Chapter 1: When it Rains, It Snows
At first, the pain was unbearable. It stung and burned him like never before . Like a flame in his very core, pulsing around and bushing to get out, trying to rip him up from the inside out. He wanted to scream and cry until his body gave out .
They were all dead. Dead. Dead.
Steve had never felt anything like that before- Wait, no, that wasn’t true.
Bucky's falling and falling and everything slows down and he can’t move and he can’t get to him-
Until a moment where it all just... burned out.
He felt numb, transparent, even. It was like he lost all ability to feel any more pain. To feel anything at all... just this bitter numbness and aching silence.
Maybe he was better this way, he really didn’t want to feel that agony again.
Why did they have to thaw him out? He had already accepted that he was going to die. Come to terms with it, even. He couldn’t help but feel old at that thought. Not even referring to his time in the ice, because physically he was young by most standards. There had never been a part of him that believe that he would live a long life. Whether he’d go from an illness or a battle where his luck ran out. He wouldn’t lie and say that he didn’t fear dying but he had always been fine with it, he was a soldier and had spent his entire life fighting for what he believed in. It was only natural that fatigue would eventually creep up on him and swallow him up.
They had said 'till the end of the line', but Bucky’s line had ended far quicker than expected. He hated to keep him waiting.
I just got him back! Why. Why. Why?!
Steve remembered the moment clearly when the full extent of his predicament hit him. It was glued to the front of his mind.
It took him a moment to recover from the blunt force of the fall and realis that the impact didn’t kill him, just knocked him out of the pilot seat. There was an aching in his ribcage that reminded him how it was to breathe with asthma, leaving him heaving. His head swayed but he made it to the aircraft’s door in matter of seconds. He pulled at it with all of his left over strength , but the door had gotten damaged and his hands felt like noodles (something that wasn’t supposed to happen anymore). It was so cold there. He couldn’t wedge it open.
Steve stilled for a moment and listened. He could feel the aircraft sinking into the sea and his heart went with it. The engines made protesting sounds as they stopped functioning. No more flapping, not for this metallic bird. Now, he was alone. He couldn’t see his shield that he could cling to for comfort and familiarity anywhere in the cold darkness.
He wasn’t sure how he felt. (Scared, terrified, that’s for sure.) He had saved everyone. He had done it, and would do it over and over again if he had to, but it was so cold, and he couldn’t save Bucky...
And what about Peggy... Their dance.
God, he was tired, he could feel the bone chilling cold creep into his very core. The ice pricking water was moving up his leg, but he couldn’t move. He couldn’t remember feeling this tired since he got the serum.
He wished someone were there to distract him, talk to him, like Bucky used to when he was sick. He wanted Bucky.
‘ It’s not all bad, though,' he thought to himself, 'You’ll see him again.’ He latched himself onto that thought like it was the entire universe and found a little warmth coming to him at the prospect of seeing his family again. Bucky's dopey smile, his fond laugh.
Yeah, it would be okay. He had failed a promise (Peggy will never forgive him) but he’d done his duty.
Steve realised he wasn't only shaking any more. He was shivering, the room was too cold, like the water, and it was choking him. Before he had never thought of cold as a physical thing, just something deadly swimming around in the air. Now though, it slammed into him like a creature bouncing on its prey. It sunk its teeth into him, infecting him with its essence, poisoning him and he was too weak to get away from it. He couldn’t find it in himself to fight the urge to close his eyes and succumb to sleep.
They ( They ) gave him two weeks. Only two weeks to digest it all before shoving his shield into his hand and introducing him to this world’s newest catastrophe and the people They brought in to stop it. The ones that were supposed to be his new team. But they weren’t really his team, were they? The Howling Commandos had been his team, and while this (whatever it was) had its perks, it wasn’t his team.
The first thought that came to mind after being introduced was that this was never going to work.
Romanov mirrored whatever he gave her perfectly, which was indifference. The best word to describe her would be cryptic. She was the kind of cypher that even the best code breakers wouldn’t even dare to touch. Every word that came out of her mouth seemed calculated and not quite revealing the entire truth. He was usually so good at figuring people out that it was unsettling to not get an inkling from her while she looked at him like she knew everything there was to ever know about anything in the entire universe and she wasn’t above using it against you. Steve decided that he wasn’t going to get on her bad side.
Dr Banner was the quiet type, that much was clear. Maybe he would be more outgoing once the tension passed. He didn’t know how the scientist held it together so well, he remembered anger at its truest form. His used to be angry at everything, someone picking on the weaker, women getting harassed by assholes, someone who didn’t know him getting into his face and telling him who he should be. Anything could get his blood boiling. Steve couldn’t imagine how Banner lived with that every day and still managed to be so nice. He felt sorry for him that he had to get tangled up in all of this when he didn’t want to fight. He didn’t either. Not anymore.
He should have known just from the bloodline that Tony Stark and him weren’t going to get along. They just rubbed off each other in the wrong way. The older man was doing everything in his power to piss him off, to see a break in his front. It stirred something in his numbness, and he was sure that the younger and more alive him would have jumped at the challenge to his authority that he fought so hard for and throw quips right back, never backing down. Right now, though, it seemed so pointless. Did he really want to prove himself? Wouldn’t it be better if someone else took the reins and soon they would all realis how useless he really was and maybe they would leave him be. No one would bother him once they saw that he really didn’t know anything in this century and there were newer and better heroes everywhere now. His ability to not get killed easily didn’t compare.
While he was half lost in thought and half trying to make sense of what was happening around him, Stark seemed to get more agitated the more Steve ignored him and his cutting remarks got more and more vicious. Steve thought that he should try to defend himself, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Again, what was the point. Now that he thought about it, it was a little refreshing to meet someone who didn’t treat him as if he was glass or just an imbecile. This man knew he was mentally fast enough to follow him and just wanted a rise out of him.
“Everything special about you came from a bottle.” Ouch, that hit a nerve he had forgotten. But at the same time, it was true, wasn’t it? No one had really paid him any mind before (except Bucky, he always had him), maybe there was a reason for that.
Then Fury stormed in, saying that apparently, they needed babysitting like children. Stark continued to stare at him with his dark and intense eyes, contemplating, like he was one of his machines that needed fixing. Steve stared back solemnly. He wished he knew what that strange look meant. So many people were throwing it at him now a days, like they just saw a cat bark instead of meowing. Steve didn’t hate him (especially after it was revealed later that it was the tesseract manipulating them), he just didn’t think he could feel so strongly about anything anymore. It felt like he wasn’t thawed out yet. His insides were still covered in ice.
They were all aggressive and dominating in nature, and not one of them had any idea of what working together meant. A bunch of lone wolves that were all used to taking the lead. Sure, they had all had sidekicks before, but they had never been part of a team. No communication, no responsibilities whatsoever. All they did was argue when Loki was clearly up to something.
When Thor showed up, he decided that he was Steve’s favorite thing he had encountered in the future so far, even if he couldn’t show it.
He was surprisingly friendly for someone who wasn’t even from Earth. He knew that it wasn’t fair to make assumptions (everyone had some about the great Captain America no matter where he went) but he knew for a fact that no one (didn’t matter what species, where or when) liked what was unfamiliar, not their own and not what they were used to. It was this basic instinct and ignorance that roused conflict. Started wars. He knew this well, so he didn’t fault himself for being surprised at how kind the other was to them. Sometimes he came off as rude but that was just the lack of knowledge about their customs. He didn’t see himself as a superior, just different. Looking at Thor, he saw why people from the past thought that Asgardians were Gods. He just radiated power and strength, it was at his fingertips like second nature. Yet he still managed to be one of the kindest people he had ever met. He wasn’t sure what that said about humanity.
Later, when Agent Barton was free from Loki’s brainwashing, he was able to properly meet him, too. Barton looked like he was at home in from of the TV watching his favorite comedy sitcom, not discussing the possible end of the world, shooting a few comments in every now and then. It reminded him so much of Bucky’s smug façade that he had to look away to stop himself from vomiting. There was an underlined fatigue and guilt in his eyes. He knew Agent Coulson, Steve realised , they were probably friends.
After battling aliens together though, everything seemed a little easier. In the after-battle haze and relief Romanov didn’t seem so imposing, Stark's jokes were funnier, and Thor sounded like an old friend with the way he talked. The atmosphere in the Shawarma place was so close to the one around the campfire with his Commandos that it physically hurt. That had only been a month (a lifetime) ago.
