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  1. Public Bookmark *

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    You take the arm off four days later.

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    20 Sep 2020

    Bookmarker's Notes

    It was yours.

    It's yours, and you don't want to do this, but you have to.

    You weren't allowed to watch, but you know this: there are things in your arm that aren't yours. Things the Americans put there, after they'd taken you out of you. The thought makes you crawl, inside. You think you'll shiver right out of your skin if you think too hard about the things in your arm. You want them out.

    They won't come out, the Americans said. Threatened. They won't come out, so don't try. It's all hooked up together. The wrist bone is connected to the arm bone. The tracker is connected to the pharmacological dispenser. The pharmacological dispenser is connected to the incendiary device. They won't come out. So don't try.

    Inside the arm are these: two trackers, two electromagnets, one small bomb, one remote detonator, and eight dispensers. Three of these are on timers. One of them seems to have no effect; it may be empty. The other two are unpleasant. One is a stimulant. The other is a sedative. They tell you when to wake up and when to sleep. The sedative is set to dispense in two hours and forty-seven minutes.

    Of all the lists you know, this is your least favourite. This is the list of all the reasons the arm needs to come off.

    You half-expect to be electrocuted when you insert the pry bar under a plate in your biceps. The body remembers. Maintenance comes with shocks. But: nothing happens. You feel very brave. You look inside the arm.

    You close your eyes, and swallow, and swallow. Your heart batters at your ribs. Your stomach tries to crawl into your throat. You tell them: stop, stop. Your systems must obey. They must be calm.

    Your upper lip is damp with sweat.

    You look inside.

    It's not encouraging.

    You pry off the next plate.

    Between that plate and the next, you are seized with something. You don't know the word for it in any language. It's something like anger and something like fear and something like nausea. There is a vicious spirit in your hand. Plates rebound off of nearby surfaces: ping, ting, tong. You make music.

    It takes thirty-eight minutes to strip your arm of plates. You look at your weapon. You can see all of its parts. Wires for nerves and fibres for muscles and shiny titanium bones. Your poor naked weapon. You think about separating it from the rest of you. You think about it alone and cold and apart. You want to put your hand on your wrist and tell it that everything will be okay. But you can't lie to yourself. You can't. It's just. It's yours.

    The plates around your shoulder don't come off when you put the pry bar beneath them. They're screwed into your bones. There's no one around to hear the small animal noises you make when you take them out, but you're ashamed of them anyway.

    There are four screws in your collarbone. There are six screws in your scapula. You don't think you can take them out. You make a fist around the screwdriver and almost throw it across the room. You look at your blood on the head, on the handle.

    It turns out you're a lot more flexible than you thought you were. The screws come out.

    The arm won't come off afterwards.

    You panic.

    You shove the screwdriver under the plates. You make yourself bleed more. There is a terrifying noise. You realize it's your noise: snuffling, choking, whimpering. The rough saw of your breath. You make yourself quiet.

    When you've settled, the solution comes to you. Sometimes the arm becomes jammed when this happens, you rotate it all the way around to line up the pieces of the joint. Maybe if you go the other way.

    It works. You make a noise in your throat. A good noise. A good noise also comes from the arm. A satisfying clink-clunk, like something has come loose in your shoulder. The arm falls, and then catches on the wires.

    You aren't prepared for the pain.

    You bite your cheek bloody. It drips down your chin, onto your hand. The tool. The wire-cutters, in your hand. You make more noises. You tell yourself to shut up. Something is beeping.

    Clip.
    Clip.
    Clip.
    Clip.

    You drop everything. You slip on the drop-cloth: sweat and plasma.

    You throw the arm.

    You throw it and you throw yourself. Your weapon, across the room. Your body, under the sink.

    There is only the sound of your breathing and your bleeding.

    There is only that sound for a very long time.

    When you come out, you come crawling. Scared, like a baby monkey. Your toes try to grip the dust-gritty floor. You come at the weapon sideways, your heart slamming at your ribs.

