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In Dreams (Everything Makes Sense)

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“How long does it take for him to defrost?”

Groggy... he felt groggy. And very cold. Had he been asleep?  He tried to blink open his eyes but they felt heavy and stuck together.

“Not long, based on his history.”  This voice was different from the first. “Look, he’s stirring.”

“Bucky, stop it with the sleeping beauty act. We don’t have much time.” That was the first voice.  It sounded familiar.

He tried taking a deep breath, but the air felt cold in his lungs. That was his name - Bucky. This was different from all the other times. This time they had the right name.

Bucky opened his eyes—this attempt was easier—and saw he was in a different room from where he had been initially frozen. It was dark and windowless and felt like it was miles below the ground. In front of him two men were watching him. He was right—the first voice was familiar.

“How long, Sam?” Bucky croaked. His voice barely escaped. He knew from experience that it was his throat that warmed up last. He slowly stepped out of the chamber as he flexed his remaining arm, glad that his muscles were already working.

“Eight months,” the man who wasn’t Sam responded. “How do you feel?”

Bucky mentally ran through his body, trying to feel for anything wrong. “Good. Cold.” His voice already sounded less hoarse. “What’s going on? Aren’t you supposed to be in prison?”

“Not anymore. I need your help.” Sam crossed his arms instead of elaborating. He looked like this was the last thing he wanted to be doing.

“What’s going on?” Bucky repeated as he set his jaw, because goddammit it, he needed to know more than that.

“We need your expertise.” He motioned for Bucky to start moving.

“We, who’s we?” Bucky said before he finally finished reaching room temperature. “Wait.” He looked around. “Where’s Steve?”

Sam started to walk away, but continued as if he expected Bucky to follow. “That’s the problem we need your expertise for. And just so you know, this wasn’t my idea. I want to make that very clear.”

Bucky didn’t move. “What do you mean, that’s the problem?”

Sam turned around. He looked exasperated. “I need you to follow me. I can explain as we go, but you are going to have to trust me when I say we need every second we can get.”

That was enough to get Bucky walking.

“Wait, we need to run tests, it’s not safe to be moving so-” The other man was running to catch up with him.

“No time!” Sam and Bucky said at the same time, not even bothering to turn around.

It took a second for his stiff body to catch up to Sam. “Ok, now we are moving. I’m going to say this for the last time—what’s going on?”

Sam, who looked like he was walking with a clear purpose, didn’t bother to look at him as he said, “It’s the Red Skull. He managed to get his face on TV, told the entire world he was looking forward to destroying them in graphic detail, and that he planned to start with Steve Rogers. That was three days ago.”

“He should be dead.” Bucky had always assumed he was dead. But that wasn’t the most pressing issue. “Does he have Steve?”

“We don’t know.” Sam checked his watch and sped up. “As soon as I saw it—and you couldn’t not see it, it was everywhere—I called Steve. We had all split up after he broke us out. Figured it would make it harder to track us. Would keep up safe.” He took a deep breath. “Anyway, I called him and he didn’t answer, which isn’t the most surprising thing. We’re fugitives, right? Sometimes you can’t answer the damn phone.”

“Right.”

“But he doesn’t get back to me. And then I tried our backup communication system, the one only for emergencies, and no luck there either. At first I wasn’t worried. For all I know this was just some crazy person pretending the be Red Skull and Cap let his phone die. Or something. But a day later-”

“So, two days ago.” Bucky confirmed. It was important he had all the information he would need.

“Yeah, two days ago, Nat calls me and says she can’t get a hold of him either. Which isn’t a big deal, it’s not like he was screening my calls or anything. But she actually sounds worried. Turns out she’s been doing the whole world’s greatest spy thing and had been keeping tabs on all of us. And she can’t find Cap, which is all sorts of concerning because Nat’s the best at this stuff.” Sam stopped and turned to look at Bucky. “Do you need clothes? You slept in that.”

“This is fine. What are we going to do now?” Bucky walked in front trying to move Sam forward.

“I was in Nairobi when all this was happening. Nat felt we might need you so here I am. The rest of the team is going to meet us here. Tony tracked the broadcast location to some island in the Indian Ocean.”