He felt like his bones were made of jelly, but he didn’t let his posture falter when he watched them from the corner of his eyes. They looked tired and every one of them deserved to rest. It was mostly silent (the good kind of silent) but every now and then one of them would crack a joke and they would chuckle together. They took comfort in each other because they all knew what it was like to have so many people, not just your people, depending on you. They supported each other without saying a word, like it was the most natural thing in the world. He guessed that leaning against someone with the same fears and phantoms must be nice. The Avengers really were going to be a team.
They kept sending him small glances, like they were wondering if they should try to make him laugh with them.
Was this how it was going to be for the rest of his life? Get flung from one war to another like some used shield? Go form a team and lose them all to the next great threat or leave them behind? It wasn’t worth it. He didn’t want another team, he wanted his Howlers back, he wanted his Bucky back.
What was the point? Why bother learning names or even faces. In six months, he’d be back on the road anyway. The world didn’t owe him a cent.
Stark invited everyone to live in the Tower after it was rebuilt. He knew that Bruce had been hesitant along with the rest of them but had excepted first. It made sense, it looked like him and Stark had clicked earlier. Eventually, Barton and Romanov came out of whatever hole they had been hiding in and took their offered quarters. Since Thor was the prince of another realm, no one had heard from him yet, but it was pretty clear that he was busy and wouldn’t be staying in Midgard for a long term. That made Steve the last to stay away.
He weighed his options carefully. He meant what he said earlier: it wasn’t worth getting attached to any of them. It would just hurt more in the long run, for both of them , but he really wanted out of Shield’s watchful eye.
They had provided him with an ID, money and an apartment after they deemed him fit to be set free into the ‘wild’. It became apparent after a week of living there that it was full to the prim with bugs and cameras. He had found one in his jacket and could see another in the ceiling fan. It was clear that they thought that he was completely technology illiterate (which was somewhat true, but he wasn’t stupid ) because many of they were so badly disguised that a child could find them. They had given him a phone too, but he would bet his life on that it was full of spyware, judging by what they did to his apartment. He had no privacy.
Steve was aware that he couldn’t get out from under Shield's dump entirely (yet) but he could lessen his situation somewhat, so he agreed to move in.
He was given his own floor, everyone was, he learned. It was the largest place he had ever lived in; the entire kitchen was bigger than his and Bucky’s old apartment. It looked so impersonal that it made him feel sick. The electronic hum in every room set him on edge and the bright artificial lights burned his sensitive eyes. Everything was sleek and new, like a hotel. It kind of was, he doubted that he could ever call this a home. After all, home wasn’t a place, it was people.
Steve wished that he could go back there. Into the familiar streets of Brooklyn. If he concentrated hard enough, he could almost feel the roughness of the chipping paint and the squeaky door that led to the dog pile of sheets that Bucky and him were forced to share, snuggling into each other, when their crappy heater broke down. The smell of the incense that their old landowner always burned seeped through the walls, infesting their room. He would be sagged into the bea t up couch covered in papers he had been sifting through when Bucky would come home from the docks. The older man would see that he had dozed off and clear the crumbled papers off him and then cover him with his coat. Then Bucky would wake him up by flopping his cap on his face. He would jolt awake and glare at him half-heartedly while calling him a jerk. Bucky would laugh his charming laugh which would make him lose his glare and start chuckling himself. The brunette would ask about his day with kind eyes trying to mask how tired he was himself while knowing well enough that Steve would see right through it-
The memory was rudely interrupted by an utterly British voice in the ceiling inviting him to dinner with the others. He wanted to grab at the fleeing image in front of him but couldn’t hold on and ended up standing in the middle of his new bedroom. He dumped his meager possessions onto the floor beside him and sat onto the too large bed.
The super soldier contemplated declining the offer, but his stomach got the better of him. Damn his metabolism. He had gone longer periods of time without food, but that had been in extreme situations, in battlefield, and he had felt like his stomach was trying to eat itself the entire time. It didn’t help that he felt hungry at normal times, outside combat, as well, but just not as severely.
Steve steeled himself like a soldier facing battle and hesitantly stepped towards the elevator.
Everything was calm, peaceful. It was an alien feeling, though it shouldn’t be. He felt like this every time he and Bucky were like they were now.
Steve sighed deeply and snuggled deeper into the warm chest under him. Bucky. The older boy had made it home from the docks late, and Steve had tugged his tired bones straight to bed. As soon as he had bundled their blanket pile around him, he was out like a light. It always took Steve longer to fall asleep, to even out his shabby breath. He took this time to bask in the warm glow Bucky seemed to be emitting to the dark room. Just lied there and inhaled his scent.
Just when he felt like he might start to nod off too, something changed. A cold coil of air brushed against him. He shuddered and burrowed himself deeper into Bucky, but another one ran through him, stronger now. Steve gasped at the sudden cold but no matter how much he presses himself against Bucky, no warmth came from there. He was just contemplating if he should get up and search for a coat to wrap around them both when he realized that the cold was coming from Bucky. A terrible chill ran through him and he turned his head on the brunette’s chest. He missed a heartbeat himself when he couldn’t feel the soft pumping of Bucky’s heart. With a cry of panic, his eyes flew open. Bucky looked as if he was sleeping but the usual rice and fall of his chest wasn’t there. His thin hands reached for Bucky and shook him, but he was n’t opening his eyes, he was so cold . The usually fair skin was snow white and a trail of frost started forming on his scalp, the lair only getting thicker the more Steve tried to get him to wake-
Steve shot up from his bed with a painful scream stuck in his throat. He stumbled back in disery and pressed his back against the wall. His hand scrambled frantically to get the dresser beside him open and grabbed the gun hidden under layers of his uniforms. With rushed, uneven breaths, he held it close to his chest. He slid down to the floor, terrified eyes scanning the room. It was dark (so god damn dark, like on the plane- ) and the shadows on the walls were eerily similar to enemies making a sneak attack. “Li- Lights. Jarvis, lights, ple- please,” he spluttered out when he found his voice.
Jarvis knew him well enough at that point to put the lights to 40%, otherwise it would burn his sensitive eyes. The AI also didn’t say anything, already knowing that asking if he would like to call someone to help would be a wrong move.
When Steve no longer felt like everything in the room was going to jump up on him, he relaxed his shoulders and pushed his feet to move himself up while being supported by the wall. He gave a quick glance at the weapon in his hand and tucked it back into the closet. By then, his legs moved on their own accord and moved him into the bathroom to wash the remains of the nightmare away. Following the standard pattern of everyday. Well... the new everyday.
Steve was quick to establish a routine in this new life he was expected to lead. A constant circle to ground him and give him a faint hitch of control in the chaos.
He would wake up in the morning, a quick shower and then a morning run. The length of the run depended on how early he woke up. Usually it was around five, other times he woke up panting way before the sun was even close to rising. He was back in the Tower like clockwork by seven, choosing his root to his room carefully so he wouldn’t run into anyone.
There weren’t many threats that required all the Avengers present at the same time, but they were still given solo missions. Or rather, Romanov, Barton and him were Shields lap dogs, as Stark called it. The engineer had a billion dollar company to run which took up a lot of his time, but he still put effort into improving the teams gear whenever he saw a flaw. He saw those quite a lot. Banner was only called out during emergencies as well because he tended to cause a lot of property damage in his green form.
So, it was just the spies and him being send out regularly. Most of the time they banded together with the Strike team. He was told that they were the best front line agent Shield had to offer. It wasn’t hard to believe that they were the best of the best with how well they worked, but there was something off. He didn’t know how to explain, it was just an uneasy feeling which he tried to ignore. It wasn’t like the reminiscent chill he got when he saw the Avengers laughing and talking amongst themselves, more like the one he got when his gut told him something was wrong. He ignored it.
On those days that were free, he would hide on his floor. At first, he didn’t know what to do with himself and just spend days staring at the ceiling and letting numbness and boredom eat at him. It felt like he was tired but he couldn’t sleep, and couldn’t bring himself to do anything else than just lie still. This new brand on tiredness made him feel like he was stuck, too beat to move but to awake to doze off.
Someone who happened to see Steve sitting by his bed may think he was paralyzed. And he was, in a way. He didn’t know what to think, to say. How to function, how to move. He didn’t know what to do. It seemed like his head was underwater and all the information came filtered through and didn’t register properly to his brain. There had never been a stage in his life where he was okay to do something (meaning that he wasn’t dying on a hospital bed) and just not finding an ounce of energy to do so. It felt so weird because there was always something to do, whether it was desperately looking for money, rebelling against something that stood again his morals or just fighting for his life. There was always energy, too much of it, even. Now, though, he just watched the ceiling. Catching dust. His head felt so empty that even thinking felt like a chore.
