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The Winter Knight: the House of Arthadan part 2

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They called it Checkpoint Charley, and it had become, since the construction of the Wall, the most famous gates and checkpoints. For Steven, as he looked up at the now crumbling Wall graffiti-ed with years of paint and near crushed expression of free will, it was a painful reminder of the day he had finally broken and became the unholy terror known as the Winter Knight. He remembered the day well, for it had come not long after he was unmade and remade into something that terrified even him. Steven closed his eyes tightly as them memories washed over him of that day, and a tear ran down his face.


~**~~

Steven thrashed and fought as they dragged him bodily to the conditioning chair. Steven recoiled in fright at the mere glimpse of it. This was where they stole away his Ada’s memories and personality. The room was round with a raised platform of cement at the center, and there sat the Chair. It looked like a twisted version of a dentist chair or barber’s chair, with a large ring that would go over the head and face and send targeted jolts of electricity to the brain. It was also for restraining the victim when their telepath started manipulating his mind. Steven had been through that once and didn’t want a repeat of the experience. So he dug in his heels and fought with all the strength he could muster to keep away from that Chair, for it meant another session with Nikola Zhukov and more implanted triggers and programming.  Admittedly, with all the strength he could muster wasn’t very much anymore. He had been starved for too long to really use the strength in his limbs, so it was barely that of a struggle for the guards to drag him to the chair and strap him into the restraints.

                “NO, please,” he’d begged with tears of terror running down his face. “No, no, you don’t have to do this! Please, no! PLEASE!” but the guards had ignored his pleading and fixed the last of the metal and cloth restraints tight around his arms and legs. Steven had dropped his head back on the headrest  in near panic, whimpering, and tried to regain his composure, before he’d cast his gaze around the room for anything that could get him out. Weak as he was, Steven’s grasp over his powers was almost non-existent, leaving him unable to remove the restraints or manipulate the guards’ minds to let him go. Steven’s eyes darted around the room, and he was in such a panic that he almost missed the flash of metal in the only corner of the room, at his direct left next to the thick glass of the observation window.

                “ADA!” he’d gasped with relief and shock, “Ada, please help me!” he’d pleaded, but the form of James Buchanan Barnes stayed as still and as rigid as a statue; his face blank and eyes soulless. Steven sobbed when he realized that the programming was in full affect and it wasn’t his Ada standing there but the thing that they had forced him to become, their Asset: The Winter Soldier. Steven turned away in despair and laid his head back to look at the ceiling eyes glistening with fresh tears, unable to bear looking at the thing that was once the most loving and caring person in his whole world.

Suddenly the loud scrape of the door’s latch opening followed by the screeching of the hinges brought his gaze right back to the opening. He couldn’t see much, but what he did, filled him with fright: a metal equipment table was being rolled in with a large stand with round lamp-like fixtures on it, and it held so many it was as long as his body. But it was neither of these things that made the very blood in his body turn to ice. It was the six vials on the tray filled with the blue and terrifyingly, familiar liquid that filled him with dread. Steven had gone as white as death, when he realized what they planned to do with him: they wanted to turn him into another super soldier. Only they hadn’t known that he’d had a version since birth, and they didn’t know about his powers. The loud bang of the door opening again caused him to flinch, hard, and look at the man that had walked into the room. Tears flooded Steven’s eyes, when the man in the white lab coat, obviously some sort of doctor (one of Zola’s assistants he had later come to find out) placed the vials in the injection ports, attached to his restraints via tubes. The man looked down at Steven, and the young captain had finally managed to catch his eye.

                “Please,” he had begged softly, filled with fright, “don’t do this!” tears ran down his face, and he tried to muster up some telepathic ability, but to no avail. The doctor grinned and simply patted him on the shoulder.

                “Don’t worry,” he’d said, “this is the real thing; taken from samples of Captain America’s blood! Once you are better, and the Soldier is given a dosage, you will be the first of many.” With that he had turned away and finished setting up the crude version of Stark’s Rebirth Chamber. “We are ready to begin,” he’d said to the observation window, before throwing a lever on the chair. Steven had felt it the moment the Serum hit his veins: it had burned like fire and froze all at once, and he arched in the restraints to try and escape. He’d had no idea what the Serum would do with his powers, and he hadn’t wanted to find out. “Reservoir emptied,” he had heard the doctor distantly say; “Vita-Ray saturation will begin in moments.” The door banged shut and the latches locked, and Steven had realized that the doctor had fled the room to continue the experiment from the other side of the glass, but his Ada was still there. They didn’t care about hurting him, or making him sick, and Steven felt even more helpless. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to block out the doctor’s tinny voice over the speakers. “Vita-Ray reaction in five… four… three… two… one…” Steven had felt more than saw the lamps turn on. That steady thrum of electricity he had always felt grew stronger and Steven had thrashed even harder against the restraints. But the restraints held. A burn had begun to bubble up, deep within is veins, and Steven knew that the Serum was beginning to work. Desperation had him digging deep within himself for any amount of strength to regain control of his powers.

Dimly he was aware that he had begun to scream in pain and fear, and without realizing it the room had begun to shake; not from the equipment but from his powers surging back to life with his great distress. Suddenly Steven was nearly deafened, when the quiet murmur of voices in his head became a roar that grew louder and filled with more voices and thoughts than he could filter out. He screeched and pulled on the restraints with all his strength. The Serum was burning through his veins and changing him down to his very core, making him stronger; amplifying everything inside. And then everything went white.

(He hadn’t known until later that he had opened his eyes and the very core of the pupils began to slowly fill with an inner light and his irises began to glow. He didn’t know that his voice took on an unearthly quality as he screamed; or that his whole body had begun to glow, radiating out from his chest and spreading outward to his arms and legs forming a halo of light around his form that grew brighter than the lamps already maxed out above him. Nor did he know until later that the glow spread out almost like wings of pure light from his shoulders.)

Suddenly the restraints gave way to the unyielding strength that surged through his muscles, and Steven had brought his hands up to his head to cover his ears and try to block out the noise. His eyes shut tight again to the chaos around him. (The restraints had been ripped away from his legs by his powers but also by the metal strength of the left arm on Bucky’s form.) If it hadn’t been tied down it was now caught in the whirlwind of Steven’s newly amplified powers. Objects were flung across the room to shatter, only for their remains to seemingly turn to dust and reform into something else. Electricity arched across the room to Steven’s body and danced across his skin like the northern lights across the night sky. Devices switched on and off again in rapid succession before completely disassembling and joining the dust and debris whirling around Steven’s form hunched in on himself from the pain. His knees were drawn to his slightly broader and bulkier chest and he had his hands clasped tight over his ears, as the volume of the voices increased, in sound and in number. (Steven hadn’t heard the doctor screaming for the Soldier to restrain him, or Bucky refusing, and the guard screaming a trigger word at him, causing Bucky to collapse in a heap on the floor.)

Suddenly there was a prick in his neck and the voices dimmed and grew distant, and the light in his mind faded and the room grew dark. Just before he succumbed to the blackness of the tranquilizer, Steven had heard the faint whispering of Bucky’s mind against his own.

                ‘Listen to my voice, Stevie,’ he’d said, ‘it’s gonna be okay. It’s okay. Just let it flow around you, and listen to what you want to hear.’


~**~~

Steven opened his eyes and made his way into the city of West Berlin. If he had any chance at all of making this work, of actually escaping the clutches of the Red Room and HYDRA, he needed help. And there was only one person he knew of in the city that he could trust to get the information he had to Stark and Carter, his father: Arion Ingwion. The trouble was Arion was still a Spy for MI6, and Steven, the Winter Knight, intelligence myth that he was, was still in the top five on their most wanted list. He knew where to find his father, he just needed a few minutes with him, but the trouble was would he trust him. After all he was a trained killer, and Steven knew that something was wrong with him now; he could feel it. But he still didn’t want to die, and he didn’t want his Ada to die either. So Steven swallowed his fear and made for the bar Arion favored in Berlin.

As he made his way there he remembered his first mission after he broke under the strain from his newly amplified powers and the conditioning. It had been the Red Room’s way of proving his loyalty to the Motherland.

One of the officers high in the Party had decided that he wanted more than what Communism was giving him, and had made a bargain with the fledgling SHIELD for their help to get him through the city and past the checkpoint to freedom in exchange for the information he had on one of the KGB’s pet projects: The Red Room and project Winter Soldier. When HYDRA heard about it, they went into near panic. The Soldier wasn’t ready for deployment, and if reacquired by the Americans they could undo all their hard work. It wasn’t that hard of a decision really, for them to assassinate the man, and there was only one Asset they could send to do it: Zimniy Rytsar' -The Winter Knight.

By that time, Steven had come a long way from the initial training and conditioning of the first five years of his capture. A little over ten years had passed and Steven was now firmly in their control, the programming and triggers keeping him complaisant and weak. It didn’t hurt that the Soviets had gotten their hands on a copy of the recording of Steve’s last moments; the static and ominous silence cutting off Steve’s last words crushing any hope Steven or Bucky had for rescue, and breaking their will to fight back anymore. And the five years since his enhancement had given Steven a level of power and control over his abilities that frightened his handlers. Things he had to concentrate to do before were now effortless, and his ability to mimic people’s voices and manipulate the particles of light around him made him an excellent infiltration Asset. But HYDRA feared that power, and did everything they could to ensure that Steven thought they had more power than him, more control over him than he could fight. So they resorted to other methods of control to ensure his compliance: blackmail and emotional manipulation. By keeping Bucky in their tight control, they ensured Steven would do anything to keep them from hurting him further by doing what they wanted; which was to kill, lie, steal and manipulate anyone they wanted to shape the future.

Steven chuckled mirthlessly as he remembered the ease in which he infiltrated the officer’s party to kill him. The man had convinced his driver and aide to defect with him and the aide looked enough like him that Steven didn’t even try that hard to manipulate his features when he killed the young Russian Army Captain and took his place in the car. They planned it perfectly down to the wire how he was going to kill him.

HYDRA and the Red Room didn’t want just a hit, they wanted to make an example of the Officer to the other officials of what happens when you try to rat out the Red Room and defect; and Steven had done just that.


~*~

The Russian officer was a well-connected colonel high up in the party, and from where Steven sat across from the man in their limousine he could see just that. He was older than Steven in looks but far younger than he should be to be a Colonel of his influence. Steven mentally snorted at the hypocrisy of the so-called equality of the Soviets. Steven settled in further into his seat, and looked out the window, doing his best to act slightly nervous. The colonel saw it and took the bait.

                ‘Will you relax, Stepan,’ he said in Russian, and Steven looked over at the man and acted sheepish for being caught worrying. The Colonel took another sip of his expensive brandy before addressing the man he thought to be his captain. ‘The American’s have taken care of everything. Once we cross over into West Berlin, they will be arranging for our transport to the West. There is no need to worry!’

                ‘It’s my job to worry, sir,’ Steven said with a fake nervous laugh, and turned back to the window; seemingly looking for ghosts of assassins or KGB agents that were not there. The Red Room trusted him enough that the only agent he was concerned about was his handler, just waiting for one false move that would put his Ada back into the Chair for further conditioning and brainwashing. ‘And we are not out of Soviet Union, yet, my friend. Anything could happen before we get through the checkpoint.’ But it wouldn’t. No, the kill would only happen after they got through to the other side and left the car. That was the plan. ‘I will feel better when we get through without raising any suspicions, sir.’

The colonel chuckled and took another drink.

They passed through the checkpoint with relative ease and drove across to where they would be changing cars to speak with the SHIELD agents before going to the private airfield where they would board a plane to London. This was what the defector’s had planned, but not what would happen. Steven was to kill the two defecting officers and then the agents before returning, leaving no witnesses and a pile of bodies behind.

Only it hadn’t happened that way either, because when Steven got out of the car, he froze. The agents were Howard and Peggy. Steven paled and quailed inside, when he realized it was a test of his loyalty, one he would surely fail. Because no matter how badly they tortured and conditioned him, he could never kill his friends, especially not the ones he had known since birth. The Colonel paused, when he realized Steven wasn’t beside him and turned around.

                ‘Stepan?’ he said, ‘come, now, it’s almost over.’ Steven squeezed his eyes tightly to will away the tears.

                ‘Yes,’ he answered softly, ‘it is.’ Steven took a deep steadying breath before he snapped open his eyes and willed his expression into perfect blankness. Quick as lightning he withdrew the gun hidden in the illusion of the captain’s uniform, and dropped the illusion entirely. There was a look of pure panic on the two officers’ faces before Steven shot them both in the head.

                “Shit!” Steven heard Howard say as the officers dropped dead, before he turned to give them both a full look at the new Assassin they were dealing with. “Carter, he’s a plant!” Peggy had already drawn her firearm and was leveling the gun at his chest. Steven had his own leveled at her head, the programming screaming at him to finish the mission, and remove the witnesses. The gun trembled in his hand as he struggled against the programming before his hand slowly dropped to his side and he forced himself to turn around and walk away.

                “Stop!” Peggy ordered, but Steven ignored her and walked stiltedly away to his extraction point. “Stop or I’ll shoot!” Steven pushed even harder against the programming and ignored her. He felt it the second she pulled the trigger, and he stopped the bullet; freezing it mid-air inches from his form. He tilted his head a little, like a curious bird before he turned only slightly and twitched his eye. The gun in Peggy’s hand disassembled at his command and fell in pieces from her fingers. Steven pushed against the programming and continued to walk away, forcing his orders to label Peggy and Howard as non-threat.

As soon as Steven was far enough away and had pushed his programming to think mission complete, he collapsed into a heap behind a church and started sobbing.


~*~

Steven paused for a moment and smiled looking at the very same church that had given him a brief moment of solace as he mourned the loss of his innocence and will. A priest had found him, crying in the alley and brought him inside. He gave him peace, a cup of hot chocolate, and let him cry until Steven confessed what he had done; begging with every breath for forgiveness.

Steven didn’t think he could be forgiven anymore, but he still asked. Eventually Steven had to leave, because he needed to be at the extraction point before the end of the hour or they would come looking for him. He went back willingly, that was the thing, because they had the only thing in the whole world that could force him to do as they said: leverage.

Of course they were furious that he didn’t kill Stark and Carter, and punished him severely for it. But it was worth the pain and suffering, if only because they survived.

Steven continued down the street until he stood right in front of the bar. Steven took a deep calming breath to settle his nerves before he moved to the door. He didn’t have a lot of time before they noticed that he was not where he was supposed to be, but it was enough time to tell his father he needed help, that Bucky needed his help. Bucky and Steven were on a ticking clock for how long they had left to live, and with each day that passed their usefulness to HYDRA became slimmer. Steven had to get Howard and Peggy’s help before it was too late.

TBC…

End note: I want feedback on this chapter because I am still trying to figure out what I am doing. I know where I am going but I might have some trouble getting there without boring you all or making you disturbed too fast.

Flash backs are going to be frequent in this story, and a lot of mentions of torture and physical abuse. Mental abuse is a given. Rating on this will be a T for sure.

Happy 100th Birthday to Bucky!

 

 

Chapter Text

Arion hated desk work. He despised it with all of his being. He truly believed that paperwork and forms were the creation of Morgoth just as a way to bog down the just in miles and miles of paperwork stacks and forms. So, as he sat helplessly at his desk with a pile of case files and paperwork standing as tall as him sitting in his inbox, he thought  the same thought all field agents thought, bleakly and with misery,  when benched from field work: ‘Why me?

His thoughts wailed this to the heavens, but they were so very silent.

Arion whined pitifully in the back of his throat and winced as his badly bruised ribs protested. His boss had inconveniently decided to put him on cold case duty after a mission went bad enough that it resulted in several damaged cars, a ruined half million pound couture dress with matching pumps, and three agents, including him, being hospitalized. Arion was the lucky one, with only bruised ribs and a sprained ankle, and his cover was still intact, unlike the other agents, who were forever benched and relegated to analysis work; in other words living Hell. His modified duty was only going to be a few months long, but still, to a field agent used to the thrill of the hunt and chase, they were going to be pure hell; boredom central.

After the War Arion needed the thrill to keep him sane, to keep him from falling into that ever growing pit of black despair and grief that was once the shining center of his universe. Desk work would only remind him of his lost family, but he thought if he could keep his mind busy he might not feel the first pangs of his ignored grief. The elf prince turned British spy steeled his resolve, took a deep breath and released it slowly, before he picked up the first file in the stack.

                ‘Might as well get started,’ he muttered to himself in Quenya. ‘It’s not like they’re going to disappear if I will them hard enough.’ He opened the file and groaned long and petulantly, in melodramatic mock despair. The agents in the surrounding rooms all snickered at the elf’s display of childish paperwork phobia. “I hate paperwork!” he shrieked, his German accent as thick as the first day he spoke English. “If I find the person who put this on my desk, I will shoot them in the knee!” the snickering turned to stifled snorts and coughed chortling in an attempt to regain composure. The elvish agent was not one to make idle threats, and they knew he just might follow through on his threat. With this in mind, they all tightened their grip on their laughter and went back to their work; more focused perhaps than before. Arion glared at the petulant hazing attempt of a file, before with a huff, he tossed it aside, and began digging through the other files; beginning the long and tedious task of sorting out which files go where.

First level mission reports waiting for approval were quickly tossed into a wire bin on his desk he labeled “delegate” meaning, beneath his level and will be sent back to the offender’s desk to have them do their own work. More important, and actual cold case, files were placed in a pile he dubbed “important but can wait”, and finally there were the cold cases that he knew just by looking at were really important but were mainly there as punishment from his boss for wrecking that dress. These were labeled “impossible, can’t wait”, and tossed into a different bin, but not without a grumble and glare in the general direction of his boss’s office. Thus Arion spent the better half of his morning sorting through the files until he had the crap filtered out completely and ready to be schlepped back to their respective agents. The elf groaned in relief as he stretched out the kinks in his back, thinking he had finished, until he saw a slim very old style folder at the very bottom of the stack. With an arched brow, he picked it up and saw that it was very old, dating back to the 60s and thus placed it at the top of the impossible pile.

It was in this pile of impossible cold cases that Arion found it. It was as old as the 60s file but it was a memo, and at first Arion thought it a mistake; that is, until he opened it.

                Attachments No. 1 to case file No. 09173 – memo amendment

It stated and this peaked Arion’s curiosity. He sifted through the files until he came up with the corresponding case before opening the file.

                Case No. 09173 – Suspicious death of soviet defector Dr. Ivanovich

                Mikhail Ivanovich was found in his hotel room in London, three days after coming to an agent in Berlin with the intention to defect and turn over evidence of illegal and immoral activity being conducted by the KGB.

                Cause of death: Unknown – suspected foul play

                Note: as Dr. Ivanovich has died under suspicious circumstances before he was able to give us the information, it is my belief that the Doctor was killed to be kept silent on whatever information he had. Thus professionally I would have to label his death suspicious until further evidence confirms otherwise.

Arion puzzled over the case for a moment before he recalled the incident. It was done by a fellow double o agent, but as far at Arion knew the case was labeled a natural death. Perhaps he was wrong. Arion looked at the slim memo with a furled brow and what he read made his blood run cold and his face go slack with shock.

                Amendment to case no. 09173 – the death of Mikhail Ivanovich

                Cause of death: heart attack caused by an injection of high levels of potassium.

Crime scene evidence: a small vial containing potassium was discovered under the skirt of the bed by an agent during a second sweep of the scene. Further examination of the room shows the signs of a struggle.

                Possible evidence of second party: a small stain on a notepad on the table next to the body. Forensic analysis confirms it to be human tears, containing a unique chemical signature. It was cross-matched and analysis confirmed it to have not originated from the victim.

                Cause of death: (amended) Homicide

                Possible Suspect(s): Soviet Assassin - Codename: The Winter Knight

Arion froze dead in his chair, and looked over the case file again; his eyes darting back and forth across the page. His brows scrunched up in confusion, wondering why the memo wasn’t in the original file. He looked at the file cover it was in, and found the file cover was sticky and when he brought it to his nose, smelt like old coffee with lots of cream and sugar. Arion tapped his fingers on the cover a few times, noting the slight tackiness, and it dawned on him: the file got stuck on the bottom of another case file and was misfiled. Most likely it was stuck to a different case altogether.

Arion grinned a little and let himself chuckle. Not only could he set aside that case for refilling, he had a piece of evidence from an infamous assassin whose kills dated back to the fifties. He made a note to look up the physical evidence for the case on a notepad and went back to the stack of cold cases. He got half way through the stack, when an anomaly in a suspicious death case caught his eye.

                Possible evidence of foul play: tear stain on the victim’s sleeve. Chemical analysis indicates that it belongs to a second party containing a unique chemical compound of unknown origin.

Eye brows screwed up in puzzlement he set the case aside to have a later look at, until, again, a file came up with similar evidence; this one a few years old, only from ‘81. Arion expression became even more puzzled, noting that this one had no clear suspect, and then a revelation came to him and he started looking through the case files, almost with a frantic sense of urgency, for the same signature. He found six more cases with the same tear with the unusual chemical signature in the stack, all with no suspects and with ties to the Soviets; all coming to the west for asylum with information to trade. Finally Arion picked up the old 60s file and found the same signature tearstain in the evidence, but this time there was a different name to the assassin.

                Possible Suspect(s): American defector and/or POW assassin – Codename: Weeping Angel.

