Well, you're my friend
And can you see
Many times we've been out drinking
Many times we've shared our thoughts
But did you ever, ever notice
The kind of thoughts I got?
Well, you know I have a love
A love for everyone I know
And you know I have a drive
To live, I won't let go
But can you see this opposition
Comes rising up sometimes?
That it's dreadful imposition
Comes blacking in my mind
And then I see a darkness
And then I see a darkness
And then I see a darkness
And then I see a darkness
Did you know how much I love you?
Is a hope that somehow you
Can save me from this darkness
Bonnie "Prince" Billy / Johnny Cash
Captain America walked with long, determined strides, Falcon at his side and the Black Widow close behind. The mission had been a relative success, stopping an international arms deal of some hijacked Stark Industries’ weapons that had been missing since before Tony had become Ironman, back when Obadiah Stan was making black-market deals even SHEILD was unaware of. Now the three Avengers were heading toward their extraction point and then back to SHEILD for a formal debriefing. Steve rolled his stiff shoulders and let out a quiet sigh as Natasha shot him a small smile while Sam clapped him on the back.
“Hawkeye said touch down in two minutes.” She reported, hand to the com device in her ear.
The Captain smiled and nodded, trying to take comfort in a job well done. Instead his gaze went distant as his mind wandered, the way it had so often in the past few months since first discovering the horrific truth that Sergeant Barnes, his best friend Bucky, had not in fact died all those years ago falling from the train but had been captured, tortured and brainwashed by their enemy and was now MIA. Steve felt Sam squeeze his shoulder and he glanced back at his friend who shot him a knowing look, reminding him that he was not alone in his hunt for the infamous Winter Soldier, and even through their search had yet to uncover any solid leads, they would keep looking. Steve offered a tight lipped smile and nod, looking up as the Quinjet landed and the ramp opened. They headed up into the plane, greeted by Hawkeye who gave them a slightly grim look, a frown under a pensive gaze. They looked at the Archer with concern, coming to stand in front of him with questioning expressions.
“Cap.” Hawkeye nodded with a sigh as if dreading his next words.
“Hawkeye,…?” Steve questioned, a sense of unease obvious and tension rising.
“SHEILD was contacted by Rumlow,….. he’s calling himself Cross Bones now.” Hawkeye snickered without humor, shaking his head as Falcon rolled his eyes and crossed his arms.
“What did he want?” Natasha asked as she studied Clint’s slightly nervous shifting of body weight. Hawkeye looked from her to the Captain as he rubbed the back of his neck.
“He sent a video message,… Said it was for the Captain,…” Clint looked back up at Steve and squared his shoulders. “ Fury and Hill consulted with Stark….. they’re not sure if you should watch it.” He explained with a quiet mutter, knowing the exact response he would be given.
“Why?” Steve demanded, head tilted and gaze intense. Clint shifted again looking off to the side with his hands on his hips
“He sent it as a taunt,… he wants to mess with your head.” Clint explained and instantly the Captain knew.
“Bucky….” Steve whispered, swallowing, mouth suddenly dry, fists clenched. Clint gave him a steady look and nodded. Natasha shot Sam a worried glance and the Falcon met her gaze with a shake of his head both teammates well aware of how difficult the past few months had been for the Captain who had become emotionally despondent and restless, mind fixated on finding Bucky but growing frustrated with no solid leads in recent weeks.
“Lets go.” Steve said sharply and walked up to the cock pit, prepared to take off and head strait for the Avenger’s tower. The other three watched him go ahead with concerned apprehension.
“Have you seen the video?” Sam asked and Barton shook his head.
“Fury brought it to Tony three hours ago to try and track where it came from… Hill said that it would only further compromise the Captain if he saw it… Didn’t want me to disclose but,… I am done keeping their secrets,… If it was me,…” Clint looked at Natasha who was considering what was being said. She glanced up at him with thought as he spoke. “If it was you that went missing,… and SHEILD got a video message about it,… I would want to know.” His gaze was intense and earnest. Natasha swallowed before she nodded back in mutual understanding.
