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The Depths of Loneliness

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When the door to his quarters swung open and clattered against the wall, the Asset felt the vibration in his teeth. Light flooded the room to reveal a new recruit, just another HYDRA grunt with a trembling voice, already relying far too much on the white-knuckled grip on his baton.

“Come on, get up.” The grunt held the stick out in front of him as if the Asset wasn’t capable of reaching out and snapping it like a twig between his fingers. It would take next to nothing to circumvent the weapon, wrap his hand around the man’s throat, and let his fingers tighten over delicate skin and sinew until the man stopped breathing.

No matter; history had taught the Asset that the recruits who shook and trembled never lasted very long.

The Asset rolled to his feet with a dull thump of his boots against the floor and stood at attention. Protocol indicated two possibilities: the Asset would be escorted for a programming reset, or to a briefing for the newest mission.

“Ready to comply.”

“The Captain wants to see you. Let’s go.” The grunt turned on his heels and proceeded out of the room. A careless error; with his back turned, the Asset could kill him with all the effort it took to lift a finger. However, protocols dictated compliance, even as the edges of the programming from the Chair were beginning to fray. So, the Asset followed the man out of the room.

This was the longest he had gone without a wipe since HYDRA had remade him all those decades ago. The edges of his mind were unravelling. Memories that didn’t belong to him were working their way between compliance codes and mission parameters and the Asset experienced uncertainty. Fear. Deviance.

His handler made no indication of when the next wipe would come, and the Asset had started to suspect alternative measures were being taken. Things had been changing since the capture of Captain America, and now the Asset was suspended in an animation more chilling than cryo, waiting for the axe to fall.

As the Asset followed the shivering, weak link of HYDRA down the corridor, he wondered who the Captain would be now. After weeks of torture, the Captain had finally broken and the Asset was no longer marched from his quarters daily to witness the proceedings.

Being tortured was second nature to the Asset, but observing the extreme techniques used against the Captain brought the same lingering horror as some of his missions. At times, the Asset had found himself desperate for the blank slate of the Chair, but it never came.

After the helicarrier, there had been a reluctance to place the Asset and the Captain in the same physical proximity. Instead, the Asset had been made to watch as HYDRA stripped Captain America of his stars and stripes while he screamed and pleaded.

Everyone pleaded for mercy in the end.

Sometimes, the Asset had sworn he could feel the Captain’s eyes burning into his own despite the protection of the two-way glass, screaming out Bucky and reaching towards the Asset as he had endured physical beatings. The Captain healed faster than the blows could drive him to submit, and the Asset had wondered more than once why the good Captain had been spared the Chair.

The Asset had broken in mere hours once they’d fastened him into the Chair, and Captain America was made from tougher stuff by far. Even still, he supposed, everyone broke in the end. A comforting constant, as routine as captivity, compliance and torture.

It might’ve been easier to kill the Captain than break him, but even faced with the mountain of stacked odds, HYDRA saw the Captain’s value. The Captain was a survivor, the serum and enhancements coursing through his veins the key to more secrets than the Asset cared to contemplate, and perhaps that alone was justification against reducing him to a mere machine. The Captain had a different value.

A baton prodding into his waist brought the Asset back to focus and he growled a warning, casting a blank look over the grunt who pulled his hand away with a flinch. “Move.”

At the end of the hallway, his current handler stood at attention outside of the Captain’s new accommodations.

“Sir,” the Asset acknowledged, tipping his chin and waiting for orders. Behind him, the grunt’s quick footsteps scurried away down the hallway and the Asset wondered if he would see the pathetic runt again.

“Soldier. Current parameters voided. The Captain has requested you and will provide you with new parameters at his discretion. It would serve you well to comply until that time.” The handler tossed a hand towards the door with a curt gesture and the haunting drone of ready to comply echoed in the back of the Asset’s mind.

So, this had been the grand scheme.