That codename had Arion’s brows arching up to his hairline. Arion had kept in touch with Howard Stark a little, as well as with a few of the former Commandoes, and everyone who knew Stark knew about his “Weeping Angel Assassin”; it was his little obsession next to his annual arctic expeditions. An American POW turned assassin, used by the Russians that only left a tear behind at his crime scenes, and he always went to the nearest church to confess what he had done. The theory was laughable, but Stark insisted, and the proof he had went back into the 50s. Supposedly Stark and Carter had seen the assassin up close and personal, when he had posed as a Russian Colonel’s aide and killed him right in front of them before the man could defect and tell the new SHIELD about a new Red Room project. It was laughable, but here was more evidence that the assassin was real, and not only that, he might have a possible name for the man, or at least a real codename. Arion looked down the file and found that there was an affidavit from a local priest that told the investigating officer that a man had come into his church inconsolable and sobbing, and that, under the sanctity of confession, he confessed to killing a man. Arion saw all the evidence there before him, but he would look at the physical evidence later and review the tape himself.

Arion leaned over and pressed the speaker button on his phone and dialed his superior. He didn’t even look up from the file, when it connected to the secretary.

                “Miss. Penny, I need the director in my office… Right now!” he said forcefully with a tinge of panic. He didn’t even bother to wait for her response before he hung up the phone and started digging through his desk urgently for maps of the cities the hits were in. He was still scrambling to lay them flat on the floor, when the Director walked into his office. A raised eyebrow was the first thing to give away the aging man’s surprise, before he stuffed his hands in his pockets and suppressed a wry smile.

                “Now, agent Adria, I must say,” he said primly causing Arion to look up from his position on his hands and knees, “when I put you on modified desk assignment, I didn’t quite expect you to go off the deep end the very first day.” Arion rolled his eyes and picked himself up from his hands to grab a red dot sticker and place it on the first map. When he continued to do so, the director’s curiosity was peaked. “I must say, if you’re going to call me out of a meeting to see you lose your mind, I’d like to know what it is you’re doing. So I might put it on the psyche report, I might add.” Arion stuck one last sticker in place before he sat back on his haunches.  He looked up at the director with a triumphant smile before he stood up and grabbed the files he had set aside on his desk. With a look of grim determination he handed them to the director, the two files with the key evidence on top. “What’s this?” he asked in confusion as he took them from the agent.

                “That, Director Devinson,” Arion said, “is the smoking gun, so to speak.” Devinson looked confused, but curious and sat down in a chair; motioning Arion to do the same.

                “Please, do explain,” he asked as he glanced over the top file.

                “Gladly,” Arion said as he sat down. “Those files all contain evidence of a single assassin being the perpetrator of those cases. Those two case files on top contain the proof of that.”

                “And that proof would be,” the Director asked as he looked through the files, spectacles on the end of his rather large English nose.

                “A single tear stain containing a unique chemical signature was found at all of these crime scenes. All unique enough that it was mentioned in the reports,” Arion answered. The Director’s head jerked up in shock.

                “Really,” he asked, “all of them?”

                “Yes, sir,” Arion said, “and the top most file contains the codename for that assassin. It was in a memo that was misfiled,” he explained as the Director scrambled to look through the file for the attachment. “I’m not surprised that no one made the leap until now.” Devinson found the file and skimmed through the reports before he found the suspect portion, and went stark white. He looked up at Arion over his reading glasses with shock.

                “The Winter Knight,” he said numbly, “are you sure?” Arion nodded.

                “Positive,” he said, “and if I am right, then he might also be Howard Stark’s ‘Weeping Angel’ as well.” Arion winced at the director’s poleaxed expression, but plowed on. “Stark has attributed several instances of assassination to him, as well as instances of espionage; far more than associated to the Knight.”

                “Are you sure of your evidence?” Devinson asked. Arion hesitantly nodded.

                “I still have to confirm this with the other evidence from the cases, the physical evidence and from Stark first, but…” he paused and said with more confidence, “yes, I’m sure.” Devinson skimmed through the files, looking more and more agitated. “Sir?” Arion asked, and the director stopped reading and put the files back on Arion’s desk. He looked pale and worried, when he took of his glasses to look at Arion.

                “Well,” he said, “if you’re right, then we might have a problem.” Arion screwed up his brows in confusion.

                “How so, sir,” he asked. Director Devinson set his elbows on his knees and steepled his fingers in front of his lips. He breathed in deeply through his nose, and exhaled with a long huff; as if he was gathering his courage to answer.

                “Several recent assassinations conducted in the last few years have been showing an escalation in violence,” he stated. “At first we assumed it was a new mercenary making his mark, then we started taking a closer look at the cases and the evidence.” He paused and sighed heavily, suddenly looking for once every one of his 55 years and then some. “All the evidence can be traced back to a single known assassin: The Winter Knight.” Arion paled, and his eyes went wide. His mouth dropped open in shock as he tried to contemplate the new information he was just given.

                “What assassinations?” he asked

                “In the last month,” the director started, “Volkov, and his mistress; further back, the Schwartzbold family.” Arion paled considerably. He knew those cases. They were brutal and efficient, but bloody and gruesome. “this escalation in collateral damage and the brutality of the assassination, opposed to his normal efficient and clean kills, can only mean one of two things: one) the Knight has gone freelance and is beginning to enjoy his work; unlikely but still possible. Or two) and this is the most likely of the pair, if your evidence backs up Stark’s theory: the Knight has suffered a psychological or emotional break and is becoming erratic. Either way, the Winter Knight has just become that much more dangerous to our agents and to fellow agents in other agencies out in the field.”

Arion nodded grimly and looked at the stack of cold cases suddenly solved with hollow victory. He hadn’t even seen the crime scene photos yet but knew that clean and efficient was nothing like what assassination was really like. There was quick and bloodless, and slow and bloody, and everywhere in between. It was a scale, and of most assassins, the Knight tended to lean toward the quick and near bloodless, with little to no collateral damage. This was a paradigm shift in his method, if he truly did snap; and it really did make more sense that he had snapped and all evidence seemed to corroborate this theory.

                “Arion,” Director Devinson said softly breaking him out of his thoughts, “confer with Stark, confirm your hypothesis any way you can; squeeze your contacts in the KGB if you have to, I need to know what is happening here. Arion,” he asked softly, eyes suddenly soft and old, filled with years of pain, “I know this is a lot to ask of you, especially considering your latest run-in with The Winter Soldier, but I need to know: if you were given the shot, would you take him out? If he really has gone off the deep end, it might be better for both sides; ourselves and the Soviets.”

Arion thought about the last time he saw the Knight, standing like a cold and dark specter beside the Soldier. He remembered looking into his eyes and saw that gaping blankness within stare back. The bleakness that engulfed his mind in that moment overwhelmed him with images of pain and suffering; of years of cold concrete floors, damp cells, the clatter of rattling chains, and long stretches of gnawing hunger and thirst interspersed with blood and pain. A whispered word, a plea ghosting through his mind, like a recording out of the past, before it was gone, “Help me!” It happened just long enough to skew his shot and miss, and they were gone. In the end there was really only one answer, because what he saw, it needed to end.

                “Yes.”

~*~**~


 

Howard Stark sat dumbstruck in his chair after listening to Arion’s explanation for his visit. The aging inventor glanced to his left and saw Peggy Carter wasn’t much better.

                “You’re sure the Weeping Angel is the Winter Knight?” he asked meekly. Arion’s lips thinned and his jaw hardened, as he glared at the man for daring to question his deductive reasoning, and concrete physical evidence. Stark winced and tried to smirk off his unnerved expression.

                “Yes,” Arion said tightly. “I am positive.” Stark gulped around the dryness in his mouth and reached for his drink.

                “I was afraid of that,” he muttered, and took a hefty swallow of the amber liquid. “So, what are we supposed to do about it? The guy’s a Ghost story; a Spy Myth. It’s not like we can find him, and, believe you me, we’ve tried.” Arion looked over to Peggy for help, and received pity and resignation.

                “Stark, that is not only why I am here,” he said. “We have a problem. The Winter Knight’s kills are becoming vicious, erratic. The last ones we’ve associated him with are nothing like his previous marks. Their bloody, messy; there is nothing clean about them.”

                “Is assassination ever clean,” Stark quipped with a small grin and received a glare from both Peggy and Arion for the inappropriate joke. Stark tried to laugh off his discomfort that ended in a cough, before he slid down meekly in his chair under the force of the glares.

                “My superiors believe he might have suffered an emotional and psychological break,” Arion continued, turning his gaze back to Peggy, “if that is the case then it makes him ten times more dangerous than before. Who knows what he could do if he decides to slip his masters leash and turn on them? The fact that he is most likely a mutant of some kind makes him even more dangerous. If they send him into a crowded metropolis for a mission and he suffers an episode, there is no telling what kind of damage he could do.” Howard sat up straighter and shared a look with Peggy, knowing every word Arion was saying was right. Arion turned his gaze back on the inventor, imploring him to listen. “Howard, he is a volatile as an atomic bomb. He has to be stopped before he hurts more innocent bystanders.”

                “Arion,” Howard started, “taking down a Red Room agent suffering a break would be hard enough, believe me, we know; taking them down would be almost impossible. Let alone taking down the Winter Knight. Most intelligence agencies don’t believe in him, heck I can count on one hand the number that actually have a file on him linking him to any case. Let’s not forget that if he is the real deal, he is also known to be partnered with the Winter Soldier,” Howard emphasized, leaning forward to look Arion in the eye. “And that is a mess that no agency wants to touch. To most agencies, they’re both ghost stories; boogeymen. They don’t exist.” Arion turned the full force of his gaze on the inventor and leaned forward to rest his knuckles on the table between them.

                “I know for a fact, Howard, that you know they exist,” Arion said coldly. Stark broke eye contact and his gaze went distant.

                “Yeah,” Stark grimly agreed remembering that Russian Colonel’s face the moment before his assassin pulled the trigger. It was like he was seeing his own worst nightmare come to life. Howard looked back up at the elf. “But we don’t know where they are being kept. Arion we have nowhere to start.”

                “Yes, we do,” Arion said grimly. “I pulled all my contacts within the KGB and got a hit on something else.” He turned a furious glare on the inventor for a moment, and the inventor quailed, before he continued. “It seems that the Red Room has gotten its hands on a biological from one of your facilities, Mr. Stark.” Peggy turned to look at Howard in confusion and betrayal. “Care to tell us what they stole?” Arion glared at the inventor as he suddenly became chastened and meek, under the force of it; realizing where this was going.

                “Howard?” Peggy asked firmly with just a hint of anger. Stark gulped and took a long pull from his glass, trying to hide his guilt. He wouldn’t meet their gazes. “Howard!” he jerked in surprise at the force of Peggy’s snap, and looked at her wide-eyed before he finally babbled out the first thing in his head.

                “It was never put on record,” he said hastily, and the twin arched eyebrows from the two agents forced him to continue. “The samples that were stolen weren’t on any official record, Peg. I know better. I didn’t even know anything was stolen until a few months ago.” Howard looked down at his glass with shame and apprehension. “I only studied them every few decades to find out some new things.”

                “What samples were they, Howard?” Peggy said very slowly and deliberately, her eyes blazing and cheeks flushed with barely contained fury.

                “They didn’t take just blood from him, Peg,” Howard said and looked back up with steel in his eyes. “Steve, he was… well, you saw him before! He was as thin as a bean pole, and was as sickly as a man could get without terminal illness. He was sterile, Peg. Before the Serum he was completely sterile. Naturally; and after… well let’s just say that he was as virile as a young horse.” Howard took another drink and mumbled, “It was enough to give a guy a complex.” He swallowed his drink and continued as normal, “Anyway. They wanted samples, so he gave ‘em: vials of blood and a single sample of his swimmers. Just the one, no more; and he blushed like the virgin he was, when he gave us that sample.” Howard chuckled and smiled fondly at the memory of Steve’s crimson red cheeks and flushed ears and chest. He looked at Peggy and said with sincerity, “Peggy, the serum cured his sterility, completely. What he was like later was how he was always supposed to be.” Peggy’s eyes widened, when she remembered their first failed attempt of a date. Fury burned in her eyes and she gave in to the urge and smacked Stark across the face. “OW!”

                “You lied to me, Howard!” she fumed, “you said there weren’t any more samples left!” Howard cradled his stinging cheek and gaped at her with wide eyes.

                “There aren’t any more,” he said loudly, “I was lucky to get a hold of that sample before they tried to get some volunteer girls pregnant with it. And that hurt!” he whined. “I’ve been keeping it in cold storage along with the egg we harvested, and a sample of sperm from Fëanor’s son, Celegorm.” Peggy paled and Arion looked back at the man with wide eyes, at his admission.

                “Why would you…” she asked. Howard closed his eyes in grief and pain before softly answering.

                “Steve thought it would be the only way the army would let him retire after the war,” he said softly, and looked back at his old compatriot, grief still so raw and fresh even forty years later. “Barnes helped him do it, the right before they went after Zola. It broke his heart to know Barnes wasn’t going to be there for him after.”

Peggy was pale and shocked, with tears in her eyes. She felt as if she was back in that control room all over again, listening to Steve’s last words.

                “Steve …” she asked brokenly when she finally found her voice. “He was… was…” she started and her voice broke trying to finish.

                “Yeah,” Howard replied softly and with closed eyes to her unsaid inquiry.  He opened them and looked at them pleadingly, wanting them to understand why he did what he did. “We had some of the stuff left over so I kept it. Thought that after the War Steve might be able to have that baby; never happened.” Peggy was left stunned by the revelation and turned back to Arion, who was pale with shock and old grief. “How did the Russians get it?” he asked with cold eyes, fury kindled by grief and old loyalty.

                “My contact didn’t know,” he said, almost helplessly. “All he told me is that they were studying the samples before attempting to utilize them. He said that one of the samples was being held at a facility in Siberia, the same facility where they hold their most prized Assets. He gave me the exact coordinates.” Arion said tightly before giving the handwritten note to Howard. Howard took one look at the coordinates and went white.

                “Not only is this insane,” he said looking back at the elf, bewilderment and fury warring in his eyes, “this is completely impossible! There is no way we would be able to even get close enough to that base to take him out, not on their home turf! You’d have to be either insane or that good to get close enough in the field, to take that shot!” Stark ranted, and Arion calmly smirked.

                “Well,” he said, primly, “it just so happens that I know three people that fit that description perfectly,” Arion pulled himself up into a proud stance and all but grinned smugly at the man. “And they all agreed to help.” Howard let out a derisive snort, and leaned back in his chair.

                “And just who exactly are your top men?” he asked, his posture pure skepticism; with his arms folded across his chest and his trademarked cocky smirk.

                “Generals Fëanor Noldorean, and Joshua DuLake,” he said calmly watching Stark’s eyes get wider, his smirk drop and arms slowly unfold, before he smirked and dropped the biggest bomb. “And… Nelyafinwë Maitimo Fëanarion, Maedhros the Tall, reborn from the Halls of Waiting.”

                “Well, fuck,” was all Howard could say in response, completely gob smacked.  Peggy regained her voice first. She cleared her throat and attempted to regain her composure.

                “Alright, Arion,” she said. “Have your team assembled in Berlin to gather Intel on his next hit. Observe, do not engage; is that understood?” Arion sighed and grinned.

                “Perfectly,” he said.

                “Good,” Peggy confirmed, “we’ll equip you with the proper surveiling equipment and gear before you all head out into the field. Check-ins will be every four hours, so be studious. If we don’t hear from you in over 6… we’ll send backup.” Arion nodded and went to attention and saluted before moving to leave. Peggy’s soft plea stopped him. “Be careful, Arion. I don’t know if I could live with myself if I got Barnes’ fiancé, Steven’s father, killed.”

                “I’ll be careful,” he said softly and marched out the door. Berlin was hours away, but until then he needed to plan a sensitive mission with a man that still hated his living guts. ‘Well,’ he thought sarcastically, ‘this is going to be fun.’

~*~*


 

(Soldier)

They returned from their mission successful, but instead of a mission report and debrief followed by a session in the Chair and Cryo, the Soldier was placed in a cold but much more comfortable cell. There was a medical bed in the middle of the room and some strange and very new equipment surrounding it, he noted. For a moment he wondered if there would be new experiments and tests, and that was the reason he was being kept from cryo. A bolt of fear raced up his spine as a flash of memory came before his mind’s eye, of an operating table and a lot of pain. He paused in the doorway suddenly afraid to enter the room. He was pushed into the room by the guards and told to strip of his clothes.  He was confused by the breach in protocol, but too afraid to say anything, so he complied; striping down to his bare form. Once that was done, a guard shoved new clothes into his arms. They were soft and thin, comfortable to a degree, and nowhere near warm enough for the cold room, but he was grateful for the change. He stepped into the long cotton gown and realized that there were no pants to go with them. Another flash of fear went up his spine but he suppressed it from showing on his face, somehow remembering that there would be more pain if he did.

                ‘Get on the bed,’ the guard ordered in succinct Russian.

The Soldier complied quickly but his hackles were raised the whole time. He climbed onto the bed and laid down, his breathing forcefully calm just like his exterior. On the inside he was anything but calm. His heart beat wildly fast with fear and his vision sharpened with the sudden influx of adrenalin his fear brought. Fight or flight instincts were warring with his conditioning and programming, telling him to flee. He suppressed them as much as he could while the guards strapped his arms and legs down. They tied his legs apart, and his arms tightly to the bed, causing alarm bells to go off like air raid sirens in his head.

                ‘Not examination,’ he realized and his breath shuddered briefly, ‘experimentation.’

He closed his eyes and tried not to start, when the door slammed shut. He opened them and found himself suddenly alone. With this in mind, he studied his surroundings. It looked less like a cell than what he had initially calculated, more like an examination room for the guards and handlers. He had a flash of memory for a moment, of seeing one of his handlers, an early one, being treated for his injuries in a room like this one. It was nothing really, just a flash of a man in a green and red uniform being stripped of his clothes to dress a wound to his chest.

He turned his head and saw another bed, more like a cot, pressed tightly up against the wall. There was a green wool blanket folded up at the foot of the bed. It looked scratchy but warm, and in a moment of sadness, he realized he couldn’t remember what warm really felt like. He scrutinized the bed again and noted something dangling from one of the bed’s posts. It was metal and dull with age, but not rusty. With a jolt he realized it was a set of handcuffs. Suddenly he was seeing a different room altogether.

There were rows of beds with the same green blankets; handcuffs on the bedposts, and they were all filled with young girls. They were cuffed to the beds and as he walked down a row, they began to slowly wake. At the end of the rows was the Madam, (he didn’t know how he knew she was called that, but he knew) and she was standing erect and proud. Next to her was the Knight. His face was carefully blank and emotionless, but his eyes were filled with muted horror and sorrow. He turned to stand beside him and began to scrutinize the girls. They had all sat up on their beds and waited patiently as a guard walked amongst them and unlocked their cuffs. In some of their eyes there was fear and despair, in others resignation, but three girls looked up at them with carefully concealed defiance, hate and calculation.

The Soldier looked over to his counterpart and caught his eye. A simple glance to the girls he spotted was the only signal he needed, and the Knight seemed to zero in on each girl he’d glanced at before scrutinizing them himself. Somehow he knew that he was digging through their thoughts and memories, trying to confirm or reject the choices he made. The first two, a redhead and a girl with jet black hair, elicited a barely there smile from the statuesque man, somehow meeting his silent approval. The third, the dirty blond, though brought a small frown to his features, before a flicker of horror and fear mingled with disgust passed through his eyes. It was barely noticeable but the Soldier was looking for it.

‘Not that one!’ the silent answer to his mind came from the Knight and his telepathy. The Soldier minutely nodded in agreement. The girls were all released from their nightly restraints and stood like little soldiers at the foot of their beds, waiting for orders. The sudden ‘tap, tap, tap’ of hard soled shoes on the floor snapped the Soldier and Knight to attention, and brought their gaze to the end of the rows. There stood a tall strict looking man with the figure of a dancer. This was the Instructor. He taught the girls how to be graceful. After all, as far as anyone knew this was an elite dance school.

The Winter Soldier and Knight were here to teach them how to fight with grace and brutality, but only the best of the school. They learned the hard way not to send the weak to the Knight. (He didn’t know how he knew that; only that he knew.) These were their little soldiers; their dolls. In came orphaned daughters and unwanted children, and out came the most elite of the Red Room’s assassins and spies: the Black Widows. Not many rose to the rank and title of a black widow, but those that did were the best of the best. They were here to pick which ones would be trained further by both the Soldier and the Knight to become the elite Widows.

The girls whispered to each other with excitement, barely able to contain their twittering nerves at bay. ‘The Soldier is here!’ some whispered to their neighbors. ‘Yasha is here!’ others said in their hearts. This wasn’t the first time he had been to the school, (though he didn’t remember that at first) and he had given the girls some preliminary training. They remembered him, looked up to him, and idolized him. After all he was The Winter Soldier: the Soviet’s elite assassin; Mother Russia’s protector, the Red Room’s crowning achievement. (He didn’t remember who called him it first, but one day they all started calling him Yasha and it stuck.)

The Instructor tapped a cane on the floor and walked down the line of girls to stand beside the Madam. The girls all went silent as he walked past, fear bright in their eyes. The Soldier saw this and didn’t like it.

(These girls were his, not theirs. They didn’t hurt his little sisters.)

He restrained himself from reaching out with the Weapon and snapping the man in half for putting such fear in their eyes. Erratic behavior would not be tolerated and punished.

