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And No One Stands Unscathed

Title: And No One Stands Unscathed
Fandom: Captain America/Avengers
Series: To Rewrite History
Pairings: Steve/Bucky
Ratings/Warnings: R for depression, pining, Winter Soldier angst & spoilers, death and violence
Word Count: 7360
Disclaimer: If I owned it it would be even more depressing.
Summary: Hydra has always been good at changing history.


For months after SHIELD defrosts him, Steve Rogers dreams of ice. He dreams of falling, of pain and blood and Bucky's voice telling him that everything will be all right. Despite the violence of them, these dreams are strangely comforting because during those short moments his life makes sense again. Steve knows who he is with Bucky there beside him and everything laid out in black and white.

But then Steve wakes up and remembers that the world is different now.

He remembers that life has moved on without him and shades of gray are the only truth which anyone believes. He wakes and wants to weep from grief every time he turns to wrap his arms around his lover and discovers no one there.

Because Steve will never forget the sight of Bucky slipping through his fingers, this new body still too weak to save what mattered most to him. Captain America could defeat a hundred Hydra soldiers but he could not fight gravity and this failure haunts him more than anything. For what use was Erskine's serum if he could not keep his promises?

Steve had promised that he would protect Bucky now that he could finally return the favor and he had sealed this vow against his lover’s skin. A bright memory amidst a string of stolen moments, a lifetime of lies and secrecy. But Bucky had always been worth it and he had been so determined that they would never part again.

Which turned out so well for the both of us, Steve thinks bitterly, staring at the old photographs that Coulson had found for him.

The Howling Commandos look so happy in these photos despite the war which had been raging on around them and Steve is terribly jealous of the person whom he used to be. Sure he and Bucky had faced dishonorable discharge or worse if any of the higher ups had figured out their secret but at least Bucky had been there to risk it with.

He had been there to tease Steve and smile for the cameras, to curl into his arms whenever the nightmares struck. Bucky had been there to be stupid and sacrificing, to shove Steve at Peggy Carter when his self-loathing grew too much. Because he was different after the 107th had been captured, his easy charm dimmed by the tortures he had faced. But at least he had been alive for Steve to hold and comfort until the day that Captain America let him down.

“It’s not your fault,” the other man whispers in his dreams sometimes, his lips brushing gently against his lover's neck. “You did the best you could for me; it’s not your fault that I went and mucked things up anyway.”

A comforting idea if only Steve could make himself believe it and yet no amount of wishing can change the truth of history. But when he opens his mouth to proclaim his failure, Bucky dissolves into ghosts and white hot agony. It burns beneath his skin, a river of fire that only sharpens the voices in his ears. They call him Captain as they break him into pieces, his own pain nothing to the sound of Bucky’s screams. They call him Captain like that’s the name his mother gave him and it takes everything Steve has to stop himself from punching Fury when the director does the same.

Captain America is a hero, a larger than life symbol who could do no wrong, but Steve doesn't deserve to wear that mantle anymore. Not when he's just a dumb kid from Brooklyn who wanted to do what was right and lost everything along the way.

Steve is tired. He’s tired of the nightmares and the loneliness and being treated like an invalid. He had enough of that before the serum and just because he’s ninety doesn’t mean he’s lost his mind.

But no matter how much he dislikes Fury, he cannot refuse the other man when he asks Steve for help. Because the director is finally offering him an actual purpose, something more worthwhile than destroying punching bags, and despite the bitter weariness that he carries on his shoulders, Steve doesn't want to see his home destroyed. Even if the thought of fighting without Bucky is almost more than he can bear.

So Steve doesn’t challenge Fury on his blatant manipulation or the lies of omission that he tells. Instead he suits up to do his duty without asking any questions – an omission that he starts to regret when he meets the rest of Fury's team. For while he never assumed that Captain America was the only hero to stand up for this country, he's not exactly impressed with those of this century.

Iron Man is the worst: loud and arrogant and far too convinced of his own intelligence. Really he's a proper bastard and learning who his father is only makes Steve hate him more. Because Howard may have been just as arrogant and a womanizer but at least he tried to improve the world for everyone.

