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can't play on broken strings - part 1

Title: Can't Play on Broken Strings (or Bucky Barnes and the No Good, Truly Awful, Really Sucky Days)
Fandoms: Captain America Civil War
Pairing: Steve/Bucky
Rating/Warnings: so much angst and even more sarcasm
Word Count: about 11k
Disclaimer: If I owned this, Bucky would get the hug he sorely needs.
Summary: James Buchanan Barnes is so done with this shit.


All you wanted was some fucking plums; was that too much to ask? You like plums; they’re sweet and filling and you heard they're full of vitamins that help the memory. As Hydra's number one brainwashed ex-assassin, that sounded good to you.

So you head over to the local market and find yourself some ripe ones. You even bargain the seller down from last week and you're thinking that this day might be okay despite the shitty nightmares that kept you up all night. Dumb as fuck, you know, but a guy can hope. After all, no one has tried to kill you in at least six months and even Captain America seems to have finally given up. Which is a good thing, seriously, no matter how much you want to see his stupid face sometimes.

You really should have known better.

Because you're waiting for the light when you notice that one of the kiosk vendors across the street is staring at you and that isn't a good sign. The sinking feeling grows even stronger when you take one step forward and the guy sprints off in the opposite direction, leaving his entire stall of merchandise behind. So you walk over to the kiosk to try to figure out what spooked him and your eye is caught by the newspaper lying on the counter. According to the headline and one really awful photo, you just bombed Vienna, killing the king of a country that you’ve never even heard of and injuring six dozen more.

Which is bullshit. You haven’t been near Austria in months, let alone Vienna, and if you'd actually planted that bomb, you wouldn’t have been stupid enough to look right at a camera afterward. This is either a frame up or a witch hunt but either way you're fucked. Kiosk guy is probably calling the cops already and with this kind of exposure, it won’t take very long to hunt you down.

So you head back to your apartment to grab your gear, your cap pulled low to hide your face. However, the universe isn’t quite done fucking with you yet because someone is already there when you arrive.

Captain America is standing in your kitchen, one of your journals open in his hands. He looks good, a bit tired maybe, and you want… you want to cringe when you realize that he’s staring at the pamphlet from his exhibit in DC.

Of course Steve found that picture and he’s probably thinking all sorts of things he shouldn’t be right now. Indeed, when the other man turns around, his expression is so hopeful that you want to shift uncomfortably. You want to, but you don’t. Your training doesn't allow you to show that kind of weakness as the captain asks, “Do you know me?”

You haven’t heard his voice in a long time. But he still sounds so familiar – just the way that you remember – and you want to…

It doesn’t matter. You're hardly going to tell Captain America that you have vivid memories of licking whiskey off his teeth back in 1939 and by the way, that outfit does wonders for his ass. You're crazy but you ain’t that crazy and this is not the time.

So you lie. Or, at least, you don’t say the truth he wants to hear. You tell the blond that you read about him in a museum rather than admitting that he's the star of half your memories. But Steve, being Steve, refuses to accept that. The stupid punk never could leave well enough alone and he’s proved that hasn’t changed by coming here.

“I know you’re nervous and you have plenty of reason to be. But you’re lying,” the blond tells you.

“I wasn't in Vienna. I don't do that anymore,” you say instead of admitting that he’s right. You need Steve to know that you didn’t hurt those people. You need him to believe you because the whole world thinks that you're a monster and sometimes you wonder if they’re right.

“Well, the people who think you did are coming here now and they're not planning on taking you alive.”

That’s not exactly comforting, though you can’t condemn the strategy. If you were trying to kill the Winter Soldier, you would either snipe him from a distance or try to take him by surprise and if these folks are smart, they’re doing both right now.

So you have to run just like you planned. If you can get out of the city then you might have a chance, but you've got to do it fast. You don’t want Steve to be caught in the crossfire and the fool clearly has no intention of leaving like he should. Instead the other man tells you that this doesn’t have to end in a fight. Which, honestly, may be the dumbest thing that you have ever heard.

Of course this is going to end in a fight. It always ends in a fight and you have no intention of getting shot today. Bullets hurt like a bitch and you only heal so fast even with Hydra’s serum running through your veins.

Both of you need to leave but Steve is convinced that this is the perfect time to have your grand reunion. He seems to think that you'll turn back into his best friend if he just hopes bad enough. Never mind the footsteps on the roof or the men creeping up the stairs.

“You pulled me from the river. Why?”

“I don't know,” you tell him. If he thinks you don’t remember, then maybe he won’t follow. Maybe Steve will let you take your chances like he should. But the idiot has always been too stubborn for his own damn good and apparently he can still read you better than any other soul alive.

“Yes, you do,” the blond replies, his jaw clenching stubbornly. You don’t know what he’s looking for. Proof that you're still Bucky Barnes? Proof that you're worth saving? Before you can decide how you should answer, your apartment windows shatter as grenades are tossed inside. This conversation is over. Now it’s simply do-or-die.

The first assault team comes in hot, filling the room with bullets to keep you occupied while the second team breaks down the door. You'd call it overkill except it isn't. In truth, it's much too little as you use your fists and half your furniture to bring the first wave down. Once those men have fallen, you block the door with your kitchen table and move to help Steve out.

“Buck, stop! You’re gonna kill someone,” he shouts, grabbing your arm as you kick one of his attackers back onto the balcony.

Seriously? Just, seriously? All you want to do is roll your eyes. But instead you just twist out of Steve's grip and throw him to the floor.

“I’m not gonna to kill anyone,” you say before punching your left fist through the floorboards to grab the pack you’ve hidden there. It has money, weapons, emergency supplies, and all your notebooks, page after page of memories that you refuse to leave behind. You throw the pack to the roof of the next building but it’s too far for you to jump so you turn back toward the door.