    The weapon does not blow up when you touch it.

    All the lights have gone out.

    You touch your arm and you cry. Slow, at first, and then you make a little hiccoughy noise, and you can't stop. It's dead. It was yours and now it's dead.

    You don't know how long you lay curled, touching your own fingers.

  2. Public Bookmark *

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    Natalia is stacking blocks very carefully when the adults come into the room. None of them look at her, because they're all looking at her father. He's wearing combat gear, and the hair on the left side of his head is slicked back with blood. He smells like smoke and something unnameable, sweet and dark and a little sickly in her nose.

    Father is saying, “Don't be ridiculous. The only thing children are good at is disobeying.”

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    19 Sep 2020

    Bookmarker's Notes

    Natalia lives with sixteen other girls. They're all around the same age. It's an experiment, she hears the adults say. They're trying to determine the time-cost efficacy of raising assets. Rearing the blood of the Soldat. They want to replicate her father's perfection. Father is special: he's the only one who can come out of the machines intact.

    *

    “—goddamn animals, they're little girls, they're just kids, you fucking—”

    Her father screams in English, in Mandarin, in Russian, and then he just screams.

    The victorious team is showered with praise before they're dismissed. Natalia goes to the changing rooms. She strips out of her uniform. Showers. Gathers her things.

    Once the door is closed, she throws up until even the bile won't come.

    Yelena isn't far behind her. When she comes in, unwashed and pale, Natalia has a surge of anger under her skin. Yelena, who always sees the light in any situation. Yelena, who never disobeys orders. Yelena, who refused to die.

    *

    “It also tells you where I am from,” Lubov says. Her eyes are wide open and shining. Natalia thinks, not for the first time, that perhaps this woman is crazy. “Where are you from, Soldat?”

    “I was born in Russia,” he says, like always does, like he's speaking to a dim child. “In 1957.”

    “Were you? Is that why you speak like an old novel?” Father's head comes up. So does Natalia's. Lubov shakes her black hair. “You did not know, of course. They would not have told you. No one uses those words anymore. My grandfather did, perhaps. When he was drinking. No, you are not from Russia.”

    “Why do you tell me this now?” her father asks. His lip is curled in anger, like a dog.

    “Because you are not going to come back,” says Lubov Borodina Kievich.

    *

    “I made a decision,” he says to the floor. “I ain't a hero, but I knew I could save one. Which was better than not saving any. That has to matter – doesn't it?” Father looks at Deacon, at Colette, something hard in his eyes, his jaw. “It has to.”

    “You saved two,” says Deacon, and Father, blinking quickly, looks away.

    *

    Natalia always comes running when Father screams in his sleep. She came for him when he was in the chair, and she doesn't plan to stop now. She is her father's keeper.

    Often he doesn't know her when she wakes him up, but he's never hurt her. He always seems grateful that a person is nearby. Natalia doesn't mind, even though it upsets her to see him in distress. She'd want someone to do the same, if she was like him.

    Father's back is arched, his hand wrapped in the sheets like he's trying to hold himself down. His hair clings to the sweat on his face. His teeth are clenched and bared.

    When he's like this, she's learned, it's best not to grab him. She carefully untangles his hand instead, and strokes her fingers over the back of his wrist to soothe him.

    She goes still when Father says, “Steve.”

    Natalia has heard him shriek in pain, or beg for someone to stop. She's heard him threaten, snarl like an animal, curse in every language he knows until his throat is hoarse – but she's never heard him say anyone's name.

    She doesn't know what to do.

    *

    “Fall?” Natalia grabs the edge of the table. Her handcuffs clink against it. “When – did anyone – there were twenty-three girls—”

    Hill is shaking her head. “The Red Room collapsed in 2005, following a faction war. As far as we can tell, it was absorbed into a terrorist cell somewhere east of Moscow. All assets would have been transferred or liquidated.” Hill looks apologetic. “Including people. I'm sorry. Were they your friends?”