“This is gonna hit Rogers hard,… Rumlow is a bastard, and he knows how much Cap cares about Barnes.” Sam sighed shaking his head. Natasha breathed out a sigh and nod of agreement, her calm mask only allowing a crease in her forehead and pursed lips, green eyes tracking the Captain as he set the coordinates. The ramp closed and they headed to their seats, a shared dread occupying the silent ride back to New York.
The Jet had landed and Steve was the first off the plane, still in uniform but mask off, jaw locked and eyes focused. He could feel the other’s watching him and knew they were concerned about his critical judgment when it came to Bucky, speaking about it quietly to one another as they failed to realize how effectively the serum had enhanced his hearing. The Captain had swallowed down his grief and loss when he had first awoken from the ice because he had a job to do, a purpose and people depending on him. Discovering that for over two years he had been working with Hydra, and that his most despised enemy’s had not only tricked him into servitude, but had enslaved his best friend in a hellish existence for the better part of a century, was his worst nightmare come true. Steve resented SHEILD for allowing the terrorist organization to grow within their ranks and was horrified that Zola had received a pardon after what he had done to Bucky and the weapons he had created for the Red Skull. There was no way to alleviate the nauseous pit of guilt and rage that was burning in his gut and so the Captain soldiered on, the only thing he knew how to do.
Steve walked with a single-minded focus, expression schooled and breathing deliberate, knowing that everyone was watching him, ready for him to lose control. He wouldn’t do that, not when finding Bucky was on the line. He knew he was not the only one searching for the Winter Soldier and so he refused to give in to the emotional tidal wave that had been crashing against him from the very moment he saw that familiar face unmasked. He stayed calm and focused as he entered the briefing room, and as all eyes shot to him, he met them with steal determination. Stark was there in a tailored suite, quietly talking with Fury and Hill, as a nervous looking Banner stood near by sharing a whispered conversation with Pepper who gave Steve a compassionate smile that did not hid the uncertainty in her eyes. Steve nodded and walked directly over toward the Director of SHEILD with eyes that demanded full disclosure.
“Captain.” Fury nodded and received a curt nod back.
“Rumlow sent me a message?” Steve did not waste time on formalities, clearly intent on watching the video.
“Hey there Rodgers,….. The mission was a success I gather?” Stark tried to lighten the mood, his tone casual to distract from the Captain’s immediate intent.
“Yes,… We recovered your weapons tech Stark, now show me this message.” Steve replied with a tone that was not a threat but a command.
“The video is a deliberate attempt to compromise your ability to think rationally Captain Rodgers. We cannot afford to have your emotional attachment to the Winter Soldier jeopardize our missions Sir.” Hill answered with a calm, authoritative tone of her own, respectful yet somehow still patronizing. Steve gave her a single, steady look, consciously controlling his breathing as he spoke.
“His name….. is Sergeant James Buchannan Barnes. He is an honored war hero and a POW Agent Hill, please remember that.” Steve’s voice was clear and underlined with steel, eyes glaring daggers at the SHEILD agent before he took a step back and looked straight at Tony who was watching him with growing apprehension.
“I am not going to repeat myself again…… Mr. Stark,… the video please.” Steve spoke with a calmness that was more intimidating then if he were growling or shouting his demands. The Captain stood motionless with his fists clenched and gaze fixed on Ironman, then over to the Director and Agent Hill, eyes radiating an intensity that left no room for further discussion. With an exasperated sigh Stark shrugged and turned to his tablet, typing into the air on the holographic projection.
“Alright Rogers, don’t say we didn’t warn ya.” Tony sighed as he set up a large projected video against the wall, walking past Steve and awkwardly patting his shoulder, before standing in the back with the other Avengers and Pepper. Fury shook his head as he moved to the side with Hill, all eyes turning toward the lone figure who appeared large on the screen, black mask with crudely drawn bones across it.
