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can't play on broken strings - part 2

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: Hard R, So much angst
Word Count: about 20k so far
Disclaimer: If I owned this, Bucky would get the hug he sorely needs.
Summary: James Buchanan Barnes is so done with this shit.

Part I


Indeed, when the blond starts jogging forward, his allies fall in behind him. Soon you’re sprinting toward your opponents as the Avengers charge to meet you and the two lines crash together like waves upon the shore.

You chose Catman as your target – or maybe he chose you – and you’re getting really sick of being tackled to the ground. You barely dodge a punch that leaves dents in the tarmac before you manage to shove him off and jump back to your feet. You can already tell that this encounter will be more brutal than the last one – Spiderboy was strong but he didn’t have the bloodlust – and you’re honestly not certain if you can win this fight.

Although you give it your best shot, your opponent flows around your punches and then hits you like a freight train. You’re vaguely aware of your teammates fighting all around you but you can’t afford to focus on anything but Catman if you want to stay alive.

Punch. Kick. Dodge. Whirl. Strike. Block. Wince. Kick. Punch.

You duck under your opponent’s next strike and grab him by the throat with your left arm. The plates shift audibly as he returns the favor, his fingers digging hard into your skin.

“I didn't kill your father,” you tell him. You don't expect him to believe you but just this once, you'd like to say the truth out loud.

“Then why did you run?” he snarls back and all you want to ask is, “You mean the time when you were trying to kill me or the time when I was brainwashed?” But before you can retort, Catman breaks your grip and then kicks you in the face.

You hit a pile of crates with a groan as he draws his claws again. The other man goes straight for your throat and you know that you won’t manage to block his strike in time. But then a strange red energy wraps around his fist and when you look around for the source, you see Wanda standing there.

When she smacks her hands together, Catman goes flying through the air and you mutter a quick thanks as you look around for Steve. You can hear your captain having some sort of philosophical discussion through your earpiece – apparently the Avengers have given him bad habits – and this is so not the time.

You finally spy Steve taking cover by an airplane and you dash over there to join him, reminding the other man that your real target is probably in Siberia by now.

“We gotta draw out the fliers,” he replies. “I’ll take Vision. You get to the jet.”

You open your mouth to protest for two important reasons. First, why the hell is Steve so damn self- sacrificing? And second, you don’t actually know how to fly an airplane, let alone the Quinjet. Hydra wasn’t big on giving its brainwashed pet assassin lessons in mobility. However, before you can say anything, Flyboy gets there first.

“No, you get to the jet! Both of you!” he orders. “The rest of us aren’t getting out of here.”

“As much as I hate to admit it, if we're going to win this one, some of us might have to lose it,” Clint chimes in from across the battlefield, an edge to his voice that you haven’t heard before.

“This isn't the real fight, Steve,” Sam continues and you know your captain wants to argue. You can see it on his face. The other man has never been comfortable sacrificing his allies for a mission – that’s one of the reasons he was such a damn good captain to serve under – but when he looks at you again, something shifts behind his eyes.

“All right, Sam. What's the play?”

“We need a diversion. Something big.”

“I've got something kind of big,” another voice else chimes in. Scott, you think, the one who can turn tiny. “But I can't hold it very long. On my signal, run like hell. And if I tear myself in half... don't come back for me.”

“He’s gonna tear himself in half?” you mutter, glancing at Steve in alarm. That’s what you say but what you mean is, “Please don't let your teammates die for me.”

You think Steve hears you, really hears you, but his gaze is steady and his voice doesn’t waver when he asks, “You sure about this, Scott?”

“I do it all the time,” the other man reassures him. “I mean, once, in a lab. Then I passed out.”

That’s not exactly comforting. However, Scott seems to be going for it and you have no way to stop him. All you can do is listen as he mutters to himself and you think he’s saying, “I’m the boss, I’m the boss,” repeatedly.

There’s one beat of silence, long enough for you to worry that he really split himself in two. And then suddenly there's a giant where the other man had been.

“I guess that's the signal,” Steve says with some bemusement while you just stand there gaping. But the blond did spend a couple years fighting with a big green rage machine so maybe he’s more used to his teammates changing size on him.

You still don’t like this plan; you don’t want to leave your captain’s friends to fight the rearguard. But they made their choices freely and you can’t waste their sacrifice.

So you follow Steve toward the Quinjet while Scott unleashes hell, the Avengers circling around him as your allies band together to cover your escape. You're almost to the hangar when another beam from Vision shoots straight past your shoulder. It slices through a nearby tower and you can’t even imagine the property damage that this fight of yours has caused. The tower starts to crumble, debris raining down to block the hangar’s entrance. You think that’s it, you’re done, but then a shield of Wanda’s magic shimmers into view. She gives everything she has to hold your exit clear and though her power quickly falters, she buys you the seconds that you need.

Romanova is waiting in the hangar.

At this point, you can’t even be surprised. You have a feeling that the Winter Soldier knew her, has fought her more than once, and the fact that she survived it tells you everything you need.

The woman looks at Steve and her words are not a question. “You’re not going to stop.”

“You know I can't,” he tells her.

“I'm gonna regret this,” she replies, holding out her arm. You brace for an attack, already planning the best way to get around her without bloodshed, but Romanova’s shot flies past your head. When you turn around to look, you see Catman coming up behind you and there’s a crackle of lightning as her weapon slams into his chest.

“Go,” she orders and Steve doesn’t hesitate. You follow him inside the Quinjet while Romanova keeps on firing. The woman doesn’t miss, not once, but Catman is damn persistent; even her fancy weapon barely seems to slow him down.

You can see them still facing off through the window as Steve prepares the jet to fly. At least, you assume that’s what he’s doing when he flicks a bunch of switches and you hear the plane start up. To be honest, you were half expecting the Avengers to have locked out his controls – they think the man went traitor after all. But whether it was laziness or optimism, it’s the break you needed and you buckle yourself in as the other man uses the Quinjet’s guns to clear the hangar door. Then he tells you to hold on and sends the plane into the air.

