Chapter 1: Prologue
"I don't understand why we even bothered to purchase this company. Hydra is completing its own space exploration programs within the US and the Soviet Union. What could we possibly need from the defunct Life Foundation?"
"The Life Foundation completed deep space missions before the Americans or the Soviets. I suppose our superiors were hoping to figure out how they completed those missions. Besides, it's not our place to question Hydra's motives anyway. Finish cataloging the experimental program, so we can stay on schedule."
"Wait, what's this file? 'Alien organism experimentation'? Did you ever hear of the Life Foundation discovering aliens?"
"Let me see that…," the man skims the file for a few seconds, “Incredible. Apparently, they discovered more than asteroid compositions. Send this file and any associated cargo to the deep space science division immediately."
A man in a long white lab coat, holding a manila file folder, approaches a sealed oil drum in a mostly empty storage room. Two security guards in military-style gear accompany him.
"I want this drum sent to level 18. Whatever the Life Foundation was doing with these creatures, they failed to gather much data. Hydra has slightly hardier subjects to test. The file states that the alien organisms require a host to survive in the Earth's atmosphere. When the creatures bonded with animals, they could give the beasts super strength and enhanced abilities. Hydra already has a slightly more-than-human host available. Perhaps we can finally fix Arnim Zola's failed experiment and create Hydra's greatest asset.”
"Zola's pet? We're going to try that? He's always been unstable. I'm not sure if making him stronger is a good idea," one of the guards grumbles.
"Every animal and human that bonded with these organisms died, and the Life Foundation was idiotic enough to let some aliens die. This is the last surviving alien organism, and I'd prefer to start my own research with expendable resources. After Hydra sees what this organism can do to the failed asset, perhaps I will be allowed to try more subjects," lab coat replies as the guards begin to roll the drum towards a service elevator. No one seems to notice the creaking and soft thumps from inside the drum. The drum has a few notches bowing outwards, but it appears intact. The long concrete hallway out of the storage room is empty except for the trio.
"All right. Everything should be set up by 1400. Just make sure you seal the whole area. I don't want to give up many upper level guards for your little experiment."
James Buchanan Barnes. 32557038. James Buchanan Barnes. 32557038.
"This experiment will either be a roaring success or will finally rid us of Zola's expensive prisoner."
Two scientists stand outside an exam room. The room has glass on three sides and shows another man, emaciated and naked, strapped to a table. Metal cuffs hold the prisoner’s wrists and ankles to the table, while thick fabric straps hold his calves, thighs, hips, and chest to the barely cushioned surface. The sound of the scientists pulled the prisoner from unconsciousness.
"Arnim Zola's grudge has cost Hydra enough resources. Sure, his faulty serum saved the life of Captain America's right-hand man, but the serum has done nothing else besides keep him alive. No super strength, no tactical abilities to match the mighty Steve Rogers. The serum still leaves our greatest investment without an arm! I'm sure at this point, it would be a mercy to finally kill it. Still, I would like to learn something valuable about these aliens so that Hydra will approve more testing."
James Buchanan Barnes. 32557038. James Buchanan Barnes. 32557038. Fuck, I have a horrible headache.
The exhausted prisoner passes out again before he can hear the rest of the discussion.
Chapter 2: Chapter One
A bang and screeching sound wakes James again. A hissing of air depressurizing follows the screech of a door opening.
Oh God, what is Hydra doing now?
He cranes his head up from his restrained position to watch two guards in bright yellow hazmat suits roll a large drum into the examination room. He may not know where he is, but James will always recognize an experimentation room from how many times he's regained consciousness in them.
The guards place the drum halfway between the end of the table and the door. They quickly leave the way they came without addressing James at all.
At least I woke up remembering my name this time. It's always worse when Hydra makes me forget shit. And, I'm not even bleeding yet. So far, so good.
James wearily thumps his head back onto the table. He's not strong enough to keep his head up very long, and he suspects he’ll need his strength to keep track of whatever the Hydra scientists are planning to do to him.
He hears a smaller hiss and snaps his head up again all too quickly to watch the drum. A small box on the top is a motorized hinge that is slowly opening the drum. Before the motor stops whirring, a black tendril climbs over the edge. It slithers out of the drum and onto the floor. It seems to curiously move around for a few seconds before it notices James on the table.
Is that slime conscious?
It moves forward across the floor with purpose now. James feels the first tendril, cool and wet on his skin as it begins to climb over his body. He starts to test the straps and struggle on the table. No matter how many times Hydra destroys his body, James will continue to fight and to preserve his spirit as long as possible.
What the fuck has Hydra found now? Why am I stuck with this slime thing in the room?
The slime continues to climb James's body, sticky and slow. It comes close to James's neck.
This is it. I finally get to die. Hydra is finally going to kill me with sentient slime mold. I'm going to suffocate strapped to a table.
James looks down his body, notices faintly that he's naked, and watches the slime writhe and wrap around his limbs. Then it begins to fade and lose thickness. The deep black fades to a sickly gray until a fine film is left were thick tentacles were wrapped around his thighs and torso. All the slime over his body fades and seems to disappear. Not even any residue is left from the wet texture of it. Bucky looks around frantically.
It couldn't have just disappeared. Hydra's experiments are much more deadly than this. And much more painful.
The slime was only somewhat uncomfortable. But, now it's gone, and Bucky sets his head back on the exam table. He's utterly exhausted now. He's always exhausted. Hydra has forced him to stay awake through many procedures for days and what feels like years.
I'll never catch up on the sleep I've lost.
Since the excitement seems to be over, Bucky sees no point in staying awake when he could use this precious time to rest. He closes his eyes again and falls asleep. For the first time in years, he sleeps without a nightmare.
James wakes later in a different cement cell. Glass surrounds him on all four sides. The glass is thick and probably bulletproof. He's on a cot now and no longer strapped to anything. He glances around a bit, without lifting his head too much, and notices a steel toilet across from him first. There's also a small basin for washing up, but no soap is visible in the cell. He sits up unsteadily and looks around more. There's nothing else in the cell, but these accommodations are already so much better than the empty rooms Hydra usually puts him in.
Something's wrong. Hydra has never treated me this well after an experiment. They've never had such painless experiments either.
He investigates more of the area and sees a tech taking notes on a clipboard behind him. He stares daringly at the tech, who looks up from his writing and spooks at the sight of James's consciousness. The tech rights his glasses and rushes off, out of James's line of sight. James doubts the scientists have actually stopped watching him, but at least he can pretend he's not being watched now. He finally gets out of the cot and goes to the wash basin for water. He's surprised to find it actually works. After he drinks a few handfuls of water, James wearily places his hands on each side of the basin. He wobbles back to the bed, quickly exhausted again. As he collapses back onto the cot, the minimal padding and the light sheet comfort him.
I don't think Hydra has ever given me a bed before.
Chapter 3: Chapter Two
James wakes again and finally thinks he's up for good. He actually feels great. He practically feels no pain. Only his phantom limb pain that makes his shoulder tense up and ache is all that remains. He stares at the pale white ceiling in the little observation cell and then glances over at the glass next to his bed. His reflection stares grimly back at him, and deep black bags make his eyes look sunken. This set of Hydra scientists shave his head regularly. He was disgusting when they let his hair grow long, oily, and tangled. Now it's neatly cropped against his skull, if a little gritty with dirt and unknown filth. He's not bald, but his hair is barely an inch long on top. He continues to stare and his eyes flash black. The color fills his whole eye, whites and iris. He leaps out of the bed and frantically shakes his head to get the image of his demon-eyes out of his head. His sudden movements have roiled his empty stomach, starting to make him nauseous.
