapter Text

Bucky refuses any and all sedatives, terrified of losing himself again.

The fall from the tower triggered something inside his brain (falling, falling, oh god Steve who’s going to protect you now, not again), and he wants to stay, doesn’t want to disappear within his own mind again, doesn’t want to be cold, detached, cynical, a machine and nothing more.

He’d tried so hard to push forward and remain there, on the bridge with Steve, his Steve, looking out at their city that had changed so much, he’d hoped that it would help end the half-life he was living. Then he’d looked at Steve, bathed in the first rays of the sun like some god come to life, and he was crying, crying for Bucky, his own personal god, shedding tears that Bucky didn’t deserve, and he couldn’t resist the need to kiss him, it had been so long...

Bucky had been unable to stop the fear, the terror, the panic rising inside him from the Asset, the trained response, his conditioned reaction to something so intimate, so forbidden to him, because it overpowered everything and he couldn’t remember just exactly why it was so important to fight to stay.

But as Steve stands at his head, hands on his shoulders, holding him down, and he stares into those impossibly blue eyes, he remembers everything. Scraped knees. Split lips. Black eyes. Broken ribs. Bloody knuckles and noses. Back alleys. School yards. Coney Island. Festivals. Funerals. Their apartment...their apartment. His hand over Steve’s mouth, keeping him quiet so the neighbors won’t hear. Piling blankets on the bed while Steve shivered uncontrollably, all the while terrified that this would be the year that the flu would take Steve from him. Laughter, so much laughter. Steve drawing while Bucky read, the ball game on the radio.

“Steve,” he whispers, his hands coming up to hold onto biceps now bigger than his—everything is bigger now, oh God, he thinks he might die at the feel of Steve inside him now, but he’s got to be quiet, can’t let the other soldiers hear—and Steve smiles down at him, looking just as emotionally wrecked as Bucky feels.

“I’ve got you, Bucky. I’m here,” he murmurs, thumb stroking along his collarbone.

“Ready?” Tony asks, and Steve nods his head, never breaking eye contact with Bucky. Bucky is pretty sure he’s watching for the change, waiting to see if the pain will trigger the switch in his brain, and knows that Steve’s position, so close to his metal arm, isn’t just a coincidence.

Human hands and metal arms from the machines in the room all grab onto him, some holding him still as others move his body. His own hands dig into Steve’s arms and he can’t hold it back any longer, he screams as white-hot pain shoots through him, even worse than when HYDRA would mess with his shoulder. When the haze recedes he feels firm pressure circling his waist and hips, and all the hands are gone except Steve’s, and he’s still got a death grip on Steve’s arms.

But most importantly, he’s still himself.

“Hey, punk,” he says softly, and Steve exhales heavily as he closes his eyes and lets his chin drop to his chest.

“Hey, Buck,” he answers.

“I gotta say, Barnes, it is scary how well you took that, which means I really don’t want to know what those bastards did you because it’ll probably give me nightmares and I’ve got enough of those from my own issues.”

“Thanks, I guess?”

He loosens his hold on Steve and drops his hands to his shoulders, where Steve’s hands still rest, and their fingers intertwine.

“I think we’ve done all we can here, and since you technically don’t exist and we don’t know who might be looking for you, or what exactly was done to you, we can’t just waltz into a neurosurgery room with you. If you’re feeling stable enough, Bruce will come in and run some more checks on you in a bit. My specialty is tech. I can tinker with your arm if you want, change the look of it, the abilities, all that. In fact, I’d really like to do that just for shits and giggles once you’re you all the time and won’t freak out on me. But this kind of stuff is beyond me. He at least has a medical degree.”

Bucky frowns.

“Then why isn’t he here now?”

“He’s got some amazing rage issues. If you went into deadly Russian killer mode, he’d end up destroying my tower and I’m not particularly a huge fan of that—I’m sorry, but are you two going to stop staring at each other? Because it’s starting to really creep me out.”

“It’s called a coping mechanism, I believe. Seventy years of brainwashing, experimentation, and torture. It’s still a little difficult for me to believe he’s real and not a figment of my imagination.” Bucky grins up at Steve as he speaks.

“Okay, well, I’m real, too, and this is very uncomfortable for everyone else in the room.”

“You’re the only other person in the room, Tony.”

“How can you know that if you haven’t torn your eyes from him?”

“Deadly Russian killer, remember?” he asks, dropping his voice.

Steve breaks out into a laugh, and Bucky is smiling as he finally tears his eyes from Steve to look at Tony.

“See? This is what I’m talking about. This is why I have trust issues.”

“I haven’t tried to kill you yet, have I?”

Yet?”

“Listen, in all seriousness, if there is anything you can do about the arm, I’d appreciate it.”

“Yeah, I’m already on it. Got lots of ideas. Lots of diagrams. Whenever you’re ready we’ll look at them,” Tony says, waving a hand dismissively.

“I’m not going anywhere for a day or two, right?” Bucky looks pointedly at the brace encircling his torso.

“In that much of a hurry?”

Bucky sighs and lets his head fall back against the table.

“I hate it,” he says quietly. “It’s heavy and loud and impossible to hide. It’s a constant reminder of them. I don’t want to be theirs anymore.”

Steve takes his metal hand and brings it to his lips. Bucky jerks it away.

“Don’t, Steve. I know what you’re trying to do, but don’t do it.”

“Okay, well, if I’m going to be tinkering with that for real, I need more sleep because I have no clue what’s actually going on for sure inside the one you’re wearing until I open it up, and I just went to bed a couple hours before you two pulled your stunt. So I’m going to take a nap and then we can talk some more, okay? Okay. Great chat.”

With that, Tony disappears.

Bucky hated feeling so broken and useless. How could he keep Steve safe, if he couldn’t even keep control over his own mind? His body? And the arm...he was happy to have something, and this was the best of all the ones they’d tried giving him in the past, but it was so...there. Robots and flying cars and all the science fiction he’d loved aside, he hated waking up and seeing it. Seeing that bright metal, that obnoxious red star, hearing the damned noise that sounded so fucking much like the HYDRA weapons he and Steve and the boys had fought to rid the world of...it made him hate himself. And if he hated himself, how could he love Steve the way he deserved to be loved?

He fucking loves the idea of being a living breathing part of the sci-fi world of the future. Of having a robotic arm that could do all kinds of cool stuff. But not like this. So if Howard’s son—who has the coolest technology he’s ever seen and is smarter than his dad even—can make him a better one, he’s all over that. The sooner the better.

“Buck?” Steve asks quietly.

Bucky sighs.

“I don’t know how to explain it, Steve. I appreciate that the arm doesn’t seem to bother you but for a million reasons I can’t put into words, I despise it as much as I love it. I love the idea of it. And I’m sure I like having an arm of any kind over not having one at all. Just...if I can change this, I want to.”

“Anything you want, Bucky. Anything you need. These are all good people here, they’ll help you.”

“No, they’ll help you. And helping me makes you happy, so that’s what they’re doing. They have no reason to help me. To trust me. Hell, I tried to kill—what’s her name? Natasha?—twice now in the last ten years. I damn near killed you because you fucking let me like the idiot you are, so why should they trust me?”

“Fun fact: Tony will take any excuse, no matter how thin it is, to tinker with something. I swear, if he goes twelve hours without trying to reinvent the universe he combusts from boredom. By the end of your third day here, he had several different ‘options’ he was running by me for what to include in your new arm. Because whatever he saw in the schematics from the base, plus his own scans, sent him into a tizzy. He was ranting about ‘slapping a bumper sticker over a rust spot’ and something about ‘spinning rims on a horse and buggy,’ whatever that means in his brain. But the point is, if he can make it better for you, he will. Not for me. Not even for you. For the sake of doing it. For himself. For the sake of saying that he could. That he did. That he saw something he could improve and he did it. He can never leave well enough alone. He’s always looking for ways to make things better. Hell, if he can design entire suits, he can do one arm in his sleep, without even breaking a sweat.”

“Maybe you should be his boyfriend then if he’s so great.” The words escape him before he can slap a filter between his brain and his mouth.

“You asshole. That is a hell of a thing to say to me.”

Bucky covers his face with both hands and heaves a shaky breath.

“I’m sorry, Stevie. Can we please just stop talking about the arm? I want one, just not this one, and Tony’s going to help with that. End of discussion. Talk to me about something else. Anything else. Tell me...tell me what books you’ve read since you woke up. What kind of music you like now. Can you cook yet? Or do you still burn everything?” He felt his heart rate rising, and tried to take a few deep breaths. “Anything,” he says again, on a whisper.

After a minute, Steve pulls a chair over next to the bed and begins speaking quietly.

“The air doesn’t smell right. The sky is the wrong color. Nothing about New York, about Brooklyn is the same. The buildings have all changed. But that same strong sense of belonging, that fierce neighborhood pride...” Steve goes on, talking about their beloved city, and Bucky tunes out the words, focuses only on the sound of Steve’s voice, the warmth that exudes from him as he seamlessly weaves stories of their past with the way things are today. His very presence calms Bucky, and he feels himself drifting, dozing off.

“I love you, Bucky. Stay with me. Please. I don’t like who I am with the Asset.”

The whispered words float through Bucky’s brain, and he’s not sure if he even really heard them, or if the press of lips against his forehead was imagined.

“Please stay. I can’t do that again.”

Bucky vaguely wonders what Steve’s talking about but can’t devote enough energy to it to keep himself awake.

 

That evening it’s Tony who brings him his dinner, and has a small flat device in his hand—a tablet, he’s been told, and he’s still trying to catch up on all the technology. Tony taps the screen and spreads his arms wide, and suddenly there’s pictures in the air, and Bucky feels giddy at the sheer impossibility of it all.

“So I did lots of scans on your arm, you may or may not remember that? And I’ve got a good idea of how the arm itself works, and I can throw a mini power source into it that’s going to be way quieter than that hunk of tech, it’ll be the same material as my suits, pretty much the same strength capabilities that you have now and all that. The question is, what do you want it to do? Do you want weapons in it? What do you want it to look like? I can make it any color you want, even a flesh tone, I suppose.”

“No weapons, just keep it how it is, I think. I’ve gotten pretty used to it—he’s used to it this way and I don’t want to add anything new until...nothing new,” he finished, not saying what he really meant, nothing new until he was sure of his own mind. No need to give the Asset any new toys, any reason to snap. He remembers enough to know that he’s had several arms, so one more won’t make a huge difference, so long as it doesn’t do anything unexpected.

“Not shiny,” he adds. “No bright colors. I’m not quite as ostentatious as you.”

They spend a good length of time discussing the arm, and Tony is more than happy to show off and explain all the tech he uses and has created.

“I remember, the night before I left for the war, your father had made a car that levitated. Said in the future we’d have flying cars. You got anything like that?”

Tony laughs. “With everything I’ve shown you, you want a flying car?”

Bucky shrugs. “It seemed like the most fantastical thing possible at the time. Was kinda hoping maybe he’d made it work. Or that you did.”

Tony shakes his head and sighs, but he can’t keep the grin from his face. Bucky raises his eyebrows hopefully.

“Yeah?” he asks, growing excited.

“It’s not here,” Tony finally acknowledges. “I’ve got a storage facility upstate. I think you’d like a lot of the stuff there. I’ll take you there some day. You’d be like a kid in a candy store.”

“I’m gonna hold you to that. When I’m better.”

“You got a deal, Barnes. You fix your can, you can drive the car.”

They clasp hands, shaking on it.

“Which car? You won’t let me even touch your cars,” Steve asks as he enters.

Tony pressed a finger to his lips, winking at Bucky.

“Guess you’ll have to wait and see, won’t ya?”

Steve’s eyes narrow as he looks between the two of them.

“I’m not sure I like the idea of you two in cahoots.”

Tony laughs as he stands.

“I’m not sure you get a say, Cap.” He grasps Bucky’s metal shoulder. “Tomorrow morning?”

“Yes, sounds good. Thank you, Tony. Seriously. I mean it. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Hey, I’m excited. It’s gonna be fun. Making a normal arm instead of one for a suit? Well, normal-ish. Either way, if this goes well, the possibilities are endless. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. We can do fully integrated prosthetics for veterans and other disabled people. It could be a whole new direction for SI. Pepper is already getting a legal and medical team together to tease out the logistics, see how we can do it. I should be thanking you.”

Steve sits on Bucky’s right side and takes his flesh hand, wrapping both of his around it.

“Look at them big mitts of yours. Use’ta be the other way around.”

“That was back when you took care of me. Now it’s my turn to take care of you,” Steve said, kissing the back of Bucky’s hand.

“Stevie,” Bucky begins softly, because something has been bugging him most of the evening. “Earlier, I thought I heard you say...what happens when I’m not here? When I shift, and I’m him—The Asset?” It’s a topic that they haven’t discussed during any of his other periods of lucidity, whether by unspoken agreement or fear he doesn’t know. But he needs to know. Especially if he’s getting a new arm in the morning.

Steve keeps his focus on Bucky’s hand, and that tells him more than any words that might come out of his mouth.

“You’re gruff. Well, with everyone except me. But you...it’s subtle. Your stance changes, the way you carry yourself, like you’re always expecting an attack. It puts us all on edge after a while. We’ve gotten more used to it, so it takes longer to get to us, but it still happens. Your voice is a little rougher, your expression is blank, cold, sometimes frightening.”

“And you?”

“What about me?”

“You said that I’m different with you.”

Steve’s eyes flick up to Bucky’s face for the briefest moment before he resumes his inspection of Bucky’s palm.

“With me...” Steve sighs, and it’s a sound Bucky knows well—it’s the sigh that Steve has when he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, and is getting damned tired of it, but he’s going to just soldier on. “You answer to me. I have to...give you commands. Orders. Act like your handler.”

Bucky swallows hard.

“Well, at least I have you to look after me, right?”

“I don’t like bein’ mean to you, Buck.”

Bucky catches Steve’s fingers as he traces the lines of his palm and squeezes his hand tightly.

“I know. An’ I’m sorry that you’re in that position. But I’m glad it’s you and not someone else. I’m not hurting anyone though, am I?”

Steve grins. “Just Clint. He keeps trying to spar with you. He can’t even beat me, I don’t know why he tries with you. I think he’s trying to impress Nat.”

“Are they an item?”

“Not officially, but yeah. Sorry pal, she’s spoken for.”

Bucky wrinkles his nose.

“Nah, I’m not interested anyway. She could kick my ass, I’m sure.”

“So can I!”

“Steve, you can’t kick a cold, let alone my ass.”

“I don’t get sick anymore since the serum. And you’ve never complained about what I do to your ass.”

“Except you won’t do anything to my ass right now, will you?”

Silence, awkward and heavy, crashes over them.

“Bucky...” Steve tries to let go of his hand but Bucky holds tight.

“I’m sorry, Steve. Hey, look at me.” Steve meets his eyes, and Bucky knows by the anger on Steve’s face and the clench of his jaw that Steve is digging in for a fight.

“Steve, I’m sorry. That was a shitty thing for me to say. You’re right about us not doin’ anything yet, you are. I’m just frustrated. I feel like I’m drowning here. I have no control over anything. I don’t know what’s going on half the time, don’t know who I am. You’re all I know, all I’m sure of right now. An’ I just wanna lose myself in you, to feel like I used to, to feel something familiar, something I know, not feel like I’m so damned crazy, even for just a little while—” he broke off and turned his head away as tears spilled free. The last time he’d cried in front of Steve had been at his ma’s funeral.

Steve exhaled a shaky breath, and when he pressed Bucky’s hand to his face, he could feel the tears on Steve’s cheek as well.

“I love you, Bucky. More than anything in the world. Please don’t ever doubt that.”

Bucky returned his gaze to Steve. The fight had left him, to be replaced by sadness.

“I know you do, baby doll. I do. ‘Til the end of the line, right?” He thumbs over the strong cut of Steve’s cheekbone, wiping away another tear. “It’s just hard to not feel like I’m there right now, looking at the end. Hard to see a way out of this tunnel. You’re my only light right now, and I can’t keep my eyes open long enough to find you.”

Steve surges forward, rising out of his chair to kiss Bucky.

“I’ll never leave you, Bucky. I swear.”

Bucky tangled his fingers in the hair at back of Steve’s head—it was getting longer than he’d ever seen it before, and he likes it, likes having something to hold on to as he shoves his tongue inside Steve’s mouth, moaning when Steve’s tongue chases his, giving back as good as he got.

“Really wish I wasn’t strapped to this table right now,” he murmurs, breathless, against Steve’s lips, and feels Steve’s answering grin.

