They talk to each other in German… They sound so calm; like Bucky isn’t a human being at all, but some sort of animal. He’s their science experiment… like in school… What was the last thing Bucky can remember from his days in school? So long ago… How many years? He doesn’t even know how long he’s been here… Their voices sound so far away, like… They’re standing at one end of a tunnel and he’s at the other…
At least then, there’d be enough distance for him to try and run.
There’s fire slowly inching its way up his legs. By the time it touches his kneecaps, he’s arching his back off the table – as much as he can against the restraints – because it’s getting worse, it’s getting worse please stop, and it’s as if his body is trying to run away from the inevitable. It’s not like that helps.
The pain always comes.
He can’t form words over the mouth guard. It’s flimsy and sharp around the edges, cutting into his gums and the soft flesh of his cheeks. Not enough for him to choke on his own blood – oh please, please, let me – but enough that he tastes it when the current of lightning-sharp agony suddenly shoots up his thighs without warning and dances up his spine.
They talk to each other in German… They sound so calm. Bucky doesn’t sound calm.
All Bucky can do is scream.
His attempts to thrash and break from the constricting bonds are useless. His heart races until it feels like it’s about to rip from the arteries holding it in place and shoot out of his chest. Bucky wouldn’t mind that. Any possibilities of death, no matter how brutal, could never be as bad as the way it feels when they burn his flesh, or slice him open, or kiss his body with electricity. At least with death, there’s an eventual ending.
Sometimes, he thinks he doesn’t mind the electricity as much, really. The first second it pierces his system is the worst, but then it’s enough of a shock that he slips from the room. The outer shell remains taut, with veins pushing angrily against flesh and teeth bared and sometimes grey eyes wide, and yes, he makes horrible, loud, distressed sounds and why god, why are you letting this happen to me? But inside, he checks out. At least until the currents and the pain stops. Given everything else they do to him, the electricity is almost like his chance to take a forced nap while his body suffers.
A few days ago (or what it weeks? Maybe it was years? Maybe Bucky’s an old man now and they’ll keep doing this to him until he’s one hundred, or one thousand, or however old they’ll force him to be before they finally let him die), they’d cut open his stomach and played around with scalpels - operating on him for god-knows-what reason – without giving Bucky any anesthetic. Bucky had screamed; he’d begged. Then everything was too blinding for words or proper thought, and he screamed some more; vomited right there on his back and then he couldn’t see because it was in his eyes. Even in his mind, he’d been screaming – but behind the noise, he thought, Kill me, kill me, kill me, please kill me!
And he couldn’t figure out why none of what they did to him would let that happen. By about ten minutes in, he was so overwhelmed in his torture that the screams stopped… They spoke in German and they’d sounded so calm… Checked up on him to make sure he hadn’t slipped away on them… But Bucky’s a good little rat, he lives for his masters – does not die because they’ve not given him permission and they never will. He’d just stared up at the ceiling with wide, unfocused, bloodshot eyes - while fingers and blades played around with his insides and he escaped to a place where he could lie under the stars with Steve.
“Bucky, wake up…”
Funny enough – so funny, what’s funny, I don’t know, I’d laugh if I could, even if nothing’s funny no more – it’s not even those sorts of things he hates the most.
What Bucky hates the most are the needles.
Fire burns, electricity burns, the cut of a knife burns, and water, it burns too, when it chokes his lungs. Everything burns. At least Bucky can take comfort in knowing what’s coming when they happen. He can never anticipate anything with the needles. Only sometimes does the liquid they inject into his veins make him burn. But not always. Sometimes, it fills his blood with ice and then he’s cold, he’s so fucking cold, he wonders if he’d see his breath in the air if he could open his eyes (but they’re too tightly shut). Sometimes, it makes his muscles lock up and then spasm – everywhere, all at once. With the needles, it feels like Bucky gets fucked over and over and over by death in its most brutal form, as he gets filled up with chemicals he can’t pronounce the names of, for reasons he doesn’t understand.
Death is a cruel lover – never takes him fully. Just gets what it wants and then leaves Bucky out to dry.
“Buck… Open your eyes. Wake up; it’s okay.”
That’s Steve’s voice, the only English in the room. Bucky never used to understand what outsiders meant when they commented on his and Steve’s ‘Brooklyn accents’, but he gets it now. It’s been forever since he’s heard the sound of home from those around him, Steve’s thick Brooklyn drawl is almost strange. It’s like hearing him for the very first time, but… but it’s still Steve’s voice, and Bucky would recognize that anywhere.
He slowly opens his eyes. Zola still stands over him, as does everyone else responsible for his personal Hell these days. But a few feet away, to Bucky’s ten, is Steve. His clothes are clean and he looks as calm as the others sound. No one else seems to notice him.
“Steve?” Bucky says slowly. His voice doesn’t sound hoarse or tired; doesn’t sound like he’s been screaming day and night without much reprieve. “How are -- what are you doing here?”
Steve just smiles at him and holds out a hand. “C’mon,” he says, “it’s time to go home. Everything’s okay, I took care of it.”
“But…” Bucky blinks and suddenly Zola and the others are gone. The room is completely empty, save for them. The constant rushing in his head has subsided and he feels as sprightly as if he’d just taken the longest nap of his life. Furrowing his brows, he tries to sit up and realizes he can. There are no gaping wounds on his body – no pain anywhere. Steve just keeps his hand out with that patient, unassuming smile, and lets Bucky take his time getting off the table cautiously, as if any movement could suddenly send him right back into the throes of agony.
Bucky lifts his hands up and turns them over. They look fine. They’d broken a few of his fingers just a week before, but he’d never be able to tell. Then he’s carefully touching his chest, his thighs, his head… He can hear the clinking of his dog tags from over his shirt when his fingers graze the chain, and he never realized that this entire time, they’d let him keep those. When he pats his hands over his legs, he can feel the lone little dog tag buried deep in the right pocket, and he realizes that they’d let him keep that tiny piece of Owen, too.
He’s alright. He’s alright and he’s alive and Jesus Christ, he’s safe. And Steve’s here – Steve made it all better; Bucky doesn’t know how, but he did, and that’s all that matters. There’s a window behind him and light pouring into the room from the outside world… and maybe that’s why Steve looks like he’s glowing. He sort of reminds Bucky of an angel, with how he looks right now. Bucky’s angel – literally the driving, saving force of his life.
Instead of taking his head, Bucky crosses the few feet it takes in order to pull Steve right up to him in a crushing hug. Steve’s skinny arms wrap around his back and Bucky might be crying into golden hair, but he doesn’t give a shit. Steve keeps repeating, “Everything’s okay now, I’m here. I’m here.” When Bucky grabs for his face and turns his chin up so he can crush their lips together in a grateful kiss – thank you – Steve kisses back.
Steve finds his hand and laces their fingers together. “C’mon,” he says, “it’s time to go home.”