Just what I need. Hydra has turned me into a demon. Made my eyes turn black. Maybe next I'll grow horns.
He's breathing heavily, but he's not exhausted like his usual outbursts leave him. He glances down and finds a tray of food, and he's suddenly aware he’s ravenous. After crouching down and sitting on the floor cross-legged, he pulls the tray over and take bites of chicken and boiled vegetables on the plate. Although the food is rather tasteless, it’s one of his most substantial meals from Hydra ever. He usually got an IV, which he had hoped had liquid nutrition in it. With how much weight he's lost in his time as a captive, he wouldn't be surprised if Hydra rarely fed him anything. He growls into the food and finishes it in what seems like seconds.
Hopefully I didn't make myself sick by eating too fast.
He grabs the empty cup on the tray and fills it with water from the sink. As he's drinking, he feels his stomach roll with nausea and extreme hunger. He sips the water slowing, hoping to quell his stomach.
James whips his head around after placing the cup on the edge of the sink. He expects to find another captive or a tech who has come to mess with him. The cell is still empty.
A deep, scratchy voice answers, but it sounds deafeningly loud. The words ricochet inside James's head, making him wince and hold his hands over his ears. Hydra apparently gave him hallucinogens again.
“We? We're hungry?” He repeats hesitantly.
Who is the “we”?
The voice sounds so close, but he can't see anyone else. After he finished his first question aloud, a slot at one end of the cell opens and another tray slides across the floor.
James feels his body surge to the tray. He almost falls into the food but rights himself in time. He grabs the piece of meat on the tray. It may be ham. He doesn't get enough time to see what it is before he's shoving it in his mouth. It is ham apparently. After a couple frantic chews, he retches. Ugh, he did eat too fast.
It's dead! No good.
The voice in the room bellows. The sound seems to reverberate through the cell, as if he shouted it. Maybe he did.
Whatever Hydra gave me, it's really fucking with me now. What does the voice mean anyway? The food is perfectly edible. Delicious even. This is some of the best food I’ve eaten in years, and I’m not letting a hallucination spoil the meal.
He feels some weird shame, almost like it's not his emotions. He doesn't know why he would feel ashamed of anything, so he starts eating again. He eats slowly this time and savors the real meal.
A few more meals slide in before James can't eat another bite. The next few rounds were very rare steaks or almost undercooked chicken. He still ate them, maybe even more ravenously than before. He didn’t mind the undercooked texture for some reason.
Hydra has been starving me too long. I could eat anything they give me now.
With an unfamiliarly full stomach, James climbs back into the bed and falls asleep remarkably fast.
While he was sleeping dreamlessly before, James's thoughts start to turn toward the strange voice and his ravenous hunger earlier. His dreams are not quite nightmares, because he isn’t disturbed enough to wake up, but he still feels anxious and trapped in the dreams. The first not-quite-a nightmare reenacts his first encounter with the black slime. He feels it crawl over him again, but, since he's not restrained in the dream, he struggles much more. While he's tugging his limbs away from the tendrils, the substance stops leisurely approaching him, and, instead, it jumps out and seems to cover his face. The blindness almost wakes James. The fear of suffocation and the inability to see cause him to throw his hands to his face and try to claw off the black goo. Before his hands meet his face, the substance suddenly clears away, and James can see again. This dream ends before he can put his hands back down at his side.
The next dream seems to take place in the same room, even though he hadn't noticed the surroundings in the first dream.
That's weird. I'm remembering dreams within dreams now?
He looks down at his hands and finds his skin pallid. He pulls his head up and gazes into the reflective glass in a cell similar to the one he's in during his waking nightmares. Recoiling from the glass in shock, he realizes his reflection is not his own. Instead of his icy blue eyes and trimmed dark hair, James is looking at a thin-faced man with graying black hair. His eyes are dark but not completely dark like his demon eyes earlier. Instead of appearing a bit malnourished, his new face looks deathly ill. His skin has a sweaty sheen to it, and his eyes are bloodshot around the dark irises. As James's cataloging the appearance of his new body, he starts to feel pain. A full-bodied ache seems to touch every cell of his body. Even in a dream, James doesn't have the strength to ignore the growing pain. He curls on his side in the cot and tries to wait out the growing waves of pain. Even when Hydra tortured him daily, he was not in so much pain. Just when he thinks he'll wake up from how difficult it's becoming to breathe in the dream, James feels the pain start to seep away. It recedes from the limbs of the body, and he seems to be pulling away from the pale limbs and chest of the stranger. He can see the body he was in. It's now laying limp and with an empty gaze in the cell. James is certain the person he had just inhabited is now dead. His last thought, before he finally leaves this weird dream, is that he is also certain that he caused the death.
Another dream begins, but nothing seems to be happening in this one. Only darkness surrounds him. James feels as if he's waiting for something.
I feel like I've been here longer than I've been alive. Wait, where is “here”?
He starts to move around the dark space, but, before he can get very far, he's running into a wall. The room is not very big at all, and it feels short as he stretches up to the ceiling. Every time he hits a wall, a sharp metallic clang resounds through the space. He hangs around a bit more and even tries to break through the metal surrounding him. Eventually, James realizes he's not getting out of this dark cell until someone comes to open it. He feels a depressing acceptance wash over him.
I have to wait, forever if I must. For the right person… to rescue me?
James's thoughts seemed to end after “person,” but he doesn't know why.
What do I even mean by “right person”?
He's finally thrown out of the dreams when he realizes that they don’t feel like dreams. These thoughts feel like memories.
Chapter 4: Chapter Three
Even though the last thought of the dreams disoriented James, he lazily wakes up. He feels surprisingly well-rested, and he stretches along the cot. When he feels a tightness around his belly, he glances down in time to see a thick black tentacle wrapped around his waist. James shoots upright, screaming and trying to rip off the tentacle. It disintegrates before his eyes, the thick black substance thinning out and disappearing again. He gropes across his stomach, but no evidence of the black goo remains.
What the fuck is happening? What is that slime? Where did it go?
We did not go anywhere.
James jumps out of the bed and looks for the source of the voice again.
Where is that voice coming from? These hallucinogens must be really strong to still have effects.
We are not a hallucination.
The voice sounds almost angry with James's adamance that he's still talking to himself. James slowly straightens out from his crouched posture. While he had been prepared to fight off anyone in the cell, he's beginning to notice the voice isn't echoing through the room, even though the sound seems loud.
What? How can you not be a hallucination? There's nobody else in this room.
Yes, nobody but us.
The end of “us” draws out into a hiss, slithering through James’ head.
Who is us? God, I'm going crazy talking to the voices in my head.
We are Venom.
As the voice replies to James, ropes of slime begin to fall out of James' hands. More black slime oozes out of his body, and the tendrils wrap around his limbs and writhe across his skin.
Holy shit. That black slime didn't disappear. It's inside me!
James starts ripping at the tendrils on his skin, but he can't pull any of the goo away from his body. Before he can start clawing at his skin to get the slime out, a sour smell fills the cell. James passes out soon after the smell, and he lands heavily on the floor.
James regains consciousness once again on the floor with another tray of food next to his head.
Hungry! Eat. Must eat.
So the voice wasn't some horrible nightmare.
James's limbs are dragged closer to the food by some invisible force.
What the hell? What's moving me?
We must eat. So hungry.
