Antarctica-or-bust (rata_toskr) wrote,
Antarctica-or-bust
rata_toskr

never far away

Yes, I'm writing Age of Ultron fic. Only like six years late. This story has been floating around in my head for a while and I finally got it down. That said, don't think about the travel times too hard. This whole fic is self-indulgent anyway seeing as the working title was “Bucky fixes everything.”

Title: never far away
Fandom: Captain America/Avengers
Pairings: Gen or Steve/Bucky if you read it that way
Warnings: canon-typical violence
Word Count: 7036
Disclaimer: If I owned it, there would be more hugging.
Summary: When Captain America stops chasing the Winter Soldier, Bucky starts chasing Steve.


The soldier runs for nine months straight. Staying off the radar is instinctual as he struggles to regain his memories. He's both dangerous and in danger; he'll always be a threat while Hydra lingers and he can't let the captain find him.

The soldier doesn't remember much. He barely knows his own name sometimes but he knows that Steve would die for him and he refuses to allow him the opportunity.

So instead the soldier runs. Along the way, he finds several Hydra bases, ones where no one knows his triggers, and he lets them meet the weapon that their tortures made. The soldier burns those bases down and then continues running, never stopping long enough for his captain to catch up. Steve comes close a couple times, that new friend of his is clever, but he never quite manages to run his quarry to the ground.

---

At first the soldier is relieved when Steve stops following. For once, he can put down roots and stay in the same place for longer than a week. He sleeps a little, dreams a little, and not all of them are nightmares. He cleans the gear he stole from the last few Hydra bases and tries to remember how being human feels.

The soldier buys new clothes and notebooks. He goes to the market and the library and slowly becomes familiar with this new century. He knows some things already; Hydra didn't want its asset to be startled on a mission by new technology. But the shows and phones and high-tech kitchens are things he's never had. In fact, the soldier cooks a lot when the nightmares keep him up and he's glad his captain isn't around to see him crack like that.

But as the days drag on with no sign of Steve at all, the relief turns into worry. Bucky's memory is still fractured, but one thing that he's certain of is his best friend's stubbornness. The other man would never have stopped chasing him except for dire reasons and eventually the soldier has to know. Bucky has to know what kind of trouble his captain has found now.

So the soldier turns the tables and starts his search for Steve. First he checks the major news sites for headlines about the Avengers. But all he finds is the usual mix of bland official notices and crackpot speculation because despite how much the world has changed, some things are still the same. There have always been the crazies and the lies to boost morale; the internet just gave those folks a wider audience.

Maybe the lack of information should be reassuring. But Bucky just worries more. No official news doesn't mean Steve isn't fighting. It just means secret missions and the soldier knows those operations are more dangerous anyway. Less intel, less backup, no extraction plan; the thought of his captain there without him brings the nightmares back tenfold.

So Bucky starts digging deeper. He goes down the rabbit hole of forums, blogs, and wikis, and on a fan-site of hero sightings, he finds the answers that he seeks. The last six Avenger sightings were all near Hydra bases, ones the soldier had avoided as too large for him alone.

Captain America and his team are cleaning up S.H.I.E.L.D.'s messes and Bucky packs up his gear that night. It's not a conscious decision. The soldier doesn't sit down and decide to be a hero. He just knows that Steve is bound to get his fool self killed and that's unacceptable. Bucky won't allow that as long as he's still breathing. He may be a broken weapon but he's still a damn good sniper when it counts.

So the soldier heads to Sokovia chasing ghosts and rumors and arrives one day too late. The Hydra base is rubble when he gets there and hearing about a med evac makes his heart leap in his throat. But when Bucky asks around, he learns it was the archer. As far as he can tell, Steve made it through just fine.

Maybe he overreacted. Maybe his captain's new team is even better than the old one and the sniper is glad to know that. He's definitely not devastated that his best friend doesn't need him anymore.

So Bucky calls himself a fool and picks a new destination; he might as well change locations since he's all packed anyway. However, the soldier is halfway to Lithuania when every single news alert on his stolen phone goes off. Someone attacked Avengers Tower and footage of the damage is on every major network, shattered glass and rubble covering the street. Those windows broke out not in and Bucky wants nothing more than to rush to Steve right now.

