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Title: Some Debts Cannot Be Paid
Fandom: Captain America
Series: To Rewrite History
Pairings: unrequited Steve/Bucky, Minor Bucky/OCs
Warnings: angst, torture, more angst, Hydra being evil, violence, evil science, etc.
Word Count: 6319
Disclaimer: If I owned it, the good guys would have lost.
Summary: Bucky doesn't think much of Captain America but he would die for Steve ten times over and consider it a price fair paid.


Bucky takes a deep breath before rushing forward, swiping the shield off the floor and firing his pistol at Hydra's war machine. The sergeant moves on instinct, his need to protect Steve far stronger than the fear. Captain America may be a hero but he isn't bulletproof and it's always been Bucky's job to watch his best friend's back.

Whether down an alley in Brooklyn or on a train high in the mountains, he'll be there to hold the line. It's what the sniper does and he can't regret his choices even though he knows that he'll probably die this time. Steve is worth it; Steve has always been worth it and Bucky would die for him ten times over without a second thought. His life for Captain America's is not a trade he feels like making but his life for that of his best friend is a price fair paid.

The sergeant is living on borrowed time already, has been ever since Steve rescued him from Hydra, and sometimes he wonders if he actually made it out.

Maybe Bucky is still strapped to that table and his time with the Howling Commandos has been one long hallucination, a fever dream brought on by the mess of drugs running through his veins. His captors had been far too fond of needles and this would hardly be the first time he’d seen things that weren't there.

But the sniper could never have dreamed up Captain America – in his hallucinations Steve was always sick and skinny instead of this massive stranger who wears his best friend's face. Captain America, Hydra, the Red Skull; these last few years have been far too strange to be anything but truth.

Bucky certainly hurts like it's real when Hydra's soldier shoots him, a bright blue blast slamming into his shield like a hammer strike. Without the shield, the sergeant would have been vaporized in an instant, and even with it, the force of the impact throws him backwards through the air.

An earlier shot had blown the side of the train wide open and Bucky clips the edge of the hole, jagged metal slicing through his arm. Six inches to the left and the sniper would have been fine; six inches and he would have had nothing but bruises and another damn good war story to tell the dames back home. But the sergeant's luck has been shitty ever since he enlisted – his brief sojourn at Steve's side notwithstanding – and those six inches of open air are six he cannot cross.

The wind screams in Bucky's ears as he tumbles out of the train, Steve's shield ripped from his hands. For a moment the sniper can't see anything but a sea of snow and ice stretching far below him, his stomach twisting sharp with vertigo. But then his flailing hand catches metal, Bucky's arm nearly jerking from the socket as instinct stops his fall.

When the world settles, he's hanging off the side of the train, every spin of the wheels threatening to knock him loose. The train has picked up speed since the Commandos boarded, jagged crags streaming by in a blur of black and white, and the sergeant doesn't know how much longer he'll be able to hold on.

“Bucky!”

He looks up to see Steve crouched on the edge of the train car, his eyes locked on Bucky as he tries to reach his friend. The other man isn't watching his own rear worth a damn and the sniper really hopes that Hydra doesn't have any more aces up its sleeve because he can't help Steve like this. Bucky needs to get back on board right now.

But he can't pull himself up – with one arm injured, he doesn't have the strength – and he's too far away for Steve to reach. The other man leans forward as far as he can and Bucky tries to grab him, but their fingers miss by more than inches even as the sergeant's handhold groans. He only has a few more seconds before he plummets toward the icy river far below and he sees this same realization wash over Stevie's face. Horror and then determination, the stubborn set to his best friend's jaw more terrifying than his looming death could ever be.

Because the blond is going to do something stupid; he’s going to try and lunge for Bucky even though he's bound to fall. Steve is going to die trying to save Bucky and the sniper can’t be a part of that.

So he focuses his gaze on the other man’s face and attempts to block out the world around them, tries to pretend that they're back in Brooklyn where they belong. Back when both of them were happy, or at least not broken, and Bucky's biggest fear was Steve finding out the truth. The war didn't exist then; Captain America didn't exist then, and Stevie was more likely to come home with bruises than with bullets in his skin.

Damn Erskine all to Hell, Bucky thinks, repeating a curse that he's said many times before. Damn Erskine for enabling your fucking self-sacrificing tendencies and your need to save the world. You better watch your own back once I'm gone.

