(Present time New York)
No one pays any attention to them as they walk through the crowded streets, but there is a slight parting of the crowds. The crowds don't even acknowledge they’re doing it, their bodies following some subconscious path around the small blond man and his partner. The rushing commuters and annoying tourists don't even understand what they are in the presence of. The man lets out a little chuckle at the naïve passersby.
"What you laughing about, Stevie?"
"Oh, you know, just the meaning of life."
Steve looked around at the bright lights as he dodged another group of tourists currently blocking the sidewalk for a picture. He loved cities. The sounds, the sights, the people, everything was just so full of energy, one could just disappear into it all. They had spent time in small towns in the past, but if you weren't a 20th generation resident, you were an outsider. And small towners had a bad habit of sticking their nose into an outsider's business.
But over the past few decades, Steve had gotten to see so many great cities, every five to ten years or so trying out a new one. Buenos Aires had been a nice warm reprieve from their time in Canada, and Sydney had been lovely even if he had hated the spiders. Tokyo had sadly been a pretty short stay as Steve had stuck out like a sore thumb. Moscow, Los Angeles, Madrid, Warsaw, Lima, a brief stint in Cairo before Bucky had pushed for settling in New York. They had been in the city for five years already, and Steve had to say this was probably one of their favourite homes.
"Don't be a punk, Stevie."
"Well, don't be a jerk, Buck." Steve lightly bumped his arm against the man next to him and got a jab in the side in return. Bucky laughed at Steve's scowl and threw his arm around the other man's slighter frame.
"Awe, gimme a smile, doll." Steve held the scowl out of spite for just a moment longer before he finally gave in. Looking up at Bucky's face, now framed by the long hair he had been growing out for the past few years, Steve couldn't help but think of how far they had come. Because the first time he had seen Bucky's face, neither of them had been smiling, that was for sure.
Steven remembered being born. The feeling of being on fire yet ice-cold, his large newly formed body oversensitive, his skin tingling with a thousand pinpricks. The feeling of his lungs filling with air as he gasped his first breath upon breaking the water's surface of the Lake of Creation. He could see nothing but white light and felt a soft breeze against his sensitive skin. With that breeze, he heard for the first time, the voice of the Deity giving him the name Steven and bestowing the title of Guardian.
Steven remembered his first charge. He didn’t know how this human soul would grow to shape the world, but he was determined to protect it. To allow that soul to reach its potential. Staring down at the crying baby being held in her tired mother's arms, Steven knew he would keep little Maria safe. He watched over her as she grew, when she lost her father at barely three years old, and when her new father nurtured her talents as she grew into a young woman. Steven watched as Maria brought the nature around her to life on a page and smiled when later in her life, those paintings were published in books. Steven watched as little Maria, now 69, passed away as he held her hand and guided her soul.
Steven remembered his other charges. He remembered Sophie, who finished her life as Queen Catherine of Russia. He remembered Victor, who was always writing his stories in France. And he remembered being beside them and protecting them every day of their lives until they passed.
And Steven remembered Reinhard.
He remembered a little boy who loved music and practiced his violin, who was smart and excelled in school, who was a talented athlete, and who, despite his talents, was still shy and insecure. Steven remembered protecting that little boy as he grew into a young man in Germany during one of the worst wars the world had ever seen. Steven remembered his body aching from taking the bullets headed for his charge. His immortal body was strong, but he could still feel pain. Pain that soon shifted from the physical to the heart. Steven watched the grown man Reinhard had become, the man with the iron heart.
Steven remembered Reindhard rising through the ranks with the blood of innocents on his hands, so much blood. But still, Steven protected him. He was his guardian, after all, it was his duty, his purpose for life. On quiet nights when Reinhard lay asleep, with his heart heavy Steven would sit and stare at the sky, wishing the Deity would speak to him.
Steven remembered the day when men stopped Reinhard's car in Prague. When the first man raised his gun to shoot, Steven did his duty as a guardian; he made the gun jam. When the other man threw the mine at the car, it was as if the world stopped. Steven knew what should happen, he should knock the mine off its trajectory, he should shield Reinhard from the explosion. He could feel it. Like a puppet, he could feel his limbs being pulled to step forward to protect his charge. But with screams and the smell of gunpowder in the air, Steven had a moment of clarity. Looking inside himself, Steven thought back to the others, Maria, Victor, Catherine, the ones who held his heart and showed him the amazing things humans could do. They made him fall in love with humans, their lives so short and bodies so limited, yet they pushed through so much and made great changes to the world. He had protected his humans from pain. He had protected them from the very people Reinhard had become. Why? Why did the Deity allow this? Why was Reinhard led down this path? Why was Steve even a guardian if he couldn't protect his charge from himself?
Time ticked forward as the mine continued its arc. And at that moment, Steven turned his back on his duties. Closing his eyes, the mine made contact with the car.
Steven remembered Reinhard screaming. The explosion ripped through the right rear fender of the car, sending shrapnel everywhere. Reinhard’s hand clung to his left side as blood blossomed through the fabric of his uniform. Even in his injured state, Steven had watched as Reinhard chased after his attacker, returning fire until he staggered back and collapsed against a railing. He remembered following above as his charge was driven to a hospital in critical condition. His ribs fractured, the lung collapsed, and spleen and diaphragm severely damaged. Steven watched as Reinhard survived his surgeries, people commenting that he would make a full recovery. But Steven could feel the death that hid inside his charge's body. A few days later, Reinhard slipped into a coma before succumbing to what the doctors called sepsis, something Steven could have prevented. Steven remembered watching Reinhard's soul leave his body. Steven did not hold his hand and guide him.
When Steven stepped through the veil into the upper realm, he was greeted by two Warriors. Their large gold wings dominated his view as their swords pressed into the soft flesh of his neck. He didn't fight as he was stripped of his knives before being dragged in front of the Keepers and pushed to kneel. One of the Warriors grabbed his hair and yanked his head back, the unyielding grip forcing his gaze to meet that of the Keepers. The three Keepers stood before him. Even in the moment, Steven was in awe of their presence. Some said they were as old as time itself, these ancient angels were a living link to the past. Acting as the hands of the Deity, they passed on the knowledge of the world. On the Deity's order, they were the ones who had entrusted Steven with the safety of Reinhard's soul. And now Steven knelt before them, awaiting their judgment.
"You have committed the greatest act of treason of our kind. You have forsaken your duties and betrayed the souls of those you swore to protect. Do you deny this?"
"Do you believe that you are above the Deity, Steven of the Guardians?"
"Your actions speak for your guilt. If you are not above the Deity, then why have you committed treason?" Steven’s body was shaking as tears welled in his eyes.
"I...he hurt so many! My actions were for the mercy of future innocent lives!" The Keepers looked down on him, their faces masks of disappointment.
"Your arrogance knows no bounds. For in your selfishness, you have become no better than the chaotic evil that we strive to protect against. You say you abandoned one to protect many, yet your actions against the Deity's plan have brought to pass senseless bloodshed."
"What?" It came out as a choked gasp.
"Upon the death of Reinhard Heydrich, thousands were killed in retribution. Your lack of faith in the Deity granted strength to the demons of the lower realm. Innocent lives were slaughtered in cold blood before their time. Their blood is not on Reinhard Heydrich's soul, but yours. Steven of the Guardians, for your actions against the Deity and humankind, you are sentenced to death."
Steven was numb. He knew that the warriors had grabbed him once again, but he barely felt anything. One of the Keepers stepped forward, and the ripple of the veil against his skin was his only warning before he was dumped onto the hard ground in the human world. Falling to his hands and knees, Steven was quickly pulled back into a kneeling position. Around him was nothing but forest, but the sounds of nature were absent, as though even the forest was bearing silent witness to his shame.
Steven's arms were released, but as one warrior gripped his wings tight, the other drew their sword. The Keeper stepped forward, and with a nod, Steven's world went white with pain.
Steven screamed, or at least he thought he did. He didn't know what he did at that moment as his back felt as though it was on fire. Through the haze of pain, Steven wondered when it had started snowing. Soft white spots danced in front of his vision before landing in a pile of white on the ground. A pile of white that was bleeding red. Steven felt as though he would be sick as he realized what the sight in front of him was.
His gaze was dragged away from his mangled wings as the Keeper grabbed either side of his head. The Keeper spoke, saying something in a language he couldn't comprehend. Steven's heart felt as though it was trying to be sucked from his chest, the world seeming to grow bigger around him. The shine of a sword glinted in the corner of his eye, and he took a breath. His vision began to go black. He did not deserve it, but perhaps he would be granted the mercy of unconsciousness before his head left his body.
Suddenly the Keeper's eyes went wide and Steven felt drops hit his face as the keeper's throat exploded in blood and shadows. Hands released him, and Steven let himself fall to the ground, no strength left to stay upright. As he lay against the ground, grass wet with blood, Steven heard the screams of those he had damned. From the shadows, Steven saw a pair of silvery eyes stare back at him, and then the world went black.
The first thing he felt upon gaining awareness was the heat, his skin sticky with sweat. Why was he hot? Angels weren't affected by the temperatures of the human realm. The second thing he felt was the pain, the worst of it concentrated on his back. What had happened? Steven went to shift his wings to assess the damage and that's when he felt it. His wings were gone.
Suddenly it all came rushing back to him. Reinhard, the explosion, his sentencing, his wings, the darkness.
Steven forced his eyes open before having to shut them quickly again from the light. Slower this time, he opened them and looked around. He was in a house, although it was more of a shack. The small building was ramshackle, sunlight cutting through the gaps in the boards and weeds growing through the floor. A small stone fireplace and chimney were built into the wall across from Steven, though it looked like it hadn't been lit in years. Steven himself was lying on a bench, on top of which a makeshift bed of grass covered by a ratty blanket had been made.
Carefully Steven shifted and tried to judge how badly he was injured. Bandages had been wound around his torso, covering where his wings had been. Steven’s throat felt tight with choked sobs. His wings, they were gone. Everything he had ever known was gone. Why was he alive? Why was he in this place? Who had brought him here?
Suddenly a branch broke outside. The crack sounded like a gunshot in Steven's head. Listening carefully, he heard another branch break, much closer to the house. Then the door opened, and Steven winced as his eyes were blasted with a stream of early morning light.
A man walked in. He was tall and broad-shouldered, wearing boots, khaki pants, and a blue coat, his hands holding a bundle wrapped in cloth. His dark brown hair was short, and his face was covered with a few days worth of stubble. For a brief moment, Steven wondered if this man had found him wounded and brought him here to heal. Then he met the man's eyes. Steven felt a jolt that seemed to go to his very soul. Piercing and silvery blue, Steven realized with a sickening lurch where he had seen those eyes. And as the door swung shut and the man's presence engulfed the room, Steven realized that this was no man. He was a demon.
Steven had been warned of the dangers of demons from his birth. The enemies of the Deity and angels of the upper realm, the war against their evil deeds had raged since time immemorial. Yet Steven had not encountered one in person until his second charge, Sophie. Europe's royal courts were already a dangerous place, but he realized how much more dangerous they could be after that day. The day when he had witnessed a warrior emerge and end the life of a demon hiding at court under the guise of a human. He hadn't even known the demon had been there, their devious wiles hiding behind brocade silk and a charming smile.
Over the years, he had witnessed the dispatching of several demons by warriors but had never committed the deed himself. But here he now sat, alone with the one who had slaughtered those who would have executed him.
Silence stretched between the two of them. Those eyes looked Steven up and down before finally, he broke the silence. "You're awake, sure took you long enough."
The man placed his bundle on the floor and walked towards him. The blond struggled to sit up and shift backwards, unable to contain the cry that fell from his lips. The sudden movement had disturbed his wounds, and he could feel warm blood seeping into the bandages on his back.
"You idiot! Stop moving, or you'll make it worse!" The demon quickly closed the distance between them with long strides. Rearing back, Steven shuffled away as quickly as he could, chest heaving with effort and panic. Suddenly his movements were forced to a halt as shadowy tendrils surged forth from the demon and bound his limbs. Steven felt the blood pumping through his body as he tried to pull away from the disgusting bonds, the inky blackness feeling cold and wrong against his skin. Every muscle in his body went tense as he glared at the demon and bared his teeth.
When the demon took a step closer Steven swung his head forward, snapping his teeth towards whatever he could reach.
The demon jumped back, barely missing being bitten. "Fucking hell, pal, watch where you're putting those things."
"I am not your pal! What do you want with me, Demon?" Steven snarled as he continued to struggle. The shadows pushed him to his stomach, and another one closed over his neck, making his attempts at biting useless. The demon grabbed the bundle he had previously dropped and placed it on the bed beside Steven.
"I'm trying to keep you from bleeding out, though you're making a pretty good attempt at doing so anyway." The demon snapped in frustration as he opened the bundle. A second later Steven heard the sound of fabric tearing as his bandages were cut.
"A demon wouldn't help someone." Steven snarled.
"Well buddy, I'm the one that saved your ass last week when you almost got that head of yours chopped off. A little gratitude would be much appreciated." With his head pinned down, Steven couldn't see what the demon was doing. All he knew was that the demon was slathering something onto his back. He couldn’t hold back the yelp as the substance began to burn like acid, the pain only exacerbated as the demon began putting pressure on the skin.
"I would rather die!"
"Well, like I said, you are making a damn good attempt at it pal," The demon growled in retort.
"Do not call me pal! I do not associate myself with demons!" Steven ground out through the pain. But he felt himself growing weaker even as he continued to struggle. Between the blood he was losing and fighting at his bonds, his body was exhausted.
"Well pal, since you've been too busy sleeping and I don’t know your name, it's what I'm going with." He seethed at the demon’s mocking tone.
Steven yanked at his bindings, but the shadows held fast. "How dare you demon! Let me free this instant and I will show you what happens when you disrespect a guardian!”
"Makes you feel any better pal, my name's Bucky." The demon volunteered unprompted as he continued to work on the blond’s back. Steven hated the casualness of the tone, as though they were meeting pleasantly on the street rather than their current captive situation.
"That name could be fake” Steven snapped. “And I said to stop calling me pal! I am Steven of the Guardians!" He managed to get out through laboured breaths, his lungs trying to pull in air as his body lost the strength to struggle.
"Well Stevie, I hate to break it to ya, but you ain't a guardian no more."
"It's Steven! Not Stevie!"
"Whatever you say, Stevie." The demon chuckled. Black was beginning to creep about the edges of Steven's vision.
"Don't call...me…" The darkness closed in, and he knew no more.
The next time Steven woke, it was dark, and this time he remembered everything. Without opening his eyes, the blond tried to listen for if the demon was nearby. Hearing nothing he carefully shifted while keeping his eyes closed. A sense of relief swept through him as he felt the lack of binding.
"You can stop pretending you're asleep." Steven jerked his eyes open at the demon’s voice. Moonlight barely illuminated the shack enough for him to see the demon who was seated on the floor. Slouched back against the wall, a hand resting on his bent knee, the demon watched him with an almost lazy nonchalance. "Are you going to freak out again? Really hope you don't cause I've worked my ass off to keep you alive so far, and it's barely even been two weeks."
Slowly Steven began to sit up. When the demon did not instantly react, the blond fully righted himself, cautious of his injuries that still throbbed in pain. Jutting his chin out in defiance, Steven looked down his nose at the sitting figure. "I do not take orders from demons.”
The demon held his glare for a moment before sighing and shaking his head. "I'm not giving you orders, just suggesting you stop trying so hard to die on me."
"Perhaps I should then, I am of no use to you dead and your plans would be foiled."
The demon’s head listed back against the wall with a dull thud. "Why do you think I have some evil plans, huh?”
“Why else would a demon help its enemy?” The demon’s silvery eyes glinted in the moonlight as he glanced towards the blond.
"See even if I tried to explain things, there’s no way you would believe me. Not with the way your head is currently stuck up your ass." Steven scoffed at the demon's crude language. "Awe, come on now Stevie, loosen up a bit."
The stupid smirk was back. Even in the limited light, he could see it. "I believe I told you before, my name is Steven of the Guardians, not Stevie."
The demon chuckled. “C’mon, gimme an inch, would ya? How ‘bout Steve?”
Steven clenched his jaw. "I do not make deals with demons."
"Well, you better get used to it, Steve, cause your 'of the Guardians' title is no more. Not after you let that guy die from the explosion and went and got your wings ripped off."
Steve’s eyes widened. "How do you know about Reinhard? It was you who turned him, wasn't it! You must have made him do those evil deeds, didn’t you?" Steve accused.
Sitting up straight the demon raised his hands in surrender. "Woah now, I didn’t do nothing. Contrary to what your high and mighty upper realm buddies think, demons are not the cause of all the shit that goes down in this world. Oh sure, we give a push here and there, but some souls are darker all on their own. They don’t need any of our encouragement.”
Steven’s throat was tight as he tried to get the words out. "I do not believe you! Reinhard was a gentle soul when he was younger. You must have tainted him, Demon."
The demon’s lips were pressed together in a thin line, his eyes beginning to glow silver again. "First off, stop calling me demon, I got a name. And secondly, you watched over that asshole his whole life. Don’t you think if I had been skulking around that whole time you would have noticed? Unless you really were something awful at your job.” Steven felt his face flush at the demon's sarcastic barb. “Besides, in the end, it was you; Mr. Purity-Angel of the upper realm, that turned his back on his charge. This war is brutal, and the humans are managing to be cruel enough all on their own."
"I...but you...he…." Steven didn't know what to think. He couldn't trust the demon, his whole existence he had been told they were all the scum of the earth. But this demon...he had saved him. He couldn't contain a shudder as what the demon said struck home. He had turned his back on Reinhard, on being a Guardian, and everything he knew. The Keepers had said similar things in his trial, but now in the quiet of this shack, he felt the true impact. He really no longer was Steven of the Guardians. He...he didn't know if he was even an angel anymore. His wings were gone, he obviously wasn't healing like he usually would, he could feel the sticky heat of the shack that never would have bothered him before, and his stomach cramped terribly in what he imagined might have been hunger. Steven of the Guardians no longer existed. If the demon had let him die that day, he would have died as Steven of the guardians. But now, in this moment, in this tiny shack in the middle of the wilderness, he was just Steve.