                ‘You all have passed the initial instruction with flying colors,’ the Madam said loudly so that they could all hear her. ‘Today you will be given the first step towards becoming our finest class.’ She nodded toward a guard behind her, who came forward with a rolling tray. On it were several glass medicine vials with syringes stacked neatly in a box beside it. The Knight took a sharp intake of breath but schooled his features. The liquid inside the small vials was an iridescent blue. ‘Those that survive this part of the procedure will go on to be trained for espionage and protecting the wellbeing of Mother Russia. Of that group will be selected an elite few who will be personally trained by the Red Room’s finest Assets: The Winter Soldier and the Winter Knight.’ The guards began injecting the liquid into the girls’ arms in small doses. ‘The procedure is risky, so you will all be restrained to your beds to prevent you from hurting yourselves. Just know that you are the finest class I have ever had the pleasure of instructing, and that you will all be remembered as heroes of the Motherland.’ The Soldier fought the urge to snort derisively.

                ‘Yeah, right,’ he thought unbidden. (It was strange that the voice in his head sometimes sounded American.) The Madam tapped on the Knight’s arm and motioned them to leave. The Soldier followed but looked back at the little Red haired girl with bright green eyes. He hoped she would survive, if only to take some of the pain out of her defiant eyes.

~*~


 

The scene faded and flashed through several images of the Red haired girl. He was training her, fighting her, instructing her, and in each flash she was slightly older and much stronger. His gaze faded again as another scene began to play out before his eyes.

~*~*


 

The Red haired girl was in her adolescents, and she was holding his gloved left hand. He smiled at her and they continued to walk around the city of West Berlin. (With a start he remembered it was a training mission, to see if his prized student could blend in to the world of the west.) He felt affection for the girl that wasn’t just part of the imprint they gave him. He was supposed to be a young western businessman on a father daughter outing. Their objective was to observe the people around them in practice for real intelligence gathering missions.

Suddenly he saw something that caught his eye and smiled. (Part of it was the imprinted personality and memories and part of it was something else bleeding through.) He looked over at the young girl pretending to be his daughter and smiled; her name coming to his mind without trying: Natalia.

He gave her hand a tug to get her to look at him. She turned her head and looked up at him through her large metallic sunglasses. He could see his face in the reflection. They somehow made him look older and had groomed his hair in the modern style. He knew he looked nothing like that image. (Somehow he knew he was supposed to have well groomed short hair; perfectly quaffed to match his cocky smile. He should be in a uniform, with sergeant’s stripes on the sleeve.) He smiled at her and tugged her in the direction of the little ice cream parlor.

                “Come on, sweetheart,” he said in English, (the accent was American, New York), “let me get ya a treat. I’ve been draggin’ ya around all day. It’s the least I could do for my baby girl.” He gave her his winning smile and what little reluctance she had about it faded and smoothed her face into joy.

He tugged Natalia into the parlor and ordered them two big cones of soft serve ice cream.

                “What flavor do ya want, Nattie,” he asked. The little assassin in training bit her lip and puzzled her brow as she tried to think of a choice that was right. Finally she shyly pointed to the pink one.

                “That one,” she said softly. He grinned at her and turned that smile on the ice cream man.

                “Strawberry it is,” he said with a chuckle. The round ice cream vendor chuckled and served them up their ice cream.

The soldier paid for their cones and guided the girl to sit beside him in a little boot in front of the window. It was warm out so the ice cream was beginning to melt down Natalia’s hand. She licked the top and didn’t notice it, too preoccupied with watching others. He chuckled softly and tapped her hand. Her gaze snapped to it and saw the mess the melting treat was becoming on her hand. She looked up sharply at him with fear in her eyes that she had failed her mission and was going to be punished. With a sad sigh and a paternal smile, the soldier wiped the mess off her hand with a napkin.

                “You gotta lick around the cone,” he said, “to keep it from melting down yer hand.” Natalia quickly did as he told her, and he suddenly felt very sad that she looked at him with fear.

“Natalia,” he said softly and she looked back at him. “No matter what happens, or what I do, never doubt that I love you. Just know that … I never want you to give up. I want you to fight, and be strong, because … I won’t always be there to be strong for you. No matter how hard I push you, when we train, no matter how much I hurt you, I will never break you!” he whispered softly to her as he leaned down to hide his tears in her hair. “I don’t want to. I will only make you stronger. I will never push you past what you can give me, or how far you can go. Understand?” he asked softly. He pulled away, looked down and gently held his curled hand under chin to raise her face up to look the little redhead in the eyes. Natalia’s eyes are wide with an emotion he hasn’t seen in them in a long time: hope. She nodded and he smiled. “Good,” he said with a soft and genuine smile, and brushed his thumb across her chin. “Now, finish your ice cream before it melts all over ya, and makes a mess.”

Natalia quickly went back to her treat with true joy, finishing it quickly, and waited for her “father” to do the same. The Soldier smiled and pressed a fatherly kiss onto the crown of her hair.

~*~


 

The scene faded with a sharp bang, as the door opened and screeched on its rusty hinges. The Soldier,

(Yasha. they called me Yasha)

Looked over and found a doctor in the doorway looking over something on a clipboard and arguing with one of his Handlers. Whatever it was about had the doctor tight lipped and glaring daggers at the military man. He didn’t really understand what they were talking about, but he could hear them. He couldn’t help it.

                ‘I know that you have missions for him,’ the doctor said, displeasure making his voice tight. ‘But the Asset is in a very delicate condition right now.’

                ‘He’s handled worse than a minor infiltration mission,’ the Handler said.

                ‘I know he has,’ the doctor snapped. He seemed to have to visibly reign himself in to calm down. He looked up at the Handler over his glasses with the look of a man explaining something very complicated to a child. ‘That is not the point. All of our initial scans show that the Soldier has gone through the act of childbirth at least once, if not more times. We know very little about Numenorean hermaphrodites, but every exam shows that if we damage him on an unnecessary mission, he could abort; and then where would we be?’ the Handler looked ashamed.

(Why, it’s not his fault. Why is he ashamed that I was injured?)

And the doctor had a look of triumph on his face before he plowed on.

 ‘We don’t have any more samples left, Vaska. I don’t know what Misha did to the Knight in those disciplinary sessions before he left, but the Knight is completely out of control! He is erratic and malfunctioning during missions; and we can’t find the cause! This is the only thing we can do, Vaska. I know you have a soft spot for him, but even he is not behaving according to his programming! The only thing we can do is start over from scratch.’ The doctor turned and pointed at him with his clipboard. ‘This is the only way!’

The handler looked at him with calculation, and suddenly the Soldier knew that the man was a recent addition.

(The last handler was colder, vicious, and didn’t mind seeing him in pain.)

This one didn’t like seeing him in unnecessary pain, and seemed to treat him well enough from what little he remembered.

(He wasn’t supposed to remember. Report the malfunction and wait for reconditioning. No! I have to remember.)

The last handler had a son, and he looked a little too closely at the Knight sometimes.

(He didn’t like the way the brat looked at Steven. It reminded him of some of the male guards watching over the girls, his girls.)

Suddenly the Handler sighed and looked at him with pity.

                ‘It is too wasteful,’ he said. ‘The Soldier has done a great deal for us, and we have invested so much time and effort into him, it feels like a waste to decommission him now.’ Decommission, dismantling, termination.

(I’ve out lived my usefulness. I don’t wanna die!)

                ‘Vaska,’ the doctor said calmly, ‘it is not a waste. The Soldier will give us a new generation of Super Soldiers, all from his offspring.’ The doctor wrinkled his nose in distaste. ‘If only the other attempts hadn’t failed, we would have never resorted to this method.’ The man shrugged off his distaste and walked into the room proper. ‘Care to stay for the examination, Vasily?’ he asked as he settled down on his stool. ‘I can guarantee it is quite fascinating.’ The Soldier turned his gaze back to the doctor and watched as he did something to the bed he was on. Suddenly his legs were bent and splayed wide.

(Vulnerable position, don’t let them touch. Don’t let them see!)

His breathing increased as his adrenalin spiked with fear. He jerked in the restraints, and tried to pull his legs closed but the restraints held. He felt too exposed to the room, bare bottomed and with his legs spread.

The Soldier looked up to his Handler for help, wide eyes pleading. A warm hand was placed on his forehead and stroked back his hair.

                ‘It’s alright, Soldier,’ the Handler said calmly, ‘the doctor is not going to hurt you. It’s just an examination. You’re a bit more delicate than normal these days, so we need to see if everything is well, eh?’ the Soldier slowly calmed but didn’t look back to the doctor, who had finally positioned himself between his legs.

He didn’t look back, but kept his eyes on the Handler, and his ears open. The warm hand left his forehead and he ached for the comfort. Suddenly he wanted the Knight in the room with him, because at least he would try to send him telepathic waves of comfort. He couldn’t feel that brush against his mind that told him Steven was there.

(He must be in the Cell again.)

He felt the press of something cold and metallic between his thighs, and steeled himself. He heard a sound like metal on metal before something not normal slid inside. The Soldier gasped and squeezed his eyes shut at the wrongness of the feeling. The feeling got even worse as a ratcheting sound accompanied this feeling of something being pulled open, and stretched.

(I didn’t like this when I was thirteen, I hate it now.)

He let out an involuntary whine as it became slightly painful, and then there was a warm hand on his forehead again. The Soldier’s eyes snapped open and saw that the Handler had again placed his hand on the crown of his head, gently stroking it with his thumb in a soothing motion. The ratcheting stopped and the doctor clicked on a light, illuminating what he was looking at between his thighs.

                ‘Remarkable,’ the doctor praised, ‘Ekaterina was right! It looks as if everything is progressing perfectly down here. Vaska, would you like to have a look?’

The Soldier looked up at the Handler with panicked eyes, and cold ones met them. His eyes squeezed shut, and suddenly the hand left his head. He reached out as far as he could in the restraints and grabbed the Handler’s sleeve as he passed. He opened his eyes and begged him to give some sort of comfort to him with his eyes. The Handler looked down at the flesh hand tangled in his jacket sleeve, before looking back up at the Soldier. The Soldier slowly and meekly let go of the cloth and lowered his eyes submissively. Warmth leeched into his hand as the Handler grasped his flesh hand and gave it a light squeeze. The Soldier looked up, grateful for the comfort, but the Handler was looking between his spread legs.

                ‘A very pretty little pussy, Soldier,’ he said and the Soldier flushed with shame and humiliation.

(I thought they burned it out of me. I’m not supposed to feel this.)

                ‘I would have never guessed that you had ever given birth.’ The Soldier didn’t remember if he had; didn’t really know what they meant at all really.

(There was pain and screaming. Wave upon wave of pain, and then a little sound like a squeak, and then a watery cough followed by a frail whimper; a warm comforting weight in his arms, and a toothless mouth on his breast.)

                 ‘He is healthy then? Will he carry to term?’ the Handler turned away and looked at the doctor. There was that ratcheting sound and then the uncomfortable stretch was gone.

                ‘I won’t know until we have a look,’ the doctor said cheerily.

                ‘A look; I thought you said he was too “delicate”?’ the Handler asked angrily. The Solder looked up at them glaring at each other, and shifted just enough to make a small noise on the bed. They both looked at him before the doctor returned his legs back to lying flat again and the bend was removed from his knees. The Soldier sighed softly in relief, and relaxed into the bed. ‘If he isn’t as delicate as you say, then why can’t he…’

                ‘Karpov, my friend,’ the doctor said with a laugh in his voice. It sounded like a father reprimanding his son for asking a stupid question.

(How did he know what that sounded like?)

‘It’s not like that at all. Come, let me show you.’ The Soldier opened his eyes and tracked their movement as the doctor pulled the Handler over to a strange device that looked like a television with a wand attached.

(What was a Television, and how did he know what it looked like?)

                ‘This is the latest in technology in ultrasonic wave imaging.’ He said proudly as he placed his hand on the top, ‘it can show us just what is going on inside the Soldier’s body without X-Rays or surgery. And it can show us just how well it is developing.’ The doctor pulled the cart it was on closer to the bed and plugged it in. There was a low hum from the device and the screen got brighter, signifying that it was on. The doctor undid the laces on the front of the Soldier’s gown and opened it from the bottom of his ribs down, revealing everything. The Soldier fought the urge the flush as the doctor turned away. When he turned back it was with a tube of some kind.

                ‘What is that?’ the Handler (Karpov) asked.

                ‘It’s called imaging gel,’ he said calmly as he removed the cap. ‘It helps remove air pockets between the device and the skin; prevents false imaging. It’s like petroleum jelly.’ He squeezed a large glob onto the Soldier’s belly below his navel, and the Soldier jerked in shock. It was cold! He shivered a little but acclimated quickly. The doctor took the wand and spread the gel around, pressing firmly to the skin of his lower abdomen. At first there was nothing but a rhythmic whooshing sound, and then on the screen the Soldier saw a strange shape. It looked like a sack of some sort inside the brackishness on the screen, and inside it was a little form smaller than an orange with the vague shape of an infant. ‘See, Vaska, there it is!’ the doctor said and the Soldier stared transfixed on the shape.

(That is inside him. What is it?)

                ‘Perfectly healthy,’ the doctor said.

                ‘Unbelievable,’ the Handler said in awe. ‘Are you sure? Records show the sire had heart problems.’ There was a clicking sound and then the whooshing changed to a fast but steady “thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.”

                ‘Do you hear that, Vaska,’ the doctor asked, ‘perfection. Not a trace of murmur or defect, perfectly on schedule. The Soldier should actually be able to feel it move soon.’

                ‘You did say it, Volya,’ the handler said with awe in his voice, ‘remarkable!’

                ‘A shame that the sire is dead,’ the doctor said. ‘Do you think Captain Rogers would have liked his first born to be birthed by our Soldier?’ the doctor laughed.

                ‘Difficult to say,’ the Handler said, ‘but I think he would be raging after finding out who was the mother more than why.’

The Soldier stared at the image on the screen with awe and reverence. A warm feeling spreading out from inside his chest, followed by the strange desire to grin bloomed within him. He stared at the screen until his vision went blurry and then cleared when he blinked. He realized belatedly that he was crying, and realized they were tears of joy. The doctor was right though, he had felt something like a flutter in his belly all throughout the mission. Now he knew why. He was creating life instead of destroying it.

He was pregnant.

~**~


 

Across the base, in a little cold cell made of solid concrete and reinforced by Vibranium rebar, a figure stirred to life. Awareness prickled back into his senses, and his mind snapped awake. Deep within his consciousness rang a clock of time, and something finally caused it to ring a knell of pure foresight. In that moment Steven knew, the clock was ticking down to their Death Knell, his Ada’s and his. They were out of time.

TBC…

Chapter Text

The bar is crowded and noisy; just what he needs to unwind after the day that he has been through. As he suspected, working with Fëanor was like trying to be around an angry big cat; he was constantly being jabbed and tested verbally by the elf prince, and his distrust put everyone on edge. After about three hours of being verbally harassed by the prince, Arion could stand it no longer. He left the hotel where they had set up their equipment and made for his favorite bar. After downing a pint of ale and several shots of liquor, Arion began to calm down to think clearly. In all reality it was more his own guilt that made him over sensitive to Fëanor’s verbal barbs and the presence of their son, Adrian, had not helped the matter either. Maedhros had tried to smooth his father’s temper and ease the sharpness of the barbs, but Joshua played passive aggressive neutral; neither helping nor hurting his situation.

Once he had begun to unwind a bit he realized the irrelevance of the situation with Fëanor; they needed to complete their mission, nothing more. The sooner he realized this the sooner he could handle the elf prince’s behavior. Arion relaxed into his chair and surveyed the bar. The regulars were out and well on their way to becoming hopelessly drunk, even though it was only tea time. There were a few young soldiers obviously out on leave, laughing and drinking and having a good time. The bar wasn’t dark by any means but it wasn’t as light as some pubs in London either. In fact it was bright and cheery in the bar today, with all the laughter and music and brightly colored clothing. Arion turned back to the barman and was about to order another drink, when he sensed a familiar presence behind him.

                ‘Barkeep,’ the man behind him said, and his voice was rough and deep. Deeper than it used to be but Arion would never forget that voice. ‘How about a Guinness dark for my friend here, on me,’ he asked.

Arion turned slowly just in time to see a man in dark clothes settle down into the seat beside him on his right. His face was in profile and his long hair obscured his features. He wore a long leather duster coat of solid black that went down past his knees and underneath was a shirt or jacket of leather and knitted Kevlar. The jacket had straps and snaps going across his chest, similar to how Bucky’s old uniform looked, with a high collar. The leather was such a deep red he had almost mistaken it for black, and the straps, indeed, themselves were black. His pants were a type of combat fatigues with large pockets on the thighs and strategic padding on the knees and what looked like armored padding on the thighs. His belt was empty but Arion could see the places for several holsters for guns and knives, as well as for various types of ammunition. Everything about his appearance screamed aggressiveness and dangerous, even his boots looked aggressive; like they could hide even more weapons. Despite the aggressive clothing, which would not look out of place on a Goth, and the longer hair and ragged look to him, Arion could never mistake him for anyone but the Winter Knight himself.

The bartender placed a beer in front of Arion and a tumbler of clear liquid in front of the Knight. Arion ignored the drink and watched as his adversary picked up the glass and downed its contents in one swallow. The harsh grimace of discomfort on his face told Arion that the drink was probably straight vodka. Arion glanced around the room looking for a way to get word back to his allies and noticed how strange things started to look. It looked as if someone had taken a film and slowed it down to about one quarter the speed, and it kept getting slower. Arion turned back to the bar and saw that the barkeep was the same as well. Only the Knight seemed to remain normal as he turned the glass in his hands on the bar; twisting it on its base and worrying it in his hands. Arion’s breathing sped up slightly before he could suppress it, and he stared at the man beside him with mingled fear and hate. Suddenly the Knight turned and Arion’s breath caught in his chest. His eyes widened as the Winter Knight’s features finally came into the light.

                “I need your help,” he said. “We don’t have any more time left.”  Blue eyes met blue pleadingly and suddenly the Vanyar prince couldn’t breathe. Arion let out a breathless gasp and brought his hand to his mouth in shock. Tears sprang to his eyes as he tried to comprehend what he was seeing.

                “Steven?”


 

~*~*~


 

Steven stared at the man that was his father for a moment and took in the changes that time had wrought. Arion’s eyes were sadder and though he was Elvish, Steven could see the way Arion’s grief had left small lines on his face and dulled the brightness in his eyes. Tears sprang into Arion’s blue eyes and he tentatively reached out to touch Steven’s cheek. Steven couldn’t help but lean into the tentative touch, yearning for a small bit of kind affection from the man that he had only just begun to love and call father. Steven opened his eyes and saw that Arion was barely holding back his tears of joy. He looked up at the golden elf sadly, knowing that he was going to wipe the joy and brilliance right back out of his eyes.

                “Father,” he said and Arion let out a sound like a half laugh half sob. “Father, I don’t have much time. I can only keep this kind of psychic conversation up for a brief time.” Arion nodded too shocked to even speak for a moment. “I need to speak with you, somewhere public, where no one will notice us having Osanwe. Somewhere my handlers won’t notice I am talking with you.” Arion reigned in his wild emotions for a moment to think of a place where they could talk.

                “There’s a… um, there’s a café down the street,” he said haltingly and pulled away his hand to try and regain composure. “They have an outdoor patio where they serve coffee and drinks during the warmer months. We can talk there.” Steven looked out at the warm autumn outdoors and nodded.  September was warm that year and Steven was glad for the sunlight.

                “Good,” he said, “I’ll meet you there.” Arion reached out for Steven again as he stood and turned away. Steven paused and looked back with somber eyes. “I’m not the man you knew before, father. I don’t know what I am, but I know I can’t do this anymore. I can’t watch him go through this. I can’t watch it anymore, and do nothing!” Arion turned back to the bar and tried to catch his breath before he turned to speak to his son. Only when he turned, everything was normal again and Steven was gone.

                ‘Hey, buddy,’ the bartender asked after Arion sat there a moment at a loss as to what just happened. ‘You alright?’ Arion turned back and stared at his drink for a moment before tossing down the amount for his tab.

                ‘I will be, thank you,’ he said and smiled. Arion got up and quickly left the bar, heading for the café down the street, hoping against hope that what he saw was not a dream.

~*~*


 

(‘osanwe’)


 

The café is less crowded than Arion thought it would be, and it seemed that, despite the lovely warm day, most of the customers were inside listening to some performer; although there were a few outside. This suited Arion and Steven just fine. Arion found his son just fine, sitting by himself in a shadowed corner near the street, with plenty of escape routes. The elf settled down at a table near Steven’s, close enough to see his face in the shadows and far enough away that no one would think they were together. Arion supposed that was why Steven picked his spot. The waiter came out quickly and Steven ordered an Americano cappuccino, while Arion ordered a simple espresso coffee with cream and sugar. Arion raised an eyebrow at his son’s ironic order. Steven shrugged and smiled.

                ‘I like the sweetness,’ Arion heard Steven say, though his lips didn’t move. ‘Osanwe is an easy way to talk, without them listening in.’ Steven explained and Arion nodded, picking up a newspaper, and pretending to read it. It was a subtle hint that Steven’s mind was so open that he couldn’t shield it from telepathic intrusion. Arion sighed. ‘And his mind was getting so strong too,’ he thought with sadness.

                (‘What is it that you want to tell me, yonya?’) Arion asked, initiating osanwe (telepathic speech of the elves.) Steven seemed to sink into his seat with shame, and Arion sent a calming caress through his mind. He jerked away when it felt like broken glass on his mind. (‘Steven, what has happened to you?’)

                (‘They found us in the ravine, where Ada fell,’) Steven said. Arion looked up from his paper and locked eyes on his son, when he caught on to his plural word.

                (‘Us?’) He asked breathless and frightened.