But the thought of hitting US soil makes the sniper hesitate. Going to New York City would be the best way to get recaptured and while he's considering logistics, the Avengers mobilize.

There's no official mission or announcement. In fact, Steve's team tries to fly out beneath the radar in one of Stark's jets. However, even the most advanced stealth technology is no match for the fanboys and Bucky tracks the Avengers out of New York easily enough. They seem to be headed across the ocean, though he won't know exactly where until they hit another shore.

So the soldier “borrows” a rich man's plane and flies toward northern Africa, staying on a neutral line until his phone pings again. Apparently the Avengers have fans everywhere and some bored sailor saw a shift in ocean clouds. It's just a random musing on some forgotten journal, but the obsessive types have logged it anyway and the sighting gives Bucky enough of a direction to guess South Africa.

The sniper still isn't sure what he'll be facing, though there's rumors of a presence sweeping through the internet. The hours of travel give Bucky plenty of time for speculation but he knows he'll drive himself insane if he thinks about what's to come.

Instead he turns on the autopilot and rests his eyes for a few hours, updating his current notebook and then pulling out his phone. A quick check of the local sites tells Bucky that the Avenger's plane was spotted near Johannesburg so he circles around the city in ever-widening loops. Eventually he sees Stark's jet near a local salvage yard and he lands his own stolen plane a couple miles out. He doesn't want anyone knowing he's arrived.

The sniper grabs his bag before jogging toward the compound and he quickly discovers that he needn't have worried about stealth after all. Bucky hears the sounds of combat several hundred yards away and he swings his rifle off his shoulder as he prepares to infiltrate.

He climbs the final bluff and looks down at the compound, noting its defenses with a glance. A hint of movement catches his attention and he drops to the ground when Dr. Banner appears in the plane's open cargo door. The man looks around nervously before ducking back inside and Bucky isn't sure why the Hulk was left behind. However, the sniper is more worried about Steve than his teammates and he's preparing to continue when he sees two people that he doesn't recognize.

A young man and woman are prowling toward the jet. They're clearly not Avengers despite the way the girl is glowing, and the sniper is fairly certain that they're not on his captain's side.

Bucky doesn't want to kill them without knowing the full story but he also won't allow them to take Banner by surprise. So he switches out his bullets and lines his shot up carefully. The sniper's first shot hits the woman in the arm, enough to do some damage but it shouldn't bleed her out.

As soon as his bullet hits, the young man starts to flicker back and forth. He's unnaturally fast, too fast for even Bucky's eyes to follow. However, he knows the kid's still solid – he can see the dust left by his feet – so the sniper just leads in both directions and his third shot hits the speedster right above the knee.

These two may have powers but they aren't trained for combat, not with the way the young man screams. The woman shouts “Brother!” in another language, one that the soldier's brain translates automatically. Both of them are losing their composure, inexperience turning confidence to fear, and Bucky doesn't bother to keep shooting. He knows these two are running just as he is sure that they're not the masterminds.

The Avengers wouldn't be so worried unless someone else was pulling these kids' strings and they'll lead the sniper to him with Hydra's trackers in their blood. Bucky didn't need to kill them; he only had to graze them. Slowing down the young man was just a bonus, his speed reduced to something visible when the pair retreats.

The two of them are long gone when the other Avengers start to file out of the salvage yard. Bucky's chest eases slightly when he sees Steve among his comrades, the other man looking shaken but alive. The sniper wants to hold him. He wants to wrap his arms around his captain and really know that he's all right.

But he's also terrified. His new identity is fragile, one wrong move would shatter him to pieces, and he doesn't think he's ready to meet Steve face-to-face.

So he just looks for a long moment before spinning on his heel. Dr. Banner may have heard his gunshots and he needs to leave before someone thinks to trace their trajectory.