The voice whines in James's head, and he finally pulls his hands over to the tray. He eats hesitantly. The food tastes good, but it's cold. Instead of a hot meal of meat and vegetables, he's been given little cuts of cold meat wrapped in a tangy rice.
Fresh. Delicious snacks.
The voice's commentary on the food is not really helping James's appetite. Just remembering that the voice is probably that black slime in his body makes him queasy.
It's not just a voice now. It gave a name.
We are Venom.
James' chewing pauses.
Who is the “we”? Me and you? Because I am not Venom. My name is James Buchanan Barnes, and I want nothing to do with you.
A wave of anguish and sadness slams into James's chest.
No! We are Venom!
We will not go back into the dark. We will not die. We will not hurt new host. We will save host. We are weak, but fix us. Will fix us.
The voice in his head is babbling, but James picks up on the “host” part.
“I won't be a host for anyone!” he shouts into the cell, “I don't want a damn parasite.”
Venom is not a parasite. We will not take, take, take. Not anymore. Venom is a symbiote. We give, and we live as long as the host lives. We make host strong.
James hesitantly resumes eating because he really is starving again. He doubts this weird parasite can actually make him stronger, but he is hungry. This Venom seems to be at least keeping Hydra from torturing him.
The scientists must be avoiding damaging this Venom by leaving me alone.
Venom is quiet for the rest of the day, which mostly involves eating. Hydra pushes in a steady stream of trays. James is eating much more than three times a day, but he's been hungry enough to finish every meal. Even with all the food and a full belly, he craves more. He has a specific craving, but he can't figure out what it is. The cold fish and rice had been one of his favorites, but it's not like a prisoner has any say in the type of meals he gets.
Eventually, all the meals translate to weight gain. From his reflection in the glass, James can see his body filling out. Some muscle and fat start to fill in between his ribs, and the sharp knobs of his spine disappear. He sleeps less and mills about the cell more. Instead of exhaustion plaguing him every morning, he becomes antsy and paces around the cell. Finally, he starts calisthenics in the cell. His push-ups, sit-ups, and running in place pass the time. He even considers talking to the voice in his head to keep away the boredom. Although he immediately dismissed that thought, a few more days of silence and boring routine finally force him to try communicating with Venom.
“Hello?” he grumbles while laying on the cot.
I'm an idiot. A crazy idiot trying to talk to a voice in my head.
No response comes, so James gets up and continues a few sets of sit-ups.
Then he pauses and whispers “Venom?” into the cell, trying to be loud enough for Venom to hear but not loud enough to bring about Hydra's attention.
Still no response. Maybe I did make up the voice. Why would I call it Venom? That's such a weird name.
James freezes during a sit-up. Holding himself stiff for a few seconds, he drops the position and lies on the floor.
Hello? I feel like a lunatic. Thinking at something… someone in my head?
Why is Venom weird?
James stares at the ceiling for a few seconds before deciding to entertain a conversation with the thing in his head. So far, Venom hasn't done anything to hurt him. In fact, James suspects some muscle gain has something to do with the parasite. Even when James was able to work out regularly, he never gained muscle this fast.
It's not a name. Venom is just a thing like poison. How could it be your name?
Your name is too long. Venom is better. Easier to remember than… than… Jamie Buchabee.
What did you call me? Although the situation is so weird, James smiles at Venom's fumbling. My name is James Buchanan Barnes.
Too long. Don't like.
Well, could you remember a nickname instead?
What is nickname?
A nickname is a shorter version of a name. My first name is James, but I used to be called Bucky. It's a shorter version of my middle name, Buchanan.
Will remember Bucky. Easy.
Okay, I guess you can call me Bucky. Can I give you a nickname, too?
Venom is short. Easy. No nickname needed.
Yeah, but like I said it's not really a name. Can I call you V?
Very short. We will never forget V. Like it.
The two fall silent again, and Bucky finishes his set of sit-ups. Yet another tray of food slides into the cell, and Bucky turns to it. He eats cross-legged on the floor, like usual, but now he has a conversation partner who doesn't mind if he talks with his mouth full.
So what are you, if you're not a parasite?
Said earlier. Symbiote. Can't survive in the air so need a host. Need Bucky.
You need me, huh? Now why would I let you stay?
Fear blindsides Bucky. One minute he was calmly eating his food, and the next he is gasping and holding a hand to his chest.
What is happening?
Stay. Need Bucky. Need host. Bucky is a good host. Perfect host.
Calm down! What are you doing to me?
Can't leave Bucky. Won't be separated. Won't leave host. Won't kill host. Would never kill Bucky.
V! Venom! Stop! I won't get rid of you. I don't even know how. Please calm down.
Bucky's breathing starts to slow, and he tries to stay calm and fight the fading fear.
You can control my body?
Won't do it if Bucky doesn't want it. An accident. Leaving Bucky is scary. Deadly. So take control of Bucky to show scariness. Hurts to take Bucky. To use Bucky.
That's reassuring. I don't want you making me do anything I don't want.
Why does it hurt?
Bucky is strong. A strong host. Strong mind and body. Perfect host.
Well, Hydra gave me the serum, so that may make me stronger. But it didn't do much besides make it impossible to kill me. Hydra has hurt me in countless ways, but I never die. Just survive through the fucking pain.
What is Hydra? Will kill Hydra for hurting host! Kill for hurting Bucky!
Good luck with that, pal. I've been trying to kill Hydra for years. I can never escape.
Did not have Venom. Venom will help escape.
How? How are we gonna get out of this cell? Your slime could get out the food slot, but I can't fit.
Must go with Bucky. We will fight. Venom makes Bucky strong. Stronger than Hydra.
Hydra is a lot of people. We can't fight all of them. Especially when your host only has one arm.
Make a new arm. V will make new arm.
As soon as Bucky finishes the thought, warm tendrils of slime wrap his shoulder and begin to fall. The slime slowly reforms into a limb, an almost perfect mirror to his right arm. The goo hardens and smooths out until Bucky is staring at two hands. One is pale white with old calluses, and the other is smooth black and tipped with claws. He moves the new limb carefully. After watching the arm turn and the claws stretch out, he then forms a fist. The arm responds perfectly to him as if he's always had it. As he releases the fist, the sour smell returns to the cell.
Hydra finally figured out how to get my arm back.
Bucky passes out.
Chapter 5: Chapter Four
Bucky comes to on his cot. A mild headache is fading, and he has the distinct impression that he has been manhandled while unconscious.
Now what did Hydra do?
He examines his body but finds no outward signs of experimentation.
Venom? Are you still there?
Yes, Bucky. Still here. Still with Bucky.
Bad smell made Bucky sleep. Couldn't wake you up. Couldn't help.
It's fine, V. Hydra must be gassing us. The smell has to be a sedative of some kind.
Don't like it. Bad people come and touch Bucky. Can't hurt bad people when Bucky is asleep.
Well, that's what happens when you're a prisoner. Hydra can take us whenever they want. Do you know what they did while I was out? I can't find any injuries or anything.
Nothing. They looked for Venom. Asked about arm but V stayed away.
Good. They probably want to test out their new toy.
But V is no help. No help when hidden.
No, stay hidden. If you're what Hydra wants, I guarantee it's better if you stay away. Even if they hurt me, you have to stay hidden. Understand?
Don't like. No one hurts Bucky.
Understand. But don't like.
I don't like it either, but we have to stop Hydra's plans. When they still thought the serum would make me like Steve, they planned to make me work for them and kill lots of people.
Who is Steve?