                (‘Ada is alive,’) Steven said and looked up with fear and pain in his eyes. Arion felt his façade break and shock bloomed across his features like a bruise. Their conversation halted for a moment when the Waiter returned with their drinks. (‘It was HYDRA; they were the ones that found us. Father, they knew my nickname! Only Zola knew I was called Knight by the Commandoes.’)

Arion looked at his son with shock and fear, before tears of pain and sorrow filled his eyes.

                (‘Tell me what happened, my son,’) he commanded and Steven took his drink in his hands to keep them steady as he spoke,

                (‘They found us in the ravine, and took us to a HYDRA base near the Russian boarder,’) he said. (‘They kept us in isolation and kept us starved. They operated on Ada’s arm while he was still awake. He lost it in the fall; it’s still in that ravine along with my tape recorder. They didn’t even tell us when the war ended, they just… they beat Ada until he couldn’t hardly move! I tried to stop it! I wasn’t strong enough. I lost time after that, when they started conditioning us; putting trigger words in our heads. Ada held out for so long, but… they were stronger. They used a telepath to put trigger words in his head; phrases or words that would make him do things he didn’t want to do. Then they put on the arm. They turned him into a Weapon; both of us into Weapons. They enhanced my powers with the Serum, and started wiping Ada’s memories and imprinting personalities on us. After a while, when I looked into Ada’s eyes it wasn’t Ada I was seeing, it was him: Soldat; the Soldier. They used us to kill who they wanted, spy on who they wanted, and when the mission was over they locked me in a concrete cell lined with Vibranium rebar and chained me to the wall with Vibranium alloy chains; and Ada… when the mission was over he was wiped clean and they put him in a Cryo chamber. They just froze him until they needed him.’) Arion clung to his drink and barely held his tears back at hearing what his beloved and his child had been put through; his face white as a sheet as he realized what his son was telling him.

                (‘The Winter Soldier,’) Arion said, with sinking realization, (‘James is the Winter Solder.’) Steven looked up at his father with shame and self-loathing.

                (‘I tried to stop it, but I wasn’t strong enough! They got in my head and now I can’t get them out! I black out sometimes, now; during missions. When I wake up, I’m covered in blood and surrounded by bodies!’) Steven was physically struggling to get the words out of his mind clearly. He took a deep breath and calmed. (‘I can’t do it any more, father! I just can’t! They turned Ada into this cold calculating machine, and there are times I look in his eyes and it isn’t the Soldier I see looking back.’) Arion looked up sharply and his eyes lasered in on his son’s face.

                (‘What do you mean?’) He demanded. Steven looked frightened and struggling with his words, but he finally found them.

                (‘sometimes, when Ada is out of cryo too long, the programming fuses with ghost impressions from the personality and memory imprints, and something new seems to form. For a while it seemed like the wipes prevented it from surfacing, but now… Ada’s programming is more extensive than mine. It had to be in order for them to control him. He fought so much harder than me; he still does sometimes, when he’s out too long.’) Steven worried the cup in his hands for a moment, looking down into the liquid, before he continued. (‘I think Ada has developed a second personality because of the programming and imprints. He acts so different than the Soldier, or Ada, so I know when he rises back out. It only happens when he’s been out of cryo for longer than a week and without a memory wipe, but he remembers things Ada doesn’t if he ever peeks back through the wipes. The other assets… the girls call him Yasha and he… I want to hate him, but I can’t. He’s so much like Ada sometimes, but other times he’s more like that blank Soldier. I have to get Ada away, before our time runs out.’)

                (‘Why didn’t you try to escape; get help?’) Arion asked gently, and Steven began to giggle almost hysterically.

                (‘I tried, we tried,’) Steven said, (‘back in the seventies. Something happened I don’t know what, while he was on a mission in New York, and he ran. He didn’t come to the check point for extraction and no one had seen him. They sent me after him, and I tried to run too. They caught up with us. Dragged us back, and reconditioned us. They Wiped Ada so hard, that they had to retrain some things back into him. They put me in the Cell for weeks without food, and left me there to rot. That’s when the discipline sessions started.

                (‘Father, we don’t have any more time left. We’ve out lived our usefulness. We’ve been scheduled for decommissioning in august next year.’) Arion paled and had to set down his cup, his hands were shaking so badly.

                (‘Why?’) Arion asked his eyes wide with shock and fear. Steven looked him in the eye and told him.

                (‘Because as soon as the baby’s born, the Red Room, HYDRA, won’t need us anymore,’) Steven said and let out a mirthless chuckle, his lips pulled up in a sad copy of his Ada’s old trademark smirk. (‘Why bother keeping a faulty version around when you could have the perfect Super Soldier molded from birth? I don’t know how they got it but they had Steve’s sperm, and they found out that Ada was a hermaphrodite. They harvested his eggs to create the perfect Soldier from their offspring. I don’t know what happened but their attempts to implant them in loyalist failed, and they used Ada as a last resort to carry the baby.’) Arion looked at his son in growing horror, as all his worst fears about what was being done to Steve’s sperm became true. Steven looked at his father with sudden steel in his eyes, and Arion knew that this was the last ditch attempt of escape from a desperate man.

                (‘What do you need me to do?’) He asked with determination, and Steven seemed to melt with relief.

                (‘Ada’s being kept out of cryo for now, until the baby arrives. He is being kept in isolation at a Red Room base in Siberia. They want him to go out on one last mission before he is deemed obsolete, so he’ll be kept combat ready for as long as they can. They can’t keep him blank, however, and I think I can convince Yasha to come with me when we make our escape,’) Steven looked confident, as he spoke and a small vicious smile tugged at the corner of his lips. (‘I can take care of the guards from the inside. What I need is a distraction from the outside so that they don’t know I have gone rogue until it is too late. If you and a team attack the base from outside; I should be able to get to Ada and get him out before someone triggers our submissive codes.’) Arion grinned viciously into his cup and swallowed down the last of his espresso.

                (‘I have just the team ready for that, my dear,’) he said with a smug smirk. (‘in fact, they were put together to take you down.’) Steven smirked and chuckled.

                (‘They wouldn’t have been able to stop me if I hadn’t wanted to be stopped. I am much more powerful now than ever before, and I got a whole lot of triggers in my head that make me too lethal to try.’) Steven said with a sardonic smirk. (‘you’ll need a powerful telepath to undo the damage they did to Ada, father. Also, he is going to need a new cybernetic arm. The one he’s got now… it’s as heavy as a dead horse, and doesn’t have half the neural connections that it needs to have for Ada to not feel phantom pain.’) Arion smiles and begins to fold up his paper.

                (‘Do you remember Fëanor?’) He asked and Steven smiles fondly and nods. (‘Well, I know for a fact that Fëanor is more than capable of making the physical structure, like the internal skeleton, and the outer shell would definitely be something that he would relish in making. And as for the internal circuitry, if Stark and his son, Tony, worked together instead of fighting they might just make it light as a real arm and even stronger than the one he has now.’) Steven raised a brow in shock and curiosity.

                (‘Stark has a son,’) He asked incredulously. (‘they let him breed?!’) Arion barely managed to stifle his snort and tried to desperately smother his chortles before he drew attention. He looked up at his son and saw a happy grin in place and a twinkle in his dimmed eyes for a moment.

                (‘very funny, Steven,’) Arion said blandly. (‘But seriously, Anthony is a prodigy with robotics and technology. And Howard … well, Howard likes a challenge and those two need proper father son bonding.’) Steven grinned and finished his drink.

                (‘Great,’) he said and took a pen out of his pocket and wrote down the coordinates of the base and drew the outline of the base itself; outlying where the security checkpoints were and how to get past them. (‘A sneak attack would be good but a full frontal assault is the only thing that will get past the gates. You’ll need the power cut to the alarms first. I’ll give you a telepathic signal, and you send in the cavalry.’) Arion smiled and watched his son use is artistic talent to draw the lay of the land around the base and point out where to attack and where to steer clear.

                (‘Sounds like a plan to me,’) Arion said. (‘I’ll still need to convince the others of this, but I think I can give them ample proof in time for the assault.’)

Steven smiled and continued drawing, quickly adding a series of letters and numbers at the bottom before he finished and left the drawing on the table along with the pen. He stood with a sad smile and moved to leave.

                (‘I need to make my rendezvous or they’ll get suspicious and probe my memories.’) He said, and looked sadly at his father. (‘goodbye, father. I’ll see you in a few weeks.’) Arion watched him walk away, back toward his masters and was overcome with a profusion of pride.

                (‘Goodbye, my son,’) he said across the distance. (‘Know that I am proud of how brave you are, and that I will always love you; no matter what.’)

Steven paused for a moment, letting the feeling of his father’s love and pride wash over him, before he continued to his pick-up. For once, he was a little less afraid of what was coming than before, because he and his Ada were going to be free!

~~*~*


 

(Flashback)


 

The rows of beds were filled with young girls of varying ages around twelve or thirteen. They were cuffed to the bedposts while they slept and the sight of it brought sorrow and regret to Steven’s heart. All of these girls were in training to become an assassin for the Red Room. Steven stood next to the school’s Madam and forced the horror and sorrow out of his face. He had to stay blank, or else they would send him back to the Cell for more isolation and weeks without food. He swallowed down the bitterness in his mouth over the fact that all the young girls were becoming trained killers, and he was here to finish their training.

Today they would be advancing to the next step and he would be selecting a few of the girls to train personally. He looked up at the lit door way and saw the Soldier. The girls began to wake as his carefully loud steps echoed across the room, as he prowled down the main row in front of the guards. He came to stand beside Steven and turned his gaze over the girls, calculating evaluating. It seemed as though the Soldier found what he was looking for, because he looked over at Steven and caught his eye in a deliberate gesture. His eyes quickly flashed over to three girls in the group; ones that stood out to his critical eye. It was a silent gesture they had perfected over the years, a way of communicating without gestures or telepathic thought.

Steven zeroed in on the three girls and started scrutinizing them, first on the surface then deeper within. The first girl he looked at was one of the star students, in fact the prodigy; a little red haired girl named Natalia. Steven remembered the initial instructions he gave them the first time they came to the school, and Natalia stood out like a star in her class. She was graceful and poised in a way many of the other girls had lacked. Her hand to hand skill was top notch but needed refinement. Steven knew she would benefit from personal training.

The second girl was a little older, perhaps the oldest in the class; a young girl with jet black hair and a slender physique. Steven smiled just barely when he recognized her: Anya, his star pupil. Like Natalia, she was the rising star in her class, and had out shined everyone else around her. Steven sobered when he realized that the two classes had been merged as they advanced in skill and age, and because the weaker ones were “pruned out” as the Madam put it. Anya had a skill with blending into her surroundings, in spite of her height and natural beauty. She would be a better Spy than assassin, and would definitely benefit from Steven’s personal touch.

The third girl made him pause. She was a dirty blond with obviously lovely features but there was a cold detachment in her eyes that wasn’t even in the Madam or the guards. Steven remembered her: Yelena Belova, a girl with obvious talent in the terms of fighting and killing. Steven had to more than once prevent her from killing her sparring partner in a nonlethal match. She had seemed angered that he stopped her, and relished in watching her partner struggle before putting her down viciously. Steven frowned and delved deep into the girl’s mind, trying to find the source of her violence. What he found nearly made him recoil in horror; Blood and gore, and the sight of a broken young girl, with Yelena’s young giggles of glee sounding in his ears. She relished in the other girl’s suffering and pain, and Steven felt disgust and fear past though him, when he discovered that the little girl Yelena had tortured and killed, was her own baby sister.

His eyes darted over to the Soldier and saw that Yasha was bleeding through.

                ‘Not that one!’ he said telepathically, and the Soldier nodded imperceptive to anyone but Steven. Steven all but sagged in relief on the inside. Yelena was dangerous, and didn’t need any more training. He looked up and went to attention, when the tapping of the instructor’s hard soled shoes came to his ears. The man was skilled at training the young girls to hone their grace into lethality, and now Steven and the Soldier were going to further his work. Steven felt himself tense at the thought of training the girls again. The instructor looked at his hard face and Steven could see and feel his trepidation, and for a second he wondered why. Then he realized that these were the best of the best here, and Steven smothered a smirk. They remembered not to send the weak and untrained to him; after all they learned it the hard way when he, in a fit of battle frenzy, killed a whole group of girls he was supposed to train. After that, only the best of each class got lessons from him.

Steven glanced over at the Soldier and felt more than saw the imperceptible shift from the Soldier to Yasha: He looked at the girls with a certain brotherly fondness and the strictness of a stern father. This wasn’t his Ada’s first time at the school, and he had made an impression on the girls. Preliminary training was something his Ada could do well, and it was something that transitioned over to the Soldier’s skillset. He was more patient than Steven, and gentle. It seemed as if he could just remember teaching someone else how to fight, someone fail and small too.

Steven didn’t know who called the thing that came out of the Soldier during those months without wipes and reconditioning Yasha, but he remembered the girls asking him what to call him, saying, ‘it’s silly to call you “Soldier” all the time.’ After that they started to call him “Yasha” and it seemed to stick to the strange amalgamation of the Soldier and the personality imprints, asking to be called that whenever they were at the school. The girls began twittering with excitement, because when Yasha was at the school, it meant that something important would be happening.

The instructor tapped a cane on the floor and the girls went silent; eyes watching him closely at he walked past to stand beside the Madam. Steven sensed a flare of anger directed at the Instructor from Yasha, and Steven sent waves of calm toward him to reign in his temper. Yasha, it seemed, had inherited his Ada’s temper when it came to injustice against little girls. The Madam began to speak and Steven tuned her out. The medical tray on wheels caught his attention when they rolled it past him. He took a sharp intake of breath in shock but schooled his features. There were small medicine vials on the tray with syringes stacked in a box beside them. The liquid was a familiar iridescent blue. He ignored all else but the vials and the guards injecting it into the young girls, until he heard an internal snort of derision from the Soldier/Yasha.

                ‘Yeah, right,’ he heard his Ada’s voice say from inside the Soldier/Yasha. Steven smiled a little realizing that his Ada was still inside somewhere. A tap on his arm brought him back to reality and he saw the Madam motion for them to leave. Steven did so willingly, not wanting to see what would happen to the girls who had no idea what was going to happen. He glanced behind and saw that Yasha had looked back, and was staring right at little Natalia. A smirk pulled on Steven’s lips as the doors closed. Natalia was a good person at heart, and she would survive. So would Anya. It was Yelena that gave him cause to worry. Who knew what even an altered Serum would do to a Psychopath.

TBC…

Chapter Text

Arion’s first instinct is to contact his superiors, once Steven is out of sight and apprise them of the situation. But a thought pulls him up short: how did HYDRA even get the samples, and how could they have known Steven’s nickname? It is with a cold and sinking feeling in the pit of his gut, that Arion realized that he didn’t know if he could trust his own agency. After all, they were the ones holding Zola at the time of Steven’s disappearance. Arion realized that he could only trust a small number to help him with this, and a handful of those people were across town waiting for him to check in.

Arion paid for his drink and quickly left; leaving a generous tip for the waiter so as to not raise suspicion, pocketing Steven’s drawing as he left. Arion started walking toward a safe house just a few blocks from the café, knowing that he would need to get word to the others as fast as possible. Fëanor had a lot of pull up in parliament with the queen, and in Washington, but Arion knew of only two people on the Hill that had enough incentive and conscience to get the job done: Howard Stark and Peggy Carter, the co-directors of SHIELD. Arion walked quickly into the bolt hole and locked the door behind him. Three locks all clacked as Arion turned the latches and sealed them shut; once that was done Arion looked around the room. It was a bit dingy looking and sad with the yellowed wallpaper and scuffed up linoleum floor, but Arion went over the room with a careful eye. He took a few steps into the kitchen and as he did, he pulled a small device out of his handbag. (Arion was still undercover, and thus still went by his old codename from when he and Bucky were engaged in the war. It was a little awkward being groped by handsy politicians and dignitaries, but he was still Míriel Adria in public, so he paid the price with grace.) Arion waved it around the room hoping that the little red light wouldn’t turn on, indicating a listening device, and he could get right to work. Thankfully the light stayed dark and Arion let out a sigh of relief.

Arion put the bug detector back in the handbag and went over to the phone hanging on the wall. It was one of the older models with a long hanging cord coiled up and hanging down under the cradle. Arion picked up the handset. This was a newer model with pushbuttons instead of the rotary dial but it still had the round screw on speaker and microphone covers. Arion quickly unscrewed the covers and looked for another listening device that could only activate when the phone was used. Just because he had already swept the room didn’t mean that he wasn’t going to be careful on the phone, especially not with this information. After he was sure that the phone wasn’t bugged, Arion screwed the covers back on and dialed the number for the HQ Fëanor and Arion had set up earlier. He anxiously held the phone to his ear as he waited for the call to connect, all the while twisting and worrying the cord in his hand. The phone rang once then twice before he hung up and dialed again. This time he waited for the phone to ring three times before hanging up and dialing back; this was the code they had set up in advance: two rings then pause then three rings, before they were to pick up on the next dial. This time the phone only rang once before Fëanor answered the call.

                “Yes,” Fëanor asked, “what is it?” Arion breathed a sigh of relief before he spoke.

                “Fëanáro, it’s Arion,” he said. Fëanor breathed a sigh of relief that Arion could hear over the line. Arion chewed his lip for a moment before continuing. “Something’s come up, and the plan’s changed.”

                “What? How?” Fëanor asked.

                “I just…” Arion paused, and realized he couldn’t reveal anything over the phone. Even if the phones themselves were clean, the lines could, and more than likely, have been tapped. Arion couldn’t say anything in this city. He needed to talk somewhere safe. He chewed his lip as he thought. “I need you to call in and ask our old war buddies to meet us back at your place.” Fëanor realized quickly enough that Arion was speaking in code, and didn’t feel safe with whatever information he had found being old over the line. Old War Buddies was their code for Peggy and Stark while on tapped phones.

                “Okay,” he said, cagey of this rapid change, “when do we meet them?”

                “How about tomorrow,” Arion answered. “I have some new information about an old missing person’s case that is going to blow it wide open, and they need to know.” Arion worried the cord in his hand and waited a breath for the Noldor’s response.

                “Alright,” he said. “I’ll have our things packed and ready to leave on the next flight. We’ll be back home by the time they land.”

                “Good,” Arion said, breathing a sigh of relief. “I’ll explain everything when I get there. Goodbye, Mellon nin.”

                “Namárië, Heru Arion,” Fëanor said softly in return, sensing some of the panic and fear in Arion’s voice. “Be safe.” Arion swallowed a hard lump in his throat as he heard the call disconnect and heard only the dial tone.

                “I’ll try,” Arion said to himself as he hung the phone back on the rocker. He placed his hands on the counter and took deep steadying breaths. After a moment he looked back up in determination and grabbed his bag from where he had set it down to dismantle the phone. He quickly unlocked the deadbolts and locks and left the safe house; a terrible resolve beginning to boil up from deep within his being, yearning for justice for his son, and the blood and hide of the men that took them, for robbing them of all those years of his and Bucky’s joy and happiness from them. Resolve burned like a white hot flame in his spirit, and Arion vowed in that moment, whether or not he was given approval, he would free James Barnes and his son Steven from the iron clutches of HYDRA and the Red Room; and that he would make them pay for his suffering with their very lives.

Arion hailed a taxi and told the driver to go to the airport. Joyous Guard was the safest and most secure position to make their plans for Bucky and Steven’s rescue, but Arion needed to get there first. He needed time to gather his thoughts and the proof enough to convince the ever-skeptic Stark what he was saying was true.

He stuffed his hands in his coat pockets to warm them from their sudden chill, and his hand came into contact with a piece of paper. His brows wrinkled in confusion as he pulled the crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket. He smoothed in out on his knee, and his eyes widened in recognition. It was the drawing of the base Steven had made with the coordinates. Arion zeroed in on the hastily scribbled sequence of numbers and letters and realized they were also coordinates, and saw the single word scribbled beside them stating “Proof”. Arion smiled as he calculated the coordinates in his head and realized they were in the Alps.  He carefully folded the paper and put it in his handbag. The elven prince looked out the window with a pleasant smile on his face and confidence in his soul. Howard could be as skeptical as he liked, Arion had more than enough proof to convince him, and after that… well… Arion’s pleasant smile turned into a vicious grin. Howard Stark was a pain in the rear at times, but heaven help the ones that got in his way from helping his friends or righting a wrong, because Stark could be as mean, vicious and relentless as a Warg on the hunt, or a mother bear protecting her cubs.

~*~~*


 

The silence is palpable when Arion finished his impromptu debriefing. Each of the members in the room has various expressions of shock and disbelief on their faces, and they all have their jaws wide and completely dumbstruck. Arion glanced at them all in turn and found that none wanted to be the first to break the silence. Fëanor and Maedhros had near identical looks of horror and shock, eyes glazed over as they both remembered their little stint as prisoners of war. Joshua looked so pale, one would have thought him dead, though there was a greenish tint to his face; as if he was about to be physically ill. No doubt he was also remembering his panic and desperation in those long weeks and near months when Fëanor was captive. Adrian looked frightened and mournful, no doubt because of his blood relation to Steven. Carter was pale and as still as stone, her eyes wide with shock and disbelief, but there were minute tremors running through her hands, as she clenched them tight in her lap. Arion looked at all of them with desperate pleading, and opened his mouth to speak, when Stark finally broke the silence.

                “Bullshit!” he exclaimed, loudly; every line of his body drawn with skepticism. His exclamation seemed to snap Peggy out of her stupor, because she looked at the man sharply, drew back her hand and smacked him. “OW! What was that for?” the graying woman leveled the inventor with a look so venomous it would have put medusa to shame.