Captain HYDRA would need all of his mental faculties in order to reach his full potential and he would need the Asset if he was to successfully take down the Avengers. This would not be the first time the Asset had been presented as a gift, and he knew the role well enough. Attack dog, protector, even a warm place to stick a cock—the Asset would become whatever the Captain required.

Failure of any kind was out of the question.

As he stepped over the threshold, the Asset wondered what else had been promised, whispered into the Captain’s ear when he was scrambling on bloodied hands and barely conscious on the floor. Something must have been worth swearing his allegiance to HYDRA.

He’d already been warned that the Captain was a harsh man, wholly dissimilar from the target the Asset had captured weeks prior. Perhaps once Captain America had been shown that life was worth nothing—when he’d been stripped down to the very foundation of his soul—he’d come to find his bastion of morality was worthless.

The Asset wondered if it had been a surprise, a self-revelation, to realize that the Captain’s commitment to goodness was just the mirror image of his desire to conquer, to dominate, to survive.

The Asset braced himself for the Captain’s iron fist and prepared himself for the inevitable take over of his functioning. Between missions and the Chair, the Asset’s life was already a reduction of tedious routines: provide the body with substance, maintain physical capacities, obtain required maintenance, complete provided missions without failure. A change in activity might have been intriguing, if change didn’t indicate new protocols burned into his skull and intriguing didn’t mean unending agony.

Except, when the handler cleared his throat, the Captain looked up, and something… unanticipated occurred, subverting all of the Asset’s expectations. The Captain turned from behind his new desk, and the profile of his face contorted into the same unsettling familiarity from the helicarrier.

“Bucky?” the Captain breathed in a harsh whisper, crossing the room and reaching out a hand to touch the Asset’s face. The Asset was marched forward into the endless grey of the base’s nerve centre until skin met skin and the protocol to pull away from physical touch dissolved from his mind.

The Captain remembered him, or remembered who he could have been once. If the Asset had really been a person before he’d been reduced to this killing machine.

Standing there, stock still and eyes forward, the Asset kept his mouth shut.

“Bucky, what did they do to you?” Captain HYDRA trailed a hand along his cheek, dragging his thumb along the edge of the Asset’s jaw and sending a shiver down his spine. The Asset was rewarded with a flash of something too fleeting to be called a memory. There was only a whisper of blond hair on top of a small pile of bones wrapped in translucent skin, with bright, shining blue eyes.

The same eyes that were boring into his now, but altered in a way that made them dull and dark. Defeated.

“The Asset has retained no memories of his prior self, Captain. An… unfortunate side effect of the methods used to ensure his continued compliance. With time, he regains some of his memories, but the Chair results in a reset. The trigger words will do this as well, to an extent,” the Asset’s handler said before the Asset—Bucky?—could reply.

That only served to deepen the Captain’s frown and the hand on the side of his face tightened into a bruising grip on his jaw, forcing the Asset’s face upward until they were sharing the same air. Warm, recycled breaths slid inside his mouth, heating the Asset in a way that felt simultaneously foreign and familiar. A mixture of fear and something unsettling—longing, a whisper in the back of his mind supplied—rippled through the bottom of his belly.

“Leave us,” the Captain snapped to the handler.

“Sir—”

Now.” The quiet order sent a shiver of fear down the Asset’s spine and the Captain must have noticed, because his eyes narrowed and his mouth pressed into a firm line. Behind him, the handler was retreating, but the Asset didn’t dare turn to watch him flee.

When the door slammed shut, they were alone.

The Captain released the Asset’s jaw and returned to the massive desk that filled the centre of the room with the grace of a soldier. The desk had been stained a deep brown, almost black as if it had been made to match everything else about the Captain, himself dressed in black armour with the blood red symbol of HYDRA adorning his broad chest.

Standing rooted to the spot, the Asset watched the Captain settle himself against the edge of the desk, leaning back to examine him from a distance, and the Asset felt exposed, the way he felt when the handlers stripped him bare and pried off the pieces of his arm to poke and prod at the inner mechanisms. The way that it felt when they’d been inside him, stealing away every secret he had left.