Bucky's plane is where he left it and when he turns on Hydra's scanner, a trail of radiation blazes on his screen. The tech is old and rather crude but the stuff does work. This is how the soldier's handlers kept a bead on him for years and his best chance of helping Steve in his next battle is to get their first. He can't watch his captain's back unless he's there during the fighting; this showing up when the worst is done just isn't cutting it.

The sniper follows the enhanced pair's trail toward Asia but whatever craft they're using never stops for fuel. Bucky loses time when he's forced to find another airplane, trading his empty jet for one that's just been refueled. At least the switch is easy once he finds a private airfield, one that caters to the richest of the rich. The soldier had a mission in an airport just like this once and the tricks that he used then still work now.

Bucky is in and out and back on the hunt in thirty minutes flat. His targets gain a lot of distance in even that short time but their track glows faintly in his scanner and he sets his course accordingly. The path starts to fade as he flies over Russia – Hydra's bullets not as potent after years in storage – and when he reaches South Korea, it disappears entirely.

However, the siblings were starting to descend at that point and so he flies toward Seoul. The assholes that his captain fights always seem to pick the biggest town to blow up whenever possible.

Bucky tries to contact the Avengers once he's landed. Steve's team probably knows where their enemies were going, but it never hurts to verify intel and a quick anonymous message should make the heroes double-check.

Except the Avengers have gone dark, even the sniper's usual sources not showing anything. While public opinion is still with the captain and his team, whole swaths of the internet have gone dark or turned against them, overrun by posts which claim that Tony Stark is a fraud. Bucky doesn't really care about Iron Man, not beyond the flash of guilt that the name Stark brings, but this whole situation worries him.

What if he had missed something in Africa? What if Steve and his teammates had been more injured than it seemed? Bucky needs to find his targets and if they've really hurt his friend, they'll discover just how good a sniper he can be.

So he does some exploring around Seoul. He checks the city's sight-lines and searches the news for likely targets: peace summits, conferences, and important politicians until he finds a place to start. Considering the damage that he did to the siblings, a doctor at the forefront of cellular regeneration seems like a good person to stake out. If nothing else, her laboratory is near the center of the city so it will be easy to regroup if he hears explosions somewhere else.

The sniper finds a vantage point near the U-GIN building and his patience is rewarded soon enough. A sudden burst of gunfire sends Bucky into high alert as the facility starts to boil with activity. Flashes of the red light mark the presence of the enhanced siblings even as a swarm of... robots?... stream out of the front door. The soldier thinks they're holding something but before he gets a good look at the item, it's loaded on a U-GIN truck and hidden out of sight.

But whatever it is, Bucky can't let them steal it. So the sniper takes a breath and then starts firing.

His first shot hits the thing in the driver's seat right between the eyes and while it clearly isn't human, that seems to take it down. Another crawls into its place and his second shot strikes true as well, then a third and fourth and fifth, a circle of sparking robots growing around the truck.

Bucky is surprised that the siblings haven't shown up to help yet but even so, he's running out of time. When he pauses to reload, the remaining robots regroup and their heads turn as one to look at his position. They shouldn't actually be able to see him on the rooftop, but at the very least they've figured out where the shots were coming from.

And apparently the fucking things can fly, Bucky thinks as a dozen of the creatures? rush straight towards him en masse. He only shoots a couple more before the others reach him and then he's fighting for his life.

Duck, block, strike, dodge, and the crunch of metal under his left fist. Although he takes some hits, they aren't enough to slow him and when he strikes his enemies, they don't move again.

But these robots are a smokescreen. As he ducks another punch, he sees the U-GIN truck start moving and he's helpless to stop these machines from running with their prize. There are just too many for him to escape the crush in time.

And then the Avenger's plane drops out of the sky.

It hovers above the facility as Captain America jumps onto the roof and Bucky wishes desperately that he had a way to signal him. His target is getting away and a surge of adrenaline gives his punches extra weight. The last few robots fall twitching to the roof as the sniper grabs his gear and sprints toward the fire escape.

Bucky jumps down a story at a time but he's only halfway to the bottom when Steve zooms past on a tricked out motorcycle, Stark's jet right on his heels. They're following the truck; they have to be. So the sniper leaps down to the street and steals some poor bastard's bike as he goes by.