As you do, another soldier bursts into the room, his bullets bouncing off Steve's shield when he covers you instinctively. But you don't need protecting. So you shove Captain America into the man who just landed on your balcony, hoping that the blond will fucking stay there before he makes this any worse. You use your metal arm to deflect a burst of gunfire as the first soldier shoots again and then you take him out by the simple expedient of smashing a cinder block across his face. You said you wouldn't kill anyone; you didn't say this wouldn't hurt.

You listen for a moment and from what you hear outside, you're pretty sure the second assault team is finally ready to break in. So you get there first, kicking the door into the stairwell and laying out the soldiers with their own battering ram. Then you jump to the next landing and start working your way down the stairs.

None of these men are any challenge – apparently Special Forces ain't that special anymore – but the sheer number of them quickly proves annoying. For every soldier knocked unconscious, another three are trying to fill your head with bullets and you need to clear out before someone gets a lucky shot.

You can see Steve chasing you down the stairs, punching out the guys you missed as he runs after you. But while the extra hands are helpful, you can't completely trust him. The other man may not want you dead but he asked you to surrender and you know how that choice ends. Surrendering leads to cages and doctors digging in your brain and you can't do that again. Maybe Steve would protect you. The man that you remember would have tried. But if he couldn't stop these people, he probably has no control over what would happen if you're captured and you don't trust your memories. You can't be sure that Steve is real.

So the next time the flow of the fight brings you together, you meet his eyes deliberately before dodging a punch and throwing some poor fool off the stairs.

Steve catches him, of course. You were certain that he would. You just wanted to see if he'd make the same face that you remember when you really tick him off. You wanted to know if your messed up brain had gotten that much right. And it did. The other man's pout is a thing of beauty as he drags the soldier back to solid ground.

But you still don't know where Steve will stand when the chips go down.

So you take advantage of the blond's distraction to make your exit quickly, free-falling down the center of the stairwell until you reach a lower floor. You catch the railing with one arm, your left shoulder screaming as you pull yourself onto the landing. But you ignore the pain, kicking open the nearest door and taking a running leap off the apartment’s balcony. You land on the next roof over, rolling and grabbing your pack in one smooth motion. You can hear the soldiers shouting across the way but no normal man could make that jump so you should be free and clear for now.

However, just as you're thinking that you might get a good head start, a man in a black cat-suit tries to take your face off and all you can think is, What the fuck?!

This Catman has the claws to match and you dodge wildly as he throws a chain of strikes. You don’t really want to hurt him – killing people is a bad way to prove that you're not an assassin – but you might have to do some serious damage in order to get free. You can't seem to shake the bastard and eventually he manages to throw you down, claws slashing at your throat. For a second you wonder if this is how you'll die. If you survived the war and Hydra and far too many missions to be killed by some man in a cat-suit that you don't even recognize.

And then, to make your whole situation even more ridiculous, a helicopter rises up above the rooftop and starts shooting everything.

You cover your head as Catman just stands there looking irritated, the bullets bouncing off his suit. Apparently his clothes are bulletproof because why the fuck not? Honestly, you can’t even be surprised given how this day has gone.

However, it seems that Steve brought backup. His friend with the wings attacks the helicopter before its aim gets any better and you regain your feet while Catman is distracted. You grab your backpack and run for the edge of the roof, jumping to a small ledge one floor down and then dropping to the street.

But Catman is close behind as you take off running and you've only gone about a hundred yards when the chopper reappears. The gunner fills the air with bullets and Steve really wasn't kidding when he said that these folks meant to kill you. In fact, they seem prepared to cause massive amounts of collateral damage as long as you go down.

So you sprint for the nearest covered freeway and leap down to the road. Cars screech and honk as the drivers swerve around you but you just take off running once again. You glance back when you hear sirens and you almost miss a step when you see Steve behind you. Although you can't tell if he's trying to catch you or running interference, at least he and Catman don't seem to get along. However, you don't have time to worry about them. The sooner you disappear, the sooner Captain America can start apologizing, and you're not home free yet.

You skid to a halt when half a dozen police cars block the tunnel up ahead, their blue lights flashing off the walls. The police order you to stop but you don't listen; instead you dash down a tunnel to the left. You memorized every road in Bucharest for a reason after all.

The tunnel spits you out on another freeway, this one headed in the opposite direction. You need a vehicle – you can't maintain your current pace forever and the cars are catching up – but you don't want to sacrifice maneuverability. And then you see the motorcycle headed straight for you.

You shove the driver with one hand and grab his bike with the other, spinning the machine around to face the other way. You leap onto the driver's seat in midair and gun the motorcycle as soon as the tires hit the road. You weave around the other vehicles, swerving to the correct side of the freeway as you pick up speed but Catman and the police are close behind.

When you glance to your right, you see a shadow with its claws aimed at your back and you turn just in time to catch Catman by the throat. Your ride leans dangerously as he pushes off the wall, sparks flying from your metal arm when it scrapes against the road. After a brief struggle you manage to kick off your attacker and shove yourself back upright, the bike no worse for wear. However, this chase has gone on long enough and you pull a mine out of your pack when the end of the tunnel rises into view.

You stick the mine to the overpass just as you drive under and the resulting explosion blocks the freeway quite effectively. But then fucking Catman grabs you by the ankle and sends you skidding across the road. The other man lunges for you while you're still shaking off the crash but before those claws can land, a blur of red and blue tackles him. Apparently Captain America is on your side after all.

That's a damn good thing to know. It's also the only reason you don't fight when more cars surround you: soldiers, choppers, and men in metal suits with their guns all aimed at you. If you tried to fight, Steve would fight there with you and you don't want him getting hurt. It’s bad enough that the blond has made himself a criminal and if he stops now, maybe he’ll get a pardon for his fool stupidity.

So you allow these people to shove you roughly to the ground. You let them take your pack and pull your arms behind your back. You let them grind your cheek into the asphalt and you don’t try to break the cuffs even though you probably could.