The Asset was as exposed as the day they’d broken him.

“Come here, Bucky.”

The Asset stepped across the room in quick strides, an automaton to the orders being issued, and came to a halt before the Captain, eyes downcast and trained to the glaring tips of his black combat boots. There was tension in the air, thick and palpable, singing of promises the Asset wasn’t certain he wanted.

“Look at me.” The Asset snapped his gaze up. “You don’t remember me.”

“No.”

“Sir.” The Captain gave him an even look. “No, sir.

“No, sir.”

For what felt like minutes, the Captain just stared at him. There was something calculating in his gaze, a rivulet of ice at war with something the Asset wasn’t privileged to. The Captain looked at him as if he wanted to devour him whole and cut him limb from limb at the same time, though the latter would be a mercy that the Asset hardly deserved.

Even when he had begged for death, all those years ago, no HYDRA operative, handler or Captain alike, would offer him such a reprieve. Not with the value he possessed.

With the crease in his forehead deepening, the Captain ran a contemplative hand across his face. The Asset waited in silence. There was always so much silence.

When the Captain finally spoke, the velvet of his tone took the Asset off guard. “You’re going to be alright now, Buck. They said I could keep you.”

“Keep me, sir?”

“Yes. You may not remember, but I do. We were soulmates once, Bucky, and now we’re here, together again. That can’t be a coincidence.” The Captain gave him a twisted smile, with none of the softness the Asset had seen in his brief jaunts into the world, where lovers gazed into each other’s eyes and offered secret, shy smiles. Where soulmates were something more than what waited for him in the darkness of a HYDRA base he’d called home for decades. “I’ll keep you and you’ll be safe.”

“Soulmates?” The Asset echoed, glancing down at his left wrist where his soulmark would have been once. His first handler, the one who had broken him, had told him his soulmate was dead. That HYDRA had hunted him down across the world and snapped his neck, no more than a mere second, snuffing out the life from the other half of the Asset’s soul.

And without a soul, what need did he have for anything else?

The pain became a constant. A kindness, creating a physical manifestation of the devastation that churned in a part of him he had no name for, in this daydream where he walked the line between life and death, half of a whole. Incomplete.

Until now.

“Soulmates,” the Captain nodded, a smile teasing at the edge of his lips. “You’ll remember. I’ll help you, and you’ll help me. Together, we’ll be something remarkable. Transcendent.”

The Captain reached out and put his hand on the Asset’s face again, gripping the edge of his jaw with a possessiveness that the Asset imagined should make him feel owned in a very different way than he was familiar with. This wasn’t about possessing him and turning him into something else. This was the love that the handlers spoke of in their taunts and jeers. The fairy tales he had told himself once upon a time.

This was his soulmate, gazing into his eyes, holding him close.

Wasn’t it?

“Whatever you like,” The Asset said, voice soft. As his mouth moved, the Captain’s thumb dug into his jaw and slurred the words. “Sir.”

“Good. You deserve so much better, Bucky. I promise, I’ll keep you safe. No more wiping, no more trigger words. We’ll be together and everything will be okay.” Then, softer, with an air of a place Bucky had lived once, “ain’t that right, pal?”

The promises trickled down the Asset’s spine with the same cooling sensation as the Captain’s empty smile. Before the Asset could say anything more, the Captain leaned in towards him and pressed dry, chapped lips against his own.

Images swirled behind the Asset’s—Bucky’s—eyelids, hazy memories trapped in shadows, of the small, lithe man that must have been the Captain in their other life underneath him. Half on top of him, perpetually cold fingers exploring his ribs as if searching for invisible injuries on every inch of Bucky’s skin. It wasn’t hard to imagine that they had been lovers once.

The new information struggled through his filters. Bucky had had something more than the life of a mindless assassin. Bucky had been someone.

The Captain slid his tongue along Bucky’s lips, demanding entrance. When he parted his lips, the Captain surged forward, fisting his hand in the harsh fabric of Bucky’s combat gear and tugged him closer. His other hand snaked down between Bucky’s legs and cupped him roughly through his pants, making him jerk.