The demon let out a long sigh as he pushed up from the floor and grabbed something from beside him. Steve barely had time to react as a bundle of cloth was thrown his way, followed by a pair of boots. "Get changed. Your clothes are nothing but trash at this point. I can feel you still have some power left in you, but right now, I bet you couldn't manifest new clothes even if you wanted to."
Steve very much wanted to reject the clothes, but aggravatingly enough, the demon had a point. His top was in tatters and covered in blood; the bottoms weren’t much better. Steve could feel that he was no longer within the veil and wasn't sure if he would ever be able to pass over again. He was stuck in a physical form that humans could see. Gingerly Steve rose to his feet but quickly found himself sitting on the bed again, his legs too weak to support him.
"Need a hand?" The demon was smirking at him again, his eyes glinting with humour. Steve returned the smirk with a steely glare and began to rid himself of what was left of his clothes. As he went to divest himself of his bottoms, Steve realized that the demon was still watching him.
Steve felt his face growing hot. "Turn your eyes away! Better you would stand outside and allow me some privacy."
"Awe, you shy, Stevie?" The demon’s smirk became a full on leer as he openly eyed Steve’s exposed skin.
Steve clenched his jaw. "The body is a sacred thing, not to be ogled at, especially by such a lower creature as you." The demon laughed, dramatically clutching at his chest where a heart would reside.
"You wound me, Stevie! I know us demons are just vile beasts that can't help but ravage everybody we come across but give me some credit.” The demon dropped the charade and rolled his eyes. “You're injured, I at least like my partners a little more willing and able to enjoy my skills. Though if you really want to, I'm sure we could work something out." The smirk returned as the demon winked at the blond.
Steve could feel his mouth agape as his face heated with anger. "You...you...just get out!"
The demon held up his hands in placation and began backing towards the door. "Fine, I will not sully the sanctity of your body or whatever. Just yell if you need an extra pair of hands." With a final wink, the demon shut the door.
"I do not need your help, Demon!" Through the rotting boards, Steve heard the demon laugh. He wasn't sure how long he had, but he certainly did not want the demon coming back and leering at him mid-change. Using the bed for support, Steve slowly stood and placed the boots on the floor before slipping the remains of his clothes off. Standing there in the tiny shack, only the sounds of the woods around him and with no demonic distractions, Steve finally had a chance to look at his body.
Looking down, he felt his throat grow tight, but he refused to show weakness and cry. He was so small. His body had been crafted by the Deity upon his birth, and like all angels, he had been created in perfection that humans could never hope to achieve. Now he resembled the victims he had seen Reinhard visit. His frame was pitiful, skinny, and likely a few feet shorter than previously. His head felt almost too big for his body. Looking over his shoulder, the space was empty. His shoulders slumped as he naturally leaned forward to compensate for a weight that was no longer there.
Biting his lip, Steve began to pull on the pants that had been left for him. He tried to turn his mind away from the thoughts of what he would never experience again. The demon should have left him to die that day. It is what he deserved. As he carefully buttoned up the shirt, Steve realized that he was wearing a soldier's uniform, American by the looks of it. The green material hung on his body, obviously meant for a larger man. Doing up the final button, Steve felt something hard in one of the pockets bump against his chest. Reaching inside, he pulled out a worn piece of metal with bumps on it. Flipping it over, Steve realized that it was a soldier's dog tag.
The blond felt a shiver run down his body as the demon entered the shack once again, his hands covering his eyes. "Alright Steve, I am allowed to look now without damaging your delicate sensibilities?"
Steve clutched the small piece of metal in his fist. "Where did you get these clothes?"
"What?" Dropping his hands the demon looked the newly clothed blond up and down. "I found them."
Steve’s eyes narrowed as he met the demon's gaze. "Where. Did. You. Get. These. Clothes." The demon’s head tilted in confusion, his smirk replaced by a frown.
"Where do you think I got them? Not like I can just pop down to the local store and have a look at the selections."
Steve felt his body shaking in anger. "So, you stole from a dead man and left his body bare in the wild!"
The demon scoffed. "Oh get off your high horse Steve, I'm a demon, not heartless. Yes, I took his uniform. You needed clothes, and there wasn't another option. I left his underclothes and gave him a burial with a marker. But we both know that a body is nothing once the soul leaves."
"It is the principle! Was there not a town where you could purchase clothing?"
"Steve, we’re in the middle of nowhere, and even if there was a town nearby, I doubt stores would be open. Also, in case you haven't noticed, there’s a war going on. Lots of people are dying. While you guys in the upper realm are sitting pretty, we have to deal with the fallout down here." The demon's eyes were glowing in anger, the whites beginning to darken to black and blue irises turning silver.
Steve was about to issue a retort when his stomach let out a loud growl. The sound seemed to break the tension of the room as the demon’s eyes returned to normal once again. "You're hungry. Guess we know this new body of yours needs feeding now." The demon sighed and turned back to the door. "I'm going to try and find something for you to eat. I'll be back soon, don't do anything stupid."
The door slammed shut as the demon marched back out into the wilderness. A voice in the back of his mind was telling Steve that now would be a great time to escape. But he knew he couldn't. His body was still weak, so he would bide his time. Sitting on the bed again Steve shifted to lay down on his stomach, the tag still in his grip.
Eyes feeling heavy, Steve tucked the tag into his pocket and drifted off before the demon returned, the name on the tag in his mind. Joseph Rogers.
Time was nothing to Steve. Days blurred together as his life became nothing but sleeping. Sometimes he would wake to sunlight, sometimes to darkness. He had no idea how many days had passed between each time he woke. On occasion, he would wake to his stomach cramping in hunger and the demon would hand him some berries or other plant life found nearby. One time Steve awoke to familiar burning on his back and the demon putting pressure on his wounds. Steve had moved to jerk away but the shadow bonds were already in place. After what Steve would describe as torture, his bandages were rewrapped and the demon retreated. After shoving some food at the blond the demon at one point briefly explained that the burning was an herb poultice he had used to prevent infection. Steve didn’t know how true that was, but he had seen what infection could do. Begrudgingly he admitted, only to himself as he would never give the demon the pleasure, that his wounds were feeling better. Every time he woke, though he was stiff, Steve could feel his strength returning.
Then one day he saw his chance.
Steve awoke to daylight, the demon nowhere in sight. He did not know when the demon had left or would return, but with determination burning through him, Steve seized the opportunity. Moving quickly, Steve righted his clothes and grabbed the boots that had ended up shoved under the bench. Tying the laces the blond stood, a thrill of triumph going through him when his legs stood firm and his vision did not begin to swim. Taking one step, then two, Steve cracked the door open and looked outside. Blinking quickly as his eyes adjusted to the sun, Steve held his breath as the sights and sounds of the forest greeted him, but nothing else. With a deep breath, Steve opened the door and began to run.
He didn’t know where he was going, no goal, except to get away from the demon. Fear swam in the back of his mind, but with each footfall he forced himself to keep moving. The trees rushed by him in a blur of green, his skin beading with sweat and his lungs working to provide him with oxygen. His feet began to chafe and hurt as the rough leather of the boots rubbed against skin with no socks for protection. Steve ran, and ran, and ran.
Then in the distance Steve heard something, something that sounded like voices.
Pivoting to the right Steve began running in the direction of the sound, his heart beating with a tiny seed of hope. As he grew closer he realized that it was actually shouting, and that that shouting was accompanied by gunshots. Suddenly Steve broke through the trees and found himself in the middle of a field, a field in the midst of a battle.
It was chaos. Soldiers were surrounded by men in black uniforms, and though they were valiantly fighting back, their guns stood no chance against the firepower of the other side. Steve watched in horror as a tank bearing a skull with tentacles moved across the field, its tracks ripping up the soil. With a bang that shook the air, the tank fired. In the field a soldier turned to try and shoot his pursuer, his eyes meeting Steve’s, and then he was no more.
Steve didn’t even have a moment to process before the boom of the tank ripped through the air a second time, and Steve felt himself go flying. Dirt filled the air, it filled his lungs. Steve struggled to his knees, his ears ringing from the explosion. From nowhere he felt a hand grab his arm. Turning he felt his heart in his throat as he saw his reflection in the facemask of the skull soldier. Through the ringing, it sounded like the soldier was yelling at him. Steve could do nothing but stare, then he felt the hard metal of a gun pushing against his neck, and the soldier pulled him to his feet.
Blinking his eyes clear of dust, Steve realized that the battle was drawing to a close. The men in black were dragging the soldiers into trucks bearing the skull symbol. One man broke away and tried to run for the trees, but barely made it halfway before his head exploded from a gunshot. Steve felt numb as he was pushed along with the crowd and eventually thrown into one of the trucks.
It was hot and stuffy, too many bodies pushed together in the small space. Some men were wounded and groaning in pain, and others in better shape that tried to talk were quickly silenced by a guard with a gun. The opening of the truck was tied shut and the trucks began to move. Uneven terrain made the ride unbearable as the truck bounced across the road. Bad travel conditions exacerbated the wounds of some of the injured men, some dying from blood loss. The bodies were left where they were. A leg of one of the dead men was pressed up against Steve, the blond tried not to look as he felt the body slowly cool and become stiff.
After what seemed like forever, the trucks finally stopped. When the truck was opened they were greeted by dark skies. The men tumbled out of the vehicle, climbing over the dead bodies on their way out. Steve found himself in the middle of the group being held at gunpoint and forced to march towards their destination. In the darkness, it was difficult to see the full extent of the structure, but even craning his neck back, Steve could barely see where the building ended and the sky began. Bright spotlights illuminated the ground outside before they were herded through doors and down long concrete hallways that ended in a prison.
Steve’s group was separated into smaller sections and forced into the various cells. Without much choice, Steve walked into the cell on his right and the heavy door closed behind him with a clang.
Steve shivered, the concrete walls of the room offering little warmth, the bars on the door allowing in limited light. Looking around, the room was overstuffed with men, all of them dirty and much too skinny. As far as Steve could tell, the prisoners were all soldiers, different uniform colours and styles displaying a range of nationalities. And with a sinking feeling in his gut, Steve realized he was wearing a soldier’s uniform.
Steve, along with the other new prisoners, lingered near the door, unsure of where to go. The room was already full to near bursting with men beginning to try and hunker down for the night.
Feeling a boot make contact with his leg Steve looked down to see a soldier trying to sleep on the floor. “Just find a spot to try and get some rest. They’ll be back at sunrise.”
With a few more seconds of hesitation, the newcomers moved into the room to find a space. There were a few bunks along the back wall, all of them already overflowing with bodies. Most men slept on the hard concrete floor, using whatever jackets they had as blankets, along with their boots or each other for pillows. Carefully picking his way across so as not to step on anybody, Steve managed to find a small space of wall that was clear and curled up against it.
Steve didn’t think he would ever be able to fall asleep in such a place, yet his still injured body and shock of the day caught up. Before he knew it, German yells bellowed through the halls, and the men around him struggled to their feet. Still bleary-eyed, Steve followed as the men made their way through the building with the soldiers in black watching, large rifles in hand just waiting for someone to step out of line.
No one spoke, no one tried to do anything other than follow in line with their heads down. Eventually, the hall opened up into a dining area filled with long tables, and the men filed through a serving line. Steve found himself with a tray that was soon filled with some grainy mush that was the barest attempt at food. Sitting at one of the tables, Steve looked down at his plate. He wasn’t very hungry, but the men around him were shoveling down their food as quickly as they could.
“Hey! You one of the newbies, right?” Steve looked up at the man across from him and nodded slowly. “You better eat quick Tiny, that’s all we get until evening, and they’ll have ya working all day.”
Steve looked down at the slop in front of him and managed to swallow a few mouthfuls. The food was disgusting. Steve had only had a few things to eat since losing his wings, basically whatever the demon had been able to scavenge in the woods, but nothing tasted as bad as this. Before he could eat any more, the soldiers in black were shouting at the prisoners to move, and once again the men filed into lines. Steve wasn’t sure what exactly to do, as after being funneled down more hallways, Steve found himself inside a massive room that appeared to be a factory of some kind. Men began to split up and go towards different machines, and Steve stood frozen.
Without warning, the blond felt the butt of a gun make an impact with his still sore back and send him tumbling to the ground. The soldier in black was looking down at him, though covered by a full face mask, Steve could feel the glare that was behind the tinted visor.
“Mach dich an die Arbeit!”
Get to work. Steve could still understand the German, but that didn’t help him if he didn’t know where to go. The soldier brought his foot back for a kick, and Steve, still prone on the ground and in pain, couldn't do anything.
“Hey there! Wouldn’t want to go damagin’ your slave labour now, would you?” It was the man from the dining hall. The man smiled as he stepped in front of the armed soldier, blocking Steve. The soldier paused for only a second before he drove the butt of his rifle into the other man's stomach. The man went down to one knee and the soldier slapped the man's bowler hat to the floor.
“Mach dich an die Arbeit!”
“You got it!” Grabbing his hat, the man rose to his feet and quickly hauled Steve up as well. The blond barely had a chance to get his feet under him before he was being dragged away. “Keep your head down and do what I do. You do that, and hopefully, ya won’t get shot, got it?”
Still slightly shaky Steve nodded. “I understand. Thank you, sir, for the assistance. I am in your debt.”
“I ain’t no sir, Tiny and you can cut it with the poshness. Sergeant Timothy Dugan of the 107th, well what's left of it, but everyone calls me Dum Dum.” Brushing off some dust from his hat Dugan placed it firmly on his head once again. “And how about you, Tiny? What's your name?”
“...Steve.” Dugan halted the conversation as they arrived at what Steve guessed was his work area. The whole factory worked on a massive assembly line process, and Dugan was apparently part of the start of it. Reaching down, the bowler-hatted man grabbed a large sheet of metal from a pile and began making his way towards a group of men that were already working on another piece.
“Hurry up and grab a sheet, got to keep the others supplied or work slows down. And if work slows down, then we’re all in deep shit.” Trying to hurry, Steve grabbed a sheet himself, though his new body size made carrying it nearly impossible. Rushing to catch up, Steve shadowed Dugan as they delivered raw materials before returning to the stockpiles and beginning it again.
“So Steve, you got a last name? Or did ya mama forget to add that in?” The blond could see Dugan smirking underneath his mustache. But the truth was, no, angels didn’t have last names as there was no need for them. Then as Steve placed another metal sheet down and righted himself, he felt the light thump of metal against his chest, the dog tag.
“...Rogers, Steve Rogers.”
“Well, Rogers, it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance and all that lovely shit. Would offer to treat ya to a beer, but on account of the bastard Nazis and all, I’ll have to give ya a rain check on that one. You got any news about what's going on in the world? Hard to keep track, but it's been at least a month since my regiment got dumped in this hell hole. Where were you stationed at?”
Silence. What could he say? Steve wasn’t actually one of them, he wore the uniform of a dead man who had actually fought for his country. Steve was a coward who had turned his back on his duty, perhaps this was his punishment. Steve met Dugan’s gaze then quickly looked away.
“I won’t ask where you’re from. Honestly, with how tiny you are, ya shouldn’t even be out here. Just keep your head down Rogers; maybe by the grace of whatever God is out there, we’ll make it out of this hell hole someday.” The blond didn't know how to respond, so he didn’t. He did what he was told, kept his head down and worked. But what Dugan said felt like a heavy weight in his chest as the day passed and he lugged materials around the factory. No matter where he looked, and he really tried to see into every side alley and hidden corner, there were no Guardians. Hundreds of men in this room alone, suffering, starving, working themselves essentially to death, and not a single one of them was worthy of a guardian.
How? How could that be? How could the Deity not see a future with any of these men?
Day after day, Steve followed the same routine. Wake up, eat, work all day, eat, then try and sleep. As the days passed he learned more about his captors and fellows inmates from the few moments of conversation they grabbed. The group that had captured them was apparently some subset of the Nazi regime, deemed HYDRA. Dum Dum told him how his regiment had been cornered with no way of calling for help. After weeks of imprisonment, many of the men he had fought with were gone, but new ones were always being brought in.
One morning the routine changed as Steve was startled awake from the clang of the metal door opening. Instead of the usual yelling for everyone to get moving, the HYDRA soldiers marched into the room and looked around. One of their gazes stopped on Dugan, and with a quick comment to the other soldier, they marched forward and grabbed the moustached man.
Dugan sprang into action. “Get your ugly mitts off me, you bastards!” Twisting and squirming, Dugab threw punches and kicked in every direction he could. The other men in the cell watched wide-eyed, but stayed silent. They knew that if they tried to help, they would be dead. One of the soldiers in black drew back his hand, and with a punch to the face, Dugan went down. Dugan groaned in pain, but still tried to fight, and for a moment in his flailing, his eyes met Steve’s.
“Take me! I’ll take his place!” Steve wondered who that came from, and in shock, he realized it had been him. The room was silent as the HYDRA soldier looked between Dugan and himself. “I’ll come willingly, I won’t fight.”
“Rogers, you idiot! What are you doing?!” Dugan was cut off with a swift kick to the stomach, before being dropped unceremoniously on the ground.
“Kommen Sie.” The soldier waved Steve forward and, once in range, grabbed his arm, dragging him out of the cell. As he moved down the hall, Steve could hear Dugan's voice shouting after him. The echoes of Dugan's voice were quickly swallowed up by the facility's thick concrete walls as Steve was led up flights of stairs to a new floor and down another hallway.
Eventually, Steve came to a room that looked like a lab of some sort. Large cabinets full of vials and canisters covered the walls, medical equipment hung from the ceilings, illuminated by the daylight filtering through a dirty window. And in the middle of it stood a metal table with straps, straps which were still holding down the body of a dead allied soldier, whose face was frozen in agony.
