He had found him.
Castiel watched the man that had once been known as James Buchanan Barnes. A sergeant of the 107th. The Fist of Hydra. The Winter Soldier.
It had taken longer than he’d expected, the finding of the lost soldier. After the fall of the Triskelion, Sergeant Barnes had attempted to get away from everyone by falling off the map. He was constantly on the move, and Castiel had little time to track him. But he had finally found him.
The soldier was huddled in a ball behind a dumpster.
Exhaustion lined his weary face, his lank hair hanging down like a scrappy curtain under his ballcap. A ragged backpack was clutched protectively to his chest. He was filthy and he smelled just as bad or maybe worse than the dumpster he was hidden behind.
The angel spread his wings over the soldier.
The sergeant relaxed, slipping into a deeper sleep. Castiel gently touched his brow, healing what injuries he could find. Bruises, cuts, a fracture to his right ulna. Another fracture to the right side of his skull, just behind his ear. The last one brought a frown to the angel’s face.
This one didn’t need head injuries.
There was less work than he had expected. Even as a knockoff, the serum running through the soldier’s veins was potent. Castiel sped it’s progress. Not once did the soldier stir.
Blue eyes scanned the heavens. Wings angled themselves more carefully over the sleeping human, edging just that little bit closer to reality. With a roar, the sky opened up, water sluicing down in cold, gusting waves.
Not a single drop touched the soldier.
Not once the whole night long.
It was the first truly restful night Bucky had had in decades.
It was a bad night.
Castiel watched the soldier. It had become something of a habit. If he wasn’t with the Winchesters, visiting Clint’s family, or checking on Adam, Gabriel, or the Avengers he was most likely watching Sergeant Barnes. He would watch, and when the sergeant slept he healed his wounds. Castiel calmed his fears, and soothed his nightmares. He kept watch, wrapping the sergeant up in his wings while he slept, so that in the morning he would wake just a little less broken.
It was difficult at times.
Due to the secretive, nomadic nature of Bucky’s current life Castiel often lost track of him. Bucky could travel hundreds of miles in the space of a day, or sometimes he barely travelled five. Some days he didn’t move at all. And when he did move, his directions were erratic. As if he had no set destination in mind. Or the destination didn’t matter, so long as it was ‘away’.
Castiel hadn’t seen him in two days.
Bucky looked worse for the wear. He stood in front of the sink, staring at the two bullet holes and several knife wounds that decorated his bare torso. To say nothing of all the bruises that decorated his pale skin. It wasn’t as sallow and sickly looking as it had been when he had been in Hydra’s care, but he still didn’t get enough sun.
The bruises would be gone within hours, the cuts healed before a full day passed. But the bullet wounds, those needed treatment, or his body would heal around them. Castiel would have to remove them once Bucky slept. Bucky would know that someone had been there, he was well aware that his body didn’t just dissolve bullets, or eject them. But it couldn’t be helped. Besides, it wasn’t like Castiel hadn’t done it before. He’d removed several that first night when he realized they’d healed in.
The soldier suddenly snatched a gun up out of the sink.
He pointed it directly at Castiel.
“I know you’re there.” He rasped, voice rough with pain and disuse. “Show yourself, or I start shooting. And I won’t miss.”
Well, that had never happened before.
Castiel allowed himself to be seen. “How did you know?”
“I felt your eyes on me.” A hard gaze bored into the angel, memorizing every detail as if his life depended on it. Who knew, maybe someday it would. “Felt your eyes on me for weeks now. Not all the time, but often enough. Didn’t matter where I went, you’d find me sooner or later. Never could spot you. Figured you had to be invisible. Weirder shit’s happened. Guess I was right... What the hell do you want with me?” The last question came out like a growl.
“I want to help you.”
The soldier arched an eyebrow. “Pull the other one, ‘t’s got jingle bells.”
“It’s the truth.” The angel shrugged. “Make of it what you will.”
The gun never wavered in its metallic grip. Ice blue eyes studied him. Calculating the odds of this being a trap, of his escaping it before it snapped shut. How fast he could get out of town. How far he could get before he had to stop and rest again.
But no trap was forthcoming.