Then the sergeant closes his eyes and lets go, the wind almost managing to drown out his captain's anguished scream.

---

Pain. Pain and cold and a sharp spike of regret. He makes a noise then, a half choking moan that echoes strangely in his ears, and seconds later there's the soft prick of a needle in his neck. He tries to shift away but moving threatens to send him spiraling down in a sea of agony.

Yet whatever he was given is making the pain fade away, the world coming back into focus one breath at a time. He can hear people talking, though he doesn't understand the language; he can feel something hard and cold against his back and the smell of antiseptic is thick inside his throat. This place smells like a hospital or a laboratory, the sergeant struck with a sudden fear that he's back in Zola's hands again.

Bucky's eyes slam open and he tries to jerk upright, his efforts stymied by the restraints across his chest. Thick and heavy, they don't even shift as he pulls against them and when he tries to bend his legs for leverage, he discovers that his feet are bound as well. Now his struggles turn to panic, the sergeant squinting against the harsh lights as he scrabbles for anything that might cut him free.

“Stop!” a white-coated man shouts as he runs to Bucky’s side. “You will aggravate your wounds.”

His English is rough but understandable, the sniper too out of it to place the accent now. He doesn’t care where he is, he just wants out, Bucky’s panic revving up another notch when the man places a hand on his chest to hold him down.

This is his nightmares come to life. This is Hydra’s scientists laughing while he writhes and burns before them, his pain just another number in their eyes.

But panic can’t sustain him forever and eventually his fear-born strength gives out. Bucky slumps back against the metal, the white-clad man removing his hand once the sniper stops struggling.

“Good. You will listen, yes?” the man says. “I am Anastas Grebenshchikov but you will call me Doctor or Sir. You were found in the mountains and brought here to the Red Room for study. You and your captain. We thought you dead but you began to breathe once we thawed the ice.”

“My captain?!” Bucky asks sharply, his heart beating faster in his chest. There shouldn’t have been anyone else in the mountains with him, not unless Steve…

Maybe it's someone else. Maybe Steve knocked one of Hydra’s people from the train before I fell, the sergeant rationalizes, the words sounding desperate even in his head. Steve was supposed to be safe; he was supposed to survive and marry Peggy and be happy – he wasn't supposed to follow Bucky into death instead.

But it seems that’s exactly what he did and the sniper’s hopes are dashed when the doctor speaks again.

“Yes, of course, Captain America. The war ended but we remember him. We were searching for his corpse and you should be grateful that we found you first. Indeed, you are both fascinating subjects but we have been forced to keep the captain frozen; his panics are destructive and our equipment delicate. I hope that you will be more helpful – the General is becoming impatient and we must have results quite soon. Otherwise you and your captain will be terminated; such a waste of two fine experiments.”

“Terminated?” Bucky repeats in shock. He still can’t place the doctor’s accent but it’s painfully clear that he and Steve weren’t found by allies, not when Grebenshchikov is talking so casually about killing both of them.

However, as much as the sergeant wants to find his friend and run, he can’t afford to let those instincts guide him. Bucky is injured – the pain may have gone away, but what he can see of his own body is wrapped in bandages – and he wouldn’t have the strength to carry Steve right now. Pre-serum, sure, but the new Steve is solid muscle and almost twice his weight. He'd need to be in perfect health to even have a chance.

Besides, if this Grebenshchikov is smart, there are half a dozen guards standing outside the door, ready and waiting to put a bullet in his head if he so much as bends a finger wrong. The sniper will have to cooperate until he knows more about the situation; lull his captors into complacency before he makes his move. Bucky’s not leaving without Steve, that much is certain, and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep his friend alive.

“I’m not a scientist. How can I help?” the sergeant asks, doing his best to keep the horror out of his voice. His efforts aren’t entirely successful but Grebenshchikov doesn’t seem to notice any more than Zola did – or perhaps he simply does not care.

“You do not need to know the details. You must only cooperate,” the doctor tells him flatly. “Our experiments will work better on a conscious subject and you will be rewarded in equal measure to our success.”

This answer isn't very comforting, Grebenshchikov’s explanation sounding far too close to what he faced in Zola’s hands. But Bucky has no other options so he just nods his head.

“Wonderful. Then we will begin immediately.”