“I know, sweetheart. Soon,” he says, pressing a soft kiss to Bucky’s forehead as he pulls back slightly. “I’m uh...I’m gonnfa rotate your bed back down so it’s flat and get you a blanket.” The flush of embarrassment on Steve’s face is hilarious, considering the things they’ve done in private. They’re both hard, Bucky knows it without even looking at Steve’s crotch. He’s not ashamed of it in the least, but Steve’s sense of propriety has never not gotten the best of him and he’s desperate to hide Bucky’s erection, which is on full display at the moment under the thin sheet covering him.

Steve gets him situated and then sits back down, shifting uncomfortably, and Bucky grins.

“Shut up, jerk,” Steve grumbles, but at least he doesn’t look as sad any longer. Bucky isn’t sure exactly what is going on inside that head of his, but he knows Steve carries too much. He always has.

“You’re gonna stay with me tomorrow, right?” Bucky asks, knowing the answer anyway.

“Of course I am. I’ll be the last thing you see before you go under and the first thing you’ll see when you wake. I know they’re not putting you under fully, but you know what I mean. You’ll still be a little out of it to help with the pain, you agreed, Bucky.” Steve looks anxious at the last part, as though he’s expecting Bucky to change his mind still.

“I know I did. Believe me, I’m not changing that. Even though...even though there’s always the chance of me slipping. I may not remember much of my time as him, but I remember the pain every time they worked on the arm.” Bucky shuddered involuntarily. “I don’t want to deal with that again. It’s worth the risk.”

Once more, Steve has Bucky’s hand wrapped in both of his. He brings it to his mouth and kisses the back of it.

“You should probably get some sleep.”

“Will you stay for that, too?”

“Anything you need, Buck.”

Steve pulls another bed over next to Bucky’s and curls up on his side, facing Bucky, and holds his hand. It was the closest to normal that they were going to get, but Bucky was counting it as a win. He had Steve here, touching him, breathing the same air. It was as close to perfect as they were going to get for a while yet.

It felt all too soon when Bruce came in the room to wake him up and begin prepping, scrubbing him down and attaching a multitude of sensors and monitors to him. Steve stayed as close as possible for as long as possible. Tony appeared with a handful of medical staff trailing behind him. Some were doctors that Bucky recognized from various consultations since his arrival at the tower, some were new, but he knew that Tony and Pepper would have carefully screened and selected any person to walk into the room—and Bucky also knew that money was the best motivator. If these doctors were performing his surgery, they likely would be involved with any future projects Tony did involving prosthetic limbs, which meant a lot of money in their pockets. They had incentive to do their best.

“Hiya Buckaroo! I’ve had like, ten shots of espresso. Today is going to be magical. Everything is magical. You’re magical. And so are you!” Tony exclaims, grabbing Steve’s head and planting a kiss on his forehead.

“Tony!” Steve sputters as he shoves him away.

“And you!” Tony gives Bruce an extra loud smooch on the cheek. Bruce chuckles, Bucky laughs, and Steve blusters.

“Good. Much better. You guys were way too serious and gloomy. This is exciting! Why am I the only one feeling all tingly?”

“Hey, I’m with you, pal. I’m excited,” Bucky answers.

“If I kiss you, you won’t punch me, will you?” Tony asks.

“I’m startin’ to feel slighted, not gonna lie.”

Tony leaned in and Bucky reached up, catching him by surprise and kissing him firmly on the lips.

“Hah! Careful, Buckaroo, I might start to like you more than Capsicle here. You’re clearly the fun one.”

“That I am,” Bucky says with his best swagger, difficult as it is lying on his back, but he still pours on the charm and smirks up at Tony.

“You—” Tony wagged a finger in his direction, grinning from ear to ear, “—you and I could have gotten into some serious trouble I think. But alas! I’m a changed man.” Tony heaves a put-upon sigh, one his hand over his heart, and the other raised to the sky, with his head tilted back and eyes closed.

“Yeah, you are,” Steve says, and it’s clear by the tone of his voice and the twitch of his jaw that he’s pissed. Whether it’s at Bucky or Tony, Bucky isn’t sure, but there’s nothing he can do about it right then.

“Aww, does grampa need his coffee? What’s the matter, Cap, didn’t sleep well?”

“Tony! This is not the time for jokes!”

Tony’s face instantly sobers.

“Rogers, believe me, I’m taking this very seriously. But being too tense isn’t going to help either. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure that Bucky is barely keeping it together over there. I know the feeling of being terrified of something even though you’ve asked for it.” Tony taps at the center of his chest for emphasis, and Bucky wonders what he’s referring to. “Except I wasn’t worried about waking up as someone else. So give me the benefit of the doubt, would ya?”

The room around them has gone silent and still.

“It’s okay, Tony. I appreciate what you’re trying to do. And what you are doing for me today.” Bucky tries to diffuse the situation. He suspects that whatever it is, it goes beyond just him, and that Bucky is just the latest straw to snap the thin thread of tension between the two.

After a moment in which the two never break eye contact, Steve speaks.

“Your father helped to fix me, made me better. I suppose it’s only fitting that you should be the one to help fix the man I love, make him better. And you’re right. I’ve been so worried about him that I haven’t thought about much else, about the bigger picture.”

Tony’s shoulders relax, and everyone in the room seems to follow suit. Thankfully Steve had remained seated during the whole exchange, because Bucky knows—or at least he feels like he knows—how tense everyone can get when Steve is being imposing.

Work resumes on preparing for the surgery, and eventually Steve has to leave the room.

“I love you,” he says as he presses a kiss to Bucky’s forehead. “I’ll see you in a little while, okay? I’ll be right outside.”

There’s a large window in the wall where Bucky knows Steve will stand the entire time, watching everything.

“Love you, punk,” he says, smiling with a bravado he doesn’t feel. Steve gives him the briefest kiss on the lips before he stands and backs away. Their eyes lock through the glass, the intense blue the last thing Bucky sees before the sedation takes effect.

 

*****

 

He wakes slowly.

That in itself is unsettling, as he’s used to being jarred awake violently, with little regard to his well-being.

He’s a tool, after all, not a person.

He takes stock of his body and his surroundings before opening his eyes. He can sense Steve nearby, knows that Steve is aware that he’s awake by the subtle shift in his stance and the uptick in his heart rate, but he’s not saying anything yet to anyone else in the room, giving him time to do whatever it is he needs to.

The room...over all, it’s quiet. Lots of low-level background noise from monitors, electronic devices, he’s lying on a bed...he’s in the medical wing again. There’s light pressure around his torso, and he registers a lingering pain in his spine...in two spots. Lower spine, feels like it was broken? Upper spine...his arm. He’d know that nerve pain above anything else. But despite the tingling along his nerves and in his shoulder, he doesn’t feel...oh wait. There it is. His arm is there. But it must be small? It’s far too lightweight to be the usual arm. And he doesn’t hear the constant, low-level hum of the power source.

He takes a deep breath and rolls his head to the left as he blinks his eyes open to see what they’ve done to him now...oh.

His new owners are definitely far, far superior to HYDRA.

It’s a full arm. Testing, he concentrates on his hand, and watches as the fingers flutter, moving in a smooth wave, opening and closing, lifting easily with the barest thought from him. It would take him a few days, but he’d adapt. He always did. Each arm had been consecutively lighter, there had always been an adjustment period, but this was the biggest leap by far between arms. He turned the arm this way and that, pleased with the feel of it and how responsive it was. The overall design was the same, with a multitude of plates that slid and shifted over one another, but that was where the similarity ended. Instead of being bright and reflective, it was muted, the metal having a brushed looked that absorbed the light. Something caught his eye, and he lifted his shoulder to see the outside of his bicep.

A huge smile split his face as he stared at the star, the same intense blue as Steve’s uniform, outlined with thin strips of white and red.

He belonged to Steve now.

“Morning, sunshine. Well, afternoon. That took a little longer than I expected, we had a bit more internal cleanup to do on the shoulder joint than anticipated. How do you feel?”

The one called Tony is speaking, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t answer to him.

He belongs to Steve.

He looks up at him, eager to see if Steve was pleased with the surgery and the new arm they'd given him, to await his orders and debriefing. Instead, he watches as the light fades from those blue eyes that encompass his whole world, as the disappointment is quickly shuttered, and a blank look settles across Steve’s face.

"Hello, Asset. You were seriously injured two days ago, so you are on mandatory bed rest for another forty-eight hours. And we've upgraded your arm. Mr. Stark can explain all it's capabilities to you. Pay attention to what he tells you. I'll be back later to check on you."

 

Chapter Text

“You should have your gun,” Bucky grumbles at him.

“I am not wearing a gun around the tower at all times. It’s never going to happen. We’ve been over this.”

“You’re gonna get us in trouble.”

Steve snaps.

“You are literally the only person in this building who thinks that! Nobody fucking cares but you!” he yells, and immediately regrets it as he watches the Asset step away from him, head and shoulders dropping as he shrinks in submission.

Steve sighs and rubs his temple. He seems to be doing a lot more of that lately.

The longer Bucky is with them and away from HYDRA, the more freely he speaks, which is great. But sometimes Steve wished he didn’t hear the things that he said, the implications behind the words. Currently he’d like to drop about ten more buildings on Rumlow, although that number seemed to climb daily. And Pierce deserved way more than a single shot to the head.

It was getting harder to deal with the Asset without losing his cool. Logically, Steve knows it’s not the Asset’s fault, but it still pisses him off that the Asset is back, and Bucky is gone, and has been gone for three days now since the surgery.

“Tell me why you believe I am required to be armed at all times.”

Steve has learned how to phrase his questions as orders and he fucking hates that he has slipped into this role of Bucky’s handler so easily.

Bucky sighs as well.

“It’s to protect you from me,” he says sadly, and it’s damn close to Bucky’s voice, the bastard has been relaxing so much that even though his brain still thinks and talks like the Asset, he doesn’t look or sound like the Asset much anymore and he might as well have shoved the knife he held out directly into Steve’s heart. “In the event that I do not respond to orders, or attack you, you must be able to put me down. There is a gun with tranquilizers you normally would have been given. Since you do not have that, you must have something capable of slowing or incapacitating me. Will you take a knife at least?”

Steve reaches forward for the knife, his fingers brushing the back of Bucky’s hand gently.

“I’ll take the knife if it will make you feel better,” he says softly. “But I do not believe you would ever hurt me. You’ve saved my life more times than I can remember, Bucky. You will not be the one to end it.”

Bucky sucks in a deep breath and his hand begins to tremble.

“Thank you, sir,” he manages to say, pulling his hand back.

The elevator opens and they make the walk to the gym in silence. Natasha had been right, of course. If Steve wasn’t willing to fuck the Asset when he felt pent up, he needed to train with him. Half the problem was that Steve did want to fuck him—and he realized that he didn’t care if it was Bucky or the Asset asking for it. The war had been a long damn time ago, and having Bucky this close yet so far away was torture. Not to mention how heated things had gotten while Bucky had been healing from his injuries.

The other half of the problem was that Steve didn’t know if Bucky would forgive him for what he’d done—and still wanted to do—to Bucky while he was the Asset, should he one day fully break the conditioning and be himself once more. Heaven knew Steve was having a difficult time forgiving himself for what he’d done, and what he was likely to do again if Bucky didn’t come back soon. Shit, he wasn’t sure if he could forgive himself, he didn’t know why he thought Bucky would.

Lights flicked to life as they entered, and though Steve wanted to simply pummel another dozen or so bags, he made his way to the boxing ring in the middle of the room.

They’d been going at it pretty hard for nearly thirty minutes when Bucky pauses, gasping for breath.

“Permission to speak, sir?”

“Of course, Buck. What’s on your mind?” Even though it had been the Asset who’d answered Steve’s knock on the door, Steve refused to call him that unless necessary, unless he was pushed to do so.

Bucky frowns, looking hesitant to speak despite being given the go-ahead. Steve gives him a moment and takes the opportunity to grab a towel and tosses one to Bucky, wiping his face as he catches his breath. Bucky had gotten a few errant, uncontrolled hits in and his lip was split, but the sting felt good, the pain and the sight of the blood helping to diffuse his tension.

“Why do you refuse to force me to submit to you?”

Steve choked on the water he was drinking. That had certainly not been what he’d been expecting to be asked.

“It’s...you are never going to be forced to do anything, Bucky. Especially not that. What they did to you, your previous handlers, it’s wrong. Nobody should ever force themselves on someone. Nobody should ever be told that they are someone else’s toy.”

“But it is one of my directives, my functions. First directive is to be a weapon, the fist of HYDRA—or I suppose what’s left of SHIELD now—and serve my country. Second directive is to serve my superiors, my commanders, do whatever it takes to please them, to keep them relaxed and best able to perform their job.”

“You are not a goddamned weapon, or a machine, or a fuck toy. You are a person.”

“Is that why we came here at two in the morning to train then? Because this feels like keeping me in fighting form. Which makes me a weapon.”

Steve’s gaze narrows at the backtalk. While normally he’d be happy to have Bucky sassing him like that, in this context, arguing with the Asset, in the state that Steve is in, only pushes his buttons. He’s about to lay into him when the look in Bucky’s eyes stops him dead.

It’s triumphant.

Steve turns and hurls his water bottle at the wall, eyes closed and taking deep breaths as he paces. Natasha fucking warned me. And I walked right into it anyway. He’s trying to manipulate me.

“A weapon is an object, used and directed by another. You are not that. We are not here because I want to use you, to point and have you shoot. We are here because I couldn’t sleep, and Jarvis said you were awake as well.”

“You could have gone to her.” Bucky rarely said Natasha’s name, and whenever it was in the context of Steve sleeping with her, she was referred to with much jealousy and derision.

“That’s...not what I wanted tonight. Normally I’d have come here by myself, but then I figured maybe you could use the workout, too. Thought you might...feel better if we did this. If I...vented my frustration this way. With you. And you could use the practice getting used to the new arm.” He punctuated the last with another dab at the cut on his lip.

“But you do desire me. I’ve seen the way you look at me, when you think I’m not watching you. And the other night you had no trouble with it.”

It’s the first that either of them have mentioned that night since it happened a couple weeks ago. It had been only a few nights later that he’d had the fall, and then Bucky had been there, for days, as he healed, before he’d slipped away again.

“Bucky...just because I desire you, doesn’t mean I’ll act on it. Not if you aren’t in the correct frame of mind. Not if you think you have no say in the matter.”

Bucky appraised him, apparently mulling it over.

“You’re not like my other handlers. You’re much nicer.”

Steve just sighs, resigning himself to this new and torturous life.

“I don’t sleep much, if at all, most nights,” Bucky continues. “I...I am not normally awake this long, especially without a mission. Or without having used the chair again. I don’t understand, sir. Why am I awake if there is no mission?”

You are the mission, Bucky.”

The answer confuses him more, if the perplexed look on Bucky’s face is any indication.

Steve takes a long drink of water before he continues.

“Again, something we’ve been over before. You know the answer to this and you’re making me repeat it. Somewhere inside of you is my best friend. HYDRA did things to you that made you forget who you are. But the longer you’re conscious, the more their conditioning is breaking down. And I’m starting to question your intentions and motives at this point, because you’re far more alert and aware than you were when you first got here, no matter which personality is in charge of you at any given time.”

“Is that why you call me Bucky? And not Asset? Because you want me to be him?”

“I call you Bucky because that’s your name. You’re a person, not a weapon. Asset is a code name. It creates a mindset and elicits a series of expected behaviors. That’s not what I want from you. How many fucking times do I need to say that before if sinks in?”

“But the others call me Barnes. Only you call me Bucky.”

Steve didn’t know it was possible for a person to sigh as much as he’d been doing since the day he’d brought Bucky home.

“Because they’re still not sure of you. Don’t know you the way that I do.”

“The way you did,” Bucky corrects, and then looks chagrined for doing so. “I’m sorry, sir.”

“No, you’re right. I don’t know you now. I know who you were before HYDRA got you. Whoever emerges from the depths of your brain is going to be different from the man I lost. But it doesn’t mean I won’t love him just the same.”

Steve cringes as soon as the words leave his mouth. He’s so damned emotionally and mentally exhausted that his internal filter is non-existent, and he never meant to say anything about their relationship while Bucky was still predominantly thinking and acting like the Asset.

“I think we’re done here for tonight. You can stay if you want, I’m going back to my room.”

“Wait, please.” The pleading in his voice makes Steve’s steps falter. “Sir,” Bucky says softly, in a tone that Steve recognizes all too well. “I know...I know you’re upset right now. But since we’re alone right now, and, and talking openly...you told me...to tell you when...when...before it got out of control...”

