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For Want of a Nail - Part VI: Blood

Title: For Want of a Nail
Fandom: Captain America/Avengers
Series: To Rewrite History
Pairings: Steve/Bucky
Warnings: Angst, dystopia, violence, a whole lot of death, etc.
Word Count: 6016 (42,010 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned it, the good guys would have lost.
Summary: Hydra wins the war and then the world.  Seventy years later, the Resistance has a plan to win it back.

Part I: Fire
Part II: Ice
Part III: Stone
Part IV: Flesh
Part V: Metal


The day dawned clear and cold, nothing in the brilliant sunshine or bright blue sky to warn of the blood that would be spilled. For Hydra was finally ready to wipe out its enemies completely and once Zola's drones were activated, the rebels and dissidents who had dared to challenge Hydra would be no more than ash upon the wind.

This cleansing would begin in Europe and move across the world with the dawn until Pierce could be assured that no one was left to question him. There would be no more Resistance, no hidden groups to free his prisoners and leave his bases burning in their wake.

There would only be Pierce – king, ruler, despot – the kind of leader that the Red Skull had only dreamed of being and he would build his perfect unchanging world on the bones of his enemies. So the high commander had summoned his most senior generals to Europe to witness his great triumph, every member of Hydra called back home again. They left behind their amusements and their cruelties to fill a thousand mountain strongholds even as Pierce’s subjects were gathered to witness the death that was to come.

For Hydra did not believe in triumph without an audience, every home and business equipped with its own viewing screen. These could be tapped into at any moment, allowing Pierce to speak to his people and his generals to flaunt every new atrocity.

Though never before had the entire world been summoned; whether morning or afternoon or dead of night, everyone was ordered to the screens to bear witness to the moment that would doom them all.

So there was no thought of defense in Pierce’s stronghold that morning; there was no need for defense when his final victory was at hand. Even Zola's silence did not cause any alarms within Hydra's great machine because the man had done his duty and he had been scheduled to receive his final punishment. The scientist could not be suffered to live when there was a chance that he might alter what he had created and Pierce would not allow anyone else to hold such power in their hands. It was his and his alone and his smile was blinding in its condescension as his broadcast began.

“Citizens of the empire,” he said and then paused dramatically, his grey eyes cold and piercing through the screen. “Citizens of the empire; your salvation is at hand. From this moment forward there will be no need to question the loyalty of those around you, because Hydra will have seen the true heart of every citizen. We will know your every thought and those who defy order will be punished for their treachery.”

Pierce paused again so that his listeners could understand the true import of his announcement, but before he could continue, an explosion rocked the stone beneath his feet. Screams and shouts echoed through the cameras as his people watched transfixed, for SHIELD had infiltrated Hydra's greatest stronghold, surprise allowing the organization to overwhelm its enemies.

All across the globe, the Resistance threw everything that it had at Hydra: arrows, bullets, knives and the sheer weight of endless fury, vengeance driving them to vicious savagery. Yet even as SHIELD swarmed the battlements of the Red Skull’s castle and the White Lotus moved like smoke through Hydra’s bases across Asia, not all of their allies were as successful in this fight.

For some members of the Resistance hadn’t been able to attack on such short notice, their strikes either nonexistent or woefully unprepared. Rocinha and its squadrons were betrayed by one of their own informants, half their number cut down by an ambush before they even reached the local Hydra base. But the soldiers of the Resistance did not give up even as they retreated, Hydra's forces bogging down within the twisting streets and secret corridors of the city's slums. So while there was blood that day, the death of each guerrilla did not come easy and Hydra would not soon recover from the slaughter that they faced.

The Mad Circus made it farther, Hawkeye and his colleagues reaching the upper levels of Chicago's fortress before one of Pierce's elite strike squads pinned them down. Rumlow and his men were not supposed to be there; they were supposed to be in the bastion at Cape Town and while this eased the path of Bloemfontein to victory, the Mad Circus was soon caught without escape.