“Your highness,” someone says as Catman pulls his mask off and you know that you're fucked now. The king of somewhere wants you dead bad enough to try to kill you personally and damned if you know why; it's probably something to do with that bomb you didn't set and this guy doesn't seem the type to let old grudges lie.

Even if these people let you go, you'll never be done running and you have second thoughts about resisting when you see the chair inside their truck. It’s not Hydra’s chair but it’s close enough to make you twitchy when the soldiers strap you down.

You wish you could see Steve. All you can think about are secret executions and while you know the other man wouldn't let them disappear you willingly, he might not have a choice. Maybe you'd be better off if you made them kill you now. But once your plastic box of a prison gets electrified, you know you've lost your chance to fight. Resisting would only make things worse. Worse for you and worse for Steve, which matters more right now. He has a better chance of getting out alive.

So you sit in your cube like a good little soldier as you're driven to the airport and loaded on a cargo plane. A cargo plane since that’s what you are now, isn’t it? – just cargo prepped for transport – and because your captors are apparently worried that you’d knock a real jet from the sky. Somehow. Maybe with that magic EMP device you didn’t know you had.

Your guards don’t tell you this, of course; they don’t talk to you at all. But they also don’t realize that you speak German when they’re on their radios.

With nothing else to do for several hours, you eavesdrop on their conversations and you find out more than you ever wanted to know about the World Cup, commute times in Berlin, and good German coffee shops. You also discover that you've been captured by some special UN task force – weren't they supposed to be all peaceful? – and that Steve's stubborn faith in the Winter Soldier is an extreme minority. Most people think you're a crazed gun-toting psycho who shouldn’t be granted clemency and to be honest, you can't blame them. Not when you think of all the people who died because of you.

Once you land, your captors take you to their base in a goddamn motorcade. You feel like the fucking president as traffic parts before you and the comparison makes your lips twist bitterly.

Because, of course, you're not here for accolades. You’re here to be poked and prodded and examined by some prestigious mind doctor so that the UN can call you crazy and never let you go. They’ll pick apart your notebooks, digging through your brain like Hydra and claiming therapy. But you still have your secrets. You could never bring yourself to write down your best memories of Steve so at least your foolish heart won’t be on display for all the world to see. At least the other man isn't sharing in your prison; you saw him and his winged friend on your way down to the basement and while they were clearly in deep trouble, both men were walking free.

You wonder if your captors will ever let Steve talk to you. You wonder if he’ll try.

When the doctor finally arrives, you don't pay him much attention. You're too busy finding all the weaknesses in the UN's perfect prison and you don’t need some stranger’s diagnosis to know that you're fucked up. But you can't block out the shrink entirely. The man keeps calling you James even though James Buchanan Barnes was killed by Hydra years ago. What’s left is a broken amalgamation of brainwashed assassin and shell-shocked soldier and if you have to name him, there’s only one that you can pick.

So you growl, “My name is Bucky,” because that's what Steve has always called you and given the choice, that's the man you'd rather be. That man had his own issues but at least he had friends and family; at least he had a conscience that he sometimes answered to. Not that you have any intention of explaining this to Dr. Who-fucking-cares. You just hope that saying something will make him shut his mouth.

But it doesn't. The shrink keeps asking pointless questions and talking like he knows the horrors inside your brain.

He has no idea. His fancy degree means nothing when compared to what you've seen. And yet, there’s something off about this doctor. Something is making your skin crawl and while you thought the day couldn't get any worse, it seems that you were wrong.

Seriously, didn't this oh-so-special UN task force vet their psychiatrist at all? The man has barely been in your cage ten minutes before the power cuts off and he smiles creepily. You watch in horror as the doctor pulls out Hydra's favorite scarlet notebook and tries to turn you back into the Winter Soldier. Tries and succeeds because that's your fucking life right now.

Ten words and you go from panicked struggling to blank obedience. Ten words and the last few years don’t mean a goddamn thing.

Being the Winter Soldier doesn’t mean that you stop thinking. A good assassin knows how to plan ahead. Being the Winter Soldier just means that you stop questioning the orders that you're given and everyone around you becomes either an asset or a liability.

In some ways it’s much easier. It’s certainly much simpler when you never have to choose.

“Mission report: December 16th, 1991,” your new handler says and you answer with the truth. You tell him who you killed; you even tell him why and where without a moment’s hesitation. The Winter Soldier doesn’t feel shame or horror or sorrow. There is nothing but the mission. Fight or die. Succeed or suffer. The possibility of failure was tortured from the Soldier years ago.


New Mission: Escape. Parameters: Do not kill. Engage as necessary. Be seen by Tony Stark. Mission Status: In progress.

Phase 1: Captain America. Threat: Medium. Strong but hesitant. Approach: Quick and brutal. No serious damage. Status: Contained but alive. Will recover. Do not hesitate.

Phase 1 Subset: Man with wings – no wings. Not mentioned. Threat: None. Useless. Strategy: Ignore.

Escape uncompromised. Let the doctor deal with him.

Phase 2: UN Agents. Stark. Black Widow. Threat: Limited. Agents – Weak. Avengers – Unprepared. Approach: Straightforward. Block bullets. Eliminate weapons. Punch Stark. Status: Alive. Angry. Minor injuries.

Parameters one and three fulfilled.

Phase 3: Catman. No suit. Not mission critical. Threat: High. Skilled. No hesitation. Approach: Do not. Evade. Status: Unimportant.

Move to helicopter.

Phase 4: Captain America. Recovery faster than expected. Threat: High. Strength: Impressive. Escape: Compromised. Failure: Not an option. Alternative: Death. Approach: Vengeance. Remove at any cost. Status: Persistent.

Mission Status: Helicopter damaged. Falling. Asset Status: Pain. Damaged. Need repairs...



When you wake up, you feel like death warmed over. Your head is aching and you're nearly overwhelmed by vague memories of breaking from your prison, of punching Steve through an elevator shaft and ... really well-shaped arms? The latter is explained when you glance around the room and your eyes land on Steve standing by the doorway, the other man wearing a shirt that’s at least a size too small.