“But the others…” Bucky starts to say, thinking of Dugan and the rest of the prisoners still locked up in those cold, dismal cells.
“They’ve already gotten out,” Steve tells him.
“What about the war…?”
Steve gives him a small, peaceful smile. “The war’s over, Buck.”
“It… it is?” Bucky doesn’t know how to make heads or tails of this information. How long had he been here? Was the war really short, or was his imprisonment just really long? Either way… the war’s over. It’s over, and they can go home. Together – back to their shitty apartment that Bucky will forever treat like a castle; their cots, the most precious of beds, where he can sleep with real pillows and blankets and Steve’s body tangled up with his. He’s glad he lived through hell because that sounds like heaven.
“Yeah,” Steve replies, and then repeats, “let’s go home.”
Tugging on his hand, Steve leads them out of the room. Bucky had been trying too hard to fight back when they’d first dragged him up here, so he isn’t overly familiar with this part of the facility. Steve seems to know the way, though. He walks them through the halls as if the place was his second home. All the while, he never loses that look of serenity on his face. Bucky’s busier watching him than where they’re going.
“How’d you get here?” he asks. “How did you find me?”
“I’ll always find you, Buck, you know that,” he answers with a smile, still staring forwards. Bucky doesn’t realize that Steve never answered the first question. He’s just so relieved that he’s here at all.
“And Zola…?” he asks, voice pitching with the tiniest addition of anxiety at the thought of that man. He looks over his shoulder out of paranoia; suddenly nervous that they’re being followed. But there’s no one there. “Hydra?”
“All gone. Everything’s going to be alright, Buck. I’m here.”
Yes, he is. Bucky can hardly believe it, but he can see him and he can feel Steve’s hand in his own; the gentle pull that keeps his feet moving forward. He forces himself to stop, though, because… Because it feels too good to be true, is so much information too quickly. Steve feels the lag and stops, too, turning around to face him. Even with the anxiety painting Bucky’s features, Steve never loses that calm, relaxed smile.
“Steve,” Bucky says slowly, carefully. His eyes narrow. “Are you really here?”
Steve blinks, as if not understanding the question. Then he chuckles and squeezes his hand. “Can you feel that?”
“It’s real, Buck. M’right here.”
Bucky can’t help but hang onto the doubt. “You always felt real in my dreams,” he says – a subtle, gentle argument.
Steve holds his gaze and then steps forward, reaching up with his free hand and touching his face. His fingers feel so warm. “I’m here,” he says again. “You’re safe now. I’m here, Bucky. Everything’s going to be okay.”
“Steve…” Bucky whispers. He’s sounds as frightened and vulnerable as he feels.
“I’m here,” Steve repeats, stepping in close. Bucky doesn’t move; just watches with hesitancy in his eyes as the blond rises on his tip toes and slides the hand on his cheek to the back of his neck. “Bucky, I’m here.” Steve tugs, and Bucky lowers his head that half inch that Steve needs to press their lips together. Bucky’s so fucking tired… It’s too much information but he can’t fight it… And he could never fight Steve. Not like this.
So he lets it happen; gives in to it. They’re standing in the middle of a barren hallway, in an abandoned Hydra building, where weapons had been made and men – he – had been tortured… Where many had been killed. On the ground where Zola and Schmidt and their enemies had taken countless steps - where he’d been dragged against his will, knees banging and scraping along the way – Bucky closes his eyes and tries to let himself get lost in kissing Steve Rogers.
He tastes a little like mint when he parts his lips for Bucky. Bucky probably tastes like blood and something foul. Every step in their actions gets him nervous all over again – worried, that when he parts his lips, Steve’s will stay closed, and this’ll prove to be another dream… That when Steve touches the tip of his tongue to Bucky’s bottom lip, if he goes to touch back, this’ll prove to be a dream. If he clutches Steve too hard, he’ll evaporate; if he gets Steve breathing too hard, his lungs will shrink until his entire body disappears.
This will all prove to be a dream.
But none of this happens. Steve kisses him hard and insistently, and Bucky realizes that their tongues are battling it out, and he’s framing Steve’s face with his hands, and Steve’s gripping his hair just on the border of painfully, and nothing has made Steve vanish yet. He starts to let it sink in that this is real, this is happening – the war is over and Zola is gone and Steve is here. They are going to get to go home and he survived, he fucking survived.
The relief that suddenly washes over him walks a very fine line with desperation, because suddenly he wants to drop to the floor and sob, but he also wants to laugh until his stomach hurts. (Hurts… hurts in a good way; he’s reminded that there’s such a thing…) He wants to go home, he wants to leave this forsaken place, but he doesn’t want to give Steve up so soon. That’s how he finds himself rushing them forward, until Steve’s bony back hits the closest wall and their actions become more aggressive.
Bucky’s kissing him so roughly now, that his breathing becomes laboured. He hears Steve start to pant but he can’t hear that familiar rattling in his lungs, so he doesn’t stop. Bucky doesn’t know what to do with his hands, so he grabs for anywhere on Steve he can manage, never settling on one spot for very long. Steve lets Bucky guide their kisses; turns his face in opposition to Bucky’s right or left, and lets his mouth tip open whenever Bucky’s tongue plunges all the way inside. Steve lips grow plump and swollen and spit-slick, and he only speaks when he suddenly repeats breathlessly, “I’m here.”
It’s like a grounding force for all the chaos still clashing throughout Bucky’s being. The words go right to his brain and make him feel less in control – more desperate, more hectic. Exhaling harshly, he curves his back and bows his body away from Steve’s so his hands can fumble with the flimsy belt holding Steve’s baggy slacks up. He can feel fingers bumping against his belly as Steve helps undo his own pants. Bucky’s lost a lot of weight, it seems, because the moment they’re loosened, they slip right past his knees and fall straight to his ankles – where before, they’d have at least slowed down a tad around his lower thighs.
“I’m here,” Steve says again, and it’s like another nail in the coffin of Bucky’s self-restraint. He yanks down Steve’s underwear, and he doesn’t see Steve step out of them or kick them aside, but he must because when he slides his hand down the back of his naked thigh and rucks up one leg, it lifts without resistance.
Steve just clings to him tighter; doesn’t stop to question whether here or now is the right time or place to be doing this, so Bucky doesn’t either. He turns away from the kiss long enough to shove two fingers into his mouth and wet them. Moving frantically, he wedges his hand down between them and feels for Steve’s entrance. When he feels the tiny hole and the heat it radiates against the tip of his index finger, he pushes it in, incapable of remembering to take this slow. But Steve doesn’t make any pained sounds like he should – just stutters against Bucky’s lips and then moans hotly. Bucky grits his teeth and then catches his lips in a kiss so abrupt that the back of Steve’s head lightly knocks off of the wall. He just moans again, so Bucky only gives him a few hasty thrusts before working his middle finger in there, too.