Tony only seems to care about the needs of his own ego and Steve can't decide if he's angry or disappointed by this fact. For he recognizes the sound of genius even if he can't understand half the things that Tony's saying and backed by his father's money, Stark could have changed everything. But instead the man decided to dress up in a metal suit so that he could play at superheroes and yes, Steve knows how hypocritical he sounds.

Except that Captain America had never been his idea; the government just wanted a poster boy with which to sway the masses to their cause. Steve had been good at that, his new physique and comforting smile the perfect thing to make people forget about the real blood and death of war.

So even after he rescued Bucky and proved himself an actual soldier, his films showed the folks back home a safe and easy struggle which the US was sure to win. For the Howling Commandos spent as much time on propaganda as they did fighting Hydra and Steve had hated it. But Colonel Phillips could only cover for his team so often and thus he had wined and dined and smiled for the cameramen. He had smiled for the Senators who fell over themselves to shake his hand on camera even though Steve was actually everything that they despised.

Poor, low class, queer; these same rich bastards used to stare past Steve like he was invisible on cold winter days back home. They ignored him or sneered at his coughing when a handful of change would have made all the difference between a proper meal and going hungry once again.

But no one had helped them after their folks had passed; he and Bucky had always had to help each other and that is the only reason that Steve allowed the deception to go on. Because he could not allow his lover to fight without him, not when he had come so close to dying once already, and Steve had no other way to stay out of a lab. So he would have volunteered for a thousand dog and pony shows if that's what it took to help people; he would have smiled a thousand fake smiles to keep his friends alive.

Though only when the Howling Commandos were out in the field did Steve really feel like a person instead of a dancing monkey and there was something wrong with the world when attacking Hydra bases was more of a vacation than his days on leave.

Of course, this was partially due to the fact that his soldiers had turned a blind eye to his relationship with Bucky because they cared more about a man's skills than his moral fortitude. So whatever their personal feelings on the matter, his men had kept silent when the two of them disappeared together and that was a far cry from the whispers that Steve had been used to.

“Why haven't you burned that sickness out of them? You are supposed to be making soldiers not encouraging filth like this.”

“We have tried, Sir. Those memories will not stay buried even when we keep them separated and they are most effective when working as a pair. But you asked for unrelenting loyalty and allowing this perversion will be a stronger bond than any chains that we could make.”


Even in his dreams he can't escape the hatred, the sneers and smirks and danger that had followed them in New York. For only Bucky's endless charm had kept the two of them from being arrested or beaten to death in some back alley by people that they had grown up with. Men like Hodge who had been so certain of their own superiority and Steve can see the worst of them in Tony Stark's smug face.

The rest of Fury's heroes aren't much better; Thor seems to think that lethal hammer strikes are a good substitute for introductions and his brother is the one who just tried to conquer Germany. Natasha's a spy through and through and Bruce doesn't even want to be here, which given what Steve knows about him is probably sensible. Really, how does Fury expect this band of misfits to save anyone when they can't even manage to have one civil conversation and is Steve supposed to act surprised when everything goes wrong?

However, while the discovery of Hydra weapons inside the Helicarrier is a bit predictable on Fury's part, that doesn't mean Steve isn't furious. It’s not the fact that he's been lied to – what's one more betrayal after all the rest? It's the fact that Fury doesn't even pretend to be less than convinced of his own righteousness.

Instead of taking responsibility, the director blames everyone else for his actions – Thor and Asgard and humanity's own stupidity and Steve has to wonder what makes him so qualified. What gives him the right to rule the present in the name of future peace?

Because something in Steve is absolutely convinced that the Tesseract means pain and agony and that there must be a better way to hold the chaos back. But before he can convince these stubborn fools of anything, Loki's minions attack the Helicarrier and everyone's too busy trying to survive to discuss philosophy. Steve and Tony work surprisingly well together and their combined efforts manage to keep the ship in the air even as Bruce nearly destroys everything just like Natasha said he would.