“Ah good, you brought ze next one. Dump ze old one in ze incinerator on ze way out, and hurry it up.” From behind him came a short, rotund man in glasses and a bowtie. The man putted about the cabinet while one of the soldiers released the straps and threw the dead body over his shoulder before carrying it off. The man in the bowtie wiped down the metal table before turning to inspect the blond. “He is rather skinny, but I guess he will do. Put him on ze table.”
Steve did not struggle as he was walked forward and placed on the table, the straps then secured tight against his thin chest. His duty done, the soldier left the room, and Steve found himself alone with the little man.
“Welcome to my lab, I hope you are comfortable since you will hopefully be here a while. The last one only lasted three days, so I do hope you will be more useful. Since we will be spending so much time with each other, I guess it is only fair to introduce myself. Armin Zola, head scientist and ze only brains within this concrete block. No need to tell me yours subject #1766, now…”
Steve knew the man, Zola, was still talking, but he didn’t hear any of it as his concentration was pulled to the back corner of the room. The last few days, Steve had hoped deep in his heart that perhaps he had lost his ability to see into the veil along with his wings, and that was why he hadn’t seen any Guardians. But his heart and that hope were smashed to dust, for in the corner of the room stood a Guardian.
Tall and strong with wings tucked securely behind his back, a sword at his hip, the Guardian stood and watched. His dark brown eyes were trained on his charge, not even gracing Steve with a glance. And perhaps that was a good thing, the Guardian obviously did not recognize Steve, nor sense the thread of power that still dwelled inside him. Yet Steve wanted the Guardian to meet his gaze, he wanted to see if this Guardian was as tortured about his duty as Steve had been.
Sharp pain in his arm derailed Steve’s mind. Looking down, he saw that Zola had inserted a large needle into his flesh and pushed down the plunger. “Ah, there we are. Now let me know if you feel any tingling, that means it's working.”
It didn’t take long before Steve felt the tingling, which quickly evolved into a slight burn, and then soon, his whole body felt like it was on fire. Gritting his teeth, the blond tried to hold back his screams, but some sound still made it out.
“Wonderful, wonderful! It's starting to take effect. Now, if you would be so kind as to not expire before I complete my experiment, that would be lovely.” More needles, more mixtures, more pain, it just continued. Laying on that table with the pain, Steve could only think of one word: Why.
Why?! Why did the men in the factory below get ignored, yet this man was bestowed a guardian? Those men had families, loved ones, their whole lives ahead of them, so why not them?!
Zola was talking, he never stopped talking. His voice a constant buzz in the back of Steve's mind, punctuated by the occasional stab as the short man took various samples. The only time Steve had any silence was late at night when Zola finally went to bed, left alone with his thoughts and the pain.
"...perhaps I should add a few more drops to the solution? Or should I infuse it with-"
The facility's walls shook, the lab filling with the sounds of glass clinking as bottles of solution swayed together.
"What on earth are those idiots doing down there!" Zola had barely finished his sentence when the facility’s alarms began to blare.
Through the haze of pain, Steve let his head lul to the side and tried to focus. Zola had put down his concoction and made his way to the grimy window, though it did him little good with the limited evening light. Letting his gaze wander, Steve realized that he could not see Zola's Guardian. Suddenly a scream ripped through the air before it choked off with a wet sound, yet Zola did not turn. How did he not hear the scream?
"I'm surrounded by idiots! Now - Herrgott!"
Steve watched as the blood drained out of Zola's face, the man staring wide-eyed at something just out of Steve's line of sight. The scientist's breath was coming quickly, his hands beginning to shake as his mouth gaped open without a sound. In his chest, Steve felt his heart beating as he tried to turn his head enough to see what was causing the scientist to react in such a way.
The room began to darken, the air growing heavy as Steve felt his lungs struggling to take in air. His panic increased when he realized that the darkness had not come from cloud cover outside. The very walls of the room began to ooze with darkness, the shadows absorbing all light.
His whole body shaking, Zola finally found his voice as he pulled a pistol from a nearby drawer. "Begone, Creature!"
The bang of gunshots echoed through the room. From behind his head, Steve heard the rumble of a deep growl. Finally, the creature came broadside to Steve's prone form, and the blond glimpsed a thing of nightmares as his breath froze in his chest. Dominating the lab was a mass of shadow, the darkness only broken by a pair of glowing silver eyes and a mouth of razor-sharp teeth. The creature's mouth opened in a snarl, and Steve could see the red of blood on its teeth.
Zola continued to shoot even after the gun clicked with an empty chamber. Yet where the bullets made contact with the creature, the shadows simply parted around them. A growl rumbled through the creature's chest as it advanced on the cowering scientist. And before Steve's eyes, Zola's scream cut off as his throat was ripped to shreds, blood splattering across the walls.
When the small man's heart petered out, the creature stepped back, and the room's shadows seemed to implode on themselves.
Steve blinked, trying to clear his vision to take in what was in front of him. Shadows rippled across the muscled body of a massive wolf, small tendrils creating the illusion of fur. Paws, almost the size of Steve's head, tipped by sharp black claws padded across the room to the table Steve was still bound to. Lowering its head, pointed ears twitched in front of the blond's face as the glowing eyes faded from silver to a familiar blue.
The eyes watched him as with a wrench of sharp teeth, the leather straps came loose. Steve slowly sat up for the first time in, well he didn't know how long.
"You... you're here...how…"
Carefully swinging his legs off the table, Steve pushed up and stumbled forward before catching himself on Bucky's form. Beneath his hands, Steve could feel a solid body under the shadows, the cool tendrils lapping at his skin. Even with everything whirling through his mind at that moment, Steve couldn’t stop himself from running his hands through the body of shadows. The coolness a macabre sort of balm after all the pain.
"No time to chat now, let's get moving. That explosion is only going to distract them for a bit, and I have to get you out of here. Can you walk?" Steve jerked at the sound of Bucky's voice. It wasn't physical, yet it didn't sound entirely in his head either, as though straddling the line between two planes. The blond took a shaky step, Bucky moving with him as support. After a few steps, Steve felt some strength return to him. And though he was still weak, he felt as close to sturdy as he would get under the circumstances and gave the demon a nod to continue.
Bucky moved ahead to check the hall was clear and then motioned Steve forward. Taking his first steps out of the lab, alarms blaring around him, the blond's mind began to whirl. "The men! We have to help them! They…"
For the first time in his existence, Steve thought he was about to hurl. Laying on the ground, head barely hanging onto the body, was Zola's guardian. His throat was ripped to shreds with his eyes open in shock, his body already flaking away to become one with the high realm once again.
"Had no choice Steve, was him or you." Steve didn't have a chance to contemplate as shouts echoed down the hall, and HYDRA soldiers turned the corner. Bucky was a blur, leaping forward and tearing through the soldiers with barely any effort. Once eliminated, Bucky leaned down and kicked something from the bodies. As it skittered across the floor to his feet, Steve realized it was a gun glowing with an eerie blue light, the same type of gun that he and the other prisoners had been forced to produce.
"Grab it, Steve!" Bucky's voice boomed through his mind. Crouching down, Steve reached towards the gun but couldn't bring himself to actually touch it. It felt wrong, this whole thing felt wrong. "GRAB IT!"
Not giving himself any more time to think, Steve snapped up the gun and ran towards the demon waiting at the end of the hall.
"We have to get out of here. I'll try and protect ya as best I can, but if anyone gets through, you shoot. Got it?" Steve’s heart felt like it was beating a million miles in his chest.
"But we can't just leave! They have prisoners here, we can't leave them!" The images of the men crowded into cells, Dugan’s smile, he wouldn’t leave them in this prison.
"Where? Do you know the way?" Steve felt a wave of relief as Bucky’s voice carried a tone of concern.
"I'm not certain, but they should be a few floors down. They're locked up in cells." Bucky’s head did something close to a nod for his form.
"Alright, you stay behind me. We'll get them out." Steve stayed right on Bucky's tail as they made it to the staircase and began making their way down. One flight, two, then on the third, the one Steve was pretty sure the cells were on, the door burst open, and suddenly the barrel of a gun was in the blond's face.
The world seemed to move in slow motion as Steve jerked back and the gun in his hands fired. For a split second, Steve swore he could see the eyes of the enemy behind the visor, then everything was swallowed up in a blast of blue light.
Steve couldn’t move as pandemonium exploded around him. Bucky lunged forward and took out another soldier without pause. More HYDRA agents continued to fill the halls, beams of blue light narrowly missing Steve's head as shots rang out. Ducking back into the stairwell, Steve looked down at his shaking hands.
A life, he had taken a human life with his own hands.
Throughout his existence, Steve had affected people's lives indirectly. An assassin's bullet accidentally ricocheted back, a carriage flying by two seconds before it was meant to, things that might have taken life but indirectly. And in the name of being a Guardian and protection. He had turned his back on Reinhard, but that life was still taken by means other than his direct hand. But this...he had done this. He had shot a man in cold blood. He had been selfish. He had put his life first.
Steve tried to drop the gun, but his hands would not obey his mind. They held strong to the weapon that took a life. He wanted to curl up in a ball on the floor, but the sound of bullets and screams were still in the air. The faces of the men floated in front of him, they needed him. Pushing all thoughts to the back, Steve took a deep breath and carefully leaned out into the hallway.
Steve watched as Bucky moved through the hall, dodging shots and taking out HYDRA soldiers left and right. Steve ducked back as another shot came down the hall, flying through the open door and bashing into the stairwell in an explosion of metal. Through the sound of guns, Steve could make out the HYDRA soldiers yelling at each other.
"WO IST ES?!"
Where is it? Once more poking his head out of the doorway, the blond watched the soldiers glancing about madly, their shots firing randomly, or seeming to hit where Bucky had been a moment before. Turning his gaze to the demon, Steve watched as the shadows seemed to blur around the edges before becoming solid again, right before the shadows engulfed another soldier. Suddenly Steve realized that what he was seeing was Bucky jumping back and forth through the veil, creating a target that was nye impossible to track, let alone hit.
Slowly the shouts and gunshots petered off until there were no more. "Hurry Steve, more will come soon." Making his feet move, Steve ran down the hall, trying not to look too hard at the many bodies littered about. Looking further down the hall Steve felt a surge of triumph at the sight of the cell doors and the men pushed against them, trying to see what was happening outside of their view.
"Rogers! Christ on a cracker is that you man!" Steve couldn't help the smile that broke out when he saw Dugan standing at the door to one of the cells.
"Dugan! Ready the men! We are getting out of here!" Steve swallowed and turned to the dead HYDRA soldiers. Steeling himself, the blond moved from body to body, trying to spot a guard with keys to the cells.
"What in blazes is going on out there?" Dugan yelled from the cells. Steve's mind was running a mile a minute. Bucky had gone to scope out some of the nearby hallways for more guards, but Steve couldn't explain the presence of a demon to these men.
"Something seems to have gotten loose, they have been conducting experiments of many varieties here."
"Then we're just as dead as the damn Nazis!" Another man yelled from the cell opposite Dugan. Looking down the hall, Steve could see the men gathered at the cell doors, all of them waiting with bated breath. Dugan banged his fist against the bars and glared at the man across from him.
"You’re a coward man! You can sit in that cell quacking in your boots, but I'm damn sick of kissing Nazi ass, and I'm gonna get out of here today or die trying!" A cheer went up from the men, and Steve let out a shout of triumph as his hand closed around a set of keys.
Steve's hand shook as he tried key after key in the lock. Finally, the lock clicked, and the men streamed out into the hall. Prisoners in the other cells all began banging on the bars, the clamour of metal thick in Steve's ears. The freed prisoners converged on the dead HYDRA soldiers, grabbing guns, knives, and whatever else they could find. As Steve unlocked more cells and more men swarmed the hallway, he could hear Dugan and others yelling to stay together and make for the outside.
It was pandemonium. Everything began to blur together as the soldiers from various allied nations stampeded through the halls of the facilities. Trampling HYDRA soldiers, grabbing guns and looting along the way. Steve was pushed along with the tide of men and somehow ended up outside, blinking at the red skies of dusk. People were shouting, someone had managed to commandeer a tank, and the sound of guns filled the air.
"Steve!" Shadows filled the blond's vision as Bucky stood before him. "Warriors are coming. All that's gone down here caught the upper realms attention, and my powers are a shining beacon. I have to lead them away. Stay with the group, make for allied territory, I'll catch up with you as soon as I can."
"Bucky, they will kill you!" Steve felt a strange tightness in his heart. A few weeks ago, the thought of a demon being beheaded by the Warriors would have brought comfort. But now...he felt so conflicted.
Bucky's eyes sparkle in mirth and Steve swore the demon would be smirking if his form would allow it. "You called me Bucky."
"Rogers!" Looking over his shoulder, Steve could just make out Dugan's head popping out of the top of a massive tank. Turning back, Steve caught a glimpse of Bucky's form disappearing in the nearby forest, the faint call of his voice in the blond's mind.
"Don't do anything stupid till I get back punk."
What a sight they were. Hundreds of soldiers all making headway for allied territory. Some were piled onto the two tanks bringing up the front and rear of the party, others in various trucks and cars they had salvaged from the facility, while the rest marched on foot. Though still tense and on guard, the men had a lightness to them, happily taking turns riding, marching, and caring for the injured that were carefully packed into the vehicles.
The men had been eager to get as far from the facility as possible, lest reinforcements show up. Now, under the light of the moon, which by some miracle shone full and bright in the sky, they marched.
Steve could just make out Dugan perched on the front tank, bent over a pilfered map with a few other soldiers. The blond had been offered a chance to ride, but he turned it down, stating he wanted to stretch his legs after being strapped to a table for a week.
All night and all day, the men marched, not even stopping to eat rations and water they had looted from the facility. Everyone was tired, but the men were smiling. Finally the next evening, it was decided that they had made enough ground to stop and rest for the night.
Munching down on his ration, Steve looked at the men gathered around him. Dugan was joking away with a British soldier named James Falsworth, who had been his partner in the tank's commandeering during the facility fight. Beside them were two more American soldiers, Gabe Jones and Jim Morita, who had been acting as their main navigators for the trip. And lastly, sprawled on the ground asleep, was Jacques Dernier. A French resistance member who had happily set the charges that reduced the facility to a pile of flames and rubble.
Rising to his feet, Steve stretched and turned to head towards the woods. "I am going to relieve myself, I will be back shortly."
"If you get killed by a Nazi, yell!" Steve smiled as Dugan laughed at his own joke, the other men teasing him for his terrible humour. Steve did not stray far from the tree line and kept his ears open. As he finished his business, the blond felt a hand close around his mouth. Steve's heart almost leapt out of his chest, kicking and thrashing in an attempt to free himself from his unknown assailant.
"Ow! Damn it, Steve stop! It's me!" Steve froze at the voice, though his heart continued to beat a heavy rhythm in his chest. "If I let go of you, do you promise to be calm?" Steve nodded, and the hand released him. Turning, Steve took in the sight of Bucky under the moonlight.
The demon certainly looked a little worse for wear. His face bruised and a gash on his left cheekbone marring the tan skin. Bucky's blue coat from their first meeting was gone, replaced with a tattered green shirt which gaped at the neckline, showing off more bruises and a set of dog tags.
All the frustration of the day came bursting out. "Where have you been!"
Bucky smirked. "Awe Stevie, did ya miss me?" Steve felt his cheeks grow hot and thanked the limited lighting of their environment.
"N-No! I want to ensure these men reach safety, and as I am unable to access my powers, you are unfortunately the best current option."
Bucky’s smile was beaming. "So you did miss me!"
Steve clenched his fists as he held back from adding another bruise from Bucky’s face. "You are trying my patience demon!"
"Awe not the 'demon' thing again Stevie, I was so enjoying hearing you say my name." Bucky drawled and shot a wink at the fuming blond.
"Rogers! How much piss can you possibly have in ya! You only weigh...Fucking hell! Barnes is that you!" Steve didn't know how to react as Dugan's eyes widened and shock, and Bucky's smirk broke into a full out smile.
"Dum Dum! I never thought I'd see your ugly mug again!" The moustached man smiled and grabbed the brunette in a tight hug, thumping him on the back.
"Goddammit man, when I lost track of you and didn't see ya in the cells... I thought you'd gone down."
"It ain't that easy to kill me Dum Dum."
"Where have you been, man!" Steve felt he must look like a right idiot, mouth gaping open as he watched the conversation between the two men.
Bucky’s smirk fell as he crossed his arms in front of his chest. "Never made it into the cells...it wasn't...I don't…"
Dugan placed a hand on Bucky’s shoulder. "Barnes, it's fine."
"I should have been there, I could have helped you." Bucky’s voice sounded choked as he turned his gaze to the ground.
"You couldn't have done jack shit, and you know it. There ain't many of the 107th left, but there's still a few around, and I'm sure they would be happy to see you. Come join our fire and get some sleep, I'll watch your back for you." Bucky chuckled and met Dugan’s gaze again.
"Yeah, watch my back while you pilfer all my cigs is what you'd do if I had any."
"Awe, you wound me Barnes." It was then that Dugan realized Steve was still standing there. "Hey, you met Rogers here? He's the one that got us all out of the cells."
Steve didn’t know what to make of Bucky’s expression as he looked back at him. "Oh yeah, I know Steve."
Dugan didn’t seem to see what passed between the two beings in front of him, instead throwing his arm around Bucky’s shoulder with a laugh. "Great, well come join the fire and I'll introduce you to some of the other guys."
“Sounds great, I can tell them all about that time at the hotel.”
Dugan sputtered and turned red. “Don’t you dare Barnes or I’ll shave your head in your sleep!”
“Where are you gonna get a razor out here?” Bucky laughed and followed the other man back to the fire, leaving Steve in a state of shock behind him.
Making his brain work again Steve managed to stutter out to the demon. “Bucky! You get back here you demon! Explain-”
“Later Steve, I’ll explain it later.” Further attempts from the blond to extract information were thwarted as they came within range of the other men. As they sat at the fire once again, Steve glared at the demon and waited for the moment he could resume his interrogation.