The scientist disappears from view for a second and then reappears with a needle, the sergeant flinching when Grebenshchikov jams the point into his arm. His vision turns fuzzy almost immediately, the world swimming strangely before his eyes. But Bucky remains conscious even as his body freezes, the sniper unable to protest when the doctor starts to wheel him from the room.

He can only stare blankly at the ceiling and watch the lights blur past. The sergeant loses time with every blink, moving from the hallway to an elevator to a massive laboratory in what seems like seconds to his mind.

“Say hello to your captain,” Grebenshchikov says, turning Bucky's head to the left with one icy hand. It takes a moment for his eyes to focus but when they do, his heart jumps painfully. His muscles strain with the need to touch and feel and prove that Steve’s still breathing, but all he manages is one broken gasp.

Because Steve is there, the other man hooked up to more equipment than Bucky has ever seen. Wires and tubes seem to writhe inside his skin, the haze in the sergeant’s vision turning the image nightmarish. But he can’t bring himself to blink for fear that he’s staring at a corpse and the only thing worse than being trapped here with Steve would be knowing that he’s the reason his best friend died in agony.

“Quite a sight, yes?” Grebenshchikov asks, the words barely registering as Bucky wills Steve’s chest to move. “Dr. Erskine was a genius – a traitor, but a genius – and your captain truly is fascinating. The serum in his blood is a triumph of science over flesh and I am most pleased that you decided to assist us. It would have been tragic to dissect such a specimen before we discover Erskine’s secrets for ourselves.

“Now this will probably be painful,” the doctor continues, feeding another set of tubing into Bucky’s arm. “Our other subjects died too soon after injection to describe the process, but their expressions spoke quite eloquently of their suffering. It seems your captain’s blood is extremely poisonous in larger doses. However, your early tests were promising and I do hope that you survive. Doctor Zola spoke most highly of your endurance when he suggested that we wake you and it would be such a pity to lose his most promising specimen”

Grebenshchikov barks something in another language and the equipment around Steve whirs to sudden life. The whole set up shivers and shakes, Bucky watching in horror as the tubing around the other man turns red. The scientist is draining him, bleeding him like a pig for slaughter, and the sergeant has to close his eyes when nausea washes over him.

Nausea and then a growing pressure, his skin seeming to grow tighter inch by inch. He’s suffocating, choking, the air gone cold as ice inside his lungs. Then there’s a click and the ice turns to heat, the entire room vibrating with a sudden blinding light.

Bucky can see it through his eyelids but that shining agony is nothing compared to the fire in his veins. He twists and writhes as lightning crawls through his body, scorching every cell from the inside out. Someone is screaming. Bucky is screaming, the sound ricocheting off the walls and stabbing through his brain. But the light just gets brighter and brighter, the fire burning hotter and hotter until there’s nothing left but pain.

---

“You should have fought them, Bucky. I would have fought them.”

“And you would have died. You never had one lick of self-preservation in that thick skull of yours. That’s why you needed me,” Bucky retorts, opening his eyes to see Steve frowning down at him. “You always jumped in headfirst even when outnumbered and becoming Captain America only made it worse. I swear you think that outfit’s bulletproof. I wish you’d stayed back in Brooklyn; I wish you’d let me protect you like I was trying to.”

“But you didn’t protect me, did you?” the blond snarls viciously. “You dragged me to Hell down with you like I always knew you would.”

“No… I…”

“You were selfish, Buck. You couldn’t stand to see me rise without you; you couldn’t stand to see me great. I was supposed to live my whole life in your shadow and it killed you when that changed.”

“No. You’ve got it all wrong, Stevie. All I ever wanted was for us to stand together. I just had to keep you safe. You were always aces but you could never see it and I hated to hear you talking bad about yourself. Christ's sake, don’t you know that you’re the only person I ever wanted to come home to? You were my world, Stevie, and then Captain America had to go and ruin it. Suddenly you were going where I couldn’t follow. But I tried, Steve. You have to know I tried.”

“Sorry, Buck. Captain America doesn’t need a sidekick. Captain America is a symbol of all that’s virtuous and you just don’t measure up. You’re weak, frightened, and depraved, and whatever these people do to you will be no more than you deserve. You should have died on Zola’s table before you killed Steve Rogers with your cowardice.”