So why the heck did Fury bring him if he knew that this would happen? Steve wonders, trying not to think about the drop beneath his feet. But somehow he manages not to plummet to his death before the turbines are restarted and when the dust has settled, Fury decides to give another speech.

It's a picture-perfect call to battle – Steve would know, he's made enough of them – and to be honest, he tunes the other man out as soon as he sees Coulson's bloodstained baseball cards. Fury must truly be desperate to try something so obvious even if Tony's distraught expression shows that it's working well enough. He must have known Coulson to be so affected by his murder or perhaps Stark simply isn't as numb to people dying for his cause.

But that's what heroes do; they make sacrifices for the greater good and give hope to others when their own hope is gone. Captain America knows that even if Steve doesn't want to and so he flies to New York to save his city once again.

He's no stranger to suicidal missions – there's a reason his final battle ended as it did – and he has to admit that the so-called Avengers are starting to grow on him. But even with Thor and the Hulk on their side, half a dozen superheroes can't hold back the tide of aliens. The best they can do is try to contain the carnage, delaying the Chitauri invasion until Fury finds some bigger guns. So Captain America orders his team to focus on containment and evacuating civilians and hopes that the hammer won't do too much damage when it falls.

Because he's done some research since SHIELD found him and he knows what this century considers acceptable casualties. One city, even his city, would be a small price to pay to stop their country from being conquered and the worst thing is that Steve can't even disagree. Not when the war had been full of hard choices and necessary sacrifice.

It looks like I'll be joining you soon, Buck, he thinks as another wave of Chitauri threatens to overwhelm him and in truth, the thought is almost a relief.

But then Black Widow discovers how to close Loki's portal and so Captain America cannot put down his shield just yet. His allies need time and he will buy it with the last breath in his body, ignoring the ache in his bones as he twists to slam another Chitauri from the air. Although the Widow had better hurry because he's not the only one nearing his limits: Stark's armor is almost out of power and Hawkeye's now forced to steal his arrows from the dead.

Of course, Steve has something else to worry about soon enough because Fury's bosses turn out to be more ruthless than he expected, deciding to sacrifice New York even when the need has passed. The World Security Council doesn't trust his team to finish this and that makes him angry where the thought of dying barely ruffled him. But there's a distinct difference between dying for a worthy cause and dying for someone else's cowardice as rich old men up in their ivory towers throw knights before their king.

And yet for all his strength, Captain America cannot hope to catch a missile; it takes Iron Man for that.

In this moment Stark proves himself a hero, the kind that Steve would be proud to fight beside. He proves himself willing to die for something other than his own ego and his allies can respect that even as they pray for him to breathe.

But while Steve lost his faith in miracles a long time ago, sometimes they're still granted, and his shoulders sag with relief when Tony finally takes a breath. He and Iron Man may not be friends, they may never be friends, but perhaps they can start as allies the way that he and Howard did. Perhaps the Avengers can be more than a bunch of messed up individuals who only work together when they’re all about to die.

So for the first time since he woke up in the wrong century, Captain America allows himself to hope for something better than his current unyielding solitude.

---

Unfortunately this hope is brief and fleeting because the Avengers go their separate ways once the dust has settled, everyone having their own ghosts to conquer before they can be a team.

For only Natasha seems relatively unaffected in the aftermath of Loki’s invasion and Steve is no different from the rest. Indeed his dreams grow darker after New York, Bucky's voice turning harsh with a bitter jealousy. “You are mine. You have always been mine and you should have known better than to think that you could leave.”

This is no voice of memory since Bucky was unfailingly supportive even when he shouldn't be. This is the voice of Steve's worst nightmares and the aching guilt that fills him at having worked with a new squad. Because it should have been Bucky sniping from the rooftops while Gabe and Morita threw bombs into the air.

It is always Bucky in the missions that Steve dreams of, a mix of Hydra bases and those that could not be. For it was never just the two of them; there were never any missions filled with bloody smiles and a weapon at his back.