You watch Steve’s hands on the controls, memorizing every motion just in case. If this trip of yours goes wrong, your ability to fly this thing might be the difference between death and survival and you would never forgive yourself for failing to save your captain’s life.

Of course, first you have to escape from the Avengers and it seems really unfair that so many of your opponents have the ability to fly. You can hear Sam shouting about bogeys through your earpiece but you have no way to help him. Steve just keeps pushing the plane faster while you sit there uselessly and you’re honestly half-expecting Stark or his metal friend to burst straight through the wall.

But it never happens. The Quinjet just keeps climbing until Sam's voice fades from your earpiece and the plane flies out of range.

You’re left with silence, guilt, and worry about the ones you left behind. You didn’t know Steve’s allies well, some of them you’d tried to murder, and yet they all came running when he asked. They fought for Steve but you’re the reason and now they’ll take your punishment.

“What's gonna happen to your friends?” you ask Steve quietly.

“Whatever it is... I'll deal with it,” the other man replies and you wish you could believe him. You wish you could believe that his friends will be all right. But you’re pretty sure that this is going to end bad for everyone. Bad and bloody and a flash of shame cuts through you at the thought.

“I don't know if I'm worth all this, Steve.”

“What you did all those years, it wasn't you. You didn't have a choice.”

“I know... but I did it,” you tell him quietly. You may not remember everything – you’re not sure you really want to when the fragments still drown your dreams in blood. But you can’t deny that you were the Winter Soldier. Puppet or not, you’re the one who pulled the trigger and you don’t think you’ll ever forgive yourself for breaking when you could have died instead.

“And I’m sorry that you had to, Buck. I really am,” the blond apologizes, every word still ringing wrong. “But you gotta believe that I am never giving up on you. Even if you had joined Hydra willingly, I would still be in your corner. I would have come to save you anyway.”

“You can’t mean that. You shouldn’t mean that,” you reply. “When will you realize that some people just aren’t worth it?”

“Maybe not, but you are,” Steve says stubbornly. The other man presses a few buttons on the console and then turns around to face you. He stands up and grabs your hands, holding on tighter when you try to pull the metal one away.

“Listen to me, Bucky. I know you were the Winter Soldier and I don’t care. I’ve read your file – I read everything that I could get my hands on – and as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t change a thing,” he tells you earnestly. “You’re one of the best men I’ve ever known and I will always have your back. Until the end of the line, remember? I love you, Buck. I did then and I do now and if you’ll only let me, I will give you everything.”

“But what about the woman?” you ask blankly, unable to believe that this might be happening.

“What woman?” Steve replies. “You mean Sharon?”

He sounds confused, like he doesn’t understand the reason for your question, and with a burst of and irritation, you yank your hands away.

“I don’t know, is she the dame you kissed this morning?” you snarl. “Seriously, Steve, when did you turn into an asshole? Should I expect the same damn treatment or is it only women that you forget about that fast?”

“No, Bucky, it’s not… I remember Sharon, I just…” he stammers awkwardly. “I felt like I owed her and she wanted me to kiss her so I did. I mean… I do like Sharon and if you hadn’t come back, maybe we could’ve had something. But Bucky, you did come back and whatever happens, I will always love you more.”

Steve looks so damn serious. Earnest and uncertain, as though he doesn’t realize that he’s got your heart clutched in his hands. The other man could break you. If this goes wrong or he doesn’t really mean it – if you’re imagining this entire conversation – you don’t think that you’d survive. But maybe Steve does mean it. Maybe your splintered memories weren’t fantasies at all.

“I don’t want to be a secret,” you say, the words just slipping out. “Not like we were before. Peggy was Peggy, I get that, but it’s not illegal anymore.”

“You remember?” Steve asks, his whole face brightening. “You remember us?”

“Not everything,” you tell him. “I’ve dreamed of bits and pieces, of kissing you in Brooklyn and stolen moments in the war. I remember loving you and wanting you and I still feel just the same. But my brain is a mess, Stevie. How could I be certain that anything was real?”

“It is, Buck, I promise. You were my first love, you know. My only love for years.”

“Why didn’t you say something?” you whisper. “I might have… I might have stopped running earlier.”

“I didn’t want you to think that you were obligated,” the other man responds. “I love you and I miss you, Bucky, but I’m not here on that condition and I figured you’d had enough of people planning out your life. Besides, I wasn’t sure you’d want to know. You kept shoving me at Peggy right before I lost you. Sure she was amazing, but I only would have married her because I couldn’t marry you. If you really loved me, why’d you try so hard to let me go?”

“Because I was a mess!” you groan. Who the hell gets cock-blocked by their own past self? “Peggy was gorgeous and competent and she liked you! You could take her out without getting court-martialed, have a family and a future. Why would I deny you your best chance at happiness? Why would I deny you the chance for better now?”

“You’re such an idiot,” Steve says, the words an even mix of fondness and exasperation. “I tried to move on when I woke up in the future, Buck. Peggy was old and you were dead and I knew that you’d both kick my ass if I spent my whole life pining. But the instant that I saw you, I was right back there in Brooklyn. Sixteen and so in love that I was stupid with it. I didn’t care that it was illegal or a sin, I just wanted to see your dumb mug smile and if this whole mess has proved anything, it’s that I’m still not over you.”

“Steve…”

What can you possibly say to such a declaration? What can you do but kiss him like you’ve been wanting to?

So you scrabble at your seat belt until you can do just that, claiming his mouth and chasing the taste of his surprise. It’s been a long time since you’ve kissed him, a long time since you’ve kissed anyone, but it feels completely natural. There’s no awkward hesitation or fumbling for position. You just wrap your arms around Steve to pull him closer and you smile against his lips when you feel him do the same.

