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Habeas Corpus

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Steve knows it isn’t Wanda’s fault, not really. She reacted out of instinct in the heat of combat, and Steve makes a mental note to mention that “in the heat of combat” is not the best time to try out new maneuvers, no matter how badly the distraction portion of the plan is going.

In any case, Steve doesn’t have time to think about the mechanics of the problem now, because he is trapped in Bucky Barnes’ body, stalking down the hall doing his best imitation of the Winter Soldier’s gait in the middle of a phalanx of suspicious Hydra guards who seem uncertain what to think about their asset’s sudden reappearance and seemingly docile behavior.

Physical skills usually come easily to Steve, but moving in Bucky’s body feels odd. The arm knows how to respond, even if Steve isn’t used to the weight of it, the heavy pull on his body, a constant ache that runs all the way down his spine to his legs. Or Bucky’s legs. This is Bucky’s body: Steve is only a temporary resident here. It feels strangely invasive to be analyzing the reflexes, the strength of this body; he doesn’t think Bucky would appreciate Steve scrutinizing all his Hydra-enhanced capabilities. But the ethics of a bodyswap are irrelevant right now, because what matters is the mission. Steve has to perform well enough as The Winter Soldier to fool the Hydra remnants left at this base.

The lead guard punches in a code that opens a heavy metal door at the end of the hall and gestures Steve inside. The other guards keep their eyes and weapons trained on him as he enters, and though Steve is careful to keep looking straight ahead, he takes stock of the room’s layout as best he can from his peripheral vision. Concrete floor. Bare walls. A narrow metal table with built-in restraints. His heart—Bucky’s heart—thumps loudly in his chest as another Hydra guard slams the door shut behind them.

Bucky hasn’t shared much about his time as Hydra’s assassin, and Steve hasn’t pushed, but now, from a purely tactical standpoint, Steve wishes he had more information about the Soldier’s procedures. He knows how the Soldier moves and fights—he saw those for himself, and it’s easy enough to fall into those precise rhythms—but he never saw the Soldier in downtime, safe within the confines of a Hydra base. He isn’t sure how the Soldier interacted with his handlers. Silence is best, he decides as the Hydra guard who had led the way into the room turns to face Steve.

“We’re here,” the man says into his radio, then he nods towards Steve. “Weapons.”

Steve had turned over his guns when he first met up with this patrol outside the compound perimeter. He would have liked to have a little something in reserve in case things went south, but from what Steve understands, the Soldier didn’t disobey orders. If he keeps even one knife and they find it on him later, they’ll know he’s not the real thing, so Steve begins the process of divesting Bucky’s combat gear of its many hidden weapons. He hopes there aren’t any he doesn’t know about.

It’s going to be fine, Steve tells himself. There’s no other way to get to the information that’s stored in this facility other than to let the Hydra personnel lead the Winter Soldier right to it. Steve knows this; Natasha confirmed it. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t wish he’d had a bit more time to consult with Bucky—or anyone else—before a sudden bodyswap forced their hand. But if Bucky had been willing to infiltrate the base for the sake for the mission, Steve can hardly do any different.

When he’s done disarming himself, two of the guards give him a thorough pat down. He stands absolutely passive, staring into middle distance. The rest of the men relax marginally, lowering their weapons as if Steve isn’t a threat to them. As if the Soldier couldn’t kill them all within eight seconds, weapons or no. Steve breathes. He doesn’t know where he is in the compound, yet, or how many levels of security there are between him and the information he came for. He can’t leave yet, no matter how ominous the silence grows.

Behind him, the door thumps open. A few of the Hydra guards turn to look, but Steve makes himself keep staring straight ahead.

“So, you came back to us after all. I was starting to think I’d lose that bet.”

The familiar voice stops Steve’s breath in his chest, and he forces himself to keep breathing as Brock Rumlow, smug half-smile visible beneath the twisted scars of healed burns, steps into his line of sight.

“What took you so long?”

Steve makes himself stay still while Rumlow walks a full circle around him, looking Steve up and down. “You check him for weapons?” he asks the other guards.

“Yes, sir.” There’s the snap of respect in the man’s voice, the same as the other Strike Team members had always had for Rumlow. “He’s clean.”

“He say anything?”

“No, sir.”

“Fucking protocol,” Rumlow mutters. He snaps his fingers in front of Steve’s face. “Hey. Status report.”

Steve pages back in his memory to the time when Bucky had just returned to him. The flat voice, the matter-of-fact reporting of conditions had unnerved Steve then, and he remembers them better than he’d like. “No immediate need for maintenance.”

“Well, we can fix that.” The other soldiers laugh, but Rumlow ignores them to smile at Steve. “You missed us, didn’t you, soldier?”