Hawkeye and Trickshot managed to hold off Rumlow's soldiers, but the brothers could not break through to freedom, not without abandoning their wounded fellows and that they would not do. Instead they would fight as long as they were able and they swore not to regret their ending when it came. However, Hawkeye could not stop a twinge of sorrow at the thought of the red-haired assassin whom he would have liked to see again someday.

Hundreds of miles away, a different redhead was having a far more successful mission, War Machine living up to its name at last. The group’s leaders had not allowed the lack of time to daunt them when they’d been planning this strike for a decade, their fellows armed with cleverness and lethal technology.

So War Machine rolled over the Hydra base in the remains of the White House without flinching and it was Pepper Potts who claimed the eastern general's head. They took control of the stronghold's weapons, its communications, and its position, and they aimed this arsenal at those enemies who remained. But for all the damage that War Machine inflicted, the messages sent from its allies were not heartening when the group’s aid was stretched too thin.

However, even as the members of the Resistance fought and died with the knowledge that their homelands were still conquered, these attacks served their purpose well. For while the drones were stationed in every Hydra outpost, these machines could only be activated by one man in the world. Pierce's refusal to share power might have allowed him to reach the pinnacle of his ambitions but it was also his greatest weakness now. Because the Resistance did not have to defeat all of Hydra in order to stop their foe’s final retribution, they only had to bring one fortress down.

SHIELD had to destroy Pierce before he could call upon his army; destroy Zola's equation so that it could never see the light again. That was worth the sacrifice of its fellows – each battle entered one more base that could not come to Pierce's rescue – and while this might not be the victory that the Resistance had dreamed of, it would not be defeat.

It would not be the end as long as dissenters could still grow within Hydra's grand regime and their foe would carry the scars of this assault for years. But first, SHIELD had to stop Pierce and the fighting was no less fierce in Europe than it was on other continents.

For the Red Skull's fortress had been upgraded since Peggy Carter killed him; Hydra's new leaders having no intention of dying like the last. There were protections in place for just such an eventuality and thus there could be no quiet infiltration this time around.

Yet that did not mean that SHIELD could not tip the balance in its favor and here its double agents were invaluable. Some of them had spent a lifetime advancing through Hydra’s ranks for this one moment, selling their souls and their morality so that they could bring the tyrants down. But agents Hill, Thirteen and a score of others had never doubted that this work was worth the sacrifice, and indeed, those who had lived Hydra’s evil were the most fanatic for SHIELD’s cause.

So it was Hill who had smuggled out the blueprints to this fortress over the course of months and it was she who allowed SHIELD’s agents through the outer wall. The outer wall alone since neither Hill nor Thirteen had clearance for the inner chambers; only one of their number did and SHIELD would not risk this ace until all other cards were down.

But even if the inner chambers could not be breached in secret, Pierce’s stronghold had other weaknesses and Hill’s work meant that SHIELD knew exactly where to strike. Its agents knew exactly where to place their bombs in order to create the most damage and it was the first of these explosions that interrupted Pierce’s monologue. Soon the entire fortress was mired in smoke and chaos, Hydra’s soldiers ambushed as they ran to put the fires out.

The chaos only grew when SHIELD’s planted agents turned against their fellows, people who had fought together for years suddenly proving false instead. Suddenly Hydra was under attack on two fronts, their enemies’ charge led by someone from the organization’s earliest history.

For Hydra remembered Captain America even if most of the world had forgotten; Hydra remembered his death as one of its greatest triumphs and he should not have been walking free. Captain America should not have been alive, let alone leading an assault upon the empire’s greatest stronghold, and yet the man leading SHIELD’s assault team could be no one else. A legend was attacking Hydra, that fabled shield held out before him, and many of his foes were too busy gaping to dodge as the disc ricocheted off the walls.