    “They were everything,” Natalia says. She doesn't expect the woman to understand. There isn't a word in English strong enough.

    *

    Then: there, on the screen, larger than life, is Yelena.

    Natalia makes a sound like a sob, and covers her nose and mouth with both hands. Her vision swims and she tries to blink it away. She doesn't want to miss a moment.

    It's not Colette, though, who walks behind Yelena and bends over to look at the screen, mouth open, looking like she's been punched in the gut.

    It's Ekaterina.

    Natalia grabs at the nearest object for stability. It happens to be Father's knee.

    Sofiya comes next, and then Veronika; Elif and Anna and Darya, Yulia and Olesya: alone, or in pairs, until there are nineteen young women clustered around the camera, sun-touched and bright-eyed and more beautiful than Natalia ever thought possible.

    Alina, towards the back, says “Papa,” and Natalia turns to look at him.

    Father is shivering. Steve reaches out, then pauses, as if he's not sure he should even be here, witnessing; and then he wraps a firm arm around Father's shoulders. Father leans into him like a felled tree.

    “When?” Natalia asks the screen. “How?”

    “You sent them for us,” says Elif.

  3. Public Bookmark *

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    The growl started as soon as Steve stepped through the cell door.

    Steve was barefoot and empty-handed, dressed only in sweatpants and a tank top. He spun in a slow circle to show there were no weapons tucked into his waistband or hidden at the small of his back. No threat, his lowered gaze and open palms said.

    It was a lie, and the other man in the room knew it. Steve’s body was weapon enough.

     

    (Post-CA:TWS Bucky catches up on gentle skin contact, courtesy of Steve.)

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    18 Sep 2020

    Bookmarker's Notes

    Hopefully Bucky’s provide instincts were rewarding him with a wave of dopamine and serotonin for feeding the hungry omega. Bucky was definitely getting something out of this; his scent had mellowed, the acrid smell of stress fading as he moved onto offering french fries. Steve knew his own scent was getting richer, his body’s reward circuits lighting up with pleasure at the attentions of his alpha.

    Not yours anymore.

    Steve tried to push the thought away. He had a mission, dammit, and bawling in the corner over the love of his life not recognizing him anymore was not going to help Bucky feel safe and secure.

    Bucky curled his left fingers inward, his fist too loose to be at all threatening. He brushed his knuckles against Steve’s arm, reaching behind Steve’s back to drag the touch all the way down to Steve’s cuffed wrist. The metal hand left a trail of coolness that raised goosebumps in its wake.

    Steve’s skin felt hypersensitive, alive to every change in pressure as Bucky’s hands roamed over him. Bucky’s left hand touched the bindings at Steve’s wrists and ankles, and Steve wondered if he was nervous about their strength, but soon Bucky was petting along Steve’s shoulders and arms with both hands.

    When Bucky leaned in to nose at Steve’s neck, Steve felt a flare of heat at the accidental brush of Bucky’s lips against his collarbone, and an embarrassing jolt of arousal.

    Bucky paused and scented Steve again. Steve’s face flushed. Bucky’s system was so overtaxed that there was no way he’d reach arousal anytime soon, even if he were capable of giving consent in his feral state, but Steve’s wildly optimistic body didn’t know that, and it was reacting to Bucky’s nearness, producing a hint of slick.

    Slick that Bucky, apparently, had no trouble sniffing out the source of. Bucky hooked a finger in the waistband of Steve’s sweatpants and pulled it forward an inch or so, looking down curiously at the bulge in Steve’s briefs.

    Jesus Christ, Buck. “Uh, Bucky, that’s not--” Steve ran out of words, completely at a loss. It was hard to concentrate with Bucky looking at him like that.

    “Captain Rogers,” JARVIS said, “should I summon assistance?”

    “No!” Steve yelped. They’d made so much progress, and he didn’t want an Avenger bursting in and scaring Bucky back under his bed.

    Bucky flinched back like he’d been slapped. He was halfway across the room in an instant, posture closed off and shoulders braced. Expecting to be punished? Shit, so much for not scaring him.