“Oh for fuck’s sake. Are you serious?”

“I’m sorry,” Bucky says, and if he could have made himself any smaller, look more contrite, Steve doesn’t see how. “I was...I’d hoped, when you came to my room tonight...that you wanted...instead of this...”

“You want me to fuck you again? Already? Is that it?”

“Please?” he asks. “I understand if you don’t want to tonight, after...all that. But I will need it soon. I’m sorry, sir.”

Steve closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. The worst part is that he wants it. The begging, the pleading, is turning him on. Not that it was going to take much, it never did when he wasn’t getting laid regularly, and he hadn’t had sex with anything other than his right hand since the night Bucky had come to his room.

“Unbelievable,” he mutters.

“I recall barely being able to stand in the shower after the last time. I never thanked you for that. It was a feeling I’m used to, made me feel good to know you’d gotten such a release. I was proud to be yours, seeing what you could do all on your own, without any implements or anyone else. Plus I know you haven’t been seeing her since then, so you’ve got to feel as bad as I do right now.” He pauses, and Bucky’s eyes flick down to Steve’s shorts, where his erection is clearly evident. “Looks to me like your head is the only thing in this room not on board here, pal.”

That was it.

Without warning, Steve grabs Bucky by the back of the head and pushes him face first against the side of the ring.

“Prep yourself,” he growls. How dare he throw his own words back at him? The words he’d spoken to Bucky their first time, back in high school, when they’d been fooling around together for a while and Steve had gotten tired of handjobs and blowjobs and wanted more, wanted Bucky inside him, and Bucky was afraid of hurting him…

“Sir?”

“Did I fucking stutter?”

Bucky hurries to push his shorts down and reaches behind himself, metal fingers holding his cheeks apart as he sucked two fingers and then shoved them inside his hole. Steve watches in fascination as Bucky fucks himself relentlessly, clinically, not seeking his pleasure, not trying to stroke himself or seek out his prostate, occasionally withdrawing his hand to spit on his fingers to help ease the way more and open himself up for Steve. Not once does Bucky make a sound, even though Steve can see how hard his cock is, flushed and dripping with precome.

Steve gathers his own precome and slicks himself up as he pushes his shorts down to free his cock.

“Enough,” he barks, voice harsh.

Bucky immediately removes his hand and grabs his ass, one hand on each cheek, spread wide and waiting, as he bends himself over the boxing ring, resting against it. Steve steps in behind him and drives himself in, pushing against the resistance from not enough lube. Bucky grunts, but makes no other sound.

“Is this what you wanted?” He grabs Bucky’s hips, forcing himself in to the hilt in one go.

A whimper is his only reply.

“Answer me!” he demands, pulling out and driving back in hard enough to force Bucky’s waist painfully into the edge of the ring.

“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!”

“Greedy little thing, aren’t you?”

Bucky whines.

“Move your hands. Hold onto the ring.”

Bucky is quick to comply, and braces himself, pushing back against Steve.

For his part, Steve fucks him hard and fast.

He is angry at the Asset, and yeah, he wants to take that anger out on him, because he’d had Bucky back for three whole days, and he’d started to believe that maybe he was back to stay.

He is angry at himself for letting the Asset get to him, for manipulating him and using his anger against himself, angry that he’d lost his cool when Bucky needed his patience.

Angry that somehow the Asset had gotten his way, and Steve was now fucking him in the gym where theoretically anyone could walk in on them despite the time.

Most of all, he is angry that with those first few thrusts, he was exhilarated to realize he could fuck the Asset hard and dirty and not worry about doing permanent damage.

“You want it this rough, is that it? I was too nice last time? That why you need it again already?”

“Please!” the Asset gasps, hands tightening their grip.

“You break that ring and I’ll break your fucking hand, Asset.”

The sound that comes from the Asset shouldn’t be so fucking filthy, shouldn’t send fire through Steve’s veins that has him fighting back his orgasm until he makes the other man come, because the sound was so helpless, so broken, and it shouldn’t have turned him on so much, especially coming from his best friend and lover.

“Goddamn you, fucking come already,” he grits through clenched teeth, and it’s as if that was all the Asset needed because he did come with a hoarse cry, and Steve fucks into him, hands grabbing him hard enough to bruise, until he comes with a groan.

He pulls out the moment his cock stops twitching, still breathing heavily as he pulls his shorts up.

“Clean up your fucking mess,” he says, throwing a towel at Bucky’s feet. “And when you’re done, get your ass to my room. I’m going to take a shower. You better fucking be ready and waiting on my bed when I get out.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Steve exits his shower to find the Asset on all fours in the middle of the bed. He’d heard him arrive, just moments before he turned the water off, but the Asset had still managed to place his shoes and pants neatly beside the bedroom door, out of the way, before taking his position. He watches the slow, carefully controlled breathing, the surest sign of the Asset’s emotional state. If Steve has learned anything in the past couple of months, it’s that the more the Asset schools his expression and stills his body, the more worked up he is.

He clears his throat and gets the slightest flinch of the Asset’s hand in return. A smirk flits across Steve’s face as he uncrosses his arms and makes his way to the bedside table. He opens the drawer and begins pulling things from it, lining them along the edge of the bed where the Asset can clearly see them. A bottle of lube. A cock cage. A vibrating cock ring with a full cock attached, allowing for double penetration—or, as he liked to use it for, self-penetration with the ring on as he jerked off. A ribbed and spiked silicone cock sheath. The sheer amount and variety—and open availability—of toys these days never ceases to amaze Steve, and Natasha had been more than willing to use these and more on him.

“So apparently,” Steve says softly, in the most calm tone he can muster, “I was too lenient on you the last time. Too nice. I wore you out, yes. But I didn’t hurt you. And you want it to hurt, don’t you?” When the Asset remained quiet, Steve squeezed the Asset’s cock, harder and harder until he whimpered.

“Yes!” he finally cried. “Please, sir. Please hurt me.”

Steve hummed his response—more contemplative than pleased, to be sure. He’d never intentionally hurt anyone during sex in order to get off on it, and even some of the kinkier stuff he and Nat did never really hurt him. He wondered just how far he’d have to go to hurt another supersoldier.

“Okay, Asset. Let’s play this your way then, tonight. Let’s see if I can hurt you and give you what you want.”

He started by securing the cock cage, which drew multiple cries from the Asset, considering that he was already hard again. It wasn’t a terribly painful cage, though, as Steve knew from experience. It was a soft, not rigid, and stretched tightly around the Asset’s cock, digging in in ways that Steve had anticipated—after all, he was very familiar with the size of Bucky’s cock, and knew if the restraint worked for him it would work for the Asset.

“Well, that doesn’t look very comfortable,” Steve tsked.

“Thank you, sir,” the Asset gasped.

Steve shook his head slightly as he took position behind the Asset.

The Asset’s hole was red from their earlier activities, and Steve teased a finger along it before shoving in, no lube, to see what he’d do, how slick he was inside from what remained of Steve’s come. The Asset grunted, but accepted the intrusion without complaint. He twisted his hand, curled his fingers until he found the spot. The Asset gasped, even as his hands fist the sheets.

“Don’t worry about being able to release. I can still force it out of you, even with the cage on. It hurts a bit, but I’m sure you can take it.”

The Asset whimpered again, back bowing and ass presenting as he both fought and chased the feeling.

With a grin, Steve pulled his fingers out and lubed himself up.

“I’ll give you another round like normal, first. Let you get used to the cage. By the time we’re done here, maybe you’ll appreciate my tactics a bit more.” His words are punctuated by a thrust as he drives himself in and the Asset rocks forward from the force of it.

Just like in the gym, Steve keeps a fast and brutal pace. Except this time, he doesn’t care if the Asset comes. He doesn’t even want him to, if he’s honest. The Asset doesn’t know what he has asked for. Steve knows how it feels to be trapped in that cage, desperate to come while being pounded by a cock. But Steve only had Natasha for that. She doesn’t have his strength and endurance. He knows, to an extent, what he himself can take. The Asset is enhanced. He knows, logically, that there is nothing he can do that will compare to the things Hydra did to him. That he can let himself go, take the things he’s always wanted from the body beneath him without fear. Without restraint. The thought of it alone is enough to tip him over and he comes, burying himself inside the Asset as he fills him.

The Asset whimpers and Steve looks to the bed beneath them, finding it still clean and dry, no evidence of a large release. Perfect, he thinks. A part of him screams in the back of his head, that he should not be enjoying this, that if he’s going to be doing this to anyone, it should be Bucky. But that doesn’t stop his cock from hardening again almost immediately as he thinks of the torment the Asset’s cock is enduring.

He pulls out and slips two fingers in, sliding through his come as he seeks the Asset’s prostate.

“Sir!” the Asset cries, but Steve is relentless and works his fingers until the Asset trembles, gasps as his cock releases while still trapped, and his arms give way a bit as he falls to his elbows.

“Hmm, what should we try next?” Steve grabbed two handfuls of the Asset’s ass and squeezed tightly. “I love this ass,” he says, half to himself, and leans in to bite one cheek. He decides that he likes the angry red oval left by his teeth, and he bites the other side harder. His heart rate accelerates as he admires the result. He smacks his hand down, open palmed and searing, over the bite. A choked cry comes from the Asset.

“So pretty,” Steve muses. “Maybe I should mark you up some more. Really make you mine. Such a shame that I can’t make them permanent.” A soft whine, so soft that even Steve has trouble hearing it, escapes the Asset. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Want the whole world to know what I do to you, is that it? Want everyone to know who you belong to?”

“Please,” he begs. “Please, sir. Mark me. Claim me.”

Steve groans and grabs the cock ring/dildo combination and lubes himself up, slides it on and gets it comfortable. He sets the vibration to a medium setting and drives the fake cock into the Asset without slicking it up, and is wholly unprepared for the moan of pleasure that comes from the Asset. He pulls back and thrusts in again, his cock nestled in the valley of the Asset’s ass, sliding easily with the lube he’d coated himself with as the dildo begins to move more smoothly from the come now coating it. The dildo makes an obscene sound as he moves, come being forced out around it through the Asset’s stretched hole as Steve drives the large cock into him.

The Asset pants beneath him, and Steve notices that he’s actually rocking back into the thrusts, trying to drive the massive cock even deeper. He pauses, adjusts the vibrator to a higher setting, and shifts his legs. He pulls the Asset’s legs together so that his own are caging the Asset, tightening his ass around the dildo and squeezing his cheeks around Steve’s cock. Steve pours more lube over his cock, making a sloppy mess of where they are joined, and pumps furiously, sliding effortlessly.

The Asset cries out as another orgasm is forced from him and Steve’s sprays all over the Asset’s back. But the slick sensation, combined with the vibrations, feels too good, and he doesn’t stop, fucking the Asset through his release and returning to full hardness himself after just a few thrusts. He continues until the Asset’s back is covered in come and Steve is shaking with the exertion and the high of three back-to-back orgasms with no slowing between. Distantly, he hears the Asset’s sobs, hears the pleases and thank yous being forced out between breaths, and Steve shudders through one more release, as much pain as pleasure shooting from him to add to the mess he’s already made.

He stops, hips locked tight against the Asset as he catches his breath. The dildo remains buried inside the Asset, the vibrator still going, and the Asset whines. Steve opens his eyes and takes in the scene.

“What?” he growls.

“More,” the Asset pleads, and for half a second, Steve thinks he might throw up when he sees the pink tinge on the base of the dildo—he never, never intended for this to go that far. Instead, he swallows hard and removes himself from the cock ring, leaving the dildo in place.

“Go clean yourself up,” he barks as he falls to his back in the middle of the bed. “And don’t you even think about taking that out until you’re in the shower. You’re not dripping a trail of come and lube across the room. You can crawl there.”

“Yes, sir,” the Asset breathes out.

Steve went into the kitchen and forced down a glass of the supplements Bruce had created for him. He wasn’t always able to eat enough to meet his caloric needs, so Bruce had found a solution in the form of some disgusting supplement sludge. Bucky had some in his room as well now. He was more used to taking supplements, as Hydra hadn’t been a huge fan of feeding him in general. Bruce’s concoction was concentrated so that he could carry a small amount of it in his utility belt on missions and mix it with water. Right now, he made a strong mix and choked it down before returning to the bedroom.

The Asset stood in the middle of the room, water dripping everywhere, dildo and cock cage removed and on the bed.

“Asset, what did I fucking tell you? And why did you leave the shower on?”

He lifted his head and stared at Steve, utter confusion on his face, and suddenly it was 1943 and Steve was drowning in the frigid waters of the Arctic as his body went numb.

“Steve? What the fuck is happening?”

 

 

Chapter Text

Bucky took in Steve’s naked body, his half-hard cock, and the fear in his eyes. Add to that the disturbing amount of come on the bedding, and the pain in his ass, and the simple math was obvious.

But this son of a bitch was going to say the goddamned fucking words.

“Steve,” he repeated, slowly moving across the room to where the man was rooted to the floor. “What. The fuck. Is happening?” His hands fisted at his sides. Not once, from the first time he’d saved Steve’s scrawny ass on the playground, to the day Steve saved him from Zola’s table and he’d found out what Steve had done, had Bucky ever wanted to raise a hand to Steve in anger. He’d fought the urge to literally shake some sense into that thick fucking skull more times than he could count, but hell, it had been Steve who’d broken all the years of brainwashing on that carrier and stayed his hands.

Right now, those hands were a heartbeat away from breaking that perfect fucking jaw.

Steve swallowed, jaw working like a fish out of water.

“Bucky, I—I can explain. I—you—I mean, the Asset—”

Crack!

Bucky would be lying if he said that the sound of his fist connecting with Steve’s face didn’t give him a great deal of satisfaction.

“Okay, yeah, I deserved that.”

Crack!

Steve fell to a knee, one hand holding his face, the other held out in a silent plea.

“That too,” he gasped.

“Never. Never have I hit you. Or truly been so angry that I wanted to hit you. Say it. Say it, Steve. What was happening here? Tell me. Or the next hit won’t be coming from the right arm.”

“I—” Steve dropped his head and closed his eyes. “I was fucking the Asset,” he whispered.

“You fucking coward. You can’t even fucking look at me when you say it. Well, at least now I know why you’ve been keeping me at arm’s length. Here I thought you were looking out for my health, but it turns out it wasn’t that at all.”

Steve whines.

“Bucky,” he begs. “No. You don’t understand.”

“What the fuck is there to understand, Steve? The last thing I remember, I fell. I was recovering, and things were looking good, I was here for days, and you and I were gettin’ pretty hot and heavy. Just couldn’t do nothin’ cuz of my back. So, what, you couldn’t make it a few more days? After waitin’ so long for me after you got me here? Cuz I know you ain’t been drinking, you can’t get drunk no more. So what’s the excuse? Huh? This should be a good one. You can’t lie for shit.”

Bucky crossed his arms and rolled his shoulders back as if he was leaning on a wall, fixing Steve with a glare. Steve hung his head, body shrinking as he deflated.

“I fucking tell you everything, Steve. Everything. All my nightmares—you think I wanna talk about them? Tell you what I’ve done? What they made me into? All this time I’ve been afraid that that was what was really holding you back. The monster that I’d become. That you couldn’t look at me and not see him. Not see the blood on my hands. That you were repulsed by me. But clearly that’s not the problem.”

“He—the Asset—Hydra, they conditioned him to need—”

“So you what, took one for the team? Instead of finding another way? How magnanimous of you. How could you do this? The one thing I ever asked you for, and you can’t do it to me, but you’ll do it to him?”

“You have every right to hate me,” Steve says, his voice shaky, words slurred from the broken jaw. He still can’t work up the guts to look Bucky in the eye.

“Hah. You see, Stevie, there’s the rub. I can’t hate you. Even for this. I literally owe you everything right now. Who knows what I’d be doing if you hadn’t rescued me, once you knew I was alive?” He sees the flinch of Steve’s shoulders and doesn’t feel sorry about the low blow. “Like the damned fool I am, I still love you. Even if I want to punch your face in right now.”

“I wouldn’t stop you,” he says softly.

“Of course you fucking wouldn’t. Because you’re so fucking stupid you’d let me almost kill you again. So do me a favor, ‘kay? Don’t follow me. Cuz if you do I might do something I’ll regret one day.”

“Bucky, please! Please don’t leave.”

“Leave? And exactly where the fuck would I go? No, Steve, don’t flatter yourself. I’m just going to my own floor. Away from you.”

