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❝if I showed you my soul, would you cover your eyes?

if I told you the truth would you dare me to lie?❝

 

The lights in Sharon’s spacious apartment were a bit too bright compared to the darkness outside. They hurt Sam’s eyes, almost as much as his tired and angry state of mind did. He lifted his hand and pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers as a loud breath escaped his mouth. Even with his back turned towards the room as he stared at the bright lights through the closed window he could feel Zemo’s presence at the other side of the room and hear how ice in his whiskey clinked against the glass. It made his blood boil and he didn’t want to turn around because he was sure that it would be visible on his face.

Sam crossed his arms against his chest and stared straight forward not really seeing anything. He couldn’t focus on the people walking around near the building's fence nor the neon lights which reflected on the puddles from the party going downstairs. Well, the preparation for the party since it hadn’t started yet. He wasn’t excited about that.

The only thing on his mind at the moment was the whole undercover situation. Or the busted undercover situation because he was careless. The image of Zemo’s gloved hand on Bucky’s face didn’t leave his mind, it was as if it was ingrained in his eyelids. He couldn’t take away his eyes off of Bucky’s then and now that empty look filled with something painful stood in front of his eyes and didn’t want to leave. The worst part was probably the fact that he couldn’t do anything because it already happened and they actually needed the information which they got. He just desperately wished that it didn’t have to come with such a high price.

“Hey,” Sharon’s voice startled him so Sam tried to conceal whatever was obvious on his face before he turned around. She stood in the entryway to the room, the only open exit which wouldn’t require brute force to use, and was holding a phone in one of her hands. “How about one of you come to help me out, huh?” she gestured behind herself, towards the stairs and bright lights underneath this floor paired with loud music.

Sam looked at Bucky who was still sitting on the couch with his hands intertwined and staring into the distance. He didn’t flinch, didn’t startle, and didn’t lift his gaze at Sharon’s voice. For the first time since the whole argument in the police station, he felt wrong about being right. He knew that Zemo’s going to fuck with both of their minds – he just naively expected that somehow, as if they lived in a fantasy world, Bucky wouldn’t suffer for it. It was his plan, his idea but Sam still felt like shit when the only thing that he could do was just to watch him built up his walls and revert back to his own little prison. He knew that look on his face – it was the same one he saw in Germany.

“I guess, I’ll help the lady out,” Zemo put his glass back on the place where he was perched and stood up. He cut a big figure even without his furs and private jet. His presence alone took up the majority of the room and it almost made Sam suffocate. He could imagine himself strangling the man with his bare hands while his vision went red. Maybe that would erase the image of Bucky’s blank look and devastating expression from his mind.

“Come here,” Sharon waved at him with clear distaste in her voice but still turned her back towards him, a sign of trust, as she went down the stairs. Sam’s eyes met Zemo’s for a second and he wasn’t sure what he saw in there. There was no satisfaction, which he expected especially now when Bucky was sitting still as a statue lost in his own head, nor any gloating. He just nodded to him one tiny time before turning around and following the blonde woman downstairs. The music picked up the speed and the bass shook the floor beneath his feet as they left the apartment.

Sam knew they didn’t have a lot of time – the party was about to start and even though it was the last thing he actually wanted to do they would have to go downstairs and work. He turned his eyes towards Bucky again and this time actually lowered his arms and dared himself to walk towards the couch. Just as he sat down making the leather creak under his weight he let out a quiet sigh of relief when Bucky finally blinked and lightly snapped out of whatever place he was in.

“You okay?” he didn’t dare lean towards him.

Sam left a considerable amount of space between them so they weren’t touching because he wasn’t sure who he was sitting next to. He hated to admit it – it made him nauseous but those eyes didn’t look like they belonged to the guy who had been annoying him for days now, actually managed to keep up with his bickering, threw tantrums like a two-year-old, and drove him insane in all of the worst and best ways. He wanted to be furious at him, especially after their failed therapy session, and deep down he still held a torch of anger but at the moment he had to make sure that the man, who he called his friend, was still here.

“Fine,” one word response. Typical of Barnes but his voice was wrong. There were no tilts of annoyance which he came to expect and certainly none of that misguided and poorly hidden fondness. Just a quick cut and short answer in cold tones. It made uncomfortable shivers run down his spine.