    “No, I’m sorry, Bucky, I didn’t mean you.” Steve made a conscious effort to slow his words down and sound soothing instead of panicked. “You’re fine. Clothes just have to stay on, okay? But you didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t mean to yell.” Please come back.

    Bucky kept his eyes averted and moved sideways, putting his back to the wall. Not returning, but not retreating back under the cot, either. Steve willed away his anger with himself and tried to relax again.

    After a while Bucky shuffled back towards the food tray and picked up the bread roll. He looked towards Steve cautiously, not quite meeting his eyes.

    Steve took a guess. “Is that for me?”

    Bucky’s shoulders loosened a little. Right response. He moved back within reach of Steve, offering a torn-off scrap of bread. This time he used his right hand, and that had to be a good sign. At least Bucky trusted Steve not to bite him.

    Steve took it from Bucky’s fingers with his lips and gave Bucky a smile while he chewed. “Thanks, Bucky.”

    Bucky fed him the whole roll in small bites, his body relaxing slowly as Steve accepted the food and kept up a steady stream of thanks and reassurance. The bitter apprehension faded from his scent.

    Once the roll was gone, Bucky raised his right hand and set it very lightly against Steve’s shoulder. His eyes darted to Steve’s face and back down, his question unspoken but clear. Is this allowed?

    “That’s great, Buck. You can touch me all you want.”

    Apparently that was all Bucky needed. Suddenly Steve had a lapful of warm alpha, with Bucky’s legs straddling his folded thighs. His knees protested at the added weight, but Steve didn’t give a single, solitary fuck. A wave of relief swept through him. Bucky was right there, soaking up the contact Steve was only too happy to offer.

    Both of Bucky’s hands roamed over Steve’s shoulders and back, one cool, one fever hot. Bucky pressed his chin against Steve’s collarbone and buried his nose in Steve’s neck. Steve let joy fill him, hoping his scent carried proof of how very, very okay this was, and how much Steve wanted Bucky to keep touching him.

    Bucky drew back and met Steve’s eyes for the first time. His fingers traced the outline of Steve’s jaw, smoothing over the hint of stubble that was starting to form. “Steve?”

    “Yeah, Buck, it’s me. It’s Steve.”

  4. Public Bookmark *

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    That's not something he can truly accept, but maybe he has to anyway.

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    17 Sep 2020

    Bookmarker's Notes

    “Zhel—” His hands were shaking; the words were blurring before his eyes. He blinked the tears out and swallowed thickly around a raspy throat. “Zhela—”

    “Stop. Jesus. Stop.” Bucky got up from the chair, almost stumbled. “Steve, I’m sorry, you don’t have to—how could I ask you to—”

    He ripped out the notebook from Steve’s hands—and Steve lunged against him trying to get it back.

    “No,” he said, reaching, “no, wait, I can do this, I’m sorry, I was getting there—”

    “Steve, stop,” Bucky panted—when had he grabbed Steve like this?—why was he pushing back against him?—“Steve, stop, stop!”—but Steve couldn’t stop—he had to get the notebook back—he shouldn’t have let go of it—Bucky’s safety depended on it—

    “No, I can do this,” Steve said, still trying to break free. “I can do this—”

    “Steve,” Bucky pleaded. “Steve, I’m so fucking sorry, just listen to me, you don’t have to do it, I should’ve never asked you to do it, I just went mad for a second, I didn’t think of how much it would hurt you—”

    And that was when Steve stopped struggling. It was like his entire body had powered down. Suddenly everything was very quiet in his head; he felt limp and heavy, like he might never move again. All he could do was sag against Bucky. So this was what it felt like. To have all the fight gone out of him. It was a strange, unpleasant feeling. But he'd been right. It was a relief, too.

    “Steve?” Bucky asked shakily. He sounded incredibly worried. “Steve?”