But while the Captain led the charge, it was the shadows at his back who scythed through SHIELD’s enemies and those agents who survived would never forget what they had seen. They would remember the Winter Soldier and the Black Widow as death incarnate, the string of corpses that the pair left behind them matched only by their cold brutality.

This squad had nearly reached the upper levels of Pierce’s fortress before Hydra’s forces began to recover, but these soldiers had been chosen for a reason and they regrouped rapidly. These men and women had carved their way to the top of Hydra's ranks with violence and cruelty and the loss of their comrades did not throw them off for long. Instead they charged forward with guns blazing, each of them eager to be the one who took down Captain America. Here was a trophy whom no one else had ever captured, a symbol of the Resistance as he lived and breathed, and Pierce would be sure to reward his killer accordingly.

Soon SHIELD's main squad was pinned down just before the inner sanctum, Captain America slowly split off from the rest. The Winter Soldier tried to reach him, his arm sparking dangerously as he fought through the guards between them, but before he could get to his captain, a thick sheet of metal slammed down across the hall.

This was the fortress' secondary defense system, activated by Pierce once he realized that the attack was going poorly for his side. Thick metal plates sealed off every access to his central chamber and perhaps that would have been the end of it if he had not also sealed his enemies inside.

But Hydra's supreme leader could not have known that one of SHIELD's best agents was standing at his shoulder, had been standing there since his broadcast started, and even those whose way was blocked did not give up easily. Indeed the Winter Soldier nearly shorted out his arm trying to break through the metal that had separated him from his captain, only subsiding when the Black Widow laid a hand upon his arm.

“We'll find another way,” she promised; Ghost, Chameleon and the others nodding grimly at her back. If they'd had the Hulk, SHIELD could have been through that door in an instant, but while Hydra could not kill him, it had grown quite skilled at containment through the years. After all, its scientists had been there when he was born, and so a network of gamma radiation had stopped him at the gate. But even if Banner could not aid them now, at least SHIELD knew that Hydra would receive no reinforcements with the Hulk guarding their perimeter and Iron Man clearing out the skies above. So the agents could concentrate on rejoining Captain America while their leader fought for his life beyond the metal walls.

Steve was outnumbered and outgunned compared to his enemies, Hydra's soldiers having the added advantage of knowing the stone beneath their feet. This was their ground, their territory, and the captain found himself gradually herded farther from his allies as they fought.

Not that this was an easy task since Hydra lost a soldier for ever foot of ground they gained, Captain America's growing increasingly vicious with every second that his friends were out of sight. Because he wasn’t supposed to have been separated from his sergeant, Bucky was supposed to stay at his back where Steve could protect him and now he could not stop imagining everything that might go wrong. The Winter Soldier might find himself outnumbered like his captain, his rifle more suited to long distances than such close range combat, and a victory here would mean nothing without Bucky Barnes alive.

However, Steve had heard his friend banging on the metal shutters after they’d slammed down across the corridor and if the Winter Soldier’s arm could not break through the barrier, Captain America would doubtlessly have no better luck. His shield might have done some damage, but he could not make the attempt with a score of Hydra's soldiers trying to kill him and so Steve's only option was to press on instead.

In truth, Hydra might have been herding Captain America, but he was also leading them deeper into the fortress with one goal in mind. The captain needed to reach Pierce before the other man could finish what he'd started and indeed, time was running out.

Pierce was no fool and after his secondary defense system had been activated, he turned back to the broadcast that was still being sent to every home across the world. In fact, even those citizens who had been dozing off at the beginning of his message – many of them well-used to Hydra's needless announcements and claims of victory by now – were staring riveted at the screens before their eyes.

Because no one had ever seen fear on the face of their leader, but the world had seen a flicker of it when the first shots rang out. There had been fear and alarm and for a moment, Pierce had forgotten that he had an audience.