Captain America smiles then – a cold, unfeeling smile – and Bucky knows the man is right. His friend is dead; Steve Rogers died the moment that he agreed to Erskine’s serum, hollowed out into a caricature of goodness instead of the man that he had been.

Captain America doesn’t swear; Captain America doesn’t get into fistfights at the theater. Captain America doesn’t need a friend like Bucky anymore. But that doesn’t stop his heart from lurching when the blond starts to walk away.

“Steve!” Bucky shouts. “Steve, wait!”

He scrambles forward, reaching out to grab the captain’s shoulder, to beg and plead and promise that he doesn’t mean a word a said. Promise that he’ll do anything if Stevie will just agree to stay.

But Bucky’s hand touches nothing but empty air and suddenly he’s falling, the sniper landing hard on a cold vinyl floor. When he looks up, Steve is gone and while Bucky hasn’t dreamed that vividly in years, he’s increasingly sure that the other man was never there at all.

Because the sergeant is back in Grebenshchikov’s laboratory, the room nearly identical to his hazy drugged up memories. Still enormous, still blinding metal and barren walls, but where Steve's gurney had been there’s only an empty space instead. For a second Bucky cannot breathe; he's terrified that these people actually killed his captain, drained his best friend dry for their sick experiments.

I am going to kill them. I am going to kill them all, the sniper thinks, a wave of fury washing his fear away. Bucky may have fucked up and gotten his best friend captured, but no one hurts Steve while he’s around. These bastards are going to discover that there are consequences to their actions and a little more blood on the sergeant’s hands won’t make a difference now. Let them see what kind of monster I can be, Stevie, without Captain America around.

Bucky pushes himself to his feet, eyes searching the room for a weapon that will give him a fighting chance. His balance feels a little different than he’s used to but the sniper doesn’t pay it much attention, not until he puts out a hand to brace himself and finds only air instead.

His hip slams into the table, denting the metal with an alarming crack. But Bucky barely notices as he catches himself on his elbows, all his attention focused on the space where his left hand used to be. He’s missing most of his forearm; a puckered mass of scar tissue starting just below his elbow as though the bone was sliced clean through.

Bucky must have lost it when he fell but he can still feel his fingers twitching. He can feel his hand quite clearly even though it isn't there.

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! the sergeant curses a bit hysterically. How is he supposed to fight with such a disadvantage? How is he supposed to avenge his captain now?

These questions threaten to send him spiraling down into panic, but Bucky manages to get control before he hits the edge. He forces himself to breathe slow and steady, calming his heart rate until the shock begins to fade. For Steve he'll find a way. Even if the sniper has to rip Grebenshchikov's throat out with his teeth, the scientist will pay. Because being unarmed doesn't mean that Bucky isn't dangerous, more than one of Zola's men learned that to their regret.

The sergeant has just managed to calm himself down when a door in the far wall slides open and it takes all his self control to keep from snarling when a new scientist walks through.

“A pity about the arm, Soldier,” the man says, staring down at a folder in his hands. “We hoped that Erskine’s serum would induce regeneration but the formula was too diluted within your captain’s blood. Still, you should be proud. You did not die screaming like the rest.”

Bucky's hand tightens into a fist as the scientist keeps walking closer. The other man is completely oblivious to the danger that he's in. Maybe he thinks that the sergeant is too weak to hurt him but Bucky feels better now than he has since Azzano and even if he were dying, he'd find strength enough for this.

As soon as the doctor is in reach, Bucky lunges forward, wrapping his right hand around the bastard's throat. The sniper knocks the other man off his feet and uses his momentum to lift him high into the air. Then Bucky slams the scientist down again, his head hitting the tile with a sickening crack. He goes limp almost instantly and the sergeant knows that he is either dead or dying now.

So he searches the other man quickly, finding no weapons but the clipboard and an odd rectangle on a string around his neck. Perhaps the sniper should feel guilty about murdering an unarmed stranger but as Bucky collects his prizes, all he feels is a cold sense of purpose running through his veins.

If his captors wanted mercy, they should have left Steve alone. But now they've killed his conscience and it seems only fair for the sergeant to kill them in return.

Bucky sprints to the door, not wasting any time in case someone comes looking for the poor fool on the floor. He darts through the opening just as the door slides shut with a sharp click and he bounces off the opposite wall with a grunt. The sergeant had forgotten about his missing hand again.