He revs the engine and chases after Steve, using the Avenger's plane to guide him as he tears through city streets. His captain and the truck both have a head start and his borrowed motorcycle isn't as powerful as the one Steve's using now. The sniper catches glimpses of his friend through the buildings here and there, following a trail of smoking wreckage through Seoul.

Bucky dodges another crash and zooms past the Black Widow, almost close enough to touch. He sees her eyes widen in his mirror and he knows he's probably blown his cover, but he doesn't have time to worry about that now.

The sniper takes a shortcut, cutting through an alleyway so tightly that his left arm scrapes against the wall. But it gets him to the truck only to discover that his captain is nowhere to be seen.

A stab of panic hits him at the thought of Steve alone, Steve hurt, Steve dead, but he has no way to find him. All Bucky can do is complete his captain's mission and hope that the other man will make it back again.

So Bucky draws his pistol and speeds forward next to the truck, leaping for the driver's door in one quick move. He twists around a blast of energy before diving through the window, grabbing the steering wheel with his left hand and shooting the driver with his right.

As the robot starts to shudder, the sniper kicks it from the truck and slides into the driver's seat. He steers the vehicle around other traffic, trying to cause as little damage as possible until he can slow it down. However, Bucky has barely touched the brake before the whole truck shudders and starts to lift up off the ground.

There's a sound of screeching metal from behind him and then an iron hand wraps around his neck, yanking the sniper back against the seat. His rifle is out of reach, pinned against his shoulders, and he doesn't want to fire his pistol blindly; who knows what he might hit?

Instead, he digs his metal fingers into the hands that's choking him, pulling it back just far enough that he can breathe. But he doesn't have the leverage to throw the robot off entirely. The sniper struggles fruitlessly as the truck continues to rise into the air. Soon enough they've reached the harbor judging by the skyline and the sound of water down below.

The Avenger's jet flies past the window, the rumble of its engines shaking the vehicle as Bucky finally manages to get a firm grip on his attacker. He plants his feet and yanks the robot forward. It bursts through the back of the cab and then continues through the windshield with a crash.

When the sniper twists around, he can see some sort of coffin through the hole that he just made, something red and shining locked inside. The Black Widow is crouched on top of the container, fending off another robot with carefully placed shots. She meets his eyes for a moment and if she didn't recognize his face before, she definitely does now.

But the woman doesn't react to Bucky's presence. She just shouts something into an ear piece and clicks a device in her left hand. Bucky covers his face when a small explosion propels both her and the strange coffin from the truck. The move would be suicidal except her plane is waiting and the sniper misses working with folks that he could trust like that.

Ah shit, he thinks instead as the truck tilts sharply. He scrambles out the window and onto the roof, digging in his left hand to stop from blowing off. Apparently his ride was being lifted by some of those weird robots, but only one of the machines is still attached.

Two of them have captured the Black Widow and are flying off in one direction while another half-a-dozen chase the Avenger's jet. The plane is headed toward the city, whatever prize they've captured more important than the friend they left behind. It's probably the right move but no. No one is getting taken while Bucky is around.

So he launches himself forward before the last robot can disconnect and send him tumbling. The sniper doesn't look down – they may be above the harbor now but it's still a long damn drop. He simply dashes to the edge of the truck and leaps into the air. His aim is true and the machines holding the Widow don't have the chance to dodge. Bucky grabs the first one with his left arm, the gears whirring as his momentum sends them spinning wildly.

He's overdue for maintenance, but Hydra's tech is still strong enough to tear off the robot's head in one quick move. The sniper lets it drop as he swings to his next robot, grabbing it around the shoulders so that it can't shake him off.

“What are you doing?” the Widow shouts, barely audible above the rushing wind.

Bucky can't fault the woman for her suspicion given that he tried to kill her in DC, though he notices that she still took advantage of his distraction to pull herself more free. He'd been hoping that their combined weight would make this thing fly lower; the arm that Hydra gave him isn't light and he's pretty sure he weighs as much as at least two people now. But other than a slight dip, the robot just keeps going, an electrified hand reaching for the Widow as she dodges nimbly.