It felt wrong, too soon. Too much like all the hands that had been on him before, back when he’d had one arm and a hope of escape. Back when he’d been less than nothing.

Fitting that those were the memories that remained with him.

Bucky squirmed away from the touch. Soulmate or no, it was too much. It was invasive, and Bucky had been possessed by too many people. Not this time. Not this man who was a stranger and the other half of himself all at once.

“Relax.” The Captain slid a loving hand up his chest, curling around the meat of his shoulder to rest on the nape of his neck. When Bucky couldn’t relax, couldn’t stop pulling away to put distance between their bodies again, the Captain tangled his hand in Bucky’s long hair and yanked. His head was forced up, and the Captain’s gaze went hard again.

“Sir?” Bucky gasped in a breath and resisted the urge to wrap his metal hand around the Captain’s wrist and squeeze until he felt bones break. Until the Captain released him, as if he had any right to touch him this way. Bucky was the prized Asset of HYDRA. That had to matter for something.

“I told you to relax. We’re soulmates, Buck. You have to trust me. I’m not going to hurt you.”

He tried to keep quiet and follow the instructions as they were given, but images of being curled around a shaking, boney body with icicles for toes pressed against his own under layers of blankets tormented him. This wasn’t how it had been. This wasn’t what he remembered.

“Please,” Bucky gasped out before he could stop it and he waited for the oncoming blow.

But the Captain just froze and pulled back, creating a space between them that wrapped around Bucky’s throat and squeezed in a brand new way entirely. Stepping around him, the Captain examined him as if he were a prized subject, nothing more than a lab experiment.

When he came to a halt again in front of Bucky, he clapped a hand down on his shoulder.

“Of course,” he said, “you were always the romantic. I understand and I can wait. It’ll be worth it that way and I want you to remember. I want you to know that when you’re with me, you’re with me. I want Bucky, not the Winter Soldier.”

How long had Bucky waited to hear those words? A lifetime.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Steve,” the Captain corrected. “When it’s just the two of us, together, call me Steve. You called me Stevie once. Punk, too.” The Captain—Steve—gave him a quirk of his lips. “I don’t suppose you remember what you used to say to me?”

Bucky shook his head. “No?”

‘Til the end of the line, you’d say. That’s how long we’d be together.” Steve took a step back into his space, and this time the arm on his shoulder slid down to wrap around him. Before Bucky realized, he was being wrapped into a hug. Steve was holding him.

His body relaxed into the foreign touch. “Soulmates.”

“Yeah, Buck. Soulmates.”


Before too long, it was clear that the Captain—Steve—had given Bucky a gift and he was being ungrateful. The thought plagued him as he stumbled his way through this new life with a mind of his own and some semblance of free will.

A week had passed and Steve had stuck by his promises. No more wipes, no more trigger words, so Bucky regained more and more of his memories and his former self every day. He remembered chasing after Steve’s skinny ass, trying to keep him out of trouble. He remembered Steve curled up in their bed at night, pressing his face against Bucky’s bare chest while Bucky held his breath and tracked Steve’s unsteady breathing, wracked with fear that if he let himself sleep he’d miss the one that might be Steve’s last.

He remembered dancing with dames and kissing men in back alleys. He remembered what fucking was supposed to be, how it felt to be held close and warm inside the heat of another’s body.

But Bucky never remembered any of those memories with Steve.

“They’ll come,” Steve promised, when Bucky worked up the courage to ask over dinner one evening.

And wasn’t that something remarkable. Dinner.

Steve had moved Bucky into his accommodations the day Bucky had been given to him, storing his meager things—nothing more than clothes and weapons—in little pockets of Steve’s bedroom. At night, Bucky slept in Steve’s bed with the man’s naked body pressed up against his back, waking to an erection poking between his ass cheeks but never demanding more.

Steve was being more than patient. Steve was giving him everything he had ever wanted, or had ever thought to want.