But he recovers quickly, looking around for clues on where to go. He needs to find Grebenshchikov before his captors run him down; if he kills just one more person, it should be that scientist.

However, Bucky has barely rounded the corner when he spies a dozen soldiers marching toward him, large rifles in their hands. While the sniper doesn't recognize the weapons - some new kind of Hydra tech? – he recognizes danger and skids to a wary halt. But he's trapped, another six men coming up behind him, and Bucky refuses to go down without a fight.

So he throws his scavenged clipboard at the closest soldier, the metal bouncing off his helmet with a clang. This move buys the sergeant half a second and he rushes forward while his captors are still gaping, crossing the floor in two long strides. Thankfully these men are badly trained, or maybe Bucky has just gotten faster, and he tears the gun out of the first soldier's hands before the man fires off a shot. The sniper has definitely gotten stronger because when he hits his enemy, the soldier goes down and he doesn't get back up.

Bucky has already moved on, slamming the butt of his stolen weapon into the next man's gut and then flipping it around. The rifle may be strange but it has a trigger and a shot at point blank range paints the white walls red with blood.

A handful of bullets whiz past his ear as his enemies finally start shooting back. Bucky drops to the floor in a crouch, shooting out the kneecaps of two men across the hall before he's forced to move. He dives behind another soldier, using his body as a shield even as he takes out the man's companions one by one. Everything feels like it's moving in slow motion and the sniper isn't inclined to question his good fortune when it means that he may actually win this fight.

“Stop!” someone shouts. The command is followed by a stream of what sounds like Russian and then lightning slams into Bucky's back. He drops, twitching, as his entire body spasms, his muscles cramping out of his control.

“Your viciousness is impressive, Soldier. However, I prefer my men alive.”

The words don't register at first, nothing but white noise through the buzzing in his ears. But then some primal piece of Bucky's brain thinks, Grebenshchikov, and a surge of rage helps drive the fuzziness away. He turns his head to the side with a groan, forcing his eyes to focus as the surviving soldiers part to let the scientist walk through.

“You promised to cooperate. Do all Americans lack honor or are you a special case?” Grebenshchikov asks levelly. He doesn't seem to notice the blood beneath his shoes and Bucky draws his lips back in a snarl when he realizes that the other man is taking notes.

“That was before you killed Steve,” the sniper growls as he struggles to his feet, his muscles still not working properly.

“Is that the reason for this rampage? Such emotion does not befit a soldier, though some might commend your loyalty,” Grebenshchikov says with a sneer. “However, you are mistaken. I would not destroy a specimen such as Captain America without cause. You are not a match for Erskine's masterpiece even with his serum in your blood.”

“Steve's alive?!” Bucky asks, his rage forgotten instantly. “Where is he?”

“Come quietly and I will show you,” the doctor replies. “We will forget this unfortunate incident if you follow orders now. However, if you continue to fight against us, I will put a bullet in your precious captain's skull.”

What can Bucky do but agree? Steve has always been his greatest weakness and now his captors know it; they know exactly where to twist the screws to make him jump. The sniper doesn't think Grebenshchikov would actually kill Steve, not with the way that the doctor talks about him, but he can't risk that possibility.

So Bucky drops his stolen rifle and holds up empty hands in surrender, letting his captors twist his arms behind his back. Then Grebenshchikov barks a command and the soldiers start marching forward down the hall.

Definitely Russian, the sniper thinks as the scientist talks quietly with the man walking at his side. That has to be the accent. Just like those brass who tried to tell us how to fight. And I suppose that makes sense with the mouthful of a name. But the Russians were our allies; why didn't someone send word of me and Steve back home? Unless Hydra had branches that we never knew about.

That seems like the most obvious answer. Some forgotten Hydra outpost still fighting for the Red Skull's perfect world. Which, if true, makes Grebenshchikov and his goons even more dangerous than he'd thought; fanatics are always more creative than their prosaic counterparts and fanatical scientists are the most sadistic men of all.

Bucky's captors march him deeper into the facility, the sergeant mapping each turn inside his mind. He's good with directions, always has been, and he's confident that he can retrace his steps when Grebenshchikov comes to a halt in front of a large metal door. While the sniper still doesn't know where the hell to find an exit, he'll take any information that he can get right now.