“Don’t bullshit me. I know that look, Buck. You gotta tell me what’s going on inside that brain of yours otherwise I won’t be able to help you,” he wasn’t sure what he was doing. His VA days were long over and he hadn’t seen a therapist in years except for that one failed session a couple of days ago. He didn’t know what’s right and what’s wrong in such a situation but one thing he knew certainly or at least hoped that he did – he knew Bucky, knew how Bucky Barnes functioned and how every single of his answers hid something repressed deep deep down.

The only problem laid bare in front of him though. He wasn’t sure whether he was talking to Bucky Barnes right now. Or at least how many percent of the man in front of him belonged to his friend and how many were hidden under that winter frost.

“Shuri removed the trigger words when I was in Wakanda,” he muttered as his flesh fingers flexed. Bucky’s eyes were downcast and stared at the dark vibranium of his arm. Sam finally dared to scoot a little closer – close enough that his knee bumped against the other man’s thigh. Bucky didn’t seem to notice or mind in the slightest bit as his eyes were focused on his metal joints. Sam already knew the information which he just said – how could he not. He liked Bucky but he also valued his own life and he had to make sure that those frosty eyes, that death glare, and that sheer determination to kill him won’t return anytime soon before he actually dared to get close to him. Maybe he got a little too close because now he wasn’t sure he would mind fighting Bucky when he wasn’t himself and searching for ways to hit him hard enough just to get him back. “They didn’t do shit when he tried them on me. Made me uncomfortable and anxious, sure, but I didn’t feel the pull nor I saw the blankness in my head. But when I had to slip back into that role-“

He cut himself off as his metal fingers formed a fist and let out a quiet whirl sound. Sam didn’t know whether he should feel so comfortable while hearing it – it was the same sound he heard on that bridge years ago. Before it made him feel scared out of his mind but now it meant that Bucky was safe – at least on the outside – and that he had the means to protect himself when he couldn’t. Not that he needed protection – he could kill everyone in his building if he was determined and maybe that scared Sam a little.

“It’s not a role, though,” Sam could hear how he swallowed and could see how he frowned as he quietly whispered the words. He wanted to lean back but at the same time, the pull to get closer was boiling in his veins. He certainly didn’t want to startle him let alone make Bucky feel uncomfortable. Nowadays he was better with contact – before even a hand on the shoulder would have made him disappear for a whole day. He would shut himself in that brain of his and no matter how hard he tried to bang on that steel door it wouldn’t open.

And maybe that was for a reason because those words didn’t make him feel comfortable or comforted in any way. He always knew it was a possibility. He spent only twenty-plus years being a struggling but happy James Barnes who worked hard and fought bravely but that mist and conditioning stole away seven decades. It’s not like he could snap out of it instantly as if it was a dream. Or a nightmare rather.

Maybe Sam, the same as Steve, naively hoped that he wouldn’t suffer anymore and just come back. They just hoped for a different comeback – while Steve wanted his dead best friend, who clearly disappeared and was killed by Hydra, back, Sam just wished to get to know the guy who would appear once the Winter Soldier was gone.

“Dr. Raynor made these rules, you know? The third one is claiming my identity. A stupid phrase that insinuates that I’m no longer the Winter Soldier. Well, she was wrong,” Sam allowed himself to extend his hand and grab the vibranium palm which hadn’t stopped flexing or moving during this whole conversation. Bucky didn’t take away his eyes off of it as if he was watching and waiting for the blood to start dripping from his fingertips.

“She wasn’t wrong and you know that. If she was, you wouldn’t have stopped and killed those people in the bar but you-“

“Because I was taking orders, Sam,” finally his eyes lifted and he looked straight into his. For a split second, Sam hoped that he hadn’t done that but he regretted it immediately. Those eyes almost made him flinch because they reminded him a bit too much of that feral and determined glare in Germany just after Zemo triggered him and sent him on a rampage. They were cold and calculating and that calmed him because that was pure Bucky who always stared at him as if he could see right through him and guess his every step before he even thought of it but he could see that little spark inside of them. He wished he didn’t know that spark and that flame which didn’t belong to the man sitting next to him, whose cold metal fingers wrapped around his. He was sure that if it was his flesh hand it would tremble the same way the right one was trembling. “That’s like second nature. You have no idea how easy it was to blindly listen to him and do what he says without hesitation. If he would have told me to kill I’m not sure I wouldn’t have.”