                “You don’t have the right!” she yelled at him. Howard pulled away, tumbler of scotch still in hand and stood up, pointing at her, then at Arion as he argued.

                “No, I think I do,” he argued, “I have the right to call ‘bullshit’!” He pointed his finger, hand still clutching the glass of liquor at Arion and turned his head to look at him, body still facing Peggy. “I call bullshit!”  He said petulantly. Arion glared at him in impotent fury before he stood to his full and quite imposing height of six foot two with his added three inch heels.

                “You think I’m lying?” he seethed, and Stark took a step back from the wrathful elf. “Why would I lie?! Steven came right up to me himself!”

                “Why?” Howard asked incredulously, “Because you lost the man you loved and your child all in the same month! I think you’re still hurting and the Knight took advantage. What proof do we even have that it was Steven, or if he was, that he was telling the truth?” Arion looked at Howard dumbstruck for a moment.

                “What proof,” Arion asked eyes filling with tears of boiling emotion, “I know my son! I cannot be fooled like that! He spoke to me with Osanwe, and no mere telepath can do that! I trained my son’s mind. I know his mind!” he said slowly and deliberately enunciating his words as he fought the emotions from overwhelming him. Tears finally fell as he took a shuttering breath and clenched his jaw, a look of murder in his eye. “No one… Can deceive like that! No one! You want proof, Mr. Stark?” Arion turned and pulled the drawing out of his handbag and unfolded it before thrusting it out for Howard to see. Howard tentatively took the drawing into his hands and scrutinized it, all the while shock and old grief playing on his features. His eyes darted over the fine lines and precise sketches of the drawing before his eyes caught the handwriting on the page, and widened in recognition and shock.

                “This is Steven’s handwriting,” he said breathlessly, and looked up at the room, shock and realization finally pushing some of the skepticism out of his eyes.

                “Yes,” Arion said, his grief finally overpowering his will for a brief moment, causing tears to run freely down his cheeks. “And those are the exact coordinates to where James fell. Steven found him, lying there, in the river, nearly frozen. He lost his arm somewhere in the fall, Steven found it too. He was badly hurt, but alive. He hit his head in the fall. Steven said he was incoherent at first, but eventually recognized him. He should have been dead, but he was alive! Steven treated him, cauterized the wound, and was doing everything he could to get him back to the nearest allied base.” Arion started sobbing and Adrian stood up to comfort him. “They found them first!”

                “Who,” Peggy asked quietly, “who found them?” Arion looked over at her and calmed a little.

                “The Soviets, the Red Room,” he said and his eyes hardened with fury. “HYDRA!” shocked silence met his bombshell and Arion pushed on. “They were looking for them, for Steven and James; they knew who they were and how to find them. Howard, they knew Steven’s nickname; his call sign!” Stark paled. “They took them and left everything else behind.” The room was silent for a moment, before Stark again broke the silence.

                “Zola,” he said softly and all eyes turned to him. “Barnes was found in the isolation ward in the factory where he was held after HYDRA captured him. We always wondered how his body could withstand the accelerated pregnancy. Zola must have experimented on him with the Serum, somehow got it right, and…” Howard looked back up at Arion with determination and renewed hope. “What other proof did you say there was, because I am not risking a rescue op on Soviet soil, unless I have concrete proof.” Arion smiled at him with renewed hope and pointed at the note and drawing again, reminding Howard of its existence.

                “Steven said that he took a type of experimental handheld tape recorder with him,” he explained. “And he used it to make audio journal entries. If he’s telling the truth, it should still be right where he left it: buried in a metal medic kit. It should still be there, along with James’ arm, Howard. That should be more than enough proof to get us into the USSR!” Howard looked skeptical but Fëanor was the one that finally broke the silence and settled the issue once and for all.

                “If what you say is true, Ingwion,” he said, his hands steepled before his pursed lips, as his brow furrowed in deep thought, “then HYDRA has held two good men prisoner for the last forty years; using them, abusing them, and controlling them at their own leisure. I never trusted the Soviets, but,” he paused and lowered his hands, turning his piercing gaze on the younger elf prince, “to accuse them of such a deception, and indeed, of conspiring with a known enemy during a state of War, is not something done lightly.” Arion wilted and finally showed the great elf lord how desperate he was.

                “Then what do you expect me to do?” Arion wailed helplessly, “leave him there? Let the only man I ever loved rot and die in that Eru forsaken prison! Let my eldest son die there!” Arion’s face turned stormy and his blue eyes blazed white hot like a flame, as he pulled himself up to his full and impressive height, stood his ground and glared at the eldest son of Finwë. “I would rather DIE than let my son’s last moments be those of pain and fear! I would rather let my Fëa go into eternal darkness then let my James die there; alone and afraid! I will not have my beloved put down like a rabid dog!” He growled through clenched teeth. The two elves battled wills as they glared at each other, and the rest of the room acted like it was a particularly fast tennis match; eyes and heads darting back and forth between the two elves. Finally Fëanor’s stony expression broke into a calm and almost smug smile.

                “I was hoping you would say that,” he said and finally stood, leaving Arion completely dumbstruck as he turned to Stark and his eldest son, Maedhros. “Nelyo, I would trust this mission to only you.” Maedhros straightened to attention and gave his father a curt nod, to which Fëanor returned with a crooked smirk. “Stark,” he said, turning to the man, leveling him with his piercing silver eyes, and the inventor found himself clenching his back ramrod straight at the commanding tone, “since you were the one to voice doubt that Arion’s claim is true, you will accompany him and my son, Nelyafinwë, to the location written on the map for this proof, while we here,” he said while sweeping his arm out gesturing to the rest of the assembled people, “come up with a plan of attack.” Stark opened in mouth to argue the point but Fëanor beat him to it. “This plan will require stealth, and no small amount of courage, and we have little time for arguments. Steven and Bucky’s lives depend upon the speed and secrecy of this plan.” Howard’s shoulders slumped with defeat as he conceded to the wisdom of Fëanor’s plan.

Fëanor nodded and turned to Joshua and Peggy, when a very loud bark brought his attention back to the assembled group. He turned back and smiled at the sight of the large hunting hound, Huan, seated proudly next to his son’s shoulder. The deep throaty woof that came from his chest and his stance next to his only re-born son could only mean one thing, and it brought a fond smile to the dark haired Noldor’s face. With a chuckle and a shake of his head, Fëanor smirked at the Valinorean Hound, returned to life with his son, and nodded his assent.

                “Alright, Huan,” he said, “you too.” The pony sized hound bounded to his feet and let out a happy bark. Fëanor looked up at his son and the assembled expedition team. “Huan will keep you safe from any surprise attacks, and will stand watch at night. Find this proof that Arion has been given, and return here as fast as you can. We will need all the time we can spare for planning. I, for one, do not want to be caught with my trousers down, so to speak, ever again.” Maedhros smothered a smile and his urge to chortle, knowing there was a story behind that statement.

Howard and Arion gathered the needed equipment while Maedhros grabbed the much needed provisions. When they were ready, they suited up into cold weather gear and piled the provisions and equipment into Howard’s small private plane. It was bigger than the one he took Steve to Austria in during the war, and had a few new tricks, but it still carried the Stark Industries mark on the side of its shiny silver skin. He started the plane up quickly and took off, carrying the three other search members as passengers. They were all grimly silent, just as their cohorts back at the mansion were. Arion’s words on what Steven had told them were a grim reminder that even if they got Steven and Bucky out of that hell hole alive, they would both need serious treatment and help to be free. Though it was not said it was still implied that Steven carried a fractured mind in desperate need of healing. Though less fractured that Bucky’s, it was no less dangerous if left untreated.


 

~*~*~


 

Steven stood before three girls. They were the Red Room’s finest students, and had survived the transformation that had killed so many of their class. They also happened to be rivals, and two of them were the girls he had chosen to personally train. Steven forced his face to be as blank as paper and his eyes as hard as diamonds. The two he had chosen were by far the best of the girls, and one was even a prodigy by the standards of the Red Room.

Little Natalia, the red headed girl, stood erect and proud, her face carefully blank and her eyes watchful; she was his best Student. The serum had slowed her aging and had kept her youthful, while amplifying her flexibility and agility. She had an accelerated healing factor, but it was nowhere near what his and the Soldier’s were. She was cunning and quick on her feet, and her tenacity and ability to adapt to her mission was what made her Steven’s, and the Soldier’s, best student.

Natalia was gaining a reputation in training as being willing to do anything to win, and that was what made the superiors smile at her while he put the girls through drills. That was why he was before them today, because today he was going to pick a personal student to instruct and train to become the best of the Red Room. Steven liked her well enough, and she had learned greatly from his training methods and fighting style, but she was the Soldier’s. Natalia seemed to respond better to his hand than Steven’s but she didn’t know that.

The second girl was one that Steven nearly outright refused to train: Yelena Belova; A little blond haired pixie when he first met her, but she had grown into a beautiful young woman with big blue green eyes and lush lips. But as Steven watched her and looked into her mind, he knew that her beauty was skin deep. Inside was a vicious, conniving, cold-blooded killer that genuinely enjoyed watching her victims suffer. The very sight of what churned inside the young girl’s mind was enough to make him recoil in fear and disgust, when he first saw it. If it weren’t for the threat of punishment to his Ada, and himself, Steven would have refused to go near the girl, but he had no choice. And now the young woman stood before him, the finest example of his training.

Yelena thrived under the brutal treatment and punishing training regimen, and rose to become a star in her class, and among his pupils. Steven looked at the girl and saw twisted satisfaction in her eyes and in the line of her lips. Steven suppressed the reflex to sneer at her in disgust and instead turned up the coldness of his glare at her. Yelena shrank back as much as she could while remaining at attention. Steven was the only person in the Red Room that could illicit fear from the girl, and keep her in check. Steven didn’t mean to show her what he could be like in full elven wrath, but it was just the trick he needed to bring her under his thumb for good. It took a lot to make her quail in fear, but Steven had just the right mix that kept her in line.

Steven turned his gaze to the third girl and his piercing gaze lost its icy quality. Anya was the third girl in his little group. She was the epitome of grace and beauty. Her long black hair was fine as silk and had just a little wave in it. Her eyes were a bright blue like Steven’s with a little green at the center, and she was tall. Taller by far than the other girls her age, and with a lithe graceful quality to the way she moved.

Anya looked him in the eye without an ounce of fear and the corners of her lips quirked up in a secret smile. Steven returned that smile with his own, before forcing his face to be blank again when his handler and the Soldier walked into the room.

                ‘Are the girls ready for the next phase in their training?’ the Handler asked. Steven looked at the girls one last time, his gaze lingering on Anya the longest. Anya was his best student. Her innate grace and agile movement perfectly suited to Steven’s training and fighting style. She would benefit most from his personal touch, though the Soldier could give her a broader array of techniques.

                ‘Yelena has reached the limit of her ability to learn from myself and the Soldier,’ Steven answered, training his gaze on the girl in question. Her eyes blazed with anger and rage, at his dismissal, but quelled as he turned up the intensity of his own glare. ‘I believe both Anya and Natalia will benefit more from personal tutelage.’ The Handler looked at Steven and pursed his lips.

                ‘I was told that Yelena showed the most promise as a student,’ he said while looking said girl over. Steven physically restrained his urge to bristle at the contradiction and clenched his jaw.

                ‘Student Yelena is too violent,’ the Soldier said, and both Steven and the Handler turned to look back at him. Steven felt his eyes widen in shock at the Soldier’s unexpected rebuttal. Steven looked closer and smiled softly when he realized it was not the blank weapon speaking but the entity that the young girls had come to call Yasha. ‘She does not listen when instructed and prefers her own methods and fighting techniques to the ones we impressed upon her. She continues to resist instruction, and lashes out violently against her sparring partners.’ Yasha looked the handler in the eye before continuing, ‘she will not progress under my tutelage or the Knight’s. She is too reckless, and violent.’ Steven glanced over at the girl in question and found her pale with fright. Steven smirked to himself. He agreed with Yasha’s assessment, Yelena was far too violent and resistant to his training. No matter how much he trained with her and sparred with her, she still used brute force methods rather than the stealth and finesse that Natalia and Anya had picked up from him. She refused to drop them, punishment be damned.

The handler pursed his lips and looked at the girl before looking at Steven.

                ‘Continue your training with her, but from now on you will focus your efforts on Anya’s training,’ he said and turned to Yasha, ‘and you will spend your time with Natalia. It is obvious that she will be the star of this school, so only the best will be spent on her training.’ Steven breathed a slight sigh of relief. ‘And Knight,’ the Handler said and Steven looked over at the man. He was cold and unyielding in his expression.

                ‘Yes sir,’ Steven asked, clenching his hands behind his back.

                ‘If I find that you are lying to me, you will spend the next six weeks in the Cage,’ he said and Steven paled, locking his knees to keep them from trembling. ‘I don’t care if they need you for a mission. These girls are the best of our training, and you and the Soldier are the best the Red Room has ever created. I do not want to be disappointed in anything I have created.’ Steven forced every muscle in his body to stillness. The handler smiled and it was not a nice smile. ‘I would hate to send the Soldier back to the Chair for insubordination.’ Steven glanced over at Yasha and saw him as still and as white as a marble statue. ‘Am I clear?’ Steven nodded, and looked at the floor in submission.

                ‘Yes sir,’ he answered.

                ‘Good,’ the Handler said with a smile. ‘I expect your students to be at the training grounds for sparring sessions and weapons training in the morning. You are dismissed.’

~*~*


 

The Soldier trained with the girls more often than the Knight did. His methods were good for the older more experienced students, but around the first year inductees, his methods were brutal and lethal. The Soldier was more patient with the girls, and followed his Handler’s instructions on their care and wellbeing to the letter. He taught them how to walk and move like confident girls instead of killers. He improved their American accents and helped them blend in to what normal girls would do in the west. At night he would sit at the bed of the youngest girl and braid her hair into two little plaits to keep her hair from tangling in the night or getting caught in the handcuffs.

He was kind to them and the girls all enjoyed his company, even if he didn’t always recognize them. His thick Russian accent made them giggle at the oddness of it. Everyone in the school spoke with American accents or spoke only Russian. Rarely did they ever hear one of their teachers, or the Madam, speak with a Russian accent. As they got older his kindness became tough and unyielding discipline. They learned that he didn’t smile unless he was pleased by their training, and so they did everything they could to please him.

As time passed, and the girls grew into their puberty, he became “Bol'shoy brat”: Big brother. He was the silent guard that prowled the hallways outside their dormitories. Some girls said that he killed the ones that misbehaved in the night, and that was why some of the girls vanished and never came back; most looked at him as a protector. This belief was only solidified when one of the male guards attacked and tried to rape one of the teenaged girls. The Soldier caught him in the act and rather than listen to the man’s orders to leave, his eyes turned murderous and as quick as a flash, he had the offender by the throat with his metal hand. The young woman trembled and watched as the Soldier crushed the man’s neck with little effort.

When he turned back to the girl his eyes were calm and sympathetic, with a great deal of concern.

                ‘Are you alright,’ he asked. And she trembled; only barely nodding, before he knelt down beside her and gathered her up into his arms. Pulling her head to his broad chest and shushing her stuttering sobs, he gently rocked her until she calmed enough to stop crying.

                ‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘What’s your name; what do I call you?’ he thought for a moment and shrugged.

                ‘I don’t know,’ he said softly, sad and resigned all at once. ‘I don’t think I have a name.’

                ‘How about Yasha,’ she asked. The Soldier smiled and nodded slowly as he contemplated his name. ‘It was my brother’s name.’

                ‘Yasha,’ he said softly, ‘my name is Yasha.’ Looking at nothing, the look in his eyes far away, he repeated this and smiled at what only he could see.

From then on, after the girl told the others this, he was called Yasha when he was calm and kind, and Soldier only when he was blank and didn’t recognize them. And Yasha loved these girls; they were his sisters and daughters, his to protect, and his alone. He hated the way the guards would look at Natalia and Anya, their graceful young bodies twisted in combat in a deadly dance. They were beautiful, and Yasha protected his beautiful girls, because he knew, without knowing how or why, how men thought and acted around pretty girls.

Yasha wasn’t the only one to see the beauty in their two students. The Knight’s gaze seemed to linger on Anya more and more, as he progressed from personal trainer and instructor, to something more intimate. Yasha warned him off and the Knight smiled and laughed bitterly, his gaze on his dark haired student as she went through her warm up routine.

                “I would never hurt her, Ada,” he said, and his gaze became filled with sorrow, and realization. “I love her.”

Yasha watched him closely after this confession, and saw the way Steven would never push Anya past her limits but would nudge that limit further back the more he trained her. He watched as instructing hands turned into soft caresses as he helped her with her poses and movements. He saw Anya’s gaze linger a little too long on Steven’s face or her touch linger too long past proper. He saw the secret smiles thrown at each other and the longing glances. He watched as one day while they sparred, Anya came very close to Steven, her lips just inches from his, and the Knight gently pushed her away; regret and unending sorrow in his eyes. Yasha knew he wasn’t always Yasha, that he didn’t always remember, but he knew love. Somehow he knew love. (A part of him ached painfully and his mind saw a being of immense beauty, with hair like spun gold and eyes like the sea, and a smile that warmed a part of him again; one he thought was forever frozen.) And he knew that the Knight was deeply in love, and Anya returned it with equal fervor.

~~*~*


 

Dossier no. 18: Rytsar

Subject: Buchanan, Steven Grant; Captain US Army

Codename: Zimniy Rytsar/ the Winter Knight

Acquired: Feb 10th, 1945

 

Physical features

Race: Caucasian, Numenorean-Half elf

Hair Color: Dark Blond with highlights

Eye Color: Blue

Height: 6’4”

Weight: 240lbs

Build: Muscular shoulders and chest, slim waist, strong legs

Identifying marks/Features: Pointed- leaf shaped ears, unnaturally bright eyes, dimpled chin

 

Notes

Subject no. 18, from now on to be referred to as Rytsar, displays extraordinary strength and stamina, characterized typically wit subjects of the Serum. The subject also displays an enhanced intelligence and memory response under cognitive stimuli. The subject displays incredible learning and creative tactical skills also seen in other subjects with the Serum.

Rytsar also displays extraordinary abilities not seen in other subjects.

The following abilities listed are at class five or greater strength:

                Telepathy

                Telekinesis

                Some form of Technopathy or Technokinesis.

                Electrokinesis

                Some form of healing ability allowing him to heal wounds of others by skin contact.

The Electrokinesis allows him to absorb massive amounts of energy, electrical or otherwise, (see video file SGB 117) and return it at amplified amounts.it also allows him to go long periods of time without consuming nutrition. It is not recommended that he go more than 2 months without sustenance or he will not be able to digest solid foods.

The Knight can combine abilities and create perfect clones of him with variations in physical appearance. He can integrate with any electronic device and gather digital intelligence through these means. His understanding of electronics and technology borders on the savant.

Because of his telepathy and telekinesis it is recommended that conditioning be performed via physical and telepathic means. Psychic triggers and code phrases must be at least the following trigger responses:

                A Paralytic trigger

                An off switch trigger

                A suicide/berserker trigger for emergency situations when cornered only

The knight appears to have strong physical and emotional attachment to the Soldier. Such emotional bonds could be exploited to ensure loyalty and lessen his desire to escape.

The knight’s physical strength and fighting prowess make him the perfect candidate to become a trainer.  It is recommended that the Knight and the Soldier train together to hone their skills in hand to hand combat. Knife and handgun training will be needed to further their skills.

Recommend further stealth and advanced training in covert ops to improve upon previous skills.

Further notes:

The Knight has a volatile temper and unpredictable behavior after long missions. It is recommended that he be prepped for missions more thoroughly before such a deployment.

 

Asset Handler Journal No. 10

Jan 10, 1983

The Knight displayed overly violent and unstable behavior during the last mission. He has been becoming more unpredictable as of late and the cause is still unknown. I will consult with the Controller, Misha, on it later.

Col. Karpov

 

 

February 10, 1985

The Knight and Soldier have displayed tendencies of distrust and appear to no longer be loyal to Handlers.

The Soldier in particular has become more erratic and protective of the Knight.

It is my belief that they are no longer useful Assets to the cause. Replacement and decommissioning recommended. I believe that Project Winter Soldier has finally outlived its usefulness and is no longer profitable to keep them in storage, and the Knight in Containment.

Col. Karpov

TBC…

Chapter Text

~**~

It is late in the evening, when the search team finally returns. Peggy and Joshua had just finished having a conversation on how they will deprogram Barnes and Steven, when they heard the sound of a plane over head. The two look at each other with a knowing glance, and quickly make a run for the back door. They are caught by Adrian and Fëanor as they step onto the back porch and look up into the darkening sky, to see the silver plane descend to the private airstrip. Fëanor looked grim and stony for a moment before bolting out of the cover of the porch and making a mad dash, full tilt for the runway; after exchanging a glance with Joshua, Peggy and the blond general rush to the garage and pile into one of the larger cars. The minute the doors are open, Joshua floors it and the aged army truck peels out of the garage like a bat out of hell.

Peggy braced her hands on the seat and ceiling with her feet firmly planted on the floor, to keep from sliding forward into the glass. Joshua glanced over and gave her a wry smile in answer to her glare.

                “Sorry,” he said with a wince and turned sharply to the left onto the road that led to the airstrip.