But that does not stop Steve from wishing that his dreams were reality because he has never known such complete security as he feels with Bucky there beside him, any weakness in his guard covered without thought. His lover watches his six with a lethal efficiency that cannot be broken by the cowards they are facing and every mission ends with a monster bleeding out on the ground.

Monsters who have earned the deaths they're given and Steve never feels guilty when he wakes from these dreams. How can he when Bucky has never looked more attractive than he does with a rifle in his hands, his kisses feral as he laughs into Steve's mouth?

They fuck right there against a crumbling wall in Budapest, too wrapped up in each other to worry about their audience. All Steve cares about is his lover pressing deep inside him, fingers digging into the stucco as the other man claims his lips possessively. Bucky kisses like he fights: heat and fury and a single-minded purpose that makes Steve's knees go weak because this is home, here where the lines between their bodies disappear. This is the only truth that really matters – the thrust of Bucky's hips and the cold hand which ruins him.

Steve always wakes with the other's name on his lips, sheets sticky and loss burning in his chest again. But he never speaks the word aloud, all too aware of the ears and eyes on him.

SHIELD's technology may be far beyond his understanding but he still knows people and he knows that Fury must be listening. Or if not Fury some lesser minion given the job as punishment. That's what Peggy would have done in his place and Steve expects no less from the organization that she helped to build. Which means that someone is always listening and even if the world has grown more accepting in some ways, he can't give them Bucky yet.

Not when his friend was the foundation of Steve's world for as long as he can remember and Bucky deserves more than a notation in some doctor's fancy book. He deserves to be remembered as more than the man that Captain America went queer for and that's exactly what will happen if the truth comes out.

Steve has experienced the horrors of twentieth century journalists firsthand now his resurrection has become common knowledge and for every person trying to tell a fair and balanced story, there are a hundred vultures who just want a quick scandal and what his handler calls sound bites.

The SHIELD agent assigned to his PR – and really, when did that become a thing? – gave him a list of pat responses with which to feed the monster, phrases such as, “I sure don't miss polio” and “we used to boil everything.” But other than being significantly more invasive, the questions aren’t much different from his USO days and Steve’s had a lot of practice at self-deprecating grins. So he gives them the same performance that he gave the press back in the forties and the few newspapers that SHIELD allows him are unfailingly positive.

Probably because they shred the others, Steve reminds himself bitterly, all too aware of the agents haunting his every step. But he can't deny that the buffer has been useful and this is one of the reasons why he stays with SHIELD despite everything.

Well, this and the fact that Captain America can hardly get a normal day job anymore. Even if most people don’t recognize him without the uniform, a stationary target is much easier to hit and it's not like he can offer his employers living references.

Of course, Steve could always go to Stark since the man has been rebuilding his tower as some sort of superhero base camp according to Pepper's messages. But Iron Man has his own problems and while he has proved that he can be a hero when the chips are down, Steve still finds him incredibly annoying to be around.

The last thing he wants to do when he’s off duty is listen to that endless patter of jokes and science babble, particularly since the other man's taunts hit too close to home sometimes. But then again none of the so-called Avengers really know each other and at least SHIELD lies to his face instead of his back.

So Captain America becomes one Fury's dogs for a while, trying not to think too hard about the orders he's following. It's easier that way – easier to bury Steve beneath the shield and the armor and pretend that he's not growing lonelier any day. Because he is a man out of time, a man without an anchor, and he’s not sure if he is even capable of being happy anymore. How can he when all his friends are ghosts and corpses and even Peggy is barely lucid now?

She does have her good days, mornings where they talk for hours before she finally forgets him, but those are far outnumbered by the bad. Yet Steve keeps going back because Peggy is his last connection to the world which he grew up in and he can’t abandon her. Not even when it feels like she’s carving out his heart every time that her eyes fill with tears.

Maybe it would hurt less if he allowed Natasha to set him up with someone but Steve can’t bring himself to attempt that masquerade. Even if he tells her the truth about his preferences, it wouldn’t be fair to date when he’s still in love with Bucky and he doesn’t understand why this century is so obsessed with casual sex anyway. What happened to good old-fashioned relationships where you actually knew a person before you got past first base?