    “I’m sorry,” Steve murmured. Hot tears rolled down his face, seeping into the cloth of Bucky’s shirt. “I’ve been so goddamn selfish.”

    Bucky sounded completely lost. “What?”

    “All those tests. All those scans. You were even gonna let me say the words.” Steve let out a small, wet scoff. “Today’s the only time you asked for it to stop. And that’s because you thought it might hurt me. It’s okay, Buck. You don’t have to do this anymore. I’m sorry it took me so long.” He pushed the words out like a nausea. “I’ll let you rest. For good this time. I can be alone. I’ll learn how.”

    Bucky let out an animal noise.

    *

    “I’m expecting you to call Sharon.”

    Steve blinked. This he hadn’t seen coming. “Sharon?” he repeated, nonplussed. “I haven’t… We haven’t really been in touch.”

    “Because you were fussing over me.” Bucky shifted in his chair as if to get more comfortable. “I’m here now. So you should start thinking about the future.”

    Steve stared at him.

    “Jesus,” he said eventually.

    His tone alerted Bucky, who reopened his eyes. “What?”

    “You’re still expecting me to keep you in storage.”

    Steve’s mind was running double time with indignation. He knew this had been too easy. Bucky was too quiet and too compliant. Bucky was still resigned. He was enduring this like he’d been enduring the tests in Wakanda—to keep Steve content. He still expected to be forgotten and put aside eventually.

    “Get up,” Steve said.

    “Steve…”

    “Get up,” Steve repeated, and grabbed his metal hand to hoist him to his feet so he could look him in the eye. He’d never been so frustrated in his life. “Bucky. I’m with you.”

    “To the end of the line,” Bucky completed. “I know.” His vibranium fingers loosened around Steve’s. “There’s more to life than that.”

    Steve stepped away for a second to scrub a hand over his face. “Christ. Okay. That’s it.” He dropped his hands and took a deep breath. “Nothing to it. Let’s just get married.”

    Bucky just stared at him.

    “What,” he said eventually.

    “Good times and bad, sickness and health, till death do us part. That sounds a lot like what I’m trying to tell you and what you just won’t hear.” Steve huffed through his nose. “You’re my best friend. You’re my only family. It’s always gonna be you first and foremost, Bucky.” Desperation crept in his voice despite himself. “Do you still not believe that?”

    Bucky looked too shocked to speak.

    Bucky just blinked at him for another few seconds. Then he started laughing—quietly at first, and then louder, until he had to sit back in his chair and rest his face in his hand and just laugh and laugh and laugh.

    “Oh,” Bucky exhaled eventually, “Jesus.”

    Steve was still very red but refusing to back down. Bucky stared at him for a while, then he looked away with a scoff. “You’re something else, Rogers.”

    “Look, as far as I’m concerned, if I ever look someone else in the eye and tell them they’re the most important person in my life, then I’ll be lying.” He exhaled, then looked down. “And… I want to live with you again,” he said quietly. “I missed it. I’m tired of needing excuses for it.”

    Bucky huffed again, incredulously.

    Steve looked up at him. “What?”

    “Fine,”

    Then he turned his head to look at Steve again. His eyes were crinkling at the corners. Steve stayed still and dumb for a second. Then he found himself smiling and absolutely unable to stop.

  5. Public Bookmark *

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    Steve gets a job drawing dirty comics. Bucky thinks he needs help coming up with sketches. Not that Bucky minds posing in ladies' underthings.

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    16 Sep 2020

    Bookmarker's Notes

    Bucky stands in the doorway, and Steve can't breathe. He's naked except for the things Steve bought him: his cream panties with their attached garters cleverly snapped to the lacy tops of his nylons, which lead down to his sweet little shoes. He turns around, one hand on the doorframe, to show Steve the view from behind.

    "Are my seams straight?" he asks.

    The thin white lines run a perfect meridian down the back of each leg before they disappear into the heels. "Yeah," Steve croaks. "They're good."