Otherwise he would never have allowed himself to curse so violently in front of his subjects, the image of benevolent leadership that he had always tried to project twisting into something monstrous instead. This was the true face of Hydra’s supreme commander: arrogant, vicious and completely without mercy, and even those who believed in Hydra’s message had to fight back a shudder at the sight.

However, Pierce did not allow his mask to slip for long, forcing a calm smile back onto his face as he ordered High General Müller to trigger the defense system that would shut out their enemies. In truth, the commander did not wear this mask for his people; after all, he knew that he could convince those sheep of anything. Pierce wore this mask for Hydra’s best and bravest who were gathered in the inner chamber because he knew that none of them would hesitate to take advantage of any weakness that they saw.

There was only one man Pierce trusted to stay loyal when the rest would betray their leader in an instant and this man had more than proved himself through the years. Indeed Fury had saved Pierce's son without a thought to his own safety or advancement and thus he was the only person that the High Commander knew would never turn on him.

Though even Hydra could be mistaken and in fact, SHIELD's longest serving double agent was simply waiting for the proper moment to attack. He would not break his cover until he knew how Zola’s drones were to be activated, not when the rest of Pierce's subordinates were standing ready to attack.

Fury wasn’t as young as he used to be and he had been counting on SHIELD's onslaught to draw some of his foes away before he revealed himself. Though, of course, the first thing that any good agent must learn was to be adaptable when a plan went FUBAR, and this one was quickly unraveling. Because as far as Fury knew, Captain America and his comrades were trapped on the wrong side of Pierce's defensive barriers and they would beat their hands bloody before they made it through those walls.

So the agent decided that he could not wait for the rest of SHIELD any longer when Pierce began to speak to the world again.

“My apologies for the delay; those fools in the Resistance have attempted one last desperate strike against our empire, but as ever, they are doomed to fail. Their puny efforts cannot hope to stand against us once I unveil the greatest weapon that this world has ever seen. A weapon that will leave our enemies as nothing more than smears of blood upon the walls.”

Pierce began laughing then, an evil cackle that echoed chillingly off the stone. It was enough to make his audience pull friends and family closer, holding each other tight and looking fearfully at the sky outside.

For who could be certain that their lives would be spared by Hydra, barring those who were already members of the organization or had spent all their efforts on bootlicking and flattery? Which was a larger number than the Resistance had sometimes liked to admit, even the closest families split amongst their loyalties.

Yet while some waited for Pierce's announcement with anticipation and others with a rising panic, every watcher gasped in shock after Hydra's leader punched a code into the computer at his side. For a hundred thousand drones took flight in buzzing cacophony, the sky turning black with shining metal wings as these machines stood ready to attack.

Night or day it did not matter because there was only darkness now and the world waited with breathless anticipation for death to fall upon them one more time. But before Pierce could enter Zola's algorithm, his highest general stepped forward and pressed a gun against his head.

“Don't move,” Fury ordered as their audience stared on in astonishment, spinning Pierce around so that the body of his hostage was between the agent and the rest of Hydra's men. “It's time for this to end.”

“Fury! What are you doing?” Pierce snarled, trying to twist around and grab his own gun off his belt. But the agent just kneed him in the back and ripped the weapon from his hands. “I made you, you bastard. I trusted your loyalty.”

“Then you're the fool, Pierce. Did you never wonder why I was so loyal? Why I sacrificed life and body for the man who had destroyed my family?” Fury's growl was barely audible, hissed into the ear of Hydra's leader as he kept a wary eye on the other generals in the room. “I sacrificed everything so that I could betray you when this moment came.”

Watching Pierce die had been Fury's only goal for half a lifetime, vengeance sustaining him when hope and better sense had failed. Indeed he probably would have killed the man already if he hadn't needed a hostage and to be honest, Fury doubted that this would dissuade his enemies for long. Hydra's men were more the type to shoot through Pierce than try to save him and their patience would wear thin soon enough.