“Hey Rogers!.... heard your all healed up and feeling better,…Gotta be tough though,… getting shot so many times by your old buddy,… Still,… kinda impressed that all it took was a stubborn Boy scout to break through decades of Hydra Programing….” Crossbones laughed as he shook his head. “I mean,… Hydra has been screwing with the Soldier’s head since the God dame 1940’s and all it took was you batting those baby blues and suddenly he falls apart!... Doesn’t take a single head shot… and fails the most important mission he has ever been assigned… Pathetic!” With a sudden and dramatic flare Rumlow removed his mask revealing a grotesquely burned face, ear melted and skin blistered. His appearance was startling but The Captain just remained stoic and silent as he watched the former Strike team leader snicker, dark eyes reflecting a twisted desire to hurt and cause pain.
“Like what you see Cap?... Maybe we should have burned your pretty little Bucky’s face off instead of just putting a muzzle on ‘em… Would have worked out better,… but guess we can just learn form our mistakes…. Order through pain!” Rumlow’s tone turned sinister as he leaned in, winking with a smirk. “Ya know Cap, I always figured Barnes had been your bitch boy, following your orders like a good little side kick!..... Keeping you warm at night during the War….” He laughed again slapping the table he was leaning on.
Steve’s face grew hot, a read blush traveling up his neck and spreading to his cheeks, shaking silently as his eyes burned, his entire focus on the taunting man’s image even as he was vaguely aware of the other’s in the room who were shifting and mumbling, glancing at him to gage his reaction.
“He was nothing before Hydra!... Just another dumb kid who knew how to shoot… Following around some self- righteous, moronically patriotic, red, white and blue clown!.... But we gave his useless life an actually purpose!.... Took your Boy-Toy Sergeant and broke him down, beat him till he was just a cowering animal who couldn’t even remember his own name.” Crossbone’s words were delivered with a gleefully malice tone, meant to gut the Captain and hit him where it hurt the most.
“Then,…with so much patience and dedication,…Hydra was able to take that wasted, cowardly sack of piss and shit… and mold him into a lethal weapon, a killing machine that was completely ruthless and unstoppable in the field,… but still obedient and compliant...our perfect little Soldier!” Rumlow barked a laugh as he nodded at the camera. “We gave him a second chance,… gave him order through pain,…and he will always be our Fist of Hydra!....He belongs to us!” His tone became resentful and almost enraged.
“You destroyed everything we worked toward!... Years of planning,… and all that god damn mut had to do was one, single kill shot to that stupid head of yours and Hydra could have finally given the world a sense of order,… the security of knowing everything was under control…” Rumlow scowled with a bitter shake of his head.
“You ruined it Rodgers,… and now, I am gonna ruin you!” His ugly scared lips twisted in a cruel smile.
“Here is just a little taste of what is gonna come… some footage of a lap dog winning for his former owner…But trust me Cap,… I got access to all kinds of quality films,… Hydra liked documenting their hard work, tracking their progress as they turned your little sniper side kick into the perfect Asset,… well,… maybe not perfect,… but Hydra doesn’t mind using discipline to keep him in line,… remind the Soldier of his place,… that he’s OUR Asset to control.” He sneered again and licked his lips.
Steve’s chest was rising and falling with quiet huffs of air as he shook with rage. His teeth gritted as he forced himself to remain still and fight the desperate need to hit something, over and over and over again.
“You’re lucky that I am so generous Cap, because I am gonna send you everything you don’t wanna see,… but I know you Rodgers,… I know your gonna watch it,… gonna weep and cry just like Barnes,… and maybe you will realize there is no coming back from what Hydra did,…He’s had his brain put through the blender so many times,…”Rumlow chuckled as he shrugged his shoulders, eyes gleaming. “The man you knew,…your Sergeant Branes… He’s gone…. and all that’s left is the Soldier,… and we know him better then you do Cap,… we are tracking him right now,… and this time, after he’s been properly punished and wiped clean,…. I am gonna be there at his side to make sure he sinks a bullet through that thick skull of yours… That’s a promise Cap!.... Enjoy the film Steven!” Rumlow snickered and the image cut out replaced by security footage.