Unfortunately, much to Steve’s chagrin, later did not come as Bucky was always being pulled off by either Dugan or another soldier. There was no opportunity throughout the day, and while Steve had planned to corner the demon in the evening, his exhausted body had other plans, and he woke the next morning to men shouting about breakfast.
Pulling himself to his feet, Steve stuffed a ration in his mouth as vehicles started up and the men began their daily marching. Dugan had said last night that they were probably another day or two from allied territory, though it was difficult to be certain with the limited navigational equipment they had. They also had been moving a lot slower with the sheer size of the group, many injured and weak from starvation and hard labour.
Bucky had just hopped down from the tank to march with Steve when a shot rang through the air and the group suddenly found themselves surrounded by soldiers.
Dugan leapt to his feet and waved his arms in the air frantically “HOLD YOUR FIRE!!!! WE’RE ALLIES!!”
An American soldier stepped forward, gun still raised. "Identify yourselves!"
"Sergeant Timothy Dugan of the 107th! We were all captured and held prisoner until an escape a few days ago. Please, we have wounded, and are almost out of rations." The soldier looked at their ragtag group and whistled, more soldiers emerged from the nearby woods. Another breath and then he lowered his gun.
"I'm Captain Chisholm of the 87th, there's a camp not far from here. Sorry for the warm welcome, but a scout sent word that a huge force with tanks was making for our direction. Not exactly something you want to hear these days. The commander will be wanting a report about this."
"And we will gladly give it, after the injured are tended to and the men can get some food." Chisholm nodded and waved to follow.
It was like a wave of energy swept through the men. Exhausted from days of marching, the men picked up their pace and covered ground quickly. Steve felt the weight of Bucky behind him as the camp came into view. As they closed in on it, Steve could make out a group waiting for them.
The blond was nearly bowled over by Bucky when he stopped dead in his tracks. Front and center of the waiting group, Steve saw a woman attired in military garb, her hair perfectly coiffed and skirt straight. But what had Steve's heart in his throat was the massive wings shining from her back.
"Captain Chisholm, report!"
"We tracked the group the scout reported Agent Carter, turns out it was a group of survivors from a prison escape."
The Carter woman's eyes scanned the group, her blood-red lips pursed. "Who's in charge here!"
A rumble of murmurs swept through the group before Dugan stepped forward. Removing his hat, the moustached man stepped up to address the woman before him. "Um, I guess that would be me, mam."
"You guess, or you are, soldier?" Dugan snapped to attention.
"Then you can give a report on what transpired?"
"Yes mam, but after the men are seen too. We have injured, and most haven't had a decent meal in weeks." Steve saw the twitch of a smile as Carter nodded and turned to Captain Chisholm.
"Escort the men to the barracks and send Lieutenant Murray to the kitchen. Have him tell them to make up an extra-large batch for the men. Also, have Sergeant Fayne help with the wounded, these men deserve to go to bed warm and full tonight after what they have been through." With a quick salute, the men followed the Captain into camp. Steve walked forward with the men, as he passed Carter, he realized that the wings were not hers, but a Guardian who was standing directly behind her. Bucky’s hand grabbed his shoulder and pushed him to walk.
"Keep moving Steve, let's go get some grub." The blond forced his head forward, keeping his eyes away from the Guardian he could almost touch. He hadn't gotten very far when he heard Dugan speaking.
"Well, I can only tell you what happened after we got out of the cells. It was Rogers that managed to free us."
"Rogers!" Steve froze and glanced over his shoulder at Agent Carter who was waving him forward. "You will be part of this report, hurry up."
Steve didn't want to move, all he wanted was to go to sleep. Looking at Bucky, he saw the brunette give him a small nod before following the rest of the men. With a sigh, Steve turned back to Agent Carter, keeping his eyes away from the winged figure at the corner of his vision. Carter did not pause as she turned and began walking toward a large tent. As Steve entered behind Dugan, he saw high ranking military men and a large map that dominated the center of the room. An older man beginning to show signs of grey made his presence known right away.
"Agent Carter, can you tell us what all the commotion is out there."
"Colonel Phillips, the large force we had been warned about was a group of escaped prisoners making their way back to allied territory. I brought two of the men in here to report on what happened." Phillips' eyebrows were low on his brow as he stared at Dugan and then Steve. When he took in Steve's appearance, the man let out a bark of laughter.
"How the hell did a shrimp like you even get here? Really Carter? You telling me these two are the masterminds behind some great escape." Steve felt his cheeks heat with rage.
"With all due respect, sir, if we did not take our fate into our own hands, then it is likely many of the men alive today would not be. I do not understand all the decisions made at these tables, and I am sure you had a rescue mission planned. But right now, all we want is to deliver this report so we may receive some nourishment and sleep." Phillips' face reddened with every word Steve spoke until it appeared he was about to explode.
"Who the hell do you think you are to talk to me that way!" Steve opened his mouth to respond before choking back his response. He has not a Guardian, he wasn't even fully human, what could he-
"Sergeant Timothy Dugan and Corporal Steve Rogers of the 107th." Steve looked over at Dugan, but the man was looking at Phillips, who had stopped glaring at Steve to meet the other man's gaze. Seizing the opportunity to prevent further escalation, Carter stepped between the two men.
"Well, now that everyone is acquainted, shall we start the report?"
Phillips leaned back on the table and crossed his arms. Looking down his nose at the dirty and tired soldiers before him. "Yes, let's hear it."
Steve didn't know how long they stood in that room, time seemed to drag on, but it was likely a few hours. Carter, Phillips, and some other high up looking military men pushed and pushed for as many details as they could.
Most everyone in the room had been skeptical about their escape, especially with Steve having to ride the fine line of telling the truth and making up plausible scenarios to explain how he had escaped the lab in the first place. Steve's excuse that some experiments had escaped and caused havoc was met with some raised eyebrows, but somewhat accepted. It was then that Steve learned that they had been being held at one of the highest security facilities the allies had knowledge of. Some rumours had circulated about the place but nothing concrete, and it had been impossible to get a spy in.
Throughout the investigation, Steve tried to glance over at the Guardian who had taken roost in the corner. He carefully chose his words, making sure nothing he said could tie Bucky to what had happened, and make it sound as though demons and angels had never played a part. Finally, they heard that enough questions had been answered, and they were free to rejoin their comrades.
With a sigh of relief, Steve turned to leave the tent, and had to hold back the groan of frustration as Carter called out their names once more. "Dugan! Rogers! A moment more of your time."
Dugan smiled and tipped his hat towards the agent. "Why, for a pretty lady like you, we always got time." Carter simply raised an eyebrow, quite unimpressed.
"I wanted to thank you boys, for what you did. I'm sure the families of the men you rescued will be relieved to hear they are safe. We will be contacting them all shortly, but given you two were so pragmatic in the escape, I would like to ensure your families receive the first word. If you want to write a letter, I will see that it is sent along. That reminds me, where are you gents from?"
Steve swore he saw a glint in the Carter woman's eyes, and she turned her gaze fully on Steve. Again the blond did not know what to say. He was about to choke out the first city that came to mind when he felt Dugan wrap his arm tight around Steve's shoulders and haul him close.
"Oh well, Rogers and I shipped out of Boston together when the Nazis thought they could take over the world. I'm sure the fam will be overjoyed our sorry asses made it back to camp. We'll get on those letters right away, mam, but now if you would excuse us, I'm about to eat that map over there unless I get some food in me. So we'll bid you a lovely evening mam and see you in the morning." With a tip of his hat, Dugan dragged Steve out of the tent, leaving a rather put off Agent Carter.
Steve barely kept his feet under him as Dugan continued to pull him towards the other end of camp and the sounds of dishes. "Dugan. Dugan stop! Dugan, I can walk on my own!" The other man's pace ground to a halt as he looked down at Steve, the hand still tight on his arm.
"God Rogers, sorry I didn't notice how I was dragging you there. Just had to get you out of that tent before the Carter woman asked any more questions."
"Dugan, there is nothing for you to apologize for. Rather I should be apologizing for putting you in a difficult position. Why did you lie? There was no need for you to sin on my part."
"Sin? Damn Rogers, if all the shit I've done out here ain't damned me to hell, then a small lie certainly ain't gonna do it. All our asses would still be stuck in that hell hole if it wasn't for you. I wasn't about to let them rake you over the coals for being a deserter."
"Dugan...there is so much you do not understand. I'm not worthy of your compassion." Dugan let out a snort of laughter.
"If I wasn't so worried you would bowl over, I'd hit you upside the head for that load of shit. I don't need to know your story, I don't care. You're a good man, and that’s all I care about right now, a good man that needs to get some actual food in ya. Now move those feet of yours before the other bastards take all the grub!"
Steve couldn't hold back the smile as they rejoined the men in the canteen. The low tables were filled with men, some he recognized and some from the camp. They were smiling, eating, laughing, some looked like they had managed to find a place to scrub down. In the middle of a table to the back of the tent, Bucky was chatting with Gabe Jones and the other men they had become acquainted with during the march. Morita and Falsworth were arguing over something, while Dernier was happily tucking into his tray of food. As though he could feel the eyes on him, Bucky looked over to Steve and met his gaze with a small smile.
As they made their way over to Bucky's table, other men sent waves and smiles their way. When they were halfway across, one man stood up and raised his fist in the air. "Let's hear it for Rogers!"
Steve's throat felt tight as more men took up the cheer, and others began clapping. He wanted to tell them to stop, that he wasn't worth any of this. He was about to voice his opinion when a sharp whistle had him snapping his head over and meeting Bucky's gaze. The demon was standing, fingers in his mouth as he let out a piercing whistle that echoed through the tent. The blond could feel his face heating in a blush, his pale skin hiding nothing.
The cheering continued until he sat down across from Bucky, finally petering out as the other men returned to their food. Steve soon found a plate of food put in front of himself, and at that moment, he realized how famished he was. Digging in, Steve let himself be surrounded by the canteen's sounds, while across from him, Bucky picked at his food. When their trays were empty, the men stood and made their way back outside, the sky now red with the setting sun.
Dugan stretched his arms high overhead and looked around the camp. "You guys know where a man could get a shower around here? Feel like I've got a century of grime on me."
Steve felt the good mood of the meal evaporate. Underneath his ratty shirt, the bandages that had covered his wounds still held, he hadn't wanted to risk removing them in the facility. Though tender, his back had healed, but Steve had no clue what the potential mess could look like. In the back of his mind, he heard Dernier responding to Dugan, and the group moving to follow. Steve stayed where he was. "I am tired, I believe I will retire for the evening."
Dugan looked Steve up and down. "Rogers, you stink like you haven't seen a bath in months, which is actually accurate in this case. Considering I'm gonna have to sleep in the same room as you and we have access to an actual shower, you're getting a wash, whether you like it or not."
"But-" Once again, Steve found himself being dragged across the camp by Dugan.
"Common Rogers, don't be shy!" The tent that functioned as the showers drew closer. Resigning to his fate, Steve let himself be pulled inside. The tent had been made into a makeshift shower room with curtains hung between the stalls to give the men some modesty. Some of the stalls were already occupied, but most were still open. Before they could go any further, a young private approached them and pointed them towards a makeshift changing room at the end of the tent. He explained that towels and uniforms had been provided for the escaped prisoners, seeing as they had nothing but the clothes on their back, and clothes that were in pretty rough shape at that. The towels were pretty threadbare, and the uniforms were standard issues and uncomfortable, but they were clean.
The other men quickly stripped down, keeping their underwear on to maintain something to the imagination. Rushing for the showers, Steve soon found himself alone with Bucky. The brunette barely paused as he pulled his shirt over his head, exposing lines of toned skin and muscle to Steve's gaze. The blond felt his cheeks heating and quickly turned away. After removing his boots and pants, Steve brought his hand up to his shirt. It did not surprise him that they were shaking, barely able to push the buttons through their holes. Once all the buttons were undone, Steve stood there, the shirt hanging open and bandages peeking through the opening.
"Hey Steve" The blond looked over to see Bucky's back, the brunette facing away and garbed in only his dirty pants. "I know the body is a sacred thing and all, but I promise to keep my eyes averted if you need some help."
Steve grit his teeth. "I can manage." His shaking hands pulled the shirt off his skinny shoulders and began to work at the bandages. After a few seconds of struggling with knots he couldn't reach, Steve looked around for something to cut them with. Seeing no option, the blond reluctantly turned his gaze back to the demon. "I require you to remove the bandages. As you tied them initially, it is only prudent you facilitate their removal."
"Am I allowed to look?"
"...only as is necessary for the removal." Bucky turned to face the blond, keeping his gaze to the floor. Steve faced forward again and waited. The first graze of Bucky's fingers on his back made him jump, and Bucky quickly pulled his hand back.
"Does it still hurt?" Steve steeled himself and stood firm.
"No...continue." A moment's pause, and then he felt a tug on the bandages. Bucky's deft fingers fiddled with the knots, now hardened with dirt, sweat, and blood. As he worked, Steve felt the warmth of the demon's fingers through the layer of fabric, his body letting out an involuntary shiver. Bucky paused again for a moment, then with another tug, the knot came loose and the bandages went slack. Steve felt air on his skin for the first time in so long. From behind him, he heard Bucky inhale sharply. Then he felt fingers on his bare skin.
The muscles tensed underneath the touch. For a brief moment, Steve closed his eyes, then he opened them and stepped forward and out of the demon's reach. As he unwound the bandages from his waist, he reached back and felt the scarred skin. He could feel the seam where the smooth flesh ended, and the slightly raised scar began. "Are the wounds healed?"
A moment's pause, and then Bucky responded. "Yeah...yeah, they all healed. The scarring is pretty bad, though. May fade with time but-"
"Yo, Barnes! Rogers! Get your asses in the showers!" Dugan rounded the corner, a towel tight around his waist and hair dripping wet. As he caught sight of Steve's back, his eyes went wide. Steve watched as the man's mustache twitched and knew Dugan wanted to ask. Out of the corner of his eye the blond spotted a cracked mirror against the wall, its reflection displaying the damage. Two long red lines starting between his shoulder blades and running down, tapering closer together just above the small of his back.
Taking advantage of the shock, Steve quickly grabbed a towel and pushed passed the two men to the showers. The water was cold, likely being pumped in from some nearby river, but it helped cool the flush of shame. Steve grabbed a bar of soap and began scrubbing, watching the dirt slide off him and down the drain. If only he could follow the trail down the drain as well, away from everything that he had to face. Steve snapped out of his thoughts as he heard Dugan's voice.
"The guys and I are going to the barracks to grab some spots! We'll keep a roll for you guys, but hurry up!" Not wanting to keep the men waiting, Steve quickly finished washing and dried off as best he could in the limited space. His underwear was soaking now, but the blond wrapped the towel around his waist until he could get back to the changing area and grab a new set of clothes. Stepping out of the stall, Steve stopped dead in his tracks at the sight before him.
Bucky stood just outside the shower stall, toweling his hair dry. The thing that had caused Steve to rock back on his heels in shock was that Bucky was bare, no underwear to be seen. It was as if his body was not his own, his eyes unable to look away. Steve gazed at the figure Bucky cut, muscles gleaming from the water, broad shoulders tapering down into a toned stomach and powerful thighs. As his eyes passed over Bucky's length, Steve felt a strange sensation in his stomach.
Now Steve was no innocent lamb on the matter of the body. As a Guardian, it was a common occurrence to watch humans copulate, he was not an active watcher, but in the line of duty, one witnessed such events. Yet it had never affected him in any way.
Ducking back into his stall, Steve poked his head out as he waited, watching as Bucky finished drying and headed back to the changing area, in the process revealing even more flesh. Steve waited a few seconds before exiting the stall once more and joining the demon. To his relief, Bucky was wearing pants and was just pulling a clean shirt on when Steve rounded the corner.
Looking for something to distract him, he grabbed some clean clothes and tossed the old ones into a nearby bin. As the dirty clothes landed, a faint clicking sound reached Steve's ear, and he remembered the small treasure that was still tucked securely away in the pocket. Fishing the shirt back out, Steve reached into the pocket and pulled out the worn dog tag. Looking at it in his hand for a moment, he rubbed his thumb over the raised marking before pulling the chain over his head. Quickly getting dressed, Steve saw Bucky waiting by the door for him, the brunette making a point to keep his gaze away from the blond's form. Steve's stomach did that strange thing again, he glared down at it, as if an organ would behave from a stern glance.
Walking to the doorway, Steve passed the waiting demon who followed closely behind him. It took him a moment to figure out where the barracks were, the task made slightly more difficult by the darkness that had now settled over the camp. Eventually, Bucky began walking towards a large tent and motioned for Steve to follow. When they arrived, Steve saw men sleeping in bunk beds, and floor mats, almost no room available with the influx in bodies the space was attempting to accommodate.
Ultimately Steve ended up on the top bunk of a bed that Dugan and the guys had managed to snag. Morita was on the lower bunk and the rest bundled on the floor, using each other for pillows. The scene was strangely domestic in a way, and Steve nodded off to sleep in peace.
In his dreams, Steve was flying, the air rushing past him. For the moment, everything was perfect, happy. Then suddenly, the dream was gone. In its place, the blond felt an impact and found himself atop the squirming body of a certain demon. As his brain caught up with what was happening, Steve sprang to his feet, accidentally stepping on Dernier in the process. The frenchmen let out a string of curses as he rubbed the leg Steve had stepped on. Gabe, Falsworth, and Morita, startled awake with all the commotion, watched the situation through bleary eyes.
"How the hell are you so heavy Rogers! Are your bones secretly made of metal or something!" Dernier let out another curse as Bucky slowly sat up with a groan.
"Hey, at least it was just your leg, pretty sure I got a broken rib." Dernier glared at the brunette and pushed up to his feet.
Steve looked up at the bunk he had just fallen from and back to the Frenchmen. "I apologize for causing you pain Dernier, is there anything I can do to repay the damage?" Dernier just laughed and patted Steve on the shoulder.
"Ah, I am a big boy. Dugan already woke me up earlier when he got called to another meeting. Guess this is a sign I should get my lazy ass out of bed. Allons-y boys! Let us prendre un petit déjeuner!"