Bucky didn't even realize he had brought up Steve. Now all his thoughts fill with Steve, and old memories flood his mind with images and feelings. The simple happiness of their shared childhood, the pride of watching Steve grow up and find work using his art skills, the worry and sorrow whenever Steve fell ill, all these memories fill Bucky's head. The fear of their separation when Bucky got drafted and the pain and horror of war follow soon after. Bucky is somewhat aware that Venom is listening to these memories, and he is glad to not have to explain everything in words. He feels Venom at the edge of his mind, watching silently and almost seeming to be in awe. His memories continue to follow the story of his life with Steve. The amazement and relief at meeting Steve at Alonso is quickly followed by the frantic worry about their escape. The pain of war still colors most of the next memories, but now the happiness and hope of Steve is mixed with them. He lets a few memories of talking with Steve or sharing a scraped-together meal in the European forests come to the surface of his mind. His memories end with the final mission with Steve. The desperation of the reach from the train morphs into the cold shock of the fall. He thought he would die from the fall. It was such a long drop. Instead of death, the serum kept him alive. He stops the tide of memories before Hydra finds him in the snow. He doesn't want to relive those memories, and they have nothing to do with Steve.
That's Steve. Steven Grant Rogers.
V falls silent for the rest of the day, and Bucky assumes he's thinking over the memories he shared. He has no clue what the symbiote will think of Steve, but Venom was bound to find out about his lifelong friend at some point. Given enough time, Bucky always turns to his memories before Hydra. He's trapped here, and the thoughts help keep him sane. At first, he thought Steve would rescue him, but he quickly realized that the fall should have killed him. Steve must have thought Bucky did die, so Bucky stopped hoping for rescue. For a bit, he hoped for escape, but Hydra never left an opportunity. Even if he becomes strong enough with V's help, Bucky doubts they could escape Hydra's clutches.
Even though V had been quiet the past few days, he answered Bucky immediately.
I've been thinking about our escape plan, and I think we'll need more than two arms.
Can make more. V can help.
More arms are still too big to fit through the door or any cracks in the walls.
As Bucky continues planning what they'll need to escape, he fails to notice the long tendrils of black flowing from between his shoulder blades. The tentacles lengthen and hit the floor without much noise. One tendril slithers across the floor towards the tray of food on the floor. Whenever they finish one tray and put it back at the door, another quickly takes its place. Bucky still has weird unexplainable cravings, but he is never hungry anymore. A second tentacle joins the first at the tray, and, as they both slide under the tray, they gently lift it. Bucky is still deep in thought and doesn't notice the tray until it's hovering right in front of his chin.
“Oh, fuck!” Bucky spooks when he sees the tray, and the tendrils jump. All the tentacles shudder at Bucky's outburst, and the tray rattles to the floor. “What the? Did I do that? Did we do that?”
Before V can answer, both smell the sour sedative fill the stale air of the cell. The tentacles quickly retract, but they don't disappear until they've cushioned Bucky's fall.
A man with short brown hair opens his eyes on his back. He slowly rises and looks around a glass-walled cell.
Where am I?
Since no one else is in the room, the man feels no need to speak. He gets out of the cot and stands in the center of the room.
Back in the cell. Hydra did not hurt us. Looking for Venom again. Stayed hidden. Didn't like it but stayed hidden for Bucky.
Who the hell is Bucky? Who's talking to me?
The man carefully searches the room, but he still sees no other prisoners.
Bucky? You are Bucky. Something wrong with Bucky.
A crawling sensation over his scalp surprises the man, and he grabs his head. Suddenly, a searing headache starts. He feels like his skull is being split apart.
Oh, God. What's happening? V… Venom, stop!
Bucky drops to the floor on his knees as a horrid headache starts to recede. He's still holding his head.
V? What happened? Why do I have a headache?
Forgot us. V tried to help. V looked for Bucky.
Bucky groans and crawls back into the bed. The headache is slowly fading, but he feels drained now.
What? Bucky forgets?
Yeah, Hydra tried to take my memories a couple times. Used drugs sometimes. Used electricity sometimes.
Bucky winced. Just thinking about what Hydra used to do to him regularly is painful.
They couldn't get me to follow their orders with torture, so they just tried to make me forget disobedience. A blank slate.
A wave of anger passes through Bucky's body. His fist clenches, and his muscles become stiff.
No one hurts Bucky. No one hurts host. Must kill Hydra. Never forget us. Never forget Venom.
I can't control when it happens, buddy.
His fist unclenches slowly.
But apparently you can help me remember.
Yes, Venom helps. Help Bucky remember and never forget us.
Never forget Steve. I never want to forget Steve. Bucky is struggling to stay conscious but continues communicating with V. His eyes fall closed, and he sighs heavily.
Understand. Steve is also us. You and him are a we. Like you and Venom are a we. We will not forget him. Save Steve for Bucky always.
Bucky is relieved to hear that V will help, although he is unsure about how V thinks. He falls asleep as the headache finally disappears.
Chapter 6: Chapter Five
They spend their days eating and working out as best they can in the little cell. Bucky gets more pent-up and worries about when Hydra will strike next. Since their experiment seems to be a success, Bucky is sure that Hydra will not sit on this. He's surprised that the scientists have waited this long to investigate the symbiosis. The only obstacle may be injuring Venom whenever they have to control Bucky, but it's only a matter of time before they find a way to control them.
Bucky decides that they have to work together to have any chance of success. Venom is enthusiastic to communicate with Bucky and help in any way. While Bucky keeps up their health, they practice switching control of Bucky's body. The first time Bucky let Venom take over the body, he was enveloped in black slime. His reflection morphed into a massive black beast with long white slits for eyes. Venom moved around the cell easily in this form, and Bucky felt the incredible strength in the tendril-wrapped limbs. Before the pair could start testing their combined strength, the room was gassed with the sedative. Venom quickly retreated when the sour smell hit them, but they immediately reported to Bucky that the Hydra scientists were getting impatient, when Bucky remained consciousness.
One tried to hurt Bucky. One wanted to stab you. To get me out. To force me out.
I expected they would start that, V. You can't show yourself. You're the one who said you can't control me when I'm unconscious. We have to practice more, but you can't cover my body. You have to stay within me to prevent the gas from knocking me out every time we practice.
Venom will try. We will try. Must escape. Must save host.
They are practicing switching control today. V is moving Bucky around the room while trying to stay within the confines of Bucky's skin. At first, V was a little clumsy. They were unaccustomed to the small limbs and short strides of Bucky's body. Now V is agile and able to move Bucky faster than Bucky could run alone. They throw punches and flip through the air easily. Bucky is ecstatic with their progress.
This is great V! Can you try a kick flip? This is how it feels.
Bucky easily takes control back and completes a kick into the air followed by a flip away from an imagined enemy. Bucky is stronger from the combination of the serum and Venom's power, so he's easily able to show V some acrobatic attacks.
Okay, try to do it faster and harder than I did. You seem to put a lot more power behind my moves.
Yes, V is strong. Will protect Bucky.
Bucky relinquishes control again, and Venom practices the move a few times. In each iteration, they add more strength to the kick and flip higher. Bucky is impressed and decides they've had enough practice today. Usually, Bucky and Venom share control now. Bucky communicating easily with Venom on where he wants to go, and V is comfortable enough to know how to move along. They sit on the cot, and Bucky is pleasantly surprised to find they are breathing heavily.
Finally found a workout to tire us out. Do you feel ready to try out our escape plan yet?
Before V can answer, the sour smell returns.