Time had felt nonexistent when he’d been strapped to that slab, and yet now it feels like everything’s been fast-forwarded. He can’t even remember working Steve open, or scissoring his fingers, or lifting him up the wall, or even spitting in his hand so he could slick up his cock. It’s like that entire section is omitted, because one second he’s getting that middle finger up to the second knuckle, and the next, he’s got both of Steve’s legs wrapped around his waist while he fucks into him hopelessly.
It’s quick and sloppy… barbaric, yet Bucky’s strained grunts are overpowered by the vehemence with which Steve moans and cries out. He sounds elated… Bucky sees that Steve smiles, eyes closed, for the majority of it. It makes Bucky confused, but he just picks up his pace, knowing he won’t be able to last long. When he feels like he’s about to come, he buries his face into Steve’s neck and readjusts his grip so Steve won’t fall; pants hot air through an opened mouth against Steve’s skin as his dick is squeezed and provoked to climax. He doesn’t know why, but he doesn’t want Steve to see him like this right now. Something in him feels disgusting and ashamed – weak.
When Steve gasps and then breathes again, “I’m here,” it’s like the magic words, and Bucky finally comes. He clenches his teeth so hard that his jaw hurts, and trembles harder in his refusal to vocalize his pleasure. He’d had to be quiet for so long in the war – even quieter than he and Steve ever had to be in their home. He isn’t sure he knows how to accept what makes him feel good anymore and let himself have it.
When it’s over, he pulls out and carefully lowers Steve to the ground. Steve hasn’t finished yet himself, but when Bucky goes to lower down to his knees so he can help him out, Steve just shakes his head with that calm, serene smile again, and gets him to straighten back up. “Don’t need to,” Steve says, stepping into his underwear and slacks and pulling them back up. Bucky watches, looking lost, and then pulls his own pants on. He wants to remind Steve that he undoubtedly must have Bucky’s release dripping down his thighs right now and might want to clean it up so he’s more comfortable, but it’s like Steve doesn’t even notice. So Bucky stays silent.
Fully clothed again, Steve reaches back out and holds his hand again. “Believe I’m real now?” he asks.
Bucky can’t help but return the smile, as he averts his eyes to the ground and nods. “Yeah,” he says quietly, “yeah, you’re real, Steve.”
“C’mon, it’s time to go home.”
Steve continues leading the way, Bucky in tow. They make their way through the building, and as they walk, Bucky keeps a constant eye out for anyone who may still come barreling out after them. Steve just keeps looking at him here and there from over his shoulder and smiling. After a few minutes, he lifts a hand and points to a door in the distance.
“Through there,” Steve tells him. “Then we can go home.”
Freedom, that’s what he’s saying; that door means Bucky’s freedom. Releasing a large breath, Bucky feels the tension in his bones dissipate, getting replaced with relief. When Steve looks his way again, it’s the first genuine smile he returns. He can’t get to that door fast enough. He can’t wait to be back home; he’ll never take Brooklyn for granted again.
Steve’s hand closes around the doorknob and pushes the door open. Sunshine floods in, discombobulating Bucky’s senses and making him drop Steve’s hand so he can shield his eyes. He doesn’t hear bombs, he doesn’t hear gunfire. All he can hear are birds. The fresh air that wafts in smells clean and intoxicating, already filling up his lungs and cleansing him from the inside out, even without having actually left yet. Steve heads outside and then turns to face him. His smile breaks into a grin.
“Come on!” he beckons.
Bucky grins back and picks up his stride…
The second he gets to the door frame, he’s hitting nothing but solid metal. His grin drops as he blinks hard, jaw dropping in a scatterbrained confusion. There’s no sunlight or fresh air or birds or sunshine anymore. He’s walked head-first into the door. Immediately, panic seizes him and his eyes start bolting all over, unsure of what just happened or why. His hands press to the surface and feel around frantically, but there’s no longer any doorknob. The frame of the door is melted into the wall, closing off the exit.
But the window is still there, and through it, Bucky sees Steve still standing there, smiling peacefully at him; waiting with an unfaltering patience. Growing more terrified, Bucky starts to whimper deep in his throat as he searches for a way out but finds nothing. Looking back out the window, he shouts, “Steve! I – I can’t – oh god, I can’t get out!”
Steve beckons with his arm; keeps that smile and calls back, “C’mon, Buck! It’s time to go home!” His voice is further away now.
Bucky starts slamming his fists against the door, the window, anywhere he can, but the only thing that happens is that his hands start to throb. “Steve!” he keeps shouting, “Steve, I – the door won’t open! I – I can’t – Steve!” Even when he starts trying to slam his weight against it, nothing budges, and he gets nowhere. Steve laughs gleefully, as if they were children and this was nothing but a game… Keeps motioning for Bucky to follow, and Bucky can’t hear him over his own voice, but he can see the lips moving, and Steve keeps repeating, “It’s time to go home, c’mon Buck.”
Bucky’s screaming now – screaming Steve’s name and hurling himself against the door; pounds it with his fists until they’re splitting open and he might be knocking metal with bone. His pulse is in his ears and he feels like the room is spinning. Before the floor can flip up and he loses his balance, his eyes widen with terror when he sees Steve look away from the door, setting his sights on something too out of frame for Bucky to see.
“Come on, it’s time to go home,” he faintly hears Steve say again--
And then he sees himself walk into view… Hair perfectly slicked back under his military hat, adorning green and gold and no traces of blood or dirt. He sees himself with an easygoing smile on his face, and when Steve looks to be laughing, a fresh scream rips from Bucky’s throat and he’s back to thrashing against the door.
“STEVE!” Bucky wails, tears streaming down his face. He’s sobbing so hard, screaming so painfully, that he’s having trouble breathing. Outside, he watches Steve take the other Bucky’s hand and together, the two turn and start to walk away. “PLEASE!” he begs, slamming his palm next to the window as hard and as loud as he can. “PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE!”
No matter how hard Bucky says ‘please’, no matter that he repeats it until he tastes blood in his mouth, Steve stills walks away and doesn’t come back. Squeezing his eyes shut and gritting his teeth, tears continue to fall down Bucky’s face as he presses his forehead to the glass and sobs. “Please…” he whimpers under his breath. “Please don’t leave me here, please don’t leave me here…”
On the table, beneath his restraints, Bucky starts to thrash in his delirium and scream the name ‘Steve’, over and over again.
Arnim Zola orders his men to sedate him.
November 3rd, 1943
“What do you plan to do – walk to Austria?” Peggy demands while Steve shoves whatever he can find into a bag. He’s too busy to look over at her when he answers factually, “If that’s what it takes.”