*****

The Asset woke in a strange room. He went on alert instantly, listening for sounds as he scanned the room. Layout, furniture, view, it was all nearly the same as his previous view, only shifted slightly. The sounds were the same—he could hear the staff in the main kitchens, everyone doing all the behind-the-scenes work of the tower in the lower levels, only now they seemed to be a floor closer to him. The smell was...empty. It didn’t smell like Cap or himself or any of the other team members. A guest room then? On an unused floor? There was a bundle on the floor just inside the bedroom door. It appeared to be the quilt from his previous bed, stuffed with items—his gut told him his clothes and few belongings were in there.

Once the confusion began to dissipate, he realized that he felt something—an inexplicable mix of sadness and anger. He cleared his throat.

“Jarvis?” he tried.

“Good morning, Soldier. How may I assist you?”

Well, good. At least the robot in the ceiling was still talking to him. So whatever it was he did, he couldn’t have fucked up too much. Plus, he didn’t have a babysitter.

“Can you tell me why I’m in this room? What happened? How long was I gone this time?” The last thing he remembered was stepping into Steve’s shower.

“Not long, sir. Shall I fill you in as usual?”

“Yes, please, thank you,” he murmured as he pushed himself to sit at the end of the bed, infinitely grateful for the sentience of the system. He stretched, limbering up, loosening the muscles of his shoulder, back and neck while he waited for the report.

“Sargent Barnes still has not asked me for information about what happens when he is you.” The Asset scoffed. Trusting idiot still thinks Steve will tell him what he needs to know. Jarvis continued speaking. “While you were showering, Sargent Barnes woke up.”

“Uh-huh. I kinda figured. And I’m assuming that’s where things went wrong and I ended up here?”

“Yes, sir. Perhaps it will be easier for me to show you this part.”

The Asset’s head snapped up, because that meant whatever went down, Steve hadn’t had Jarvis erase the footage. A screen appeared on the wall and he saw himself, standing in Steve’s room. He watched himself clock Steve in the jaw not once but twice, and chuckled to himself that it took this for Bucky to grow a spine and stand up to Steve since they’d been rescued. He listened to the one-sided argument, which wasn’t even really an argument, then watched as he grabbed his items and came down here. Once the door was locked—and, he noted with a wry grin, barricaded, not that it could stop Steve if he really tried—Bucky sank to the floor and cried.

Well.

At least he’d held it together until he’d been alone.

And now that the dipshit knew about what Steve was so willing to do with him but not Buckyseriously, how stupid and trusting was he that he hadn’t seen it sooner?—the Asset knew he’d have to work harder to make himself indispensable, because he couldn’t count on the idiot doing anything useful besides moping now. He assumed that’s why he’d been the one to wake up, not Bucky. It was easier to take control when numbnuts was emotional. Emotions made you weak.

“Thank you, Jarvis. Where is Steve now?”

“Captain Rogers has spent the remainder of the night and early morning in the lower gyms sparring with Sir’s reinforced suits and equipment. I do believe he is near to the point of passing out.”

“Of course he is.” The last of the residual emotions from Bucky were fading away, and the Asset ran his hands through his hair as he stood, slipping the band from his wrist and tying it back into a loose bun at the top of his head. Thankfully Bucky had left it long. He’d considered cutting it a few times, but every time he did, he remembered how Steve would fist it, using it like a handle as he fucked him, and he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

Because he was going to do everything and anything in his power to make sure that happened again. There was no way he was leaving without a fight.

*****

Steve hated himself for how much he loved fucking the Asset.

He knew he’d been betraying Bucky, felt it in deep cuts right down to the marrow in ways that sleeping with Natasha had never made him feel.

Steve refused to sleep with Bucky while he was still recovering. He knew it was the right thing to do, to not force their relationship back onto him while he was still trying to find himself.

He knew he couldn’t keep pushing Bucky away forever. But he couldn’t refuse the Asset. Maybe it made him weak. But the truth was, he was scared he’d lose that release, that Bucky wouldn’t be so submissive with him, that he might even flat out refuse to bottom any more after everything Hydra had done. Hell, after everything Steve had done now. It was no less than Steve deserved, after all.

They were both finally physically capable of having the kind of sex they’d always wanted, and now Steve had fucked that up fifteen ways to Sunday.

He staggered on his feet, swaying as he threw another punch, smearing the blood coating the bag. After he’d destroyed Tony’s four newest prototypes, he’d moved on to the heavy bags. Even with the reinforced bags they’d gotten, he was on number eight.

Steve had known that he should stop. He should have stopped before it even started. Eventually, Bucky was going to remember his time as the Asset—he was already remembering many of the earlier missions, but the more recent events were still hazy. He’d fucking told himself that the longer this went on, the worse the fallout would be when the inevitable happened. And now the inevitable had happened, in the middle of it, no less, and now Bucky had every right to see Steve as no better than all the HYDRA agents who’d used him.

But it was always so hard to remember why he needed to say no when the Asset would come begging, pleading, cock already hard and dripping, and fall to his knees at Steve’s feet.

Steve was only human.

And contrary to popular belief, he was not aways a good man.

He fell to his knees, arms around the bag, and slid to lay prone on the floor.

“Alright, man. Come on.” Sam grunted as he tried to lift Steve’s shoulders. “Christ you weigh as much as a tank. I’ll drag your stupid ass to the med bay if you don’t help me.”

“Jus’ leave me. Be fine in a min’,” he mumbled into the mat.

“Uh huh. Sure you will. What happened to your face?”

“Bucky hit me.”

“Yeah, I kinda figured that. Was it Bucky, or the other guy, though?”

“Bucky,” Steve said, and started crying.

Sam groaned. “Shit, I’m gonna need help. Jarvis? Can you send a suit? Or a stretcher or somethin’?”

“Of course, sir.”

The last thing he remembered was a sense of floating through the air before he gave in to the darkness.

 

Chapter Text

“Nuh-uh. I can’t let you in there, man.”

Sam stood squarely in front of Steve’s door. The Asset had to admire his loyalty and determination, at least.

“Fuck outta my way, bird-brain. I’m not the one who put him in there.”

Sam folded his arms across his chest and widened his stance.

“I’m pretty sure that one—or both—of you are directly responsible for his actions that caused him to collapse, which is close enough for my logic.”

“Listen, I was happily getting split open and fucked through Cap’s mattress when Sargent Dumbshit took over and ruined everything. He’s the one who broke Cap’s jaw, which caused his guilt-ridden ass to take it out on himself in the gym because he won’t fuck the other one, but can’t keep his dick outta me.”

Sam stared at him slack-jawed.

“There was so much in there that I did not need to know about. What the fuck, dude?”

“Sam,” Steve called softly from inside the room. “Let him in.”

“See?” the Asset said, flashing a smile at Sam.

“Don’t smile at me, man. That is just plain disturbing. Shit, I gotta go find some brain bleach. Did they keep any of your chairs? Maybe I can erase the last five minutes of my memory.”

The Asset flinched and covered it with a growl, fists clenched.

“Sorry, man. That was a shitty thing to say,” Sam said, sounding genuinely apologetic.

“Yeah, well, you’re a shitty person apparently.”

“Asset!” Steve said, a little louder this time.

“I’ll be seeing you,” he threatened, pointing his hand in a fake gun position and “shooting” at Sam between the eyes as he shoved his way past him and into Steve’s medical suite.

“Was that really necessary?” Steve asked tiredly.

“It was a shitty thing to say, sir!”

“I meant your statement before that.”

“Oh. Well, probably not?” he said with a shrug.

“I’m not sure I like friendly you. Maybe you should go back to not talking to anyone but me again. Any chance I could talk to Bucky?”

“Definitely not.”

Steve sighed, and managed to make it sound like the weight of the entire universe was on his shoulders.

“It was worth a try,” he grumbled, hand over his face. “Asset. What happened last night is never happening again. I think it’s clear from your behavior just now that you are far more with it than you wanted me to believe. Which means you probably know how to take care of your own needs. So you’re on your own from now on, as far as that activity is concerned.”

The Asset swallowed. He’d been expecting as much, knowing how quick Steve was to throw himself onto the sword of martyrdom.

“I understand, sir. He is more important to you. You don’t want to hurt him. Well, not any more than you have. It’s honorable. It’s the right thing for you to do.” And yeah, so he wasn’t above a little bit of emotional manipulation, it was just one skill he’d been trained in—reading others.

“That’s not—damn it, you’re in his body, you matter too, I just—”

“Can’t let yourself want both of us?”

“Christ, I did not sign up for this shit when I joined this program.”

“You think any of us did, sir?” It’s probably the most honest, most real statement he’s made since the first week of being here, and Steve doesn’t fail to notice.

Steve heaves another universe-weary sigh and meets his eyes.

“Listen. I get it. At least I think I do. You didn’t ask to be here, be...whatever it is they made you.” Steve flaps his hand through the air in the Asset’s direction. “But he is remembering you, and I’d bet my shield that you’re remembering him. I don’t even pretend to understand or know what is happening in your head. But I’m not touching either of you until you get your shit sorted.”

“And if what you want never happens? If we remain two separate identities?”

“Then I guess there will be three pissed off and pent up supersoldiers in this building.”

*****

“I want a brain scan,” Bucky announced as he waltzed into Tony’s lab.

Tony didn’t even look up from whatever he was welding.

“Didn’t we just do one like, three weeks ago? After you broke your back?”

“Yeah. But the switches are happening faster now. More easily. And I’m remembering more. Wait, I thought we were putting that piece like this?” He pointed to the blueprint still taped to the wall.

“Nope. I tested the aerodynamics. Won’t work. Too much down draft. Need to curve it this way.”

“Oh, okay. Can we not paint it red and gold? Can we do blue and black?”

“Metallic?”

Bucky rolled his eyes.

“Okay, fine, metallic.

“Sweet. I’ll send word to Bruce. Hey Jarvis?”

“I am composing the message as we speak, Sir. Sargent, when would you like your test?”

“Whenever he’s free or ready.”

“Very well, sirs.”

“Buckaroo, can you bend this—yeah, there, perfect, thanks.”

“Pepper is gonna kill you when she finds out about this, isn’t she?”

“Nah, she’s used to it by now.”

“I still want a steering wheel in it.”

“It will literally be just for show, it’s fucking flying car, Barnes.”

“Right. A flying car. Not a plane. I don’t want a goddamned cockstick in my hands.”

“I—I don’t think that’s what they’re called...”

“You can make it work, Tony.”

“Of course I can. But it’s going to look ridiculous!”

“Good thing it’s not yours then, huh?”

“Good lord, how did he put up with you?”

Bucky laughed. “Who, Steve or your—” Bucky gasped, stumbled, and fell to the floor holding his head.

"Buckaroo? Bucky, what's wrong?"

Bucky couldn’t answer, could only squeeze his eyes shut as he folded in on himself, kneeling on the floor with his head on his knees, screaming in terror.

“No, no, no, nononononononoooooo...”

“I’m going to need you to talk to me, buddy. What’s happening? How can I help?”

“No, god damn it, no, you fuckers!” Bucky clenches his fist, slams it into the floor, and its his metal hand, the hand Tony gave him, and it cracks the concrete floor, and Bucky wants to use that same hand to bash his skull in.

It’s no less than he deserves.

“Bucky? Hey, it’s okay, whatever it is, it’s okay, we’ll figure it out.” Tony places a hand gently, cautiously, on Bucky’s shoulder and he scrambles backwards, crashing into the work table, knocking things to the ground as he tries to get away from Tony.

“Don’t touch me!” he screams, with perhaps a bit more panic in his voice than he’d like.

“Okay, I’m sorry, that’s my bad. But I don’t know how to calm a deadly Russian assassin when he’s freaking out, so—”

Bucky whines at the choice of words and thankfully Tony gets quiet.

“Tony,” he whimpers, and stares up at him wide-eyed, arm still held out between them protectively, his heart in his throat, and his blood runs cold. How does he tell his only other friend in the world that oh, by the way, I murdered your parents?

“Memory?”

Bucky nods, unable to speak.

“Yours? Or...?”

Bucky lets his head loll to the side and stares off at a spot on the floor, eyes unfocused, voice low and flat.

“His. Theirs. I don’t even know what to call them. He was the one doing the actions, but he was always detached from it, like he was watching someone else do it. Never felt anything. So when the memories hit me, it’s like a double whammy. I get the horror of watching myself do whatever it is. And then I get the rage all over again, at Hydra or the Russians or whoever owned me at the time, for what they made me do.”

Tony cleared his throat and sat back, giving Bucky silent support and space at the same time.

“Do...do you want to talk about it?”

Bucky felt tears running down his face and buried his head in his hands as he sobbed. He absolutely didn’t want to talk about it, but there was no way he could keep this to himself.

“It wasn’t an accident. I’m so sorry, Tony. I’m so, so sorry.”

“What wasn’t an accident? I don’t understand.”

“December sixteenth. Nineteen-ninety-one.”

“Bucky...no. Don’t—just no. Don’t say it.”

Bucky lifted his head and met Tony’s eyes, filled with both fear and tears of his own.

“I killed them. It was me. I killed your parents.”

Tony looks as though Bucky had just shot him in the stomach. It was a feeling he could sympathize with. He’d liked Howard. The thought—hell, the realization—that he’d been responsible for their deaths made him want to throw up. Which, incidentally, is what Tony was doing at the moment.

Bucky didn’t dare move for fear of Tony lashing out at him. Not that he didn’t deserve whatever Tony might do to him. Instead, Bucky sat and cried as Tony dry-heaved into a can and DUM-E looked confused.

“Get out,” Tony finally whispered.

“Tony, I—”

“Please go before I do something I’ll regret later. Much, much later. This is me showing restraint, Barnes. Take it and run with it. Now.”

*****

Bucky woke when his ass met the floor as he fell from the bed. Another nightmare. Christ, it was like they’d never end. He’d started sleeping with half the lights on. After the first few times of waking, not knowing who or where he was, only knowing to scream for Steve, it seemed like a better plan.

Most nights it even helped.

Not tonight, though.

He couldn’t get the image of Howard’s face out of his head.

With a heavy sigh, he rose and padded silently into the hallway and up the single flight of stairs, until he was staring at the closed door. He thought he heard movement.

“Jarvis,” he whispered. “Is Steve awake?”

“Yes, Sargent Barnes,” Jarvis answered as quietly. “However, I feel I should inform you—”

It was too late.

Bucky opened the door, calling out for Steve, before Jarvis even finished saying his name.

“Hey, Stev—” the words died on his lips. “Oh.”

Well, that was one way to forget his nightmare.

Vaguely, he was aware of the sound of metal bending as his hand crushed the doorknob he held. Anger, rage, and pain swiftly coursed through him as he stared at the bed, where a very naked Natasha was sitting atop a very naked Steve, his cock very clearly inside her.

“Shit, Bucky! Buck, this isn’t—I swear—wait!”

“Save it, Rogers,” he growled, forcing his hand to release the knob as he spun on his heel. He forced himself not to run until he reached the stairs, and then he was lurching up them, taking them three and four at a time, until he crashed out onto the roof.

He held the railing firm, gulping air as he tried to stop himself from hyperventilating.

“Bucky, please, I can explain.”

Of course that asshole had followed him up here.

“Bucky, please don’t,” Steve whispered.

Bucky narrowed his eyes. Did that motherfucker really think he was about to jump? Over him? Oh hell no.

“Fuck you, Steve!” he screamed as he spun, his left hand catching Steve squarely on the jaw. Maybe if he broke it enough times, Bucky could ruin that perfect fucking profile. Try eating pussy for a few nights with a broken jaw, fucker, he thought to himself. “It’s gonna take a whole lot more’n you sticking your dick into some pussy for me to want to off myself. Don’t flatter yourself.”

“Bucky! Listen to me, please!” Steve reached for him and Bucky easily deflected the arm, shoving at the chest still slicked with sweat.

“Ain’t nothin’ to listen to, asshole. It’s clear you’ll take any hole except the one my mind is in, so don’t bother. I don’t know what happened between the bridge and the other night, but you know what, good for you. I’m glad you’re getting all the action you never had before.”

Steve grabbed Bucky by the head and tried to kiss him, broken jaw not withstanding.

“I love you!” he sobbed, and it was then that Bucky noticed the sickly sweet smell on his breath.

“Get off me!” Bucky yelled and shoved Steve away. “You fuckin’ stink. The fuck have you been drinkin’?”

“’S Thor’s ass liquor. Ass-guard. Guard liquor. If I drunk enough I get drink.”

“Jesus Christ, Steve. Go back to your fucking room and sleep it off. I’m moving out tomorrow anyway.”

“What? No, Bucky, don’t leave, please, don’t leave me...” Steve’s eyes did this ridiculous puppy-dog bulge and he began to cry, hard, and it was ugly, and Bucky was having a difficult time feeling bad for him.