The other man kisses you back fiercely and you meet him touch for touch, losing yourself in heat and memory. Because this is so familiar: the careful way he holds you and the warmth of skin on skin, the sweetness of his mouth and the way he moans out loud when you trace his bottom lip.

“Fuck, Steve,” you groan when you finally break for air. “Tell me this plane has some kind of autopilot and we’re not about to crash.”

“Of course it does, Bucky,” Steve replies with a smile that makes your knees go weak. He’s always had pretty eyes, such brilliant blue with flecks of green, and right now they’re shining brighter than any stars you’ve ever seen. “But even if it didn’t, I think that I’d still kiss you. I really can’t imagine a better way to go.”

“You’re such a sap,” you murmur, your chest light with happiness.

“You make me one,” he answers, utterly sincere. Steve tucks a loose strand of hair behind your ears and you feel your cheeks get hot. You can’t remember the last time that you blushed but there’s something both sweet and overwhelming about his aching tenderness.

“Now, I’d love to pull out a bed and show you just how much I’ve missed you,” Steve continues. “But we don’t have to do that. The choice is up to you.”

“Are you kidding, pal? Get on with the ravishing,” you order and you’re rewarded with his laugh.

“All right, then,” the blond says. He takes your hand and leads you to the back of the plane. There’s a little alcove here with what looks like med supplies, though you don’t see a bed in sight. You’re prepared to make do with benches if you have to – for Steve you’d use the floor – but the other man hits another button and a panel opens in the wall.

Steve pulls out a small bed, complete with sheets and pillows, before turning back to you. “I know I promised you the Ritz back in the old days, but this will have to do.”

“This is perfect,” you reply. You kiss him again, one hand curled around his neck and the other on his hip. Soft and sweet at first but quickly growing heated as you delve between his lips.

Steve responds beautifully, giving a low moan and pressing into you. His mouth is hot and searching, fingers gentle in your hair. You lean into his touch as your own hands grow bolder, the right sweeping down across his shoulders while the other cups his ass. You never thought you'd be grateful for the sensors that Hydra built into your arm, their only goal to make a better weapon. But Steve is warm beneath your metal fingers, firm and perfect when you give a gentle squeeze.

You swallow his moan and pull him even closer, slotting your leg between his thighs. Steve scrabbles at your jacket as he ruts against you, searching for skin blindly with his hands.

“Where the hell is the damn zipper?” he groans, tugging at your belt. “I want to feel you, Bucky.”

That sounds darn good to you so you nudge him backward, creating just enough space between you to start stripping off your gear. However, you can't bring yourself to stop touching him completely. You pepper Steve with kisses, teasing his lips, his neck, his shoulder, even as you toss your clothes onto the floor. Soon you're standing mostly naked, the air cool against your skin, and you can't even feel self-conscious about the scarring on your arm. Not when the love of your life is looking at you hungrily, his eyes dark with desire as he strips off his uniform.

Honestly, you don't think you've ever seen Steve get undressed that quickly and damn but the man's a gorgeous sight. So you pause to drink him in, your eyes traveling over those wide shoulders and down to his slim hips, stroking the toned muscles that stretch on for miles and across his perfect cock.

Of course, you also thought that Steve was beautiful when he was still frail and sickly, his body never big enough to contain his stubborn heart. You loved him then and you love him now and you don’t know how you got so lucky as to have this second chance.

You wish you had the freedom to do this properly. You wish you could explore his skin for hours, kiss and suck and grind together until you'd rediscovered every spot that made him scream. You want to worship him slowly, show your adoration with every word and touch as you work him open on your fingers and make him writhe against the bed. You want to watch him fall apart with pleasure before sinking deep inside him and you’re pretty sure Steve feels the same.

But you don’t have that kind of time. You only have this stolen moment so you pull the blond back into your arms with an edge of desperation and Steve seems to share your urgency. His cock is hard against your hip and he clutches at you tightly as you tumble down onto the bed.

It really isn’t built for this. Your elbow knocks against the wall hard enough to dent it and you’re pretty sure Steve’s legs are dragging on the floor. But that hardly matters when he wraps his thighs around you and pulls you down on top of him. You watch his face as you roll your hips together, mesmerized by the way his eyelids flutter and his lips part on a moan.

You remember this. You remember the feel of Steve beneath you, the way he comes alive when in your arms. Somehow that hasn’t changed even though the world has changed around you; somehow you made it here again through war and loss and pain.

Steve surges up and kisses you as though he can see just what you’re thinking – maybe he can or maybe he’s simply feeling much the same. Because he claims your mouth as though he wants to brand himself inside you and you’re helpless to resist. Instead you respond in kind, losing yourself in warmth and need and love.

“Wish I could feel you, Bucky,” Steve gasps against your lips. “Wish I could ride you like I used to. I missed you so fucking much.”

“Next time,” you promise. “When we’ve made it somewhere warmer and we have the right supplies. Otherwise I’ll hurt you and I won’t… I couldn’t bear that, not again.”

“It’d be worth it,” he replies. But Steve doesn’t push the issue. He just slides one hand down in-between you and it’s your turn to groan when he wraps his fingers round your length. You bury your face in Steve’s neck to muffle the sounds that he pulls from you, his hand stroking you with an easy confidence.

You won’t last long at this rate – you’re too keyed up – and you want to see Steve fall before you do. So you push yourself up slightly, just enough to touch him the way he’s touching you. The other man’s cock is hot against your palm and he shudders when you stroke him, a full body ripple that pulls you close again.

You push into his touch as your own rhythm stutters. You hear Steve chuckle faintly, his breath warm against your ear, and you turn to catch his eye. The blond is grinning at you, bright and blinding, but you also see a hint of challenge when he twists his wrist again.

“Oh, it’s like that, punk?” you murmur. You were never one to back down any more than Steve was, it used to get you into trouble, and you’re not going to let him win this easily. So you meet him stroke for stroke, your whole body growing warmer at the pleasure in his eyes. It takes you both a moment to find a working rhythm but soon you’re racing toward completion, trying to make the other man fall before you do.