Gabe looked up from his spot on the floor. "What the hell is a dejeuner?"
"Well, why didn't you just say that in the first place!" Good-natured grumbles and insults were thrown between the men as they pulled on their boots and headed for the canteen.
"So where's my apology?" Steve didn't even pause as he finished tying his laces, not deigning Bucky with a response. "Awe common Stevie, I think you seriously wounded me! An apology is the least you could do."
"If you are injured, an apology from me will likely not help. I would recommend visiting the medical tent." The blond snipped back. While yesterday had been filled with successes, Steve was in a rather bad mood this morning and in no mood to deal with Bucky's snark.
"Well, someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed, quite literally, though most people are more chipper when they wake up with me." Bucky's trademark smirk was back as he let out a laugh. Steve finished tying his laces, with a harsher tug than was necessary and stormed out of the tent. Behind him, he could hear Bucky's footfalls as he caught up with his longer strides.
Steve squinted as the morning sun hit his eyes. He didn't make it far before he felt Bucky's hand clamp down on his shoulder, the demon's strength stopping him in his tracks.
"Jeez, Steve it was a joke." Steve kept his head down, trying to will away the redness he knew was slowly covering his face. He didn't know why the comment about the demon’s past bed partners had affected him so much. It didn't matter. Opening his mouth to retort, Steve was cut off by a polite cough behind him.
"Excuse me, gentleman, I hope I'm not interrupting anything?" Bucky transformed in front of Steve's eyes, the frustrated lines of his face melted into a charming smile. Agent Carter stood a few feet away, her hair and uniform perfect with her Guardian just behind.
"Oh, nothing at all mam! Just catching up with my old pal Steve!" Steve tensed as he felt Bucky throw an arm over his shoulder and pull him close. Blood red lip curved up in a small smile.
"Old pal?" Steve saw a glint in the woman's eye.
"Oh yeah, Stevie and I grew up in Brooklyn together. Though I wish he had kept his scrawny ass back home, it was nice to have a friend in the 107th." Carter's small smile grew as she took a few steps closer.
"Oh yes, it can indeed be a comfort." Carter's smile slipped into a frown as she turned her attention fully onto Steve. "But Corporal, I could have sworn you said you were from Boston?"
From his side, Steve heard Bucky let out a laugh. "Boston? Mam, I can assure you-"
Carter held up a red-tipped finger, cutting off Bucky's response. "It was not you I was addressing Sergeant Barnes." Crossing her arms, Agent Carter brought her hand up, finger delicately resting on her chin as her piercing eyes looked down at Steve. "Ah, but yes, it was not you, but Sergeant Dugan who identified both yourselves, wasn't it? Now perhaps I heard wrong, but I do believe that Sergeant Dugan said that the two of you had shipped out of Boston? Boston...Brooklyn, they both start with a B, and the Sergeant was rather tired, perhaps it was a mistake?"
"Mam-" Bucky let out a rush of air as Steve elbowed him in the side.
"But you know what is rather strange? When I tried to find your listing to contact your family, I couldn't seem to find your name in the 107th. This is war, so perhaps the secretary was slightly careless, but I'm hoping you could enlighten me as to where you came from Corporal?"
The silence stretched on as Steve held Carter's gaze. "I do not have an answer that would satisfy your inquiry, mam."
Carter pursed her lips, her sharp eyes seeming to see right through him. Finally, she broke the silence again. "Boston or Brooklyn?"
Steve's brow furrowed in confusion. "Pardon me?"
"For your papers, Corporal. Two men have risked disciplinary action for you, so I am trusting that they have good judgement. Make no mistake Rogers, if you hadn't managed a seemingly impossible escape attempt, this would be a very different conversation. However, with the situation as it is, avoiding an inquiry is beneficial. So I ask for the last time, Boston or Brooklyn?"
Steve's heart beat heavy in his chest as he glanced over at Bucky. "Brooklyn, mam."
Carter didn't respond, simply nodded her head and turned on her heel. Once she was out of sight, Steve grabbed Bucky by the arm and dragged him to the edge of camp and into the forest. Once far enough, Steve rounded on Bucky and punched him hard on the arm.
"Ow! What was that for!"
Steve stood stiff, fists and jaw clenched, his breath coming hard. "WHY?"
Bucky stopped rubbing his arm and cocked his head to the side. "Why what?"
"There are many answers I want from you! Why Brooklyn? Why do the men know who you are? Why were you able to find me at the facility? WHY ARE YOU HELPING ME?!"
Steve's blood was rushing fast, every muscle in his body tight as he watched the demon's reaction.
Bucky’s smirk was nowhere to be seen, the demon’s face more serious than Steve had ever seen. "I can answer those questions, but no guarantee you'll like or even believe whatever I have to say."
"Do not presume to know me." Steve growled and Bucky let out a low chuckle as he sat down on a fallen tree.
"I guess I can start with the easy ones. Why Brooklyn ties into how the men know me. The simple answer is that I am a true member of the 107th infantry division." Steve’s brow furrowed in confusion.
"Why would you fight in this war? To cause more death and destruction?" The demon glared, the edges of his eyes glowing silver.
"Do not presume to know me." Steve felt his stomach twist as his words were turned back on him. "Now shut up, and let me say my piece cause I swear if you keep interrupting, you ain't gonna get any more information from me. I hold the cards here."
Steve opened his mouth to retort but snapped it shut as Bucky's eyes became awash in silver.
"Believe it or not, most demons do not live in the lower realm. We can live in the human realm as long as we maintain a human form and keep our powers hidden, moving every once in a while when our lack of aging becomes an issue. I was living in Brooklyn when the war broke out and enlisted. During basics, they realized I was a pretty good shot. Considering I learned to shoot on guns with way worse aim than these and almost 400 years of practice, yeah, I was pretty damn good. So I shipped out as Sergeant Jame Buchanan Barnes of the 107th, which is how I met Dugan."
"Now, this next part is where I'm expecting you to start throwing insults at me. But remember, you talk, I stop. So first thing, you got some terrible timing. I was in the middle of a battle with my men when I felt the pull. At first, I didn't realize what it was, since it's pretty much more legend than fact to my kind. Then I felt the pull even harder, like my heart was trying to bust through my chest. And in the middle of a firefight, I abandoned my men and ran all the way from fucking Italy to Austria. And when I get there? Well, I see you kneeling, calm as can be, with your wings just RIPPED FROM YOUR BACK as a sword is coming down to chop your FUCKING HEAD OFF!"
"You have no idea what it felt like. My entire universe narrowed to you, and I didn't feel anything but satisfaction as I ripped those feathered fucks around you to pieces. For the first time in my existence, I embraced every essence of the lore I'm sure you guys are told up there and slaughtered them. And through it all, my body was singing with how right it was, cause they hurt what was mine. And that's what you are Steve, you're mine, just like I am yours. When I touched you for that first time and was shown how you fell, I...I didn't know what to do. Centuries of pairs that never connect, and I'm the lucky sap whose angel grows a pair, and I let him get hurt."
"We're a pair, Steve. I'm sure you're about to punch me for saying this, but our souls are basically two sides of the same coin. That's how I found you at the facility, I followed the pull again, only this time it was a lot harder. I doubt you can even feel it with your powers as drained as they are, and it's not like much is known. Seeing as that last pairing was somewhere around a thousand years ago."
"LIAR! You expect me to believe-"
"I expect fuck all from you! I have worked my ass off to keep you alive, which you have certainly not made easy by the way. I thought we were making some progress, but you keep trying to piss it all away and make me into the enemy."
"Demons and angels have been enemies since the beginning of time!"
"Well, I told ya you wouldn't like what I had to say."
"Shut up! Just shut up!"
"No, I will not shut up! Look around you, Steve! How many Guardians have you seen? How many people have died in this stupid war? Do you know how hard I wished that one of my men would have a Guardian even if I knew I could be discovered! You can't stay innocent in all this! You are so terrified of admitting that demons aren't so bad. Is it cause it'll mean you have to admit that life isn't so black and white?"
"No matter what you say, how can you possibly expect me to accept this! I have no choice in the situation, the fact remains that I am now trapped in this body-"
"Trapped by YOUR people and YOUR precious Deity!"
"Trapped by MY actions that I cannot reverse. I did not have freedom in my actions as a Guardian, and the one choice I made of my own violation and actions has now trapped me in this realm and body. Now, what little freedom I could have gained in this situation is false as you force the idea I am linked with you!
"Yes! Even if you don't admit it, you know deep down that there is a connection between us. My strength is your strength, we are a pair. It cannot be undone."
"So if I walked away right now, knowing the dangers around me and the knowledge you decided to impart...would you stop me again?"
Bucky stepped closer. "I would. Fuck it all Steve, I would fight for you."
"Even though I don't believe a word spewing from your lips right now, your statement just proves that whatever this pair thing is, it would not be a true partnership. My strength is your strength...falsehoods. You would own me."
"Damn it Stevie, that's not-"
"Don't! Don't talk to me using that name!"
"You're being fucking ridiculous!"
"Enough! Your lips have spewed enough poison for one day, and I will not listen any longer."
"You're running again! You're being a coward!" Steve's head snapped around.
"I am not a coward! I may be trapped in this ridiculous excuse of a body, but I swear demon that you are treading a very dangerous line. Stay away from me, or I'll rip your head off."
Condensation rolled down the outside of the glass as another round of cheers filled the pub. The men around him were happy and doing their very best to drink all the beer in the city, judging from the tables around him. Taking a sip of lukewarm beer, Steve glanced across the room, barely making out Bucky in one of the adjoining rooms. It had been a tense trip back to London.
After their fight, they had avoided each other to the best of their abilities, and not speaking a word when forced to be in each other's presence at mealtimes and bed. The situation had only worsened upon the order that the freed prisoners were being transported back to London. And thus began the weeklong trek where the blond had been forced into tighter quarters with the demon, Dugan and the other men either oblivious or ignoring the tension between the two supernatural beings. Now Steve found himself at a table with the men as Dugan ordered another round.
Gabe took a swing before slamming the glass down on the table. "Say Dum Dum, did ya nick the General's purse or something? Cause I know you ain't got the coin for this stuff on a Sergeants Salary."
Dugan laughed and twirled the end of his moustache. "Well, it's a good thing I ain't a Sergeant anymore, or you lugs would be drinking me into bankruptcy."
"Bloody hell, you telling us you get sacked?" Falsworth asked as he finished off his pint.
"Quite the opposite, actually! I got promoted. You are looking at Captain Timothy Dugan, and I have a proposition for you gentleman."
"Now now, mon amis, I require a few more drinks before you offer something like that." Dernier fluttered his eyelashes as the men laughed, their cheeks red with alcohol and mirth.
"Oh shut up Dernier, and drink your beer. Naw, see the brass is putting together a new unit, gonna be handling a lot of missions with those HYDRA fuckers. They want me to lead it, and I told them if I was, I would need the best team this side of the Atlantic."
"Awe Dum Dum, you make me blush."
"Oh go suck an egg or whatever it is you brits do Falsworth. Well, unfortunately, the best team wasn't available, so I thought I'd settle for you fuckers. It's gonna be dangerous, and all of you have a free ticket home right now if you want it. But I'm hoping you guys are crazy enough to wanna go kill some Nazi ass with me, pay those assholes back for all the shit they've done. So are ya in?"
There was silence around the table, and then Falsworth smiled and grabbed his glass. "Well, I was going to be busy sucking an egg, or whatever it is us brits do, but I think I can reschedule. I'm in." Confirmation from the other men followed, and soon Steve was the only one at the table still silent.
"How about it Rogers? Gonna join the rest of us suicidal maniacs and go kill some Nazis?" Steve looked around the table at the other men.
"But why would you want me? I am not strong, I cannot shoot, you know nothing about me."
"Rogers, you may be the size of a beanpole, but if it wasn't for your skinny ass, we would still be back in that hellhole or dead. Besides, everyone loves the underdog." Dugan raised his glass towards the blond with a smile. "So, what do you say?"
Steve paused, and for the first time, his gut was telling him that nothing could be more right than to be with these men. Grabbing his glass he smiled. "Well, how could I possibly say no to that?"
A cheer went up from the men as glasses clashed together. Steve was pretty sure half the beer went on the table, but he didn't care, his cheeks beginning to ache from how wide he was smiling.
“I see you gentlemen are having a nice evening.” Steve jumped at the voice and turned to see Agent Carter standing behind him. Except, she wasn’t in her normal attire. Hair perfectly done and a bright red dress had most of the men in the pub practically salivating like dogs.
“Ah, Agent Carter! Why don’t you pull up a chair and join us?” Dugan bellowed.
“A very tempting offer but I’m afraid I must decline. I came to check-in, and judging by what I just heard it sounds as if you got your team, Captain.”
“Indeed! Sure we can’t convince you to stay for a drink? Celebrate?” Carter took in the beer-soaked table with a raised eyebrow.
“I’ll save that celebration for when we win the war. Be sure you boys don’t stay up too late, you have to report in at 0900 tomorrow for briefing.”
“Ah well we wouldn’t want to disappoint the fine lady now would we boys.” Dugan said as he slapped Falsworth on the back, causing the man to spit out his gulp of beer. “We’ll be there bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 0900.”
“Wonderfull, then I bid you a good night gentlemen.” As agent Carter walked away Steve saw her Guardian behind a group of men. Quickly shifting his gaze he finished his drink and stood from the table.
“I believe I will take Agent Carter's advice and turn in for the night.”
“Awe Rogers common! One more drink!” Dugan cried out as he waved the bartender over for another round. The other men all gave encouragement to stay but Steve smiled and waved them off as he headed out into the cool night air. The evening was a pleasant temperature as he walked down the street to the hotel. Passing by the alley behind the pub, Steve stopped as the sound of a pained moan reached his ears.
Looking down the dark space he wasn’t able to make out anything. Stepping carefully around broken bottles and glass, Steve slowly made his way down the alley, pausing when he heard the groan again. Opening his mouth to call out, the blond slammed it shut again when he heard a woman's breathy gasp. “Oh yes.”
A ray of moonlight briefly illuminated the floral print of a woman’s dress before it was covered again by the larger body of her male companion. The thrusting movement of the two figures left Steve with no doubt as to what they were partaking in, and the blond carefully began to back away. However, before he could escape the situation, the male figure groaned and threw his head back, right into the beam of moonlight that shone off glistening skin and a familiar pair of silvery blue eyes.
Quickly ducking behind a nearby pile of trash, Steve carefully peeked his head out. Bucky’s face was now buried in the woman’s neck, one hand pulling her hair to the side and the other high on her hip hiking up her dress. Steve felt a strange twist in his gut as the woman pulled Bucky’s face to hers and planted a messy kiss. A voice in the back of his mind was screaming to get out of there, he did not need to witness this scene, but his feet wouldn’t listen.
“Fuck!” The woman let out another gasp as Bucky’s thrusts increased in power before a shudder wracked the demon's body and he finally stilled. With the noise of the city still behind him, Steve could just barely make out the pairs panting and mumble of words being passed. Steve ducked back behind the trash as Bucky straightened and glanced down the alley. A moment passed and then the sound of footsteps coming closer along with a woman's giggle. Holding his breath, Steve pushed back as far into the wall as he could as the shadows of Bucky and the woman passed in front of him. His gut gave another lurch at the sight of the woman holding Bucky's hand as she pulled him with her back out into London’s streets.
Holding his breath Steve waited a moment to ensure they were gone before standing up and walking back to the hotel as quickly as his feet would carry him. Arriving at his room Steve kept his eyes away from the opposite wall where Bucky's things were sitting at the bottom of the other bed. Because of course the universe had a sick sense of humour, and room pairings had ended up with Steve sharing with the demon. Grabbing his essentials Steve readied himself for bed in the communal bathroom before turning off the lights and slipping under the sheets.
Laying in the darkness, the white sheets of Bucky’s empty bed almost seemed to glow, as if mocking him. Turning to his other side, Steve closed his eyes and tried to stamp out the thoughts that were circling around him. Behind closed lids the noise of the city faded away, and the scene from the alley played out once again. In his hiding place Steve watched the figures, only this time the patterned dress was gone. In its place was a thin cotton shirt, and Bucky’s hand was clutching not at curvy legs, rather thin ones garbed in brown slacks. As Steve watched, Bucky leaned down to kiss at the other figure's neck, the figure stretching their neck to the side to grant better access. Steve felt a flutter in his stomach as the mystery figure turned their gaze, blue eyes meeting their twin. Unable to tear his gaze away, Steve watched as his doppelganger smirked before pulling Bucky in for a deep kiss.
Steve snapped awake to the sound of an alarm clock, the echo of moans still ringing in his ears. Looking across the room Steve felt a pang of something he didn’t quite understand at the sight of Bucky’s bed, obviously not slept in. Pulling on his clothes, Steve kept his mind busy with his morning routine before grabbing a piece of toast on the way out to the waiting car.
Upon arriving at the workshop of a man named Howard Stark, apparently some scientific genius. Steve was mildly impressed to find that the other men had managed to drag themselves out of bed, even though they likely were running on little sleep and a cup of coffee at the moment. They perked up though when Stark began pulling out all the fun “toys” he had been working on. Dugan was in the middle of drooling over an amped up pistol when the door banged open and Bucky trudged in, still in last night's clothes.
"Aye Barnes! Finally got your lazy ass out of bed?"
"Didn't get much sleep last night." Bucky sniped back as he made his way to the table and picked up a sniper rifle. Dugan looked like he was about to retort when he noticed the demon's state of dress.
"Oh, you lucky dog!" Steve barely managed to hold back the snort of laughter at the thought of how, ironically, on the nose Dugan was.
"Shut up Dum Dum!"
"Well, when you didn't show up, I thought you might have abandoned us to go kick Nazi ass on our own." Steve froze as the words registered.
"Ah, and leave all the fun to you idiots? No way!" Bucky was joining the team. Steve would have to spend every waking moment trapped with the damn demon in close quarters until who knew how long. Steve must have been trapped in his thoughts for a moment as he didn't even realize Agent Carter was beside him until he felt a tap on his shoulder.