You appreciate the view – you really, really do – but you have to wonder if the blond has forgotten everything you ever taught him about going incognito. Because that's not unobtrusive. That's going to draw the attention of every dame and queer in a twenty-mile radius.

You're about to give Steve a piece of your mind when you realize that the-man-with-the-wings is standing next to him and the words die in your throat. You should have noticed his friend sooner but Steve has always drawn you like a magnet, a light so bright that he turns everyone else to shadows in your eyes. Still, you really need a better name for this guy if he plans to stick around. You can’t exactly call him Flyboy or the-man-with-the-wings while he’s still wingless and you feel a twinge of guilt at the thought of grounding him. You may not have taken his wings, not this time anyway, but the fact that he and Steve are running is definitely your fault.

You try to sit up – to apologize or ask his name or something – but you find yourself stopped short. You glance down and feel a flash of panic when you realize that your left arm is trapped in some sort of metal vise, not crushing but tight enough that you can barely move.

Instinct makes you struggle, your right hand shoving at the metal uselessly. You know that Steve wouldn’t hurt you without reason – at least, you think you do – but being trapped has rarely led to kindness in the past. This is too much like the memories that live behind your eyes and you tug a little harder, hoping that your arm will just come free somehow.

Wingless notices you first – probably because he’s the only one who’s smart enough to see you as an enemy. He calls to Steve and the blond startles slightly, his expression a mix of hope and caution when he meets your eyes.

Stevie.

“Steve,” you murmur and the name feels like a prayer upon your tongue.

“Which Bucky am I talking to?” he asks and you consider lying. Maybe if you pretend that you're still brainwashed, Captain America will simply end your misery. Maybe he'll finally kill you so that you stop being a damn anchor around his neck, one that's gonna drown him if you can't find a way to swim.

But you don't want to die. If you wanted to die, you'd have taken your own life as soon as you woke up and realized what the Winter Soldier was.

You want to live. You want to live and you're so damn tired. You're tired of being alone. Tired of missing Steve and wanting... wanting everything. You may not be Bucky Barnes – not anymore – but you were once and you're tired of hurting your best friend by pretending otherwise. You can't deny the hope that you see in his expression; that would break what's left of your damaged fucking heart.

“Your mom’s name was Sarah,” you tell Steve quietly and you feel yourself smile faintly at the memory. “You used to wear newspapers in your shoes.”

“Can’t read that in a museum,” the blond says, talking as much to Wingless as he is to you. The words have the sound of a well-worn argument and you’re not all that surprised. The two of them must have discussed what to do about you, not only now but when they were busy chasing you across five continents.

“Just like that, we’re supposed to be cool?” Wingless asks Steve, glaring at Steve suspiciously and you have a sudden memory of throwing him straight into a wall.

“What did I do?”

“Enough,” he tells you flatly.

“Oh, god,” you whisper. They should have left you alone. The UN should have let you disappear but they didn’t and now you’ve probably racked up another body count. “I knew this would happen. Everything Hydra put inside me is still there. All he had to do was say the goddamn words.”

“Who was he?” Steve asks and you wish you had an answer. But that doctor wasn’t one of Hydra’s soldiers, at least not one you recognized.

“I don’t know,” you tell Steve and you can practically see Captain America replace your friend again. Because he goes from worry to duty in an instant and he doesn’t seem to care that you’re still reeling, that you could use nothing more than a fucking hug right now.

“People are dead, Buck. The bombing, the setup… The doctor did all of that just to get ten minutes with you,” the blond says, twisting the knife a little deeper. “I need you to do better than ‘I don’t know.’”

And I need to be sane, you think a little bitterly, wishing that your arm was free so you could punch him in the face. But you’ve never been able to say no when Stevie needed you and it seems that hasn’t changed. Because you’re already dredging through your memory, shoving aside the headache and the Winter Soldier’s certainty to recall just what that doctor said. “He wanted to know about Siberia. Where I was kept. He wanted to know exactly where.”

“Why would he need to know that?”

“Because I’m not the only Winter Soldier,” you tell Steve, fighting against a wave of memories. “You really think that Hydra stopped making assassins after one dumb American? Once they had perfected me, they started taking volunteers.”

You’re not sure whether you say the words aloud as fractured images threaten to overwhelm you. Suddenly you’re back in Siberia, struggling to protect Hydra’s scientists from the monsters they'd created. You're cold and frozen, a puppet bound with chains beneath your skin. But then Steve’s voice brings you back to the present once again.

“Who were they?” Captain America demands and you cannot help but answer. You keep digging through your memory in order to tell him all you can. You tell him about the death squad, the killers who were your more perfect mirrors. With those assassins at their fingertips, you’re not sure why Hydra’s leaders kept dragging the Winter Soldier from the ice. Unless someone somewhere just liked to hear you scream.

“The doctor, could he control them?” the blond asks.

“Enough,” you tell him. Enough to burn the world, but not enough to hold it and perhaps that’s why your betters were put on ice instead. Hydra hasn’t wanted mass destruction since your captain killed the Red Skull, that man’s driving fanaticism replaced by scientists and bureaucrats hungry for control.

“He said he wanted to see an empire fall,” Steve replies and that sounds far too plausible. If the doctor doesn’t care about working in the shadows – if his only goal is to see whole cities burn and rivers fill with blood, then the other Soldiers could make his dreams reality. The man wouldn’t need to control them; he’d only need to point them in the right direction and set his monsters loose.

So that’s what you tell the captain. You tell him that he’d never even see the death squad coming and you mean every single word.

“This would have been much easier a week ago,” you hear Wingless mutter and you can’t help but wince again. A week ago Steve still had allies, friends that he could trust. Now all he has is this guy and an ex-assassin on the run.