However, Bucky forgets about everything but Steve when Grebenshchikov presses his hand to a glowing panel on the wall. The door slides open with a hiss and the sniper lurches forward only to be brought up short by the tight grip on his arms.

He pulls against the soldiers' hands, his promise to cooperate forgotten at the sight of his best friend held captive. The other man is frozen in some sort of glass tube, an enormous cylinder painted white with frost. Steve looks dead, like a fucking blue-lipped corpse, and a strangled cry rips out of Bucky's throat. He struggles harder, his captors' feet sliding across the floor until Grebenshchikov waves his hand and the sergeant is released. Bucky doesn't question his good fortune. He just runs to Steve, slamming his hand against the barrier that dares keep apart.

“Please don't be dead. Please don't be dead,” the sniper murmurs over and over. He doesn't realize that he's whispering aloud until his breath fogs up the glass and when he stops, the mist on the inside of Steve's prison doesn't disappear.

The other man is breathing – very, very slowly but he's breathing – and the sergeant nearly collapses with relief. There's no point in hiding how much he cares when he's already made his weakness obvious and Bucky doesn't know when he'll see Steve again. So he leans his head against the glass, pressing as close to his captain as he can.

I promise, Stevie. I'm gonna get you outta here.

---

“Enough, Soldier. You may stop.”

Bucky throws one last punch before halting, his arms hanging limply at his side. He knows the procedure by now so he stands motionless until his captors have removed all of their wires and electrodes from his skin. Only then does the sniper turn around and look at Grebenshchikov expectantly. The Russian stopped him early this time – Bucky is barely breathing hard – and a change in routine usually means some new experiment.

Grebenshchikov loves routine; if the sergeant were allowed a watch, he could have set it by the doctor and still kept perfect time. Because his captor wakes him at the same hour every morning – discounting the three miserable weeks when the Russian decided to test his reflexes under severe sleep deprivation – and most of his days follow the exact same pattern afterwards.

Wake up, eat, shower, lab, shower, study, sleep...

As prisons go, this one has been survivable. The food is no worse than the SSR's war rations and for the most part, Grebenshchikov has avoided outright torture in his experiments. He seems to consider the sergeant a valuable asset if not an actual person, one to be pushed to its limits but not broken without cause.

However, a slightly better cell is still a jail cell and Bucky hasn't stopped trying to find a weakness in his captors' guard. He studies Grebenshchikov even as the Russian studies him and the man has proved to be Hydra through and through. He talks of a better world while putting the sniper through his paces, a world ruled by peace and order, and he never seems to notice his own hypocrisy. Because for all his rhetoric, the doctor's experiments are designed to create the perfect soldier and he treats Bucky as a flawed prototype that must be improved.

Indeed, the sergeant's body isn't the only thing being tested by his captors; Grebenshchikov has been studying his every thought as well.

Bucky's afternoons are filled with lessons on tactics, technology, and languages – Russian first and foremost – and while the sniper was never much for schooling when he was younger, he learns much faster now. His captors hook up electrodes to his skin and ramble on about brain waves, enhanced recall, and improved sensory perception before devolving into rapid-fire Russian too complicated for Bucky to understand.

The sergeant doesn't actually care about the details – what he can do matters far more to him than why – and he's determined to learn as much as possible. While Bucky isn't stupid enough to trust the slant of the Red Room's information, facts are facts and the world has grown much different since he fell.

Truthfully, the sergeant didn't believe it when Grebenshchikov said that he and Steve had been frozen for eighteen years. How could it be 1963 when the blond doesn't look like he's aged a day since that last mission? And while Bucky hasn't seen a mirror since getting captured, he does not feel forty-five. After six months of Hydra's experiments and training, the sniper is in better shape than he's ever been before.

However, the Russian was convincing, laying out nearly two decades of global history without missing a beat. New technology, new countries, new rhetoric and wars; for all the differences that Grebenshchikov described, people were apparently still greedy, violent bastards and on one level Bucky can understand Hydra's larger goal. But he'd seen the inside of the Red Skull's prisons and he'd seen the camps where Hitler sent his Jews away to die, and stopping such evil was worth the blood they'd spilled.

“Soldier!” Grebenshchikov shouts and Bucky snaps to attention; the doctor must have realized that he wasn't listening.