Once he wondered around the Tower in that numbed down state. Not knowing where he was going, just letting his legs carry him again. He was on the floor below his and by the look of it, it was a giant gym. The part of the floor that wasn’t covered in silicon mats was a soothing beige color and littered with various exercise equipment. Steve walked through the hall, past the weightlifting machines and stretching benches, to the back rooms.
This time the room was mostly empty aside from the locker standing against the wall. Upon closer inspection, it was filled with thick, hand shaping cloves and boxing bags.
He didn’t see the harm in trying so he dragged one of the punching bags out and set it to hang from the ceiling. Not bothering with wrapping his hands, he began bounding away at it. There was a sting in his knuckles when they connected with the hard sand in the bag, but Steve relished it. The pain made the cloudiness emit from his head, at least from the time being. Soon, he was punching in earnest, not holding back. He thought about how much he had failed Bucky, how he didn’t have a place in the world anymore, how it would be better if he was back in the ice-
The punching bag made a tearing sound as the cloth ripped and streams of sand flew down from the place where seams had burst open.
Steve panted lightly as he stared at the torn punching bag. He usually pulled his punches in battle, it was enough to knock the enemy out, he didn’t want to be the executioner, but now he saw that bent up strength flow to the floor. A whistle came from behind him, and he all but jumped around. Romanov was leaning against the doorframe, sending a brief look at the broken bag with a raised eyebrow. “Looks like you needed to blow off some steam,” she said and lifted her eyes to meet his. “Didn’t know you came here.”
Her red hair bounced gently as she moved towards him. The super soldier couldn’t help but tense at the intrusion. Sure, he had had time to gather himself again but his mask wasn’t as firmly in place as he’d have it. Romanov didn’t seem to notice or just didn’t acknowledge it. She stalked up to him and handed him a length of padding to wrap his hands with. “Don’t bloody your knuckles.”
It took him a second to realize what she was talking about, and upon closer inspection he noticed that his knuckles were indeed bleeding. He hadn’t even noticed. He took an involuntary step back when Romanov stepped close again. She froze for a second and looked him up and down. Steve narrowed his eyes at her, not liking the feeling of being analyzed one bit. He fixed his stance a little and straightened his back. Uncertainty reared its ugly head in him, pushing him to be defensive.
Her eyes seemed to soften when she stopped assessing him and took off towards the room with softer mats. “You are sparring with me,” it wasn’t a question, it was a statement. And - it was just hard to say no to her, okay?
That’s how he found himself in a sparring session with her. She was good, he had to say, moving fast like a fox. Light on her feet. Eventually, she called it quits after they had been at it for hours. Steve had won three rounds and she had won three, a fair way to end it. He appreciated the fact that she didn’t force him to talk or try to start small talk, only commenting on his footwork once or twice.
There was no telling what he would do if someone forced him into any sort of social interaction. He might yell, sob, cry or break some furniture. Half the time, he was walking on thin ice to keep his posture but on the other half, it felt like isolating himself was the easiest thing to do. It was silly, he realized, despite all his loneliness he wanted to be left alone so badly. It was necessary, to be alone, if he was going to make it, or whatever was the pare minimum of making it, but it still burned his insides to bring himself to that state of indifference. That thought made him want to giggle hysterically, it made him want to cry. Sob until he would he swim in a haze of numbness where other people’s voices sounded so far away. Since there was no telling how another spar would go, he only ventured around the Tower and beat up punching bags when it was too early or too late for anyone to be up.
The others tried to call him to spend time with them, but he gave them a tight smile and declined as politely as he could. He hoped that they would get the hint and leave him be. The last thing he, or they, needed was for him to intergrade himself into the group on a personal level. It wouldn’t bring anything good to anyone.
All he heard was, 'Hey, Cap, wanna see this movie with us?' and he immediately shut down. His metal shields automatically coming up to protect him from the onslaught of memories.
Steve, com'n stop being such a wet sock, play blackjack with us-
Suddenly he had to get out of there, away from those familiar expressions on those foreign faces. It can’t happen again, he won’t let it happen again.
‘This is just like an undercover mission,' he told himself. ‘Act like you belong there and don’t get compromised. Don’t let them see who you really are and what you’re made of, or it’s all over and they can use it against you.’ Steve hadn’t ever been sent on an undercover mission before because of how recognizable he was but he imagined that it would feel like this. Being on tippy toes around everyone until they were out of sight but not letting yourself be relaxed when they are gone either because they might still be watching.
He knew that some of that pointless panic was wrong. They were irrational and just didn’t make sense. Why would the they want to hurt him? Sure, the team was strange, but they weren't robots, they weren’t the bad guys or bullies he had to fight all his life. They were not out to get him in any way. Sometimes he knew this. Sometimes he did. But it didn't stop his doubts from feeling real, and it didn't stop the paranoia from coming.
‘It isn’t like friendship was all that great anyway', he tried to tell himself. People were unpredictable (only Bucky wasn’t).
He hated himself. He wished and wished he could stop, but everything hurt all the time. It was all he could do to act strong and confident, in control, in front of other people. It was a huge effort. Sometimes he would get to a point where everything felt clear, the chilling numbness would fade, but then, some old memory or a new suspicion would come into his head, cover him like a cloud, and it would hurt him. It would force itself on him. And he’d get scared. He was scared. All the time.
Others didn't really know this. Either that, or they didn't really care. He was just cold without a reason. He was just a recluse. He would always be just a stranger.
One day he asked Jarvis to tell him what happened after the war. Shield had given him a brief history lesson but, to be honest, he hadn’t really listened. The AI didn’t seem to mind filling him in on anything he asked about and began telling him about the end of the war that he never got to witness and all that came after. His voice was so soothing and he just listened. It was so easy, he didn’t even have to move but some bits and pieces that got stuck in his head, inevitably, making him curious.
When he began to inquire about all the technological and medical advancements, Jarvis recommended him a few books that could bring him up to date. After he mumbled that he didn’t know where he could get those, downtrodden, the AI very patiently explained to him how to order things from the internet.
He thought that he might as well learn to use technology if he was now in a world that was ruled by it. Plus, Jarvis assured him that he could activate privacy settings on his floor if he desired and Stark could only override them in emergencies. Steve found out that he didn’t mind learning, it was the best way to keep his thoughts off the past and it didn’t even involve bunching a bad guy. Since he was no longer bothered by things like money and illnesses, nothing could stop him from soaking up all the information that he wanted.
On the days it felt like too much to simply listen to someone’s voice, human or not, one of Stark’s motorbikes would disappear from the garage. At first, he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to use them, but when no one came to scold him for it, he thought that no one noticed how one of the many vehicles was gone. When he left the Tower, he usually went for the entire day, and explored the surroundings. Well... it couldn’t be called exploring when all he did was wonder around aimlessly. He still hadn’t gotten use to how loud the world was now. Sometimes he would be flinching when it reached his ears but end up appreciating the frenzy of distractions that helped him drown it all out. He just walked around, looking at building, cars and parks. It was so hard to imagine that it was still the same city as before. The people seemed different too, louder and more outgoing. He liked to sit on a park bench absorbing them, how they talked, what they wore and how they interacted with one another, like they were zoo animals.
He read an article about a thinking exercise which was supposed to help you be more aware of your surroundings. It said to count all the things watching you and watch them instead. He tried it and looked for the cameras around the Tower. There were disturbing amounts of them, but he guessed that it was understandable in the city center where everyone wanted to keep an eye on their stuff. It was just too bad that they were also used by organizations like Shield to keep an eye on their stuff too.
'Cause that’s what I am at this point, just some expired government property-' he cut those thoughts off. They wouldn’t serve any other purpose than making him feel even worse about his situation.
Steve knew that he couldn’t hide from his self-pity when he was awake at three wondering if it was worth going to sleep if he would just wake up a few hours later not having rested at all but seeing the faces of everyone he used to know. Right now, though, he was surrounded by everything that could be used to make him forget and he was going to use it for as long as he could.
The blond rose heavily from his seat on the bench and looked for blind spots in the cameras around him.
Don't worry, Bucky will show up soon ;)
Chapter 3: Cold Heated Battles
“-So they didn’t get back up again after that?” Steve asked, vaguely curious as he stared ahead into nothingness.
“Indeed, no, but their civilization didn’t disappear completely after the official fall of Rome. They were known as the Byzantine Empire after that, though that name was given to them later and they still referred to themselves as Romans through the middle ages. And while they did have their own remarkable accomplishments like the Hagia Sophia, they never regained their former glory.”
“What happened after that?”
“Though their shared continuity with the classical Roman Empire gave them technological advancement over their neighbors, it couldn’t protect them forever. The city of Constantinople, which was the base of the Byzantine empire at the time, was trashed by an army of French and venetian crusaders in 1203, destroying countless works of art and literature. They continued to lose more land after that until finally Constantinople was captured in 1453 by an Ottoman Emperor Mehmed, bringing a conclusive end to the Roman Empire.”