“This is not your decision, Steve. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with what I need right now. And what I need is space away from you. I’m going back inside now. Stay here or go back to your room. Just stay the fuck away, okay?”

 

Chapter Text

“Uh, dude? Where ya going man?”

Bucky turned and glanced at Clint, as he shoved the last box into the back of the SUV.

“Away from this fucking place. Can’t live here right now.”

“You going to ground?”

Bucky sighed. Clint was nice. Didn’t judge, always tried to make you feel better. Just a nice guy. He still wasn’t sure how the man had gotten mixed up with all the craziness of being an Avenger. Hell, Clint probably didn’t even know.

“Nah. Just going a few miles away. Some place where I can’t see this tower out the window. Somewhere calm and quiet. I’ll be back for my doctors and stuff though.”

Sam appeared at the loading dock with his large army duffel slung across his back. Unfortunately, Steve was right behind him. Bucky sighed and gave Clint a pat on the shoulder before he got in behind the steering wheel. Sam threw his bag in the back seat and got in next to him. Steve tried to approach Bucky’s door, but Bucky turned the music up and closed the windows. He caught Sam’s raised eyebrow, but the man kept any opinions to himself. Steve stared after them like a lost puppy as Bucky pulled away.

After a few blocks, he turned the music down to a more tolerable level.

“You don’t have to do this, you know,” he said softly.

“It’s not a big deal, man.”

“The hell it’s not. You have no reason to help me. I tried to kill you.”

“Listen, what you did, all those years, that’s what they made you do. The fact that you are horrified by your actions tells me a lot. You’ve been alone for seventy years. I’m not going to make you be alone now. Not when I can help.”

“Christ, no wonder he likes you,” Bucky grumbled.

“Yeah, us do-good types tend to flock together.”

Bucky groaned. “Aw man, you totally stole that one! Now I can’t use it!”

Sam chuckled. “Bird jokes aside, next to Clint, I’m the one least personally invested in your recovery, which makes me more impartial. And I’m a hell of a lot more qualified than he is to help.”

Bucky shrugged. “I dunno. He’s not as stupid as some people think.”

“He’s a good guy. But he’s also not gonna leave Nat’s side.”

“Not like that’s the best place to be either. Maybe it should be Clint and I together. Then we could at least commiserate and share notes about all the ways Rogers is a dumbass.”

*****

Where the fuck am I?

It’s not exactly a thought that the Asset is unused to having upon waking. But when a quick survey of the room revealed the bulk of his (their) possessions, and the view through the window was entirely wrong, he felt panic start to rise. What did that stupid motherfucker do to us now?

“Jarvis?” he tried. The lack of a response didn’t surprise him, but it still pissed him off. He rose from the bed and searched the room and small attached bathroom. Not one single weapon, not even a shaving razor. What the fuck was wrong with Barnes?

“Are you trying to get us killed, moron?” he growled. There was the sound of a television on in the building. The Asset yanked the bedroom door open and took in the hallway. Presumably two bedrooms, and a bathroom, and there were stairs going both up and down...brownstone, his brain supplied, and why the fuck did that sound like Barnes?

The Asset stormed down the stairs in the direction of the noise.

“Yo, man, put some pants on! One week is not long enough for me to be seein’ you in your drawers! What the hell?”

“What the fuck is going on here?” the Asset demanded.

“Ah, hell. It’s you.”

“Yeah, it’s me. What the fuck did that idiot do? Where am I? And why am I with you of all people?”

“Fuck you too, asshole. I ain’t here for you. I’m here for him. And he’s here, because here is better for him than the Tower. He can’t get better with Steve all up in his shit and all up in his head. So go on back upstairs and get yourself comfy. Or get yourself gone, for all I care. This is Bucky’s safe place.”

“This place is a tactical nightmare,” he growled. “We belong at the fucking Tower!” He practically screamed the last word.

Sam smirked. “Good luck with that,” he said, looking like he knew some cosmic secret.

The Asset glared at him before turning on his heel and taking the stairs two at a time. He pulled on a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of boots before stomping back down the stairs.

Sam waved from his spot at the kitchen island.

“You wanna turn right, dude. It’s like, seven miles though, you might want to grab a cab. You need some cash?”

The asset flipped a metal finger in the air over his shoulder as he pushed through the door.

It didn’t take long for him to reach the tower, but his mood was far from improved once he was there.

“I do apologize, sir, but I am not allowed to take you to the team’s floors.”

“What the fuck are you talking about, Jarvis?”

“My apologies, sir. But the Winter Soldier is not permitted on the premises beyond the main lobby.”

“How can you even tell the difference between us? You’re a goddamned computer program!” He’s about to launch into a tirade when the elevator doors open and Natasha steps out.

“What did you do?” he accuses.

“Don’t blame me, Soldier. This is all Barnes and Stark.” She appeared to inspect the fingernails of one hand before returning it behind her back, standing at-ease before him, looking bored. He knew it was all an act though, for the eyes of the public. A group of onlookers had gathered at the other end of the lobby, apparently interested in the stand-off at the Avengers’ private elevator bank.

“So find a way to let me in! Wait—they did this together?”

“Yeah, it turns out that even though Stark knows about what you did, he still really likes Bucky and wants to help him. So you are not getting clearance any time soon, I’m afraid.”

A faint whistle from above him caught his ears and he sighed.

“Clint’s got an arrow on me from somewhere, doesn’t he?”

“Yup,” Natasha said, popping the ‘p’.

“Any chance I can talk to Steve?”

“Nope.” She repeated the emphasis on the consonant.

The Asset glared at her.

“This isn’t over. I’m getting in there. This is bullshit. I want my stuff.”

“Yeah, that is absolutely the last thing that is going to happen. On everyone’s orders. Barnes, Stark, Rogers, mine...”

“I only answer to Steve.”

“Well that sucks for you then. Cuz he agreed to take your gear away. Go back to the house, Soldier. There is nothing here for you right now.”

The Asset ground his teeth but kept his mouth shut. Instead of turning around, and storming through the crowd and their cellphones—because the last thing he needed was for any Hydra remnants to know he was still alive—he eyed the door leading to the restricted access loading bay. He pointedly looked between Natasha and the door a few times without saying a word. Her gaze flicked over his shoulder and she sighed.

“Yeah, I’ll get you out the back door. Clint, you copy?” She appeared to be listening to something for a moment before looking back at the Asset. “Tony is looking for any reason, no matter how small, to take you down. Do yourself a favor and don’t try anything.”

This is fucking bullshit,” he repeated in Russian.

“Perhaps,” she said with a shrug.

He was still angry when he returned to the ridiculous house Barnes had moved them into.

“Wilson!”

“Quit bellowing at me. I’m right fucking here.”

“How long is he planning on living here?” he demanded.

“Beats me.”

“How long are you planning on living here?”

“Oh, I’m sticking around longer than you, that’s for sure.”

The Asset paced the living room, occasionally checking out the windows. He’d taken a longer, more circuitous route back to the house, but just in case he’d been followed...

“Don’t you even want to know why he did it?”

He came to a stop, toying with the edges of the curtains—is this reinforced glass? And kevlar in the curtains? he noticed—and stared out at the quaint little street they were on in the quiet neighborhood.

“I don’t need to ask,” he finally admitted, a begrudgingly admiring tone to his voice. “It’s what I would have done in his position. It gives him the advantage.”

*****

Bucky sat in the oversized chair across from the therapist that Pepper and Sam had vetted to hell and back when they’d brought him on staff for Bucky’s recovery. The first visit had been awkward: he’d been expecting a woman, not a man missing half his right arm and all of his right leg and covered in burn scars.

But if anyone could understand years of torture and PTSD, it certainly was another POW. And Greg was pretty chill. Didn’t push Bucky.

“How are things going in the new place? You canceled last week’s visit because you’d just moved.”

“It’s going pretty well. I slipped for about a day, lost control and dissociated.” The word still felt odd rolling off his tongue, but it was better than saying he’d reverted to Assassin mode.

“Do you have any memories of that time?”

“Yes and no. It’s hazy, like I’m trying to scope a target through heavy fog and shifting winds. If I focus too hard, I lose sight completely. According to Sam, he—I know I’m supposed to say ‘I’ but that still feels weird—sulked around the house trying to find his gear. And tried to get back into the tower. But Tony and I set Jarvis to not let me in when I’m not me.”

“Did you do that because you’re afraid of what might happen with Steve if the Asset is around him?” Greg jotted down very few notes as they talked each week, but he always remembered details. Bucky wondered if he had an eidetic memory like Steve, since he wasn’t allowed to record their sessions.

“If you’re getting agitated we can talk about something else.”

For a second Bucky wasn’t sure what Greg was talking about. Then he noticed the pencil in his hand, dancing along and between the fingers of his right hand, flipping and spinning around like it was a knife. He caught the pencil in his fist and squeezed, stopping just shy of snapping the wood.

“He doesn’t like when I talk about him. I can feel him in the back of my brain, trying to claw his way out and take over and make me shut up. He’s been pacing since I got here. He wants out. Wants Steve.”

“Do you want to talk about what happened with Steve?”

Bucky laughed bitterly.

“I know that Steve wants to talk about what happened. He thinks I’m upset about him fucking Natasha.”

“Are you?”

“Not really. I mean, I was, that night that I found them together. But I suppose it’s only fair, only what I deserve.”

“Is that what you think? That you deserved it? That he was trying to hurt you?”

“Sure, I deserve for all those years he had to watch me, see me, hear me with all the dames so that I could keep our secret safe.”

“But it doesn’t have to be a secret now.”

Bucky shrugged.

“We aren’t—weren’t—even officially together. He can stick his dick wherever he wants. No, I don’t think he’s trying to hurt me. Not intentionally.”

“But it still hurt.”

“Yeah,” he said softly, gaze locked on the pencil as it snapped. “Yeah, it fucking hurt.” He didn’t bother wiping away the few tears that escaped. Greg had seen him sobbing over far worse things than Steven fucking Rogers.

Greg gave a heavy sigh.

“He gave me something to pass along to you. If you want it.”

Bucky’s head snapped up at that. He saw Greg pulling an envelope from beneath his notebook.

“Apparently you’re not talking to him?”

“He wouldn’t leave me alone!” Bucky shouted. “He was calling me and texting me all hours of the day and night! I had to have Sam show me how to block his number! How can I fucking deal with what happened between us, what he did to the Asset, what he won’t do to me, and get control over my own goddamned mind if he won’t leave me be?”

Greg’s eyebrows climbed into his hairline as he looked pointedly at Bucky.

During his outburst, Bucky had risen to his feet and in his anger, he’d flipped the side table next to his chair, sending it flying hard enough to crash into the wall and break.

“I think we should talk about what you just let slip. What you’ve been deliberately not talking about for weeks now, even though I could see that there was something there.”

“You don’t wanna hear about my alter-ego getting dicked by my...whatever the fuck Steve and I are...when he won’t dick me.”

“Well. That’s...something.”

*****

"Sonofabitch!" Bucky cursed as he pulled the pan off the burner.

"Buck?"

"Why the fuck is everything electric!? Electric heat, electric stoves, ovens, everything! Why can't I just have a simple fucking gas stove!"

"Uh...burnt the eggs?"

"Yes, I burnt the fucking eggs again because this goddamned stove is fucking stupid!" He threw the pan, eggs and all, into the sink.

"Hey man, you can't do that, it'll ruin the pan."

"I'll buy a new one then!" Bucky yelled.

Sam appeared to assess the situation for a moment before entering the kitchen fully.

"You want to tell me what's going on? You've been pretty quiet since you got home yesterday."

"No."

"Okay. Want me to make breakfast?"

"Yes."

Bucky took his coffee to the island and sat heavily on the stool as he watched Sam cook.

"It's just fucking Steve, thinking he can write me a fucking apology letter that's a fucking novel and that everything will be better and it's fucking not better, and I'm so fucking frustrated cuz I can't even manage to jack off anymore so why the fuck do I think I can have sex with him and of course the fucking Asset can get it up no problem so maybe I should just go to the tower and let him have his way and let Steve fuck him so that at least one of us gets some relief and I'm so fucking tired of fighting myself every moment of the day and it all just sucks."

Bucky let his head fall to the counter, forehead pressed against it and staring at the floor.

"Dude when's the last time either of us swept in here? Fuck. I'm gonna spend the day cleaning the house. I've been slacking on that. Sorry."

For several moments the only sounds were of Sam cooking. As he set a plate next to Bucky's head, he finally spoke.

"That...went a lot of places. Is there anything in particular you'd like help with first?"

"Can you just shoot me?"

"I'm pretty sure Steve wouldn't like that."

"Fuck Steve. Oh, wait, that's the problem, I can't."

Sam shifted on his stool and cleared his throat. "It...seems like we should maybe address that issue first. Have you talked to your doctors about it?"

"Yeah, because I want five different people to know that I can't get it up for the man I love, but my deadly assassin alter-ego has no problem with it and is getting the type of rough sex I've always wanted from Steve, getting dominated the way Steve's attitude always indicated he'd be capable of if his body had gotten the same memo? Thanks but no." He shoved a fork full of ham and cheddar omelet into his mouth. "And fuck you and your perfect eggs."

Sam buried his face in his hands. "I'm going to regret this, I know. But I can't let you suffer. If you want—"

"—Unh-uh. No way. I'm not fucking you. Not dragging someone else into this fucked up triangle."

"What?! No! That is not what I was going to suggest! I don't swing that way, bro."

"Sorry," Bucky said, laughing at the horrified look on Sam's face. "I thought…"

"Yeah, it's obvious what you thought."

"I'm sorry. Please, continue. What were you going to say?"

"Some fucking breakfast conversation," Sam muttered. He took a big sigh. "As I was saying, I can't let you suffer. If you...do you think you know why? Why you can't, I mean."

"’Cuz I get halfway through and my mind twists, and instead of picturing Steve the way we were, it shifts to what happened the night I woke up naked in his room, and what he was doing to the Asset but won't do to me."

"Do you picture him every time? Steve, I mean."

Bucky stared at his plate. "I don't really have much else to work with. Can't really remember details of the girls before the war, cuz I didn't really want them anyway, just had to keep up appearances. For as long as I can remember jerking off, it was always Steve I was thinkin' of."

"Dude. That is just...sad. And I'm not even trying to be a smartass."

"Sure that you still don't want me to go find one of my chairs for you to erase the last few minutes from your brain?"

Sam gaped at him a moment before breaking out into laughter.

"Okay. This is what we're going to do. I have been single for a while now. The internet is your friend, my man. I'll show you a few sites. After that, we are never speaking of this again. Unless it doesn't work."

 

Chapter Text

Steve’s ears rang from the explosion, but he didn’t let that slow him. He launched himself from the edge of the roof and caught the Iron Man suit in mid-flight, spinning as they fell to the ground, taking out the reactor in the chest with a vicious punch that may have broken half the bones in his right hand.

“Christ, Steve. Are you trying to kill yourself again?”

There was a jarring in his left shoulder as Tony flew in and caught him, pulling him off the now-dead suit as it fell.

“Don’t see that as being such a terrible option right now, Tony. You could’ve let me fall.”

“If the fall from the bridge and the jumping out of a Quinjet sans parachute didn’t seal the deal, falling from this measly height won’t do much more than sprain your ankle.”

“Then why did you swoop in to catch me?” Steve asked, catching his breath as Tony sets him down on the grass.

A, because I’ve run out of suits for you to destroy in whatever self-destructive attempt number this is. B, I don’t feel like listening to you whine while it heals and you can’t walk. And C, because you have a phone call.”

“You couldn’t have just led with that, huh?”

“That wouldn’t have been as much fun.”

“And Peggy said I  was the dramatic one.” He sighed and held out his hand for the phone after rotating his shoulder back into place. He didn’t even know that Tony used a regular phone anymore, since he used Jarvis for everything, but it was definitely a normal, cordless phone from inside the facility they’d come to upstate to burn off some steam.

“Ready? Okay, Jarvis is gonna patch you through. Reception is kinda spotty here, sorry about that.”

Steve’s brows furrowed as he tried to imagine who would have called Tony to get a hold of him. It’s not like he was high on many people’s friends lists these days. He honestly was amazed that Tony was still talking to him, considering how much he liked Bucky and it was Steve’s fault that he’d moved out.

There were a few clicks in his ear and then Jarvis’s smooth accent sounded.

“You are now connected. You may go ahead, sir.”

“Hello?”

“Steve.”