What? V, are you visible? Why are they gassing us?
No, not seen. Hidden.
Oh, no. Our time’s run out. No matter what happens, V, do not show yourself. They could separate us.
They keel over on the bed. Bucky falls unconscious from the chemicals in the air, but, as usual, Venom remains vigilant. Of course, they stay hidden and move up and down under Bucky's skin. They try to soothe the worry and fear that plagues Bucky even when he's unconscious.
Four scientists and a guard arrive with a gurney to take them.
Different. Never take us out before. Don't like. Don't touch Bucky. No.
Venom worries and begins to circulate faster under Bucky's skin. After strapping Bucky's prone form into the gurney, the group adds another set of metal cuffs at Bucky's wrists and ankles. Then they're rolled out.
Chapter 7: Chapter Six
Bucky wakes strapped into a chair. His head weakly tips around to try to take in his surroundings.
Wow, this sedative was really strong. We don't normally feel so woozy afterwords. Do we, V?
The silence stretches as Bucky catalogs the room's occupants.
Bucky is sitting in a metal chair, strapped in with thick fabric straps and metal cuffs at his wrists. A twinge of pain from the back of his hand alerts him to the IV drip hanging to his right. When he manages to tilt his head up, a strange halo of metal with a thick cable coming out of it sits above his head. A door opens from behind him, and he pulls his head back down to catch two guards and a man in a lab coat come around the chair.
Venom… now would be a good time for the escape plan.
Fear begins to seep into Bucky's thoughts. He barely feels Venom, and he can't seem to contact the symbiote in any way.
“Good, he's conscious. Prep the machine.”
While Bucky was trying to find Venom, two more lab coats entered the room, and one moves to a control panel to Bucky's left. The first scientist comes to stand in front of the chair and its occupant.
“Hello, Sergeant Barnes. Since we need a few minutes to prepare the machine, I'll explain what's happening to you. Not that you will remember or care about such things soon. I hope you've noticed we have successfully achieved symbiosis with the alien organism. Apparently, your body is suitable for its purposes, even when your body has been so unsuitable for Hydra.”
Do these idiots not know that Venom can talk to me? I already know about symbiosis.
Even though Bucky is very tempted, he avoids rolling his eyes at the pompous scientist. Although the scientists themselves have little ability to injury Bucky directly, they usually order punishment for insubordination or find unpleasant experiments to try. Bucky hopes to avoid punishments as long as it takes for Venom to return.
“We have sedated it for this process to avoid damaging it. We are not sure how electrical simulation will affect it.”
Electrical simulation? Oh, God.
Bucky pales, and his eyes unfocus from the scientist.
No, no, no. They can't make me forget. I can't forget Venom. If I forget V, I'll forget the escape plan. No, no.
I'll forget Steve.
"From our tests, we believe it has settled into a hibernation-like state in limited areas of your body. Since we confirmed it is nowhere near your brain, the procedure should not affect the symbiote. Minor tests on your… scar tissue has confirmed that, if the symbiote is not near affected cells, it experiences no degradation."
Great. They electrocuted my stump to see if Venom would be hurt. Anything to protect the precious alien.
“The sedative we gave you has stabilized the symbiote, and we will be able to manipulate its form and effects to some extent now. We can repair certain… deficiencies and mold your body into the perfect weapon. Your body and the symbiote will be the new fist of Hydra. We've lost valuable time waiting on your ineffective serum, but now we can shape the next century, the next centuries with our new asset. Hail Hydra.”
“Hail Hydra,” the two guards and the two other scientists quickly parrot back.
No. No, no. “No, you can't take them from me. You can't take my memories. I'll always remember again. Eventually.”
“Yes, routine maintenance of your conditioning will be necessary, but that will not be an issue. Is the machine ready yet?”
Bucky starts to struggle in his bonds.
All the strength from Venom is gone. No, they can't. Venom, wake up! V, where are you?
“Power levels are stable. We can begin.”
“Then start up the sequence. We've wasted enough time.”
Bucky hears an ominous whine overhead and then feels the halo champ over his skull. He can't move his head anymore, and his eyes are fixed blankly ahead.
Venom, please. We have to get out of here.
Bucky closes his eyes. He feels a drop of moisture run down his cheek.
Then he starts screaming.
Chapter 8: Chapter Seven
“Your target is a nuclear scientist. He is under the protection of the level six agent Natasha Romanoff. Your mission is to terminate the scientist only. We suggest avoiding engagement with Agent Romanoff to maintain your anonymity and to ensure mission success. Confirmed death in 48 hours. Do you understand?”
“Mission parameters accepted.”
“Prepare the Asset’s weapons and equipment. We leave by 0700.”
The Asset ignores the voice in its head. The voice is always stating the obvious and often distracts it during mission briefings. Even with these minor hassles, the voice is still better than the utter silence in its head after the techs start medical prep on the body.
Important. Something important.
Yes, the mission parameters are imperative to our function.
No. Something else important. Can't think. Head hurts.
The Asset watches as the techs attach an IV drip to its arm.
Stop. More time. Need more time.
We have 48 hours for mission completion.
No. Need more time to heal.
We are at full operational capacity. No injuries detected.
Heal head. Fix headache.
Inadvisable. Operational capacity worsens when headache dissipates. Erratic behavior is not permissible during missions.
The feeling of the other presence in its head fades, and the Asset is now ready for deployment. As the presence fades, the black arm grows from its side. Slowly filling in with black tendrils, the arm extends and ends with a fully functional hand. Although the color can never be changed and the black limb is difficult to hide during stealth missions, the Asset enjoys using the arm. It is much more powerful than the right arm, and it absorbs wounds easily. Very little seems to damage it. The Asset is advised to avoid contact with fire, and he agrees with this advisement. He has no memory of this information being correct, but he feels it is correct. The medical team keeps him at full operational capacity, and he cannot question the will of Hydra anyway. Insubordination is unacceptable.
The Asset is deployed alone, and it feels alone at this time. The chemicals used to prepare it for missions reduces the feeling of a second presence in the Asset’s head. While the Asset is largely ignorant of what is in its body, it is highly skilled and acts under its own power during missions. Occasionally, the black limb will supplement with more defensive movements, and the Asset does not always have control of those movements. Such as now, when he is taking his sniper position. The black limb stays out of the way, but he must correct its position to steady the rifle. Now he refocuses on the mission as the target approaches the area of interception.
He pauses his breathing and aims. The shot is quick and precise and, of course, hits the target's vehicle exactly in the front left tire. The vehicle swerves but stops before any collision can occur with surrounding vehicles. The incident appears to only be a blow tire, consistent with the Asset’s goal of stealth. The Asset watches Natasha Romanoff, level six agent, exit the driver's seat. She comes around the vehicle and covers the scientist. Watching carefully, the Asset adjusts the rifle to follow the pair. No opening for the scientist comes. Then the target crouches further behind Agent Romanoff in fear. Although she is still covering his body, the Asset now has a perfect shot through the soft tissue of Romanoff's side into the thoracic cavity of the scientist. Rapidly, before the opening is gone, the Asset pulls the trigger. Agent Romanoff does not fall, but she immediately clutches her side. Even from this distance, the Asset can see the blood welling up between her fingers. The scientist has collapsed behind Agent Romanoff, and the Asset watches his breaths struggle and stop. After 30 seconds without signs of life, the Asset turns to dismantle the rifle and pack up for extraction. It wonders if the shot through Romanoff counts as “engagement.” Since it was only advised against engagement and not commanded, it sees no reason for punishment, but it is not its place to deem when punishment is necessary. Its only concern is the mission.