“It is time to fix your arm,” the other man continues. “Our experiments have been promising but the General requires more. Until we successfully refine the serum for use on other subjects or convince your captain to comply, you must do Hydra's work yourself.”

The mention of Steve makes Bucky twitch but he bites his tongue instead of warning off the scientist like he really wants to do. Because the sergeant is no closer to an answer, no closer to freeing Stevie from this prison, and he can't afford to piss his captors off right now. The Russian has treated him well enough so far, but he's made it painfully clear that one wrong move will bring out the torture chambers and Bucky can't risk Steve getting hurt because of him.

Grebenshchikov lets the sniper visit once a week with supervision, his best friend still frozen in that awful icy tube. Bucky hates to see him there; Steve never liked the cold and his blue-tinged lips bring back bad memories. But the door lock is biometric – that was lesson number five – and even if the sergeant somehow got it open, he has no idea how to wake Steve up again.

One step at a time, Bucky reminds himself firmly, shoving down a creeping thread of helplessness. Reconnaissance can be just as important as firepower, particularly when he's outnumbered and outgunned.

“I think my arm is pretty fucked, Doctor,” the sergeant says instead of screaming. “The new tech you've shown me is impressive but my hand ain't growing back. Not unless you have some magic drug hidden up your sleeve.”

“Of course not. If I had a drug like that, you would not be breathing and you know it. Do not play the fool with me,” Grebenshchikov replies flatly. “Erskine's serum releases the full potential of a subject's genome – that is why your transformation was much less dramatic than your captain's. When it works, speed, strength, intelligence, and even healing are increased to extreme levels. But the human body has limits that cannot be surpassed and there is no drug to do what your cells cannot. The solution to your problem must be technological instead. Now come with me.”

The Russian spins on his heel and Bucky follows him out of the laboratory, half a dozen soldiers trailing the sergeant down the hall. He's always guarded these days and while he could probably take them without too much trouble, the implied threat stops him anyway.

Bucky will never be free as long as the Red Room still has Steve to use as leverage. But maybe this new arm of Hydra's will be exactly what he needs.

Grebenshchikov leads the sniper to a room that he's never seen before, one swarming with doctors and other scientists. It looks more like a hospital than a laboratory and Bucky feels a shiver of misgiving at the sight. But he still sits when the Russian waves him toward a chair, that shiver turning into a roar when the doctors start to strap him down.

“Sir? What's going on?!” Bucky asks, an edge of panic in his voice. By the time he starts to struggle, he's bound too tight to move and his fear grows louder when the straps don't give at all. Whatever this cloth is made of, it was clearly built for him.

“Do not worry, Soldier. When we are finished, you will be a masterpiece,” Grebenshchikov tells the sergeant and his smile is one of the most frightening things that Bucky's ever seen. “I do hope that you survive this; I believe that I might actually miss you if you died. It is unfortunate that anesthetic will not work on you properly.”

The Russian snaps his fingers and another man walks into the sniper's line of sight. He has the shoulders of a butcher and the smile of a sadist but it's the bone saw in his hands that sends Bucky spiraling.

“Don't. Please don't. You can't. Please!” the sergeant begs, too horrified to care that his captors have broken him so easily. Bucky would have told the Red Room anything but no one asks a question; the scientists just watch him blankly as he twists against his bonds. Bucky begs and pleads but the man keeps walking closer and when the teeth of the saw bite into his shoulder, the sniper screams and screams and screams.

---

Bucky dreams of pain and darkness. He dreams of Steve again. Sometimes the blond is smiling and sometimes he sneers with hatred, the scorn in his expression slicing through the sergeant's heart.

He wakes up to faceless surgeons with their hands buried in his shoulder, Bucky's screams echoing loudly beneath their cold uncaring eyes. The cutting never stops no matter how he begs them. There's only pain chasing the sergeant down into the darkness until he doesn't know whether he's awake or dreaming and reality is as much a nightmare as the Hell within his mind. Bucky can't breathe beneath the torture; he can't breathe beneath the straps that keep him pinned.

Sometimes he thinks he's dying. Sometimes he hopes he's dying. But no matter how bad it gets, no matter how often he surrenders consciousness, his captors always bring him back again. The sniper wakes up choking, his throat shredded into jagged glass until he has no voice to scream.

Should've fought 'em, Stevie. Should have died a man 'cause I'm in Hell anyway.


Part II: To Reap