And Bucky was being ungrateful.

“I just wish I remembered.” Bucky shifted in his chair, uneasy as he traced patterns in his now cold pasta.

“You’ve been wiped over forty times, Bucky, not including the countless times they’ve said your words. You’re being too hard on yourself.”

“It’s not fair. I remember others, just not you. Why don’t I remember you?”

Steve set his plate aside, pushing it into the centre of the table where it was a hairbreadth away from clinking against Bucky’s own. Bucky watched as he carefully folded his hands into his lap, and met his eye directly.

“Would you like me to remind you?”

Bucky swallowed. He was being ungrateful. No. “Yes, please.”

Steve pushed back from the table and Bucky waited in his seat until Steve had rounded the corner and offered him his hand. Placing his metal fingers in Steve’s warm, flesh ones, Bucky let himself be led back down the corridors of the HYDRA base and into the set of rooms that belonged to Captain HYDRA. Something about the moment had Bucky thinking of lambs being led to slaughter, but he pushed that away, because Steve was his soulmate.

Steve had been his soulmate for almost a century. It was a gift that they had even been reunited, after all. Even when he found himself questioning why here—why was this the place Steve had chosen for them to reunite, Bucky did his best to trust in Steve’s judgement. Steve had given him so much already, he must know more than Bucky could understand yet.

When they crossed their rooms and Steve led him into the bedroom, he left Bucky standing a few feet from the bottom of the bed and sat down on the overstuffed mattress, sinking into the plush depth with his legs parted and feet planted flat on the floor.

“Take off your clothes for me, sweetheart.”

Steve all but leered at him from the bed and, with arms that didn’t belong to his body, Bucky peeled back layer after layer, eyes trained on Steve’s black pupils, until he was bare to his boxers. The urge to cover himself came on as strong as ever, but the movements had been beaten out of Bucky a long time ago. A flash of batons cracking across his back, forcing their way inside him, surfaced, and Bucky shook it away.

Steve was his soulmate.

“You’ve always been beautiful, Bucky. Always. I could look at you all day.” Steve smiled at him and Bucky forced a smile back. “Come here.”

Bucky walked closer, stepping into the circle of Steve’s arms until he was standing between his spread legs, Steve’s knees bumping against the outside of his own.

“Closer. Here,” Steve pulled Bucky forward until he was on his lap, legs spread wide across his hips.

The thick line of Steve’s cock pressed into the jut of Bucky’s hip as Bucky straddled him and he realized he wasn’t hard. Steve’s hands ran over his bare back and down his spine and he remembered, just for a moment, the feeling of warm hands that belonged to the mechanic across from their Brooklyn apartment tracing the same path. It had felt so good then, little sparks of electricity flickering through his body and lighting him up from the inside until he was stiff in his pants in moments.

But not now, and Steve had noticed, too. He frowned. “What do you want, Buck? Tell me and it’s yours.”

“I—” To be let go. To crawl into bed and have Steve hold him and whisper into his ear that he loved him and that they were meant to be together. To give him time to adjust and remember. To let him put his clothes back on. “Kiss me. I want to remember us, Stevie.”

Bucky wrapped his arms around Steve’s neck and then Steve was leaning in, capturing his mouth in a gentle, easy kiss that made Bucky melt by a fraction. Yes, that was okay. He could want this.

Bucky opened his mouth, kissing Steve back, letting his tongue dance across Steve’s lips. The broken sounds of Steve’s soft moaning into his mouth finally stirred something in Bucky’s belly and his cock started to wake up between his thighs.

Bucky threaded fingers through Steve’s hair and tipped his head back to take more, kissing him deeper. He relied on thready memories, flashes of sensation as he slipped his tongue into someone else’s mouth and chased after their taste. It felt good to take, to suck Steve’s tongue into his mouth and have control over the kiss. Bucky kept kissing him, curling closer.

When Steve abruptly pulled back, a knot curled between his blond eyebrows.

“What’s wrong?” Bucky whispered against his lips.