Those words made him take a breath. Shit, he wasn’t equipped to deal with such a situation. He wasn’t sure if Dr. Raynor was equipped too since she didn’t notice it. He knew that Bucky was difficult so he didn’t need to be a genius or a telepath to understand that he didn’t make their sessions easy but it wasn’t an excuse as to how she didn’t manage to figure this out. It broke his heart, made him even angrier at Bucky because why the fuck was he keeping it to himself and for how long was he planning on staying quiet and made him want to at the very least put Zemo back in jail where he would be safe from Sam’s very capable hands.

“But you aren’t like that anymore-“

“You’re not listening to me,” Bucky turned his eyes away and sighed. He moved his head around and bit the inside of his cheek and Sam couldn’t help but watch how his eyelashes fluttered as he blinked a couple of times and looked back down to their connected hands. The metal was cold on Sam’s skin as Bucky’s thumb started to stroke circles on his skin. “I’m just trying to warn you.”

“Stop this bullshit, Buck. If Zemo had that control over you he would have taken over by now and I would probably be dead-“

For fucks sake, Sam,” Bucky stood up so suddenly Sam had to flinch back just so he wouldn’t get hit by his quickly moving form.

He could feel how his palm suddenly got even colder as he left it dangling from his knees after Bucky dropped his hand and his ears instantly picked up the sound of the whirling of the arm. The quick sounds were louder now than they were before – it reminded him of the bar. How quickly Bucky’s demeanor changed as Zemo slipped into Russian and ordered him around. How easily he took down every single guy which dared to come near him or was pushed into him, how self-satisfied Zemo sounded for a second as he gloated. It was scary – he couldn’t lie. To be standing in a lawless city, under a shitty and untrustworthy cover with fucking Zemo of all people by his side while the only person he could trust at the moment was taking down people without breaking a sweat. He was right when he said it came to him like second nature.

“You fought before, Buck, those Flag Smashers-“

“I was pulling my fucking punches and I wasn’t using any guns,” he walked away from him a couple of steps and turned his back towards the window where minutes ago Sam himself was standing. Bucky’s form was tight – he was tense as a string. His shoulders were drawn back and wide as his bulky build covered the majority of the window and his arm whirled as he flexed his fingers. Sam desperately wished that that move was only a nervous tick and not a warning that he’s going to get his head smashed in a couple of seconds.

How sick he must have been because he didn’t move from his position, didn’t move his eyes off of Bucky’s even if they were avoiding him, and didn’t even think about leaving this room before he made sure that the man didn’t get lost in his head too deep. So deep he couldn’t crawl out by himself. Sam didn’t have a fucking ladder and he wasn’t trained to snap somebody out of conditioning like that. He wasn’t Natasha and fucking hell it hurt a lot to think about her but it made him realize that he really didn’t and couldn’t lose this infuriating man because who else he could trust without him?

“You’re scared you are gonna slip back into it?” Sam tried to keep his voice quiet. He knew that the only person with an enhanced hearing in this building was standing right in front of him but he also didn’t want to allow this to escalate to the point where he wouldn’t be able to control the conversation anymore – he wasn’t leading it now, but he could still wield it in the safer direction where Bucky doesn’t have to freak out. Freak out completely, since he seems pretty shaken up already.

That frost from his eyes had faded and whenever he managed to catch them now they just seemed desperate. Sam wanted to know what for but he once again wasn’t Natasha.

Bucky opened his mouth but no sound left it. He could see how his shoulders deflated like a popped balloon as he let out a loud breath and closed his eyes. The silence in the room was deafening – the music from downstairs was still shaking the floor and the distasteful electronic sounds made Sam want to frown but that would mean taking his eyes away from the man in front of him and he didn’t want to do that for a second.

Now that the conversation stilled his mind wandered at the speed of light. This whole night ran past him and he could hear the whispers which his ears picked up in the bar. Not about Zemo daring to show his face in the place where he clearly was not welcome, not about him being a shitty and suspicious copy of the Smiling Tiger but a couple of quiet whispered questions when people took a step back and demanded to know whether that was the Winter Soldier walking right behind them.

It made him sick to his stomach, made him taste bile in his mouth and his throat ached with the need to say something but what could he say. The Winter Soldier fit right into such a place as Madripoor. When he fought or stood at Zemo’s back like an obedient dog he looked like he belonged in this filth and ruthlessness.