“This is gonna suck,” the sniper says instead of answering her question. “Just hold onto me.”

He fires his last three shots into the robot's face and then grabs the woman around the waist, kicking free from that hunk of bolts as they all start plummeting. Whatever the Black Widow might be thinking, she's got an instinct for self-preservation and she doesn't fight when he turns them in the air so he'll hit the water first.

Fuck, I hate this, Bucky thinks, the sensation of falling bringing back bad memories. At least it isn't snowing and he only has a few seconds to remember before he hits the sea.

The sniper takes the brunt of the impact like he'd planned, slamming into the surface hard enough to bruise, and he tries to keep hold of the Black Widow without squeezing her too hard. Deadly or not, she's just a normal human and he feels her go limp there in his grasp. Bucky's not sure if it's shock or if she's actually unconscious, but he kicks to the surface and carries her along.

Although his arm is a fucking anchor, the Black Widow hardly weighs anything and brute strength gets the job done well enough as he starts to swim to shore. They're almost to the docks when he feels the woman stir and he lets go to allow her to swim back on her own.

The Widow's technique is miles ahead of Bucky's so she gets there first, pulling herself onto the dock in one smooth move. She watches him intently as he heaves himself up onto the pier nearby. He lost his pistol but he still has his rifle and his muscles tense as he thinks about running. The sniper is pretty sure the woman couldn't catch him and he works better in the shadows anyway.

“Bucky?”

The breathless question stops him in his tracks. He turns around and Steve is standing about twenty feet behind him, his expression a painful mix of hope and disbelief. The two enhanced siblings are there with him and part of Bucky's mind tracks their threat instinctively. But he's focused on his captain and there's no chance of running now; he can't be the person who crushes all Steve's hopes again.

“Hey punk,” the soldier says, brushing wet hair out of his eyes. “It's been awhile.”

“Bucky, what you doing here?” the other man asks. He takes a few steps forward, almost stumbling, and when Bucky doesn't move, he breaks into a run. Steve sweeps him into a hug, holding on so tightly that his ribs actually creak.

The sniper won't let himself cry, not with three strangers watching, but he buries his face in his friend's neck for just a moment, hugging him back and savoring the familiar sense of home.

“It's all right. I'm here. I've got you,” Bucky murmurs, before he pulls away. Not too far, just enough that they can talk. Steve would probably fight him if he tried to back up further anyway.

“You're a sight for sore eyes, pal, don't get me wrong,” his captain says. “But why now? I tried so hard to find you earlier.”

“I know,” the sniper sighs. “But I was in no shape for conversation, Stevie. I needed time to get my head on straight, time to be a man again. Of course, when you finally stopped chasing me, I had a lot of space to think and I knew you'd get yourself into trouble without me around. Honestly, pal, you look like you've been fighting with a meat grinder.”

“Yeah, well. Ultron hits like a freight train,” Steve replies, a smile flickering across his face.

“That was you in Africa, wasn't it?” the enhanced young woman asks. “You shot me before I could make the Hulk go mad. Why didn't you kill me? You could have easily.”

“I wasn't gonna kill you if I didn't have to,” Bucky answers with a shrug. “Besides, you led me here. I knew there must be someone bigger tugging at your strings.”

The words make his captain flinch, though he's not sure why. However, before he can ask, the Black Widow finally speaks.

“I hate to break up this little love-fest, but you've got some explaining to do, Rogers. Last I checked, all three of them were on the other side. How do you know your friend here won't lose his mind again? You expect me to believe that the Winter Soldier broke Hydra's bonds that easily?”

“Of course not,” Bucky snorts. “But I'm sane enough to help you fight and I'm pretty sure that we've got bigger problems than my messed up head right now.”

“He is correct,” the young woman agrees. “We thought Ultron wanted to kill only the Avengers; that is why we helped him. But Ultron plans to destroy everything. He wants to wipe out humanity.”

“Any idea where he's going?” Steve asks, but the enhanced just shake their heads. “Well, you'd better think about it. Now that he's lost his body, Ultron will be out for revenge and he'll be moving fast.”