It was Bucky’s turn to stop. “Tony. As in Tony Stark?”

Sam jerked his head forward, motioning for Bucky to follow him. “Yes. Now I know some things went down with you guys, and I’m sure that is going to be all kinds of awkward, but Nat trusts him on this and I trust her. If he’s willing to put that all behind him, I’m sure you can too.”

He shook his head. “I’m not worried about me.” He paused. Bucky wasn’t sure how much Sam knew. “He’s not going to want to see me. I really don’t think—”

“He knows that you’re coming.” Sam turned and Bucky followed him into a large airplane hangar with an open roof. A plane—no, Steve had called it a quinnjet—was parked in the center and Tony Stark was leaning against it. Sam motioned at them. “Anyway, it’s too late to turn back now.”

Stark tapped his watch “You’re three minutes late.” Behind sunglasses, Stark looked bored. Bucky couldn’t tell if he had even seen him. He sure didn’t look like he had.

“Not my fault the guy was frozen solid,” Sam said with just smidgen of attitude.

“And yet I’m going to blame you anyway.” Stark turned to look at him. Bucky felt his body tighten as he prepared instinctively for a fight, followed by self-loathing. “So, what can you tell us about the Red Skull?”

It took a second for Bucky to realize he was being addressed. “He’s evil,” was all he could offer.

“We know that part.” Stark turned and begun to lead them onto the quinnjet. “What else? Anything about his motivations, how he operates, anything at all that you remember that we also can’t find in a history book.”

“He’s really, really evil.” He racked his thoughts, trying to think of any important details. “He wants power. He can inspire a surprising amount of people to die for his pathetic cause. He has a flair for the dramat—”

“Don’t they all?” Sam interjected, rolling his eyes.

“And he really hates Steve.” Bucky finished.

Stark stopped on the ramp and turned around. “On a scale from mildly annoyed with his self-righteousness to wants to tear him limb from limb, where do you think Red Skull falls?”

Bucky felt the full force of Stark’s gaze. He wondered just where Stark fell on that scale. “Definitely limb from limb.”

Sam and Stark shared a look. “Any weaknesses?”

“I hear he always had a soft spot for blondes,” Bucky deadpanned.  They just stared at him for a beat before he felt compelled to add, “That was a joke.”

“Boys, you can gossip on the plane.” The Black Widow was standing with her arms across her chest, tapping her foot impatiently.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah...” Stark walked past her and Sam and Bucky followed as the ramp shut. Bucky recognized everyone staring at him from the airport in Leipzig.

Now the Widow, Bucky knew her from reputation long before she fought with Steve. That made him hate himself, too. She gave him a long look as she said, “Thanks for doing this.”

“Not sure I’m going to be any use like this.” Bucky shrugged the shoulder no longer attached to his metal arm.

“I have a feeling we are going to need all the help we can get.” The plane jerked as it took off and Bucky missed his arm as he lost his balance for a second. She smirked and motioned to the bench next to her. “Now take a seat.”

Sitting there, Bucky took a chance to take stock of the situation. Not including himself, there were four of them on the plane. Besides Stark, the Widow, and Sam, he could remember Clint from the airport.

Bucky tried to assess each of them, trying to remember how they fought and what they were capable of. He tried to listen to their quiet conversations between them, hoping to pick up on any details he didn’t know. In his experience, everyone prepared for missions differently. Some people rambled on, some got excited and jumpy, some became thoughtful. But it was alarming that now none of them were trying to lighten the mood. All of them were sitting—except Stark who was leaning on his arm, face first in the corner.

Stark hadn’t seemed angry at him, or even uncomfortable. And that was wrong. Between everything that Sam had said and the tense mood on the quinjet, it was Stark’s acceptance of his presence that worried him the most. Bucky, from the corner of his eye, watched him pull out a cheap cell phone from his pocket and look at it intensely before flipping it open and pressing a number.