“You heard the Colonel; your friend is most likely dead,” she says, coming up to him; trying to reason with him. Steve can’t hear it right now. He knows she’s not trying to be cruel, but that’s exactly how it feels. He also knows she’s just trying to help him avoid getting himself into trouble, but she doesn’t know Bucky. If she did, if she really, truly knew Bucky, she’d know that he can’t be dead – there’s just no way. Bucky would fight until the very last breath… It’s just, in Steve’s world, that last breath can never come. Bucky just keeps fighting, because he can’t leave him--
“You don’t know that,” Steve answers stubbornly, trying his hardest not to snap. Still, he sounds as defiant as the notion makes him feel.
“Even so, he’s devising a strategy,” Peggy continues. “If he detects any--”
“By the time he’s done that, it could be too late!” Steve finally snaps – not at her, he reminds himself that it’s not at her. He doesn’t mean to be coming off this aggressively, but she just doesn’t understand, and frustratingly, he could never explain it to her. The only words that he could scrounge up to try and suffice would amount to, it’s Bucky, it’s Bucky and I can’t let him die, because it’s Bucky, it’s Bucky… And Lord knows that hardly even begins to cover it.
He yanks on his leather jacket, grabs his bag and that dingy stars and stripes shield, and leaves the tent to the closest vacant vehicle. She calls out his name and follows him, but nothing she can say will make him change his mind, he already knows this. He almost wants to apologize for that – it’s not that I don’t value your opinion or don’t care about what you think; it’s actually the complete opposite, and I hate myself for it, I really do – but he doesn’t.
Instead, when he tosses his things into the back of the vehicle, he pauses, breathing roughly (his pulse hasn’t slowed down since Phillips told him that Bucky’s name was on that list), and looks to her. “You told me you thought I was meant for more than this,” he reminds her. “…Did you mean that?”
Because if you did – if you do – you have to let me do this.
She looks him dead in the eye and answers: “Every word.”
“Then you gotta let me go,” he says, turning and climbing into the front seat. Somewhere in the span of a few single seconds, Peggy decides she’ll do more than that. Because it must be true; she believes in him, she really does; was being honest when she said that he was meant for more than living his life as a dancing monkey. She could’ve just given him her silent compliance in his plan to deliberately disobey orders – and even then, she never owed him that much. Really, she owed him nothing at all. Instead, she tells him she can do more than just ‘letting him go’ – she actually volunteers to help… Throws herself under the bus by arranging them aerial assistance so Steve doesn’t have to trek into Azzano by foot. They’ll get there in half the time, he’s told.
“You don’t have to do this, Peggy,” he says gravely when they’re standing near the opened door of the small plane, not even an hour later. He hesitates, not getting in right away. “You could lose your job.” For me. “It’s not worth it--” I’m not worth it. “I can do this on my own.”
She keeps his stare, her own firm and stubborn. Straightening and setting her jaw, she replies, “Believe it or not, even Captain America needs help sometimes. I’ve made my choice, and I’d suggest you decide now whether or not you can accept it. I’ve gone through all this trouble, Steve, and it’s far too late to back out now. If you won’t get in there and rescue those men, I guess I’ll just have to try my hand at it myself.”
There’s a pause, and then the corner of her mouth turns up into the tiniest of warm smirks. Steve swallows hard and feels himself blush. Before he can open his mouth and say something stupid, he looks away and clears his throat. Nodding awkwardly, he shifts on the balls of his feet and then climbs into the plane. With his back to her, he doesn’t catch the triumphant, adoring smile Peggy wears when she follows in behind him.
Steve knows that he’s putting a lot on the line, doing this. Running into enemy territory, essentially unarmed, is quite the threat in and of itself. Even with his new body and heightened skills, there’s no telling how useful it’ll prove to be once he’s trying to dodge bullets. But disobeying orders of this caliber poses an entirely different problem. Steve knows that if he makes it out alive, there’ll be no hiding it from Colonel Phillips. Perhaps Steve will get a dishonourable discharge; perhaps he’ll be placed under arrest.
The thing is, Bucky’s face is permanently silhouetted in the forefront of his mind, so he doesn’t care. He doesn’t even care if he makes it out of there in one piece. His plan of attack consists solely of: get in, get Bucky and the others, and get them out. Whether he gets out or not, too, is inconsequential. And Steve won’t even entertain the idea that Bucky won’t be there for him to save. It’s not an option for consideration at this point.
So no, Steve doesn’t care about what ramifications his actions will have on him. He just doesn’t want anything bad to happen to Peggy because she was selfless enough to help him in his cause. Or Howard Stark, for that matter. Having offered to be their pilot, he’s putting his neck on the line, too.
Steve tries to remember that when he hears the man make a comment to Peggy about stopping for a ‘late night fondue’ after they drop off Steve (who’s insisted that he go in alone). Up until now, he’d never even considered the possibility that Stark and Peggy might’ve been an item – and it’s disgusting, it really is, how much jealousy that revelation makes him feel.
For fuck’s sakes, he’s about to dive into what essentially amounts to a suicide mission just to save the love of his life, and he’s sitting there feeling jealous about someone else. Steve can’t help but wonder if everyone would be a little better off if perhaps he didn’t make it out with the rest of them. He wishes he didn’t have so many conflicted feelings inside. It’s only made worse when he actually gets the balls to ask Peggy if they fondue, and yet she just regards him with a strange look and then evades the question, changing the topic as she gives him his transponder.
Guess that’s a yes, then.
That’s good. Steve’s happy for her; for them both. He has to bite his tongue to stop himself from making a comment to Stark akin to you’d better treat her right, pal. It might come out a lot more aggressive than he’d mean it to. And… well, Steve doesn’t really have any right or place to wedge himself into Peggy’s personal business, or dictate who’s deserving of her. So he forces it out of his mind and focuses on the task at hand. His mind needs to be on Bucky right now; Bucky and the rest of the prisoners. Getting them all to safety is more important than some petty insecurities and jealousy.
“Activate it when your ready, and the signal will lead us straight to you,” she instructs.
Taking it, he holds it up and asks Stark, “We sure this thing works?”
“It’s tested more than you, pal,” Howard shoot back, glancing at him from over his shoulder.
Out of nowhere, there are shots fired, aimed right for their plane and whizzing by. Before they all know it, they’re flying right into the middle of battle. Bombs detonate – even in the sky – making it too dangerous to risk trying to land; they could be hit, and Stark may be a good pilot, but his skill set will be for naught if the whole thing blows up or loses one of their jet engines.. So, grabbing the shield (the only real weapon or source of protection Steve could get his hands on on such short notice), Steve leaps from his seat and makes to the door on the side of the aircraft, opening it.
“Get back here!” Peggy immediately shouts after him. “We’re taking you all the way in!”
“As soon as I’m clear, you turn this thing around and get the Hell out of here!” Steve orders in response, staring down at the drop; the battle waging just beneath his feet. There’s no way he’s about to let them get involved in this. This is the fight he’d chosen.