It was just him, and the trenchcoated stranger.
“...you feel familiar.” The sergeant slowly edged closer. “But not Hydra… were you with him?”
Castiel had little doubt of who ‘him’ was. “I sought you out on behalf of Steve Rogers.” He admitted. “But I have remained to watch over you, because you remind me very much of someone I care for very deeply. And you appeared in need of a friend. Even an invisible one such as me.”
Praying that it would work, Castiel stretched out his wings toward the soldier. The tips edged past the injured man, primary feathers curling in a little behind him. Exerting their calming influence over the man.
Castiel’s panic never showed on his face. Had he erred?
“You…” The tension slowly ebbed, eroded away by the familiar, soothing presence of Castiel’s wings. “So that’s where I know you. You’re the one who’s been healing my wounds at night.” He hesitated, then slowly lowered the gun.
Castiel took that as permission to move.
The angel approached slowly, knowing that if he miscalculated Barnes wouldn’t let him get close again. The further his wings engulfed the human, the more Bucky’s fear and tension eased. There was still a slight wariness, but Castiel couldn’t fault him for that. Almost seventy years of captivity, torture, and enslavement. Castiel would be wary too. He could wipe that wariness away if he tried hard enough. But Bucky’s trust was hard won. Forcing him in any way would be the fastest way to lose that trust.
Losing his trust was the last thing Castiel wanted.
The angel laid two fingers against his brow, pushing his grace out to heal the hurts the mortal frame had been dealt. The injuries were greater than he had realised. Cuts and bruises, two bullet holes in the right shoulder and under the right collar bone. He’d taken a hard hit to the right side, several ribs were broken or fractured. The wrist was broken too. Probably why he’d used the metal hand to hold the gun, and stood at an angle to protect the vulnerable right side. Castiel saw all of that and more in the blink of an eye. He had healed it all in another.
“Thank you.” Bucky mumbled.
Castiel pulled his hand away. “You need to eat more.” He chastised gently. “The serum enhances your metabolism too, not just your mind or muscles.”
“I know. I just…” Bucky side eyed him uncertainly, as if he couldn’t quite believe he was trusting this stranger that had popped out of thin air. He sighed. “I don’t recognize when I’m hungry. They… they used to feed me intravenously. More efficient.”
Anger licked at the angel on the soldier’s behalf.
He pushed it aside. “You will learn. But until you do, at least three meals a day if you can manage it. Smaller, more frequent meals are also acceptable… Will you be comfortable, if I stand guard tonight?”
“Why? Why are you helping me?”
The angel smiled. “Because. Like a very dear friend of mine, you are of the impression that you do not deserve to be saved. You think you are lost beyond recall. You’re not. You are worth saving, James Barnes. I know you do not believe it right now. But you are.”
The soldier shook his head. But he went back to the sink to clean up his first aid supplies. “...You can stand gaurd.”
He went to bed not long after.
As he had done before, Castiel stood guard. He wasn’t alone for long. A whisper of feathers heralded Gabriel’s arrival. Summoned by Castiel’s silent call. The archangel stood gazing down at the man in the bed.
“You found the soldier I see. I had wondered what you were up to lately.”
Castiel nodded. “I sought him out for Steve’s sake. But he reminds me so much of Dean… I’ve done all I can for him, brother. But perhaps you could…?”
“Hm….” The archangel crouched to get a better look at the bed’s occupant. “Physically, he’s completely healthy. His cells still thrum with the aftereffects of your grace. You did a good job of this… His head’s a mess, though. And his soul… his soul took a beating. I see why he reminds you of the Winchesters. Even after all this time, even under all the shit trying to tarnish him, he still shines.” He reached out to lay a hand on the soldier’s chest. “He’s hurt deep… It’s not given to the angels to heal the wounds of the soul. Not even an archangel like me. That’s for Dad to do… But we can help this soldier take a step in the right direction. He’ll heal on his own, in his own time afterwards.”
There was a small flash of light under his palm.
“He can’t keep going like this Castiel.” Gabriel whispered. “He’s wearing himself out. If his heels wear down any further the ground’s going to start biting back. He needs someplace safe to rest and recover himself, or there won’t be anything left.”