Steve’s vision was tunneled, his entire focus on the screen as he felt his breath catch, taking steps forward unconsciously as he watched the image of a man, a man he had once known better than he knew himself. It was Bucky, with long hair, a metal arm and 100 lbs more muscle but it was him, and Steve felt his heart clench. The Solider was restrained in the heinous maintenance chair in an underground Bank vault that had been used as a Hydra base. The Captain swallowed and took in a shallow wheezing breath as he recognized the room, remembering the smell of blood and electricity and sweat. It had smelled just like the room Steve had found Bucky in, strapped to the metal table in Zola’s lab all those many years ago.
Steve had gone to the hidden Hydra base only a few weeks after he left the hospital, Sam at his side as he looked upon the torture device with horror. The base had been abandoned and was being searched by SHEILD agents who buzzed around the hollowed out vault, their voices echoing as The Captain remained frozen in place, eyes locked on the chair, unable to look away. It took Sam standing in front of him, a calm but worried expression and repeating his name several times before his trance had been broken. But his attention was caught once more when Natasha called to them from further back in the base where an empty Cryo chamber lay open. Steve had placed his hand on the tank and could not suppress the shiver that racked through his body as he pictured Bucky’s face, frozen behind the glass. It was at that moment that the tight knot in his stomach had sunk deep into his gut where it now lived, a constant companion reminding the Captain day and night that Bucky had suffered for so long, enslaved to their worst enemy and treated as nothing more then a weapon to be maintained and kept locked away in cold storage.
“The Date on the footage,… that’s right after the fight on the over pass,…” Natasha’s soft voice brought Steve back to the present and he refocused, swallowing again and blinking fast, forcing himself to breath and maintain his composure.
He watched the men in white lab coats wearing face masks hover around the partially restrained Soldier, using electric tools to fix his damaged metal arm. There were several other men in the room, dressed in black and armed, watching the Soldier intently. There were minor twitches of Bucky’s head, his long hair curtaining his expression before he jerked violently, head snapping to the side as if he had been struck. With no other warning the Winter Soldier growled out a harsh cry and his metal hand struck out hard and fast, sending the man with the electric tools flying across the room.
The Captain watched intently as The Soldier sat ridged and tense on the edge of the chair, arms flexed and breathy heavy as around him the Hydra guards stood alert with all guns pointed at him. There was moaning from the injured technician just out of frame followed by a gruff voice that sounded tense and slightly startled.
“Rumlow,…The Asset is non-compliant.” Jack Rollins, another familiar member of the Captain’s former Strike team spoke into his com device as he kept his gun trained on the Soilder’s head with the other guards staying back out of reach. They were all nervous and it was obvious and on edge not sure what had triggered the sudden, violent out burst.
Steve watched with anxious uncertainty as he studied Bucky’s face and body, watching as the Soldier’s shoulders began to shake and he slowly hunched forward slightly, fists becoming loose on his thighs and gaze distant as if lost in thought instead of ready to fight, his expression almost blank and the violence of only seconds before all but gone.
“He dissociates…” Natasha observed and Bruce nodded taking down notes as Sam took a few steps closer to the screen, standing just behind Steve as he watched the Soldier’s behavior with interest, mind already considering what therapeutic strategies would be needed to help a man likely suffering from the most extreme PTSD the VA counselor had ever seen.
There were mumbled words from outside the camera’s view, “unstable…. erratic ,” and then Peirce appeared walking through the door way escorted by Rumlow and a few other armed guards.
Steve felt his teeth grind together as he flexed his hands before tightening them into fists. The other Avengers watched the screen with interest and Fury crossed his arms as he glared at the image of his former mentor, shaking his head.