But Fury didn't need forever, just enough time to shove Stark's drive into the console and let it do its work. Every member of SHIELD had been given one of these drives before the final assault started since no one could be sure who would live to use it, some smuggled into Pierce's fortress scant hours in advance.

However, Fury had always expected to be the only one left standing and the weight of the world had never daunted him. But while the agent was not the sort of man to panic, he found himself at something of a loss when Stark's drive had no discernible effect upon the drones outside.

The scientist's inventions had never let Fury down before and while Stark had admittedly built this one on a wing and a prayer, this was a bad time for him to suddenly become unreliable. Without a way to destroy Hydra's drones, the members of the Resistance would have died for nothing and so Fury needed a backup plan right now.

Deactivating Pierce's defense system would have been a good beginning, but this never even occurred to the agent after so long acting on his own initiative. He considered the rest of SHIELD a resource to be used as necessary but never counted on when his life was on the line and he didn't need Captain America to finish this for him. So Fury attacked, two of Hydra’s generals picked off before the rest managed to pin him and his hostage down behind Pierce's massive desk.

Solid oak and extravagantly pretentious, the wood soaked up Hydra's bullets as though it was made for the purpose, but Fury could hardly win this battle hiding behind a piece of furniture. However, the agent hardly had a chance to think this before Pierce tried to escape again, the man scrambling to his feet only to catch one of his generals’ bullets in his chest.

“Shit!” Fury growled as Pierce crumpled to the floor with a scream of agony, the agent firing a few more shots over the desk to keep his foes at bay.

He had no intention of helping Pierce – honestly, he was just sorry that he hadn’t been the one who shot him – but the loss of his hostage put him at a serious disadvantage now. It wouldn't take long for Hydra's generals to flank him once they actually started to work together since their mistrust of each other was the only thing that had saved his neck so far.

But Fury still had a few tricks up his sleeve, or rather a few of Hydra's more exclusive weapons, and he had no intention of dying easily. He might be old compared to his enemies but he hadn't gained his position by standing at the back of the charge and there was something to be said for experience and treachery. So Second General Wagner died seconds after a poison dart pricked his jugular, while a precisely thrown knife took another one of his comrades down.

Then Fury had to duck back when General Chastain let fly a few daggers of his own, although one of the shockers that the Black Widow had made famous soon put stop to that. Yet the agent's luck could not hold forever and once Müller managed to wing him in the shoulder, the fight began to turn for his enemies.

He was bleeding from a half dozen places when Pierce's surviving generals managed to corner him at last and if they had not stopped to gloat about their triumph, Fury would have died. But Müller's smug monologue was interrupted by an echoing clang as a brilliantly painted shield flew across the room. It slammed into the general hard enough knock the weapon from his hands and the shield was soon followed by Captain America.

It had taken the captain this long to fight his way free of Hydra's other soldiers, those men left broken and bleeding in his wake. But despite the lateness of his arrival, Captain America had always had good timing and with his help, Fury soon won victory.

A violent bloody victory and Steve could not help but wonder if this was the right path to take when the other agent began to execute their prisoners. He had killed people himself but somehow this was different and he stopped Fury before he could murder the last man in cold blood.

“Not like this,” the captain said. “We don’t need to kill him now.”

The agent wasn't happy but he wasn’t going to argue with Captain America, particularly not when the other man had stopped him in full view of the cameras that Pierce had set up. So Fury put away his weapon, tying their prisoner's hands tightly while Steve deactivated Hydra's defense system and then waited for the other members of SHIELD to arrive. They would need Iron Man to disable the drones if the program on his drive wasn't working and the captain didn't want to risk triggering an attack by accident.

However, Stark was taking his time about arriving and Steve was seriously considering leaving the room to find his friends – one in particular, that is – when he noticed that Pierce's broadcasting equipment was still on. At least, this seemed a fair assumption given all the blinking lights on Hydra's cameras and once he saw that, Steve couldn't walk away.

Because all he could think about was the innocents who had been watching the most recent slaughter and he needed them to know that they didn't have to be afraid.