“He’s not ready to go back to Steve.” Castiel gestured helplessly. “But Steve is the only one he might trust. He’s been hurt too badly for him to trust anyone else. I’m surprised he didn’t try to shoot me tonight when I came to heal him. I know he can’t go on much longer. He’s tired of running. But there’s nowhere to run to.He’s not ready to face all the memories Steve conjures up.”
“Who says Steve is the only option?”
Bucky woke around dawn.
The stranger was still there, keeping watch through the crummy motel window. The sergeant hadn’t expected that. Perhaps he should’ve. He slowly rolled out of bed, and warily approached. The dark haired man didn’t seem the least bit perturbed or put off by Barnes’ wariness.
“There’s breakfast on the table.” He commented. “And coffee if you want it.”
Bucky could smell it.
He made no move to touch it. There was still a sense of warmth and peace and safety about the room, and he was grateful for the patch job the stranger had done. But he wasn’t about to take food or drink from him. After all, that was probably the easiest way to administer a drug, short of darting the target. He didn’t know the man well enough for that. Didn’t trust anyone well enough for that.
The man shrugged. “Maybe not, but you should be.” He laid a small stack of bills on the table. “Find food, then leave this place. There is a hydra cell in this town. They will notice if you stay too long.” He hesitated. “You cannot keep running forever James. It’s killing you.”
The sergeant narrowed his eyes. “I suppose you’ve got a better idea?”
“Maybe.” The man removed a folded piece of paper from one of the voluminous pockets of his trench coat. He placed it on the table beside the money. “There are coordinates there, and phone numbers. They are not affiliated with the Avengers, or with Hydra. If you have need of help, they will answer. And their home will always be open to you. They travel frequently, and cannot leave the door unlocked while they’re gone, but somehow I doubt that would prove to be much of a deterrent for you.”
“Not much.” Bucky admitted. “But what makes you think I’d trust them?”
“If anyone would understand the concept of being made to do something heinous against your will, it would be them. There are others amongst the Avengers who have had experiences similar to yours in mind control, but if you had felt ready for that you would have sought Steve out. Instead of wandering aimlessly as you have. Truth be told, you probably will not trust my friends at first. Their jobs require them to work outside the law, and to live under the radar. But they will earn your trust, if given half the chance. And they won’t ask you to surrender your weapons. There are so many in their home, I doubt they would see the point.”
That, didn’t sound reassuring.
The stranger suddenly cocked his head, eyes going unfocused as he listened to something that only he could hear. “My brother calls. Think about what I said James. And if you are not comfortable reaching out to them, know that no matter where you are, I will hear you. My name is Castiel. Call my name, and I’ll come for you if I can.”
He disappeared with a soft rustle that spoke of feathers or blades of grass.
Within the hour, the money had been exchanged for smaller bills at several gas stations. The paper found it’s way into a trash can a block away from the motel Bucky had just vacated.
But the numbers and coordinates… those were memorized.
Charlie opened the door.
A man stood in the rain on the other side of the door. He was scruffy and dirty, and looked about as happy as a wet cat. He stank, even over the smell of rain and wet dirt. And truth be told he looked homeless. A ratty backpack was over one shoulder, and he had a glove on his left hand that didn’t quite cover the glint of silver metal.
He shuffled, casting a skittish glance over his shoulder. “He said this place was safe…”
Charlie smiled. “He was right. He told us you might come this way. Come on in.”
Steve bolted upright in bed.
Captain Rogers, is everything alright ?
“Yeah, Friday. I’m fine.” The captain waved away the A.I.’s concern. Still sniffling, he wiped at teary eyes and went to stare out the window at the stars.
He didn’t tell her about the nightmare he’d been having.
About the peaceful feeling that had chased it away.
He didn’t say anything about the gruff, familiar voice that had spoken into that space between waking and dreams.
Rest easy. James Buchanan Barnes is safe.
Steve put his head against the cool glass. Later, he would wonder why Castiel was so vague in his message. He would wonder where his best friend was. What he was doing. Whether he was alright.
Later, he would have so many questions. But for now, all he could feel was grateful that his friend was safe.