Peirce held his hands up, a nonverbal order for the Hydra guards to stand down and lower their weapons. He seemed confident and unconcerned by the Soldier’s potential violence, taking off his glasses as he studied the blank expression and distant stare of his Asset.
“Mission report.” Peirce stated firmly, waiting a few moments for a response. The Soldier remained silent, offering no indication that he was even aware of his surroundings.
“Mission report, NOW!” The Secretary’s tone was slightly harsher and more demanding but still had no effect. Peirce walked closer and bent over, getting on eye level with the Soldier who would not meet his gaze, eyes dilated and unfocused, staring without sight. There was only a momentary pause before Peirce brought up his arm and backhanded the Asset with enough force his head snaped violently to the side, body almost knocked from the chair.
Steve inhaled a sharp breath and his body tensed, as if he could somehow intervene. His gut cramped as he shook with contempt for the man who was abusing his friend.
The Soldier sat up and blinked rapidly, shocked out of his dissociative state and seemingly confused, brow creased as he spoke, voice soft and tone unsure.
“There was a man on the bridge…..” He looked down before his blue eyes came back up with intent. “Who was he?” Peirce shifted slightly, obviously realizing that the Soldier’s mind was trying to remember and make a connection with his past.
“You met him earlier this week on another assignment.” Peirce stated flatly as he studied the Soldier’s face with caution. The Asset looked down again and then off to the side with a whispered declaration.
“I knew him.” A simple truth, voiced without defiance but with certainty.
Steve’s eyes grew as he felt the barest hint of a smile twitch his lips, realizing that despite what Rumlow said, Bucky was still alive within the facade of the Winter Soldier, his mind trying to hold onto to Steve.
Peirce pulled up a chair and sat in front of his Asset with a considerate look as The Soldier’s eyes grew larger, gazing down, his expression slightly overwhelmed with the realization that he actually did remember the familiar face of the man from the bridge, and more than that, he knew him.
“Your work has been a gift to mankind….You shaped the Century!” Peirce’s tone was calm and almost proud as he spoke to the distressed Soldier who looked back up at him with questioning eyes over a pout.
Steve felt something stir in his chest at the expression, knowing Bucky was listening but with skepticism. It was the same expression he gave Steve long ago when he had to patch him up after fights as the hot headed Blond would argue why he had to intervene or stand up for himself instead of backing down.
“…And I need you to do it one more time.” As Peirce spoke, the Soldier looked off to the side, his attention clearly still focused on the puzzle piece of memory, trying to understand.
“Society is at a tipping point between order and chaos,… and tomorrow morning we’re going to give it a push… But if you don’t do your part, I can’t do mine…” Bucky was looking hard off to the side, his breathing escalating slightly before he looked down with a conflicted wince.
“And Hydra can’t give the World the freedom it deserves.” Peirce ended his speech with a pointed look, measuring the Soldier’s reaction.
“But I knew him.” The Soldier gave another pained expression, as if aware that his response would not be received well. Peirce sat back in the chair with an appraising look before he sighed, resigned that his words alone would not be enough to refocus the Soldier on his assigned task.
“Prep him.” The Secretary ordered as he stood up and walked over to the Doctors and technicians who exchanged nervous glances. The Soldier’s expression began to fold, his pout becoming a frown as his eyes looked sad. Steve wanted so badly to reach out and touch his friend’s face, to hold him in his arms and promise him that he was right, that he did know him.
“He’s been out of Cryo-Freeze too long.” The Doctor stated with an anxious breath.
“Then wipe him and start over.” Peirce stated with a callous tone, direct and to the point. The Soldier’s expression had changed from bewildered, to forlorn and then to one of subdued resentment as the two Doctors moved toward him, each placing a hand on his shoulders to shove him back with a bit of force. The Soldier glared straight ahead, not making eye contact as he moved his mouth in reflex and opened up for the rubber bite gard.
Steve stood up straight as he took in a sharp breath, fists clenched tight and eyes growing in realization of what he was about to see. Restraints came down over Bucky’s arms and his head jerked back, chest heaving as he prepared for the pain to follow.