Steve’s quiet afternoon lecture was disturbed by the blare of alarm ringing through the entire Tower. He resisted the urge to cover his ears from the insufferable noise and resigned himself to getting up.
Everyone knew what the alarm meant: Avengers Assemble™. Since Fury was calling all of them at once, it had to be something big. Which meant he wouldn’t be seeing his bed again for a while.
Even the smallest movement felt like an effort. Scratch that, keeping his eyes open felt like it was draining him of all the energy he had left. Steve payed it no mind as he opened his dresser. Once the adrenaline kicked in he wouldn’t even feel it if a truck hit him.
The designers of his new suit obviously hadn’t asked his opinion on their work. It felt like it was two sizes too small (or maybe he was just used to wearing baggy clothes) and the flashy colors made lowkey missions almost impossible. He used to be so proud to wear those colors but now it just felt like he was inside a wrong skin. Like it belonged to someone else.
Steve resisted the urge to mumble to himself and pulled the spandex-like fabric onto himself.
His shield glinted at him from where it was leaning against the wall. Almost like it was winking at him and asking ‘Well? You gonna pick me up?’. The weight was familiar in his hand, an old burden, almost comforting.
The meeting room was loud, as always.
“I think we should go for the one in Chicago first. It’s in a more populated area and will cause a lot more destruction if it goes off.”
“But the one in is directly beside a Shield base. We would lose a little less than half of our agents if things go sour over there.”
“We should be concentrating on trying to bargain with the mad man first, he obviously has a visual on his bombs and will forget about a deal once he sees that we’re trying to defuse them.”
“How can you be so sure that we will be able to defuse them anyway? Those are new technology and we should be careful-”
“Hey, a literal genius here, remember? This wack job oversold himself quite a bit, it’ll be child’s-play.”
“I don’t know, that thing that confused our satellite signals looked impressive.”
“Yes, because he used half of his time trying to make it look as close to the alien tech in his favorite sci-fi movie. Seriously, that other purpose would a shiny, larger-than-life antenna would have on a piece of tech that’s only trying to barely reach its range out of the atmosphere? I know for a fact that it doesn’t contribute anything to its’ function!”
Steve sat so still that he doubted that the others remembered that he was there too, which suited him just fine. He let his eyes wonder around the room, not moving a muscle but rolling the problem around in his head. The arguing still going on in full force didn’t help him concentrate at all, he spend so much time on his own that the chatter made him uncomfortable.
It wasn’t the same as hearing the civilians pass by him on the streets, talking about everything and nothing. He was already used to that buzzing of thousands of people at the same time because it never involved him and it was easier to observe as an outsider. Here, though, he was expected to put his own two cents in soon enough. At the moment, he was on the sideline but the knowledge that, soon enough, all eyes would be on him and he’d have to take charge, made him restless. He supposed that he should welcome the feeling of being on the edge, even if only a little bit. It was better than the resent apathy he found himself stuck in.
It seemed that Romanov was the one who was going to break his temporary peace this time. Steve felt her eyes fixate on him, and knew she was going to speak before she got to opening her mouth. “Got any ideas, Cap?”
All the occupants of the room turned their heads to him, making him wish he could sink into the ground, but he held his gin up high all the same. The others had learned quickly that he didn’t speak often, only when he had to, but he always had something significant to point out, so they listened when he did. So all the noise in the room died down, making all the more worse.
Talking was hard, like trying to push the last trop of toothpaste out of the tube. “Romanov should stay here and negotiate. Buy us time,” the spy had a way with words and could sweet talk people for hours if she pleased. Steve knew that trying to talk with the nut job was impossible but they had to give the air that they were desperate. The terrorist didn’t know that they had tracked the satellite signals of his bombs yet. “The rest of us should split in two, Stark will go to Chicago and the bomb crew to San Fransisco. Keep yourselves on the comm with each other, they will most likely need your help. Romanov will keep him distracted enough to not notice us near the bombs.”
He knew that it wouldn’t put too much strain on her, but if that didn’t work then they would use the ‘go dark’ protocol which would turn any electronics off around the mile radius. It wasn’t used often because of all the disruption it caused to the surrounding citizens.
“Shouldn’t Bruce go with the group to San Fransisco? He would get it done with far quicker than the bomb crew.” Argued Stark. He did have a point but...
“I think, for the sake of Dr. Banners blood pressure, that it would be best for him to avoid situations that involve a bomb, high immediate risk and you yelling into his ear.” He replied calmly. Steve saw Banner wince at the corner of his eye and felt lower than dirt but someone had to say it. Dr Banner was a remarkable man but it didn’t matter in the end if he didn’t stop being afraid of himself.
The mission ended up being far bloodier than expected. The crazy guy was distracted for enough time for Stark and Banner to disable the long-distance transmitter on both bombs so that he couldn’t set them off from where he was. Didn’t matter for long because it turned out that he had backup and set (I kid you not) killer robots on them. ‘Battle Droids’ as he called them.
At this point, Steve couldn’t give any less crap about what they were called.
They ambushed them and no one escaped without an injury. They scattered all over the street and started attacking civilians, overwhelming them. It turned out that they really did need the Hulk for that one. After some trial and error, they figured out that if you hit them hard enough to break the metal plates near their upper structure then you expose some wires which were apparently important. Smash those and the robot shuts down. It was easier said than done, especially with the claw-like metal digits that could break through walls, clime buildings and tear skin viciously.
It took several hours but they were able to get rid of every single one and were back on the helicarrier flying towards the Tower. The others were already there. They had promptly shot down all the requests for a mission debrief at Shield or a press conference. All mutually agreeing that they weren’t going anywhere that day.
Every muscle in Steve’s body burned with the effort to hold himself up, near trembling with exertion. He didn’t get this tired often, the serum didn’t allow it, but it seemed that sleepless nights were catching up to him.
He couldn’t help but notice that he wasn’t the only one in bad shape. Romanov and Barton were leaning against one another. The two were tending to each other's wounds while Thor fished rubble out of his hair. Dr Banner had passed out as soon as he transformed back so they had to carry him in. Stark was by his side where he laid unconscious and was attaching an IV onto his hand to make sure his body didn’t run out of fluids, just to be safe. Stark himself looked like he got mauled over by something. His armor gave him an advantage in this fight and allowed him to fly above and blast robot ‘brains’, but he still got his quite a few times and there was a long gash on his face.
The pain rearing its ugly head in his side one the adrenaline started wearing off didn’t help the matter. One of the robots had managed to dig a craw into his hip while he was busy with two other robots trying to hold him down. His vision went white with pain as the sharp metal pieces sunk into his skin. Steve had turned around to fling his shield at his head, effectively crushing it, but not without the craw tightening around him. He was sure it shattered a bone in his hip if the sickening crunch he heard and felt was anything to go by.
In the heat of battle he hadn’t had much time to focus on the injury but now the agony radiating from his hip and to the rest of his body was all consuming. Even sitting hurt but at least he could feel his skin knitting itself together albeit slowly. He should eat something when he got back, that should speed it up. But did he really have the energy to do that? Sleeping sounded like the best plan of action, but it would be a hard process. He was sure his side would keep him awake-
Steve startled when a hand tapped his shoulder, causing him to jump and his wounds to shift. The pain jolted through him and it took all he had not to scream but he couldn’t hold a wince in. He looked up to see Barton peering down at him with slightly concerned but mostly tired expression. “I understand the appeal but do you really want to sleep here?”
He looked around and realized that the helicarrier had landed and the team was already out. With great difficulty he pulled himself up. His side made him hiss. The wound felt inflamed and slightly swollen, he wasn’t looking forward to pulling him suit off.
The two made their way towards where all their living spaces were. Every step made him grid his teeth but he kept moving towards his rooms. “Hey,” Steve resisted the urge to sigh and turned to look at the archer. “The infirmary is that way,” the brunet said and waved his hand towards the opposite direction of where he was going.
“Good, go get your shoulder treated,” Steve bit out. He knew he was being rude but he didn’t have enough patience to say anything else. His vision started to sway a little.
“I’m talking about your hip,” Barton said, he sounded annoyed but probably not enough to chase after him if he refused to go. That’s at leased what he hoped. Even a thought of anything that even resembled a hospital made him feel sick, he’d been in enough of those for a few lifetimes. The feeling of being analyzed, tested, poked and prodded made him shudder. “I don’t have any serious injuries, it’s just a bruise. The serum will take care of it,” he managed to grind out.