The air left Steve’s lungs in a rush, and it felt as though a fist squeezed his heart tight at the hesitant voice.

“Bucky?” he said, almost a whisper. It had been three weeks now since he’d left, three weeks since Steve had made the stupidest decision he ever could have made, and that was in a long list of dumb decisions. He swallowed hard. “How are you?”

“I’m doing okay.”

“That’s good, I’m glad to hear it.”

There was a silence for so long that he started to fear they’d lost the connection. Finally he heard Bucky sigh.

“I got your letter. I actually even read it.”

“Thank you for reading it.”

“It was tempting to just toss it in the fireplace, I won’t lie.”

“I can understand that.”

“Steve, listen, I...I’m gonna unblock you, okay? But, if you start sending me eight thousand messages a day again, you’re getting cut off again.”

Steve’s head is nodding vigorously even though he knows Bucky can’t see him.

“Okay, Bucky. Thank you. I won’t go crazy again. I promise.”

“Just...keep it simple for now. I...I want to talk to you. It’s not going to be easy. But I think I can handle texting each other for now.”

“Anything you need, Buck. Whatever you want me to do.”

Bucky let out a shaky breath.

“Did you ever get any therapy? After you defrosted? After the Chitauri?”

Steve’s heart jackhammered in his chest.

“No,” he finally admitted, voice barely audible.

“Steve. After I fell from the train, your behavior...well, we all know what crashing into the ice really was. And then you let me nearly kill you before you broke through my brainwashing. You need to see a therapist, Steve. It’s not like it was when we were kids. There’s nothing wrong with it. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. You are self-destructive. You always have been. Please consider it.”

He fell to his knees, broken hand fisting in the grass, the pain centering him.

“Is...is this a condition?”

Steve. I would never do that to you. I would never force you to do anything. You know that. I think you would benefit greatly from talking about what is going on inside your head. But I can’t make you do that. Just think about it, okay? Not for me, but for yourself.”

Steve forced himself to breathe evenly. Bucky wasn’t making this a condition of contact. He wasn’t. But if he was suggesting it...

“Am I really that fucked up?” he whispered, eyes squeezed shut.

“After what we’ve been through? I’d be more worried if you weren’t fucked up, Stevie.”

And there it was—Stevie—and just like that, he could breathe again.

“Okay. Okay, Buck. I’ll look into it.”

"Thank you."

Silence stretched between them again, but it wasn't as terrifying this time.

"I'm gonna hang up now, Stevie, okay?"

"Okay, Buck." His voice was small, even to his own ears.

"Steve, we'll get through this. It's just gonna take some time."

Steve sniffed. He hadn't even been aware that he was crying.

"I love you, Stevie. I'll talk to you later."

A sob escaped Steve's throat and he fell forward as the line went dead. He was in the same position, bent in half with his head in the grass, when Tony returned some time later, back in his regular clothes and carrying a bottle of water.

"You okay, Cap?"

Steve pushed up and fell back to sit on his ass.

"He said 'I love you.' Not past tense."

"Okay, listen. I've been quiet about all this. Mostly because I don't want to think about the two of you fondueing. But also, I am the last person to judge someone else for making terrible life decisions. Pepper is the only good decision I ever made. That being said, you fucked up big with Bucky. And I like him, so if you screw up this chance he's giving you to fix it, I'm kicking you out and he's moving back in."

Steve whimpered.

“Tony...Tony what do I do? How do I make this right?” His heart is pounding again, and even though he’d been fighting for the last hour, a chill races through him and he breaks out into a cold sweat.

“You do exactly what he tells you to do, for starters.”

Steve laughed, high pitched and manic.

“We would literally not be having this conversation if I ever listened to Bucky. I’d have been dead from one sickness or another before the war would have been over because I’d never have joined.”

“Well, you’re going to have to start, then, because...” The remainder of Tony’s words are gone, lost, not making it through the roaring in Steve’s ears.

“Cap? Capsicle? Steve? Can you—ah fuck, you’re gone.” The words are distant, coming from far away, and Steve can’t see him because everything has started to blur at the edges, all he can see is the green of the grass beneath him.

Steve registers a hand on his, holding it to a chest, and now he’s gasping for air, suffocating, drowning in the icy waters once more...

“C’mon, buddy, breathe with me. Follow me, deep breaths...”

And some part of Steve’s brain knows that Tony is trying to help, but it’s too much, it’s just like when he’d have asthma attacks and Bucky would hold him the same way, try to match their breathing, and Steve spirals off even further, falling, the ground falling away, floating, sinking beneath the waves, as the light fades to a single pinprick...

Everything is Bucky. It always has been. What am I supposed to do without him again? How can I expect him to forgive me? He was always the one saving me, of course I fucked up saving him, I couldn’t save him on the train and I can’t save him from myself now...

A hard, stinging slap jolts Steve into awareness and he’s got his arm twisted around, Tony’s hand bent back just shy of breaking point, before he registers that it is Tony before him, Tony who hit him, Tony who is the only one who hasn’t abandoned him.

“There you are. Welcome back. Again. How often do you get those, hmm? What else? I assume nightmares. Flash backs? Panic attacks, increasingly dangerous behavior...you’re a hot mess, Rogers. You want to help Barnes? Help yourself first. Because you’re no good to him like this.”

 

*****

“Wilson! What the fuck?

“Man, what now?” Sam groaned.

The Asset stormed into the living room, tablet in hand, and threw it on Sam’s lap.

“This is your tablet. We don’t have one. So why is it in our room, and the entire browser history is all porn?”

Sam shrugged.

“That was my tablet. I gave it to him.”

“There are literally no other pages visited. All the therapy stuff and email is on the laptop. And there’s no porn on there. Only here. So I repeat: what the fuck? What have you done?”

“He asked for help. I showed him online porn.”

“Have you seen some of this?”

“Fuck no, I don’t want to know what he’s jacking it to. Why is this such a big deal?”

“It just is!” The Asset flung his arms in the air in frustration. “It’s just—he’s supposed to be the good one! And now he’s watching that! Bondage and submission and—”

“Man, shut the hell up, I said  that I don’t want to know!”

“I’m just saying, I’m supposed to be the fucked up one here, but he’s the one looking at shit like this like it’s all fucking just fine and it’s not!”

Sam eyed him a moment, and the Asset decidedly did not like the look on his face when he spoke again.

“Is it that you don’t like what he’s looking at because it reminds you too much of what happened to you? Or is it because he likes it, despite what happened to you?”

“No way. You are not pulling your therapy shit on me. I get enough poking and prodding from Greg.”

“Just a question, man.”

“Fuck your questions.”

“Hey, take this with you!” Sam yelled after him as he stormed back up the stairs.

“Fuck!” he growled, kicking the bed frame and knocking it askew. He sat with a heavy sigh, head in his hands. Goddamned Wilson and his fucking questions. Of course he hated some of the porn he’d seen on there because it was similar to what had happened to him. But the other part of it... I always liked that kind of stuff. Well, the idea of it anyway. Didn’t really have easy access to BDSM porn to help me understand what I wanted back in the thirties, now did I?

The Asset shook his head. It was weird when he heard Barnes, heard his thoughts, while he was still the one in control of the body. How do you think I feel, jackass?

“What the fuck?” the Asset breathed out softly. He’d been having more awareness of his time as Barnes, but didn’t realize that Barnes knew when he was...watching, for lack of a better term.

You’ve met Banner. I’ve come to realize that we’re not much different from him. I don’t see why we need to continue this Jekyll and Hyde routine though. We can work together.

“This is gonna get fucking weird.”

News flash, pal, it already is.

 

Chapter Text

Bucky rolled his shoulders as he stared in the mirror. He didn’t recognize himself in the person he saw before him. He’d always had a healthy build, and decent muscles from working physical jobs. But since the serum, and the training, and his body having to compensate for the extra weight of the arm, he was huge. Not as huge as Steve, of course, but still. Then there was the angry mass of scars circling his shoulder, and all over his body—stab wounds, gun shots, burns...he was admittedly a bit jealous of Steve’s healing ability and his lack of scarring. But the scars helped to paint a picture, to illustrate the void, remember the journey. They kept him grounded, helped him to keep focused on why it was so important to fight for his own mind.

Thought it was our mind now?  he heard, but there wasn’t any anger behind the words.

“Yeah, ours,” he said with a chuckle as he rubbed his hand over his face, now clean-shaven. He hadn’t cut the hair though. He’d worn it a bit longer before the army, and this was longer than he’d ever worn it before, but he liked it. Plus...he still held out hope for his relationship with Steve, and he remembered how it had felt when Steve had controlled the Asset by the hair...a shiver ran through him.

We don’t have time for a hard-on, dipshit.

Bucky laughed outright.

“I know, I know. You’re the one who can’t stop thinking about it though.”

I’d rather think about that than watch the porn you like.

“I’d rather watch the porn than think about the fact that he’d do it to you but not me.”

Fair enough.

It felt weird to talk out loud to himself and actually get a response, albeit from inside his head, but he was getting used to it. In a weird way, it was almost comforting. He’d never been completely oblivious to his surroundings, but he’d been a sniper. He’d focused and trained his world down to one single objective, one target. So it was nice to know that some part of him was always on alert. He certainly had no desire to be found by Hydra and reprocessed because he wasn’t paying attention.

There’s no fucking way we’re getting reprocessed, pal. Don’t you worry. I’m not going back to that. We’ll die before I let that happen.

The intensity, the vehemence behind the words, gave Bucky pause and he met his own eyes in the mirror.

“You’re still hiding things from me, aren’t you?”

Bucky could feel the Asset retreating, feel the anxiety rising within him as the body remembered things his mind couldn’t—or wouldn’t.

You don’t want to know all of it. You know enough.

Bucky swallowed hard.

“Okay,” he said, taking a deep breath. “Okay. I’m sorry.” He got dressed in silence, turning up the volume on the stereo when a song he liked came on the radio, body swaying and bouncing slightly to the beat while he fixed his hair, pulling the top half of it back into a loose bun at the crown of his head.

What the fuck are you wearing? Is this coffee or a fucking date?

Bucky flinched, startled by the thought. He’d been zoned out and wasn’t expecting the Asset to speak up again for a while after the turn their earlier conversation had taken.

“What? What’s wrong with this?”

It was winter time, so he was wearing a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and a comfortable sweater.

This shit is too tight. How can you even fight in this? What if something happens?

“I am literally going to have coffee with Steve. If something happens and the two of us can’t defend ourselves, there’s a bigger fucking problem than me ripping my clothes. Besides, I look good.”

You’re fucking hopeless. You’re going to get us killed some day.

 

Steve is waiting for him at the coffee shop. It’s a cozy little place with booths and couches and soft music and dim lighting, good for relaxing and having a quiet conversation. Steve has commandeered a corner booth away from the door, and rises to greet him.

“I...wasn’t sure how you took your coffee these days. If it had changed since you moved out. So I got you a cup of the dark roast and there’s packets of sugar and a little dish for...” he trails off, adorably unsure of himself and awkward, and it’s like 1930 all over again with him tripping over his feet—or in this case, his tongue—trying to put on a show of not being nervous.

Bucky smiles at him as he shrugs out of his jacket—he has no idea where Tony had found the coat, but it looked so much like the heavy blue one he’d had during the war and he knew it did wonders for the color of his eyes, and it was his favorite possession right now.

“Thank you, Steve. It hasn’t changed.”

Steve is eyeing him up and down, and it occurs to Bucky that Steve hasn’t seen him since he left the tower a month and a half ago. He’s filled out since then, put on some weight now that he’s eating regular meals and not just popping supplements. And he’s clean-shaven for the first time since the Helicarrier, a fact which pleases the Asset to no end because he’s been going on and on about the face mask and how it won’t fit if they have a beard.

“You look good, Buck. Really good.”

Bucky politely doesn’t acknowledge the slight flush that dusts Steve’s cheeks when he says it. He’d always been Steve’s biggest weakness, especially when he poured on the charm. Even though he’s not trying to charm Steve today, he’s not unaware of his appearance. Steve, on the other hand, looks like crap. Or at least, Bucky can spot the signs. Most people likely wouldn’t notice the tightness to his shoulders, the weight that he’s lost, and the tiredness in his eyes.

“Not sleeping, Steve?”

Steve huffs out a breath and drops his chin to his chest.

“Never could hide a damned thing from you, could I?”

“Sweetheart, I know your face better than I know my own. I know when you’re torn up inside about something.”

“Or a lot of somethings,” Steve mumbles.

Bucky fidgets with the sugar packets to give his hands something to do so that he doesn’t reach forward and grab Steve’s hand.

“Steve, look at me,” he says softly and Steve lifts his head, blue eyes huge and miserable. “Steve, I have told you this in texts, but I’m repeating it now, face to face. I forgive you for Natasha. I’m not upset about that. It stung a bit, yes. But it’s okay.”

“God, Bucky, I was so, so drunk. She was too. I know it’s not an excuse. And I know you said you forgive me for it. But I’m still sorry I did it.”

“What were you even drinking for?”

“It was her birthday. I bought her a bottle of vodka, and she complained about being the only one to get drunk, because Clint was still on his way back from a mission. And then she challenged me to match her with the stuff Thor brought from Asgard...”

“And God forbid you turn down a challenge...”

Steve smiled bashfully.

“Yeah, well...”

Bucky laughed.

I told that woman he was ours. I’m going to shoot her again.

“No you’re not,” Bucky said softly.

“I’m not what?” Steve asked, confused.

“What? Oh, I said that out loud, I’m sorry.”

“Bucky?” Steve sat back, wary expression on his face as he eyed Bucky.

Bucky tipped his head to the side and scratched his temple, face scrunched up in confusion.

“I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain this to others. Greg says he’s never seen or heard of this before. But it hasn’t hurt me in any way. In fact, it’s actually been beneficial...” he took another drink from his coffee before continuing. “The swaps are gone. They’ve stopped.”

“That’s great, Buck!” Steve said excitedly.

“But the Asset isn’t gone. We’re just...both in here together. Sometimes I’m all me. Sometimes I’m all him. But the other one is always there, always aware, and sometimes I talk to myself. Literally. And I’ll forget to actually only think it instead of say it.”

“I...what?”

Try to think of it as if Banner and the Hulk merged. That’s probably the easiest way to explain it.”

Steve jumped, color draining from his face as the Asset’s voice came from him.

“I mean, I’m not going to be huge and green, obviously. But if his two personalities were to mesh together, what would happen? He’d be big, but still himself, right? At least, that’s how I picture it. That’s what happened here. I’m here. He’s here. Mostly I’m just me, and he throws his two cents in every now and then. Usually he just says it in here, though.” Bucky tapped the side of his head.

“That’s...a lot, Bucky.”

“That’s why we’re here. It would make even less sense through text messages or email.”

“So what did you mean when you said ‘no, you’re not’?”

Bucky smirked.

“He wants to shoot Natasha again. I won’t let him. It’s an ongoing discussion. He’s quite possessive of you.”

Steve exhaled a heavy breath and studied him. They remained quiet for a few minutes, and Bucky let him process whatever was going through his head. Waited for the inevitable. Suddenly Steve’s eyes grew wide, terror on his face.

Looks like he finally caught up.

*Yeah, but keep your mouth shut before he bolts. He looks like he’s gonna puke.*

“Bucky...if...if you’re merged or whatever you call it...does that mean you remember, you know...everything?”

“Breathe, Steve. Focus on my face.” He slid his arm across the table, holding his hand out for Steve to take.

“You do, don’t you? All the—the years...and, and...oh God...”

How the fuck did he become a war hero if he can’t handle the thought of torture?

*Because he fought to end the torture, idiot!*

Bucky slid from his bench and squished himself in next to Steve, who flinched away from his touch.

“Stevie, it’s me. I’m not going to hurt you. Look at me.” He grabbed the sides of Steve’s head, forcing him to meet Bucky’s gaze. “I remember most of my time as the Asset, yes. There are blank spots still, things that he says I don’t want or need to know. And for now, that’s fine.”

Steve’s eyes look haunted by the knowledge.

“And...what I...”

“That is something we need to talk about still, yes. But not today.”

Steve buries his face in Bucky’s neck and clings to him, sobbing.

After consoling Steve for a few minutes, Bucky rests his cheek on the top of Steve’s head and speaks quietly, voice low so that only Steve will hear him.

“Stevie, I’m gonna tell you something. And I want you to listen, and just think about what I’m saying. You don’t have to respond if you don’t want. Just hear me. Okay?”

Steve nods his head. The crying has stopped, but now that Bucky is holding him, Steve isn’t budging.