It was a struggle, but Bucky was able to overhear what he was saying. “Steve. I’m about to lose reception on this worthless piece of crap. Would it have killed you to buy StarkTech?” Stark whispered. Bucky wouldn’t have heard him if he hasn’t been trained to hear these sort of things. “So, if this is some sort of elaborate prank, you have approximately a minute to stop it.” He took a deep breath, louder than anything he has said. “Otherwise, I guess I’m about to feel really stupid.” Stark hung up and glared once more at the phone. He looked like he hadn’t slept in a week.

It felt like forever sitting there. Bucky was distinctly aware that he didn’t know these people, didn’t really know them, and that he didn’t belong here. He was more of a liability than anything else. It wasn’t the arm that worried him, though he’d feel better about fighting if he had it.

It was his mind that scared him. Bucky could be made into a weapon. He would be made into a weapon. That’s how it always worked. And sitting there with all of these people who really cared about Steve scared him more. He didn’t want to hurt them.

“Five minutes till we make our descent,” said Clint.

The Widow stood up and grabbed a rail above her head for support. “So, we’ve been over this already. Based on what we could pick up via satellite, we have four possible entrances. Tony, Sam, Clint, you take your designated routes. Barnes, you’re with me. Everyone stay silent on your comms unless you have something worthwhile to add.”

“Yes boss,” Clint said as he stood up and braced for landing. “Got any words to inspire us?”

“We get in, we get Cap, and we go. Do what you normally do. And when what you normally do is dumb, listen to me,” Widow finished.

They touched down so softly that Bucky wasn’t really sure they had landed, but the rest of them were up and going, and he followed.

Bucky didn’t know what he was expecting, but a tropical island certainly wasn’t it. He was walking in white sand that led into the bluest water he’d ever seen. Behind him was a dense jungle that climbed up a steep mountain.

“Our best guess is that Red Skull is under there.” She pointed behind her at the mountain. “Your GPS should point you to where we think the entrances are. Any last questions?”

“Yeah.” Clint spoke up. “Is that an actual volcano? Seems kinda cliche.”

“It’s been dormant for over 400 years,” Natasha responded without inflection.

“Knowing our luck...” Clint trailed off, his eyes fixed on the top.

“Ok, are we done now?” Stark said impatiently. He was already in the armor. When had that happened? Without waiting for an answer, he lifted off.

The Widow sighed. “I was going to say ‘wait for the signal’. But that—that’s the signal.”

Without another word they split up. Sam followed Stark in the air as Clint began to run in another direction.

The Widow looked at him and began walking into the jungle in front of them. They walked silently through the heat. Bucky took the time to get a sense of where his center of gravity was without his metal arm. At first it felt strange walking without it, but he was slowly adapting and began to run through defensive moves he could still perform in his head. After some time she whispered, “Can you shoot with that arm?”

“Yes,” Bucky said, somewhat offended. He wasn’t new to this.

“Good. Then take this.” She handed him a gun. “You aren’t afraid to use it, I take it.”

“No.” He was more afraid of how right holding a gun felt.

“Very good. That’s why you’re with me.” She looked him in the eye, even though she was still walking. “If you got a shot, take it.”

They kept walking. The vegetation was getting hard to walk through, but even though the Widow never looked at anything except what was in front of her, it never seemed like she was unsure of where to go.

Bucky realized he needed to ask her something. “What should I call you?”

“Huh?”

They had reached some sort of large steel door that stood flush with the walls of the volcano. “Do you want me to call you Black Widow?”

She smirked. “Natasha is fine.” Natasha began to press around the edges of the door till she found what she was looking for. She pushed a vine back to reveal a classic ten-digit keypad. Without looking at anything else, she typed in a long code, and then moved to the door. It opened immediately.

“Ok. Natasha.” He paused. “Does something not feel right about this?”

“Nothing feels right about this. It shouldn’t be this easy to get in.”

“I mean, Steve can take care of himself. He doesn’t need the cavalry to come after him. With this big of a group we are just making a larger target,” he said as they entered a dark corridor. Bucky expected to be surrounded by cold stone, but instead it looked like a hospital hallway with the lights off.