The Captain could not look away, his entire attention fixed on the large projection of Bucky, oblivious to the room of Avenger’s and SHEILD agents who watched him with concern. His own breathing had chocked, before escalating at the sight of the heinous contraption lowering over his friend’s head. Bucky squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again, obviously aware of exactly what was about to happen to him and unable to control his natural instant to escape.
“Stark,… Turn it off!” Agent Hill warned but it was too late as the machine powered up, blue electric current flickering before the two panels locked over the restrained Soldier’s head and he began to scream, the pain ripping through his throat and filling the conference room. Steve’s jaw had dropped and he was suddenly backing away from the video footage, before looking over his shoulder at Tony who was about to end the video projection.
“How long?!?” The Captain demanded, attention divided between Stark and the screen where his friend writhed in unfathomable pain.
“They do it for 40 second intervals with a two minute break,…. for almost 15 minutes.” Tony breathed out, looking away and then up to the screen with discomfort before meeting Steve’s hard glare.
They all turned back toward the screen as the machine powered down and the Soldier was left panting and gasping, eyes blinking rapidly and body spasming in the restraints.
“Show me the end.” The Captain demanded, his tone remarkably even despite the turmoil in his blue eyes and the rage coursing through him. Tony nodded in silent compliance, relieved to end the agonized screams that had echoed in the large conference room.
“Jarvis fast forward 15 minutes then play.” Stark ordered hastily with a sigh as they watched Steve stand stoically in front of the muted film, willing himself to bare witness to the painful image of his best friend, a man he loved more than any of them even realized, being tortured by Hydra.
“I said this was a bad idea.” Agent Hill muttered as she cocked an eyebrow at Fury who sighed with an annoyed glare back. Steve heard her words and could feel the awkward tension, people shifting and whispering about what Steve might do, about how he was going to react. In the back of his mind The Captain ordered himself to remain silent and keep his attention on the video, reminding himself that he had to remain calm, level headed and authoritative if he was going to keep the upper hand in the situation. He had to be strong and keep it together in front of SHEILD and the Avengers if they were going to help him save Bucky and as much he hated to admit it, Steve Rodger’s would need their help or at the very least their trust. He couldn’t let them know the truth, the truth about Steve Rodgers and Bucky Barnes, before they were ever the military heroes and legendary historic figures. He couldn’t let them know just how gutted he felt as he watched the image of Bucky’s restrained body convulsing with pain.
As the machine powered down for the last time, the fast forward ended and sound was turned back on. They watched in shared silence as the Winter Soldier lay shaking and panting around the mouth gard in the chair, eyes large and dilated, unfocused. His face twitched and his muscles spasmed, uncoordinated limbs jerking in the restraints as the technicians came up to him with flash lights, manhandling his head roughly to remove the mouth gard before peeling open his eyes as they shined the light and he whimpered between shallow breaths. After only a few hasty seconds of checking his vitals they nodded and Rumlow appeared back on screen stepping forward, a red book with a black star in his hands. Steve’s eyes instantly shot to Rumlow and the book and then back to Bucky as he heard Natasha step forward.
“I know that book,… I’ve seen it before,… in the Red room.” Natasha’s voice sounded strange and almost breathless.
“Nat?” Clint rest a hand on her shoulder in concern, aware that her upbringing in the Red room was a dark and painful childhood she rarely spoken of.
“It’s a manual,… instructions for Handlers of the Asset.” She responded with a small frown as she tilted her head in thought, eyes growing wide as she looked at Hawkeye then to Fury and Hill who watched her reaction. Steve remained focused intently on the screen but listened to what she said, over his shoulder.
“The Asset,… He was the Winter Soldier,… I hadn’t realized,…” Natasha stopped short as she turned her attention back to the screen. “The Sound?” She asked and Tony went to his projector.