Sounding shocked and a little indignant, Peggy exclaims, “You can’t give me orders!”
Steve looks at her. God, she’s so damn beautiful (stop it, STOP it, Rogers). Adrenaline spikes throughout him – the kind that used to fuel him whenever he had to stand up to a bully; hasn’t felt it since getting the serum – and, feeling a little gutsier than usual, he tells her, “The Hell I can’t – I’m a Captain!” Giving her a tiny smirk, he moves quickly and drops from the opened doorway, plummeting head-first out of the plane.
The fall itself is exhilarating; not the time to be thinking something like that – not given the circumstances, or the shots firing all around him, or the explosions going off left, right, and center – and yet Steve can’t help but feel it anyways, in the back of his mind. After a few seconds, he pulls the release for his parachute and then steers his way to the ground. As soon as his feet touch it, he’s disconnecting the chute from his pack and breaking into a run. He never would’ve been able to remember the way before, but thanks to Erskine’s serum, every tiniest detail on that map is projected into his mind, clear as day.
When he sees a cargo truck heading in what he knows is the right direction, he hops in the back and (very easily) kicks out the Hydra soldiers that’d been inside. Hiding away in there, it’s only too easy to get to the factory, since the line of trucks literally delivers him right inside of the gates; bypasses the first round of security.
First round – operative words. There are many, many men with guns in this place. Steve has to knock one out the moment the vehicle comes to a stop. Slinging the shield onto his back, he sneaks out of the back and begins carefully making his way towards the building. In retrospect, he wishes that he’d had the time to paint the front of the shield so it wouldn’t be as conspicuous. He realizes that the stars and stripes make for a very obvious target. Surprisingly, even as he gets closer – and his enemies walk past him a little distance away, or strengthen in numbers around the entrances of the factory – no one seems to notice it.
He’s able to breach the building without detection, but eventually, he comes to a door that proves to be locked from his side. The route here is non-negotiable; he guarantees that the prisoners are being held captive in the underground floor, and from the layout he’s seen, this is the only real way to get there. So he knocks – knocks casually on the door, and then knocks the guy out when it’s opened for him. He’s at least able to arm himself with one of the guard’s guns as he enters the room and continues in deeper.
There’s a table, covered in weapons and what looks strangely like battery packs, all omitting a bright blue light. Steve’s never seen weapons be powered by something like this, but after the things he’s heard Stark create – and after surviving his own confrontation with what should’ve been the impossible – he’s willing to believe anything. So, thinking fast, he grabs one of the small packs and shoves it in his pocket. If he makes it out of there, he can at least bring it back for Phillips and the team to study. Maybe it’ll provide them with some sort of advantage or leg-up, to at least be able to understand what sort of energy source they’re fighting against.
Once he finally locates the prisoners, that’s when the commotion begins. Knocking out the guard, he grabs the keys for the cells and looks around, in case anyone heard the disturbance. So far, he’s alone up there – the only company coming from the imprisoned men below.
“Who’re you supposed to be?” he hears one of them ask.
“Um…” Steve’s not really sure how to answer that. So, for lack of a better response, he goes with: “Captain America.”
“Uh… Beg your pardon?” he hears an Englishman say, but he’s already turned on his heel and running for the stairs that get him to their level. Moving quickly, he unlocks every cell he finds, opening the doors and letting the prisoners out. Every time he approaches one, his eyes work as fast as his hands; scouring the people crammed inside and hoping against hope that he’ll see that familiar face he’s looking for. When he gets to the last cell – the one with the men he’d exchanged words with – his heart sinks when he doesn’t see Bucky in there, either.
Still, he refuses to give up hope. There are plenty of rooms in this building he hasn’t checked yet. He’ll take on every single enemy soldier in the joint with his bare hands if that’s the only way he can search the place up and down.
“What – are we takin’ everybody?” he hears a man in a bowler cap ask, off to his side.
There’s a smart-alecky reply of, “I’m from Fresno, Ace,” but Steve’s still too preoccupied double-checking everyone spilling out from the cell to pay it much attention.
“Is there anybody else?” he interrupts, walking between them and putting their interaction to a close. “I’m looking for a Sergeant James Barnes.”
The Englishman answers, “There’s an isolation ward in the factory, but no one’s ever come back from it.”
“Alright. The treeline is northwest, eighty yards past the gate,” he instructs them. “Get out fast and give ‘em Hell. I’ll meet you guys in the clearing with anybody else I find.”
He turns to leave when the first man who’d spoken to him says, “Wait. You know what you’re doin’?”
“Yeah,” he replies quickly. His expression dead serious, he assures them, “I’ve knocked out Adolf Hitler over two-hundred times.”
And then he’s running again, straight for the door and straight for Bucky – leaving them to stare amongst each other and wonder about what sort of nut just singlehandedly managed to free them all.
Bucky sits on the sandy shore at Coney Island, Steve by his side. The blond has a big, pillowy tuft of pink cotton candy that he keeps ripping off pieces of, to hand over to Bucky. The sun is bright, warm on his face, with a light breeze brushing his skin. The sand is hot underneath him. He thinks he could fall asleep on it if he wasn’t already sleeping.
This is one of those dreams where he knows it’s a dream; the ones he likes best because he feels in control. If he wanted to get up, take Steve’s hand, and walk through the abandoned streets of Paris on a starry night, he’d only have to wish it, and it would happen. But he likes where they are now. They have the beach all to themselves.
He shoves some cotton candy in his mouth and lets it melt on his tongue; can’t quite remember for sure if the sweet taste is exactly like he remembers it, but it seems pretty close. Either way, it’s good. He looks to Steve, watches the way his golden hair ruffles softly with the gentle breeze, and he smiles. Steve’s staring ahead at the water. When he feels Bucky’s eyes on him, he meets his gaze and return the smile shyly.
“You wanna go swimmin’?” Bucky asks.
Steve glances to back to the water and then answers, “Yeah, okay.” Bucky remembers being overprotective when it came to swimming in those waters with Steve; if he could even convince his best friend to go in in the first place, even on the hottest summer days, Bucky found himself nervous that the temperature could get Steve catching something. He’d only ever voiced these worries about half the time he had such thoughts, though. Steve had only ever gotten sick due to swimming once or twice in his entire life.
Here, he doesn’t have to worry. In his dreams, nothing bad has to happen to Steve. So he rises to his feet and takes the blond’s hand. Bracing himself for biting cold, he gets them running until they’re splashing into the water. It’s surprisingly warm – still refreshing, but needs no getting used to. Bucky lets go of Steve’s hand when they’re deep enough that he can dive in head-first and fully submerge himself.
He feels a strange sense of calm wash over him, as the water engulfs his body and touches his skin all over. Going still, he wills himself to sink down, down, down… The water gets deeper until it suddenly feels like he’s sitting at the very bottom of the ocean. But it never gets colder; it stays so warm, and Bucky’s holding his breath and has his eyes closed, but his lungs aren’t straining. There’s no burn. He just stays there, letting himself feel out this moment.