The unimpressed look he got from Barton made him straighten his back and take longer steps. Stupid pride. But he really didn’t want to be around anyone when he was in such a vulnerable state. Never the less the archer caught up with him easily and grabbed his hand. “Come on, I think you should get it looked a-”
He was cut off when Steve jumped back and flinched violently. The supersoldier tugged his hand free and backed away from the spy. His vision was getting worse, along with the limp in his step but he couldn’t stop moving away even when he saw white tots. It was like the contact had burned him.
Barton seemed taken aback and decided to change his tactics. He held his hands up where he could see them easily and took on a lot quieter voice. “Hey, Cap? Not here to hurt you, alright? I’m not going to make you go if you don’t want to but you have to promise me can get it treated on your own, ok?”
Steve nodded without any further thoughts, he just wanted this to be done with. He could still the spot where the older man had touched his arm. His hand had been so warm that his entire body felt freezing now.
It was clear that Barton didn’t believe him as he bit his lip and looked around fast for a second. Steve was about to turn around again when he felt something being pressed against his hand. He opened his eyes (when had he closed them?) and saw that Barton was offering him a medical kit. There was one in his room but the gesture was so nice that he found himself taking the box. A small, fragile smile found its way onto his lips before he could force the feelings in his chest away.
Barton still looked uncertain but started walking away, “See you later Cap and... make sure to tell Jarvis if you need anything. Okay? Okay.” And he was off, probably to the infirmary to the others but Steve was too tired to think about it. His posture faltered and his shoulder sagged.
He staggered into his room but didn’t make it to the bed before passing out and curling up on the cold floor.
Chapter 4: I Know Those Eyes
The mission sounded simple enough, Steve hoped that he wasn’t wrong about that. Just a simple, quicky mission that would take an hour at most.
He could hear the thunder and lightning outside the quinjet , so easy to mistake for the rolling of tanks and nearby explosions. The rain too, the way it hit the metal exterior of the plane made them sound like endless bullets being fired. He hated how he seemed to be the only one effected by the chaos surrounding the calm little bubble that was the air vessel. Maybe it was because of his enhanced hearing, but each bolt of lightning felt like someone was firing a gun right next to his ear.
God, he was tired. That’s all he was now a days. He wanted to be in his (‘Stark’s’, he corrected himself) room and let Jarvis tell him about the Roman history while he tried to calm down and just listen to that now familiar voice. Then get lost in the words and wonder at how interesting the ancient civilizations had really been and how come they glossed so much of this over when he was at school-
A jolt of the floor made his stream of thoughts stop, and he looked around to see no one around him even fazed by the rocking motion. He wished he could just curl up under the seat but no . He was Captain America, he didn’t get scared. He was supposed to be a leader.
He couldn’t afford to show any weakness or vulnerability to those strangers around him, to be compromised. His let his eyes flicker across to the Strike team for just a fraction of a second to see if they caught his wince. None of them were looking. Good.
He took a deep breath. All he needed was just a little time to remind himself that this is what he was good for. He needed to embrace his role in life. Battle was his strength. If he set a target for himself then he had something to focus on instead of thinking about... everything. He didn’t need people, he didn’t need those connections that would just be torn from him sooner or later. No one was interested in him that way anyway. He was just useful and the sooner he realized it, the better off he would be.
The quinjet rattled again and he suppressed another shudder. They should be landing soon. Steve ran over all the information they were given about the mission to distract himself.
Just another ex-agent who hadn’t passed Shield's psychiatric evaluation to rise above the ranks and had defected. Mr . Sawyer had snatched a few important files that could potentially be damaging to Shield. So they were send out to retrieve them before he could sell them to some terrorist organi z ation, and bring him into custody while they were at it.
Mr . Sawyer was hiding in an abandoned factory facility, it hadn’t been difficult for Shield hackers to track him down. The problem lied in obscure location of the old cotton factory. It was in Estonia, just outside a tiny town called Vihterpalu . Vihterblue ? Vint- erpal ? He couldn’t be bothered to remember how to pronounce it. When he said it was old, he meant old , older than him, even. It closed its doors in the 1890’s, and there weren’t any floorplans or blueprints available anywhere.
They were to scout the area first and make sure the situation was as easy as it seemed. Then ent er the building and search all the rooms, find Mr . Sawyer and the files.
Those sorts of missions almost made him wish the world was ending again because maybe then he would feel like he was getting out of bed for a good reason. There was absolutely no rationality in him being there. He bet that just one member of the Strike team could take care of this without any help. Not that he was bragging, but why waste a bomb if the situation could be solved with a pullet? Was Shield really that bad at playing their cards or did they not trust him with the more important missions?
And no, he didn’t care if they thought Mr. Sawyer had reinforcement .
Not that it mattered. That was just his opinion, he was here just to follow orders, it was so much easier than giving them. At least that was the one thing he still knew how to do and that would take his mind of f things for a while.
The rocking motion jolted him again more intently, the wind pushing against the aircraft to jeopardize its landing. Everyone started shifting, checking their gear and picking up their weapons in a bored manner.
With the final lurch the quinjet touched the ground and they started filling out. The cool night air hitting his face helped him clear his thoughts and he solidified his Captain America persona.
“Agent Rumlow , take your squad and look over the west side and I’ll take the other.” All he got was a quirked eyebrow, a nod and they were on their way. They were all accustomed to him preferring to work alone wherever possible. Usually during a scou t, he split them up into two groups. Rumlow would oversee one of one of the halves , as he was the most experienced (competent) out of the Strike team, and he would b e in charge of the rest. That was the most efficient and practical way to go about it but in a joke mission like this, no one minded.
Steve moved between the pine trees and spied the old house through the dark. It was bigger than expected but still in ruins. Only faint spots remained of the pale yellow that had been chipped and weathered away. Vines sprouted and climbed around the building, slithering in from the cracks in the ceiling and windows that had long since lost their glass.
Some brick walls were covered in sprays of bright color but the drawing s were muddled down to dark, discorded shapes in the night . The kids from the town must have been coming here. Steve wanted to chuckle, that would be something he would do as a kid, go into an abandoned ghost house, just to prove to others that he wasn’t afraid of anything.
He imagined that this place might look nice and calm during the day. The grass would be dry and bleached yellow from the summer sun, and the pine trees would emit their gree n, raw smell. Even the ruins wouldn’t give him the creeps with the daylight giving them a makeover, making them loose their haunted house vibe. It would be silent but not like now, not the eerie calm before the predator strikes, but the kind of quiet that would make you sleepy and want to lie yourself on the ground right then and there. Letting the tiny straws tickle your face because you hadn’t bothered to but your coat under your head, and then you would look at all the buzzing insects running over your legs. The kind of bliss that would occasionally be ruined by the crickets singing or the birds chirping but those noises would be welcomed. Eventually, the soft breeze that makes the woods around you dance would loll you to sleep. It would be uninterrupted by people and their yelling and arguing about everything and nothing. There would be no room for their judging eyes there.
Steve had only experienced that level of calm a precious few times during his life, being the city boy he is . That thought managed to make him sad because he would be long gone by the time the day would break.
It took him no time at all to finish his half of the circle and make a mental point of all the possible exits. The only real worry was that there could be another floor hidden underneath the ground but it was incredibly unlike due to the structure of the building. The walls were all stone and the three layers would be too heavy to support without a good fundament. Considering how old it was, it would have collapsed on top of the basement floor by now.
The rest of the Strike team reached the back entrance not a minute after him, and by the bored looks they wore, they hadn’t found anything of interest either.
“Any problems?” He inquired, wanting to get it over with quickly. Rumlow wanted to too, i f the annoyance that briefly flashed over his schooled face was anything to go by. The older man ’ s lips quirked slightly like he wanted to make a snide remark but thought better of it. Steve pretended that he didn’t notice it.
“None, no cameras, no extensions, nothing. The quality of villain bases has really gone down the hill, h asn’t it?” Steve ignored the comment.
“Let ’ s move inside. I’ll take the top floor and you will search from the bottom up. Sawyer is to be captured alive,” he ordered, giving Rollins side eyes. The other man didn’t even have the decency to look sorry.
He didn’t look back to see if they were followed and took quick, low steps towards the side of the building. Even though he was abandoning the cover of the trees, it was dark and he moved so fast that he doubted that anyone would see him.
He took a hold of a small window hole closest to him and pulled himself upward. The vines made his job harder and it became more difficult to spot places that he could use to wind himself up, or that were sturdy enough to hold his weight. Despite this, it took him less than 30 seconds to make it up to the third floor. He recorded the dark room in front of him carefully while clinging to the outside of the windowsill, and maneuvered his body inside.