                “Bloody hell!” Peggy swore as she was jostled about on the bumpy road. “You might want to consider having this road redone! I’ve been on tracks in the War smoother than this!” Joshua chuckled at her humor and slowed down. The ride smoothed out only slightly and the two remained silent in their seats, as they grimly contemplated Stark’s return. The past few weeks had been met with no contact from Stark’s team, and although it meant little, it still had the whole team on edge. And because of this, little in the realm of actual concrete planning had been accomplished; only spitball ideas and speculation as to what they should do after the two Barnes’ were recovered.

The trees thinned before suddenly giving way to a clearing with a paved runway and several out buildings. Peggy and Joshua sighed in relief as they saw the plane’s ramp and door open, revealing Stark’s aging form. Joshua drove right onto the pavement and pulled up beside the plane. He opened the door just in time to see Fëanor dash up to the plane and skid to a stop. The Dark haired Noldor was only slightly disheveled from his run, and didn’t seem to be terribly out of breath. Joshua climbed out of the truck and went to the older man’s side, but was ignored in favor of the tall redhead currently climbing down the ladder.

                “Nelyo,” Fëanor breathed, and seemed to sag with the weight of his relief. The fire haired elf looked up at his father and smiled softly, somehow knowing the worry and fear that had broiled in Fëanor’s gut for the entire time he was gone. He stepped off the ladder and moved to stand before the two commanding officers.

                “Atar,” he said and quickly found himself wrapped in Fëanor’s strong arms. The former elf lord curled into his embrace and sighed with contentment.

                “You could have called,” Fëanor said into Maedhros’ shoulder, and Maedhros chuckled before pulling away and looking back at Stark with worried eyes. Fëanor looked over to the man and saw that his face is ashen and grim. Fëanor looked back up at his son in silent question and Maedhros nodded. Fëanor stepped away from his eldest son and moved to stand beside the stricken looking inventor. “Howard,” he said softly and leaned down and to the side, to catch his eye. When he did, Howard looked at him with profound guilt. “You found it.” it was not a question; there was no doubting that they found the proof Arion had went looking for.

                “Yeah,” he said softly, and his gaze went distant again. “We left them out there; left him out there. To die; just like he said.” Arion came down the ladder, a small metal box in his hands and a grim and determined look on his face. “We should have gone back; went looking. We should have done somethin’, but we just… left them there.” Peggy came over and touched Howard’s arm breaking him out of his grief and guilt stricken trance. The look he gave her was almost as wounded and self-loathing as Steve’s had looked in that bombed out bar, the night when Barnes and Steven were officially labeled missing in action. “We just left him there, Pegs. We just left him… Steven knew, but we didn’t listen. We should have gone looking sooner, we would have known and… and maybe…”

                “Howard,” Peggy said gently, “it was his choice. No one could have stopped him. We had no reason to believe Barnes survived that fall; none. It’s not your fault.” Howard closed his eyes and took a shuddering breath and when he opened them they were full of steel.

                “Let’s get these bastards!” he snarled and turned his gaze on Fëanor. “We’ll get ‘em out, and make those red bastards pay for every bit of pain they put him through!” Fëanor’s lips curled into a cold and vicious smile, his eyes blazing, and countenance lit with hallowed light, as it had not been since that unnatural night upon the Hill of Túna in the torch light. He was all at once both bright and fell, and terrible to behold.

                And he spoke, doom upon his lips and a fell fire in his eyes; blazing like a white flame: “Neither law, nor love, nor league of swords,” he reached out and grasped Howard’s arm, and with every word that fell from his lips, he grew more and more like the Elf Maedhros remembered that night. “Dread nor danger, not Doom itself shall defend him from Fëanáro and Fëanáro’s kin… Whoso hideth or hoardeth, or in hand taketh, Finding keepeth or afar casteth the Sons of my sundered Kin. This swear we all…Death we will deal him ere Day’s ending, Woe unto world’s end!” and he paused, casting his flashing eyes to the heavens, before crying out in a loud voice: “Our word hear thou, Eru Allfather! To the Everlasting Darkness doom our Enemy for this transgression upon us. On the holy mountain hear in witness, and our vow remember, Varda and Manwë!” Maedhros felt the hairs on his arms stand up at the altered Oath that fell from his father’s lips; proclaiming the doom of the ones who took Steven and Bucky and placed them into bondage. The Curse, such as it was, for it was a Curse, made his own spirit ache; for it remembered the pain of the Oath. He knew, then and there, that his father had, indeed, repented, but he was still Fëanáro; he was still the Spirit of Fire. In that moment Fëanor was wild and fey, filled with holy wrath, and Maedhros truly pitied the men that stood in their path; for they had no idea what was coming.

~*~*~


 

The following days and weeks found Stark in a frenzy of planning. None could part him from the War Room, save for the plying of coffee and liquor, and none dared tell him to rest. None save Peggy Carter, that is. When Howard’s fervor lagged and began to wane, she bodily dragged him up to the nearest bed and forced him into it for rest. It was some weeks into the planning before Peggy made voice to the thoughts in her deepest heart.

                “We need the Commandoes,” She said one day when the assault plan ground to a halt. Howard looked up at her as if she had grown a second head. “Howard,” she warned and he sat back in his chair to listen. “We don’t have enough men for the assault, and you know it. That’s why all our plans can’t get past the drawing room stages. The Howlers are the only ones we can trust to do this, and they deserve to be there! Even if they are just on the extraction ship, it would keep Barnes more stable and compliant until we can get him back to England.” Fëanor leveled a look at the inventor and Stark caved, knowing he was beaten.

As they were adding in the addition of the Howling Commandoes to their plans, Joshua came into the room at a dead run, his eyes wild and out of breath. The three looked up at him and waited with baited breath as to what news he would bring. Fëanor looked over his friend’s shoulder and saw his two sons standing side by side, both sharing equal expressions of worry. Arion stepped in, and leaned heavily on the doorframe, his face white and eyes bloodshot with unshed tears.

                “What happened,” Fëanor demanded and quickly stood to steady Joshua’s shaking form.

                “The Winter Soldier was just spotted in Cambridge an hour ago,” he said, and Fëanor locked eyes with Peggy and Howard before turning to look at Arion.

                “What … Happened,” he asked the stricken elf. Arion looked up at him, his eyes bleak and overflowing with tears.

                “It looks like it was an infiltration mission,” Joshua answered for him. “He was spotted near one of SIS’s record buildings.” He paused looking back at the stricken elf, before continuing hesitantly, “it looks like they knew he was going to be there. They were waiting for him. There was a standoff, and then somebody opened fire on him. He shot back and…”

                “Director Devinson was shot,” Arion said hollowly. Howard and Peggy’s gaze snapped over to the blond elf. He looked up and there was a look of absolute hopelessness in his expression. “He’s dead. He was my friend.” Fëanor and the others drew in a sharp intake of breath. Fëanor looked at Joshua, to confirm it and he did with a nod. Carter and Stark shared equal expressions of panic and looked at each other with a look that could only say “Oh Shit!”

                “MI6 has put a Kill Order out on the Soldier,” Joshua said and all eyes save Arion’s were drawn back to him, panic and fear the most prevalent expression on their faces. “Orders are to shoot to kill on sight,” he continued. “The Winter Soldier has just been put on INTERPOL’s most wanted list as an international War Criminal. Fëanor,” he said and for once his eyes were filled with desperation. “We are out of time! We can’t waste any more time on bickering and pointless arguments! If we don’t find them before the end of the year, and before INTERPOL and MI6, they are as good as dead!” Fëanor shut his eyes and his shoulders sagged, as if a great weight had just been placed upon them. He nodded and gestured for him to move to the planning table. When he opened his eyes he saw his eldest son gently guiding Arion to a couch, and easing him down onto it.

The great elf smith winced at the bleak and broken look on Arion’s face. To him, it seemed as if the whole world was coming crashing down on top of him and all his carefully laid plans had fallen and shattered like glass.

                “I was going to wear his mother’s wedding dress,” he said numbly, his eyes focused on nothing, and a weak smile broke across his lips. “He wanted us to get married in Brooklyn.” The tears finally tumbled down and his façade cracked into despair and sorrow. “He wasn’t even wearing the betrothal ring! He said it was bad luck! He… he… oh God! He was so close, and I didn’t even know it! I can’t! I just can’t!” he wailed and Maedhros pulled him into his arms, allowing him to bury his face in his chest to sob. The room stayed silent after that, the only sounds for a while were those of Howard’s scratching pen on paper as he made notes and Arion’s muffled sobs. Maedhros tucked Arion’s head under his chin and closed his eyes to his own emotions, so very close to the surface.

                (‘Káno and I were married,’) Maedhros said in Osanwe to Arion. Arion startled a bit at the voice in his head and seemed to calm a bit, and Maedhros continued. (‘I was pregnant, when I finally got the news that I had so dreaded would come after the Fifth Battle: my Káno was dead and it was my fault. Don’t blame yourself, Arion Ingwion. We will bring them home. You have my word.’) Arion slowly stopped sobbing, and hiccupped a few times before he pulled away and wiped the tears from his cheeks with a brittle smile.

                “Thank you,” he rasped, his voice wreaked by his crying. Maedhros smiled and pulled away. “James will need to tell someone the full story,” he said to the room at large. “Give a testimony to someone outside of SHIELD; someone we can trust.” The group went silent as they all thought of whom they could trust this kind of information with.

                “Reagan,” Fëanor finally said and all eyes went to the elf where he stood, hip leaning against the arm of the couch, arms folded over his chest. Howard and Peggy both arch their eyebrows at his suggestion. “Hear me out,” he said in defense, unfolding his arms and making a placating gesture to the two Directors. “Reagan is a reasonable man. He is smart, capable, and willing to listen to reason, and hear someone else’s side of the tale instead of just locking them in prison and throwing away the key. And the man was willing to forgive the man that tried to take his life! He has the fortitude of character and understanding of how these kind of people work that he would be willing to listen, if Barnes told him his tale. Also,” he added in an afterthought, posture changing to absently arrogant, “my resources intercepted a series of encrypted messages; they don’t know who it was from. I have my own theories; namely HYDRA and the Soviets,” he snarled but composed himself quickly. “Anyway, the operative suggested to his superiors that they get rid of him.” Howard and Peggy’s eyebrows both arched to their hairline. “Now it is my opinion that if HYDRA wants to get rid of this man so badly, there must be some good reason to trust him.” After a moment of silent contemplation and discussion, Peggy finally speaks.

                “Alright,” she said. “It is an option. But I think it should be up to Barnes and Steven to decide on whether or not to trust him, but only after we get them home. Agreed?” A collective sigh and nod are the only answer she receives, before they throw themselves back into the planning.

~*~*~


 

                “How could you let this happen!” the Commander shouted. Steven trembled on the floor from the force of his blow, and didn’t dare get up; couldn’t get up. His Ada was being strapped into the Chair, and was struggling for all his worth.

                “Let go o’ me!” he shouted as they strapped his legs and arms down. “Lemme go, you rotten Russkiy sons of bitches! NO!”

Steven looked at him with pain and fear, wanting so badly to unleash his power and rip and tear everything in the room apart. But he was helpless, powerless to stop it. The Controller, Misha, had used his paralytic trigger, forcing him into a helpless state where he couldn’t move save for involuntary responses like trembling in fear. The Commander glared at him in disgust before turning back to the Chair.

                ‘Wipe him, thoroughly,’ he said in Russian, but it didn’t matter, his Ada knew Russian. He froze, his eyes widening with panic and wild fear. ‘Make sure you get rid of those memories for good this time! I don’t want another episode like this.’  His Ada thrashed wildly in the restraints, but they held. The technicians nodded in assent and turned the chair on, and Steven watched helplessly as the device spun up and latched itself around his Ada’s head and face; eliciting screams of unfathomable pain from the brunette man. The Commander seemed to relish in the screams for a moment, a self-satisfied smile curling on his lips, before he turned his hardened gaze onto Steven. ‘And as for you,’ he hissed, and then smiled, ‘I think a new form of punishment is in order, don’t you, Misha?’

The Controller smiled cruelly and Steven trembled even harder under the force of his fear.

                ‘I do,’ he said. ‘I think it is time the Soldier comes to learn the consequences of trying to escape.’ He snapped his fingers and pointed at two guards before motioning them to pick Steven up. ‘Podnimaytes' i idite, Rytsar',’ he said and Steven felt life return to his limbs slowly. (Rise and walk, Knight.) ‘I think all of our assets could use to learn this lesson, don’t you, Knight?’ he said, standing right in front of him; gently holding Steven’s chin up with his thumb and forefinger.  Steven’s eyes widened and tears ran down his cheeks. ‘Take him to the training room!’ he ordered and turned to the technicians, ‘when he’s finished, bring him to the training room, and leave his shirt off.’

Steven watched his Ada’s thrashing form helplessly, as he stumbled and was half dragged from the room and thrown onto the floor mats of the training room. He lay there for several minutes, trying to regain control of his limbs and listening to his Ada’s tortured screams. After a moment, he began to sob, turning into the mats to hide his weakness.

He knew that something was wrong with the Soldier during the mission, and had said nothing. It was the first time in a long time that the two of them had been in the States, and, for Steven, the first time to ever set foot in New York City. Everything had seemed to go well, the assassination was completed, and they were on their way back to the extraction point, when everything went wrong. Steven didn’t know what triggered it, but one moment it was the cold emotionless Soldier at his side and in the next, he stumbled and stopped, and he was suddenly his Ada again. But something was wrong, his memories jumbled and he thought it was only a few years after the War. Steven had been given explicit instructions on what to do if something like this should ever happen, but in that moment Steven couldn’t open his mouth to say the words that would bury his Ada under brainwashing and conditioning again. Instead the two turned and fled, hopping the nearest turnstile’s on a train to take them to Brooklyn.

That was where they finally found them: in Brooklyn, in what had once been Steve and his Ada’s old apartment. They were caught and dragged back to the nearest HYDRA base for reconditioning, but not before Steven had a chance to undo the damage done by the Chair and the Programmer. It was still there, but now it was being held together by a single thread. One sentence, and it would all unravel; for good. No more trigger words, no more conditioned responses, and no more Chair. It felt like they were finally going to be free, until the STRIKE team kicked in their door and used the high frequency disruptors to stun them long enough to drug them and drag them out to a van.

Steven sobbed, because for a single month he was free, he saw his Ada again, and he was able to see the places he had heard so much about. All of that snatched away in a single moment, and now he was back in their hands, and his Ada might never come back from the deepest recesses of his mind.

 He looked up, when he heard the sound of struggling, and saw the guards dragging in his trainees. He paled, when he saw them; heart pumping with his instinct to protect them but unable to, for fear that he would hurt them more. The Guards forced Anya and Natalia onto their knees before chaining them to the floor, arms tied behind their backs. Yelena was tied similarly but a collar was put around her neck and chained to the floor as well as being handcuffed like the others. Misha had learned the lesson quickly that Yelena was cunning enough to bite her guards if given enough room to move. The only reason she was kept alive was because of how good she was at her job for them; nothing more. It wasn’t long until the Controller had two burly guards bring a heavy post into the middle of the room, and bolted it to the floor. As they left, two more guards dragged his Ada’s drooling and limp form to the post and chained his wrists to it. Steven felt his blood rush from his face, when he realized just what it was they had chained his Ada to: a whipping post.

Steven looked up at the Controller with a new found panic. Misha had a multi-thong whip in his hand. The man turned his sadistic smile on the chained audience before looking right at Steven. In that instant, Steven knew this punishment was only for him. They knew, above all else, that he hated to see his Ada suffer. This was the most effective type of torture they had for him: to make him watch.

                ‘From now on,’ Misha said loudly and with authority, ‘if any of you fail a mission, or fail to comply to orders, you  and your partner will have to suffer the punishment of no less the twenty lashes to the back and thighs.’ The girls all paled in fright, but showed little fear. Steven on the other hand, was desperately trying to get his body back under his control again. He couldn’t bear to watch them hurt his Ada like this, especially because it was his fault. Misha turned and raised his arm, before bringing it down viciously across the prone man’s back. Steven let out an incoherent screech of fury and agony; echoing his Ada’s own howl of pain. Tears of frustrated agony streamed down Steven’s face as lash after lash was brought down upon his Ada’s back. Once he had finally started to bleed, though, Steven had had enough.

                “STOP!” he screamed, sobbing into the mat with relief, when he did stop. “Please! It wasn’t his fault! It was me! I failed to stop him. I saw what had happened and I didn’t stop him! Please,” he begged finally raising his head enough to look at his Ada, then at the Controller, “it was my fault. Punish me! Please, just punish me!” Steven dropped his head onto the mat and openly wept. His shoulders shook and his breathing hitched, but he stayed still. He wanted nothing more than to lash out with his powers and crush the Controller’s spine, but he couldn’t even summon the strength, let alone the energy to grasp his powers. (He didn’t know that the whole room was shaking, and the lights were flickering like candles, or that every man in the base felt as if they had taken those lashes themselves.) “Please!”

Steven stayed still for a long moment until he heard the sound of shackles being removed from someone and clattering together. Steven heard a groan and looked up to see his Ada slump onto his side, eyes glassy from pain, but free of the restraints. Steven looked up at the Controller, and saw that Misha was cold and stern; his whip clenched tightly in his fists.

                ‘Well,’ he said and Steven started, ‘you offered yourself in his stead, so I suggest you move him to be restrained before shackling yourself to the post.’ Steven gasped a shuddering breath in relief before shakily pushing himself to his feet and moving to help his Ada stand. Bucky groaned as Steven gingerly picked him up and threw his arm over his neck to help him over to a restraint chair. His head lolled limply as Steven fastened the restraints. Just as Steven finished latching the last arm restrain, he caught Steven’s eye.

                (‘You didn’t have to do that,’) Steven heard him say in his head, and he smiled back sadly at his Ada.

                (‘Yes, I did,’) he answered. Bucky’s eyes widened a little and filled with tears. (‘Don’t fight, Ada. This is my choice.’) The Soldier nodded minutely and Steven stood and walked steadily back to the post; not showing an ounce of the fear that he felt broiling in his gut.

                ‘Remove your shirt,’ Misha said with restrained glee. Steven unfastened the buckles on his coat with shaky fingers, pealed it off, and dropped it to the floor before doing the same to the jacket and undershirt as well. He slowly got to his knees and locked the shackles around his wrists. Steven leaned into the post and shut his eyes, but kept his face as smooth as stone. He heard the whip rise and braced himself for the strike.

                CRACK!

Lightning flashed across his back, and he howled in agony; his world whiting out.

~~*~**


 

Dossier No. 18 Continued

Operations and Mission Procedures

The Soldier and the Knight must never be allowed on missions together without extreme preparations and conditioning to prevent any attempt at escape. Implanted memories and skills will be needed.

The Knight must not be allowed without a handler for more than 3 hours to ensure his return to base.

It is imperative that the Knight not have contact with previous teammates from before acquisition (see mission report 1955). Contact with them must be followed by reconditioning with the subject known as the Programmer.

All forms of rebellion and refusal to proceed with missions must be dealt with immediately and with ruthless efficiency.

Punishments should not impede his abilities to function in the field but should ensure no further resistance to the Handlers on other missions and targets.

During missions the Knight is to be given high caloric meals 4 times a day until the mission is completed. Caloric intake must be over 8000 calories for the times when the Knight is active. Supplements and liquid nutrition must be supplied through IV to ensure perfect mission readiness. Failure to follow these procedures may result in the loss of a valuable Asset to the KGB and the Red Room, and severe disciplinary actions.

The Knight is a tool to further the beliefs of HYDRA and the Red Room. The Soldier is our most valuable leverage to keep him in control.

The Knight it not to be mistreated in the Soldier’s presence; it will react violently in protection of the Knight. (See mishap file No. 01-05-50 for example.)

If any action is to be taken against the Knight, it should be done while he is in his cell after missions so mission readiness is not impaired by injuries.

Any form of mistreatment against the Knight will be punished swiftly and efficiently. Any Handler misusing the Knight will be removed from his Control list and disciplined.

Abnormal behavior and reaction to stimuli are to be reported to superiors immediately. Failure to do so will result in disciplinary action.

Any form of emotional attachment is to be wiped from both Assets, if possible, or removed. Emotional bonds will threaten the strength of the conditioning and will put the Knight at risk for an incident.

Escape attempts are to be dealt with quickly and decisively. Punishment of Handler and Asset will be required. All forms of rebellion causing the incident are to be dealt with accordingly and further conditioning required.

During Missions the Knight is to be armed with no less than the following weapons and tools:

                A pair of Colt .45 1911 M1A1 pistols, US Army issued

                A US Army issued combat bayonet- infantry

                A Pair of throwing knives

                A set of Garrote wires

                A tranquilizer gun with darts

                A single suicide pill

                A lock pick set

                A small vial of varying poisonous agents (depending on the type needed)

                A note book

                A Micro camera for intelligence gathering missions

                A long distance audio recording device

                Several audio surveillance devices for long term espionage missions

These tools are essential towards Mission success. Failure to follow these procedures will result in mission failure and termination of Asset handlers and technicians.


 

Asset Handler Journal No. 10

August 1st, 1985

                Project Winter Soldier has become defunded by the KGB and a replacement for the project has been commissioned.

With the previous experiment, codenamed “Rebirth,” being scrapped, we will have to start with new samples.

The new samples stolen from the SHIELD storage facility in Washington DC are proving to be more useful than the samples from the Asset Codenamed Winter Soldier.

Col. Karpov

 

 


 

August 3rd, 1985

                It has come to our attention of a previously unknown physical abnormality in the Soldier. The sexual reproductive abnormality and mutation of hermaphroditism has proven to be our boon.

It appears that the Soldier will give us one final medical advancement before his termination.

Ovum extracted from the female reproductive organs has proven that the Serum can be passed on via sexual reproduction.