Chapter 9: Chapter Eight
The mission is to defend the helicarriers. They have failed twice already, so this last stand is crucial. Even though the opponents are few, they have been effective. The man with the wings was a surprise, even though the Asset feels he has met this opponent before. Perhaps he did not have wings at first. The Asset feels the presence of the voice again, seeming to push inside his head and worsen the constant headache. He must refocus. The mission is imminent.
No sooner had the thought crossed his mind before the target walked onto the platform.
“Bucky, please don't make me do this,” the man in the colorful suit pleads.
Momentarily the Asset is struck with blinding pain inside its skull before he surges at the target. The black arm is uncooperative and takes excessive energy to control as the Asset and the man exchange blows.
“You… are… my… mission!” The Asset roars as he pummels the man in the face. They have failed. The helicarrier explodes randomly around them, but the Asset continues to hold the man down.
“Then finish it. Because I'm with you until the end of the line.”
The Asset's punches begin to subside. His flesh arm was badly injured, certainly dislocated, during the battle, so the Asset has been forcing the black arm into the target's face. The arm had swung wildly a few times, and the Asset could barely control its aim. Another wave of pain in his head finally stops his fist.
No! Stop! Remember!
The words are punctuated with sharp pangs of pain, and the Asset groans. He moves his hands to his ears and clutches his head.
The target falls through the empty panes of the helicarrier. The Asset watches for a few seconds before his body shifts and dives after the target.
Must get Steve.
Who is Steve?
Fleeting images of the target come up with the name. Except, the target is smaller and much skinnier. The Asset is not in control of its body. The black arm is dragging the target… dragging Steve out of the murky water. He watches Steve breathe for a few seconds before he feels the body turn and begin running.
What is happening?
Must escape. We can finally escape.
The Asset yields control of the body. Escaping sounds advisable. Hydra is in shambles and, if they were to return, they would certainly be punished gravely.
It feels relief. Not just from the other presence in his mind but also from its own mind. The Asset is finally free.
Chapter 10: Chapter Nine
James Buchanan Barnes walks into the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Although he has on thick layers and a cap to disguise his appearance, James is aware this outing is a huge risk. At any time, someone could recognize him. A rogue Hydra agent could be out. There were so many variables to consider, but they both deemed this outing necessary.
Venom has slowly been healing his brain from the injuries of Hydra, but the memories are difficult to place and understand. So, they decided to research Steve, Captain Rogers, like any civilian.
Small. Steve was small?
Venom asks discreetly as they watch the display of Steve's transformation play over and over.
Yeah. He was a scrawny guy before the serum.
Serum made him big and strong. Makes my host strong too.
James huffs a laugh to himself.
Not big, though. I just got really good at surviving anything Hydra threw at me.
No. You are strong like Steve. We feel it. We are hurt now, but we will heal. Be strong again.
James lets Venom's feelings and comforts wash over him. Since the chemicals Hydra pumped into their body finally washed out, they have unimpeded conversations now. James can feel Venom throughout his body. They're fixing up all the injuries from their escape, and James is grateful for the speedy recovery. However, they will have to eat again soon to keep up with the energy use.
“Inseparable on schoolyard and battlefield…” the overhead narration begins as they approach his display within the exhibit.
James Buchanan Barnes. Bucky. That's us. That's you.
Yeah, buddy. That's me.
They read the displays and listen idly while strolling through the rest of the exhibit. Bucky notices a little theater room playing some interviews, and he decides that's a good place to have a private conversation with Venom. So far, he hasn't accidentally started talking to himself aloud, but it's better to take precautions at this point.
V? This visit isn't going as well as I planned. I keep noticing how the info is wrong or off in some way. I’m getting a headache.
Sorry. Can't fix headache. It's from healing. Like sore muscles.
It's fine. I can handle some discomfort, bud. Maybe we should just find Steve. I don't know if it's safe to return to him, but he'll make it safe for us if we contact him in some way first.
Want to see Steve. We hurt him bad. Want to help him.
I don't think he'll want you in his body to heal him, V. You're not exactly well-known beyond Hydra. I don't even think they kept records on you specifically. Only mention the Asset. I mean, they had to strap me down to get you in me.
Sorry. Couldn't ask before. Needed a good host to live. Now it is okay? Trying to be good, not hurt host in any way.
Yes, V. Everything's fine. The start of our relationship was a bit rocky, but we’re good now. Okay, let's find somewhere to lie low. I'll see if I can figure out how to get to Steve without endangering any of us.
Bucky feels some hesitance from Venom, but they don't have time to address it right now. They leave the exhibit with a new purpose and a bit of hope.
Chapter 11: Chapter Ten
They find a nondescript motel to stay at for a bit, and Bucky starts researching. He discovers that Steve did a lot more than destroy the helicarriers. All of SHIELD and Hydra's data has been dumped on the internet. He scours articles, mission debriefs, and research files for information. Although V has mostly focused on healing his pleasant memories, the longer they spend healing the more often they stumble on memories from Hydra. Bucky wakes in a cold sweat more than once through the week, as V's efforts drag up memories of torture and brainwashing. V apologizes every time, but Bucky has noticed they've gotten quieter. They'll go hours or days without exchanging a word or feeling, and Bucky begins to worry.
V? Are you there?
Always. Always with host.
Okay, how are you feeling?
No, I mean what are you thinking? How are you emotionally? You aren't chatting too much.
Hungry. Tired. Keep scaring host. Scaring Bucky. Don't mean to.
Oh, that's fine. That's understandable. You're fixing my brain, Venom. That's more than I ever hoped for.
Miss Steve. Bucky misses Steve. Thinks of him a lot. Venom sees. Venom is sad for Bucky.
Oh, Venom. It's not safe to find Steve yet. He's… um. He's still in the hospital. We have to wait.
Forgot Steve. We forgot Steve. Never supposed to forget Steve.
I don't know how you could have stopped Hydra, V. We were both kinda incapacitated.
Still forgot. Still bad.
Bucky feels Venom withdraw. The strange feeling of silence feels his head, and he rapidly becomes nervous.
V? Venom, where did you go?
Venom's presence fills Bucky's awareness slowly.
Still here. Tired.
Bucky slows his breathing and calms his heart rate as Venom wanders through his head. They give comforting touches to Bucky's amygdala and quell his fear response. After reassuring Bucky that they're not leaving permanently, Venom withdraws again. Bucky is still nervous about V's silence, but he decides to let V rest instead of dragging them out again.
Even though V has stopped talking much, Bucky feels them rebuild their body and brain. Eventually, Bucky figures out that splinters of Hydra still remain. His research drags up memories of facilities not mentioned in the data dump. Most of them are without resources or much support, but they’re still a threat. Bucky's research becomes less of a way to situate memories and more of a way to plan attacks. He checks on Steve through the tabloids and less official news sources to hide his tracks. Steve stays in the Americas for a while, and Bucky decides to take matters into his own hands. Hydra cells are still active in Europe, so Bucky smuggles himself across the Atlantic.
Although Bucky occasionally has to postpone a raid when panic attacks or nightmares leave him exhausted for days, he makes good progress. No bases left are strong enough to survive the Asset. He always works quickly and efficiently, leaving only confused innocents behind. V still offers him super strength and rapid healing, but they are stubbornly quiet most days. They never offer the black arm, but Bucky is still dangerous without it. Whenever Bucky becomes nervous about V's silence, they'll fill his head with the simple reassurance of their presence. Bucky decides he can figure out what's bothering V after Hydra is truly dead and gone.