You tune out the ensuing conversation, resting your aching head against the metal of the vise while the other men talk out your options. You don’t need to listen to know how fucked you are. The three of you are going to Siberia to try and stop disaster because that’s what Steve Rogers does. He charges in for justice even when he’ll probably die and you know you'll always follow, all your instincts screaming in his wake.

Eventually Steve and Wingless come to a decision and the blond walks over to free your metal arm. He plants his feet and lifts the vise until you can slip your left arm out.

“Thanks,” you mutter awkwardly. You don’t know how to act around him – the other man clearly isn’t leaving but you don’t know how to be his best friend anymore – and you focus on stretching out your muscles so that you don’t have to talk. Even then, you can feel Steve watching every motion and when you glance up, you could almost swear he’s blushing before he looks away.

“Come on. We can’t stay here,” Wingless says before you can ask Steve what he's thinking. Which, honestly, is probably for the best. There’s no way that the blond wants you the way that you want him; your scrambled brain is seeing things that really can’t be there. Captain America was a hero, not a criminal, and nothing you’ve read about James Barnes ever said that he was queer. What you think is memory might just be a lifetime of idle fantasy.

And I’m sure not gonna ask him if we ever used to fuck. You aren’t sure whether you want to laugh or cry at the thought of asking Steve that question – if he didn’t throw you over for the insult, his expression would probably be hilarious – but you can’t afford to lose the only friend you have right now.

So you trail after the other men in silence, pulling on the hat and hoodie that Steve gives you gratefully. You feel better with your face and left hand covered; anything that helps to hide your identity is a damn good thing right now.

Steve and Wingless throw on caps as well, though of course the blond can’t be bothered to cover up those giant arms of his. You’re about ready to give the idiot a proper lecture about hiding when Wingless shoves a coat into his hands. He glares at Steve until the big lug puts it on and you decide that you approve of this guy after all. Wingless might dislike you but he has good reason and at least someone has been taking care of Steve while you were gone.

“Sam, Bucky, you stay here. I’ll go get a vehicle,” the blond orders. He disappears down the street before you can even protest and you’re left standing with his new sidekick awkwardly.

“I still don’t trust you,” Wingless – or rather Sam – mutters as soon as Steve is out of earshot. He glares at you like he thinks you’re gonna argue and you almost want to laugh.

“That’s smart,” you say instead. “I wouldn’t trust me either. I don't plan to hurt anyone on purpose but we all know how that’s worked out in the past.”

Sam gapes at you for a second, your easy acceptance of his suspicion clearly throwing him off guard. But it’s not like you don’t know what people think about you. Steve is probably the only person on the planet who believes that you’re worth saving and he’s never been one to give up on lost causes when he should. The man who took five tries to join the army isn’t exactly a poster boy for sensibility.

“Well, good. So long as we’re clear,” Sam huffs eventually. He seems almost disappointed that he doesn’t get to fight you. But as you lapse back into silence, the quiet is a bit more comfortable than it was before.

Indeed, when Steve returns with your new vehicle, you find yourself glancing over at Sam and you can see your same exasperation reflected in his eyes. Because the car is old, blue, and tiny, and you doubt it could do sixty with a tailwind and a ramp.

“Seriously, Cap? That’s the car you lifted?”

“What?” the other man asks defensively. “Older cars are easier to steal and I think it’s kind of cute.”

“Yeah, for someone’s grandma,” Sam replies. “People might remember three guys like us in this.”

“Come on, Bucky. Help me out here,” Steve says, turning to you for support. But considering how your week is going, you really can’t resist the urge to give him shit for this. If he wants the friend that he remembers, he’ll have to take the good and bad together and James Buchanan Barnes was sarcastic as all hell.

“I suppose it’s unobtrusive,” you begin as he looks at you hopefully. “But I think I’m with Sam on this one. Didn’t I teach you anything about going undercover? You want a car that looks pathetic not one that really is.”

Bucky,” your captain protests, but you can see him smiling. “Sometimes you’re such a jerk. Don’t think you’re riding shotgun.”

“And you’re still a punk, Stevie, picking fights that you can’t win.”

The words flow off your tongue easily. Now that you aren't pretending you don’t know him, the inside jokes just spill out like muscle memory. With every friendly insult, Steve’s smile only widens and for a moment you think that you can do this. Maybe you can make Steve happy even though you’re broken. Maybe he’ll still like you anyway.

“Okay, Abbott & Costello, break it up,” Sam interrupts eventually. “If I'd known that I was signing up for the comedy duo, I might not have volunteered.”

It seems the blond's new sidekick doesn't like to miss out on the banter and you're happy to fade into the background for the moment, your thoughts still a little scrambled from before. You stare out the car window while the other men argue over the best place to lie low for the evening. They both have definite opinions but you honestly couldn’t care less about where you end up. Warm, dry and safe are the only things you hope for and you’ve gotten by without all three before.

Seriously, you’ve slept in ditches and sometimes Steve was in there with you, but apparently the other man has higher standards now. When he and Sam finally reach a compromise, you find yourself breaking into an abandoned hotel in former East Berlin, one of those classy joints that were built for luxury. People these days prefer convenience over grandeur and according to the signs plastered all across this building, it’s going to be replaced with apartments soon enough.

Which is actually a damn shame because the place is gorgeous once you finally sneak inside. Towering ceilings and ten-foot chandeliers greet you at the entrance, along with a grand staircase large enough for a full-grown man to slide down the banister.

You know because you try it when Steve and Sam aren’t looking. Your captain is off checking the perimeter while the other man left the hotel to buy a phone and some supplies. You felt a little paranoid when Sam walked out of sight, but knowing that Steve trusts him means you have to show some trust as well.

Thankfully the staircase proves a good distraction – the wood creaks a bit alarmingly when you hop onto the banister but you finish the slide down in one piece. You’ve wanted to do that ever since you saw it in a film and you just couldn’t miss your chance. Because this place reminds you of the Ritz – of heading to work at the docks while beautiful people swept through those sparkling doors and knowing that you would never do the same. The Ritz had a grand staircase, you could see it through the window, and the memories seem closer to the surface than they’ve ever been before.