The blond pauses and taps his ear piece, tilting his head as though he's listening.

“Clint says he lost the robots and he's taking the cradle back to Avengers headquarters. He's sending Sam to pick us up. All of us,” Steve emphasizes, silencing the Widow with a glance. “I know you don't like this, Natasha. But I have a feeling that we'll need all the help that we can get.”

The ride back to New York is far from comfortable. His captain and the Black Widow discuss potential strategies but Bucky doesn't know enough about this Ultron to offer his two cents. He'd get up and pace just to release some tension but Steve looked like he might pass out when the sniper started to stand. So he and the siblings are left staring at each other awkwardly.

Eventually, Bucky decides to clean his rifle, taking it apart and drying off each separate piece. He ignores the young man watching him intently until he finally speaks.

“You are the Winter Soldier. Strücker spoke of you.”

“I was,” the sniper answers, keeping his voice level. “I'm not him anymore.”

“Why did you leave?”

“Well, kid, the thing is, I never volunteered,” he says with a flash of bitterness, though his tension eases slightly when Steve presses a hand against his back. “It's not like I'm the only one with second thoughts here. What changed your minds about Ultron?”

“I saw what he was planning,” the young woman answers almost dreamily. “There was death inside his mind. He believes that humans are a virus and he intends to wipe up out. Kill us in one blaze of glory just like the dinosaurs.”

“So... he has a comet?” Bucky asks.

“I do not know,” she tells him. “His plan had not been fully formed.”

“Well, that's just fine and dandy, isn't it? Hopefully the other Avengers will have found out more information by the time that we arrive.”

However, when their group lands at the team's new compound, they walk into a heated argument. Bucky would be the first to admit that he doesn't know what's going on. There's some fuss over the body that they rescued – stole – and he backs up Steve because he can't do otherwise. But when Thor shows up to electrocute the world, the sniper washes his hands of this whole mess. Apparently the Avengers have started building people and he really doesn't know how this became his life.

Of course, there's still a mission to, you know, save humanity, so while Steve argues with his team about trust, rocks, and the ethics of creation, Bucky walks over to the brand-new robot man. He's got enough of a brain to name himself – though Vision is an odd choice – maybe he also has a head for strategy.

“Hey, buddy, You got any insight into Ultron in that magic head of yours? My psychic friend there says he plans to make humanity extinct and if we're gonna stop him, we need to find out where he's gonna let the hammer fall.”

“And you think I know? We do not share a mind,” Vision replies, somehow managing to sound both emotionless and offended at the same time.

“That's kind of obvious since you aren't trying to murder me right now,” Bucky tells him. “But from what I understand, that body was meant to be his and so maybe he left a clue behind.”

The sniper knows all about those lingering traces; his body and his mind are littered with them still.

Vision tilts his head, considering the words. “Perhaps. As I was, I fought with Ultron. As I am, his hatred echoes in these veins.”

Then the robot closes his eyes and Bucky refuses to flinch when a gem in his forehead starts to glow. Vision takes one breath, a long deep sigh, before a voice spills from his mouth that is clearly not his own.

“I have been thinking about meteors, the purity of them. Boom! The end to start again. The world made clean for the new man to rebuild. I was meant to be new. I was meant to be beautiful. The world would have looked to the sky and seen hope, seen mercy. Instead, they'll look up in horror because of you.”

The Avengers fall silent, their argument trailing off as Vision's strange speech continues. One by one, they move to Bucky's side and he leans into Steve when their arms brush together. They stand silently, waiting until the robot opens up his eyes.

“What was that?” his captain asks, fingers clenching on his shield.

“Ultron, or rather, an echo of him. Your friend here was right. He wishes to end everything and I believe that I know where.”

“And that's it, you're on our side?”

“I don't think it's that simple,” Vision tells him.

“Well, it better get real simple soon,” the archer growls.

“I am on the side of life. Ultron isn't.”

“What's he waiting for?” Iron Man asks and when the robot answers, “You,” no one looks surprised.

“Where?”

“Back to the beginning,” Vision says with a faint smile. “Back to Sokovia.”