Your world narrows to the wet slide of skin on skin, heated moans and gasped desires as you burn together. You soar higher and higher, Steve’s name a whisper on your tongue and his mouth sweet against your lips. You know he’s close when his breath catches so you stroke a little faster, guided as much by instinct as by muscle memory.

“Bucky!” Steve cries out. His body snaps taut, head thrown back against the pillow and the long line of his neck just begging to be kissed as he spills into your hand. The blond comes undone beneath you, the sight and feel and sound of him breaking your control. So you grind your cock against his hip one last time, his fingers loose around you, and let a wave of pleasure pull you down.

Neither of you stir for a long moment. You’re content to lie on top of Steve and he doesn’t seem to mind it, though you know you weigh a ton. You lean into his touch as he strokes his fingers through your hair, humming a soft tune contentedly. But if you’re gonna to fall asleep here – and that seems rather likely – you need to make sure that Steve is comfortable.

“Come on, pal,” you tell him. “You’re gonna wake up hurting if we stay like this too long.”

“I wasn’t complaining,” he murmurs, looking back at you.

“Maybe, but your back will. I know that I’m not light.”

You push yourself up and the other man releases you a bit reluctantly. You wipe your hand off on the mattress before rolling to your feet so Steve can move. He turns onto his side and scoots back against the wall, making room for you to lie down next to him. It’s a tight fit on the bed but you don’t mind the closeness. You think you used to share like this back in the twenties, long before you went to war.

In those days Steve was smaller. You have a vague memory of tucking him beneath your chin when the nights grew cold but that’s no longer possible. Instead, the blond wraps his arms around you, his breath warm against your neck as you shift into position. Sleeping on your right side is easier – your robot arm makes for a really crappy pillow – and you curl your left arm up near your head before you relax into Steve’s chest.

You drift off quickly in his arms and for once you do not dream. He’s still asleep when you wake up a couple hours later and you know that you should rouse him. You’re probably getting close to Siberia by now.

But you can’t bring yourself to break the moment. You’re warm and cozy for the first time in a long time and the outside world can’t touch you in the circle of Steve’s arms. Here you’re safe. Here your past is not important and your demons have stopped howling. But you know this peace won’t last. Hydra’s base is waiting and as soon as you get up, you’ll have to face reality.

So you roll over to look at Steve instead. You stroke your eyes across his cheekbones and fight back a smile at the bird’s nest of his hair. He looks younger with his stubborn jaw relaxed in sleep and his face mushed into the bed. He looks adorable and edible and you want to remember this no matter what. You want to etch this memory so deep that no one can ever take it from you the way they did before. You know you’ll probably lose him despite his promises, but at least you’ll still have this when the world grows cold again.

“Bucky,” he murmurs softly, shifting in his sleep. Your name sounds like something special when he says it, something treasured, and you can’t resist the urge to kiss him anymore.

His mouth is slack at first, soft and unresponsive, but you can feel the moment he wakes up. Steve leans into your touch and the once-chaste kiss turns scorching. You can feel his hand clench in your hair as he maps your mouth out thoroughly. Even the fact that you probably taste awful doesn’t slow him down and you only pull away again because you have to breathe.

“Hey, pal,” you murmur and you know you’re smiling.

“You’re really here,” Steve whispers, looking back at you. His voice is soft with wonder and you feel your heart throb when he adds, “I was afraid that I was dreaming. I used to dream about you all the time but you were never there when I woke up.”

“I dreamed about you too, Stevie. But this is real,” you promise. “I’m really here this time.”

“I know, Buck. I could always tell the difference; I just kept hoping anyway,” Steve admits before his grin turns impish. “Besides, this couldn’t be a dream. In my dreams you cut your hair.”

“You don’t like it?” you ask, suddenly self-conscious. While you were on the run, the longer hair was useful and there’s no one else you would have trusted to cut it anyway. But the old Bucky Barnes was always a good dresser – you’ve seen the pictures, he looked sharp – and you don’t want Steve to be disappointed by the version he has now.

“Hey, now, none of that,” he chides you gently, reading the emotions off your face. “I was only teasing, pal. I think you look amazing. Short hair or long hair, I’ll always want you anyway.”

“I didn’t mean to doubt you,” you mumble, hating yourself for ruining the mood. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to apologize,” Steve tells you and he seems to mean that too. “It’s easy to fall back into old rhythms but we’re both different people and I shouldn’t have assumed that I could rib you like I used to. Not till we find our feet again.”

“No, I want you to,” you protest. “I’m just… out of practice. So try and make it obvious?”

“All right, Buck. If that’s what you want,” he readily agrees. “I’ll do finger quotes and everything.”

“What the heck are finger quotes?”

“A punk like you should know,” Steve replies with exaggerated hand gestures and you can’t help a startled laugh. Being with the blond has been a roller coaster of emotions, from highs to lows and back again, and to be honest, you’re a bit exhausted by the change. But given the choice between this and going back to your gray limbo, you’d pick Steve every time.

Sure you still feel a bit uncertain but you’re comforted by his willingness to work around your issues. You want to have the friendship you remember – to be secure enough in Steve that you can tease each other freely – and you think you’re almost there. Because you know what the other man means about old rhythms and you’ve enjoyed your banter for the most part. It makes you feel like a real person instead of a machine.

So instead of dwelling on the doubts, you ask with raised eyebrows, “Where did you learn that?”

“YouTube, of course,” Steve tells you with a grin. “You can find everything on YouTube. Seriously, Buck, everything. After that whole mess in New York, SHIELD wanted me more familiar with pop culture and I’d often visit YouTube on the nights I couldn’t sleep.”

“That’s the one with all the videos, right?” you murmur, caught on the edge of memory. “I think I ended up there when I was looking into you. But reading the comments made me angry so I had to quit again.”