Even though he’s so far down, the sunlight still seems to reach him. He opens his eyes and sees everything crystal clear… releases the air from his lungs and watches it bubble around his head and float away… Still doesn’t feel like he’s in need of another breath. Steve’s sitting on the ocean floor, across from him. He smiles – all perfectly straight teeth – and Bucky smiles back. He forgets that they’re underwater and opens his mouth to speak. “Can we just stay down here?” he asks, and the words come out as audibly as they would on land. He realizes that he can breathe.
Steve looks so incredible in the water like this; so at ease... He’s Bucky anchor. He looks back at him and asks, “Forever?”
“You know we can’t do that,” Steve answers, smile turning sad. Yeah, Bucky knows… They both know by now how temporary these dreams – these moments of happiness, no pain, no pain – are. “But you know I’d keep you if I could.”
“I wanna live down here,” Bucky tells him anyways. He presses his hands to the sandy floor and rubs them around, creating little dust tornadoes that twist and billow around him. Then he buries his fingers in deep, hiding his hands – like he could just clutch on tight and the world would keep him there. “I don’t think they’d find me if I was here.”
“What would we even eat?” Steve asks with a tiny, playful smirk.
“Hmm… Not mud, that’s for sure. Guess it’d be either fish or seaweed.”
“I’d miss cheeseburgers,” Steve thinks aloud. He crosses his legs and shuffles his butt closer so their knees are touching. “And milkshakes.”
“And chicken,” Bucky adds, pulling his hands from the ground and resting his forearms on his thighs so he and Steve can thread their fingers together. “And beer.”
“Don’t forget beans n' toast.”
“Steve, I would probably prefer seaweed to beans n’ toast – after all the times I’ve had to eat it.”
Steve gets distracted; perks as if he’s heard something, tilting his chin up and looking up above, where the surface sits somewhere, hundreds of feet away. “You have to go soon,” he tells him reluctantly. Steve’s become a sort of internal alarm clock for him; giving Bucky warning when his body is about to wake back up – and likewise, when he’ll feel the pain again that comes with it.
Bucky sighs, dropping his head forward and closing his eyes. He hardly fights it anymore because he knows there’s never a point. “I thought maybe they wouldn’t be able to find me down here,” he mutters.
He feels Steve touch his forehead to his. “I’ll be waitin’ for ya,” he promises, “like always.”
Bucky nods, his frown deepening. He squeezes Steve’s hands, and they squeeze back. “Steve…” he says, after a moment’s pause and his own hesitation. “What if one day I don’t come back?”
“I’m only as real as you are,” Steve reminds him. “If yer gone, there won’t be a me no more. Wherever you go, I go.”
If this Steve was the real Steve, Bucky would fight him tooth and nail just for even suggesting that. But he isn’t; this Steve isn’t real and the both know it, so he can risk being as honest as he feels.
“I don’t know how much longer I’m gonna keep comin’ back, Stevie,” he admits. If he wasn’t already in the water, he might have cried. “I feel like m’starting to check out here. I don’t know how much more I can do this.”
“You’re stronger than they are,” Steve says sternly, letting go of one of Bucky’s hands to hold the side of his neck. “You’ll always be stronger than anythin’ they could do to you.”
Up above – from above the surface of the Atlantic, it sounds like – they suddenly hear Bucky’s voice. “Sergeant… 32557…” Bucky sighs again, shaking his head. He knows the drill by now; he only has seconds left.
“If I go,” he says quietly, “if I can’t hold on one day… would you be there with me? When it happens?”
Steve presses their foreheads together tighter.
(“Oh my God…”)
“I’ll be there,” he promises. “We’ll go, together.”
Bucky feels himself slipping; one second he’s underwater, and Steve’s right there, but then he starts seeing the ceiling, that room, lights, and it keeps cutting back and forth. So he uses his last moment to say, “See ya soon,” because that’s always what he promises these days before he has to go.
“See ya s--”
He’s back in the room; back on that table. Back in Hell--
When hand-to-God - Bucky swears it - an angel steps over him and comes into view. It looks like--
“Is… is that…?”
“It’s me, it’s Steve,” the angel says, sounding breathless and relieved.
Steve. He’d recognize that face anywhere, except… He thought the dream was over. He can’t see Zola or any of the other men, but then again, he’s still on his back, so they could be behind him, just out of sight. But it’s Steve who stands over him. Something about him looks off, but… That’s alright… There’s always something a little off whenever Bucky hallucinates.
He’s been thinking about it an awful lot, lately – how badly he wants to die. The idea of leaving Steve behind in a world where Bucky can’t be there to protect him is the only thing that keeps him fighting through it. But if he’s being truthful with himself, he knows that the majority of what keeps his heart beating is the fact that Hydra won’t let him die. If he was given the chance, he’d probably take it at this point and be grateful.
So this feels… peaceful, seeing Steve looking down at him like this. He’s never gone straight from a dream into a hallucination before. Maybe that means he’s finally starting to let go. Maybe Steve’s here as his actual guardian angel; ready to take his hand, help him to his feet, and bring him somewhere peaceful, where he’ll never have to be cut open or injected again. He wonders if Steve would stay with him if he asked him to.
Goddamn, he’s so fucking beautiful. He looks more different than Bucky’s ever seen him, but more real at the same time. Yeah, he’s hallucinating. They’re getting really vivid now. A small, spaced-out smile tugs up the corners of his mouth as he breathes out, “S-Steve…” Usually, Steve always comes to him so calm and serene-like. Bucky’s usually the one on edge. But now, he feels it, too. He just wants to pull Steve down and kiss him. Maybe they can lie there together and Steve can hold him while he dies.
But this Steve doesn’t hold the same demeanour. “Come on,” he whispers, still partially smiling but Bucky feels the urgency in his actions. No, no it’s okay, we have all the time in the world, don’t rush… “Steve,” Bucky repeats, his hand now on his shoulder. (It doesn’t feel as bony or slim as it usually does.) He’s about to try coaxing him down, because no, Steve, it’s okay, don’t take me anywhere, just come down here and everything will be alright; I don’t wanna try and leave (I can never leave, never get past that door), I just wanna have you with me and go back to sleep…
He can’t get that far. Steve sits him up and then helps him off the slab, and Bucky hasn’t been on his feet in what feels like years. That isn’t what suddenly makes his head feel light, though – it’s the fact that he’s staring at Steve’s fucking chest when he should be staring down at the top of his head. Steve doesn’t usually come to him looking any different from how he normally does… What’s Zola doing to him right now that this is how he’s picturing Steve? This isn’t his Steve – he just wears Steve’s face and speaks in his voice.