“If we're wrong about you; if you're the monster Ultron wanted you to be, then we will destroy you too,” Steve warns. It's a promise not a threat; one that Bucky will help him keep if necessary. No one is allowed to hurt his friend while he's around.

“I don't want to kill Ultron,” the robot tells him. “He's unique and he's in pain. But that pain will roll over the earth unless he is destroyed. Every form he's built, every trace of his presence on the internet must be eliminated and we must do it now. Maybe I am a monster. I don't think I would know if that were true and there may be no way to make you trust me. I am not you and I am not what Stark intended. But time is short and we must go.”

Vision lifts Thor's hammer off the coffee table and hands it to the god, and the tone of the entire room changes instantly. Bucky doesn't understand the change – it's just a hammer – but he snaps to attention when his captain starts handing orders out. The Avengers scatter to prepare and the sniper turns to Steve to ask about better gear. But the other man just frowns when their eyes meet.

“You don't have to do this, Buck,” Steve tells him. “You don't have to follow me into another war. Not when you've just found peace.”

He appreciates the sentiment. He does. But his friend is still a damn fool idiot.

“You're not going anywhere without me, pal,” Bucky promises and he's rewarded with a blinding grin before his arms are full of Steve again.

“God I've missed you,” his captain says and Bucky shares the sentiment. Here in his friend's arms is the only time that he's felt truly warm since he woke up. It's the only time that he's felt safe and the sniper has been running for too long.

So he hugs Steve back, trying to burn the sensation into his memory. He knows they're going into a battle that they might not survive, and if he dies, he wants this to be the last thing he remembers. He wants to go out as Bucky instead of Hydra's loaded gun.

Of course, given the choice, none of them will die at all and he loads up heavily. The sniper knows that he'll need some serious firepower if Ultron has an army of those robots. His arm is powerful but it doesn't work so great at range and given the way it's started grinding, he'd rather not rely on it too heavily.

Maybe Bucky should ask Iron Man to examine his arm during their journey; Howard could probably have fixed him in a couple hours and from what he's seen, the younger Stark is just as talented. But even if the thought of anyone touching his arm didn't make the sniper nauseous, looking at Tony Stark makes Bucky feel like he's choking, his ears filled with broken pleading from fractured memories. There's something he should remember and he knows that it's not pretty; he wouldn't feel this awful otherwise.

However, this isn't the time to worry about the Winter Soldier's crimes so Bucky just accepts that he can't deal with Stark right now. Instead, he boards the plane and hunkers down next to Steve, making sure his guns are ready while discussing strategy. They may not know exactly what they're getting into, but it doesn't hurt to have more information about Ultron's capabilities.

That said, Bucky sure as hell isn't expecting to see a city fly. It may not be the whole city, broken roads and collapsing building showing where the line was drawn, but it's damn sure close enough.

For a second, the sniper simply gapes, wondering how the Avengers are supposed to fight something capable of that. But it's a fleeting thought. He's never let certain death stop him from following his best friend into battle and he's not going to start now. So the sniper just hefts his rifle when Captain America starts barking orders and while he doesn't know his teammates well, he sees a familiar stubbornness in their expressions when he looks around.

Oh god, they're all like Steve, he thinks as they leap into action. Bucky finds himself a vantage point and then does what he does best. He was a sniper long before he was the Winter Soldier and those skills still serve him well. Bucky covers his captain's blind spot, each careful shot leaving a broken robot on the ground.

When he hears a call for backup, the sniper switches his attention and a spray of bullets gives the enhanced an opening. Bucky ignores the technical chatter coming across his ear piece, filtering out the extra noise with practiced ease. He's never been the science guy; his job is ensuring that his team-mates and the noncombatants all make it out alive.

The battle rages across the floating city, Bucky forced to change positions several times. He'd like to say they're winning but he's running low on bullets and Ultron's army still has no end in sight.

When Captain America calls his team together to protect the machine that's keeping them aloft, the sniper swings his rifle over his shoulder and drops down to the ground. He throws himself into the brawl, making use of every trick he's ever learned. The Winter Soldier is closer to the surface now as he calls upon those instincts, his metal arm tearing through his enemies. But Bucky can't lose himself completely, not when his captain's here.