“Yeah, you should never read the comments,” the other man says. “Natasha taught me that.”

Steve’s expression flickers at the thought of his old teammate and you know he stills feel guilty about how this thing went down. But you can’t do anything to help his allies until you’ve finished in Siberia and there’s no point in brooding. Better to distract you both for now.

So you reach out to take Steve’s hand, interlacing your fingers and waiting until he looks back up at you. “Sounds like I need a better guide to this new century. You up for a crash course?”

“I’d be honored, Bucky,” he replies. “But it will take a while. I want to show you everything.”

“Sounds good to me,” you murmur. You lean in and kiss the promise off his lips, licking your way into his mouth when he gives a quiet moan. Although Steve tastes a little stale, you barely even notice. You’re too caught up in the heat of him and the way he moves against you, quiet moans filling your ears as you kiss him lazily.

You’re hard again but you feel no urgent need to come. You’re content with this, to feel Steve’s touch against your skin and trace your tongue over his lips. You want to enjoy the moment, not dash off toward completion; you want a thousand lazy mornings to spend in bed like this.

Your desire builds slowly, a coil of pleasure deep within you as Steve strokes across your back. You let your own hands wander and you’re still amazed he doesn’t flinch when metal touches skin.

Steve only pulls you closer, deepening your kisses as his right hand tangles in your hair again. He’s so warm, always has been since the serum, and when you melt against him, the ice seems far away. You kiss and kiss, desperate just to feel him until your release sneaks up on you. The other man follows moments later and you both just lie there breathing, enjoying the closeness and the quiet afterglow.

“As much as I do like your hair, you could really use a shower,” Steve says eventually, tugging on the lock of hair that’s fallen across your face. He says the words carefully, softening the judgment with a smile, and this time you hear the fondness in his tone.

So instead of wincing, you just snort, “You’re not too fresh yourself, Stevie,” and you’re rewarded with another beaming grin.

“There we go, pal,” Steve replies, tugging on your hair again. “It’s not too hard to tease me after all.”

Before you can speak the rejoinder that’s dancing on your tongue, a loud beeping fills the Quinjet. You snap to your feet immediately, every muscle tense and wary as you look around for enemies. But the beeping just continues and after a moment, you turn back to the blond again.

“What is that? It sounds important.”

“We must be getting close,” Steve tells you. “I set an alarm to go off thirty minutes before we reached the coordinates you gave me. I figured we’d need time to prepare and once we arrive, we’ll want to move immediately.”

The words hit you like a bucket of ice water. This reminder of your mission shatters the illusion of safety you’d created and the outside world comes crashing in again. So you don’t follow Steve as he walks over to the console bare-ass naked, your mind too full of Hydra to appreciate the view. Instead you start to clean yourself off as best you can, your tension barely easing when the blond hits a couple buttons and the beeping finally stops.

You really do need a shower. You’re covered in dirt, sweat and sex, the thought of putting on your days-old clothing making your skin crawl. But the Quinjet isn’t quite that fancy and a couple more damp cloths will have to do.

You and Steve dress quickly before he puts away the bed, wiping away the evidence of everything you shared. Soon Captain America and his sergeant are standing where Steve and Bucky were and you have a sinking feeling that the last few hours were really just a dream. The other man couldn’t really love you – you couldn’t be that lucky – and even the faint scent of sex on the air can’t quite chase your fears away.

But then Steve leans in to kiss you, his lips sweet and his fingers gentle on your neck. You stand there for a moment, just breathing in each other’s air, before the blond puts on his mission face again.

“Are you ready, Buck?” your captain asks.

“As I’ll ever be,” you say.

“Then let’s do this,” the other man replies. “The sooner we catch this guy, the sooner we can find a proper bed.”

The words are a hint of Steve beneath the captain’s mask and the sentiment is one that’s well worth fighting for. You still think that this will probably end badly. But at least you made new memories to take into this hellhole and there’s a light at the end of your dark tunnel if you manage to survive.

“I’m counting on it,” you tell him quite sincerely. “Now go and bring us in.”

You join Steve in the cockpit as he brings your plane in for the landing, still watching his hands just in case. You’d rather not crash the Quinjet if you ever have to do this and focusing on the blond stops you from thinking about the base beneath your feet.

However, nothing can stop the shudder that runs down your spine when the bunker comes into view, its entrance a dark maw in a sea of ice and snow. There’s a splash of color near the opening – the doctor’s vehicle – and Steve sets the Quinjet down nearby. It’s a reminder that this mission is probably suicide so you ask your captain about weapons. If you’re taking on a squad of Winter Soldiers, you’d really like to have a gun – it probably won’t help much, but it’ll make you happier.

The other man points you to Romanova’s weapon cache and you really have to admire the woman’s taste in firearms. You select your weapon quickly before moving toward the hatch. Steve joins you as the door begins to open, a blast of icy air hitting you in the face. You shiver again, from cold and nerves alike and you’re grateful for the distraction when your captain speaks.

“You remember that time we had to ride back from Rockaway Beach in the back of a freezer truck?” the other man asks. To be honest, you don’t remember. Not at first. But the more you think about it, the more you feel as though you do.

“Was that the time we used our train money to buy hot dogs?” you reply, the faint hint of a smile in your voice.

“You blew three bucks trying to win that stuffed bear for a redhead,” Steve tells you and the words set off a flash of memory. No details, no name. Just a vision of the girl standing on a boardwalk, her smile bright and beautiful as she egged your efforts on. She was as vibrant as her hair and if you hadn’t been gone on Steve already, you probably could have loved her. You think you loved that girl a little anyway.

“What was her name again?” you ask, hoping Steve can fill the gaps still in your memory.

“Dolores. You called her Dot.”

You wonder where she ended up, if she’s even still alive. Everyone you knew back in the old days continued on without you – everyone but Steve – and you hope that she was happy. You hope that Dot managed to live out the adventures she was always dreaming of.