There were rotting shelves lining the walls of the room and nothing else, likely a former storage room.
Being mindful of the holes and creaks in the floor, he swooped from room to room. No sign of life anywhere, only a bunch of cobwebs, dust and ruined furniture. Suddenly, a flash of colour in the dull atmosphere made him stop. A bright red wrapping paper was lying near a cracked open door.
There wasn’t any light flowing in from the door but an unsteady feeling creeped up on him. Without a sound, he moved beside the door, right over the KitKat paper. In a position that would make it impossible to see him from inside the room except from right beside the doorframe, he pushed the door open. The motion made a loud, obnoxious, squeaky sound that caused him to pinch his eyes shut with annoyance and overdramatic panic. He forcibly evened his breathing, whether his body liked it or not.
The room was completely dark, indicating that it had no windows that would let any moonlight in or that the ceiling was especially resilient there, maybe both. He pondered if he should use the flashlight that was strapped to his hip but had been neglected because it would paint a huge target on him saying ‘Hey, look, I’m over here!'. Then he noticed a light switch on his right.
It couldn’t have been more out of place there, where no other room had any electricity and overall anything that wasn’t rusting.
The switch wasn’t even connected to the wall, just hastily left hanging in the air. He followed its wire with his eyes and saw that they led to a dollar store lamp that he been tuck taped to the ceiling just as lazily. He considered himself for a moment before flipping the switch.
The light flickered on and triggered another one across the lengthy room. The artificial light burned his sensitive eyes, blinding him for a few seconds but he still managed to scan the room.
There are papers flying everywhere without an order but there was a neat pile in the cent e r of the room like someone was trying to sort through them. Beside the stack of papers there was a variety of weapons and gear lying around. This was obviously where Mr . Sawyer was hiding out but where was the man himself. He was about to move further inside the room when he froze.
There was a dark figure crouching beside the pile holding papers in both of his hands. He was so well camouflaged into the shadows with his dark clothing and shoulder length hair that even Steve’s sharp eyes hadn’t picked him up. They both stared each other down, both too tense to move.
This only last for a fraction of a second where he didn’t even get a proper look at the man before everyone was moving. The figure snapped his hands faster than Steve could blink and the pile of papers was in his hands. The super soldier didn’t get a chance to take a step forward when the agile man was already flashing out the other door.
Steve takes a precious second to tap the tracker on his pelt to alert the Strike team that something happened and dashes after the figure. He only got a blurry glimpse of the man with how fast he moved but he could still tell from his body build that he wasn’t Mr Sawyer. He was tall by most standards and was about the same height as him, but might have been even larger than him in muscles and body mass.
He catches up quickly and throws himself towards the other man to knock him off his feet. The other obviously hadn’t raced a super soldier before and Steve got a little twinkle of satisfaction from seeing the culprit’s eyes widen in surprise that he had matched his speed. While he had his face tilted towards him over his shoulder, Steve noted that there was a mask covering the lower half of his face. There was something aching to familiar about his eyes but he could still firmly say that he had never seen such dark eyes before. They were filled with bone chilling intent. The moment didn’t last and the man dodged his kick to the legs and swiftly switched his direction to the right and sped towards a grumbled hole in the side of the building like a race car.
Steve stopped himself from crashing into a wall and continued to run after him. 'Is this maniac going to jump? We’re on the third floor!’ He thought but didn’t falter his step. The other man didn’t stop either and rushed ahead, each movement powerful and precise, like he did this every day. He didn’t even slow down to plan where he was going to land, just jumped, and Steve was right behind him.
The stranger and him touched the ground at the same time. Steve managed to move his body in the air towards a clear area and landed as lightly as he could to channel the energy from the impact to his muscles rather than his bones to avoid damage. He still felt his legs straining and bruises forming, it was possible that he broke something.
His attention was averted to the black figure when a loud crash rang through the air and he saw that the man had landed onto the rubble but hadn’t put any effort towards softening his landing. He just crashed with all his weight and didn’t even fall over. There was a slight pause as the guy straightened up and proceeded to keep running. Was he enhanced? With a fall like that there was no way that he hadn’t broken something. Did he really have no self preservation skills at all?
Steve didn’t take time to dwell on it and (ignoring his body’s protest against moving) and threw himself into the other guys way. His hand flew onto his back to grab his shield and threw it at him in full force. The stranger moved just as fast as before, only now he was favouring his left leg. Steve was taken aback for a moment when the guy twisted around and caught the shield hurdling towards him in full force with one hand. Most men would have trouble lifting the damn thing but this guy just caught it with one hand and didn’t even slow his steps, instead just threw it towards the woods. Steve threw a punch at him and was startled again for a second when the guy grabbed his arm and twisted it away with ease. He didn’t think he had ever met someone who was so well matched fighter for him. This guy was differently enhanced.
They continued to dance back and forth, moving in a inhuman speed, both deflecting others attacks effortlessly as Steve assessed his apponant . The man was wearing an all black gear that looked so heavy and constricting that even Steve might have trouble moving in it but he still charged him with such fluent movements that he might as well have been in pyjamas . There was a rifle strapped to his back and a dozen knifes ducked way around his torso. The bundle of papers are still in his hand so Steve makes a leap for them (they better be worth something).
He managed to land a hit on the mans arm and it felt like hitting rock causing him to hesitate for a second. Then he saw a glint of moonlight hitting off of a few silver fingers in a way that differently wasn’t natural. It was hard and unyielding like Starks armour . A prosthetic?
Steve was awoken from his curious hypnosis when the metallic hand he was staring at launched forward and hit him square in the face. He staggered a step back before gathering himself and casted his mind back to the fight.
Each of their movements were almost too fast for unenhanced people to follow. The metal arm punched him in the face again and he saw stars for a moment. Steve landed another hit at the other mans side and he finally dropped the papers. Those clever fingers pulled out a knife whirled it through the air towards him. He snatched the wrist being thrusted towards him and used brute force to lurch it backward and pin it onto a tree. The knife got pierced so deep into the tree bark that it got stuck.
He bounced forward and used the tree as a leverage to thrust himself into his oppone nt, leg s first, managing to knock him to the ground. The culprits mask came off his face with the power behind the hit and flew to the ground along with a little bit of blood.
The man recovered quickly and leaped back up with his dark hair falling everywhere. Steve moved in for another hit when he froze.
Chapter 5: Seeing Ghosts
It couldn’t be- There was no way- He was seeing things-
“Who the hell is Bucky?” That voice was rough and unused, but it awoke something in him. There was a mustard edge to it, like at one point it could have sounded like- sounded like- No. It sounded sure, like it was set in stone. Sky is blue. Grass is green. I don’t know you.
See? Not possible but- But- But-
This was Bucky. That jawline was Bucky’s. That nose was Bucky’s. Those dry cracked lips were Bucky’s. Those eyes were Bucky’s but- but- but- they also weren’t. They were darker. So, so much darker and so... dead. They weren’t Bucky’s. Bucky's eyes were warm, they comforted, they were fierce, they protective. They were never this dead. But at the same time, they were Bucky’s. That’s what they looked like after Sarah Rogers' funeral, when Steve had been crying and crying but Bucky just didn’t know what to feel so he looked numb-
A rock-hard fist connected with his face, sending him flying back. He hits the ground hard.
“Wait, Bucky-“ another punch battered his face before he could attempt to get up. “Bucky, I’m your friend-” another punch. There was a metallic taste of blood filling his mouth. He looked up towards the figure looming over him and raining punches at him. There was no recollection in them whatsoever. He didn’t remember him. Why the hell didn’t Buck remember him?
“Bucky, you know me-“
“You’re my mission,” he stated, but this time his voice was less sure but still so cutting and hard.
“My name isn’t Bucky.” The Bucky-maybe-not-so-Bucky hissed. He looked confused and uncertain and a bone deep chill went through Steve’s body.
“Your name is James Buchanan Barnes, you're my best friend-“
“I said I’m not Bucky!” he yelled but he was shacking, and his punches were faltering. There was something in his eyes, some desperation. Like he was trying to make sense of this just as much as Steve was. Like he was scared too. It sparked a frantic terror that ran around Steve’s mind in circles. Like someone stirring a pot of discord around and getting it dangerously close to spilling.
“I’m Steve, Steve Rogers, I’m your friend-”
“I don’t know you” But his face started to twitch and there was a glimmer of recognition. It was there! He saw it! The way he looked at him, like it was the first time and the millionth time ever.
With an unexpected surge of adrenaline, he pushed up and frantically begged, “I’m Steve, you have to remember me!” Steve’s eyes were wide open and pouring, pleading into his. The onyx irises were almost completely eclipsing the sky blue that was hiding near the edges.