“If it was up to me, it would be me, you, Sam, maybe Clint. People with even the slightest experience in being covert.” She stopped, visibly trying to hear something. She must not have heard anything because she started to walk again. “But you try telling anyone on that plane to stay home.” Bucky could do the math, and he had an idea she was talking about a specific person.

“It’s good to know that Steve still manages to inspire loyalty. I never got how he did that.”

Natasha just smiled. “Four days ago, a lot of people were pissed at him. Hell, I was pissed at him. We had a good thing going with the Avengers. And he has to screw it up with his principles.”

“He does that,” Bucky muttered. “Is Stark...?” He wasn’t sure what he was asking.

“I know what happened in Siberia.” Bucky didn’t doubt that she knew. He was pretty sure Natasha knew the last time he had taken a piss. She continued, “And I’m not going to say Tony’s over it. But I’m sure he’s thought about it, probably too much, and has found some way to make at least some of it his fault. But you’re going to have to trust me when I say he has Steve’s back. This whole situation is just eating at him. That’s why he’s here, even if he does wear a bright red suit I could see from a mile away.” She paused again to listen, and then moved on. “You are here because the two of us agreed we could use your help. We could use someone with your skill set. It gets exhausting being the only assassin on the team.”

“You expect it to come to that?” Bucky whispered.

“I don’t know what to expect. But if it does I’m not going to waste time debating the right and wrong of it,” she said the last part so quietly, Bucky barely heard her. He didn’t have a response

Bucky was sure he was considering all the same violent scenarios that Natasha was. Everything had happened so quickly after he woke up, and it was finally now that he was beginning to understand why everyone else felt so desperate. This whole mission felt haphazard and hastily planned. They were sitting ducks working like this. But Bucky was intimately acquainted with depths of how cruel the Red Skull could be. And as long as there was a sliver of a chance Steve was here, he’d keep walking into this trap.

They walked in silence until a sound, too quiet for Bucky to hear, emitted from Natasha’s ear piece. She frowned and began and began to run.

Bucky didn’t need to be told to follow her. “What is it?” he tried to shout without his voice carrying. It didn’t work too well.

“They found him,” Natasha replied, not making any effort to be quiet anymore. She was quick and focused, running with her gun held out in front of her.

Bucky didn’t need to know who she was talking about. “Where? Is he ok?”

But Natasha didn’t respond. Something loud was happening somewhere in front of them. Suddenly a uniformed man crashed through the wall 200 meters in front of them and landed with a thud in the middle of the hallway.

“What is wrong with him?” Stark, in armor, walked through the hole he must have created just as Natasha and Bucky caught up.

She looked down at the man, clearly unconscious. “Tony, he’s not going to answer you anytime soon.”

Stark was breathing so hard that it was visible even in the suit.

“Where’s Steve?” Natasha asked, clearly more calm than either Bucky or Stark felt.

“We can’t... He’s not responding. We don’t know what they did. He’s been hurt. It’s like he’s been tortured.” Bucky began to step though the hole in the wall as Stark continued to babble on.

Steve was sitting hunched over on the floor, chained to a to the wall by his hands and something large around his chest. It looked like he had at some point tried to shimmy his way out of it, with bad results. His face was bruised and swollen, which in combination with the old and dark blood that seemed to cover his most of his body like a second skin, made him look almost monstrous. This sight was so upsetting it took Bucky a few moments to see that some of the blood looked fresh and that Sam, who was crouched right next to him, was trying to remove the shackles all the while muttering, “Wake up, wake up, wake up.”

Bucky crouched next to Sam, trying to find any signs of life. When he couldn’t detect any breathing, he placed his ear on Steve’s blood-sticky chest. There it was—barely perceptible and definitely too slow—but a heartbeat none the less. One look at Sam confirmed this, and with a new-found motivation, he began to try and unlock the shackle on Steve’s other arm.

Bucky could pick locks one-handed, but whatever this was, it was beyond his skill. Luckily Natasha seemed to have realized what they were doing and joined them before calling out, “Tony, stop your tantrum and get here now. I think we need your expertise.”