“She’s gotta be a hundred years old right now,” you murmur, wondering if she even remembers the boy she used to know.

“So are we, pal,” Steve says. He reaches out and rests his left hand on your shoulder, the touch support and comfort all in one. Your fellow keeps his hand there until the ramp stops moving and then the two of you walk out into the bitter cold.

The chill cuts to the bone even with your enhancements, an old familiar ache starting up in your left shoulder. Your scars have never liked the cold and most of the Winter Soldier’s memories are overlaid with pain. That was one of the worst parts of being frozen, the ice stabbing through your shoulder while your phantom limb screamed out in agony. But you’re used to pushing past your body’s limits and you won’t let a little pain distract you now.

“He can't have been here more than a few hours,” Steve says as you reach the bunker’s entrance.

“Long enough to wake them up.”

You know you need to find your target quickly. You should be racing through the door to chase him down. But you don’t want to be here and every instinct that you have is screaming to escape. You don't want Steve to be here; the best thing you've ever touched doesn’t belong inside your nightmares. He belongs somewhere warm, somewhere safe, not in this frozen hell.

But the other man barely hesitates before walking through the doorway and you can’t let him face this place alone. So you grit your teeth and follow, trying to ignore the ghosts that fill these empty halls. You can see their shadows everywhere, shades of scientists and doctors, armed guards and prisoners, and the bloody line of footprints where the Winter Soldier walked. Even without the doctor’s tracks, you would know where you were going anyway.

The elevator walls seem to close in as you and Steve ride down in silence. Every breath feels like gulping in ice water, the warmth quickly sucked out of your bones. Neither of you is exactly dressed for this sort of expedition – unless the other man's outfit has built in heaters that you don’t know about – and if not for the serum, you'd probably freeze before you ever reached your goal.

When the elevator stops, you and Steve walk toward the bottom level cautiously. You clear each room in turn, making sure there are no surprises that could come back and ambush you. You’re half-expecting to be jumped by another Winter Soldier but all you find is silence, the air heavy with the weight of age and the ghosts of memory. You remember more of this prison than you wish to, Hydra’s tortures burned into your nightmares just like all the blood you spilled.

For once, you're grateful for that knowledge. Steve would carry all your demons if you let him, but there are things he shouldn’t see. You know he’s strong enough to bear the weight and he’s probably read about them, but knowing and seeing are different things and you don’t want to cause him pain.

So you steer your fellow around the worst of it, letting him guard the hallways as you clear out torture chambers, prisons, and the room with that damn chair. The last one nearly breaks you. Your vision flickers for a moment and you can almost feel the shocks pouring through your body, burning out the memories one second at a time.

“Bucky?”

Your name brings you back to the present. You can feel your hands shaking as you turn around and you block Steve's view of the chamber with your body until you can close the door again.

“Nothing in there,” you tell him.

“You sure? You look a little pale.”

“Just a few bad memories,” you say with a weak smile. “I’ll feel better as soon as we get out of here. Can we just keep moving, please?”

“All right,” Steve agrees. He doesn’t ask you for more details, though he does glance back at the door when you start to walk away. “When this is over, we’ll destroy it. We’ll burn this whole place down.”

“That would be… good.”

You fall back into silence then. You don’t need words to work together even after all this time and you don’t want to break the quiet; it feels as though this place might shatter if you do.

You’re heading up another set of stairs when you hear a noise behind you, a brief clatter that’s almost deafening inside this silent tomb. You and Steve both spin around and fall back into position, your gun aimed over his shoulder as he guards you with his shield.

“You ready?” he murmurs quietly.

“Yeah,” you tell him, your finger waiting on the trigger for an enemy to show.

Neither of you move as the noise gets closer and you’re not sure whether you want to laugh or cry when you see Iron Man. Somehow Tony Stark caught up – one of the others must have told him where you and Steve were going and you really do hope that your allies are all right. The UN may claim that they don’t torture, but the sort of folks who send out hit squads aren’t the sort of folks you trust.

You also don’t trust Stark. You keep your weapon raised even as his lifts his face-plate and holds his hands out to the side. This is the first time you’ve actually seen his face up close and your training is the only thing that stops you from flinching. He looks too much like Howard; without the suit, you’re not sure you could have fought him earlier, not when a horde of memories are tearing at your mind. But you’ve lived with your guilt and pain for this long; you can last a little longer to make sure the world is safe.

After that… After that if you survive this, you should tell Steve what you’ve done. He may have read your file but that doesn’t mean he knows it all; you don’t see how he could and still love you like he does. So the truth will probably lose him. Steve will turn away from you and if you’re very lucky, he won’t turn you in as well. But at least you’ll have the memory of his kisses to hold on to and you can’t let him keep loving you with falsehood on your tongue.

But first you have to deal with Iron Man and you’re glad to see that Steve has kept his shield up too.

“You seem a bit defensive,” Stark says to start the conversation.

“It’s been a long day,” Steve retorts, not giving him an inch. Honestly, that’s an understatement if you’ve ever heard one – the last few days have lasted a damn eternity.

“At ease soldier, I’m not currently after you,” the other man continues and you’re honestly surprised that he deigned to talk to you. Maybe Stark is hoping that you’ll be more sympathetic – in which case, he’s an idiot – and you just stare at him stonily.

“Then why are you here?”

“Could be your story's not so crazy. Maybe,” he answers. “Ross has no idea that I'm here and I'd like to keep it that way. Otherwise, I gotta arrest myself.”

You used to be like that. Always joking, always finding humor in the worst parts of the world. At first because you meant it and then because the smiles helped to hide the cracks beneath. Laughter hid the fear and you’re pretty sure that Tony Stark is completely terrified.

But Steve relaxes slightly at the other man’s olive branch. He lowers his shield enough to make you nervous and you keep Stark in your sights as your captain says, “That sounds like a lot of paperwork. It's good to see you, Tony.”