He feels a big hand clasp the side of his neck and then let go. Steve looks down at him – what the fuck is going on?? – with so much worry and says, “I thought you were dead.”
Bucky starts to feel anxious; less calm. This isn’t right – Steve’s supposed to be the constant. With everything going on, Steve’s supposed to be the one thing that doesn’t change. Why does he look so different now? Maybe this isn’t really Steve, maybe it’s… Maybe the angel is just coming to him resembling Steve so Bucky won’t fight it being his time.
I won’t fight you anyways, Bucky goes to tell him. I want this.
“I thought you were smaller,” he hears himself saying instead. He averts eye contact and goes back to staring – trying but failing desperately at taking this new person in – while he struggles to make heads or tails of what exactly is going on.
“Come on,” Steve(?) says. Suddenly Bucky feels himself being tugged and his legs start functioning, and now he’s limping alongside this bigger man – angel? Stranger? Saviour? Steve?? – and trying to keep up. The gears in Bucky’s brain are still fighting to turn properly.
“What happened to you?” he asks weakly. Why aren’t you you? You normally come to me as you.
“I joined the army,” Steve(?) jokes. Bucky doesn’t find that very funny.
Eventually, he’s able to keep himself up on his own. He trails behind, keeping a wary eye on Steve(?) and waiting for him to shrink back down to normal. But it isn’t happening. He tries to figure out how his Steve could’ve gotten so big and keeps drawing blanks. He follows in the direction Steve(?) goes, but he hardly pays attention to where they’re going. It’s not like it matters. He never makes it past the last door anyways. So, he figures, if none of this is really happening anyways, he might as well play along. So he curiously asks, “Did it hurt?”
Bucky wasn’t expecting that. Of course, even as some damn guardian angel – even in Bucky’s own fucked up scenarios - Steve would do something that put him in harm’s way. Feeling a little annoyed, he then asks, “Is it permanent?”
He wants Steve(?) to say no – say no and immediately turn back into himself. He’s used to walking these halls holding Steve’s hand. His Steve – not whoever this version of him is, trailing up ahead and making Bucky feel more anxious with how frantic he’s being. Bucky never gets hurried on when he sees this sort of shit. If he is dying and this is the angel’s way of bringing him wherever he’s going, Bucky has to admit that it’s not nearly as soothing or peaceful as he’d hoped.
Steve(?) doesn’t say no. What he says is, “So far,” and Bucky wants to yell at him for doing this all wrong. He opens his mouth to argue when the whole building suddenly tremors around them. In the distance, they hear an explosion – then another, then another, and Bucky realizes the place is blowing up. The feelings it evokes in him are contradicting: there’s suddenly very real fear of not making it out in time, but he knows that such a reaction is pointless. Of course he won’t make it out; he’s never allowed to leave. He’ll get as far as the door – just like he always does – and then Steve(?) will walk out and Bucky will be forced to watch him walk away while he remains to rot for yet another day.
But maybe this is how he’ll die. It’s sort of a cruel way for it to happen to him, given everything he’s been through. He thought maybe death would’ve cut him some slack when it finally took him. At the very least, he hopes Zola burns to the ground with him once this place turns to ash.
When he actually sees Zola though – after Steve(?) leads him down a new path that his Steve never took him on any other time – he’s hit with fear. Zola isn’t supposed to be in his hallucinations. He usually always disappears within the first few seconds, so it can just be him and his Steve… He won’t let this bastard see him cower, so he holds his ground – even if he deliberately keeps himself a little behind Steve(?) until Zola disappears. With every passion second – while Zola’s superior, Schmidt, exchanges words with Steve(?); words that Bucky pays no attention to because he never for a second takes his eyes off of Zola – he waits for the scientist to vanish.
He doesn't. In fact, he just keeps staring back. He looks frightened – that’s… that’s different, oh god, that’s a beautiful sight, to see fear on this fucker’s face – but he stays where he is. And that’s when a horrible thought creeps up Bucky’s spine… What if…? What if this is real…? What if this isn’t just in Bucky’s head? What if this man is somehow Steve, and he’s not still strapped to that table, and that is Zola standing on the other side of the walkway, and the building is burning beneath their feet, and Bucky can get out (or die, or die, or die…)?
He doesn’t know – oh god, he doesn’t fucking know what’s going on. He thought he knew with this one; was actually able to recognize the hallucinations from reality for a change. He thought he might’ve actually been dying (finally). But this might be real. Is it? I don’t know – I DON’T FUCKING KNOW! So when he watches Schmidt pull the fucking skin off his face and reveal nothing but a red skull underneath, it’s legitimate fear that shocks Bucky’s system because he still doesn’t know – how can he not know? There’s no way this man is real and there’s no way this Steve is real but what if it is? What if it is?? Is he dying or is he going crazy or is this really happening--
“You don’t have one of those, do you?” he tries to joke numbly. No one laughs. If Steve(?) pulled off his own face right now, then Bucky would know this wasn’t real… Maybe he could pull off his own face, too… Did he even wake up from his dream earlier? Maybe he’d gotten it all wrong – maybe he’s just having a nightmare right now…
Zola had activated the metal bridge to separate and retract in on itself, essentially trapping Bucky and Steve(?) on one side, with them on the other. Schmidt – or whoever the fuck this thing is – keeps talking to them, but he throws what had essentially been his face into the fire, and that’s where Bucky’s attention goes. He’s still frantically trying to understand what exactly he’s dealing with here. He settles on the two most plausible options: either he’s having a nightmare, or yes, he’s hallucinating. This is not real. (Are you sure? Yes, I’m sure! No, I’m not – I – I don’t – YES! NO! I DON’T FUCKING KNOW!)
What he does know is when the two men run away, he and Steve(?) are stranded. The place is still exploding all around them – there’s so much fire beneath their feet – and what looks like no way out. But Steve(?) seems to see a way, and tugs Bucky towards a staircase. Dream or not, hallucination or not, reality or not, Bucky’s instincts kick in as he gets Steve(?) to ascend the stairs first. That way, if he falls or gets an asthma attack or something, he’s in Bucky’s sights.
There’s a rickety metal beam that turns out to be the very last thing in sight connecting the two sides of the room together. Steve(?) encourages Bucky to go first, but the joke’s on Steve(?) because Bucky isn’t sure this thing is going to be able to support anyone’s weight long enough to make it to the other side. He’d rather it give out on him than have to watch it give out on Steve(?) – even if this isn’t his Steve... Not really.
He feels the heat from the flames below as he works his way across. That’s familiar - the thought of fire, of burning. Bucky considers how easy it’d be to just step off of it; if landing in the white-hot agony would jar him awake or really kill him. But then the beam starts to actually give out, and his balance is compromised. He teeters, and it’s only thanks to a split second of footwork that he doesn’t go plummeting.