The Captain watched with confusion as Rumlow began reading from the red leather book, his words seeming to hit the dazed Winter Soldier with intense force as he gritted his teeth, fists clenching and slacked posture suddenly becoming ridged and arched in his restraints.
“Jay,… what’s with the audio feed on this part of the video?” Stark demanded as they watched the Soldier twist and convulse against his restraints as Rumlow circled him, face showing a level of excitement as he read aloud.
I am sorry sir the audio on this section of the film has be completely edited out,… I will attempt analysis.
“What is he saying?” Sam asked out loud as they tried to lip read the few segments of video where Rumlow was facing the camera, leaning behind the Soldier who was crying out, the silence almost worse than with sound. The Black Widow answered with a frown as her eyes narrowed.
“They are just random words, but the sequencing, they could be some form of code to activate his programing.” She replied with a focused tone, watching the interaction with intensity as she took a few steps closer, now right behind Steve to his left.
As the last word was read aloud the Soldier’s body stilled, his panting gone, and face a neutral coldness that seemed completely in control and calm. The sound resumed on it’s own and Rumlow’s image closed the book and spoke with a gruff bark at the quiet man in the chair.
“Soildat?” Rumlow crossed his arms, the other Hydra agents waiting with guns still drawn to see if the magic spell had worked on their unruly Asset.
“Я готов соблюдать.” The Soilder answered with a small nod, eyes straight ahead, a deadly, intent mask sliding over his face as all trace of hesitancy and confusion was gone, erased, wiped away, leaving behind only Hydra’s fist.
“Agent Romanoff?” Fury prompted the Widow with a raised eyebrow, Hill at his side with an appraising look.
“I am ready to comply.” The Widow answered with a sigh and a look of pained sympathy as she glanced at the back of Steve’s ridged form.
The Video cut out and was replaced by the snickering, distorted face of Rumlow as he winked at the camera.
“Hope you liked it Cap,… Barnes is a good boy, so obedient and willing to please his masters!... All it takes is a few minutes in the chair and some Russian words and then poof… Ready to follow orders!” Rumlow leaned in and his tone turned sinister.
“You see Rodgers,…. Hydra has their tentacles so deep inside your Bucky boy,… there ain’t no coming back,… he’s all mine now,… cuze there are only a few people on this earth still alive that know those magic words, and I know them all by hart!.. all his codes,… And I can make him do whatever the fuck I want,…” Rumlow was grinning like a mad man as he winked at the camera. “Maybe I’ll start making some of my own home movies with the Soldier,… put him down on all fours and take him for a ride…..make damn sure he knows who he belongs to!” Rumlow was laughing as he sat back shaking his head. “You take care now Rodgers,… and I will send you another present real soon!” He smirked again before saluting with his middle finger, the screen going blank.
The room was silent, all eyes on the Captain who stood motionless but for the small tremor that ran down his spine, head down and eyes closing for a moment, squeezing tight like his balled up fists. His jaw flexed and he took harsh snorting breaths through his noise trying to keep him-self from throwing his shield at the wall in pure impotent rage and anguished frustration. The silence stretched for a moment longer before Sam broke the soundless tension, taking a step toward Steve and speaking as both friend and a seasoned mental health professional who was beginning to understand just how much pain the Captain was accustomed to swallowing down.
“Hey Man,… You okay Steve?” Sam’s question was real and genuine, his compassion and concern not underlined with assessment or judgment, but still, he didn’t understand. Sam was new to working with SHEILD and the Avengers and he didn’t realize what was at stake if the Captain let his guard down, if the authority of Captain America was compromised by the heart ache and desperate fear that Steve Rodgers was drowning in. As if pulled up straight by an invisible string, a force beyond himself, the Captain stood up and turned toward them, expression strained and eyes tight, watery but gaze unwavering as he looked around the room, nodding once at the others and then addressed Director Fury.
“I need a minute, lets re-assemble in an hour to debrief.” His tone was flat, controlled but just barley.
“Captain Rodgers,…” Agent Hill began but was shut down instantly.