“The first time I saw you after the serum, when you saved me from that table, my initial reaction, once the relief of knowing I wasn’t going to die there passed, wasn’t shock. It was lust. And then that became anger. I was angry at myself, so of course I misdirected it and threw it back at you, for letting them experiment when it coulda killed you. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was super pissed at you for that, because if you’d died in some crazy scheme to try to get into the war and left me alone when I got home, I don’t know what I would have done.”

Steve’s arms tightened around Bucky’s waist.

“But I was angry at myself for how I reacted to your new body. You see, I loved you. It shouldn’t have mattered. I loved you small, I shouldn’t have loved you more just because you were big. I told myself, you were still the same person, I shouldn’t want you more now just because your outsides matched your insides. ‘Cuz you were always ten foot tall and indestructible inside, babydoll. And now you looked the part. And it made me weak with how much I wanted you.”

Bucky paused and lifted his arm from where it was wrapped around Steve’s back to reach over and grab his coffee.

“Then I got selfish. You were my Steve. And now suddenly you were Captain America, and the whole damned country, hell, the fucking world was looking at you like you were theirs, but none of them knew the real you, they just saw the fame.”

“The dancing monkey,” Steve murmured into Bucky’s chest.

“Right. You were their dancing monkey. To me, you were a god. I always knew you had greatness in you, and now you were showing them all. And I got to have a seat at the front of the ride, to watch it all unfold. You remember that fight we had? The first time I goaded you into fucking me during the war?”

“You thought I wouldn’t want you anymore because I’d changed and could have anyone.”

“And the fight after...”

“Didn’t wanna hurt you,” Steve pouts, burying his face further into Buck’s shoulder.

“Steve, I loved it. I felt so good, knowing you wanted me that much still. I felt...claimed, like I was owned by you. It was perfect. And I hated myself for how much I liked it.”

“The forties sucked.”

Bucky chuckles, running his hand up and down Steve’s back.

“Yeah, babydoll, I know what you mean. There was a lot we didn’t know or understand or accept.” A shudder ran through Steve at the pet name.

“I didn’t hate myself because of what we did. I hated myself because I wanted it so bad. Wanted the new you so bad. I was so hung up on the change in your body, the change in how everyone else treated you, to realize that I still just wanted you. The bossy little shit who could never back down from anything. The one everyone underestimated. My stubborn little punk. You were still you, inside. And I couldn’t see that at first. I couldn’t let myself want both of you. Couldn’t see that they were both you.”

Steve exhaled a long breath.

“Buck...”

A tone on Bucky’s phone chimed and he pulled it from his pocket.

“I gotta get going in a minute, Stevie. I have an appointment with Greg soon.”

Steve pulled back with a sniffle.

“Just think about what I said, okay?”

Steve nods his head mutely and Bucky presses a kiss to his forehead before he rises.

“God, I don’t deserve you.” Steve’s voice is shaky and he sounds emotionally wrecked as he sits up straighter and runs his hands through his hair.

“Sweetheart, you’ve been saying that since we were fifteen, and I’m still here. What does that tell you?”

“That you really are the stupid one?”

That drew a true laugh from Bucky, and he gives Steve a chaste kiss on the lips before he can think twice about it.

“I love you, punk. I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

 

Chapter Text

Bucky left his appointment with Greg feeling good. He was emotionally drained, but good. His talk with Steve had gone well, really well, and he was pretty sure that Steve had gotten the message and understood what he’d been telling him. He decided to poke his head into Tony’s lab before leaving the tower, but ran into Natasha on the way there.

“Natalia, can we talk?”

He noticed the slight flinch in her jaw when he addressed her.

“I think that depends on who wants to talk to me,” she said cautiously.

“Well, you see, that’s technically both of us now.”

He watched the wall go up as her posture straightened.

“So. You’ve remembered.”

“Sort of. We’re kind of...co-habitating at the moment. Not fully merged or anything, but both conscious. I don’t know how to explain it in any way that makes sense.”

“I think I know what you mean.” Her tone was cool, but there was a look in her eyes that said she knew exactly what he meant.

“Can we go...” Bucky looked at his watch. It was just after three in the afternoon. “Fuck it. Let’s go to the bar.”

“Shit,” she said. “I was hoping this wouldn’t be that kind of conversation.”

Though she appeared reluctant, she followed him to the bar in the common room and took a spot on a stool while Bucky inspected the shelves of liquor.

“Damn, you guys really do only have the good stuff,” he commented as he pulled out a bottle of Talisker scotch. “Never really got a taste for vodka,” he said in response to her raised eyebrow. “More of a whiskey and scotch guy myself.”

Natasha accepted the tumbler from him and knocked it back with barely a grimace.

“So what’s on your mind? Minds? Should I make that plural?”

“Hah. You’re hilarious.”

“You called me Natalia. I can hazard a guess as to what you want to talk about.”

Bucky took a deep breath as he twirled the glass and studied the amber liquid. Feelings, sounds, brief flashes of images ran through him as he tried to piece together what he wanted to say. His gaze fell on Natasha’s downcast eyes and he tried to reconcile the woman before him with the young girl whose screams and tears currently haunted him.

“I know, logically, that it wasn’t me. That I’m not liable for the things I did while I was brainwashed. And I know that there are things that the Asset is still keeping from me. Things I don’t remember. But I remember bits and pieces from the Red Room. Mostly centered around you.”

Natasha held out her glass for a refill and he obliged.

“Like I told you, neither of us were ourselves.”

Bucky looked at her, brows raised in surprise.

“You saying you don’t remember?”

“I’m saying I try not to if I can,” she shot back, swallowing her drink.

“I certainly don’t blame you. But right now, I can’t forget.”

Natasha clinked their glasses together. “Here’s to the pasts we can’t escape.”

“A-fucking-men, sister.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes before Natasha spoke again.

“What do you want to know?” she asked softly.

Don’t you fucking dare. This is not a thread you want to unravel, the Asset growled in his head.

“I don’t want details,” he hedged, choosing his words carefully. “But...what I did...was made to do to you...I’m not stupid, Natalia. Did they have me do that to other girls?”

Natasha sighed, but she lifted her head and held his eyes firm.

“Yes.”

Bucky let loose a string of curses in Russian and tightened his hand around the bottle. His head dropped, and he stared at the impeccable surface of the bar, unshed tears brimming in his eyes.

You stupid fuck. Why do this to yourself? How can I protect you if you won’t let me?

*I’d rather have this kind of conversation with her than have something bombard me at an inopportune time.*

“Thank you for telling me,” he finally managed as Natasha’s hand covered his.

Bucky heard footsteps approaching and lifted his head, meeting Clint’s gaze as he knocked back the rest of his glass and immediately refilled it.

“Are you supposed to be drinking?” Clint asked.

“Fuck off.”

“I’m going to assume that’s a no.”

Bucky sighed and ran a hand over his face.

“It’s not encouraged, exactly...”

“The last time I left Nat to drink alone with a supersoldier bad things happened.”

“Leave him alone,” Natasha said softly, taking Clint’s arm and wrapping herself around it. Clint looked surprised by the open show of emotion, and looked back and forth between the two before stepping in closer to her. She immediately burrowed deeper into his side, and he cradled her head protectively with his free hand.

“What the fuck?” he breathed, confusion warring with concern on his face.

Bucky slid his glass towards Clint and raised the bottle in a mock salute before taking a deep pull from it.

“To pasts we can’t escape, indeed.”

*****

The Asset was uncharacteristically quiet for a few days after the conversation with Natasha. Bucky wasn’t sure if it was because he was angry with him or something else. Whatever it was, Bucky had spent the last few days carefully reading through more of the files they had on him. It was slow going, because while he could easily speak Russian, reading it was far more difficult.

Don’t open that one.

The command was gruff, unexpected, and Bucky jumped, his hand freezing in mid-air over the next folder in the stack.

“Why?” he asked, not sure what kind of response he’d get.

Just fucking listen to me this time. Don’t open that. It...you don’t want to know about the early training techniques. The things they’d do to try to find your limit. How they broke you.

“Fucking hell. Fine.” He slid the file into the middle of the stack of ones he’d already read. “Wait a minute. Have you been letting me struggle to read all this? When you can read it perfectly fine?”

...possibly?

Bucky laughed.

“Asshole,” he said, a grin on his face.

Bucky’s phone chimes and he looks at the message.

Hey, are you awake?

It was Steve. Bucky looked at the time. Shit, it was one a.m. already.

Yeah, just reading. What's up?

Can I call you?

Bucky thumbed the little phone icon in response, and Steve answered almost immediately.

"You okay, Stevie?"

"Yeah, I just...I wanted to talk about the stuff you suggested I look into."

All thoughts about Hydra and missions and underground bunkers disappeared as Bucky's brain immediately switched gears.

"What did you think?" He asked, keeping his voice as calm and even as he could.

"I...I had sort of looked into it before. When...when Natasha and I first...well...anyway. I um, I went a lot more in depth after you asked me to." There's an audible click in Steve's throat as he swallows. "I...god, Buck, it makes so much sense. But I can't ask that of you. Not after everything they did."

"Steve. You don't get it, do you? I always wanted that with you. I think that's part of why it was so effective with him. Because it filled a need within me."

The Asset remains surprisingly quiet on that topic.

"You—you what?"

"Steve, c'mon. When was I ever able to tell you no? When did I ever not follow you around like a lost puppy? I always put you first, above everyone. I have only ever wanted to take care of you, make you happy, make you feel good. I've always been yours, at your beck and call. Didn't you ever stop to wonder why?"

A choked off whimper is Steve's only response. Bucky waits, listens as Steve gets his breathing under control. When he speaks, his voice is barely above a whisper.

"What...what did you want me to do?"

Bucky looks over at his bedside table.

"Do you have a laptop or tablet handy? Something that you can get into your email?"

"Uh, yeah I can grab it. Why?"

"Gonna send you something. Gimme a minute." Bucky hastily shoves all of the files to the side and grabs his tablet. It's easy enough to get to some of his favorite videos and copy the links into an email to Steve. They remained on the phone in silence, the only sounds those of their breathing and the rustling of fabric as they moved around.

"Okay, I sent it."

There's a slight pause, and then—

"Yup, I got it—oh. Oh. Did...did you want me to watch this right now?"

"Yeah, yeah I do. I figured it's easier to show you what I like than to try to explain it. Then we can talk about it afterwards."

"Are...are you going to watch it with me?" The breathless excitement in Steve's voice affects Bucky more than he anticipated. He hadn't planned on watching at the same time, but now it seems like the best idea in the world.

“I can. If you want me to.” It’s almost embarrassing how much he wants Steve to say yes.

“I think that might help. Yes. Please.”

“Of course, Stevie. Start at the top?” He’d only sent Steve three links, relatively short clips of only a few minutes each, but they were perfect for showcasing the things he liked.

“Yeah, okay, ready?”

They clicked on the links and Bucky turned the volume on his tablet down so he could focus on Steve’s reactions and words.

By the time they’re done watching the third one, Bucky is achingly hard from listening to the sounds coming from Steve.

“So that’s...you want that. To be restrained?” Steve picked the easiest aspect to focus on, but that was okay.

“Not all the time. And not to where I couldn’t get out, so no tying to the bed. But being overpowered by you? Held down? Fuck yes, Stevie.” He grinds his hand over his cock, trying to alleviate some of the pressure without actually shoving his hand down his pants.

“I...I was always so desperate to make it good for you. To make you not want anyone else...but this...it seems like it’d be all about me, not you.”

Bucky takes a deep breath and forces himself to say the words, give voice to the realization he’d been feeling out in his brain.

"When I first got to the tower, I'd wake up from my times as him...unsettled. But I've figured it out now. I put it together. Once you started fucking him, it was better. He was better. Calm. I...I always wanted to be everything to you, Steve. Even when you were a skinny little shit who'd let other guys kick his ass when you couldn't fuck me the way we both wanted, because you needed something to take that edge off. Fight or fuck, that's how you've always been. Then during the war, you were big enough to really push me around, but you were too scared and held back. But now? Christ, Steve, I can fucking take it. And I want that. I want you to leave me sobbing, wrecked, broken and bleeding, because I'll know I've finally been able to give you that feeling of peace you've been chasing since I pulled you from that first fight. I want you to use me, Steve. I want to serve you so fucking bad it hurts."

“Christ, Bucky,” Steve groaned.

“Sitting here now, talking about it, watching those clips and trying to figure out which parts you liked best, it’s got me all worked up. You’ve got to be just as hard as me. You can’t tell me you don’t want that, too.”

“Bucky, it feels...it feels wrong to want that.”

“Because you don’t really want it, or because it’s me?”

“Because I feel like, after what they did, it’s not, not right for you—”

Goddamn Steve and his righteous moral code. Bucky cuts him off as his erection flags.

“Steven Grant Rogers. Don’t you dare try to tell me I don’t know what I want. For starters, I’ve discussed this at far more length than I care to think about with my doctors and my therapist. Especially my therapist. I’ve been wanting you to fuck me through the mattress since the first time you stuck your dick in me, pal. I was always scared it’d be too much for you, that you’d have a breathing fit, or your heart would get all crazy. So I never asked for this kind of stuff. Not til after you were bigger. And now that we really know what we’re talking about here, better’n what we knew in the war, and we both know how much sense it makes in regards to our relationship, I don’t see the fucking problem. Unless the problem is you not wantin’ me.”

“Bucky—”

Bucky won’t let him finish, though. Not now. Not when he’s this worked up and on a roll.

“Tell me. Tell me that you didn’t get hard, that you weren’t picturing us, picturing me, imagining doing those things with me. You tell me that none of that happened, and I’ll change the subject. And I’ll stop hoping that one day we’ll have sex again.”

Steve exhales heavily, and Bucky knows that sound, knows it’s the sigh of a defeated man, of the little shit he loves getting caught in something he can’t find a way out of.

“I...you’re right. You’re right, okay? Is that what you want to hear? Yes, it made me hard. Hell, just thinking about you holding me at the coffee shop the other day makes me hard because I want you so much. Yes, I want to do things like this with you. To you. And I’m trying to convince myself that it’s okay to want this. Because you want it too. I’m trying to remember that I need to forgive myself for things that you’ve already forgiven me for. That I can’t carry the weight of the past into the future if I want to build a new life with you.”

Bucky’s heart stopped, and he held his breath.

“Bucky?” Steve asks at the prolonged silence, when only a minute ago Bucky had been just shy of full-on yelling at him.

“You’ve been seeing Greg,” Bucky chokes out.

“Yes. Several times a week, actually. For a few weeks now.”

“Steve, I’m so, so proud of you. I know how much you hate asking for help.”

“I’d do anything for you, Bucky, you know that. And...it’s helping. I do feel pretty good, most days. I know it’s still early on, but...yeah. You were right. My head is a disaster. So many changes that never got dealt with, and then the time in the ice...” Steve sighed. “I didn’t want to live without you, Bucky. And that hasn’t changed. I love you. I want the whole world to know. I want to live together, openly, grow old together...”

“That could take a long time, you know. Nobody really knows what the serum’s gonna do to us long-term.”

“I’ll be by your side as long as you’ll have me, Buck.”

“You sure you won’t get tired of my ass after a while?”

Steve laughs. “If we didn’t kill each other living together before the war, and we didn’t kill each other during the war, I’m pretty sure we can make it now. Besides,” he adds, voice dropping the slightest bit, “I’m pretty fond of your ass.”

“Yours ain’t so bad either, Rogers.”

There’s a moment of quiet mirth between them before Bucky breaks the silence.

“You want to see some of my other favorite fantasies involving my ass?”

Steve puffs out a surprised breath. “Yes?” he says, hesitantly.

“This one is a little longer,” Bucky says, copying the link and sending it.

Steve gasps when he opens the link.

“Jesus, Buck...”

“Yeah, looks a bit like me, huh? One reason why it’s one of my favorites. Makes it easy to fantasize about.”

“You...you’d want that?”

“Which part are you at?” he asks, just to hear Steve say it. He knows exactly where he is by the sounds of the video coming through the phone.

“He...where the...the sub,” Steve forces out, “he’s getting fucked with the dildo, while the...the Dom...he’s giving him a blowjob. But the sub is restrained, his hands are bound behind his back, that can’t be comfortable, he’s laying on them.”

“That’s the whole idea. He’s there for the Dom to do with as he pleases. His pleasure comes from making the Dom happy.”

“Now...oh my god.” Steve’s breath is coming in short gasps as he gets more worked up, and Bucky can’t help but slip his hand beneath the band of his boxers.

“We never did try that. Sucking each other at the same time. If that was us and my hands were free I’d want to shove my fingers in your ass, fuck you like you’d be fucking me with that dildo, make you come, at least once, swallow you down as you fuck my mouth...”