"Corporal Rogers. You are not here to dally the day away. If you would choose some weapons, we can be on our way." Steve stared down at the table before him. Lines and lines of guns. Picking up a handgun of some sort, Steve felt the weight heavily in his palm. He knew this is what it meant to be a soldier, the weapon's one had to use. And while the pistol felt better than the abomination of a gun he had fired back in the HYDRA facility, it still felt wrong. Walking down the table, Steve spotted something shining on one of the lower shelves. Pulling the package up, he exposed a set of knives. Pulling one from its sheath Steve tested the familiar balance of it in his hand.
"Wow Steve, thought you would have learned by now that you don't bring a knife to a gunfight." Bucky's teasing tone echoed in his mind, and Steve felt a wave of rage roll through him. Before he knew what he was doing, he had turned, and the knife was flying out of his hand.
Screams hid the thud of the knife as it made an impact with the wall. Bucky's eyes were wide as he raised his hand to the side of his head and traced the thin line of shorn hair that wasn't there a second ago.
"Stevie... what…" The thud was heard this time as it hit next to its twin. Everyone in the room was gaping at him as Steve pulled out another knife and twirled it expertly in his hand.
Steve may have been a Guardian, but that didn't mean he was helpless. While the Warriors of the upper realm had the most combat experience and skill, Guardians still had to protect their charge. Since he had been born, Steve had favoured the small sharp projectiles over the larger spears and swords.
Dugan seemed to be the first to recover from his shock. "Rogers, what the hell man!"
Steve ignored him and turned to Stark, who was still wide-eyed, and placed the package of knives down on the table. "I will take these and any more if you have them."
"Ummm….yeah sure." Stark looked down at the knives, and his face scrunched in disgust, likely offended at Steve's choice when there were so many other more "advanced" options up for grabs. Steve paid him no mind. The war and everything HYDRA was doing had become personal, and if he was going to take a human's life, he didn't want it to be with some bullet.
The clicking of Agent Carter's heels brought Steve's attention to her as she stopped to examine the knives that were buried deep into the wall. Glancing between them, Bucky's shorn hair, and the blond, her lips twitched in amusement. "Yes, I think it'll work. Though I would recommend a gun Corporal, maybe even a shield?"
"Won't need a shield, mam, advantage of being small is there's less to hit." Carter gave a subtle nod.
"Very well, then. Hurry up now boys, we have a war to win."
Any criticism of Steve bringing a knife to a gunfight was quickly squashed as soon as they were released onto the field. With his small stature and enhanced senses, Steve was fast and able to pinpoint enemy soldiers before anyone else. Dugan had jokingly termed Steve the beanpole assassin when base after base fell, in no small part to Steve sneaking ahead and disabling most of the major players before the other men even had to pull a trigger. It wasn't always perfect. A close call with an enemy sniper had resulted in Steve and Bucky having a full-on shouting match at each other, which had been the most the two of them had spoken in weeks. The other men had tried to stay busy setting up camp as the two rowed against each other.
"You can't just keep charging ahead like you're invincible! You have a team here for a reason!"
"Just let me do my job! I'm not letting you guys put yourself in any more danger than you need to!"
"We’re in the middle of a war Steve! Danger is everywhere! And you being a stubborn ass and running ahead is gonna hinder more than help when we are scrambling to save your sorry self! You need someone there to watch your six!"
"I don't need you for anything!"
"For fucks sake, Steve, stop being so stubborn! I'm a sniper! It's my job to watch your back! Next time I have to leave the others behind to catch up with you, we may not be so lucky. So stop feeling sorry for yourself and accept help!"
After the fight, Steve had to admit, very begrudgingly, that Bucky had been right. There was still a feeling of tenseness between the two supernatural beings, but with the rest of the team, they had reached a truce of sorts.
And as much as they were a formidable team on the battlefield, they were an absolute mess in the quiet moments. And Steve wouldn't have it any other way. When they all sat around the campfire in the evenings, Steve couldn't help but smile at Falsworth insulting Dugan's cooking or Morita and Dernier teasing each other's pronunciation of each other's language while Jones lost his cigarette ration to Bucky over cards. These moments, moments that Steve had always been an outsider to as a Guardian, made him think that losing his powers maybe had some benefits.
One evening, when the regular bantering had begun again, Steve felt his fingers itching to do something. Digging into his bag, the blond pulled out a crumpled piece of paper that looked to be an old report of some kind, and a pencil. As black marks appeared on the paper, Steve couldn't help thinking back to his first charge as a guardian, Maria, who he had watched develop her talent to bring nature to life on the page. As the forms of the men took shape, Steve smiled and hoped he was making Maria proud.
After that night, Steve sketching in his spare time became a regular occurrence, and soon every spare scrap of paper became covered in drawings of all sorts. The other men would sometimes ask him to draw something for them for a little keepsake, sometimes those drawings would be sent back home in letters. Upon returning to the main base after a month in the field, Steve was handed a proper sketchpad and pencils by Falsworth, who told him all the men had chipped in a bit of pay to buy it for him. When Steve thanked the men, his gaze couldn't help but settle on Bucky, who merely smiled at him, and drat if Steve's stomach didn't do that strange clench again.
Later, when Steve would flip back through his sketchbook, he tried not to acknowledge the amount of space filled with piercing eyes, dark hair, a strong jawline, and familiar physique. And it wasn't just Bucky's human form that made it onto the page.
Sometimes when they were in the heart of enemy territory, someone would remark upon their good luck of not running into many battles. Steve had paid it no mind until one evening when Dernier mentioned hearing wolves the night before and hoping they wouldn't come near the fire. As the other men laughed and gave Dernier a good ribbing, Steve gazed across the flames and held Bucky's gaze. Blue eyes twinkling with a secret as Bucky shot his own barb at the Frenchman.
"You sure it was wolves and not you Dernier? With your loud mouth, I wouldn't be surprised. Should call you the howling commando." That set off another round of laughs, and Steve felt his face grow sore from smiling so hard.
When the men finally turned in for the night, Bucky passed by Steve's seated form and looked down at the sketchpad in his lap. Emblazoned across the paper were the shadowy limbs of Bucky's demonic form. The brunette smiled but didn't say anything, and then with a nod, headed to his tent. Later, when Steve returned to his and Bucky's tent, the demon was lying awake on his cot.
"You drew me." Bucky's voice was soft, the hesitance at odds with his usual suave style.
"You shouldn't be so surprised. I draw all the guys."
"Yeah, but considering how much you hate me...I guess I figured...it was really good." Steve felt his cheeks grow warm and was thankful for the dim lighting of the tent.
"I...I don't hate you, Bucky."
Bucky let out a huff as he sat up. "Coulda fooled me."
Steve knew it was probably a stupid idea, but he held the sketchbook out towards the other man without giving himself too much time to think. Bucky looked between Steve's outstretched hand and his face, not moving to take the offered book.
"Is this some kind of test? Gonna hit me over the head with the thing?"
"Just take the book Bucky." The brunette paused for a moment more before taking the sketchbook. It was opened to the drawing of his demon form, and Steve felt his stomach clench at the way Bucky gently ran his fingers along the creamy paper. As those fingers made their way to the edge of the page, Steve had a moment of panic that Bucky would flip through and see the many depictions of himself, but Bucky simply handed the book back.
"It's real great, Steve. I didn't think that Guardians went to art school." Steve was very tempted to bite back with a retort but looking down at the sketch again, a new thought came to mind.
"Maria Merian, she was my first charge as a Guardian, an artist." Steve sat down on his own cot and looked down at the sketchbook in his lap.
"Would you tell me about her?" Steve's head snapped up to meet Bucky's gaze. The demon wasn't being snarky, no teasing smirk; his expression looked open and interested.
"Well...if you really want to hear it?" Bucky nodded, and as he lay back on his cot, Steve found himself telling the story of how he watched over Maria. As the night wore on, Bucky listened as Steve talked about the rest of his charges, and soon Steve found himself waking in an empty tent with the sun shining through the canvas sides. Sitting up, Steve felt a blanket that had certainly not been there the night before pool on his lap. Rubbing the rough material between his fingers, Steve glanced over to Bucky's rolled-up cot and felt a warmth blossom in his chest.
Memories from that night and thoughts of wolves and sketches were pushed to the back of Steve's mind as the next morning brought with it another battle. Steve didn't think anything else of it until a few days later when they returned to base camp. Steve nearly tripped over his feet when Dugan bellowed out, "The Howling Commandos have returned!"
Phillips had definitely not been amused. And Carter, well, Agent Carter could be challenging to read, but Steve was relatively confident he had seen her smile when the name had begun to make its way around camp. While Phillips tried to squash it, Dugan very proudly produced their next official mission briefing with the name Howling Commandos across it. As the other men began to strategize, Steve caught Bucky's eye with a smile that the brunette returned with a wink.
Steve was cold, he was very, very cold. In fact, Steve could say with conviction that this was the coldest he had ever been in his immortal life. As a Guardian, Steve hadn't really felt temperature. While he had experienced the increased cold as his months with the Howling Commandos bled into fall, he had never felt this cold before.
Perched on a mountain in the alps, Steve tried to keep his teeth from chattering as wind and snow buffeted him from all sides. Feeling a hand on his shoulder, Steve looked over to see Bucky looking at him with concern. A response was cut off as Jones and Morita pulled away from their radio.
"Man, they must really be wanting to get whatever is on that train. High command just gave them the authority to open the throttle." Dugan gave Morita a slap on the shoulder and holstered his rifle across his back.
"Alright Boys, we got a short window to land on this thing before we're bugs on a window. Ready to go?" Bucky and Steve rose together with a nod. Triple checking that everything was secured, Steve watched as the train swept into view. "Let's go get em boys."
Dugan launched himself down the zipline, then Bucky and Steve brought up the rear. The wind whipped his hair and cut into the exposed skin of his face. As the train grew closer, Steve braced himself before landing with a hard thud on the roof. Making their way down the car's length and through the door, the three men found themselves deposited inside an empty room, eerily silent after being buffeted by the outside elements.
Steve felt a weird itchiness in his skin. Something wasn't right.
Bucky and Dugan didn't even pause as the men all threw themselves to the side just in time for a bright blue beam to explode where they had previously been standing. Suddenly the car was chaos as shots echoed from both sides, and HYDRA agents poured in from the other end of the train. One of Steve's knives made contact, and a man went down, the one right behind following suit from Bucky's sharp aim.
Steve's ears were still ringing as the final agent fell. Very carefully, the commandos peeked out from their cover. With no more movement, they moved forward, ducking between cover as they weren't taking any chances. Dugan hung back to make sure none came in behind them as Bucky and Steve made their way to the door at the end of the car. Looking at each of them with guns drawn, Bucky nodded and then hit the button. And came face to face with a massive tank of a soldier.
Steve didn't even think as he leaped at the HYDRA goon and stabbed. Blood spurted from the neck wound, and the HYDRA soldier's gun fired as he flailed. The sound of ripping metal met Steve's ears as cold and wind from outside assaulted his senses. Looking over, Steve saw the train car's whole side had been blown open, and now showed the icy mountains speeding by. It took a few seconds to realize what he did not see, Bucky.
The HYDRA agent was down, and Steve barely paid him any mind as he sprinted to the blasted wall. His heart banged in his chest when he caught sight of Bucky hanging by a single rail, which was slowly breaking under the weight. Grabbing a solid handhold, Steve reached out as far as he could towards Bucky's prone form.
"Grab my hand!" Bucky's eyes flared with hope as he reached his hand out. Then with a shriek of metal, Steve felt his stomach drop as the rail broke, and Bucky fell.
Angling his body for speed, Steve plunged down to Bucky, who was desperately throwing out shadows, trying to slow his fall. As Steve grew closer, he tensed his shoulders and prepared to open his wings.
At that moment, Steve realized a crucial element he had forgotten in his panic to get to Bucky, his wings were gone.
It was also at that moment that Bucky realized his presence when their bodies collided mid-air.
Silvery eyes full of panic met baby blue ones. "YOU IDIOT! WHY DID YOU JUMP!"
Pale hands clung tight to Bucky's form as they continued to hurtle towards the earth. And while his body continued to scream at him in panic, the weightlessness of freefall left Steve's mind with a strange calmness.
"IF YOU THOUGHT YOU COULD LEAVE ME, YOU HAVE ANOTHER THING COMING JERK!" Steve could barely hear himself over the wind, but Bucky's expression told him he had heard.
"YOU ABSOLUTE PUNK!" And then Steve felt fingers in his hair and the heat of Bucky's lips on his. The warmth didn’t stop there as it exploded through Steve's body in a rush of power. And then his back was open to the elements, and Steve felt the weight of wings.
On instinct, Steve clamped his arms around Bucky and opened the wings, pain bursting through his back as the wind pressure pushed hard as he tried to slow their descent. The ground loomed closer, and he only had a second to slow their fall some more before bringing the wings tight around their bodies as they slammed into the icy earth. The last thing Steve saw before he blacked out was the shadowy outline of wings dispersing into particles.
Pain. Pain and cold and wet and bright. Steve couldn't move. His body wouldn't listen to him. Even behind his closed eyelids, the light was too bright, and his head throbbed. Carefully opening his eyes, Steve quickly shut them again as he was bombarded by a white sheet. Moving his head slightly, Steve felt a shifting around his body. Risking a glance again, the blond realized that the white around him wasn't the sky. He was buried in snow.
Like the train that they had just fallen from, the memories of what had happened came back in a rush. His muscles cried out in rejection as Steve pushed the snow off himself and tried to sit up. His heart banged in his chest as he looked around and spotted another lump of snow beside him, the pristine white tainted with the red of blood.
Pushing to his knees, Steve held back the panic as he began to dig through the snow, exposing Bucky's body. Steve felt despair wash over him as he took in Bucky's form. Skin pale, lips blue, his left arm slowly seeping blood into the snow. Unresponsive.
Steve brought a shaking hand up to Bucky's neck to feel for a pulse. He held his fingers there, waiting, hoping against everything that he hadn't just lost the one person that had been there through the whole mess of his life after falling.
A shaky laugh escaped, and Steve felt tears on his cheeks, their trails instantly frozen by the chilling wind. Bucky was alive.
But now that he was alive, Steve had another problem to deal with, a very large problem. Taking in the surroundings, Steve craned his head back as the sights of high canyon walls continued to the sky. A semi-frozen river ran a few meters in front of them, but other than that, it looked like snow for as far as the eye could see. They were stranded, the train long gone and there was no chance anyone would be looking for them.
If Bucky were at full strength, he would likely be able to get them up the cliff-face, but as he was, that wasn't going to be a possibility. As a chill hit his back's exposed skin, the flash of wings as they fell came back to Steve. He didn't know what had happened or how, but Bucky had something to do with it. The bottom line was that if they stood a chance of escaping this valley, Steve would need Bucky.
Through the pain, Steve tried to focus on everything he knew about surviving in the wilderness. They needed safety, shelter, somewhere Steve could try and heal Bucky. Looking around once again, Steve couldn't help the feeling of desperation that washed over him. Looking out at the snow and then back to Bucky's prone form, Steve knew he had no choice.
As carefully as he could, he lifted Bucky's form. Mindful of the arm, Steve watched the brunette's face, but no reaction. Bucky was heavy, not only due to his form being bigger, but his clothing layers were soaked through from the snow. But gritting his teeth, Steve crouched and pulled with all his might. Bucky's head lolled to the side as Steve continued to maneuver and hefted the brunette's form onto his back before standing up. The snow was deep, and every step felt like a herculean effort as he made his way to where the cliff walls touched the ground. Running a hand along the rocky surface as he walked, Steve kept moving one foot in front of the other. He didn't know long he walked. Time was inconsequential when all one felt was pain, and cold, and numbness. Everything made him want to stop and simply lay there in the snow. He didn't know if he could die from the cold. Would whatever was left of his powers keep him alive? For how long?
Steve almost fell face-first into the snow when his hand suddenly lost contact with the wall. For a moment, Steve thought his path had wavered to the side, but when he looked to his right, he wasn't greeted by a rock face, but a black hole of space—a cave.
Stumbling inside, it took his eyes a moment to adjust from the bright outside to the space's dark shadows. It was small. Even with his short stature, his wet hair almost skimmed the roof, but it was dry.
Laying Bucky down as carefully as he could, Steve took a moment to breathe before assessing the damage. Bucky was completely comatose, his chest barely moving with breath. Digging around in his pant pocket, Steve felt a surge of relief as his hand closed around a wad of bandages. Then pulling a knife from his boot, one of the few that had survived the fall with them, he moved towards Bucky and sliced off his jacket's sleeve to better see the damage on the arm. Pulling the fabric away, Steve could see that the large bone in Bucky’s upper arm had snapped in half and punctured through the skin. Stumbling back to the cave entrance to grab some snow, Steve ignored his cramping hands and washed the blood off of Bucky as best he could.
Steve reeled back as the snow revealed the demon’s clean skin...and black veins. Breath coming fast, Steve pushed up the other sleeve and felt his heart in his throat as he saw the same symptom mirrored. Running his fingers carefully over the skin, Steve watched the black twisting through Bucky's system. Was this bad? Was this Bucky's powers? He didn't know!
Grabbing the bandages once again, Steve held the bone and, with a disgusting crunch, pushed it back into place and wrapped it tightly. His fingers could barely tie the knots as the edges of his vision began to swim with black. Laying down beside Bucky, he pushed close, resting his head on Bucky's other shoulder where the brunette's soft breaths could be felt across his forehead. With the nearly non-existent rise and fall of Bucky's breath, Steve let the blackness overtake him.
Pain. Cold. Awake. Breath. Sleep. Pain. Cold. Awake. Breath. Sleep.
Pain. Cold. Itch. Cold. Itch. Slap. Breath. Pain. Cold. Itch. Itch. Slap. Itch. Slap.