“I said…..I…Need…A…Minute!” Steve gritted out beneath eyes that were dangerously close to exposing just how emotionally wrecked he was at that very moment and warning all within the room to give him his space. He glared hard at Hill then Fury before the Director let out a sigh and nodded, stepping out of the way of the door.
The Captain didn’t hesitate, avoiding the eyes that watched him as he walked straight out the door and down the hall, his breaths matching his steps, even, calm, measured, controlled. He blinked back the tears that brimmed his eyes as he got into the elevator, willing himself to keep his composure even as the doors slid shut and in the silence of his own mind he heard the wailing cries of Bucky Barnes, raw and full of pain. Steve felt his chest growing tight as his body shook with a restless energy, a need for action, a need to find and protect Bucky before,…. before...oh God.
The elevator doors opened, and he was walking with a quickening pace toward his living quarters, his heart hammering in his chest and his breaths increasing as the screams tore through his mind and his stomach rolled. His hand shook as he punched in his security code and he staggered through the opened door, slamming it shut and gasping for breath as if he was having an asthma attack, lungs burning and eyes flooding with tears as he franticly struggled out of his uniform. He had to get out of the patriotic costume of Captain America, the symbol of strength and honor and freedom. Steve was choking, strangled by the bullshit façade of the perfect Super Soldier, the mask of America’s first hero that he had been trapped in since waking up in a time where that was his only identity. Steve Rodgers, the feisty punk kid from Brooklyn had long been forgotten and was mostly unknown to everyone around him, even those he trusted with his life in battle.
With an anguished growl he violently through his uniform aside and headed into the bathroom, locking the door and pressing his forehead against it with his eyes shut tight, tears slipping out anyway. He balled up his fist and banged it hard on the reinforced door frame splintering the wood. Steve gritted his teeth as a cry escaped his lips, face contorting in a broken sob of desperate anger as Rumlow’s taunting words twisted with the echo of Buck’s screams. A horrifying image burned bright behind his tears, a sickening picture of Bucky forced to the ground with Rumlow behind him, ready to dominate him with cruel sadism in the most humiliating way. Steve gasped as he turned away falling to his knees in front of the toilet where he vomited, head spinning with the sounds of Bucky’s torment, Rumlows laughter, the smell of the air in the bank vault, the feel of the cold metal Cryo-tank beneath his palm, it was all too much. Steve choked and sputtered and cried as his wrenches turned to shattered sobs. He struggled up and slumped back against the bathroom wall, banging his head over and over as if it would help, as if he could escape the fear and helpless anxiety that Bucky was in danger, had been in danger this whole time, used and abused by people Steve thought he could trust, members of his SHEILD strike team.
Captain America was stripped away and the Man that was Steve Rogers covered his face, sitting naked on the bathroom floor as he wept for all that was lost. The guilt was suffocating, replacing his anger with despair and grief for letting the one person that he had always counted on, the only one who ever cared about a sickly, scrawny punk kid from Brooklyn, fall through his fingers to a fate that had been far worse than death. But he had to stop, he had to get himself together, be strong for Bucky, his friend needed him. With a few more whimpered sobs and a hushed curse, he wiped his face, shaking his head as he took in a few steading breaths. He forced himself up and into the shower, turning it on cold as if he could numb the pain that was burning him from the inside out. He took another breath and let the freezing water wash over him, shivering and forcing himself to endure it, feeling somehow calmer, the discomfort easing his guilt. His mind focused and his breathing began to even out. If Bucky could survive the hell he was put through, and still find the courage to fight back and break free after years of brainwashing and torture, then Steve could damn well go find him and bring him home. He owed Bucky that, he owed him more then he could ever repay, and all he could offer was his love and protection, a safe place where he could finally rest and possibly heal from 70 years of Hydra. Steve opened his eyes, and grabbed the soap, his earlier break down washed away down the drain. Captain America knew what had to be done, he had his mission objective, now he just had to find Bucky before Rumlow did.