Bucky-not-Bucky took a step back, the metal arm that had been holding him by the throat retreated with a snap, and a rifle was pointed to his face. It was a long-distance weapon but would still do the job.
The older man pressed it close to him, holding it to his head. This time his eyes were searching, questioning, desperate. The long gun shook ever so slightly in that strong grip. “You’re my mission,” he forced out again, but this time it wasn’t for Steve, it sounded like he was trying to remind himself. The darker man held his stance, only his shoulders quivered like he was a thigh knot coming undone.
Steve leaned his head back only for it to knock against a tree trunk but he kept it there, to get a few inches away from the intimidating end on the rifle. “Bucky, please,” he cracked out, trying to reach for the other mans leg while never taking his eyes off his face.
“I don’t know Bucky,”
There was a crunch of him taking a step back, then another. “Wait,” he tried to make a move to stand up. This was Bucky, he couldn’t let him leave again, he wouldn’t. The butt of the rifle came down on his temple and before he could even get a cry of pain out, the other man way out of his sight. He moved fast and proficiently in the dark, like a shadow, no eye could follow him. “Bucky!”
Chapter 6: Cat's Back In The Tower
Disorientation didn’t even begin to describe it. He didn’t even register where he was or how he got there, moving solely on muscle memory. All that was going through his head was “Bucky. Bucky. Bucky. Bucky.”
He just realized that he’d been walking when he connected with a fleshy wall. Despite his usually great orientation, he fell backwards with a soft thud. He blinked and tried to recognize his surroundings. The walls were mild grey but to his right was a window that took up the entire wall. There were comfy looking sofas and pillows everywhere and there was a flat screen tv by the corner which had a ‘U’ shaped couch around it. Everything was illuminated by the city lights from the window, giving it all a calm glow. It looked lived-in and homey. Steve couldn’t help but to stare at the dazzling lights twinkling up at him for a fraction of a second before it hit him: he was on the communal floor. He usually avoided this place like the plague and made an effort to walk big circles around it to get to his floor.
His sense of sound returned to him when he caught the fleshy wall crash back and curse. Vibrations sounded in his ears and rang through the room. It felt like his ears were physically pulsing. A weird feeling, like the entire room was bouncing under powerful speakers, or was it just in his head?
Steve could swear that he could see the corridor shacking rhythmically and was so captivating that all he could do was sit there and endure the pounding in and around his head. He was so entranced by the sensation that he’d completely forgotten about the fleshy wall until something was flashing back and forth in front of his face, distracting him.
A chattering reached him, but it sounded so far away. Like the ringing in his ears was the main song and the muddled talk was like the background music.
Suddenly, the hand waving in front of his face disappeared and a familiar face appeared. It looked irritated but underlined with concern, recognizable but he wasn’t so sure how he knew it, though he definitely did-
A gentle hand landed on his shoulder and the small movement jolted him to sit up. Something clicked in his brain and he felt like a car who’s engine had finally started. ‘Bucky is alive. But he isn’t himself. Something bad happened to him. He needs help. My help-’
His eyes flicked up to the figure beside him. Stark. Why was Stark crouching down beside him? That brought his attention to the fact that he was sitting on the ground (when had that happened?). “Okay there, big guy?” Stark asked uncertainly. Steve looked at the hand on his shoulder and jerked away. T oo close. He was too close . His body lurched up with alarm causing his vision to swing violently.
Stark seemed to realize his mistake surprisingly fast (veteran friend, maybe?) and hastily held up both hands where he could clearly see them. Steve knew he could easily overpower Stark, even in his sorry state, but it was still a nice gesture. “So, um, you good? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Are you sick? Drunk? Oh, wait, that doesn’t happen to you anymore, does it? Still, wanna see Bruce?” Stark broke off in a ramble, but Steve wasn’t really listening. ‘Seen a ghost? Guess I did.’ He squeezed his eyes shut, foolishly hoping it would prevent his flow of thoughts from turning violent.
Because Bucky was supposed to be dead because Steve couldn’t protect him. Couldn’t save him. Couldn’t do what Bucky had done every day of their childhood. Now he was a ghost because bad people had gotten to him somehow, because Steve hadn’t been there-
“Wow, wow, don’t do that. Come back to me, will you?” Oh, Stark was still there. The mechanic was looking up and down with concern in his eyes. Why would he be concerned? He- oh.
He guessed that he must have looked terrible. The damage to his face felt a lot better than it did hours ago but that didn’t change the fact that it had been beaten in by an iron fist. His leg was throbbing with pain and he was reminded why it wasn’t a good idea to take a leap of faith. A quiver wrecked his body as he moved his ankle.
Apparently, he hadn’t unnerved Stark enough to leave because the older man looked conflicted before forgetting about personal boundaries and grabbing his arm. Steve made an embarrassing, alarmed noise and flinching back, but Stark didn’t let go. His grip was firm but not demanding, just in control. The warm feeling on his arm made him wonder when the last time was someone touched him like that. With no intent to harm but to just ground. Physical contact felt so foreign and caused the emotions in his head to rage around. Every sane instinct his body had left screamed at him to get out of there, to get away from that thumping in his chest that felt more intense than before. Not faster, but physically jumping around inside him, getting stuck in his throat. But his more obscure thoughts wanted him to get closer to the warmth and cuddle into it.
He shuddered but didn’t try to jerk away.
Stark tugged him along and his legs moved without thinking, just following the warmth. He was so focused on the alien feeling surrounding his lower forearm that he didn’t pay any attention to where they were going.
The bubble popped when there was another hand on his shoulder, pushing him down, triggering another shudder. He sat docilely because he didn’t know what else to do. Maybe if he did what he was told, the warmth would stay?
Stark was in front of his face again but this time he had both of his balms on either side of his face, making sure he couldn’t look away.
“Okay, I don’t know what’s going on in that nubbin of yours, but you need to snap out of it, got it?” All he could do was blink at him. What did he want from him? The words swirled around his head, not a single one making it in.
“I need you to do something. Can you find me five things that you can see? Can you do that for me?” Things he could see? What kind of request was that?
He thought about it nonetheless. The first thing that captured his attention was the city lights peeking out from behind Stark. The billionaire hadn’t asked Jarvis to turn on the lighting so the thousands of bright tots were all the more vibrant.
“The lights...” he managed to get out in the weakest voice, croaky and raspy, scratched from misuse and silence. The blond winced as the words strained his vocal cords.
“Yeah, they are nice, aren’t they? You're not going to find a better view of the Big Apple from anywhere else!” Stark boasted proudly but he was gazing down at the maze of streets like he was the luckiest guy in the world to be there. The awed look was replaced with worry again as Starks undivided attention slipped back to Steve. “Find me a few more.” The older man sat down next to him and let go of his face. He was almost disappointed by the loss of contact, but a warm hand wormed its way into his hair. The fingers scratched his scalp. It felt so good that he almost purred. Not thinking at all, he leaned into the touch.
“... the... grey.”
“Oh, yes, I should have consulted with Pepper before finalizing the design of the room,” Stark said sheepishly, “It looked even more plain at the start, now everyone has been adding personal touches here and there. Anyway-” he motioned for Steve to continue.
“You...” he hated how his words came out slowly and slurred, like he was drugged somehow.
“In all my glory.” Stark smirk and Steve couldn’t help but to smile a small wavering smile too, even if it looked more like a grimace. The genius seemed to appreciate his effort, though, and beamed at him rather childishly.
“Streamers?” He wasn’t entirely sure if that was what they were called, but he couldn’t help but wonder why the ground was covered in the stringy, colorful papers. “And glass,” he added because he lacked the creativity or energy to find anything interesting.
“Can you see glass, though?” Stark asked teasingly.
“Here, with all those stains, I can.” he bit back with more spirit than he thought he had left in his tired body.
Stark gasped in mock defense, “How dare you? I’ll have you know that they get cleaned at least once a week!”
“Plus, what you’re seeing isn’t actually glass, it’s dried rain.” He added as an after-thought.
“So you admit that there are stains to see?” Steve taunted back with ease. It seemed like a lifetime ago that there had been conversations so easy and relaxed. Where had that gone? The affectionate hand was still running through his head, making him feel cozy, like he could just lean back and let the feeling engulf him.
“I’m doing no such thing! I’m saying that since your old age has left you in need of glasses, and what you might be imagining you are seeing would be rain stains.” Tony sassed right back, matter-of-factly. “Anyways, four things you can feel.” He brought them both back on track before Steve could give a comeback.
Feel? “Warm,” was the first thing that popped into his head, and his mouth blurred it out before he could care or feel the need to think otherwise.