“Hello, everyone. My name is Steve Rogers, but most people call me Captain America,” the soldier said, stepping up to the cameras and smiling awkwardly. Steve didn't know if anyone was still watching or if most of them would even understand him, but he was going to try anyway. “I don’t know if any of you have heard of me but I grew up before the Day of Fire and while things weren't perfect, life was much better than your histories have made it seem. Because most of us had the chance to make things better, the chance to dream and to question in a way that Hydra doesn’t want you to.

“So I need to tell you why we’re fighting; we’re fighting because something is very wrong with the world in which we’re living and I have to believe that you know this as well as I do now. I have to believe that you haven’t been blind to the way that Hydra controls everything and slaughters without cause. So while I’m sorry that you had to see-”

Captain America’s speech cut off suddenly as he lurched forward, a bloom of red appearing in the star upon his chest. Then another growing in the center of his chest and those watching his broadcast stared on in shock as he slowly crumpled out of sight. They watched and they did nothing, for if Steve Rogers had been hoping to convince the people of the world to join him in revolution then he had failed utterly.

Perhaps if the captain had had more time, he would have won the people over but the habits of a lifetime were difficult to break.

So the world watched Steve fall and did not lift a finger; no cry of outrage heard when Pierce limped back into view once more. Indeed, this was only to be expected because everyone knew that Hydra could not be defeated and to try was suicide. Who would mourn one foolish stranger when their friends and family could die at any moment and the only way to live with that was to make all feeling numb?

Only Pierce could afford to care about anyone and right now, Hydra’s commander only cared about punishing his enemies. He was going to make them rue the day that they had ever dared to challenge him, torture Fury until the agent begged for forgiveness and then skin the man alive. He was going to break the Resistance once and for all and the first step had been making them watch their legend die.

However, Pierce did not have long to gloat over his victory because he had barely opened his mouth to address his audience again when a black-clad blur slammed into him. The Winter Soldier didn’t bother with any fancy techniques or weapons in this moment; he just beat Pierce until the man was no longer breathing and then stumbled toward his captain with panic on his face.

“Steve! Please, Stevie, you have to be all right,” Bucky whispered, heedless of the blood that soaked his hands. But there was nothing to be done, nothing left to save of the man that he had loved.

All he could do was curl around Steve's body with a desperate moan, pressing his face against his lover’s cheek as though to feel a breath. But no breath would come; the other man would never give Bucky that stupid grin again or lean down to kiss the annoyance off his face. Steve would never be able to see the house by the sea that he had so dearly wanted, no long and lazy mornings once they weren’t need anymore.

Yet the soldier could not cry no matter how dearly he wanted to howl his grief to the heavens, his voice strangled to silence with his shame. Because Bucky should have stopped this; he should have been here to stop this and he would never forgive himself for letting Steve slip away.

The sergeant had not moved from this vigil when the rest of his squad burst into the room a few seconds later and then stumbled to a halt at the sight that met their eyes. None of them could believe it, not even the Black Widow, because something about Captain America had always seemed invincible. But for all their ability at killing, SHIELD's agents had no skill at consolation and the Winter Soldier did not invite their condolences. Truthfully, Bucky didn't seem to have noticed their arrival and no one was prepared to interrupt his grief.

So Ghost patched up Fury while the rest of the squad took care of Hydra’s corpses, the Black Widow walking over to Pierce’s console to try and shut down the drones herself. However, the agent had barely touched a single button before the computer lit up on its own.

“I have control of the drones,” a voice announced to the room at large. “I am ready to deactivate them as per my protocol.”

Everyone turned to stare at the console in shock, eyes widening as the face of Stark's AI slowly appeared on screen. In the chaos of battle, Fury had never removed SHIELD’s flash drive from Pierce’s computer and he hadn't known that it was working exactly as intended after all. Because Stark had known that he couldn't hope to anticipate every one of Hydra's defenses and if he guessed wrong, the scientist would need a backup plan. So he had loaded the drives with a version if SHIELD's main AI instead of any single program, one that could seek out the weaknesses in Zola’s programming and gain control in time.