Maybe it’s the location or maybe it’s just Steve since the blond seems to feel the same nostalgia in the air. When Sam comes back with two giant bags of takeout, you eat dinner on the floor as Steve regales you both with stories from before.

“Remember when…” he says a dozen times that evening and his smile brightens every time you actually say, “Yes.”

You like to see him happy. You want to make him happy and you’d give up anything to keep that smile on his face.

Once you finish eating, Steve and Sam start making phone calls to the allies they have left while you write down everything you can remember about your former prison. You’re heading to Leipzig airport in the morning; without a plane or chopper, you’ll never reach Siberia in time.

With your plans made, the three of you turn in. But even though the bed is actually quite comfortable, you simply cannot sleep. Whenever you close your eyes, you see flashes of the Winter Soldier's actions, the UN base on endless repeat as though your brain wants to remind you that you don’t get to have good things. You don’t get to have a life or friends or some kind of happy ending and it’s dangerous to forget that. It’s dangerous to let Steve sweep you into his delusions and make you hope again.

Because you’re not in Brooklyn and this isn’t 1940. You’re a fucking fugitive and the harder Steve holds on, the worse you’re gonna break his heart when this goes to hell again. You’re not a cynic, you’re a realist, and the mission that you’re on right now can only end in pain.

Eventually, you give up on sleeping. If you drop off, you’ll probably just have nightmares anyway. So you go back to the lobby and find a chair with a decent view of all the entrances. You let your mind go empty but alert, the way you used to do when looking through your rifle and waiting for a kill.

You aren’t sure how long you sit there. The hours blend together but the faint light of dawn is starting to shine through the upper windows you hear Steve's voice.

“Bucky, are you down there?”

The other man is standing at the top of the stairs when you come out of your trance. He’s still dressed in the clothes he slept in, sleep rumpled and achingly attractive, and your voice is quiet when you call back to him.

“Over here, Stevie.”

“There you are. You had me worried,” he says as he walks down to you. “I woke up early and saw your bed was empty. I thought you might have disappeared.”

“Sorry, pal. Just couldn’t sleep,” you tell him with a shrug.

“You sure, Bucky? It’s not something more than that?”

In this moment, the question seems ridiculous and you feel your lips twist bitterly.

“Really, Steve? You gotta ask? I didn’t have much of a life in Romania but it was mine and now it's gone. We’ll be lucky if your old friends don’t throw us both in prison and the more we reminisce about the past, the more I miss my family. So yeah, I'm fucking peachy keen right now.”

“I'm sorry.”

“Why? You’re not the one who framed me or the one who put those damn words in my brain.”

“I should have tried to find you harder,” Steve says earnestly. “Maybe then we wouldn't be here.”

“I was the one running full tilt in the opposite direction,” you tell him with a sigh. “You gotta stop taking the blame for everything. It’s not your fault this happened and it’s not your fault I fell.”

You mean the words as comfort but the blond’s expression crumples suddenly, your heart lurching in your chest when your captain starts to sob.

“Come on, Stevie, please don’t cry,” you say, standing up and patting his shoulders awkwardly. “You shouldn’t cry for me.”

“Sorry, Buck, I can’t... I’m sorry,” Steve apologizes as he just keeps sobbing harder. You used to be better at this. You used to know how to turn his tears to laughter but you can’t find the words.

So you take a deep breath in preparation – thinking you can do this – and then pull Steve into your arms. It’s a little awkward at first since he’s still got inches on you and you haven’t hugged anyone in about eight decades, but you hold on until he sinks against your chest. Steve buries his face in your neck and sobs out years of heartache, clutching your shirt hard enough to bruise a normal guy.

“You’re all right, I’ve got you,” you murmur, stroking his hair gently until his weeping starts to ease. He rests his weight against you for a little longer before he finally straightens up still sniffling.

“Thanks, Bucky. I guess I needed that,” he says, his eyes red from crying but somehow lighter than before.

“You look a mess, Stevie,” you reply with a soft chuckle, reaching out to touch his cheek. Although you only mean to wipe away his tears, the touch turns into a caress somehow. Your fingers linger on his skin and your breath catches when Steve meets your eyes. Because you want to kiss him. You want to lean forward and claim his mouth like in your shattered memories and you think that he might let you. You think you see those blue eyes darken as you sway forward slightly, your hand slipping down to rest against his neck.

“Bucky,” the blond whispers and you can’t quite be certain whether it’s a question or a plea. But you know which one you’re hoping for when you shift closer, leaning up and…

“Hey, Cap! You’ve got a phone call!” Sam shouts from somewhere on the second floor. You and Steve both startle and the moment is broken instantly. By the time Sam appears at the top of the stairs, the blond has gotten himself back together and you’re wondering if you imagined the whole thing.

“It’s your friend inside the UN,” Sam says as he hands over the burner phone that he purchased yesterday. “She says she might be able to help us get our gear.”

You go upstairs to change while Steve talks to his contact and soon the three of you are climbing into your silly car again. You consider calling shotgun when Sam slides back his seat until it’s almost at your knees – apparently a good night’s sleep has just made Wingless cranky – but after this morning, it’s probably better if you aren’t sitting next to Steve. You could use a bit of distance to get yourself together; you should be focused on your mission, not your old friend’s pretty face.

Captain America over there doesn’t seem to have any trouble concentrating. Or maybe he’s just thinking about his contact since the woman waiting at your destination is a truly gorgeous dame. She reminds you of Peggy in her bearing and from what you remember of the Winter Soldier’s rampage, she’s fairly skilled as well.

Steve gets out of the car and meets her with a smile. He seems to know this woman well – his body language much less awkward than it would be with a stranger – but you can’t hear what they’re saying and the angle isn’t right for you to read their lips.