“This isn’t you, Bucky. This wasn’t—no, it’s alright, hold on,” Steve’s arms clamped down when Bucky started to pull back. He was screwing this up already. “You just don’t remember. You always belonged to me and you were so giving, the way you surrendered. Let me show you.”

Then Steve was diving back in, showing Bucky the way. Teaching him what it meant to be kissed with fierce possession as Steve thrusted his tongue into Bucky’s mouth, biting down on his bottom lip. Steve took from Bucky as he kissed him, stealing his breath and then stealing a drop of his blood when his teeth bit through the top layers of skin, and Bucky held back a grunt.

He tried. Bucky really tried to be good.

“That’s better,” Steve said eventually, when he’d had his fill. “Now, why don’t you remind us both what you can really do with that mouth, huh, pal?”

Steve pushed him back, and Bucky slid down onto his knees on the floor. Untying one boot and then the other, Bucky tossed them aside across the room. Together they got Steve out of his uniform pants and a pair of crisp black boxers before Steve was fisting himself at the base of his cock. It was thicker than half the batons that Bucky was used to, thicker than all the cocks he had taken before by far, and he swallowed, mouth dry and tacky.

“Don’t you want to remember?” Steve asked, his voice sweet and almost cajoling. “You used to love this, doing this for me. I’ve done a lot for you, Bucky. Thank you for returning the favour.”

Then he pushed Bucky’s head down and Bucky stopped thinking.

Steve fucked his mouth as gently as he kissed him, shoving deep into the back of his mouth until Bucky was gagging, gripping his hair to keep him still. The sheer violence in the way that Steve took him left Bucky trembling, as if Steve wanted to tear his bones from beneath his skin and suck out the marrow, leaving him bereft and empty.

Bucky felt hollow already and said a silent prayer for the saliva that formed in his mouth, easing the glide and hiding his displeasure as Steve thrust up into his mouth again.

“That’s perfect, just like that, Bucky. God, I love you. I’ve missed you so much,” Steve groaned between hitched breaths and the steady rolling of his hips.

Spit trickled down Bucky’s chin, dripping off and onto the mattress between Steve’s thighs. As Bucky choked around a particularly vicious pump, Steve reached between them and brought one of Bucky’s hands between his legs, urging Bucky to cup and roll the Captain’s balls in his hands. When he tugged gently, applying a hint of pressure to the pleasure, Steve forced himself all the way into Bucky’s throat and held him there.

The air rushed out of his lungs and Bucky struggled to draw a breath that wouldn’t come. Panic rushed in, twisting tightly in his belly and chasing away his arousal. He choked, gagged, and willed himself not to struggle. He didn’t want to mess this up.

“Ah,” Steve warned, finally releasing his grip on the back of Bucky’s head when his fingers twitched open and his grip on Steve’s balls was lost. “That’s better, not too tight, sweetheart.”

It was an accident, please don’t, he wanted to say as Steve forced himself back into his throat again, rubbing his windpipe raw and setting a brutal pace as he raced towards climax.

At least it isn’t the baton. At least he isn’t going to wipe you after. At least later he’ll hold you and tell you he loves you.

Bucky closed his eyes and tried to focus on the rhythm of Steve’s cock in his mouth, tasting the bitter spurts of precome that flecked across his tongue when he ran it under the head. It went on for what felt like forever until Steve was gasping and groaning out mixtures of Bucky’s name and whispered endearments. The sweet words were a loving contrast to the way he abused and wrecked the back of Bucky’s throat.

When Steve finally pressed in deep again, Bucky choked around the thick streams of come as Steve shook through his orgasm. Steve’s release filled his mouth and Bucky spilled over onto the mattress, onto Steve’s thick, shaking thighs, and gasped. And when he was done, Steve pulled him back by his hair and forced his face lower until Bucky got with the program and started to lap at the come and spittle mixed together on his legs.

It was over.

Bucky drew a shaky breath.