However, before the AI could neutralize Hydra’s drones as it had stated, the Winter Soldier stirred.

“Don't!” Bucky shouted, slamming his fist against the floor hard enough to crack the stone. “Don't shut them down.”

His eyes were wild as he pushed himself to his feet and staggered toward the AI, his voice thick with grief and fury now. No one could bring themselves to stop him, his sorrow too large to be soothed by words of comfort, and so the Winter Soldier reached his goal without impediment.

“Please, we need them. I need them to make this right,” Bucky pleaded, hands gripping the console hard enough to dent the sides. “I know Zola's equation was meant to give the drones their targets and I want you to reverse it now. Let them kill Hydra for us; let Hydra pay the price for all the blood they've spilled.”

“Yes, sir,” the AI answered after a brief pause and although he was not built to have emotions, those watching could have sworn that they heard reluctance in his voice. But before any of the other agents could object, the AI did as the Winter Soldier ordered, Zola's drones buzzing to sudden life.

And Hydra died.

All over the world, the drones found their targets and they struck with deadly accuracy. In America, Rumlow was the first to perish, a bullet piercing him through the heart just as he broke through the Mad Circus' last barrier. So too were the survivors of Rocinha rescued from their standoff, the enemies of the Resistance dropping like puppets with cut strings. Indeed, it was the same everywhere that Hydra had ruled the hearts of men and women, the darkness of the skies soon mirrored by the black thickness of the blood upon the ground.

It was a slaughter, pure and simple, for there was no defense against the death that Zola had created and the Winter Soldier had unleashed upon them all.

Those who had sympathized and those who had participated in Hydra's cruelty took one breath and not another, the only mercy for those that the Resistance knew to be their own. And when the carnage was finished, when every member of Hydra was lying dead and broken, then the drones turned their sights on the only weapons left.

The drones attacked each other at SHIELD’s order, the sky lit up by fire and explosions, and the bullets only stopped when every gun ran dry. Only then did the shell-shocked survivors venture out of their houses, staring up at the bright blue skies that shone where death had been.

The members of the Resistance were some of the first to recover, gathering their composure in order to see their mission through. Though in Pierce's central chamber there was only silence until Tony Stark burst into the room.

“What did you do, Barnes?” Stark asked when he saw the sergeant by the computer, the thunder of a million bullets still ringing in his ears.

“I ended it,” the Winter Soldier answered plainly before returning to his captain's side. “Hydra murdered Steve, shot him in the back like a dog, and I would kill them all ten times over if I could. So you can string me up from the rafters if you like; I don't give a damn.”

And Stark did; he had no other choice.

For in the new world that the Resistance had fought and died for such a massacre could not be allowed to pass unchecked. Those civilians who had lost friends and family needed someone to blame for their sorrow and the Winter Soldier had left no one else alive. Thus, one of the first actions of the new provisional world government was to try James Buchanan Barnes for war crimes in an open court of law.

The man did not say anything in his own defense; he never even removed the mask that he had worn into battle and when he was found guilty, it was seen as a triumph of diplomacy over violence and cruelty in the name of any cause.

Indeed the Winter Soldier became as much of a symbol as Captain America over the course of his trial; James Barnes representing the darkness that lived within men's hearts even as Steve Rogers was turned into a martyr once again.

The people needed a hero to inspire them during the long years of recovery just as they needed a villain on whom to hang all evil and Captain America had been born to fill those shoes. So the Resistance built a monument to his sacrifice on the site where he had perished and his mausoleum became a place of pilgrimage for everyone who had known the sting of loss.

No one ever guessed that the grave at its heart was empty, as empty as that which was said to hold the Winter Soldier's corpse.


Epilogue: Time