“You too, Cap,” Iron Man replies before turning back to you again. “Hey, Manchurian Candidate, you're killing me here. There's a truce, you can drop...”

You tune out his words as he keeps talking, the white noise washing over you. Stark doesn't give you orders and you refuse to lower your weapon until you get Steve's nod. You still don’t trust Stark but you'll follow your captain's lead for now.

The three of you move deeper into the base and you grudgingly admit that the search goes faster with Iron Man involved. Stark lets his suit’s scanners do most of the work as he explains what he discovered about the doctor since you left.

“Your boy might have been framed after all,” the other man says and you feel a small flash of relief. You’d known that you weren’t in Vienna; you’d known it and yet you still weren’t sure. “Zemo, that’s the shrink, he had a rough disguise in his hotel room – enough to look like Barnes in front of shitty cameras. He definitely wanted Robocop over there brought in and he killed the real psychologist so that he could talk to him.”

“Why?” Steve asks. “Why go to all this trouble? What does he want?”

“I don’t know. But he’s from Sokovia so maybe he just hates us,” Stark replies. “Given what happened to his country, I’m not sure that I can blame him for wanting us to pay.”

You knew about Sokovia. Even while in hiding, you couldn’t help listening for rumors about Steve and depending on who was talking, the Avengers had been saviors or destroyers, murderers or saints. You’d heard rumors about an evil robot, rumors that Tony Stark had built it, and given the guilt you hear in the man’s voice, maybe that was true. Maybe you aren’t the only one with a massive body count and that might explain his willingness to sign his life away.

“What happened to Sokovia was terrible but that doesn’t excuse what Zemo’s done,” your captain answers firmly. “The folks he killed to get here are on his hands alone.”

You’re not sure that you believe him but you can’t bring yourself to argue. Not when you want him to be right so desperately. The weight on your shoulders is heavy enough without adding Zemo to it and yet… you know you won't forgive yourself if the other Winter Soldiers are freed because of you.

You’re near the bottom now, where Hydra stored its monsters, and the silence seems more suffocating with every step you take. You should have been attacked already. Zemo shouldn’t have let you walk this deep into the building unmolested. Unless this is a trap and he doesn’t plan to let you walk back out again.

“I've got heat signatures,” Stark says as you enter the massive missile silo at the heart of Hydra’s base. At first glance, the chamber seems to be empty except for the faintly glowing cryo-tanks near the center of the room.

“How many?”

“Um, one,” the other man replies and your instincts start to scream. This is wrong. Everything about this situation is wrong and your nerves scream even louder when you move close enough to see that your fellow Soldiers have been killed right where they lay. A single headshot each.

“If it's any comfort, they died in their sleep,” Zemo’s voice crackles suddenly, piped through the speakers at the corners of the room. “Did you really think I wanted more of you?”

“What the hell?” you mutter as you look at the corpses. This makes no sense at all.

“I'm grateful to them, though,” the man continues. “They brought you here.”

A little square of light appears in the far wall of the silo, the window revealing Zemo’s face. Steve reacts instantly and his aim is right on target, but his shield bounces off the glass with a loud clang.

“Please, Captain. The Soviets built this chamber to withstand the launch blasts of UR-100 rockets,” the other man says calmly.

“I bet I could beat that,” Stark replies.

“I'm sure you could, Mr. Stark. Given time,” Zemo agrees. “But then you'd never know why you came.”

The man could be sitting down with friends for all the worry that he shows and his serenity puts you even more on edge. Any sane person would be scared of facing off with two Avengers and the Winter Soldier but you don't think he's crazy. A crazy man could not have manipulated events so skillfully, which means that somehow this must be part of Zemo’s plan.

“You killed innocent people in Vienna just to bring us here?” Steve asks in outrage. He stalks up to the window and glares at Zemo, but the other man doesn’t even flinch.

“I've thought about nothing else for over a year,” he murmurs. You can barely hear him – your focus on the silo – and you see Stark inching closer so that he can listen in. “I studied you, I followed you. But now that you're standing here, I've just realized... there's a bit of green in the blue of your eyes. How nice to find a flaw.”

Zemo chuckles quietly even as you growl behind your teeth. You’ve always thought Steve’s eyes were gorgeous and this man has no right to insult your fellow, no damn right at all.

“You're Sokovian,” Steve replies, letting Zemo’s insult roll right off of him. “Is that what this is about?”

“Sokovia was a failed state long before you blew it to hell,” the other man says, his lips twisting with a bitter amusement that you can’t help but recognize. “No. I'm here because I made a promise.”

“You lost someone?” your captain asks, one of those sudden jumps in logic that you never could explain. But you learned to trust his feelings and given Zemo’s expression, he’s right this time as well.

“I lost everyone,” the man says flatly. “And so will you.”

Zemo presses something on his side of the window and a nearby piece of machinery comes to life. When you look closer you realize that it’s an old television – you’ve seen plenty in the future and Hydra used to make you watch clips of news sometimes.

“An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again,” Zemo pronounces as Steve and Stark glance at the screen. “But one that crumbles from within. That's dead, forever.”

You can’t see what’s playing from this angle but a shiver of unease crawls down your spine when Iron Man exclaims, “I know that road. What is this?”

They should turn the picture off. You should smash the screen and run with Steve right now. Because whatever Zemo wants to show him can’t be good, not when he killed and stole his way across half of Europe just to bring your captain here. This is what Zemo wants and it’s going to end badly, but the other men keep watching anything.

Neither of them seems to remember that they’re standing in a Hydra base right now. Neither seems to remember that, hello, this is probably a trap. So you keep your weapon up as you guard their sixes. Someone has to keep a lookout for this bastard’s backup plan.

Except there is no backup because Zemo doesn't need it. You may not be able to see the video, but you hear a faint voice say, “Help my wife,” and suddenly you know. Zemo didn’t care about the serum. He cared about the people the Winter Soldier killed to get it; that’s what he was looking for.