But for some reason people always assume he’s still a virgin whenever he asks that question and at least that gives him a good excuse for being shy. Steve’s really not sure where this perception of the past as innocent has come from considering that things being illegal didn’t mean they weren’t done.

Still it serves his purposes, everyone’s prudish idea of the forties skirting neatly around the secrets that he hides.

Although he’s not quite sure when Natasha’s attempts at matchmaking turned into something of a private joke between them – their flirty banter drawing weird looks from the SHIELD Strike team. But it’s nice to have someone who isn’t in awe of Captain America and Steve thinks that they might become friends eventually.

---

So life drags on in a gray sort of limbo, missions blurring together as the months go by. On duty or off, there’s never any break from it because even his apartment is a strange sort of facsimile of what SHIELD thinks he needs.

It’s like living in a museum, one that didn’t even do its research, and Steve hates it when he has the energy to feel anything at all. Mostly he just walks around in a fog of exhaustion from the many nights that he spends drawing instead of sleeping, Bucky’s face the only thing that helps to keep the dreams at bay. When he does sleep, his rest is fitful – mind trapped in nightmares that feel like hazy memory.

“It’s time for your Captain to return to his country but do not worry, Soldier, this is not the end of him. He is to be our gift to the people of America and both of you will be instrumental in our great triumph there. We need you to fight against the chaos and once the world is safe from harm forever, you will be allowed to rest again.”

These dreams leave Steve unsettled, convinced that he is forgetting something vital and after one of those nights, he goes running before dawn. The pounding rhythm helps to anchor him, driving his doubts and worries into the background for a time.

He always takes the same route through the capitol, nodding at the newspapermen by whom he’s begun to recognize. They set up with the sun like clockwork, getting ready to meet the first wave of Senators and businessmen on their way to the Hill, and Steve finds their familiar faces comforting. The sight reminds him of the summer that he spent hawking papers before his mother died – one of the only times he had the money to spare on luxuries.

Steve had taken Bucky to the pictures twice before he'd gotten sick and gotten canned and while he no longer remembers what they saw, the other man's delighted expression remains one of his fondest memories.

So he runs and remembers and is as close to being content as he has been since Bucky fell. But then one day there's a new face on his route, another man running the same path around the National Mall. Steve doesn't think much of it at first, just warns the guy whenever he passes him and the increasing annoyance on the other’s face is one of the funniest things that Steve has seen in weeks. This swell of amusement is why he stops to introduce himself once his run is over, reaching out with a joke and a grin.

And Steve's glad that he does because something about this Sam fellow makes him feel like a real person instead of a puppet in a mask. Truthfully it’s little uncomfortable the way that he cuts right through Steve’s practiced platitudes, countering his aw shucks routine with actual empathy.

He’s not sure how to deal with someone who so obviously cares about his well-being since SHIELD leaves him alone as long as he's functional and he’s almost grateful when Natasha arrives to bail him out. But Sam’s words stay with Steve even as he's bashing his way across the decks of the Lemurian Star and allowing Batroc to provoke him stupidly. If Bucky were there, he would call Steve an idiot for giving into the criminal's taunting and be the first to smack him upside the head. Only Bucky's not here and that's half the problem so Captain America decides to get into a fist fight just because he can.

Stupid, definitely, but it makes him feel a little better to beat the crap out of someone – at least until he busts through a door and finds Natasha there.

She's a spy so it shouldn't really surprise him that she has her own agenda but for some reason Steve still feels betrayed. It's that foolish part of his heart that actually thought that they were getting closer when he should have known that Fury would always have Natasha's first loyalty. So Fury's the one he yells at once they finally get back to base – and that had been one incredibly awkward airplane ride.

But all Steve gets is a lecture on the need for compartmentalization and a horrifying show and tell. Horrifying because Fury seems so proud of his Helicarriers and his grand vision for SHIELD is all too plausible.