Almost immediately, he was there, examining whatever technology was keeping Steve in place. Both Sam and Bucky stood up to give him the most room. “Is he?” Tony said, grabbing some sort of small tool from a compartment on his suit.

“He’s lost a lot of blood. Anyone else would be dead,” Sam said. “But Steve’s a stubborn sonofabitch. Though we shouldn’t take that for granted. He needs immediate medical attention.”

That seemed to spur Stark to move even faster. With a click he managed to unlock the left shackle and wordlessly moved on to the next one. Bucky watched, unable to move, even though a voice in the back of his head was loudly telling him that this was a trap. With Steve so close to death, he couldn’t bring himself to care.

It took a loud noise behind him to break his trance and look around. Natasha, who had fallen back to the hallway, possibly because she was also aware of the danger, was now fighting some man in the same uniform as the one Stark had blasted earlier. It took him another moment to move, but it was too late and a large group of them were filling the room. There were too many to fight one handed, and Bucky was quickly subdued. He tried to struggle as he was put in restraints, all the while watching as Stark tried to fight his own captors without stopping whatever he was doing to Steve’s shackles.

It was with a scream that he failed and was dragged away from Steve’s almost lifeless body. Sam and Natasha kept fighting, but their considerable skill wasn’t enough to free them from their also skilled attackers. Somewhere, over an echo-y loudspeaker, Bucky could hear a voice cackling. He felt blunt force against his head, and the world went dark just as he began to think—that doesn’t sound like the Red Skull.

 

-------

 

Bucky woke up to a headache. One of those dull, throbbing ones coupled with a stiff neck that communicated you had slept in the wrong position. He opened his eyes and for a second stared at the ceiling before he remembered what was wrong with this moment.

He wasn’t cold. In fact, he was under a blanket. And he was in a room that didn’t look clinical. The sun was beginning to stream through the curtains. It sounded like the world outside was also just waking up.

He lifted his left arm into the air. It looked like flesh and bone. He could move his fingers without a sound. When he made a fist, he could feel the pads of his fingertips against his palm. Yet watching it move, he could tell it wasn’t real. The sense of feeling wasn’t as strong and seemed to have a second delay.

It was then that Bucky jumped out of bed. He rushed to the door before he remembered that he could be in some sort of prison. Instead he leaned his ear against the door and listened for something. When he didn’t hear anything, he slowly turned the handle and looked outside.

It looked like a normal, if small, living room. The proportions were eerily similar to the studio he shared with Steve back before the war but the decor was modern, if worn. He slowly walked around, trying to notice any detail that would explain exactly where he was and prepare him for the upcoming attack. He was beginning to circle the couch when he saw a familiar body lying on its side.

“STEVE!” Bucky lunged forward and twisted the body onto it’s back just as a fist hit him across the face. He staggered back and looked in disbelief at the man in front of him.

Steve looked shocked and babbled, “I’m so sorry. Are you ok?  I really... I didn’t know it was you. I can’t believe I did that. Are you ok?”

“You’re alive!?” Bucky didn’t believe this. But the man in front of him surely looked like Steve, but without the blood and bruising Bucky had seen minutes ago.

“What are you talking about? Of course- Are you ok? Do you have a concussion? Should probably take you in to see—”

“Are you really you? Are you really alive?”

Steve just looked confused. “Yes? Bucky, are you having nightmares again? What’s going on?” He lifted two fingers. “How many do you see?”

“You were dead. How are you here? I saw you. You were—”

“How many fingers am I holding up?” Steve commanded, refusing to even entertain Bucky’s line of thought.

“Two.” Bucky responded instinctively to his tone. “It’s going to take a lot more than a messy punch to confuse me.”

“Good. Ok.” Steve took a deep breath and sat back down on the couch. “You just scared me.”

I scared you? You were dying.”

Steve just shook his head and looked concerned. “I’m clearly not. Was it a nightmare?” And then in a softer voice, “Do you want to talk about it?"

Bucky didn’t have anything to say to that. He tried to imagine a scenario where this was real, and everything that had happened before had been some sort of terrible dream. It did happen to have the strange sense of dread that seemed to permeate Bucky’s dreams.