“That was perfect, Bucky, just like I remembered. Thank you. I love you so much, Buck.” Steve offered praise that felt meaningless as he tugged Bucky back up onto his lap and shoved a hand inside his boxers. Steve fisted him rough and fast, dry enough that the burn of chafing lit up his groin as Steve forced painful pleasure out of Bucky’s body.

His half-hard cock jumped back to full mast at Steve’s unrelenting strokes and for half a second Bucky wondered if his cock wanted this to end as desperately as his brain did. Bucky closed his eyes and gripped Steve’s shoulders, careful not to dig his metal fingers in too hard. His body was so tense that when the tremors started to run up his arms and into his shoulders, sweat trickled down the back of his neck and he thought he wouldn’t get there.

And if he didn’t come, what would the Captain do then? Bucky wasn’t prepared to find out.

“Look at you, you’re shaking,” Steve cooed. “Come on, sweetheart. Let go for me. Come, Bucky. Come. Now.” Steve picked up the pace, jerking Bucky off as tears burned behind his eyelids. It was only a matter of time, his body responding without reserve to the harsh glide of Steve’s hand on his cock.

Bucky groaned and let his forehead drop to Steve’s shoulder as he shivered through his orgasm. It wasn’t the worst you’ve had. Ungrateful. Always so ungrateful.

Before the aftershocks had finished, Steve tugged Bucky’s head back from the hollow of his throat and held up his come-streaked hand with a whispered suck.

Steve groaned and swallowed heavily as Bucky’s tongue teased between his fingers. A brief flicker of fear curled in the bottom of Bucky’s belly when he felt Steve twitching anew against his thigh. He couldn’t do this again, not so soon, not like this. But Steve remained silent, not saying anything more, just running both his hands through Bucky’s hair.

He kissed him gently on the forehead as if Bucky were a child. As if he couldn’t bear to taste either of them mixing together on Bucky’s lips.

“Do you remember now?”

No. “It was better than I remember,” Bucky said, voice soft with a forced, reverent awe as he pressed their foreheads together and closing his eyes.

“Come on, come up here.” Steve shifted upward on the bed, taking Bucky with him until he maneuvered him into a tight curve, bodies arcing together like crescent moons. As they laid there together, Steve stroked a hand up and down Bucky’s side, running it through his hair and gently pulling apart the tangles where his fingers caught.

“Steve?”

“Yeah, Buck?”

“I’m cold.” Numb.

Steve pulled the blanket up over them both, wrapping his arm tighter around Bucky’s chest and pulling him back into Steve’s warmth. The sea of warring emotions battling in Bucky’s mind grew louder with every soft touch, every whisper of a caress on his skin. With his face safely tucked into the pillow, Bucky felt fresh tears leak from his eyes. Everything felt wrong and nothing made sense.

“I love you, Bucky.”

Bucky cleared his scratchy throat. “I love you too, punk.”


After that first time, things improved for Bucky. He went on fewer missions because Steve preferred to keep him close. He rarely hurt; his arm was subjected to regular maintenance and upkeep, and fewer missions means fewer injuries to recover from. The few abrasions he did accumulate were treated promptly, with thick rolls of gauze and the occasional soft kiss from Steve’s lips.

Bucky could sit in the shower for an hour and no one disturbed him, sifting through the memories that appeared between the holes in his swiss cheese brain, and no one questioned him. He didn’t think that Steve noticed how he hid there in the evening, stealing moments away to himself where he could breathe and let himself relax.

Steve had become a constant presence in his life over the past few weeks, always watching, always close by.

There appeared to be no rhyme or reason to Steve’s behaviour. Some days he pampered Bucky, drawing him baths and working suds into his hair. When he was through, Steve dried him carefully, running a brush through the wet mass of tangles until it was smooth and could be pulled into a tight braid. Steve kissed the back of his neck, brushing the stray hairs away from his face, and led him with sparkling eyes back towards their bedroom.

Their bedroom... where he used the braid as something akin to a leash, tugging and pulling as he forced Bucky onto his knees on the bed and fucked him raw.