“Zemo was right. I can claim to no longer be the Winter Soldier as much as I want but something’s still in here.”

He desperately wished he could take this whole day back. Maybe these past few as well. He wished that maybe he was more stubborn and just straight up told Bucky that he couldn’t come with him and left him in the base. Maybe then he wouldn’t feel so shitty about this whole thing. The worst part was probably the fact that it wasn’t even his fault – it was Bucky’s idea, his plan which he executed without permission and without even talking to him about it. But he still wished that they could go back those couple of days just so the man could continue to ignore him to the point where Sam was beginning to feel ridiculous but where the nightmare of the frosty killer machine was just that – a nightmare and a memory.

Not a reality, not a possibility, and certainly not admitting that Zemo’s right.

“But it isn’t you, Buck,” Sam clasped his hands together as he tried to catch his eyes. He finally stood up from the couch and took a couple of steps towards him. Didn’t risk getting too close but also couldn’t help himself to step towards that warmth which he radiated. One thing he certainly was jealous of was the ability to stay warm as a super-soldier. That was one of his favorite excuses which he gave himself when he sat a bit too close to Bucky. Close enough that their thighs brushed, elbows knocked and shoulders touched. Bucky never seemed to mind but he tried not to think about it.

It was too complicated. They had a lot of shit to sort through before he could even begin to entertain those thoughts.

“So what if he’s still there? That doesn’t change anything. It just means that he was here all this time and you didn’t even notice, managed to survive just fine. After this, when we lock Zemo back up and this whole thing is over we will sort this out,” he wanted to extend his hands and do something. Grab his shoulders, hands, whatever he could get his palms on but Bucky wasn’t the type of person who is comforted by physical touch.

When he finally managed to look into those eyes and didn’t see any frost, no dark clouds and no mist spreading just as his brain gave up the last drops of free will he allowed himself to relax. Bucky’s shoulders were still deflated, his posture borderline tired as he stared back at him and visibly gave up. He could see how the tension left his last cells, how his mouth opened on its own to let out a couple of breaths, and only then he realized that he was terrified. While to Zemo it was a twisted and sick game which probably gave him some satisfaction to Bucky it was his own personal hell coming back to him.

In moments like this one when Bucky was staring at him with terrified eyes and devastated expression on his tired face which in dim lighting looked more closely to his actual age than in natural sunlight, he tended to forget their differences. At the end of the day they were working towards a common goal and the only thing which hindered them was how differently they wanted to approach the operation get the shield back and restore the legacy. He wished it was easier than it was but they didn’t live in a wonderland or such a place as Madripoor – where the concept of rules was unheard of, where laws didn’t exist and where morals differed from the simple black and white.

Sam desperately wished that at the very end of this they end up in the same grey shade.

“There’s nothing to sort out, Sam. I just have to stop wishing for a fucking fairytale.”

Sam didn’t get a chance to open his mouth and contradict those words with something completely unnecessary because he didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t his place in the end – it wasn’t him who had remains of his trauma buried so deep inside his head that they would never come out no matter how many fancy machines they used and how hard Bucky himself was seemingly trying.

Sharon’s footsteps were light on the stairs but he could still hear them. She knocked lightly on the wall while trying to get their attention and Sam took a step back because he was standing way too close for it to look simply platonic.

Sharon wasn’t stupid – she was way too smart for her own good. He was pretty sure that she knew what was going on before they even reached her apartment but she kept her mouth shut which he was thankful for because she didn’t owe them anything. In fact, they should be worshipping the ground she walked on because while they abandoned her she was willing to help and risk her whole life for them once again. It just made him feel even more guilty over everything that happened and Bucky’s quiet defeat didn’t help the situation.

When Sam dared to glance in the other man’s direction just as he was pulling on the jacket he was met with a stone-cold blank mask and realized that whatever conversation they had it was over and probably won’t be picked up again. Ever again.

The stairs didn’t creek under their weight and even if they did he couldn’t hear it over the deafening music which filled his ears and was threatening to burst his eardrums when they reached the floor. A comforting presence behind him, that familiar warmth was almost enough to keep him from channeling all of his murderous desire once he saw Zemo once again. Almost, because he still sent a glare in his direction with a promise of blood-red and frozen grounds if he tested his commitment to the job and Bucky at the same time again.

 

❝I keep it all inside because I know the man is everything but kind❝