As Bucky works to end Hydra in Europe, he finds that Steve is making his way through the Americas. He's not exactly being subtle about it either. Bucky hears about explosions in rural Kansas and the arrest of elite businessmen in Venezuela. Although he keeps tabs on Steve, Bucky is reluctant to contact him until his work in Europe is done. He tells himself he just needs to stay focused, but he also knows he's nervous about seeing Steve again. Venom's healing had given him almost all of his memories with Steve, but sometimes the memories feel as if they belong to someone else. Memories with Steve in Brooklyn are filled with a sheen of joy that Bucky's now melancholic attitude can't understand. Of course, he remembers Steve fondly, but he doesn't feel capable of such simple happiness anymore.
As Bucky wraps up his destruction of European Hydra, he debates returning to the U.S. Steve seems to be making good progress without him, and he decides to keep his distance for a little while longer. After all, he'll be coming to Steve with more than just himself.
Chapter 12: Chapter Eleven
Bucky settles in Bucharest, keeping himself hidden and trying to coax Venom out.
V? Venom, where are you? Why don't you want to talk?
Bucky sighs heavily and dumps the groceries on his tiny apartment's counter. While shaking off the frustrations of dealing with a withdrawn symbiote, he organizes the foodstuffs into the fridge and cabinets.
Come on, buddy. You've barely talked to me in weeks. Why won't you talk to me?
Venom's shame clouds his thoughts for a few seconds before they retreat altogether. Venom will occasionally wander into Bucky's brain to show they're still there, but, more and more, they retreat entirely out of Bucky's awareness. Before Bucky can sit down to deal with Venom, he hears a suspicious creak from the hallway. He stills and straightens up again.
If someone's about to rob me, they're going to get quite a surprise.
Then a couple soft knocks on the door erase the idea of a robbery. Bucky decides he can handle whatever's at the door, even if the knocks are a ruse. He moves silently to the door, having memorized the weak spots in his floors weeks ago. He cracks the door but swings it open all the way as soon as he sees his unexpected guest.
Memories and emotions rise through Bucky's chest at the sight of Steve in simple civilian clothes, standing sheepishly at the door. Bucky feels V rear up and burst with energy at the sight of Steve, too. Bucky checks around Steve before grabbing his arm and pulling him into the apartment.
“I wasn't tailed, you know. I guarantee your location is still safe and under wraps,” Steve comments on Bucky's rush to drag Steve inside. Before Bucky can reply, he feels Venom surge through his body again. He steps back from Steve and falls into the couch as Venom starts vehemently pushing words and emotions into his head. Steve follows Bucky for a step, worryingly reaching for him.
Don't forget. Never forget Steve. When we forgot ourselves, we were supposed to remember Steve. Steve is us. Part of us. Almost killed Steve. Hurt him. Made to hurt him. Wouldn't stop. Couldn't stop.
Bucky is flooded with regret and Venom's memories of attacking Steve. He breathes through the waves of emotion and tries to calm Venom.
“Is that why you've been hiding, V? You think you're to blame? No. No, V. I don't blame you at all. Hydra had both of us.”
“Bucky, what's going on? Who are you talking to?”
Bucky barely notices Steve's question as Venom's memories continue to overflow.
Sorry, so sorry. Never supposed to forget Steve. Failed. Failed Bucky.
“No. Stop. It's not your fault.” Bucky shares his memories of Venom's efforts to heal them after escaping Hydra. He pushes Venom’s doubts away with the memories of them attempting to help Bucky whenever they got the chance. Eventually, Bucky's breathing slows, and Venom stops overwhelming his mind. They continue to swirl around in his head, but he finally notices Steve's concerned expression.
“Bucky, what's happening? Are you hearing voices?” Steve repeats when he sees Bucky's eyes focus on him again.
Bucky chuckles softly before answering, “Close, I'm hearing one voice.” Steve moves closer to the couch and the furrow between his brows gets deeper. “... but it’s not a hallucination. They're not a hallucination. Trust me. Hydra has done a lot to my brain, but I'm not hallucinating this time.” Bucky holds up a hand to stop Steve's advance. He's not sure if he wants Steve to join him on the couch yet.
Steve pauses as soon as Bucky moves his hand. “I don't understand. There's a voice in your head that's not a hallucination?”
V, can you show yourself.
Venom shares a hesitant shyness, but Bucky feels them watching Steve through his eyes.
This would be so much easier if you showed yourself.
Bucky sighs, “It's an experiment. Hydra gave me an alien called a symbiote.”
“What? Is it dangerous? Where is it? Do we need to remove it?”
“Whoa, slow down. Yes, they're dangerous, but I don't want them removed.” Venom warms Bucky's chest with gratitude and happiness at those words. “Do you remember when I fought you?”
“Yeah… what does that have to do with the alien?”
“Do you remember that I had two arms?” Bucky shifts to show Steve his empty left sleeve. Steve looks as if he just noticed, and his eyes widen a bit in surprise.
“The alien, the symbiote, is named Venom. They give me super strength and heal my body pretty well, when Hydra's not fucking with us. They usually appear as this weird black slime, but sometimes they make us another arm to use.”
Steve nods hesitantly. “You're sure it's not bad to keep it? Are you sure you don't want it removed?”
Bucky actually shudders at Steve's suggestion this time. “No, we've been together so long now. I can't imagine not having V in my head anymore. We both escaped Hydra. V would die without me, and I don't want that. So, no, I don't want them removed.” Bucky shakes his head decisively.
Steve holds up his hands in defeat. “Whatever you want, Buck. You should just know that an alien in your head doesn't sound too great to me.” Steve smirks lightly.
Bucky remembers to redirect the conversation, “How did you find me, Steve?”
“I came over after wrapping up Hydra in the Americas. I expected to find the festering remains of the organization in the long list of cells in Europe we'd compiled from the data dump, but instead I found dust or the skeletal remains of destroyed warehouses.”
Bucky smiles proudly, “That was me. While V was healing me up, I finished off Hydra over here. I… didn't exactly want to see you right away.”
“Oh, is it all right that I'm here now? I thought since you were staying in the same place that you might be expecting me. That sounds like a stupid assumption, now that I say it out loud.”
Bucky shakes his head at Steve's distress, “Steve, you can't imagine how happy I am to see you. I was staying away mostly because I didn't know how to bring up the whole Venom thing if I ever found you. I see that was taken care of a lot easier than I expected.”
Steve shrugs and laments, “I'm not exactly thrilled that you have an alien sharing your body, but it's your body to share, I guess.” Steve rubs his hand against his chin. “Anyway, after we figured out that Hydra was dead here, we suspected it may have been you. Nobody had seen or heard about Hydra's Asset in the U.S. since the Triskelion fell. Of course, we heard nothing from Europe either until we found the remains of the bases. We, oh, that is me, Natasha Romanoff and Sam Wilson, started double-checking your work.”
Bucky's eyebrows rise at the names.
“Do you remember them?” Steve drops his hand and tilts his head.
“Yeah. Yes, of course. Venom healed my brain. I remember almost everything. I think I also met Agent Romanoff before?” Bucky looks up at Steve hesitantly after scrutinizing the floor in thought.
“Um, yeah. She said you shot her once. No hard feelings, though. She saw your file, too, and decided blaming you was unfounded.”
Bucky glances down again, guilt and shame weighing down his head. Venom swirls under his skin, giving voiceless comfort and reassurances along with Steve's words.