Eye fluttering open, Steve noticed the small spider crawling across his arm. Slapping it, Steve tried to close his eyes again when he felt the itch again. A new spider has taken the place of its predecessor. Slapping it again, the itch subsided for a moment. Through slitted eyes, Steve watched as shadows moved across the floor. His brow furrowed. They were in a canyon; the sun couldn't cast shadows like that.
With a jolt, Steve realized that the shadows weren't from sunlight, but hundreds of tiny spiders crawling towards them, towards Bucky.
Grabbing Bucky's gun from his hip holster, Steve fired into the mass. They scattered for a moment before the wave returned. Steve continued to pull the trigger and slam his foot down on any that come too close. Suddenly the spiders retreated. But Steve's moment of relief was short-lived as the next shot he fired into the mass ignited into a massive fireball.
Throwing himself away from the heat, Steve covered his face as he tried to push Bucky's still unconscious form away from the danger. The flames swelled, and then in a great rush of power, they disappeared, leaving in their wake the form of a MASSIVE spider. Its black body eclipsed the cave entrance, obscuring almost all light. Its eyes shone with Steve's reflection as its long fangs dripped acid that pooled and melted the stone floor.
His finger pulled the trigger. Over and over, Steve shot, but the spider didn’t even react. When the chamber clicked empty, Steve grabbed his knife tight in his fist and threw his body in front of Bucky.
The spider watched him. As it came closer Steve felt the heat from its body engulf him. Meeting the spider demon’s many eyes, he refused to back down.
Flames rose once again, and where there had been a spider, stood a woman. Her dark eyes watching him from a pale face framed by bright red hair. The silence stretched between them, the air heavy with tension.
"Hey, Nat, how's it going in there!" Steve didn’t even pause when he saw a glimpse of feathered wings. "Mother fucker!" The man cried out as he launched himself to the side to avoid being impaled by the thrown knife.
This was it. The high realm had found him. They were going to kill him, and then no one would be able to protect Bucky.
Steve palmed his last blade as the angel drew closer. Tall, his large white wings shimmering with hints of purple, and a bow and quiver on his back.
The demon glanced back over her shoulder. "Really, Clint, could you not have waited a bit longer?
"Nat, you've known me for centuries, since when am I patient?" The angel smiled as he closed the distance.
"You can sit in a tree for days without moving to get your shot."
Steve's mind screeched to a halt. The woman was a demon, of that he was sure. And the man was an angel, the wings leaving no other option. But...they were talking to one another...they were...bantering.
"Ooops...I think we broke him Nat." The redhead looked back at Steve and raised an eyebrow.
"From the way you were protecting him, I'd have thought you wouldn't be so surprised. Guess I underestimated how thick-skulled you upper realm types are." Steve's mouth opened and closed as he tried to assess the situation.
"What...what's going on! Who are you!" The woman merely smirked and moved to step towards Bucky; she quickly found a blade at her throat. And Steve found an arrow pointed at his head. The woman looked between the two men and laughed, the light sound feeling out of place.
"Now, now gentlemen, there's no need to fight. How about everyone plays nicely, and we can see about helping your friend who is doing a wonderful performance at being a corpse."
Steve didn't lower his knife. The angel didn't lower his bow.
"Why would I trust you?"
"Well, considering the situation, you are in no position to make demands."
"I'm not letting you near Bucky." The woman smiled and held out her hand.
"Natalia. The one with the wings is my pair, Clint." Steve looked at the woman with skepticism.
"I've never heard of a demon partnering with an angel."
"Well, isn't that a bit of the pot calling the kettle black? Besides, I said pair, not partner, very distinct difference. But you should know that, shouldn't you?"
Steve’s stomach twisted, the small voice at the back of his mind, that sounded far too much like Bucky, was reminding him of that speech back at camp all those months ago. The one that Steve had vehemently pushed down and ignored.
Natalia slowly brought her hand up to Steve's and closed her fingers around the knife. "Why don't we see about helping your demon, then we can all sit down and have a nice chat."
Steve resisted the redhead for a moment before allowing her to lower his hand. The knife fell to his side, but it was not sheathed. The angel, Clint, lowered his bow as well, but like Steve, did not return it to its mount. Clint stood back as Natalia stepped past Steve and knelt next to Bucky. Steve did not show his back to the other angel, instead keeping his eyes on both the strangers.
Steve held back the urge to yank her away as Natalia ran her fingers down Bucky's injured form. Her fingers pushed the torn uniform aside and explored the pale skin, running across his chest to his face, where she gently swept the brunette’s curls to the side.
"He's dying. Without you here, he would have succumbed much earlier. What happened to make him like this?" Natalia looked back over her shoulder at Steve. The blond's fists were clenched tight. He knew that Bucky wasn't doing good, but to straight up hear someone say he was dying cut Steve to the core.
"We were on a mission. There's a train track that runs higher up the mountain and during a firefight...Bucky ended up falling." Natalia simply raised her eyebrow at him.
"Yes, well, that still does not account for why he is completely drained." The redhead turned back to Bucky and pushed his coat open. The mass of black veins looking stark against the pale skin.
"This tells me that he expended all of his energy. The black you see is his body's survival mode. He is drawing external energy into himself, but in his weekend state, his body cannot absorb it properly. So it sits inside him as a foreign entity, unfocused and doing the bare minimum. The power flare we tracked to get here had the undercurrent of a pairing. That means he shouldn't be in this state as a bond should have helped supplement even a huge power expenditure. So if you want to help your demon, you will tell me what happened after you fell from the train."
"He...we...there was some yelling...and then…" Steve felt the heat rise in his cheeks. "He kissed me...and then I felt all this power and...I...I had my wings back. At least I think I did? It was all so fast, I don't know!" Steve felt as though Natalia's eyes were looking straight through him with her calculating gaze. Steve nearly jumped a foot in the air when he felt a hand on his shoulder, and Clint was suddenly in front of him.
"Take a deep breath...I just realized we didn't get your name."
"Well, it's nice to meet ya, Steve. And it's all fine that you're overwhelmed. I'll tell ya when Nat popped into my life, I was in a right state."
"I still don't understand…"
"And we will explain more later," Natalia snapped. "But right now we have other things to worry about. The good thing is that I know how to help your friend. A short explanation is that he needs a power boost, and there is a pretty simple way to do that."
"How?" The redhead smiled.
Steve felt his face flame as he managed to stutter out a response. "Surely, there is another way! Can't you supplement his powers with yours?"
"Me trying to help would just make it worse. I'm a fire demon, my powers revolve around light. Your man is a shadow demon. Light and darkness don't mix well in a healing environment."
"But...but why would sex…"
"It's a power exchange; a bond of souls. The only thing that will help him now is you sharing your power with him. And sex is usually the quickest way for that exchange to happen."
"I can't do that to Bucky! I won't take advantage of him in this state. There has to be another way to help him!"
"Of course there is, it's just not the fastest. As I said earlier, he wouldn't have survived this long if it wasn't for you. And you sleeping on him has helped a lot. Lay with him, skin to skin is best, and use your bond to push your powers into his. Clint and I will leave to find some provisions and firewood so you'll have a bit of privacy, but we won't be gone long." Natalia rose to her feet and made her way to the front of the cave. As she passed Steve, she gave a slight push on his shoulder, causing the smaller man to stumble forward.
Steve watched as Clint sent him a cheerful wave before following Natalia out into the cold. Turning back to Bucky, Steve carefully kneeled beside the unconscious man. His hands trembled as they gently cupped Bucky's face, a thumb caressing sharp cheekbones that stood out even starker in this weekend state. Running his fingers through Bucky's thick hair, Steve was surprised to feel how soft it was, even under layers of grime.
Taking a deep breath, Steve closed his eyes and focused within himself. He hadn't centered himself like this since his falling, too afraid of the loss. Or at least, that is what it might have started as, but he knew there was something he was even more fearful of facing. He felt the spark that was his soul, pallid in strength to what it had been as a guardian. Delving deeper, Steve felt it. The connection, the pull, exactly as Bucky said there was. But it was weak, smothered except for the few cracks it was breaking through. Reaching into the connection, Steve felt pure agony wash through him.
Like through a veil, he saw himself. Lying on the bloody ground and a hand reaching forward to touch him. Bucky's hand. He watched through Bucky's eyes as the demon made contact and felt the connection flare. As the scene faded, Steve felt the bond pushing, trying to break free of the cage that he had pushed it into.
This was it. If Steve let go, there was no turning back. There was a fear. Being so tied to another being, sharing oneself so intimately. But that fear was nothing in comparison to the fear of losing Bucky. So steeling himself, Steve pushed.
It wasn't a massive explosion of power like he thought it would be. Rather it was...Steve could barely describe it. Like...it had always been there, but slightly off-kilter, and it had finally slotted into place.
With his eyes still closed, Steve felt Bucky's skin beneath his hands and drew up memories. Bucky around the fire, Bucky's smile, Bucky yelling at him for being an idiot.
Opening his eyes, Steve felt his heart drop. Bucky was still unconscious. But...looking closer, Steve watched as the black veins began to fade. They didn't disappear completely, but they did fade, and Bucky's skin seemed to have a touch more colour. It wasn't a miraculous recovery, but it was progressing.
Laying down next to Bucky, Steve kept his hand on the demon's chest as he resumed his previous sleeping position. Watching Bucky's chest rise and fall, Steve felt that spark of hope in his chest and hugged the demon close. Maybe they were going to be alright after all.
Pain. Cold. Awake. Breath. Sleep. Pain. Warm. Awake. Breath. Sleep. Warm. Shift.
Steve's eyes fluttered open as he felt Bucky's form move under his own. The previously dark cave was lit with a warm glow, and Steve could feel the heat of fire against his back. He could hear the slight shuffling of what must have been Natalia or Clint, but Steve barely paid it much thought as he watched Bucky's face. The black veins were gone, and Bucky's pallid skin had returned to its former glow. Under his hand, Steve could feel Bucky's heartbeat pumping strong, and his chest rising and falling with steady breaths. And to the blond's utter relief, Steve watched as Bucky's eyes slowly opened.
Bucky's eyes were half-lidded and tired, but he still greeted Steve with a smile that Steve felt himself return. Steve remained still as he felt Bucky's good arm rise, and then fingers were running through his hair, and Bucky's calloused palm was cupping his cheek.
"Look at that smile doll, don't ruin it with any tears now." Bucky's voice was rough from disuse, and Steve hadn't even noticed he was crying until Bucky's thumb wiped a tear away.
"Shut up, you jerk." The barb fell easily from Steve's lips, but there was no heat in it. Bucky chuckled and moved to sit up, and suddenly realized the state of his body. The soft smile was replaced by a grimace, and half-lidded eyes shot wide open as Bucky put weight on his bad arm and cried out. Steve grabbed hold of Bucky's shoulders and held him down as the demon flailed around.
"Bucky! Bucky stop! You're just making your injuries worse!" Bucky didn't seem to be paying Steve any mind, and then without warning, Steve found himself flipped over and under Bucky's body. Peeking out from under the demon's larger form, Steve saw Natasha and Clint's legs from where they stood over the two of them. Bucky's bad arm was bleeding again, but that didn't stop him from letting out a growl that sent shivers right through Steve's body to the tip of his toes.
"Don't even think about trying to transform. Your little angel there has worked his ass off to keep you alive, so don't you dare return that favour by wasting precious energy over a pissing contest." Natalia's voice rang through the small cave, and Bucky's growling refused to subside. Carefully as he could, Steve tapped Bucky on the chest to try and get his attention.
"Buck, it's ok, they helped us." Bucky didn't respond. Promising to chastise himself for this idiotic idea later, Steve took a deep breath and sunk his teeth into Bucky's exposed shoulder.
"Fucking punk!!" Bucky yelled as he rocketed back with his hand clenching at the new teeth marks in his skin. Steve quickly stood and placed himself between two rather pissed off demons. Really how did he get himself into these situations?
"Everyone calm down."
"How the fuck am I supposed to calm down in this situation Steve!" Bucky's head was snapping back and forth between Natalia and Clint. Steve knew he wouldn't get Bucky's attention when there were two very real threats within spitting distance. So instead, he did the one thing that he knew would make Bucky pause, he reached into the bond and yanked hard.
Bucky turned white as his legs shook and he dropped to his knees. Wide eyes stared at Steve as Bucky brought his good arm up to clutch at his chest. "It's... It's...Steve...you…"
Steve stepped forward and pulled Bucky to his feet. "If you had calmed down, I could have explained the situation. You were dying Buck...honestly, I think we both were." Bucky shook his head in denial. "That fall from the train...I don't know what you did, but it took everything you had. Natalia and Clint found us and basically told me that if I didn't open the bond, we were done for."
Bucky still looked doubtful. "Are you going to get to the part where you explain those two?"
"Honestly...I was hoping once you were up that they would be able to fill in the holes a bit." Looking over his shoulder, Steve saw Natalia nod and motion them closer to the fire. Stepping carefully, Steve helped Bucky over to the fire and sat across from the interesting pair.
Natalia waited until they were settled before beginning. "As we told you before, Clint and I are a pair, just like the two of you."
"Bullshit!" Bucky yelled as he pushed to his feet again.
"I don't know what illusion magic you're pulling for them wings, but there's no way the two of you are a pair. No pairs have been seen since their disappearance over a thousand years ago."
Clint fidgeted as he met Bucky's gaze across the fire. "Yeah...see that was kinda my fault.."
Natalia placed a hand on Clint’s shoulder. "It was not your fault! Just cause the Deity has control issues, and an ego the size of a galaxy does not make what happened your fault! Besides, would you truly wish to return to your past life?"
Clint’s eyes widened as he shook his head. "No! You know I'd never give you up Nat."
"As touching as this is, would someone explain what the fuck you're talking about" Bucky snapped. Clint looked sheepish as he returned to his fidgeting.
"Well, you see...Nat and I are the only surviving pair cause when we met, we might have set off a massacre that put the Deity on a purge to wipe out all demon kind." Silence.
"Actually, the Deity always hated demons. We just created the perfect opportunity to rewrite history."
"Are you telling the story, Nat or am I?" The redhead waved her hand and sat back.
"Wait a minute! This is insane!" Steve was frozen in shock, but he certainly echoed Bucky's thoughts.
"If you listen, I'll explain! See way back when, I was a Cupid and was pretty damn good at my job. But, over the years, I saw so many terrible things from the matches I was told to make. And then, one day, I was told to make a queen cheat on her king with his loyal knight and best friend. I did it. And I watched as a golden age ended as an entire kingdom fell to ruin. I couldn't do it anymore, and I'm not proud of what I did after. When Nat found me in the middle of battle, I had just slaughtered that conniving bastard and a good chunk of the invading army. Almost skewered her, and I was in no right state to listen to anything she had to say. She didn't give me much choice in the matter when she grabbed me and opened the bond.
"Course we had it a bit easier than you guys in this situation as I had heard about pairs in the past. Demons and angels certainly weren't friends by any means, but it was nowhere near the level of kill on site that things are today. But after Nat and I, well, we managed to set off a war that lasted centuries. The Deity hated the lack of control. Angels were starting to question things. The Deity moulded the chaos for its narrative, wiping out any pairs and demons in its wake. It destroyed and recreated history with the idea that angels and demons had been enemies since the beginning of time. Nat and I faked our deaths and went underground for a few centuries to survive."
"Steve.." The blond swatted Bucky's hand away as he pushed to his feet.
"When Bucky told me about angel and demon pairs, I thought there couldn't be anything more ridiculous! I acknowledge the bond now but what you're saying is impossible. The Deity would never do something like that!"
"What do you really know about your Deity Steve?" Natalia asked calmly.
"You only know what has been fed to you. The Deity craves control, it's the reason it created angels in the first place."
"As much as the Deity craves control, there has to be balance in the universe. Humans have free will; it can't control their actions directly. But through the creation of angels, the Deity can manipulate things."
"Then, why not create a massive army of angels? Wipe out the demons and have one for every human?" Natalia let out a sigh.
"Because there has to be balance. It's that balance that forms pairs and allows demons and angels to offer each other strength. The Deity can't make a huge army of angels because, for every angel it creates, that soul's pair is created in the form of a demon. Demons balance the order with chaos, and in a perfect world, every pair would meet. But that means the Deity's angels would grow and pair and question its decisions. And thus we have reached where we are today."
Steve's mind was reeling; he didn't know what to think. Needing to release some energy, he paced the cave's small space as the others watched on. He wanted to respond. He wanted to scream and yell and do so much, but he knew it wouldn't help. When he reached the end of his short lap, Steve turned to find Clint standing directly in front of him.
"Hey Steve, mind if we have a little chat?"
"Your last chat ripped everything I thought I knew about the world to shreds, so forgive me if I am not eager to jump at another chance for conversation."
"I know that couldn't have been easy to hear. Even though things were different when I was still in the upper realm, I had a lot of truths to face when I met Nat. But Steve, the opportunity you have in front of you, with your demon, it's worth more than anything you can ever imagine. I don't know you all that well, but I can see you care for him." Steve glanced over Clint's shoulder to see Bucky and Natalia staring at each other and paying them no mind. Obviously, trying to give them some sense of privacy.
"The fact that I am here today is proof that I knew something was wrong with the duties I performed for the Deity. And after everything I have seen, your tale is not as far fetched as I wish it could be. But...my mind is such a mess right now. My life hasn't stopped since the moment I fell, and I just wish I could have some time and quiet to make sense of everything."
"We can help you with that."
The quiet fall of snow outside the window was a balm to Steve's soul after the chaos of travel. Getting out of the ravine hadn't been easy, especially with Bucky's injured condition. Even with Clint giving them a lift to the tracks, it had taken days for the small group to make it out of the mountains and back to a nearby town. With fake papers procured by Natalia, they had managed to get on a plane, then a ship, then a train, and then drove for a few days down something Steve couldn't even classify as a road until they reached the cabin.
The quiet was also so strange after the heat of war. Sitting in this place, far away from any action, Steve couldn't help but feel slightly guilty. He and Bucky had almost certainly been pronounced KIA and could not simply walk back into camp without a ton of unexplainable questions. So when Clint had offered to help set them up somewhere the two of them could recover and ride out the rest of the war, well, they couldn't really say no.