This isn't what Steve was fighting for – someone else with their finger on the trigger and an army at their back. He had been fighting for freedom, the right for everyone to make their own choices in a world without war. But this isn’t going to end the chaos; Fury is only going to make things worse by burying the danger beneath a wall of fear as he wipes out anyone who dares to challenge him. No one should have the kind of power that these Helicarriers represent – at least not anyone who actually wants the burden to be theirs.

So Steve leaves the Triskelion with a sick feeling in his chest and ends up at the Smithsonian. The Captain America exhibit has become something of a sanctuary for him because this is the closest he can come to being there again and he misses all of his friends desperately. He misses Dugan's jokes and Morita's sarcasm and Jacques' filthy French and he misses knowing that someone has his back.

Although it's the footage of him and Bucky that always makes Steve lose it, Bucky’s smiles glowing like he's the center of his world. To be honest, he doesn't understand how people can still be blind to the way they loved each other because when he watches these old videos, it seems so obvious.

Yet even Peggy hasn't said anything about it in her few lucid moments and she's never been one to shy away from the conversations that he doesn't want to have. Even now she pushes Steve to be a better person, although he feels more hopeless than ever when he leaves the hospital this time. Because how is he supposed to start over when he cannot – will not – let go of the dead?

Steve can’t shake the feeling that moving on is a betrayal and at the moment he just wishes that he could still get drunk. But instead of returning to his apartment to wallow in misery, he somehow finds himself at the VA, listening to other soldiers who have been broken much like him. This is what war does; war takes good people and it shatters them into pieces until they cannot even stand beneath the burdens that they bear.

No wonder Sam sees through Steve so easily, stripping off his mask with nothing more than an understanding ear and a question that he doesn't know the answer to. Because while Steve doesn't know what makes him happy anymore, he knows it isn't this.

So maybe Sam and Peggy are right and it’s time for him to do something different with his life; something that will finally silence all the voices in his head. However, Steve has barely made this resolution when he returns home to find Fury in his apartment and the world that he's come to know unravels piece by piece.

Suddenly Fury is gone, shot down by an assassin who Steve cannot get out of his head. Because the man caught his shield like it was nothing and yet it is the eyes that haunt him now – dark, focused and so familiar.

They are the reason Steve stays silent when Pierce orders him to give up Fury's secrets, not any loyalty to a man now dead. He doesn’t trust any of them: SHIELD or Pierce or the World Security Council and he can’t shake the feeling that something bigger is going one. Someone is manipulating everything for their own ends and Steve is tired of being in the dark.

Which is how Captain America ends up on the run with the Black Widow, chasing down answers in the past and discovering a memory.

For that's what Zola is: he's a memory that Steve had forgotten, one that he could have happily left buried for all eternity. Zola is the reason that Bucky died; the reason that SHIELD was compromised from the beginning and yet Steve cannot stop listening to the story that he tells. He cannot stop listening even though he knows that Zola lies. He knows that something is missing from the picture the scientist is painting, something which Steve can almost hear between the lines.

“When history did not cooperate, history was changed,” the man tells his audience, a kaleidoscope of images flitting across the screen. But it is not the revelation that Howard Stark was murdered which makes Steve reel back where he stands, it is the way that he can almost feel the brake lines beneath his hands. He can remember the rifle that flashes by in an instant, a grainy black and white photograph suffused with color in his mind's eye.

Steve can remember everything for one brief instant and then the knowledge disappears into the void again. Because when Zola says that his life has meant nothing and death is coming for him, all Steve hears is that the time is not quite right.

So he’s left only with the knowledge that he cannot die before his last task is finished and a vague sense of unease thrumming in his chest. If Zola had truly wanted to kill Captain America, he would have allowed them to reach the elevator before the missile fell. But he didn't; Zola kept him underground where the blast could not destroy him and that's what Steve just doesn't understand.

Yet there's no time to dwell on the cracks within his mind or the niggling doubt of memory as long as he and Natasha have a mission to complete. They are the only ones who know enough to stop SHIELD – to stop Hydra – and Sam is all too willing to help them when they arrive at his door. The other man has such faith in Captain America, such certainty that Steve knows what is right, and he doesn't even hesitate when Natasha lays out the plan.