    "This part I can handle," Bucky says as he fishes the same dark red lipstick out of his sock drawer and applies it to his mouth. He presses his lips together to get the color even and blows a kiss at the little mirror on the wall. "Want to do my eyes?"

    "Whatever you want." He closes his eyes and tips his face toward Steve.

    Heart, don't fail me now, Steve tells his betrayal of a body. He takes a deep breath, swirls a brush in the deep purple pigment, and waits for his hand to stop shaking. It only takes a few seconds.

    Bucky has beautiful eyes, long-lashed and well-spaced. The curves of his eyelids take the eyeshadow nicely, then Steve lines the whole thing with a finely pointed brush dipped in black. There's a tiny comb embedded in the set for mascara, so Steve uses that too, making those eyelashes darker and fuller. The whole while Bucky stays perfectly still, eyes trembling under their lids, mouth shut.

    "Okay," Steve finally says. "Take a look."

    Bucky's eyes open and look at Steve, as if he's the first mirror they need to consult. He must see Steve's reaction plain as day, because Bucky grins and bounds over to the mirror on the wall, heels clacking.

    "Jesus," he whispers, planting his hands on the dresser and leaning in for a closer look. "I'm gorgeous."

    "Modest, too," Steve laughs. He busies himself with packing away the makeup while Bucky turns his head this way and that, ogling his reflection.

    "You did a real nice job, Stevie," he says at last. "Too bad these comics of yours are black and white."

    Steve pauses in his movements, turned away to set the makeup case on the nightstand, his eyes slipping shut. Damn it, it would have been easy to pretend this was all for a job. But as always, Bucky's seen right through him.

    The mattress dips but Steve doesn't turn around, not even when he feels the warm bulk of Bucky slotting in behind him. "If you want to pretend I'm a girl some more," he whispers in Steve's reddening ear, "all you have to do is ask."

    "I—I don't want that," Steve says. There's a slight pause, and then Bucky is pulling away and Steve realizes how that sounded. He whirls, grabbing onto Bucky's bare arm with all his strength. "No, I mean—" He can see Bucky's face shutter, the angry twist to his painted lips, the darkening of his made-up eyes. "I don't need you to be a girl. But maybe…?" His other hand comes up and lifts Bucky's chin an inch so their eyes meet again. "Maybe it's you who needs it. Is that it, Buck?"

    Bucky's lip trembles and his eyes dart down.

    "It's just, last night, with the stockings and everything," Steve plows onward. "Not just when we kissed, either. I could tell you liked it. The way I drew you." He dips his head to catch Bucky's eyes. "Am I right?"

    "Yeah," Bucky says. He adjusts the straps of his garters with a flick of his fingers. "You're right. I like it. I mean, I like the other stuff too, don't get me wrong. I love stepping out with girls, love the way they smell, love them in bed. But sometimes I also—" He shuts his mouth with a click.

    "Also what? Come on, you can tell me," Steve promises.

    "Sometimes I'm goddamned jealous of them." Bucky looks up, his eyes bright. "And I just want to be this for a little while." He smooths his hands down the sides of his thighs, down the nylon fabric. "Is that—?"

    "That's all right. It's all right," Steve promises. He's brave, and he puts his hand over Bucky's, on top of his silky thigh. "I still—" He searches for the words while Bucky's eyes search his face. "I like you both ways."

    Bucky's face flushes and he looks out the dark window. "I bet you say that to all the girls," he says with a dry laugh.

    Steve moves closer, his hand sliding down between Bucky's legs. Bucky lets out a little sigh, lets them fall open to make room for him. "Only one," he confesses into the side of Bucky's neck. "Just now."

    "Yeah?" Bucky whispers. "I'm your girl?"

    "Yeah, Buck." Steve presses a kiss behind Bucky's ear. "You're my everything."

    Bucky's breath hitches as Steve's fingers go exploring up the soft skin of his inner thigh. They encounter the bulge of Bucky's cock, hard and trapped under soft lace. Steve finds the damp spot forming on the fabric, rubs it gingerly with his fingertips.