Steve moans, and Bucky strokes firmly, palm sliding over the head and gathering the precome that’s already there.

“You want that, Stevie?”

“God, yes, Buck,” Steve pants.

“You touching yourself just thinking about it? I am.”

A whimper is his only answer.

“You wanna come with me, Stevie? I watch this video all the time, imagining that’s me, and that’s you pounding into me.”

On the screen, the Dom has removed the dildo and positioned himself between the sub’s legs, fucking into him at a furious pace.

“Buck!” Steve gasps.

Bucky’s hand moves faster; he can hear Steve through the phone, hear him jerking himself roughly, matching the pace in the video.

“You got yourself, sweetheart? You getting close? I want to hear you. I miss those sounds. The little sighs and gasps and groans you’d make when I had my lips wrapped around you.”

“Oh god, Bucky!”

“Watch, Stevie. You got your eyes open? This is the best part.”

The sub comes, untouched, coating his stomach and chest in thick lines of white. The Dom pulls out and repositions himself, grabbing the sub by the jaw as he jerks himself and then he comes, shooting into the sub’s mouth and across his face and neck.

“See that, babe? He’s completely claimed by that Dom now.”

“Fuck!” Steve cries, and his breath stutters, and he moans, and the sound of it sends Bucky over as well.

“Steve!” he breathes, not quite a gasp, but not a whisper, the volume the same as it always was when it would be exhaled into Steve’s good ear, because they always had to be quiet, and some habits died hard.

“Jesus, Bucky,” Steve says when he’s finally caught his breath.

“Better now?”

Mmm,” Steve hums. “And you?”

“Yeah,” Bucky agrees. “Needed that.”

“Bucky...” Steve trails off, as though uncertain of what to say now even after what they’d just done.

“It’s okay, Steve. Watch a few more. It’s the best site I’ve found. They show only good practices, nothing questionable or unsafe. Get some ideas. Feel free to ask me about anything. I want you to be comfortable with this. If you have any reservations about any of it at all, we won’t do it. I don’t want to push you to do something you’re not ready for when the time comes that we find our way back to each other.”

“Still taking care of me, huh Buck?”

“Always, Stevie.”

 

Chapter Text

“Sammy!”

“Kitchen!” Sam yelled back as Bucky clambered down the stairs.

“That smells amazing. What are you making?”

“Chili. ‘S got meat and beans and tomatoes and peppers and onions.”

“Got enough for a few more?” he asked, taking a spoonful to taste.

“’Course I do! You don’t make just a little bit of chili, man. Why?”

“Because I love you like a brother. I do. But I am so sick of seeing only your face and my therapist’s.”

“You saw Steve and Nat the other day...”

“Not the same and you know it.”

Sam set the spoon down and replaced the lid before turning to face Bucky fully, eyebrows drawn together in concern.

“So what did you have in mind? I don’t exactly do dinner parties, man.”

Bucky flashed his biggest grin, turning the charm up to ten.

“Poker night.”

Sam’s eyebrows shot up.

“Poker night?”

“Poker night,” Bucky confirmed, nodding his head.

Sam beamed.

“Poker night,” he agreed.

 

A few hours (and a trip to the store for cards and poker chips) later, Bucky had their dining room table set up for a boys night. There were plenty of snacks on hand, and Clint arrived with about twenty twelve-cut pizzas.

“Are you serious? We’ll never need that much pizza! Even with my eating habits!”

Tony’s Audi pulled up behind Clint’s Jeep.

“Buckaroo!” he called out when he saw Bucky in the doorway. Rhodey climbed out of the passenger seat and immediately had his arms filled with four cases of beer, while Tony carried two more.

“You guys are insane,” Bucky said, shaking his head as held the door.

“Rhodey’s in town,” Tony said as he walked past.

“I see that,” Bucky laughed.

“Five is better for poker anyway. Where we setting up?”

“Table’s ready in the dining room. Food and drinks in the kitchen, on the island.”

Everyone loaded plates with food and Bucky added another chair to the table.

“What are we playing? Standard seven-card stud? Or Hold ‘Em?” Rhodey asked as they got settled in and Bucky split the chips evenly between everyone. Bucky appreciated the question, that Rhodey even considered another option besides the more popular Hold ‘Em.

“I assumed you guys would only know Hold ‘Em. I’m better with the stud, because Hold ‘Em is newer, but I’ve seen some of it on tv and it seems pretty simple. I’m sure I’ll catch on quick.”

A half-dozen hands in and Bucky was indeed catching on quickly. His chips stopped decreasing and began increasing. Another dozen rounds later and he was winning more than he was losing. Surprisingly, it was Clint who was the hardest for him to read and tell when he was bluffing.

"You know, Tony, I'd almost feel bad for taking all your money if you didn't have so much of it," Bucky laughed as he raked the large pile of chips in.

"Fuck, I'm just glad we're not actually playing with real money. You're kicking my ass here. How many hands in a row is that now?"

"Seriously, you should join one of those tournaments or something," Clint said around a mouthful of pizza. Bucky had lost track of how many pieces the man had had, but it was a staggering amount.

"We had fuck-all else to do during the war," he said, getting quiet. "We'd play for cigarettes and rations. If you didn't want to starve you got good at poker. 'Course, then the dancing monkey arrived and the Howling Commandos started and suddenly we had everything we needed cuz he was there."

"Well that was a major buzzkill. Thanks, man," Sam pouted.

"What are you complaining about? At least you're still in the game," Rhodey shot back, throwing a pretzel across the table.

"Learn how to bluff better then," Tony answered.

“Oh, you’re one to talk, you’ll be the next one out at the rate you’re going!”

"Here, I'll sit out a hand, will that help get all your panties untwisted?" Bucky tossed in the chips to cover the opening bet and went to grab another beer, bringing a handful of empties to the kitchen with him.

"Bring me back one too!" Sam yelled after him.

Bucky returned with the drinks and watched Tony swirling his glass. His scotch was significantly watered down at this point from the melted ice. And two hours into the night, he was still only on his first drink. Bucky knew that Tony had been cutting back on his drinking, but even this was less than normal. He couldn't help but wonder if he was the reason for it, if Tony was on alert for any signs of the Asset.

"Damn, Barnes. How many is that now? Do you even feel anything from drinking? Or...?" Rhodey asked.

Bucky leaned back in his chair, watching Sam deal the flop.

"Nah, I got the discount serum, remember? I'll get drunk eventually, but not really off of beer. I'd have to be pounding them back one after another non stop. The heavy stuff, liquor, can still do me in. But I'd need a couple cases of this weak ass American beer to feel something besides a full stomach."

"Then why drink it?"

"To feel normal? Because I like the taste? The same reason I drink coffee. Caffeine doesn't do shit for me either. But I like it."

“So it’s kind of like a comfort thing then?”

Bucky shrugged.

“Sure, you could look at it like that. I’m just happy to be back to eating and drinking anything and everything. Took a while for my system to readjust there at first. Hard to feel normal when you can’t do anything a normal person does, you know? Even if I am enhanced.” He wiggled his metal fingers for emphasis.

“Shit!” Clint cursed when Sam showed his cards, taking the hand.

Bucky grinned.

Tony’s phone began blaring an alarm in his pocket and it took every ounce of self control he possessed for Bucky to not go into a defensive posture.

“Talk to me, J,” Tony said, sounding only mildly concerned as he held the phone up in front of his face. Bucky knew better by now though, and recognized the worry in Tony’s eyes as he scanned the information scrolling across the screen.

“Sir, there have been reports of activity at the upstate complex,” Jarvis’s smooth voice sounded.

“Do we have a visual? Bring it up.” Tony set his phone on the table and an image appeared above it of Steve, on his back, in street clothes, shield on his arm, lying in the middle of a freshly-made crater in the middle of a clearing in the trees. And he was laughing. Bucky wasn’t sure if everyone else could hear Jarvis or if it was just his enhanced hearing, but they could all definitely see the video.

“What is that stupid fuck doing?” Bucky groaned.

There was movement at the rim of the crater, and then they all saw Thor pushing to his feet, an equally big grin on his face as he walked towards Steve and held out an arm to help him up.

Tony made an exasperated noise and rolled his eyes.

“J, is there anyone else there? Or just those two idiots?”

“Scans show no other life signs, sir. Captain Rogers and Thor appear to be alone.”

“Ugh. Whatever. They’re fine then. Let me know if they damage any buildings. But if they’re just beating each other up out there for some reason, I don’t care.”

“Very good, sir.”

Tony tapped a button and slipped the phone back into his pocket.

“Buckaroo, you back in this hand? It’s your turn to deal.”

 

*****

 

Steve had been moping around the common room when he heard and felt the unmistakable arrival of Thor on the landing pad.

“You know, you could call. I’d have picked you up if you needed a ride.”

“Ahh, no need for you to have come to Europe. I do not believe you enjoy the mountains of Switzerland, if I am correct?”

Steve flinched slightly and swallowed hard.

“Not particularly, no.” He noted the bag slung over Thor’s shoulder. “Is this not a social visit?”

Thor cleared his throat and looked around.

“Is anyone else here?”

“Not at the moment. Pepper is off doing something for the company. Natasha is on assignment undercover in like, Borneo or somewhere ridiculous. Clint, Tony, and Rhodey are at Sam and Bucky’s place for a poker night.”

“Ah, yes, poker! I have heard of this game. I do not understand it. Is that why you are not with them? Do you also not understand the game?” Thor set his bag and Mjolnir on a nearby chair before heading for the bar.

“No, that’s not exactly it.”

“Wait, Bucky...I recall you speaking of such a man. Is your old friend still alive then?”

It suddenly occurred to Steve how much Thor had missed out on while he was away with Jane and he blew out a breath.

“Long story short, yes he’s alive. Did you see any news from America where you were? Do you know about the fall of SHIELD? The helicarriers? The man I fought?” And nearly died fighting, Steve doesn’t add.

“I did see a bit, yes. I spoke with Tony, but it was decided that I lacked a certain...stealth...that was needed for the task of hunting down remaining Hydra factions.”

Steve couldn’t necessarily argue that point.

“I thought I had brought more Gruenhel’s ale the last time...?”

“It should be there, keep looking,” Steve said, avoiding the topic. “Anyway, it turns out that the man who tried to kill Nick and that Natasha and I fought was actually Bucky. He survived his fall from the train and was found by a Russian sect of Hydra and they...remade him. He has since broken through the brainwashing and is living with Sam nearby.”

“Ah, is Sam his lover? That is wonderful that your friend has found someone.”

“No! No, he’s not, he’s...no,” Steve sputtered, feeling his face turn eighteen different shades of red. “Bucky’s...he and I are...we had...he just needed to have his own space. Sam is just a friend, he’s not...”

Thor’s gaze narrowed as he studied Steve.

“Is this Bucky your lover then? Why is he not living here if that is the case?”

“Oh my god. I’m going to go jump off the roof. I cannot believe that I am having this conversation with you, of all people.”

“Steve, I am over fifteen hundred years old, you know this, yes? On Asgard, it is quite common for members of any gender to be together. Many of the Valkyrie, for example—”

“I got it, I got it! Stop talking, please!”

“I apologize if I have made you uncomfortable, Steve.”

“It’s not that, it’s just that...it’s not something that’s easy for me to talk about. When Bucky and I were younger, before the war...it was not accepted. We had to keep it secret. We...we had a bit of a falling out, I guess you’d say, a few months back. He decided to move out. Sam went with him so he wouldn’t be alone. Bucky and I are...we’re still friends. We’re working on it.”

Thor popped up from behind the bar with a large decanter of the liquor he’d been searching for.

“Friend Steve, I too know the pain of lost loves. Come, let us drink together and forget our sorrows for the evening,” he said, slinging an arm over Steve’s shoulders.

Steve shuddered.

“Oh God, no. Keep that poison away from me. I am never touching that stuff again.”

“I did bring more! I knew it!” Thor cheered. “Then I shall drink for you. And we can sing songs of heartache and lament.”

Steve stared at Thor in disbelief.

“I’d really rather not.”

Thor gave his shoulders a good-natured squeeze and thankfully released him. But this close, he got a good look at Thor’s face.

“Thor, has something happened with Jane? Is that why you are here, with a bag?”

Thor’s jaw set.

“Jane and I, too, have had a ‘falling out’ as you said.”

“Well, I’m not drinking. Bad things happened the last time I drank. And I certainly don’t sing. But I won’t leave you to drink and be sad alone. When’s the last time you were in a proper fight? Hit something?”

“Ah, yes, that sounds wonderful! Though I fear we would damage Tony’s splendid home.”

Steve grinned wide.

“In that case, do you care to take a short ride in a Quinjet with me? I know someplace we could go...”

 

An hour later, Steve watched as Thor, surrounded and lit by lightning, eyes glowing with it, barreled down on him at high speed from above him. They were testing the effects of striking Mjolnir against the shield, what hitting with different speeds and angles would do, to use as an attack in the future if needed during a fight. His shoulder was practically numb from the hits, but it was great fun, seeing how the shockwaves would travel from the hit. So far they’d managed to successfully duplicate a “straight” line sent in the same direction more than once on purpose.

Steve crouched low, holding the shield above him, as horizontal as possible, and tucked his head at the last moment. The impact was horrifically loud, the gong-like clang reverberating throughout Steve’s body and rattling around his head as his ears rang. He blinked a few times before he realized that he was supposed to be seeing stars, that they were in fact, in the sky above because he was now on his back, spread eagle.

He found himself laughing as Thor came into view, arm outstretched.

When he got to his feet is when he realized they’d made an actual crater in the earth, and the trees surrounding them had been reduced to mulch.

“Holy shit that was amazing!”

“Yes, a highly effective strike! How do you feel? Any damages to you?”

Steve shrugged off his shield and grimaced as he rolled his shoulder.

“Eh, nothing that can’t be shrugged off and powered through. I wouldn’t want to open with that, though. Preferably some time later in the battle, if it’s needed.”

“Agreed. I do not wish to damage you early in fight.” There was a light in Thor’s eyes, a flush to his cheeks, that hadn’t been there when he’d arrived earlier that evening, and Steve was glad to have helped Thor feel better. He knew, of course, that it would only be temporary, that the emotions would return, but hopefully now Thor knew that he wasn’t alone, and he had friends here, if he chose to remain and not return to Asgard.

“Now, where did my hammer end up?” Thor asked, looking around, but clearly not summoning the weapon to him. Steve assumed it was because he wanted to know what would have happened, had this been a real fight.

“Well, considering the angle you came in at,” Steve scrunched up his face in consideration. “I’d say, probably over that way in the trees somewhere.” He held his left arm out, pointing off toward the lip of the crater, thinking about the hammer and what it might have done on its trajectory.

He wasn’t completely surprised to hear the signature sound of the hammer’s flight through the air as it sped toward them.

He was fully unprepared, however, when the leather wrapping of the handle smacked firmly into his outstretched palm and not Thor’s.

They stared at Steve’s hand, and then looked at each other wide-eyed, and then back at Steve’s hand. It would have been comical if it wasn’t so terrifying to Steve.

“Oh my god! Take it! I don’t want it!” He shoved Mjolnir into Thor’s chest.

“How did you do that?” Thor yelled, anger replacing the wonder in his eyes.

“I don’t know!” Steve yelled back, pushing it harder against Thor’s body.

What did you do?” Thor was nearly screaming. Steve stepped back and dropped the hammer, mindful of avoiding Thor’s feet. He quickly bent and snatched it up, shaking it in Steve’s face.

“I don’t know! I didn’t mean to, whatever I did! I’m sorry!”

Thor turned and stalked away, and Steve gasped for breath, feeling as though his body was on fire from holding the hammer and the power coursing through it. Without warning, Thor spun and threw Mjolnir directly at Steve. Reflexively, Steve’s arm went up to protect his face, and he caught it once more, body whipping around from the momentum.

“I said I don’t want it!” he cried, flinging it back. “I don’t deserve it,” he sobbed, falling to his knees. “I shouldn’t be able to hold it.”

Thor was suddenly at his side, one hand on Steve’s shoulder.

“Steve, the hammer does not lie. I have often wondered if you were worthy to wield the mighty Mjolnir. We need never speak of this night again. Nobody else needs to know.”

Steve laughed bitterly. “I’m sure no one would believe me right now anyway. Yeah, let’s just keep this between us.”

They made their way back to the Quinjet, quiet and somber, all joviality gone. Thor’s words rang through Steve’s head. The hammer does not lie. Maybe there was some hope for him after all.