Other days he fucked him first, tying Bucky down or stringing him up, never hitting him with anything more than a hand, but a slap from Captain HYDRA stung worse than any crop he’d taken across his back before. It didn’t take long to learn that Steve liked it when he begged. When he pleaded and whimpered and was vocal in his pleasure, so he indulged him as best he could, and when it was over, Steve would rub soft smelling creams into his welts and feed him bites of plums.

The sour skin and sweet inner flesh of the fruit mocked him.

Steve cooked for him, kept him safe when they went out together for recon, held him at night and whispered that he loved him over and over again, as if any moment could be the last.

Then he started talking about another man.

“You would have liked him, Buck,” Steve said over breakfast one morning, a cup of coffee suspended halfway between the table and his lips. “He had this amazing mind, you know? Always working on something, always creating something. I’d bet my last dollar that he could build you an arm that would spin circles around that one.”

“Sounds like a miracle worker.” Indulge him, keep him happy, whatever he wants. It had become something of a mantra, starting and ending with the day only to repeat the following morning. There had been the odd day when Bucky had been out of sorts, moody and withdrawn, and Steve had felt he needed to be punished.

It wasn’t any comparison to the punishment his handlers had doled out in the past, so Bucky could still count himself lucky. Lucky enough to have a soulmate willing to keep him in check.

A soulmate willing to love someone little more than a machine, and sometimes machines broke down. Sometimes machines needed maintenance.

“We’d be unstoppable, with him on our side.”

Buck considered this. “Would he come willingly?”

Steve paused, head lilting side to side in contemplation as he swallowed what appeared to be a searing mouthful of black coffee. Bucky winced at the sight, nudging a pile of scrambled eggs around his plate. His appetite had faded in recent days, but he did what he could.

“Doubtful. But perhaps he could be persuaded.”

“We all see the light eventually, don’t we?” Bucky asked, trying to hide the edge in his voice. Steve may have come willingly in the end, but Bucky had fought tooth and nail. Steve was the only reason worth staying. Without Steve… what else was there?

And Steve believed in HYDRA and what they could do to usher in a new era, so Bucky stayed.

Which was how Bucky found himself, just a few short weeks later, a mind full of Avengers recon, scouting outside the Tower for an opportunity to ambush the famed Iron Man. Steve had argued it wasn’t enough just to have the man, they required his technology, too, and he had every faith that Bucky could disable and retrieve the suit and its eccentric pilot.

It was the first solo mission Bucky had been on since being gifted to the Captain, and he wasn’t prepared to let him down.

He watched as Iron Man soared through the sky and bit back a hiss of malice.

What was so special about the man in a metal box? Steve spoke of him with an intense regularity now, filling their days with talk of new technology and sharp humour, a surprising generosity, and perverse overindulgence. And when he spoke, he would get this look in his eyes, far away, as if caught in a dream.

Bucky knew that look. He’d seen it in his own face once upon a time.

For the most part he could bear it, but when Steve talked about Stark when they were in bed together, Steve holding his face down into the mattress and telling him to picture it, all three of them together, Bucky wanted to disappear. Steve groaned on about the way that Stark’s mouth would look wrapped around Bucky’s cock while he rode Steve, how Bucky and Stark would take care of their Captain together. Bucky had no desire to share his soulmate, and it was disgusting to think about another set of foreign hands on his body, Captain’s pet or no.

Did people talk like this with their soulmates? Bucky didn’t know. He imagined they must, because Steve talked about it like it was the most natural thing in the world, and everything would end that much quicker when Steve was muttering about Stark as he drove into the depths of Bucky’s body.

Maybe once they had him, things would change. Either way, it would always be better than before.

Bucky was being ungrateful.

He lifted his finger to the trigger and trained his scope on the blast of red and gold rocketing through the sky. When he was clear of the Tower and within the target zone, Bucky fired a single blast and watched as the Iron Man suit flickered, repulsors stuttering, and plummeted to the ground.

Steve would be so pleased.