But that was impossible. There was too much that had happened before that. Too many details that were too clear. And here, Bucky wasn’t even sure where he was and how he got here. This was clearly wrong.

But Steve was ok.

“What day is it?” Bucky asked.

“Friday.”

“No, I mean date. And year. Actually, that’s more important.”

Steve gave him a look like Bucky really should go get his head looked at, but responded anyway. “January 27th, 2017.”

“2017?” Bucky tried to count back. He didn’t actually know when he had woken up. Everything had happened so fast. But he did know that Sam had said it had been eight months. And he knew it had been May when he was frozen. It was harder to wrap his mind around the fact that it could be January—it certainly looked like January out the window. And he supposed he couldn’t have known before. They had been in Wakanda and on a tropical island, there was no reason to believe it couldn’t have been the dead of winter.

“Yes. January 27th, 2017.”

Bucky looked around. There had to be something that explained what was going on. “Why are we in our old apartment?”

“Bucky, this is your apartment. I’m just staying—wait I’m sorry I know you said I could stay here while I figure stuff out but if you need me to go-”

“No, no. Why would you go?” Bucky looked around again. This was their old place, except for the bedroom. The door that led to the bedroom had before just led to a tiny closet. But everything else, from the windows to the style of tile in the small corner kitchen was the same. “Wait, I live here, alone?”

“Yes. Yes, you do. And I’m really sorry it’s taken this long to find another place. I know it must bother you, I completely understand. So, if you need me to go, you can tell me.” Bucky had no idea what he was prattling on about.

“You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.” Bucky wasn’t entirely sure of the specifics of the situation, but it didn’t matter. Steve would always have a place on his couch.

“Good.” Steve gave him a small, sad smile. “I know I need to move on. But as long as I’m here, as long as I’m not in my own place, there is still a chance, right?  A chance we can work things out?” And then quietly to himself he said, “I still miss her so much.”

Bucky couldn’t begin to understand what Steve was talking about, but he nodded anyway. He had guesses on who ‘her’ was, but Bucky was perceptive enough to know this was one of those things he was expected to already be aware of. He let that go and walked to the window.

His hunch was correct. They were in Brooklyn. Not all the buildings outside looked the same, but enough did that he could place them on the same street. Everything was modern, of course, but it still felt familiar. His mind wanted to accept this. Even this was a dream or the beginning of a new form of mental torture, it was also the closest thing to good he had felt in a long time.

He turned around and faced Steve, who was still sitting on the couch looking like he was trying to find signs of a concussion. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Thank you? Are you sure you’re ok? Don’t tell me you are doing this to get out of the dinner.” Steve had that tone of voice that said he was on the verge of being disappointed, but he believed the right decision would be made in the end.

“Wait, there’s a dinner? What dinner?”

Steve visibly rolled his eyes, walked to refrigerator, and removed a card from under a magnet. “You have been cordially invited by Stark Industries to be the guest of honor at the ‘Technical Advances for Veterans’ Dinner,” he read dramatically and then handed the invitation to Bucky.

Bucky looked the invitation over. It looked like the type of event that required you wear something nice. He scowled. “Why?”

Steve sighed. “Because it’s been a year.”

“A year since when?”

“Since you got the biggest step forward in functional prosthesis attached to your shoulder."

Bucky reflexively wiggled his left fingers. So, that confirmed it. It wasn’t real. “Ok...”

“Plus, it’s an excuse for Tony Stark to pretend that just because he owns the company that designed it, he’s more than a billionaire playboy.”

“Stark? He made my arm?” That was unexpected. It seemed that nothing that was happening made any sense. “Well that was... big of him.”

“Of course. It’s really big of him to throw a fancy party to celebrate how great he is.” Steve said in that dry way that was almost certainly sarcasm, though you couldn’t always be sure.

Bucky looked at the invitation again, trying to gleam any information about the current state of things. But no, it was just an invitation. “Don’t tell me I’m expected to go alone to this?”

“You already told me I have to go with you so I can act as your ‘chick bait’.” He managed to sound disapproving and fond at the same time.

Finally. “That sounds like something I’d say.”