What Bucky feels in that moment is fear – real fear of death, not so embracing with open arms anymore. His fight or flight instincts take over, and just when he feels the support drop out from under his feet, he leaps off of it and slams into the railing on the other side. Scrambling over it, Bucky’s first thought is fucking shit, that’d been a close one.
His second thought is the realization that Steve(?) no longer has any way of crossing over himself.
Bucky had made the wrong call. He’d gone first when Steve(?) told him to because he wanted to make sure that if anything bad was going to happen, it happened to him. He’s the one who never gets to leave anyways. Steve’s always the one who gets to step through that last door. But had Bucky let him go first, then Steve(?) would be the one on the safe side, and Bucky would stay where he inevitably belonged.
This isn’t how this is supposed to go.
“There’s gotta be a rope or something!” he shouts over to Steve(?), desperation thick in his voice. He needs to make this right. No matter what this is, he sure as fuck isn’t moving one step more until this man is back by his side – whether that’s his guardian angel, or Steve, or a complete stranger who just looks like Steve.
But stubbornness incarnate – at least that’s familiar – he sees the bigger man just wave his arm quickly and shout, “JUST GO; GET OUT OF HERE!”
Are you fucking kidding me – you actually think I’d do that, you stupid fucking punk--
“NO! NOT WITHOUT YOU!” he screams back, a slightly wild look in his widened eyes.
Even amidst the explosions, Bucky can hear the strained sound of Steve(?) groaning as he grabs one of the metal poles of the broken railing in front of him. Bucky watches as he pushes, bending it to an almost ninety-degree angle – what the fuck is going on, his Stevie isn’t supposed to be able to do that, who is this guy, who is this guy; it doesn’t fucking matter, so long as he gets his ass over here to where it’s safe, to Bucky. Bucky watches him take a few steps back and then start to run towards him. He leaps into the air, and Bucky watches him emerge through a fresh explosion of fire – he swears it, he fucking swears it, this man had wings in that moment – as he somehow impossibly makes it to the other side.
Bucky had only thought to back up at the very last second; having been too intent on watching Steve’s(?) every move. If he’d fallen down into the fire, Bucky would’ve gone leaping after him. What would’ve been the point otherwise? He’s right in Steve’s(?) way when the bigger man’s feet land on the floor. Steve(?) only gets about four quick steps in – not nearly enough of a chance to slow himself down before his body is slamming against Bucky’s. More instincts kick in, because the second it happens, both of them are throwing their arms around each other in a crushing hug. Bucky teeters back on his feet from the momentum, but Steve(?) just tightens his grip and keeps him upright in his arms.
Dream or not, hallucination or not, reality or not, Bucky threatens, “You ever scare me like that again and I’ll have your head, I swear to god, I fuckin’ swear--”
“I’m sorry,” Steve(?) breathes back next to his ear. He clutches Bucky to him tighter. “I’m sorry.”
Bucky nods, and far too soon, Steve(?) lets him go. “We need to get out of here,” he says, and Bucky knows he’s right, but it’s still not like there’s a point… Steve’s(?) wasting his time…
Grabbing his hand – that feels better – the blond breaks out into a jog and leads Bucky through the rest of the building. It’s not the same way his Steve usually takes him, but when they eventually get to an opened door and Bucky can see the outside world on the other side, he stops moving. When he lets go of Steve’s(?) hand, the bigger man keeps walking towards the exit, poking his head out to make sure there’s no one to attack them on the other side. Bucky stays where he is, staring at the door.
(Is this real? No, it’s not. You’re dreaming, you’re dreaming, this is in your head – don’t even bother, you can never leave, you can never leave – you are ours, Sergeant Barnes, do not fight it, do not--)
“Bucky!” Steve(?) calls to him urgently. He holds out his hand. “Bucky, c’mon, we gotta go!”
But Bucky doesn’t move. His brows are furrowed with confusion as his gaze roams all over the door frame, waiting for the door itself to close at any second. He looks lost, but also guarded, untrusting. This is the part he always hates most when he hallucinates… Cruelest, when he doesn’t realize it isn’t real, because this is about the time when he always gets his hopes up and thinks that he can finally go home. But it still feels pretty cruel even during the odd times where he does know that it isn’t actually happening… Dangling the idea of freedom right there, just a few feet away, and knowing that the moment he gets too close, that door will always close. He’ll always be trapped inside.
“Bucky, what are you doing?” Steve(?) comes back in – that’s new, he’s never come back for Bucky before – and grabs his wrist. He starts to pull Bucky after him… and Bucky panics. Because he’s getting closer to the door and he can’t handle it, he can’t, he can’t watch it close in his face again; if this is his Steve, he can’t stomach having to watch him leave without him one more time...
So he starts struggling to get away, even to the confusion on the blond’s face at his refusal. He doesn’t even know what he’s shouting but he hears fractions of no and please and it won’t work it never works just go, go, leave, leave me here, you always leave me here, I can’t, Steve, stop, fuck, PLEASE NO!
Fresh air hits his face. Bucky’s screams die in his throat and suddenly he’s just… standing there… Face blank and taking in the sight of outside and blinking… He vaguely feels Steve(?) let go of his wrist and grab either side of his face, leaning in to look at him and repeating his name with concern over and over again.
Bucky’s hardly paying attention.
Because he’s outside – he shouldn’t have been able to make it that far but he did, and if this isn’t real, this is the cruelest thing that could have ever happened to him. He doesn’t know whether he should feel relief, or gratitude, or anger, or suspicion. He feels everything all at once, and it makes him want to scream.
Above everything else, there’s that maddening fact that he still doesn’t know how to be sure whether all of this is really happening. He’s going to scream, he’s going to scream, is this real, yes, no, I DON’T KNOW, GOD HELP ME I DON’T FUCKING KNOW--
Grey eyes wide… Staring off without focus… Steve(?) turns his face towards his and shakes him, and Bucky’s eyes snap to baby blues.
Just like that, something in Bucky snaps – has the opposite effect. The bubbling, conflicting emotions making him want to scream until he chokes on his own blood hit their ceiling, and then suddenly push all the way down his body and settle beneath his feet.
(Push it down, push it off, push it away… That’s how you survive…)
He feels numb. He doesn’t know what to think.
“Bucky – Buck, what is it? Talk to me, please!” Steve’s almost shouting now, trying to get through to him so they can move away from the burning building. He seems undoubtedly concerned, though, too. He sounds concerned, like his old Steve would’ve been. This person has the same eyes, too…
“Steve?” Bucky hears himself whisper hoarsely.
Steve’s brows crease, like he doesn’t understand. His eyes search Bucky’s, maybe a little longer than they should, but then he nods. “Yeah, yeah it’s me, Buck. It’s Steve – you’re okay, I got you. You’re safe now, it’s – it’s me,” he replies quickly.
(You’re okay… you’re safe now…)
Bucky isn’t sure how to believe him.
(It’s me… It’s Steve…)
About any of it.