Though Sam probably should have asked a few more questions since their plan is completely crazy and they don't even make it to the Triskelion before everything goes wrong. Fury’s assassin tracks them down on the highway, the man making his entrance by ripping Sitwell from the car.

What follows is a blur of screaming metal and gunfire, every bullet somehow falling just short of its mark. The assassin is toying with them, playing with his targets when he could just kill them and this realization should spark something panicked in Steve's chest. Yet instead of fear, all he feels is a wave of exhilaration when that metal arm surges forward and meets him strike for strike. Steve knows this fight; he’s been having it in his dreams ever since he was frozen and the two of them move together as though they’ve been doing this for years.

It’s familiar and glorious and Steve can’t explain it until the assassin’s mask comes off. Then Captain America stands frozen as the world shifts around him and he knows exactly where he belongs again.

“Bucky,” he whispers, voice stolen by the wealth of memory.

“Who the hell is Bucky?” the Soldier asks but the quirk of his lips tells a far different tale. He knows Steve just as Steve knows him, down to blood and bone and the beating heart they share. They are one mind, one purpose now that he has remembered, and no matter how much Steve wants to take his lover in his arms, this would ruin everything.

Because he can finally see the path that lies before him; he finally knows why Captain America survived. There is a way to end the war for good but everyone has been too blind to see it, too absorbed with their own dominance.

So he stays silent, playing up his shock when Sam asks him about Bucky and Steve is truly sorry that he got the other man involved in this. But there can be no more compromising and Sam will never accept what must be done after Hill rescues them.

Which is why Steve kills him first.

---

It's the only mercy that he has to offer, a few quick steps and a snapped neck before the betrayal can register. Steve blocks Hill's gun as she turns toward him, Sam's body catching the one shot she manages as he pauses to take the doctor out. Then the agent is crumpling, her spine severed by the dagger in his hand and he leans over to swipe his shield off the ground just in time to block Natasha's strike.

She's not stupid enough to get in close with him – her fighting style is built on speed and maneuverability instead of brutal strength. So the redhead tries to keep Steve at a distance, throwing those shockers of hers and anything else in reach.

But even without a bullet in her shoulder Natasha couldn't hope to outlast him in such a small arena and as soon as he manages to back her into a corner, they both know the fight is done. So while she puts up a good struggle anyway, it's not long before he has her pinned against the wall, shield digging deep into her neck.

“Yasha sends his love,” Steve hisses softly, Natasha’s whole body stiffening at his words. He knows now that she had been lying to him when she spoke of the Winter Soldier but it is good to have confirmation before he ends her life.

Although, if anyone could understand why Steve must do this, it is probably Natasha – or Natalia Romanova as she was known back then. For while the Captain had never met her face to face before he was refrozen, he had heard a great deal about the Soldier’s youngest student and for a moment he considers asking for her help. But that would not be fair to the woman whom he has grown to admire – the one who has tried to atone for all the death she’s caused.

An impossible task to be sure and yet one that Steve can understand even as he takes a different path. His duty leads through blood and sacrifice and he will not ask Natasha to stain her soul with his.

Decision made he raises Hill’s gun once more, Natalia never blinking as the barrel rests against her skin. Instead she stands with dignity, facing her death like the warrior that he always knew she was and he wishes that it had not come to this. So when the light has left her eyes forever, Steve lays his friend down gently, pressing a kiss to her forehead before turning to the last man in the room.

“What the hell are you doing, Steve?” Fury bites out, somehow still sounding as though he’s in control. “You're Captain America!”

“Yes. I am. But I am also more than that. Hydra grew within SHIELD for decades – did you really think that a few assassinations were the only plans they made? Did you really think that you knew everything?”

Fury's one eye widens and Steve can see the other man's mind working desperately to process this revelation even as his friends and allies lay dying on the floor. But while he probably has some fancy weapon hidden in his mattress, he cannot hope to fight Captain America with his injuries and so Steve is not surprised when he turns to words instead.