You’ve tried not to think about it. You know that you killed Howard; you’ve dreamed about that road, that murder half a dozen times and though you prayed it was a nightmare, you always knew it couldn’t be. But you’ve tried not to think about it. Some wounds still bleed too freely; some memories cut too deep and you couldn’t think about killing Howard while fighting with his son. Because no matter what Steve says about the Winter Soldier, you're the one who turned Tony Stark into an orphan and there’s no escaping that.

You watch the other man’s face as your past self kills his parents and you know by the rage and horror in his expression that Zemo’s plan has worked. For all his intelligence, Stark clearly had no idea and you will never be anything but the Winter Soldier in his mind after this.

Honestly, you’re not surprised when he starts toward you, his hands clenched into fists and fury in his eyes. You’re more surprised when Steve grabs his arm to stop him. If the blond was gonna leave you, now would be the perfect time.

And yet, when your captain glances at you, all you see is sorrow. There’s no shock or horror, none of the judgment you expected when you told him what you’d done. Steve said he read your file but you didn’t think….

“No, Tony,” the blond says quietly.

“Did you know?” Stark asks, rounding on his teammate.

“I didn't know it was him,” Steve replies. His voice is even, his gaze steady, and your heart stutters painfully with a mix of fear and hope. These words only confirm what you expected, what has to be the truth, and yet you know your captain well enough to know that Steve is lying. The other man knew that you killed Howard and his wife before Zemo played that video. So maybe he actually knows the worst and loves you anyway. Maybe he won’t leave you after all.

“Don't bullshit me, Rogers,” Stark snarls. “Did you know?”

“Yes,” Steve admits and moments later, Stark just goes berserk. His helmet snaps into place as he punches your captain to the ground and you don't have the chance to fire before he shoots the weapon from your hands. Then Iron Man is on you hard and fast.

You and Stark trade punches until he grabs you by the throat. He flies you through the air and slams you to the ground, his foot coming down to pin your metal arm. You struggle to escape as he raises his arm to fire a blast right at your face. But Steve's shield knocks him off balance just enough for you to dodge and Stark turns his sights back on the blond instead.

He knocks your fellow across the room despite his attempts to block, shooting out some kind of shackle to keep him from the fight. But you know that Steve won't give up so you attack Stark while he's distracted, trying to end this mess before anyone gets hurt.

Unfortunately, the other man is faster than you expect, that damn suit giving him an advantage, and you snarl when he manages to lift you up again. You grunt in pain when he rams you hard into some kind of mechanism, your legs kicking at the air. You're pretty sure Stark wants to kill you. His attacks hold no shred of sense or strategy and you know you're fighting for your life when he holds up his blaster to your face; even the serum wouldn't save you from a shot at point-blank range.

So you duck away as best you can, grabbing his hand and squeezing metal fingers until his blaster cracks. But he just brings out the missiles then, his deflected shot hitting one of the cryo-tanks. The whole thing collapses in a fiery explosion, setting off a chain reaction through the silo and Stark is forced to let you go as metal crashes down. You duck and roll to your feet with a pained groan, freezing when you see Steve across the wreckage. He's a little dusty but thankfully alive.

“Get out of here!” your fellow shouts and you can’t help but hesitate. You don’t want to leave him; that goes against every fiber of your being. But you know that your captain doesn’t want to hurt his former ally and maybe if you're out of sight, Steve will be able to talk Stark’s anger down. If not, the Quinjet could do a lot to turn this fight around.

So you run toward the nearest control panel, thankful you were awake the last time Hydra moved their large machinery. You can hear Steve yelling at Iron Man as you hit the button and the overhead door begins to grind open with a shriek of rusted gears. With Stark on a rampage, speed is more valuable than subtlety and straight up is your fastest route out of here.

You start to climb before the door has finished opening, leaping from platform to platform around the silo walls. The metal is cold beneath your fingers and you slip a couple times, memories of falling flashing through your mind. But you don’t have time for fear. It barely slows your progress and you’ve halfway to the surface when Stark comes after you. His kick throws you across the chamber and you don't have time to dodge as he charges up his beam. You just brace yourself for impact and you know you're gonna die when Steve jumps in front of you. He reflects the blast back into Stark, throwing him against the wall before he falls down out of sight.

“He's not going to stop,” the blond says grimly as he helps you to your feet. “Go.”

You could kiss him for the rescue – you always want to kiss him – but this is not the time. So you just keep on climbing, leaving Steve to hold the rear guard against his onetime friend. Zemo must be laughing himself silly; he must be so damn proud of his grand plan and you wish that you had killed him in Berlin instead of bending to his whims. You think that you might kill him if you ever see the man again.

Then you’re at the ladder and you scramble up it quickly. You’re almost out when a missile explodes above your head and you’re forced to leap away as the door comes crashing down. But the fight is far from over so you jump to your feet and grab a piece of metal lying on the grate nearby. You hit Stark when he flies up to finish you, getting in a few good blows before he pulls it from your hands. Then the other man wraps his arm around your throat, the metal of his suit digging hard into your skin.

“Do you even remember them?” Stark whispers and his voice is full of hate. He truly thinks that you're a monster, one who feels no guilt for the awful things you've done. As though you don't dream of your targets' broken bodies now that Hydra isn't erasing all your memories.

“I remember all of them,” you tell him and it's the god's honest truth.

You struggle fruitlessly as Stark drags you off the platform, pulling you back down into the pit. But then Steve is leaping toward you. He knocks Iron Man off balance, the added weight too much for his damaged suit to carry and the three of you go tumbling through the air.

You crash onto one of the metal platforms as Steve and Stark fall past you to the floor. You think you might have cracked a rib and your shoulder joint is screaming from the impact. So you lie there for a moment with the wind knocked out of you and all you can think is, I am so done with this shit. You are so done with everything.


Part III