“Yes, sir.” The voice comes out flat, devoid of the anger Steve feels, and Steve absolutely does not punch the grin off that bastard’s face.

“You know you’ve been a bad boy.” Rumlow prowls in a circle around him, and Steve resists the urge to follow him with his eyes. “You deviated from protocol. You failed your mission, and you didn’t report back for debriefing.”

Steve isn’t sure how Bucky had been planning to explain that, if asked, but he can guess. “The relevant procedural memories were corrupted.”

“I believe that. You’ve been out of cryo too long, haven’t you? Don’t worry, tiger. We’ll fix you up.”

Rumlow sounds almost gleeful about that, and Steve thinks of the schematic of the chair Natasha had shown him, the machine that took away everything that made Bucky a person. He flexes his fingers, feeling the strength in Bucky’s metal hand, and reminds himself that that won’t ever happen again.

“But first, you know you have to be punished. Let’s see how much you remember.” Rumlow stops right in front of Steve, close enough that Steve can smell him, feel the heat from his body. “Get on your knees.”

It’s harder than Steve thought it would be to just obey, to be the Soldier the way Rumlow expects. He plants his knees on the ground but keeps his chin up. He knows he can take whatever punishment Rumlow can dish out.

Rumlow cups Steve’s jaw in his hand and tilts his head slightly to the right and then the left. Steve keeps his eyes straight ahead and tries not to shiver at the idea that Rumlow’s looking him over like he’s a piece of livestock he might want to buy. Then Rumlow rubs his thumb against Steve’s lips, and Steve can’t help the instinctive flinch away.

For a horrible moment, Steve thinks he might have given the game away—he’s never seen the Soldier flinch, never seen him shown any fear or surprise at all—but Rumlow just chuckles. “Guess you do remember something.” The other soldiers laugh.

Before Steve can think too much about what that’s supposed to mean, his attention is caught by Rumlow’s hand pulling a gun from his belt. Calculations and contingencies speed through Steve’s mind with a rush of battle adrenaline. If Rumlow shoots, Steve will have to move, get his hands on one of the other guard’s weapons, find an exit—No. They wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of bringing the Soldier here just to shoot him. The Soldier is a valuable asset. And in any case, Steve can’t risk Bucky’s body getting hurt if it comes to violence. Instead he waits as Rumlow makes a show of holding the gun up and stroking two long fingers against the barrel.

“Now, do you want us to cuff you for your punishment, or are you going to behave this time?” Rumlow asks.

Steve makes himself keep breathing. He knows Hydra had hurt Bucky, probably often, over the years. There’s comfort in Rumlow’s insinuation that Bucky didn’t always cooperate. Now, however, Steve drops his eyes and settles his hands against his thighs. He’s not here to fight. He’s taken his share of beatings, and if he can take this one on Bucky’s behalf, so much the better.

“Good boy,” Rumlow says. He lifts his right hand—the one with the gun—and for a moment Steve fears he’s misjudged the situation, but no. Rumlow presses the barrel of the gun to Steve’s lips and says, “You know what to do.”

Of course, Steve thinks. Bullies always want to feel powerful: make the other guy look foolish and weak. The Soldier could rip Rumlow in half, but here he is on his knees. It’s just an attempt at humiliation, Steve tells himself. Just Rumlow puffing up his manhood in front of the other Hydra soldiers. It can’t really hurt him. It’s not giving in, not if it’s what the mission requires. He opens his mouth and lets Rumlow shove the barrel in, sliding bitter and oily against his tongue.

“Yeah, that’s what you like, isn’t it, sweetheart?” Rumlow pushes the gun in until Steve almost chokes, then pulls it out slowly.

Guns have always felt small in Steve’s hands, but in his mouth this Sig feels enormous, stretching his lips tight as Rumlow works it in and out. Steve worries he might be pink to his ears with the shame of letting Rumlow do this to him, but he can’t feel any trace of heat in his skin. Maybe the Soldier doesn’t blush. Maybe he never felt shame at all, and wouldn’t have understood why this was different than any other order Rumlow might have given. Steve hopes so.

When Rumlow pulls his gun out of Steve’s mouth, a line of saliva stretches between his lips and the barrel. Steve drops his eyes to the ground so he doesn’t have to look at the shiny wet metal. There’s a knot in his belly that feels something like fear, but not the way he knows it: not that bright bite of energy chasing him to action, but a heavy, sickening lump of dread.

“All it takes is a little reminder, and it all comes right back to you, doesn’t it?” Rumlow wipes the barrel off on Steve’s cheek before returning it to its holster. “Well, now that you’re all warmed up, show me what else you remember.”