“You don't want to do this,” the director argues, his attempt at earnestness making the Captain chuckle bitterly. “You're a good man, Steve – one of the best I've ever known. You were the one who told me that Insight was dangerous in the first place and you’re joining Hydra now?”

“I expected better of you, Fury; you of all people should have seen through the masquerade. But in your defense, Hydra did rewrite history. That is something they are good at and they didn't lie when they said that I fell. Only it was a train in the Alps and I jumped after my lover because the world means nothing without him at my side. Captain America – the suicidal queer. Not very heroic, is it? But Hydra found us; Hydra remade us so that we could shape a century and when humanity was finally ready, they resurrected dear sweet Steve Rogers to lead the charge. We needed you to trust me after all.”

It's strangely freeing to explain all of this to someone and Steve can finally understand why villains always love to monologue. Of course, Fury tries to take advantage of his distraction, grabbing some sort of fancy laser from beneath his pillow and firing it off.

However the Captain has been expecting something like this to happen and he slams his shield down on Fury’s hands without missing a beat. The director screams as the bones in his fingers shatter and the hate in his eyes would have destroyed a lesser man. But Steve just makes sure that he’s now pinned securely before continuing their talk.

“Pierce will have to die, of course. He's too interested in power to be trusted and he hurts his assets needlessly. But don't worry, Fury, now that I've regained my proper memories, Bucky and I will keep this world safe for everyone.”

“Bucky?”

“The Winter Soldier; you may have heard of him.” Steve's smile is merciless when he presses the gun to Fury's forehead and he watches unblinking as the other dies. The director deserves that much after his years of service, misguided though his aims may have been.

But Fury was not entirely mistaken and Project Insight must have its chance to shine. The Helicarriers will slaughter everyone who could think to challenge Hydra while he and Bucky burn out the cancer from within. Zola built them as his weapons after all and the scientist had seen a truth that all others denied. He had realized that if this world is truly to be free, there must be no one left to hold the gun.

The Winter Solder and his Captain will guard this world from villains and heroes both, saints and devils wearing human form. For as long as people are allowed to strive for conflict then the war will never be over and Steve is so tired of the fight.

He craves peace with every fiber of his being – dreams of lazy days in sunshine with his lover at his side and no orders but their own impulses. Yet such domesticity has never been their future; the two of them were made to end the madness and so that is what they’ll do. Captain and Soldier will shoulder this last burden; they will bring forth Zola’s final vision and change the world for good.

Because only when Hydra and SHIELD and all those who dreamed of heroes are nothing more than dust upon the wind, only then can they return to being Steve and Bucky once again. Until then he will do his duty with his lover at his side and when Captain America stands before the world to say these deaths were necessary, everyone believes.


End


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(Because so many people asked for a sequel/continuation, this story now includes the following as an epilogue of sorts.)
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It takes four years to free the world from war; four years of death and fury and crushing all resistance before their task is done. But eventually the day comes when the Captain and his Soldier are no longer necessary because those they are protecting have finally learned how to be free. Everyone has finally learned that there is no more need for fighting and should they try it, retribution will be swift and merciless.

So one spring morning as Captain America surveys the wasteland that had once been his city, the Soldier takes the shield from his hands. "Come away with me," Bucky murmurs, leaning in to kiss his lover gently. "We have done the work that we were made for and you promised that you would be mine again."

How can Steve refuse him when the other man has never asked for anything, supporting this cause faithfully no matter how much it hurt him to be apart? They have lost years to the mission, they have lost themselves and each other, but somehow Bucky has always drawn Steve back again. So he allows the other man to remove his helmet, stripping him free of his armor until Captain America is nothing but a memory.

Only when the last piece falls does Steve feel like the weight is finally off his shoulders and he lets out a delighted laugh as he takes his first full breath in years. Then he returns the favor, wiping away the grime and leather of the Soldier until Bucky Barnes is staring back at him.

"Shall we?" he asks, holding out a hand to his lover and the smile that he's given means everything. For Steve may have given his life to the cause, but his heart has always belonged to Bucky and it is time to enjoy the peace they made.


The End.  (For real this time)