“Can you move your seat up?” you ask Sam, trying to see a little better as the woman opens up her trunk. But Sam is definitely angry about you punching him again because he refuses flatly and you honestly don’t have the energy to have this argument.

Instead, you scoot to the left as Steve and his contact keep on talking. You still can’t see his face but her expression has definitely turned flirty and when you see Steve lean down to kiss her, something in you breaks. You should’ve known you couldn’t trust your memories; whatever you thought you saw this morning, whatever you thought you knew about the sound that Steve made when you kissed him, clearly you were wrong.

But the blond is still your friend and you dredge a smile up from somewhere when he glances back at you. If this woman makes Steve happy then you'll give him what he needs.

However, you're still relieved that she doesn't stay much longer and it's straight down to business after she drives off. You spend a couple minutes sorting through your gear, mostly so it fits in your stupid tiny trunk and then the three of you climb back into the car. Steve drives you to Leipzig airport while Sam talks to someone named Clint on another burner phone, apparently he’s bringing backup and he’s supposed to meet you there.

You hang back for the introductions, studying your reinforcements as Steve greets them one by one. The other man seems pleased to see them, but you’re not all that impressed. These are the people that you’re taking into battle? An archer, a fanboy, and a kid? Sure they may have hidden talents – you think you remember something about a girl with crazy powers – but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to take on Hydra’s best. Even you’re not ready and these people would be better off if they just split right now.

“We should get moving,” you say instead. Knowing Steve, these folks are just as stubborn and you don’t have time to convince them that they’re crazy. They probably wouldn’t listen anyway.

“Dies ist eine Notsituation. Alle Passagiere müssen den Flughafen sofort evakuieren,” a nearby speaker crackles suddenly.

“They’re evacuating the airport,” you translate for the ones who don’t speak German. You don’t need to translate what that means.

“Stark,” Sam announces flatly before Steve tells his allies to suit up. The Avengers found you somehow and any chance of leaving this country peacefully just went out the window. While Stark and his friends would probably accept Captain America’s surrender, the stubborn jut of the blond's jaw tells you that he won’t be giving in.

So you pull on your gear quickly and you feel a little better once you’re wearing combat threads. Although you don’t have any weapons, you don’t intend to shoot at the Avengers and it’s not as though you need a rifle to do damage anyway. Other than the lack of knives, these clothes are fairly close to your old outfit and while the Winter Soldier was a dick, he made homicidal paranoia both practical and pretty – at least he would have if he’d ever washed his hair. You like to think you look a little better now and hey, these pants are tight enough to cover your reaction to Stevie stripping down.

All that naked skin simply isn’t fair. The blond is much too tempting and when you look away, you just get an eyeful of Sam’s ass. It’s a nice one, actually. If you weren’t pining over Steve and he didn’t kind of hate you, you might have given it a shot.

As it is, you plant your eyes on the ground until everyone has finished, though seeing Steve back in his uniform doesn’t help your issue none.

“You know, they probably brought the Quinjet,” Clint muses as he settles his quiver on his shoulders and you recognize the spark that lights up your captain’s eyes. That’s his crazy-fucking-plan spark and you can guess what he’s going to say before he opens up his mouth.

“If they brought the Quinjet, we should steal it,” Steve announces as you think, Yup, I knew it. “That jet is our best chance at getting out of here.”

“You really think that they'll just let me stroll on board?” you ask.

“Of course not, you’ll need a distraction,” the blond replies before switching to full on strategizing and as much as you remember hating Captain America sometimes, you do love to watch him in his element. The way the other man takes charge is damn attractive and even though you know he’ll never want you, you’re grateful for the chance to drink him in. If this thing goes south, you might not get another and then you’ll need good memories to keep you company.

Steve divides you into teams before Clint hands out some earpieces and you really want to argue with his choice. You’ve nothing against Sam, not anymore, but when your captain is walking into battle, you should be standing at his side. However, Steve's reasoning is sound and despite what you’ve remembered, you’re not prepared to question orders now.

“Don’t be stupid,” you say instead and your heart only stutters slightly at the smile you receive.

“Same to you, buddy,” the blond tells you and you give him a quick nod before heading off with Sam. It’s your job to find the Quinjet while your captain distracts his former teammates and the sooner you complete that mission, the sooner you can return to your proper place again.

For now, you follow Flyboy as he sneaks into the terminal. The building echoes strangely without any other people – as much as you can’t deal with normal airports, this emptiness is worse. So you’re grateful for the distraction when Sam pulls out a little robot and sends it winging off to search. You tell Steve you’re in position, keeping one eye on Flyboy and one eye on your captain as he runs into view.

Just as you expected, the Avengers don’t let Steve near the chopper and though you can’t hear what they’re saying, you think that you can guess. So you listen with half an ear while Steve tries to defend you, the other half focused on Clint’s running commentary. You kind of hate to admit it, but the archer’s monologue is helpful; you spent so much time hiding from Steve that you don’t actually recognize most of his teammates’ outfits and given the Avengers’ strange abilities, it’s probably a good idea to mark out who is who. You do, however, draw the line at remembering their stupid codenames: Stark, Romanova, that metal guy and Catman are good enough for you.

The first three were expected and the fourth does not surprise you – if anyone could get permission to outright murder you, it would probably be a king. But when someone new flips into action, you mutter a curse under your breath.

Although you still have the advantage of numbers for now, you haven’t seen the Avengers’ special android and Clint doesn’t seem to recognize the new guy. To be honest, you're not sure it is a guy – your view is blocked in that direction and all you saw was a blur of motion as someone stole Steve’s shield out of his hands. Someone with completely unknown abilities and you need an exit pronto before this whole plan goes FUBAR. With your luck, the UN will get impatient and just bomb you all to smithereens.

So you crouch down by Sam, hoping that his little robot will have some good news soon. You know your hovering isn’t helpful – even if he hadn’t let out the biggest sigh you’ve ever heard when you looked over his shoulder, you can’t make his tech move faster through sheer force of will. But hey, you can’t make it slower either and even you recognize the image of an airplane when the device in his hand beeps.