“Yeah? What else?” Tony seemed to be quite pleased with the blunt answer and quickened his fingers moving through Steve’s hair.
He reached out to the feelings in his body. The thing that he was sitting on and leaning against was so soft and pleasant that Steve felt the need to sink further into it. Upon further inspection, it turned out that they were both slumped on the couch in the far side of the large sitting room. “The couch,” he murmured.
The next thing that came back to him was how dirty, covered in sweat and grim, his gear was. There was a cut in the fabric on his arm that he didn’t remember getting and a small drizzle of blood was smeared on his right knee. “The uniform is uncomfortable,” he meant for it to come out as an average comment, but it came out as a childish whine.
He turned a little red when he replayed what he had just said in his mind, but Tony didn’t seem to mind. Instead, the mechanic barked out a laugh “That’s what you get for get for wearing anything Shield issued! How about we get rid of that top, might make it easier to breathe.” He said and started tugging at his sleeve. Steve pulled his upper body up from the couch with much more effort than was normally acceptable of him and removed the rest of the vest.
It did make breathing a lot easier like Tony said it would, but it also sent a chill through him as the cold air hit his slightly damp, exposed arms. Suddenly, he regretted taking it off. It might have been suffocating but the thin shirt that he was wearing didn’t seem like nearly enough. Tony must have felt him shutter next to him because the warm hand retook its position and continued to play with his hair.
Steve’s body moved on its own and leaned more into Tony. Not that Steve was complaining, it was warm.
His eyelids started to sway a little bit but he felt a burning gaze on him so he forced them open and glanced at Tony. The older man was staring at his now-visible arms intently, with something aching to concern in his eyes. Steve furrowed his eyebrows and looked down to see what he was looking at. There were dark, purple and balck patches of skin littered across both of his arms. They ran from as far as his balms the entire way up until they disappeared behind his short sleeves. He cleared his throat and folded his arms. Tony looked close to asking so he sputtered out, “Oh, um, the floor,” before the genius could open his mouth. He shifted his feet a little on the hard surface they were laying against.
“Good, now, three things you can hear.” Steve gave Tony a weird look, not understanding the object of the game yet but complying anyway.
He thought about it for a second, there was the throbbing in his ears. Faded into the distant background but still there. That wouldn’t be a good answer, though. Tony would think he was crazier than he looked at the moment. His attention was brought back to the hum that always followed him around in the Tower and even outside of it.
“Engines,” he mumbled distractedly.
“Engines?” Tony asked, confused. He didn’t know how to elaborate further so he looked around and pointed at the nearest wall, which happened to be behind them. “It’s in the walls... I don’t think you can hear it, though...” He tried to explain but didn’t think Tony would understand what he was trying to say with his currently foggy brain and limited vocabulary.
To his surprise, Tony just nodded and asked, “Technology?”
“Yeah.” One might think he would already be used to the slight sound since it was always around, but it kept bugging him.
The floor was silent, as was expected of that time of the night (morning?), but Steve still strained his ears. His senses reached out around him and he became hyper aware of the measured puffs of air being pulled in and released right out again beside him. He almost wanted to lean in to get a better hear of the deep, firm inhales and exhales.
“Your breath,” he uttered out. Then forced his hearing distance to branch out further, completely unaware of the gentle look Tony was giving him.
The sitting area was as silent as a grave, so was the space near the TV (except the hum, of course), but the kitchen... there was a trickling noise. It was a soft sound, almost soothing. Like hearing it rain lightly outside during the night while being tucked away in bed. Once he heard it, it was impossible to stop hearing it. The dribble made him wonder if it had always been there or did he just notice it now?
“Rain? No.. water? Somewhere in the kitchen,” Steve said vaguely.
“What do you mean?” Asked Tony, “There is no water.” The billionaire glanced at the kitchen unsurely.
Steve briefly thought that maybe the water had been in his head, but no, the sound was still there. His hearing must be better than Tony’s. “Yeah there is, I can hear it.”
Tony frowned and asked Jarvis to turn on the lights.
That turned out to be a mistake because Steve immediately hissed as the harsh lights hit his sensitive eyes. Truth be told, they weren’t that bright. Jarvis had but them to half their usual volume, but that still stung his eyes. He buried his face deep into the sofa pillows and let out a pitiful sound.
Tony spit out a curse as soon as he saw his reaction, “Jarvis, 25%!” The billionaire was at his side in an instant, “Damn, sorry! I didn’t think about it!”
He let out a noise that was muffled with his face pressed firmly against the couch, but it was still clear that it was meant to say something forgiving. Even with the lights lowered, the luminosity of them was still too much so he decided to keep his head there for the time being.
While the super soldier tried to regain some grounding, Tony moved towards the kitchen to see what Steve had been talking about. As he got closer, he saw that the captain had been correct. The sink furthest into the kitchen area had a tap slowly but surely flowing water.
“Oh, come on! Thor!” The mechanic crumbled as he stalked over and turned off the tap.
Steve rose his head slowly and blinked into the faint light. At the same time that his eyes adjusted, he sent a curious look at the other man. Tony made it back to the couch and flopped down again. He turned to see Steve squinting his eyes at his and sighed, “Thor always leaves the tap running. No matter how many times everyone tells him, he forgets. Whenever he comes by, all the taps are left running.” His annoyed tone made suppress a giggle but he couldn’t help but crack a grin.
“Speaking of which- Jarvis! Weren’t you instructed to turn them off when he forgot?” Tony asked, looking rather irked by his AI.
“I was, sir, but the ‘Water and Lightning Don’t Mix’ protocol is only activated while Thor is taking up residence in the Tower for a longer period, but he just dropped by for the celebration this morning,” Jarvis replied with a self-righteous pitch in his voice.
“Don’t give me that grrrr-” Tony’s eyes slide to Steve like he was an uncle trying to remember that he couldn’t swear in front of his brother’s kids, “ talk, Jar, you knew full well what I meant in the protocol.” The way the genius talked with Jarvis was always interesting to Steve, even if he didn’t always understand everything. Tony always talked to him like he was a living, breathing person beside him, though right now it seemed like he was talking to his least favorite person beside him.
“Well, you didn’t specify, sir.” If a robot could sound any smugger, Steve would eat his hat.
“Well, you better change it now or I’ll downgrade you to a student learning program in community college. Chop chop!” He grunted out like everything in the world was biased against him. He took on a less harsh tone as he returned his mental spotlight back to Steve, “That was pretty cool, didn’t know you had that good of a hearing. Anyhow, two things you can smell.”
Steve had almost forgot that they were playing, it was so easy to get lost in the flow of the banter. It made him wonder why they didn’t talk every day.
He fixated his mind to the task at hand, smell. It took a second to figure out how to use his nose again. “Coffee,” that was the first thing that hit him, “and motor oil,” he added shortly.
Stark let out a chuckle, “That would be me, I came straight from the lab.” It was evident too when Steve observed his cloths, which were casual and full of old stains from years of working late nights.
He considered further and found a sweet scent coming from somewhere in the kitchen. Before stark could ask him if there were any weird flavors under his breath, he cut him off, “Honey?”
“You can smell that from out here too? Impressive. Well- today was Clint’s birthday and we bought him a honey cake.” Tony said fondly.
“It’s Barton’s birthday?” He hadn’t known that.
“Yes. Sorry- just, we didn’t think you’d be interested in coming. Plus, you were on a mission and you never seemed to want to spend time with us so-” Tony trailed off, looking uncomfortable.
Oh, yes, that’s right, he didn’t want to, but why? Tony seemed so nice and-
No. No. No. He wasn’t supposed to get close. He promised himself he wouldn’t and-
Bucky! He couldn’t afford to get distracted. Bucky needed him.
“So, what kind of things can you taste? You just came from a mission, right? Did you have any time to eat anything or-”
That relaxing technique had worked surprisingly well. He had gained all his senses back equally, instead of concentrating on one until it became too intense to pear.
Had he really gone into shell shock in front of Stark? Shit. He was so stupid. Stupid. Stupid. His only rules had been keep your distance and keep your image. Apparently, he couldn’t follow, not one, but two of them. What would happen now? Would he be kicked off the Avengers now? Probably.
But did his image really matter anymore? He couldn’t stay here, he had a new mission. He had a purpose, a worthwhile one (after so long).
Steve looked up and met Ton- (no) Stark's expecting gaze. Suddenly, he felt frantic, like his brain was going into an overdrive. He had to go. Now.
Not willing to think of how much social grace he was lacking and how his ma would smack him upside the head for being so impolite, he bolted up. “Thank you, for your help, Mr. Stark but I really must be going.” Then he legged it. Ignoring Stark's uneasy voice from the room he had all but ran from.