 The Unfertilized eggs will be exposed to the sperm of the Subject donor: Captain Steven G. Rogers; taken from cold storage from SHIELD.

Col. Karpov

TBC…

Chapter Text

~*~*

It isn’t until late October before they finally have a solid plan in place. They have somehow, Stark and Fëanor have a very goodly amount of influence, acquired an icebreaker to take them over the polar icecap and several soviet military trucks, so as to not raise suspicion. The plan is to get as close to the base as possible and remove the sentries before surrounding the base for a full assault. They would leave no survivors to tell HYDRA that their precious Assets have escaped, and no one would know about the base’s destruction until it was too late. Everything was set. The only thing they had to do know was to contact the Commandoes and tell them the news.

It was not a conversation that any one of the team was looking forward to having, but they had put it off for as long as they logistically could. Now they had no time for delay, and to put it off any further would be detrimental to their plans. Stark was outright dreading the conversation, and opted to let Peggy and Arion do all of the talking. They called each of the former Howling Commandoes and had them convene at Joyous Guard. Fëanor and Joshua gave them a small tour of the house, once more, catching up with them, and buttering them up before they were brought to the war room and Arion dropped the bomb on them.

Needless to say they did not take the news of Bucky and Steven’s survival and subsequent enslavement to HYDRA and The Red Room well.

Peggy had calmly asked them to not speak until they had finished talking and briefing them on the intelligence they had gathered. Arion spoke first and instead of tact and finesse, he dove right in and struck to the heart of the subject like a well-aimed bullet to the chest.

                “The reason you have been asked here is because we have just uncovered the identities of the Winter Soldier and the Winter Knight,” he said bluntly. He closed his eyes to the stab of pain in his chest from the emotional agony his soul had been put through, before he continued with a quavering voice: “it’s James… James and Steven; my love, my heart, and my son.” He opened his eyes and saw the shock and outrage on the retired Commandoes faces. Arion looked to Peggy, when he opened his mouth and couldn’t force the words out again. With a nod, the female founder of SHIELD took over.

                “Sergeant Barnes survived the fall from the train, and was found by Captain Buchanan, shortly before they were captured by a faction of HYDRA working in the Soviet government known as the Red Room,” She said primly her gaze sweeping over each of the commandoes before stopping on Dugan. “Dugan, I do believe you and I became acquainted with some of their work, and their methods of brainwashing and mind control techniques?” the graying red bearded man looked as if he had physically crumpled at the mere mention of that place, his eyes going soft and sad. “they used their methods on Sergeant Barnes and young Steven, as well as spearheading a few new techniques while using them as test subjects.” The Commandoes faces became grim and shocked and Peggy hated herself even more, because she had the unhappy task of telling them the worst of the news. “You all know to some extent what the Soldier and the Knight did on behalf of the Red Room and the KGB,” nods of numb shock answered her query. “Steven came to Arion a few months ago with time sensitive intelligence: the Winter Soldier and the Winter Knight have been slated for decommissioning and termination in August of next year,” she paused seeing the horror grow with fear and outrage, “after Barnes gives birth to Steve’s child.” That little tidbit cinched it. Dugan leapt to his feet with a wordless cry of outrage and denial; the rest of the Commandoes were not far behind.

                “Like Hell they are,” he growled. Arion gave the burly man a watery smile of gratitude.  Dugan nodded back. “Sorry, Pegs, but we aren’t gonna just let those red bastards kill Bucky, or Steven.”

                “And neither are we, if we have any say in it,” Peggy said primly but a small smile tugged at the corner of her lips.

                “How the Hell did they even get a hold of Rogers’ spunk,” Morita asked. The Commandoes had a moment of silent communal discussion before all eyes turned to Howard Stark. Stark didn’t even look them in the eye, just took a hefty swallow of his drink.

                ‘We cannot let this happen to Bucky and Steven,’ Jacques raved, and Gabe agreed.

                “Yeah,” Gabe said, “Barnes saved our skin hundreds of times. And Steven kept those bullets off us on Omaha beach, risked his own life to protect us time and again.” Falsworth shook his head in agreement.

                “We cannot let them just kill them like a pair of rabid dogs,” he said. “Whatever help you need for this rescue mission, you will have it for my part.”

                “Same here,” Dugan cheered, a wild grin growing on his bushy mustached face. “Let’s show these slimy Red bastards what happens when you mess with the Howling Commandoes!” All of the Commandoes leapt up and let out a cry of harmony, each one’s hearts filled with the same resolve to see this plan through to the end.

                “We all owe the Captain this much, Carter,” Falsworth said calmly, “I don’t there is any one of us here who would want to see Captain Rogers only child be raised as a killer.” Peggy gave her fellow Englishman a tight and watery smile. The room went solemnly silent for a moment as the reality began to sink in.

                “Sometimes I think that if we had just listened to Steven and had gone back lookin’ for him, we would have found Barnes,” Dugan said softly his eyes filled with regret. “To think that he’s been alive this whole time, and with those Snakes, it makes my blood boil!” the Commandoes all nodded in silent shared regret for what they had lost.

                “He was so close to us and we didn’t even know it,” Gabe said as he looked over the combined dossier on the Winter Soldier’s hits, and shook his head solemnly his brown eyes filed with sadness.  Jacques nodded and looked at the most resent photo of Bucky. It was blurry and distant, but they could distinctly see the flash of silver where a left arm should be.

                “Bucky took care of us in that factory,” Morita said as they laid the files and plans out on the war room’s table. “Barnes saved more lives that day by taking our place in that back room, and now… the least we could do is bring him and his kid back home.” he looked up at his friends gathered around the map and found them all nodding in agreement. Silence reigned again, as the contemplated the past and future.

                “Some days,” Dugan said softly after a moment of contemplating the map, “I can still see the look on Cap’s face when we finally met back up with him at the station. I don’t think I ever saw a man more devastated in my life until we told Steven and Arion what had happened.” Battle weary eyes looked up and found the elf in question. Arion smiled back sadly. Nods came from each of the Commandoes as they found themselves caught up in the memories of that horrible day.

                “I still wake up at nights hearin’ Bucky’s scream,” Game said softly, his eyes distant as he looked at the map, thoughts drawn back to that train. “I didn’t even know it was Bucky’s scream until I went back to the compartments and found Cap still clinging to the side of the train. I’ll never forget for as long as I live the look in his eyes when he told me Barnes was gone.”

                “I sometimes hear Steven’s voice screamin’ at us,” Morita said as he brushed his fingers over Steven’s careful drawing, “tellin’ us that we left his Ada out there to die. He was right,” he said and looked up, eyes filled with sorrow, finding the gazes of the Commandoes, Peggy, Howard and Arion’s eyes on him. “We did leave him there, only it wasn’t to die; it was a fate worse than death.”

It had taken almost forty years for these thoughts to become voice, such was the struggle that kept them bottled up inside, but finally they were bringing voice to the thoughts and memories that haunted them for all those years. Morita’s eyes hardened and he glared at the red pin on the map indicating the base that held their two friends captive. His clenched fist struck the table and he bowed his head.

                “Let’s get these sons of bitches,” Dugan growled, his soft blue eyes gone as hard as diamonds.

                “Here here,” Falsworth said with a vindictive and cunning smile growing on his lips.

Arion smiled a soft and watery smile in response, touched by their mutual outrage on his beloved’s behalf. He turned to the plans set up on the table and explained their situation.

                “We are to be broken up into two teams,” he said pointing out the positions of where they would be assaulting the base on the map. “Team one will be Fëanor, Huan, Joshua, Maedhros and myself; we are to take out the exterior guards before the alarms are sounded. This will ensure we are unopposed when we enter the base. After that is done, we will split up and launch our assault from these two points.” He said pointing out the two entrances to the base. He looked up at the group and saw them studying the map intently, just as they did for Steve during the war. Arion felt warmth of fondness flow over him; realizing that, save for the graying hair and slightly more aged faces, this could have been any one of their battle plans during their blitzkrieg on HYDRA during the war. Arion gave himself a mental shake and pressed on.

“Team one will take the main entrance, while team two, composed of the Commandoes and Adrian, will take the second entrance. Their job is to gather up files in the base and to join up with Steven. Once we have converged in the base we will need to make our way to the ‘prep room’ where James is being held while not on a mission, or being prepared for a mission.” Arion’s face turned to steel and his eyes as cold as the bitter wastes of Helcaraxë. “The prep room is where they hold the conditioning device Steven called ‘the Chair’. I want it destroyed and all schematics of it erased from existence!” he said and the Commandoes nodded, quietly agreeing. “Fëanor has set up a mockup of the base nearby, and we will be practicing our separate assaults on the base with British armed forces playing the part of the enemy.” At this Arion gave up the briefing mantel to Fëanor. The Noldorean lord stepped forward and cleared his throat before speaking.

                “The soldiers who will be taking part in this think that this is nothing more than a training exercise; War games, and Special Forces training,” he said. “Most of the soldiers you will be interacting with are special forces that I have hand selected for this. We will be working with a rather recreational system that is being tested for mission prep, using lasers and special clothing that detect when you have been shot and ‘killed’.” Fëanor smirked and looked at Howard from the corner of his eye, “One of your inventions in weapons development, if I am not mistaken, Mr. Stark?” Howard grinned and shrugged, quietly preening under Fëanor’s subtle praise.

                “I may have had a hand in converting the laser tag equipment and sensors for military use,” he said offhandedly, nonchalantly inspecting his nails. Fëanor and Maedhros rolled their eyes, and continued the briefing.

                “The point is,” Fëanor continued, “that they don’t know this is a trial run on our plan. Their instructions are to hold the base against a possible enemy assault, and to keep us from obtaining two prisoners. We can’t factor in Steven’s abilities into these test runs, so they will have to remain passive members. Steven has told us he will be waiting for our telepathic signal to initiate the attack, so that is what we will try to replicate. We need to find the holes in our strategy and plan, so that when this happens for real, there won’t be any foul ups that haven’t been taken into account.” The commandoes nodded and grinned.

                “Alright then,” Dugan said, “I only got one question.” Peggy rolled her eyes.

                “And what exactly would that be, Mr. Dugan,” She asked.

                “What are we all standin’ around here for?” he asked and the Commandoes erupted into raucous laughter. Maedhros chuckled and Fëanor tried in vain to suppress his smile.

                “Very well then,” Fëanor said, “get some rest and a good hot meal. The first assault trial run starts in the morning, 0800.” With that, Fëanor turned and took Joshua and Adrian with him to get supper ready. It was going to be a long few weeks before the Commandoes were back into fighting shape, but everyone agreed that for old times’ sake, they deserved to be there to rescue Bucky and Steven from the clutches of HYDRA once more.


~*~*

Failure; He failed. There was no reason that the mission had failed. Everything was going perfect, and then he was made, they all were made, and it all turned into a big SNAFU.

                ‘Strip him,’ a guard ordered a technician. The man quickly stripped Steven of all his clothes, even his undergarments, carefully setting them down on a table for cleaning, before scuttling away. A guard grabbed his arm and roughly pulled him towards the training room and the Post. Steven quaked like sapling leaves on a spring tree, naked as the day he was born, as he was dragged into the training room for punishment.

The Post meant he was in deep trouble, and he knew it. Everything had gone wrong, and he was terrified what Misha was going to concoct as punishment for this transgression. Misha had always dealt out harsh punishments for Steven, but as time progressed since the attempted escape by his Ada, and his failure to bring him in, he had become callous to the punishments; barely feeling it, just enduring. But his mind, no… his mind was fragile and weak, on the precipice of some great tipping point. Steven could feel the fractures in his psyche becoming greater with every mission and every punishment, and every time he had to watch them strap his Ada into the Chair and see the terror in his eyes as the head gear descended to take away his memories in white hot agony. As electrical pulses wiped everything away, with every scream from his Ada’s throat, Steven was brought closer and closer to the breaking point.

Petrified as he was over the thought of whatever punishment was created for this, he willingly submitted for punishment and allowed himself to be restrained to the Post. He was numb, with both fear and confusion. The mission was perfect, the planning flawless, and yet the execution was so flawed it had not only cost them the mission, but had also killed one of their handlers. The Commander was strict to the point of abusive, and was a control freak. He had planned the mission with Steven, and had wanted in on the execution. Steven didn’t know what went wrong. He played the incident over again and again in his mind trying to find where they had made a mistake, where the flaw had been, and came up blank. Nothing sparked in his mind, but Yelena had said that one of the guards had spotted him and raised the alarm.

Steven looked up blankly as they restrained Yasha to his chair. He felt numb and apathetic to what was happening. Too many punishments over the years had made him callous to the fear and pain that a flogging would bring. Movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention and he looked up just in time to see the Controller approach with the lash in hand. Steven felt only a tremor of fear before he buried his face in his restrained arms. Misha’s booted footsteps were heavy and loud as he prowled around Steven’s form, looking for the best place to lay his first strike. The first always set the tone as to how brutal and vicious the punishment would be, and Steven knew that this one was going to be more brutal than any before. After all, the Commander was killed as a result of their failure, and the target had escaped. Steven looked up for a brief second and saw Yelena’s restrained form over his left arm. She was defiant, as usual, and surprisingly she had a look of unrepentant triumph in the quirk of her mouth. Steven felt his mind go blank with shock just before the first blow landed down from shoulder to curve of his back and to his sensitive side. Yelena was the one that had caused the alarm to go off. She had this done as revenge.

Steven arched and sucked in a sharp breath, at the unexpected blow, before he clenched his teeth and sank into himself to escape the pain. He held on tight and clung to the Post, sinking into the rhythm of the blows; all the while a constant mantra kept flowing through his head.

                ‘Just take it. It’s for Ada. Just a little longer,’ he thought, ‘just a few more, and it’ll be over.’ The blows came fast and hard across his back, crisscrossing and never in the same place twice. Steven suddenly felt as if his back was on fire, as a blow struck the same place twice in quick succession. He gasped and choked back his scream, as tears welled into his eyes. But he steeled himself and clenched his teeth again, keeping him from crying out in pain again. ‘Just a few more,’ he promised.

Screams and shrieks of agony became high-pitched whines, or whimpers, as skin finally broke open and he began to bleed. After a while, the blows stopped and Steven allowed himself a moment of reprieve before it would start again. He looked up through pain blurred vision and saw his Ada, pale with fright and shaking with silent tears. Suddenly his head was wrenched back as Misha grabbed a tuft of his hair from his forelock and pulled him back up.

                ‘You don’t get to hide from me, little Knight,’ he hissed in Steven’s ear. Steven hardened his gaze and resolves not to show further weakness to him and checked his grip again on the post. This only seemed to incense Misha further. He pulled Steven’s head back again and forced him to look at his Ada. ‘You are mine, now; both of you! Now and forever, and I will do with you what I see fit!’ Misha threw off his grip on Steven’s scalp, causing Steven to knock his head against the Post, and stood behind him. Steven looked at his Ada’s form and saw Yasha’s disgust and fear, roiling with shame and sorrow. Steven closed his eyes and waited for the blow.

Suddenly there was blinding agony, and his eyes few open as his world whited out. For a moment he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, and couldn’t do anything but arch his back in tortured agony, mouth agape, choking on his screams, before something finally gave way and shattered in his mind. The last thing he saw was his Ada’s horrified face streaming with tears before the world went black.

~*~*


 

August 23rd, 1985

The ovum exposed to the sperm has been successfully fertilized and will be implanted in 10 separate females. If implantation fails with the female subjects, we will implant the last embryo in the Soldier.

The risk of failure is too great to risk the Soldier rejecting the embryo due to trauma if wiped, so the Soldier will remain out of Cryo in a containment cell with the Knight until after the risk period has passed and the child is born.

Col. Karpov

TBC…

Chapter Text

~*~*~


 

It took the Commandoes the rest of the month to become battle ready again, and to be fully equipped with Stark’s latest and greatest gear. They wanted to be extra sure that nothing would fail and thus they were very careful about who they told about what they were doing. As a result, Stark and Peggy had to compartmentalize intelligence gathering, so that only they, and subsequently the team, saw the whole picture. Fëanor was not to be discounted with his contribution either. It was his influence and charm in and among the Lords of Parliament that secured their ship and the necessary crew to go with it.

As a result of the extra planning and secrecy, the stealth arctic ship with arctic gear and snow vehicles designed to look just like their soviet counterparts departed from a small hidden port in the north east of Norway, on October 31st. they planned to sail as far as the could into the soviet waters and find the closest location to land their ship before making for the base.

It was cold and windy by the time they finally made landfall a day and a half later. One look at the sky showed the promise of a winter storm on the horizon, and though not in their plans, the group unanimously decided to wait until the cover of the full storm to further aide their assault. The moon was just waning and was bright in the sky before the storm finally rolled in and covered their assault in a blanket of night.

 Peggy and Stark remain on the ship but watch the Commandoes go off for one final mission. Peggy looked up at the sky and shielded herself from the high winds that were blowing around the snow in violent gusts that blinded unprotected eyes. She stepped forward to Fëanor and looked him square in the eye.

                “Well, general,” she shouted over the wind gust, “it’s now or never. Good luck out there, Fëanor and Godspeed.” Fëanor and Joshua nodded, before the younger of the two climbed onto the arctic vehicle and Fëanor had just turned to go himself, when Peggy’s voice stopped him. “And, Fëanor,” the Noldor elf turned and faced the graying agent once more. “Bring our boys home!” Fëanor smiled under the winter gear and his eyes flashed brightly.

                “We will,” he said and climbed into the truck himself.

~*~**


 

Steven was sitting in his mission prep room, surprisingly, but it didn’t faze him at all. The room was a dingy faded gray that had once been bright white, but had slowly started to fade with age. There were cabinets of pockmarked stainless steel lining the walls, with reinforced glass doors.  Inside were rows upon rows of vials of drugs, specifically formulated to keep Steven under their control. Mood stabilizers and special types of psychotropic drugs meant to take away his will and make it easier for them to start the personality imprint procedure, to name a few were amongst the vials. Metal tables bolted to the floor were lined with files and procedural manuals as thick as tomes. On rolling trays were vials and hypodermic needles, and in the middle of the room was his Chair. It looked much like the one used on Bucky but without the mind wiping headgear. Instead this one had restraints and other clamps that would clamp down on his legs and arms and even his neck, effectively preventing movement while their scientists and technicians did their thing, manipulating the imbedded programming in his mind created by their Programmer. The only point of escape was right through the door directly in front of his chair. Behind the chair was another door, reinforced with heavy metal plating, and Vibranium. It looked like a vault door, and was built like one. Inside was a concrete room, with no other point of escape. It was dingy and dark with a small mattress thrown on the floor under the far wall. Imbedded in this wall were two shiny metal chains, attached to shackles, which were long enough for someone to lie down on the mattress, and move around the room to the mildewed sink and rusty toilet. They never came close enough to the door to even touch.

This was the Cage. This was where Steven was contained while not on missions. It was small and barely more than 10x10 feet square, and it was the core of Steven’s living hell for the last forty years. The concrete was reinforced by Vibranium rebar attached to the chains; effectively stopping him from blasting out by draining him of energy and strength. Steven glanced over his shoulder at the room once more, praying that it would be the last time he would ever set foot in it ever again.

Steven forced himself into absolute stillness as the doctors and technicians moved around him, and waited. Just as the doctor approached him with a syringe filled with drugs, Steven closed his eyes and waited for the pin prick that would send him into oblivion. Before it came, he heard it in the back of his mind; like a whisper but as clear as the ringing of a bell, silencing all voices in his head.

                (‘NOW,’) the signal rang through his mind. Steven snapped his eyes open and as he did so the room went dark just for a brief flickering second. But it was enough for Steven to shut down the alarms in the back and use his power over technology to invade the system and turn it off at its core. In the moment Steven knew this was done. He grinned. It was a fell and ferial grin, which promised death and vengeance to all who saw it. The technicians and doctors that were in the room saw it and glanced at each other in mute terror, as he looked up at them and the smile twisted into a snarl. Between one heartbeat and the next Steven was out of his chair, restraints shattered like glass under the maelstrom of his unleashed fury and might, and his weapons were in his hands. The guards raised their weapons and shouted at him before he silenced them with a twitch of his hand, sending his bayonet knife flying into the throat of the first guard and firing a bullet into the head of the other, all before they could raise the alarm, by shouting or fire a single shot.

Steven turned his cold impassive face on the technicians and scientists, a cruel vengeful smile tugging at his lips. The scientists trembled in fear and the technicians dropped their equipment in shock. As far as they knew, all rebellious behavior was conditioned out of their Asset years ago. Steven casually reached out his right hand and his knife flew safely back into his grasp, before he sheathed it. The gun similarly became holstered as Steven took a menacing step toward his torturers.

                “And the First angel blew his trumpet,” Steven said in a voice that bespoke of Doom, “and Fire rained down from the heavens, destroying all nature in its wake.” There was a moment of silence before one of the technicians attempted to speak Steven’s triggers. Steven’s face twisted with a snarl as his eyes filled with a hallowed light and his whole being glowed with righteous fury and holy wrath. He ceased in that moment to be their Winter Knight and became a vessel though which the Holy wrath of another existence poured itself into him and gave him its strength. Just as his whole being became suffused with light, it appeared for a moment that wings of white fire spread out from the light surrounding his form. So bright and hot was it that where they erupted was a brilliant white blue. And in this moment pure terror forced a scream from the technician, and Steven lunged with a battle cry, mingled with those of a thousand warriors; making it resonate as if he had screamed with a thousand voices.