Steve has always been the center of his unstable orbit and seventy years later, it seems that hasn't changed. Honestly, he doesn't know why he was so afraid to see his friend again.

The two of them still fight together seamlessly, no wasted moves, no wasted strikes to give each other openings. It almost feels like dancing as that rhythm spreads throughout their team, Avengers old and new working as one cohesive unit, a living wall of fists and weapons that turns Ultron's assault aside.

Bucky is smiling when the last robot shatters in his fist, the rush of fighting with Steve on equal footing singing in his veins. He feels present in his body and even Stark's grim voice can't bring his spirits down.

Given all his second chances, all the deaths he caused for Hydra, dying to save the planet doesn't seem too harsh a trade. At least he'll go out a hero with his best friend at his side. One by one, the rest of their strange team makes the same promise, determined to protect the world at any cost. It's a fitting end for all of them and maybe that's why Bucky can't believe it when S.H.I.E.L.D. brings the cavalry. This isn't how his story goes; he's never been that lucky and he can't shake the feeling that something will go wrong.

So while Iron Man preps explosions that will somehow save them all and the other fliers go out searching for the last of Ultron's robots – while Wanda stays behind to guard the power source and the rest of the Avengers load civilians into S.H.I.E.L.D.'s flying battleship, Bucky finds himself a sniper's perch again.

He still has a couple bullets left and this is when folks get careless: when the mission is almost over and victory's in grasp.

At first, it seems like Bucky is just being paranoid. The rescue goes without a hitch, civilians loaded cleanly and the few robots that try to stop them are destroyed easily enough. Ultron must have spent most of his army on that last assault and for all his power, perhaps he wasn't smart enough to keep some forces in reserve.

There's only a few people left when his captain gives the order for the Avengers to withdraw. Stark is in position and Vision can pick off any stragglers who aren't destroyed when the floating city goes.

Bucky is about to stand when a flash of movement catches his attention and his paranoia is proved right after all. It's the Avenger's jet – their fucking jet - with one of Ultron's bodies in the cockpit. His teammates dive for cover as the robot opens fire, throwing themselves across civilians whenever possible.

None of them have the range or firepower to take out this new threat; the ones who do are elsewhere hunting Ultron down. All of them but Bucky and to be honest, he's not sure if his rifle can punch through that plane's glass.

But he's damn well gonna try it anyway. So the sniper shoves aside his worry and his fear, thinking about the people in the kill zone won't help anyone right now.

Bucky pulls the trigger on one long exhale, his bullet slamming cleanly into that hardened glass. Breathe, shoot. Breathe. Shoot. Breathe. Shoot. Each shot strikes the same position until the surface finally cracks and the plane stops firing as Ultron jerks back in surprise.

One more shot would end him but the sniper's gun clicks empty when he tries. However, before his enemy can pull himself together, a roar echoes off the buildings and a green blur slams into the jet. Bucky watches with bemusement as the Hulk tears the plane to shreds before shrugging and holstering his rifle. It appears that his teammate has the situation well in hand.

From there, it's only clean up. Bucky climbs down to the street and helps the last few people board the ship. Several of his allies caught a few more bullets in that ambush, but they're all still breathing and Pietro takes his bandage like a champ.

Bucky helps the medics as Steve coordinates with Iron Man to ensure the ship is clear before the city blows. But eventually the sniper runs out of injured people and the medics order him to sit down with fire in their eyes. So he drops down next to Steve with an exhausted sigh. He feels like he should say something but when his captain throws an arm around his shoulders, Bucky knows they don't need words at all.

Instead, he slumps into Steve's embrace, the two men leaning on each other like they've done a hundred times before. He may not know what happens next, has no idea about the future, but that doesn't matter now.

Because this is Bucky's second chance. Somehow he's got his mind back, somehow he still has Steve and as long as they're together, he knows that they'll be fine. These two boys from Brooklyn will figure something out.


End

Tags: avengers, canon!au, fic, gen, humor, mid-series, poignant
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