Steve continues, “Natasha helped on the sidelines because she was tying up her loose ends. She had moved on to her contacts in Asia by the time we were sure Hydra was dead here. Really, Natasha was the one to track you down. I just followed the directions. She and I are the only ones who know about this place, but I wanted to ask you something.”
Bucky watches Steve move closer to him and then hesitate again. After Bucky scoots over on the couch, Steve finally sits next to Bucky. They don't touch in any way, but Bucky swears he can feel the warmth from Steve's body from across the cushions. Venom marvels at Bucky's joy when Steve smiles unconsciously.
Host so happy. Warm.
Yeah, buddy. I am really happy to see Steve.
Bucky's contentment mixes with V's wonder to create a rather distracting wave of emotion through Bucky's brain. He breathes through the storm of emotion slowly and refocuses on Steve. “What did you want to ask?”
Steve's brow had furrowed again while Bucky was working through the strong emotions, but it smoothed out again when Bucky reminded him of his question. “You don't have to accept, and I completely understand if you don't. It's not a problem at all if you say no…”
“Steve, spit it out. I can't say yes or no until you actually ask me.”
Steve ducks his head for a few seconds before starting again, “Okay, okay. Do you want to come back with me? I have a place lined up in the States, and I would love it if you would stay with me.”
Bucky stares at Steve for a few seconds in silent surprise.
Yes. We want to stay with Steve.
Steve jumps off the couch and shrieks, “What was that!?” As he rapidly sweeps the apartment for the source of the other voice, Bucky has to get his attention by grabbing his arm.
“Steve! Sorry, that was Venom. They can talk out loud, apparently.” Bucky rolls his eyes at Venom's failure to inform him of that fact.
Steve calms down and takes a few deep breaths before asking, “Um, okay. Did he answer for both of you?”
“Yes, I do want to stay with you now that I've finally gotten to see you again.”
Steve's face breaks into a genuine grin, and Bucky can't help but return the smile.
Chapter 13: Chapter Twelve
“A safehouse? Who else do I need to be safe from? We killed or incapacitated everybody who could have been a threat.”
“We need to wait to go back to the States. Just for a bit longer, Bucky. I need to make sure our gracious host is ready.”
“Who's our host, Steve? I'm surprised you don't have your own place.”
“I do have my own apartment, but the facilities can't exactly handle two super soldiers. And our host has enough resources and connections to help with your… with your recovery.”
Bucky winces. “I guess I could use some downtime and better food. V needs a lot of food.”
Hungry. Always hungry.
I know. Sorry, bud.
“Speaking of that, are we getting close? We'll need to eat again soon.”
Steve glances over from the driver's seat to pass a concerned look. “I think you eat more than I do, Buck. Do you know anything about special care for Venom? Do you need any medications or something?”
“Honestly, I'm not sure. Hydra supplemented my diet with intravenous nutrition and didn't tell me a lot about Venom. Usually Hydra forced Venom out of my head with some kind of injection, so we're not too fond of drugs now. Venom assures me that I'm a good host, whatever that means, but I don't know anything specific about what Venom does to my body.”
Make us strong. Protect us. Protect host.
“Besides protect us and heal us quickly. We seemed to be doing fine when I was caring for us alone, but I didn't have a lot of time for check-ins.”
“If you're up for it, my connection in the States can offer some medical support and look into what's actually going on with your body. The data from the collapse of SHIELD and Hydra didn't describe you very much and didn't mention Venom at all. Most of the files only list you as equipment during an operation,” Steve's face stiffens in anger for a few seconds before Bucky distracts him from Hydra's dehumanizing terminology surrounding the Asset.
“I don't think the techs ever asked what Venom was called. They just said 'the symbiote.’”
“Yeah, 'symbiote’ wasn't mentioned in the files either.”
“Okay, who is our host? Why are you avoiding telling me who it is?”
Steve frowned at the road, “Because I was worried you wouldn't want to come with me if I told you.” Steve sighs noisily before finally explaining, “Tony Stark is letting us stay at the Avengers Tower after we get cleared to cross the Atlantic.”
“Oh, Tony. Does… does he know about the assassinations?”
“Of Howard and Maria? Yes, the Hydra hit was in the files that Natasha put on the internet. He knows you were brainwashed, Bucky.”
“He's still going to be upset. Are you sure he's okay with me coming to the tower?”
“Yes, he invited both of us. If he can't handle it, we can leave, but he seemed to be dealing with the whole Hydra ordeal about as well as the rest of us.”
Bucky settles back into his seat and even reclines in it. He doesn't expect to be able to sleep in the car, but he wants to be a bit more comfortable. The horrid memory of his attack on Howard and Maria rises to the front of his mind. His guilt weighs heavily on the memory, and Venom's curiosity pokes it softly.
“Howard was a friend. I knew him during the war.”
Did not know. Could not stop.
“I know, buddy. I didn't even recognize them when the mission went down. Neither of us could have stopped Hydra at that point.”
Bucky finally notices that Steve is glancing over with a quizzical look. “Are you talking to Venom? Both Tony and I know that you weren't in control of your actions then.”
“Yeah, I was talking to V. Sorry, I didn't notice I was talking out loud.”
“It's fine. I'm only a little confused since I can't see the other conversation partner,” Steve remarks as they pull into an unmarked gravel road.
Can fix that.
Bucky feels smooth tendrils move across and out of his chest. One spiderwebs over the stump of his left arm and begins to take the shape of the usual black arm. The rest run over his body like prominent veins. The car abruptly stops when Steve notices the movement.
“Oh, whoa? Is that Venom?” Steve throws the car in park and turns to take Bucky's arm. One tendril floats around Bucky to face them both and first forms a vicious grin full of teeth. White eye spots grow above the grin into milky white slits.
We are Venom. The sharp grin speaks in a growling, rasping voice.
Steve jumps back into his seat, even rocking the car a bit. “Holy shit,” he exclaims while studying the black and white visage from more of a distance.
“Huh, I've never seen Venom's face like this. We could have been talking like this the whole time, bud?”
The milky eyes turn to Bucky, and the grin curves slowly upward. Easier to talk inside head. Easier to understand.
Steve watches Venom's face for a few seconds longer before looking down at the crawling tendrils of slime moving over Bucky's arm and body. Steve can only see the black crisscrossing Bucky's arm, but he suspects more tentacles are sliding over Bucky's body because his shirt and pants shift occasionally.
“Did Hydra create Venom?” Steve asks as he moves a hand tentatively to take Bucky's arm again.
No, we are not from Hydra. We are not from Earth.
Venom answers as a few small tendrils form out of the solid black arm on Bucky's left side. The little lines of slime tangle with Steve's curious fingers.
We were found by the Life Foundation. My kind were destroyed. Scientists left us in poor hosts. Many died. All died except Venom.
Steve watches Venom's face turn to gaze out the windshield during their little recount. Their full mouth of teeth closes in a distant frown.
“I'm sorry. It must be lonely being the last of your kind here.” Steve releases Bucky's arm and drops his hand onto the center console of the car. The tendrils retreat back into the smooth bulk of the black arm. Venom's face also retreats into Bucky's side along with the writhing tentacles over the rest of Bucky's body. The black arm is the last to fade into Bucky's shoulder, and Venom's mix of emotions fill Bucky's head.
Venom's sadness and loneliness come to the forefront, but Bucky also notes their curiosity and happiness towards Steve. Venom is upset by the reminder of their past, but, as Steve brings the car up to the safehouse, they are also excited for the future.