So now, here they were, in a northwestern part of Canada, tucked away in a cabin that was a couple of days drive away from any form of civilization. The attic was stocked with provisions, and a massive woodpile had been chopped by Clint for heat and cooking purposes before the other pair had left early the morning before.
Steve jumped from his seat on the couch as a loud bang sounded behind him.
Bucky swore again as he dropped the wood he had been trying to pick up. His one arm still bandaged and in a sling, the demon was having a difficult time trying to balance everything one-handed. Quickly making his way over, Steve bent down to help pick up some of the small logs that had rolled away.
"Shit, I'm sorry, Steve, just go back to whatever you were doing. I can finish up here."
"Bucky, you're injured, so let me help you. Why are you even bringing in more wood? I know you don't really feel the cold." Bucky's frustration melted away, and his gaze shifted to something contemplative.
"No. But you do. And I could feel that with the wind picking up today that you've been feeling it a lot more." Steve hugged the wood close to his chest as he walked over to the stove and stocked the fire. As he watched the flames, he listened to the shuffling of Bucky behind him as he stacked the remaining logs on the woodpile near the door. Footsteps came up behind him, and then he felt Bucky's hand on his shoulder, turning him around. Gazing up into the demon's face, he felt small.
"We need to talk about it, Steve."
"You opened the bond. You acknowledged it." Steve felt something snap inside him, and suddenly everything came pouring out.
"I know what I did, Bucky. I was...I was so scared I would lose you. You... you've been the only constant through everything. And then, that night in the tent...and then when you fell I didn't even pause...and then you kissed me and...and for that split second everything felt right. And then...then you were dying, you jerk." Steve's vision began to blur as he rubbed at his eye to brush away the tears that had formed.
"But I'm here, Steve, I'm here because of you, little punk." Steve let out a wet laugh.
"I don't know how to do this Bucky. I was always on my own as a Guardian, but I want to work together with you and-"
"Steve." Bucky was smiling.
"Can I kiss you?"
"Yes." The answer was barely more than a gasp, but it didn't matter because then Bucky's lips were on his. And it was like that one perfect moment when they had been falling, and everything had bled away. Bucky's lips were warm and soft against his as he felt a strong hand wrap around his waist and pull him tight. Pressed to Bucky's solid body, Steve couldn't resist as one hand wandered up to hold strong shoulders, and the other moved to caress soft brown hair.
So many feelings were rushing through Steve's head as they finally broke apart, both gasping for breath. Emotions he had never really felt in the entirety of his immortal life were now pushing for space inside of him as he gazed up at Bucky's slightly flushed face.
"Damn doll, maybe a kiss really can make everything better when it comes to you. I feel like I could take on the world right now." Bucky's smile was beaming, framed by the soft curls pulled loose by Steve's questing hand. As Steve looked his demon over, he could swear that Bucky did look better, his skin giving off a healthy glow, and he didn't appear to be holding his arm so stiff. Suddenly Steve remembered something Natalia had said to him and felt his face flame.
"What's wrong, Steve?"
"Ummm….well...I just remembered something. Something that could help heal your injuries."
"Weshouldhavesex." Bucky jerked slightly and raised a brow.
"Now I must have heard something wrong, Steve, cause it sounded like you just propositioned me for sex?"
"It...Natalia said that it's a way to transfer power between pairs. That kiss probably helped a bit, but if we have sex, that would probably go a long way to heal you." The words all came out in a rush, and Steve ducked his face as Bucky's eyes widened in shock.
A calloused hand cupped Steve's face and guided his gaze back up. "Steve...Stevie...Doll... I'm not going to have sex with you-"
"I'm not some innocent lamb, Bucky, and it would help you feel better! Please, Bucky, it's my fault you fell from the train. I should have been on that HYDRA soldier sooner or pulled you back inside! Please let me help!" Steve's knuckles turned white as he grabbed tight to Bucky's shirt, not willing to let the demon go.
"Stevie...what happened wasn't your fault. And you've already done so much, I would have died without you in that ravine. Besides, you didn't let me finish. Steve, I would love to have sex with you. Your gorgeous and strong and sassy, and I haven't been able to get you out of my mind since the first time I saw you.” Steve scoffed at that description of himself but Bucky kept going.
“But I don't want it to be like this. Remember what I said way back when you were about to rip my head off for saying we were a pair? This is supposed to be a partnership of equals, and I don't want you to feel like you owe me. Sure it might help a faster recovery, but Steve, we have time. And to be honest... I'm kinda scared about this thing between us too. So...if I can, I would like to keep kissing you and hugging you, and actually cuddling you for more than just a power transfer. And sometime in the future, I would like to take you to bed and spread you open and learn everything about your body that you have to give. What do you say, Stevie?" Bucky was smiling again, his eyes earnest and reflecting the hope of a future in them. Steve swallowed and loosened his grip.
"...can...can you call me Stevie again?" Bucky nodded softly and leaned closer, his words a ghost of breath against Steve's lips.
"I'll call you whatever you want me to...Stevie." And this time, with a warm fire protecting the two from the cold of the wind and snow outside, Steve closed the distance for another kiss.
Things had shifted to a strange domesticity after that day. It wasn't unusual for Bucky to come home after a day outside and place a cold kiss on Steve's cheek, or for Steve to cuddle close to the demon at night in bed. Some of Steve's favourite moments were the ones where they would lay on the couch together, Bucky's head cradled in Steve's lap as the blond read or sketched. Over the months, Bucky had slowly recovered from his injuries until he was back to the fit shape he had been in when they first met. But even fully recovered, the touches didn't move much further than some heavy petting, and quite frankly, it was driving Steve crazy.
It wasn't unusual for those of the high realm to come together for pleasure; Steve had been propositioned a few times. But he had never felt the desire before, not in the way that his body responded to Bucky. In the beginning, Steve was appreciative of the slow pace, but now every kiss and touch had him wanting more. He wanted Bucky. The last kiss they had before Bucky had left for town for supplies had ended up as one of the most passionate yet, with Steve pushed up against the front door caged in by Bucky's body. But of course, the universe was determined to mess with Steve as the sun had crested the trees to remind the demon that he had to leave. So Bucky had grabbed Steve's grasping hands and, with a whispered promise of later, had hopped into the old truck Natalia and Clint had left for them and driven into the sunrise.
Thinking of the drive to town, Steve glanced out the window as he dried his supper dishes in the washbasin and watched as the clear sky's yellows and reds of sunset began to fade to the indigo purples and blues of evening. Even in May, with the longer day of summer, it looked as though Bucky wouldn't be making it home before dark. Craning his head, Steve tried to listen for the old truck engine's rumble but heard nothing. The blond sighed as he thought of the demon hunkering down in the truck for another night of sleep on the road. The trip to the nearest town took five days, two to drive there, a day of rest and shopping, and another two to drive home. Now on the fifth day, he missed his demon so much.
Steve was just putting away his last dish and the final rays of orange were disappearing behind the trees when he heard the telltale rumble of the truck engine. Quickly wiping his hands dry, Steve smiled as he rushed to the cabin door just in time to see Bucky pulling up. As the demon exited the truck, Steve could see he was holding something.
"Stevie!" Bucky was beaming as he held up the thing in his hand, a newspaper, with the words, PEACE AT LAST printed in bold across the top. "Germany surrendered. Had to fight a couple people for this damn thing as the store only had three copies, but I thought we could have some new reading material around here."
Steve gasped as he gazed at the headline, feeling as though he was about to burst. Looking up to meet Bucky's stare, Steve didn't even hesitate as he launched himself into the demon's arms. The newspaper fell to the ground as Steve surged forward into a kiss that Bucky wholeheartedly reciprocated. Strong arms wrapped around his slim frame, and Steve couldn't resist the deliberate roll of his body against Bucky's muscled form. The demon let out a groan, and Steve felt Bucky begin to harden against him.
"Fuck Stevie, oh what you do to me doll." Steve pulled back from the kiss and weaved his fingers into Bucky's hair, pulling the demon close to him.
The words were soft, but the power they held rippled through the two beings. Bucky's eyes were glowing as he ran his hand down Steve's side to rest at his hip, pausing for confirmation. Steve didn't do something as simple as nod. Instead, he brought his hands to Bucky's shoulders, and as he pulled the demon down for another kiss, he leapt, bringing his legs up around the demon's hips knowing Bucky would catch him.
Steve's trust was well placed as Bucky let out a growl every bit as reminiscent of his demonic form as his hands were suddenly full of the stubborn blond. Steve could feel the strength of Bucky's muscles underneath him, and through their bond, the feelings of happiness and arousal swirled. Message received, Steve keened as Bucky squeezed his ass and began moving towards the house, every step causing Steve to grow harder as he rubbed his clothed length against the demon's toned stomach. Running his hands along Bucky's body, Steve revelled in the textures under his palms as he pushed the suspender straps from the brunette's broad shoulders and began working at the top buttons of Bucky's collar.
The soft glow of oil light replaced the outside darkness as they reached the cabin. Steve wasn't even paying attention as they moved through the small living space, too absorbed in the feeling of Bucky's lips on his. Bucky didn't let him fall when he moved to open the bedroom door, merely shifting the blond's weight to one hand in a show of strength that Steve felt go straight to his cock.
Walking into their bedroom, Steve felt a flash of disappointment as Bucky tapped his hip and loosened his grip on the blond's legs. Lowering his feet to the ground, Steve took advantage of the freedom and felt Bucky smirk against his lips as the rest of the demon's shirt buttons came loose, and the tails were pulled from trousers until the shirt was on the ground.
As Bucky moved to work on Steve's shirt, the blond was hyper-focused on the expanses of skin laid before him. Though he had seen Bucky sans clothes in their time together with the commandos and in the cabin, living in close proximity didn't leave much space for privacy, it was so different now. His focus shifted as he felt the last button of his own shirt give way, and his skin was exposed to the warm summer air.
Bucky’s glowing eyes seemed even brighter in the dim lighting as he looked over Steve’s bare form. "I think I changed my mind, Stevie."
"What?" Bucky’s hand came up to caress Steve’s cheek.
"That thing you said when we met about the body being a sacred thing. Cause doll, I ain't ever seen something as beautiful as you."
Steve felt himself flush. "You should have seen me before...I...I wish I could be with you the way I used to be, when I was strong."
"Fuck Doll, don't say things like that."
"But Bucky…" Bucky cut him off with a kiss.
"Shhhh." Steve gasped as he felt Bucky's soft breath and kisses on his neck. The blond's head lulling to the side as the kisses continued down across his collarbone then over to his shoulder. Steve's focus shifted when he felt Bucky's hands move to the front of his slacks and release the snaps. Steve's heart quickened as, without the fastening, the slacks slipped off his thin hips to pool on the floor, showcasing the lack of anything underneath.
Bucky let out a groan at the sight of Steve's cock, which was now standing free. "I swear you're trying to kill me, Steve." And then Bucky's hands were on him, and Steve found himself falling backwards under Bucky onto their bed.
The kisses returned, and Steve let out a squeak that was quickly followed by a moan as Bucky gave Steve's nipple a light nip of his teeth before soothing the pain with a hard suck. Similar treatment was paid to the other nipple, and Steve was practically squirming under the demon to get any friction against his now very hard cock.
"Fuck, Bucky, please!"
"I told you that I was gonna spread you out and learn your body, and that is what I intend to do."
"Bucky-iiiiii!" Steve's voice rose an octave as the demon shifted down and took the blond's cock in his mouth. Steve's brain was on overload as Bucky sucked at the tip before taking the whole length in his mouth. The heat and wetness was unlike anything Steve had ever experienced before. Steve didn't know what to do, his hands flailing in the sheets as Bucky's continued his attentions until the brunette guided Steve's hands into his hair. With his new anchor point, Steve couldn't help his reaction as he moaned and thrust into Bucky's mouth when the brunette gave a particularly hard suck. Feeling his cock hit the back of the demon's throat, Steve panicked for a moment until he met Bucky's gaze. Lifting off for a moment, Steve watched as Bucky's lips curled up into that damn smirk.
"Do it, Stevie. Take it." Steve moaned as he was once again engulfed in the heat, and he let his mind run blank as he held onto Bucky's hair and thrust into the demon's mouth over and over again. He could feel the pleasure building and went to pull Bucky away, but the demon refused. And then Steve couldn't hold back anymore, and he was coming down the demon's throat with a groan. Steve watched, transfixed, as Bucky swallowed him down through his orgasm until he finally let go with a pop, the silver of his eyes almost gone with his blown-out pupils.
Steve went lax against the bed as his lungs heaved to catch some breath. With Bucky looking down on him, Steve felt a moment of shyness and knew he was blushing. Bucky smiled and leaned down for a kiss. Steve tasted something different on Bucky and knew he was tasting himself, but he didn't care because Bucky was kissing him. When Bucky moved to pull away, Steve grabbed the belt of the brunette’s pants and didn't let go.
Steve raised a brow challengingly. "Bucky."
"Steve, we don't have to…" Steve held the demon's gaze as he very deliberately undid the belt and pulled it free. A growl was rumbling in Bucky's chest as Steve leaned back and spread his legs.
"I want you, Bucky, I wanna feel you. I want you in me" Reaching inside himself, Steve pushed all of the emotions whirling in his head through the bond and felt the wave of Bucky's in return as the demon smirked.
"Well, I just can't say no to that now, can I? Turn over doll, it'll be easier." Steve felt his cock, still soft from the recent orgasm, twitch in interest at Bucky's tone. So twisting his body around, Steve cradled his head in the covers as he brought his knees up, his ass a tantalizing sight to the demon behind him.
Steve moaned when he felt Bucky's hands on his ass once again. "You want me, Stevie? You want me inside you, body and soul?"
"Yes." Steve hissed. A soft kiss was placed to the small of his back.
"Gotta prep ya doll."
"I don't care, Bucky, just please!" Bucky's hands left his skin, and Steve couldn't hold back the whine. Steve glanced over his shoulder to see where the demon had gone, but he was already back again, and this time sans pants. Steve was so distracted by the sight of Bucky's naked figure that he didn't realize what the demon was doing with his hands until he felt oil-slicked fingers at his entrance.
"Ready, Stevie?" Steve let out a hum and pushed back, groaning as he felt Bucky's first finger breach his body. It was a strange sensation, but not in a bad way. Bucky kept up a litany of sweet words and kisses to his back as he added a second finger. Steve's cock was now hard again, and he let out a moan as Bucky's fingers brushed something inside him that sent a shock of pleasure through his body.
"Bucky, Bucky, please…" Steve gasped.
"Shhh, I got you, Stevie. You ready?" Steve nodded and pushed back as Bucky's fingers disappeared from inside him. He wasn't empty for long though, as he felt Bucky's large weight settle over his body and the blunt head of the brunette's cock against his entrance. Steve craned his neck back to meet Bucky's gaze and pulled him in for another kiss. With the kiss, Bucky pushed forward, and Steve felt his body resist the intrusion for a moment before he bore down and felt the large heat sink inside him. Steve could hear Bucky growling behind him as the blond fell forward and moaned into the bed.
It was so much, more heat and pressure and just...Steve didn't know what to make of this feeling. Now he understood why everyone was so obsessed with sex. It felt amazing.
"Are you alright, Stevie? Can I move?" Bucky’s voice was rough with restraint as Steve felt the brunette’s chest heaving against his back.
"Shit Bucky, please." Bucky pulled back, and Steve felt every inch of the drag before Bucky shifted forward, and the emptiness was gone once again. Over and over again, each time a little faster, Steve felt as though his body was on fire. The physical sensations were already so much, but the bond made it all twofold. Steve could feel his pleasure being reflected at Bucky and back again, over and over again, the cycle of pleasure went. Steve knew he was a moaning mess, but he didn't care. All he cared about was Bucky inside him.
Bucky shifted his angle, and then he was hitting that place inside Steve again, and Steve couldn't hold back as he cried out and came into the blankets beneath him. Bucky let out a long groan, and Steve felt teeth dig into his shoulder as Bucky's thrust stuttered, and then Steve felt the warmth inside him as Bucky came.
Muscles giving out, Steve fell flat to the bed, Bucky's heavy form on top of him. After a moment of catching their breath, Bucky went to move, and Steve let out a whine as the cock inside him shifted. Bucky froze before taking Steve in his arms and carefully rolling them onto their sides, keeping himself inside Steve. Laying there, cradled against Bucky's chest, Steve could feel the bond between them singing. Bucky was feeling it too as he lay a soft kiss to Steve's sweaty hair.
"Fuck, Stevie, you're really something else. How do you feel?"
"Overwhelmed, but...in a good way?"
"Yeah? Well, we can just stay right here." Steve sigh in contentment and turned for a proper kiss.
"Yeah...right here. I think I could be happy with that as long as you're with me." Bucky chuckled.
"Well, I guess it's a good thing I'm never leaving you then."
Epilogue (Present time new york)
"Got something on my face, doll?" Looking up into Bucky's smiling face as the sounds of New York moved around them, Steve felt the warmth of happiness in his chest. He was about to respond when suddenly the sound of an explosion ripped through the air, and the sky opened up with a glowing portal. Bucky's grip tightened around him as creatures began to pour out of the portal, and people on the street started running and screaming.
As the chaos unfolded, Steve saw some figures in the distance fighting back against the creatures that were attempting to destroy the city. Out of the corner of his eye, Steve saw something shining from the top of a nearby skyscraper and turned his gaze upwards just in time to see some familiar arrows take down a creature smashing up a busload of kids.
Turning back to Bucky, Steve saw the look on the demon's face and knew what he was thinking. "What do you think, Stevie? Should we do it?"
Steve smiled and felt as Bucky shifted into his demonic form. As the giant shadow wolf stepped forward, Steve pulled at the bond and rolled his shoulders back. One step in front of the other, the pair moved until they were running down the street. And then, with a strong push, Steve leapt, the strength of Bucky's shadows giving him his wings once again as they joined the fray, a smile on his face.