“We found it. The Quinjet's in hangar five, north runway,” Sam tells the others on his earpiece and then things get interesting.

The second half of Steve’s plan is really kind of awful. The whole thing boils down to having you and Flyboy run like hell while the rest of your team holds off the Avengers by themselves. You can hear fighting through your earpiece as you and Sam sprint toward the hangar but you can’t tell which side is winning through the noise.

All you hear are snarky comments intermixed with loud explosions and when a flash of red and blue suddenly swings through the rafters, you know you’ve got a problem on your hands.

“What the hell is that?” you ask Sam, trying to watch the new arrival and your feet at the same time.

“Everyone's got a gimmick now” he grumbles, which is not a goddamn answer, before the crimson blur swings down on some kind of webbing and kicks him into the wall.

Whoever this person is, they’re clearly not a friendly and you spin around and throw a punch with your left arm. You’re not expecting to lay them out, you’re just trying to buy some time for Flyboy to recover, but you’re still shocked when the new arrival catches your fist easily.

“You have a metal arm?” he says. “That is awesome dude!”

It’s a fucking teenager. Your opponent sounds about twelve and you honestly can't believe that this fiasco is your life. You're not here to hurt children. Sure he caught your metal arm but strength alone doesn't make a fighter and if you were still the Winter Soldier, you'd gut this kid just like a fish before he even blinked.

What the fuck are the Avengers thinking? you wonder, staring at the boy in shock. You stand there gaping until Sam snaps out his wings and swoops in from the side. He pulls Spiderboy into the air and you can actually hear that dumbass kid trying to read him his rights as they struggle for control.

You don’t have wings yourself so you duck behind some cover before throwing part of a food stand toward the pair. You’re hoping to distract the kid so that Sam can take him out non-lethally, but he grabs the panel with another piece of webbing and throws it back at you. Although you aimed your shot off to the side, Spiderboy seems to have no problems with attempted murder. In fact, he seems to be aiming for decapitation – or is just too young and dumb to realize what’s he’s doing – and you’re forced to duck behind the pillar or take a panel to the face.

When you look again, Sam and the kid are halfway down the terminal and you really hope that the rest of your team is faring better. You’ve lost track of their locations but no one has called for help yet; all you hear is witty banter when you stop and listen in.

Seriously, is that the first lesson of being a proper superhero? How to talk your enemies to death in the midst of punching them?

You pick up speed when Spiderboy manages to short out Sam’s wings somehow and Flyboy goes crashing to the floor. The kid pins his arms to the railing with another shot of webbing and you can’t help a chuckle when the other man asks, “Is this stuff coming out of you?”

It seems like a valid question and rather plausible; you’ve seen some strange shit since World War II. However, if Spiderboy replies, you can’t hear the answer.

You do hear Sam say, “I don’t know if you’ve been in a fight before, but there usually isn't this much talking,” with clear exasperation and your opinion of the other man ratchets up a notch. At least one other person recognizes the sheer absurdity.

“I'm sorry. My bad,” the kid answers. You put on another burst of speed as he swings down to kick Sam, throwing yourself in front to block the blow. Probably not your best plan since Spiderboy just sends both you and Sam crashing down to the next level. The landing only winds you for an instant but that’s enough to give the kid his moment and you grit your teeth when another blast of webbing sticks your left arm to the floor.

“Guys, look, I'd love to keep this up,” Spiderboy says and you think he might be serious. “But I've only got one job here today and I gotta impress Mr. Stark.”

The idiot actually apologizes as he gets ready to attack you. He seems genuinely sorry about everything and that just makes this more surreal. The whole encounter seems like a strange hallucination – it wouldn’t be the first time that you’d lost touch with reality – but none of your hallucinations have ever been this weird. Which means this must be real. You’re going to get recaptured by some kind of teenage spider-boy and you struggle with the webbing desperately. However, whatever this stuff is made of, it does not break easily.

You can’t escape your fate, not on your own. But when the kid fires off his webbing, Sam’s tiny robot suddenly darts in front of you. It tangles in the webs and just keeps going, pulling Spiderboy through one of the terminal’s large windows before the kid can even blink.

For a second you just stare at the space where he’d been standing, your brain struggling to comprehend the sudden lack of danger through your fear.

“You couldn’t have done that earlier?”

“I hate you,” Sam replies and you take that as confirmation that Flyboy is all right.

He’s okay. You’re okay. No one is going back to prison and you allow yourself one second just to breathe before you scrape off the webbing and rise back to your feet.

“Come on, then. We need to get the Quinjet.”

Thankfully, you and Sam manage to reach the tarmac without any further incidents – no more annoying teenagers popping from the sky. The rest of your teammates join you as you run toward the hangar and you’re relieved to know that they're all right. A little scuffed up maybe and you can tell that Steve met Catman; there are scratches on his shield that will probably not buff out. But you don’t see any blood or major injuries and when the Quinjet comes into view, you dare to hope that you might reach your target free and clear.

However, the Avengers weren’t dumb enough to leave their plane unguarded and you stumble to a halt as a beam of yellow energy carves a burning line in front of Steve. You glance up to see the Avengers’ missing android floating to the ground – “Vision,” Clint mutters quietly – and you know that your escape just went FUBAR after all.

Vision orders you to surrender as his allies come to join him. Stark, the metal sidekick, Catman, Romanova, and even Spiderboy line up to block your path and the only way to reach the Quinjet now is to punch straight through them all. But neither side moves, both groups waiting for the other to draw first just like in those old westerns that your captain used to love

“What do we do, Cap?” Sam asks, eyeing his former teammates warily. You can’t blame him for being uncomfortable. Moving from skirmishes to open conflict will be a betrayal on both sides and if anything, his unease just proves his loyalty.

But Steve doesn’t even hesitate before he says, “We fight,” and whatever else his friends are feeling, you know they'll follow him.


Part II