~~**~


 

The soldier lay passive in his Chair, restrained by his arms and legs. He is quiet, almost peaceful in his countenance; not the blank canvas that it normally is. Around him is a scene of controlled chaos.  The doctors and technicians flutter about as they prepare him for is final mission. The room is not dissimilar to the one Steven was in, but instead of a cage was a room with a large tank in the shape of a tube. Most of the walls were a type of glass, with buttressing and reinforcing bars going up and down the sides. The bottom had a large metal seal that locked it into place, and along the sides were hydraulic arms that held the tank open and helped to close and open it. At the top was a series of circular heat lamps that were part of the reanimation process to his storage. More hydraulics were used to push him into an upright state after it was over, but inside was another chair that kept him strapped in while the cryogenic process began. Tubes and wires hung uselessly at the moment, but were normally used to maintain stasis while in the tube, as well as to watch his vitals and brain activity during the first stages of storage and reanimation.

The room it was held in was dark and cold, from the liquid nitrogen used in the process, as well as from the lack of paint on the concrete walls. It was dark because in the first moments of reanimation, bright light from anything other than the heating lamps would damage his eyes. Also because no one wanted to admit to their little dark secret hiding in that room; their little ghost assassin, so the room remained dark and devoid of life except for the occasional beep indicating his slow repressed heartbeat.  The Soldier glanced at the tank with a slight tingle going up and down his spine. Echoes of past reanimation and storage tingling across his skin like creeping frost, made his hair stand on end on his arm and on the back of his neck and legs.

He didn’t like that room, it was scary and too cold; not like the room they kept him in for the past few months. The medical observation room he was held in was more akin to a cell but it was warm and had a soft bed to lie on and he was given regular meals while in there.  He smiled softly as he felt the slight flutter behind his naval he had come to realize was the baby moving. He rather liked the idea of creating life rather than destroying it, but he didn’t want the comfort to stop so he waited with the chilly patience and passivity he had done with any other mission prep that they had come to expect of him. The doctor from his first ultrasound approached with the machine.

Over the past few weeks he had begun retaining the memories of his exams and daily life, and had even begun seeing snippets of a life before the cold and pain, but pushed them away because he knew that if they knew he was remembering things, pregnancy or not, they would strap him in the Chair and fry his brain until all he could remember was blankness and pain. So when the doctor came up with the machine for one last exam, he didn’t bat an eyelash and just laid back calmly as the doctor began is exam.

~~*~*


 

Fëanor gave the telepathic command to Steven before launching his assault on the base. He gave a ten count before he spoke.

                “Let’s hope Steven has those alarms down, or this will all be for naught!” he shouted against the howling wind. Nelyo and Joshua nodded, and Arion’s lips thinned as his jaw ticked with worry. “Well it’s now or never! Huan,” he shouted and the massive hound woofed as he stood beside him, his eyes laser focused on the visible guards doing their rounds. “Take them down; quietly,” he added to the hound’s vicious growl.

The first assault team crouched in wait as the massive form of the golden white hound streaked silently across the open field and attacked. The only sound that was made was his vicious snarl and the guard’s broken cry as the pony sized hound lunged for his throat and ripped it to shreds. Huan’s appearance out of the white of snow was like that of a ghost. He was swift and deadly as he attacked the guards, grabbing them by the throat and ripping out their windpipes and arteries before moving on to the next victim.  Soon enough the sound of the startled cries roused the attention of the other guards. They looked out into the whirling expanse of white snow and called out to their fellow guards. The silence that followed was like that of a horror movie, before a bone chilling howl broke the whirling moan of the wind.

                ‘Who is there,’ the guard called elbowing his companion to alertness. Silence answered and he relaxed for a moment before he heard the eerie howl of what he thought was a wolf.

                ‘What was that?’ he companion asked, looking at his partner in terror. He lifted his radio to his lips and spoke into the microphone, ‘check point D, this is checkpoint Alpha. Do you copy?’ His efforts were rewarded with static filled silence. ‘Checkpoint D, respond.’ More silence. He looked to his partner in fear, but his partner was watching the snow looking for movement. ‘Checkpoint Charley, come in.’ static, ‘Checkpoint Charley, respond.’ Silence bred panic and the guard tried hailing other sentries to no avail.

A flash of movement and the sound of feet on snow were the only warning they received before Huan was upon them; leaping out of the snow into their bunker with a snarl and growl, teeth bared and muzzle covered in blood. With a howl, Huan lunged at the closest ripping out his throat, as his partner screamed and scrambled for his gun. He was ended swiftly with a knife sailing into his chest. Huan looked up from his carnage to see Arion leap over the wall and pull out the knife sticking from the guard’s chest. Fëanor and Nelyo emerged from the snow like apparitions, Joshua not far behind. Fëanor raised his eyebrow at the blood covered hound.

                “My, what a gruesome sight you make, Huan,” he said. Huan huffed and wagged his tail panting slightly as he sat down. Fëanor chuckled and rolled his eyes.

                “Good job, Huan,” Maedhros said and ruffled the fur between his pointed ears. He grimaced at the blood that coated his lovely long fur with red and smiled wryly, knowing that the soldiers had probably mistaken the Hound for a large arctic wolf. Not surprising; Huan looked a bit like a wolf. But there was a refined quality to his wolfish looks and lankiness in his massive size that said dog not wolf. He was close enough in looks and size to fool someone at a quick glance and in the flash of battle; elsewhere, not so much.

                “Let’s go,” Joshua said, looking at the now unguarded main door, “before they notice their guards are dead.” Fëanor grinned wolfishly and drew his sword from its sheath in a flash. Maedhros’ swords were out just as fast, both long silver blades flashing in the moonlight, giving them a faint glow.

                “On my count of three,” Fëanor said as Arion took hold of the door, Joshua right in front of it with his assault rifle on automatic. “One… two…THREE,” and with that Arion yanked the door wide open and the team plunged into the breach. The sound of automatic rifle fire lit up the entryway soon followed by the screams of the guards as they were caught in the gun fire or on the blades of Fëanor and Maedhros’ swords. Arion’s blades soon became red with blood as he slashed his way through the guardroom, and the terrified screams of Huan’s victims echoed down the halls as he tore out their throats. All the while the alarms stayed silent.

~**~~


 

The second entrance was more heavily guarded, and was a traditional base entrance. Dugan and the other Commandoes grinned at the familiarity of it. It was just like back in the War. Adrian took point as their sniper and waited for the signal before shooting as many of the guards closest to the doors in quick succession.

                “NOW,” he ordered, and the commandoes stood up from their hidden position and started lobbing grenades at the guards. The gate was blasted off its hinges by Jacques’ explosives placed there earlier, and the Commandoes charged into the yard with a loud battle cry.

                “WAH-HOOO!” Dugan bellowed to the HYDRA agents, as the charged into the breach; shot gun blasting as he moved.

                “FOR SERGEANT BARNES,” Falsworth cried as he followed. Adrian grinned at their antics and whirled into battle. If Arion was likened to the angel of death, his son would be likened to the Grim Reaper. His long battle sword was traded in for an elvish battle lance, with a long spear pole. The staff with its extra-long reach made his skill even more lethal. Adrian inherited Fëanor’s talent with sword-play and elvish sword fighting, and made his way through the guards in a whirling dance of death.

Gabe’s large Browning machinegun cut swathes in the agents before they finally finished off the last one and made for the door. In true Howling Commando fashion, they kicked the door down and went in, gun’s blazing. Within minutes the guard station at the second entrance was littered with dead bodies, and the Commandoes looked to their young commander for orders.

                “We have to meet up with Steven,” he said swiftly and deftly disassembling the elvish battle lance into a more practical sword, stowing the pieces of the staff in his bag. “If his drawings of the base’s schematics are accurate, then Sergeant Barnes’ being held not far from the weapon’s room. We have to get there before they begin the Mission prep sequence in his Programming when they give him his target, or he’ll see us as an obstacle in his path to mission completion.” Morita jogged back from the hallway and the others looked at him in anticipation.

                “Hallway’s clear,” he said. “We should have a clears shot from here to the armory, and after that, Barnes.” Grins broke out all around the group before they checked their weapon’s on last time and made for the contact point, where they will meet up with Steven.

~*~*~


 

Steven’s wrath was unstoppable; his vision blanketed by a heavy mist of red rage. The moment he turned on his handlers there was no going back, as a result Steven held nothing back in his onslaught on the HYDRA agents in his path to getting to his Ada’s side. Steven saw nothing but obstacles and targets in his path to finding Bucky’s Prep room. Handlers that tried to scream out triggers against him were ruthlessly cut down before he turned on anyone and everyone that had followed them.

One could almost say it was like Steven had unleashed holy wrath and fury upon them, as an angel would against the denizens of Hell. The screams of his victims filled the hallways and was like an unholy cry of death to the HYDRA agents of what was to come. The guards had been told to station themselves between the Soldier’s Prep room and the path that the Knight would take to get there. They were loyalist and believed whole heartedly in the cause, but even they were filled with an overwhelming feeling of dread, when they started to hear the screams of terror and agony from the men further down the hall. The small contingent of ten guards gulped in fear, eyes darting to one another before setting up a defensive line, three in front kneeling on one knee to help with their aim and lower their target profile and the others standing or kneeling behind doorframes; letting the walls become their shields and barrier to what was to come.

Soon the screams stopped, and it became dead quiet, before the lights suddenly and unexpectedly went out with a droning hum lowering in pitch and volume, pitching them into darkness and dead silence. Seconds later the emergency backup lights kicked on, bathing the hall in an eerie red glow that flickered on and off every few moments. The men swallowed back their fear, and tried to will their shaking hands to stillness. It was of no use, and if anything, their fear seemed to grow. This was Steven unleashing every single tactic and power in his not unlimited arsenal to get to his Ada’s side. He was manipulating their fear and their minds by using his telepathy to stimulate what was already there: their fear of him, and their fear of him getting free.

Between on blink and the next, an ominous dark form appeared in the hallway, as if from nowhere. It was Steven, his form shrouded in shadow and a cloak of dread about him, red light bathing him with an aura of death. The guards started shaking in terror, as their worst nightmare became reality: the Knight had turned on them. Steven’s face was blank, devoid of emotion but his body told a different story. His hands were clenched around a gun and his bayonet knife, blood dripping from the blade’s tip, and were slightly shaking from his white knuckle grip. His breathing was forceful and deliberate, as if he was holding back the urge to sneer or growl. His stance was seemingly relaxed, but forcefully so and was in a state of battle readiness. His eyes were blazing bright, filled with hate and bloodlust. His dark clothes shown ominously in the light with splatters of blood and other fluids, and a smear of blood stood out starkly on his face running over his eye and down his cheek. This combined with his ominous presence and aura, drove fear into their hearts, and the guards all knew: this was the end!

Steven sneered, and his heavy breathing through his teeth made every breath sound like a deep ominous growl.

                “Get out of my way,” he growled lowly and softly, his eyes flashing like blue flames. The guards swallowed back their increasing dread and checked their grip on their weapons. “If this is what you want,” Steven said softly, eyes flashing and the room beginning to rumble and shake slightly, “So be it!”

With a snarl and roar of wrath and rage, Steven lunged; knife flying from his fingertips as fast as a bullet from a gun and his pistol firing fast and deadly accurate at each of the ten guards. By the time he reached the group, three were already lying dead on the ground and one was clutching his throat with the knife protruding from it. Steven whirled and slashed with inhuman speed, his body twisting and contorting out of the way of bullets and knife blows. He moved with all the refined and deadly grace of his father and the rest of the elves, and weaved a deadly and graceful dance of destruction with every enhanced blow he struck. Bullets either deflected away from him or stopped dead before reversing to strike their shooter, and guns seemed to fly apart into their pieces before they turned into dust. Steven unleashed every bit of his power on them, and he wasn’t about to let these men get in his way to his Ada’s side to save him.

Within a matter of moments the screams and sounds of gunfire ceased altogether and the hallway once again fell into ominous silence, only broken by Steven’s harsh and forceful breathing. For a moment, he crouched there in the middle of the carnage, before he stood back up and continued on his way to the Mission room, where he would find his Ada and freedom. Steven stepped over the mutilated corpses of his former masters, displaying his complete disregard for them by casually knocking a hand or arm out of the way with his boot. With a calm and placid, almost absentminded gesture, he opened his hand and his bayonet flew softly back into it, before he sheathed it. He didn’t look back. He didn’t look down, even as he stepped into pools of growing blood; leaving a trail of bloody footprints in his wake. As far as he was concerned, they deserved their fate; asked for it the moment they decided to turn him into their coldblooded killer, and attack dog. They should have known that if you abuse an attack dog for long enough, it would eventually turn on its masters and kill them too.

~*~*


 

                ‘It’s such a shame that this project won’t be lasting for much longer,’ Steven heard a voice say, breaking him out of his dazed and half-asleep state. Steven stood up from his pallet and looked through the crack in the door of his recovery cell. He wasn’t shackled to his bed for once, and for this Steven was grateful, because it meant he could see who was saying such things just outside his cell. Steven barely managed to stifle his gasp of shock when he saw it was none other than his and his Ada’s handler: Col Vasily Karpov.

                ‘True,’ his companion said. Steven couldn’t see his face but he would recognize that voice anywhere: Doctor Yaakov, one of the primary research doctors on discovering the secret of the Serum. ‘But look at it this way, Vaska, the Soldier will be giving us a valuable asset that we can mold from birth!’ the Handler looked disgruntled and put-out, but resigned to this.

                ‘I don’t like waste, Doctor,’ he said, ‘and this feels like a waste, but scrubbing the whole project could rejuvenate the cause again, even if it means starting over.’ Karpov sighed and clasped his arms behind his back. ‘I will miss the Soldier’s calm presence, and the Knight’s abilities, but I am out voted, so to speak. How goes the implantation process?’ there was a smile in the doctor’s voice when he spoke.

                ‘Remarkably,’ he said, ‘I only wish we hadn’t wasted those fertilized embryos on those women,’ he muttered, and Steven froze. ‘I said that his physiology was perfectly designed for facilitating childbirth, but no on listens to genius! The Soldier will carry to term and give birth just perfectly to our new Asset.’ The doctor chuckled happily and Steven barely breathed when he spoke again. ‘Ironic isn’t it? The Fist of HYDRA will carry the offspring of our greatest enemy, but then again, Captain Rogers was a superior specimen to begin with. I only regret that our Project Rebirth hadn’t been scrapped before this, or we would have had another Asset to work with.’ Steven felt his blood drain from his head as he turned and slid down the door in shock. His Ada was going to be pregnant with Steve’s child! His mind was still whirling when he heard the news that made his heart stop and his blood run cold.

                ‘It’s a shame that Lukin wants to decommission them,’ Karpov said, ‘the Knight and the Soldier have been so good to us all these years. It feels like a waste to terminate them now after all their work for us, when we are so close to achieving victory over SHIELD. When will they have us do it?’

                ‘After the birth,’ the doctor said, ‘and after we have confirmed that the baby has indeed inherited its parents enhancements from the Serum. The Knight will be kept from missions to keep him calm once we confirm the pregnancy.’ Steven heard their footsteps getting closer and scrambled back to his pallet and laid down, shutting his eyes to pretend he was still resting and recovering for his upcoming mission.

The door screeched open and Steven heard the two walk inside, the doctor to take his vitals and Karpov to keep him in check. Steven’s mind whirled behind his masquerade of calm sleep. He was running out of time, he needed to get help before it was too late. By the sounds of it, this may be his last mission.

                ‘Where is the Knight being sent to this time, Vasily,’ the Doctor asked while he took Steven’s pulse.

                ‘Berlin,’ his handler answered, ‘there is a piece of data from the Americans we need him to retrieve for us.’ Karpov chuckle in amusement, and continued, ‘I also heard that the British have put a price on his head, and have put together a taskforce to stop him.’

                ‘Is that so,’ the Doctor laughed, ‘who would they hire to do that?’

                ‘A British General, from what I heard,’ Karpov said, ‘and an MI6 agent codenamed, Mírë.’ Steven twitched as he recognized his father’s codename, but his eyes stayed shut. ‘It shouldn’t be too much of an issue for our Knight to elude them and get the data.’

Steven remained still and calm, never once giving any indication that he heard what they said, and soon enough the conversation floated away, as his mind went through this recent development at light speed. His Father was tasked to kill him, and the Soviets were getting ready to decommission himself and his Ada and replace them with his Ada and Steve’s baby, that his Ada was pregnant with. It was frightening, but for the first time in a long time he had hope. The Soviets and HYDRA had just given him the biggest opening he needed to finally escape, and it was all because they were going to kill them. Steven had no choice now, and little time. The doctor “woke” him and he was escorted to the Mission room, all the while plotting what he was going to do and say when he confronted his father. By the time he was on the transport, he had a solid plan and the will to escape and be free once more.

~*~*~*


 

Nov 2nd, 1985

The pregnancy with the Asset has progressed promisingly. The Knight has become aware of the decommissioning and is more volatile than ever before. His calming presence to the Soldier is the only thing keeping him alive these days.

The Soldier is being prepped for his final mission before he gives birth. He will be too delicate after this, and it will be too risky. I am risking a lot just with this mission. The Knight is to accompany the Soldier to ensure the baby’s health. It is ironic that the last mission for the Winter Soldier is to kill Howard Stark. That man has been a thorn in our side from the very beginning, but he was too valuable to kill before now. But with him out of the way, and with our man on the inside, we can manipulate his son just the way we want.

The Doctors and scientists assure me that the baby’s viability is not in doubt and that the mission should not harm either of them. After the Soldier gives us his final Mission Report, he will be taken to his new cell for the remainder of the Pregnancy.

Mission prep has started and the Soldier is more than ready to kill his former friend,


 

Death to HYDRA!

 


 

TBC…

Chapter Text

~*~*

The sound of a muffled explosion brought the Soldier back to awareness.  The technicians and doctors stopped what they were doing and looked up at the ceiling as it shook with the initial shockwaves; causing dust and small bits of crumbling plaster to fall off the concrete and flutter to the ground. The pause was enough for the soldier to realize that this was not normal, and he furrowed his brows in confusion. He sat up in his chair and reached out with his senses, trying to detect what was going on outside the door. He tilted his head and listened, blocking out all other noise as he stretched his enhanced hearing to the very limit of its abilities. The faint and muffled sound of far off gunfire and explosions reach his hearing, and he puzzled over it for a moment. Around him the rest of the permission prep continued unhindered. It was business as usual, and they ignored the brief flicker of the lights as they shifted from main power to backup systems.

They didn’t realize that the Soldier had closed his eyes again and was stretching out another sense that had gone unnoticed for all those years: telepathy. It was faint, and nowhere near as powerful as the Knight’s enhanced ability, but it was strong enough that it gave him an edge in battle and allowed him in this moment to find out what was happening. The faintest inklings of terror waft into his mind, followed by the even fainter sense of determination and vicious vindictive satisfaction.  The Soldier furrowed his brows in confusion, and wondered for a moment what this could mean.

                ‘Perhaps they are finally going to end it, and kill me?’ the Soldier (Yasha) thought to himself with relief. For a moment he is glad, but then he remembered the baby. ‘It doesn’t deserve to die. It doesn’t deserve this fate.’ The Soldier leaned back into his chair and closed his eyes in sorrow. Not for the first time, he wants to truly be free. He knows without a shadow of a doubt that there is no chance, but he still hoped for it. Between one breath and the next something surfaced within his mind and the Soldier was pushed down. The being that opened his eyes and gazed up at the ceiling with tears welling in them, was Bucky. He clawed his way up through the programming and conditioning, and for the first time in years he is aware of whom he is and where he is and what he has become. Tears began to run down his face as he closed his eyes with the memory and knowledge of his pregnancy. He let out a shuddery breath and opened his eyes to look up at the ceiling again. For the first time in almost forty years, Bucky let his gaze turn toward the heavens in prayer.

                ‘God, I don’t know if you can hear me,’ he prayed, ‘or even if you care, but please, I am begging you: Help me! Get me out of here, if not for me then for the baby. He doesn’t deserve this. Please,’ he prayed with silent tears running down his face, ‘I wanna go home! Send me home!’

There was silence for a moment, and then something happened. It started as a near silent whisper, almost like the sound of wind through the trees, but it grew in volume and in strength. It was a voice, soft as a whisper and as strong as steel, rolling over him in a physical force like thunder. It was in this moment Bucky knew his prayer was answered. But while Bucky heard the voice, the scientists and guards heard a loud hum that grew into a deafening ringing, filling the room and forcing the doctors to clutch their ears in pain to block out the sound. Glass began to crack and fracture before shattering under the onslaught of the sound, tumbling in a shower of tiny shards of glass around the room. Bucky didn’t see any of that, or hear it for that matter. He was focused on the commanding presence that seemed to descend into the room and drape around him in a solid and safe weight filled with comfort and caring.

                “James,” the voice said in a soft tone, invoking distant memories of a long gone father.

                ‘I’m here,’ Bucky said in his mind, not daring to speak out loud; not trusting his voice or that he would not be punished.

                “I can help you, James,” it said, “I can free you from this torment and prison.” Bucky felt tears roll down his face at the kindness. “I can set you free, if you wish. Do you want my help?”

                ‘I don’t understand,’ Bucky said, ‘How can you help me? No one can help me.’ Despair and longing filled his entire being and he looked up toward the ceiling.

The presence seemed to find this amusing and Bucky felt a soft chuckle rumble through him. He felt the presence as if he could see it, and thought that he could feel its smile.

                “I Can help you!” it said and suddenly Bucky knew that the being had a masculine voice, and began to call it a he. “I am called many things but my name is, and has always been, Michael.” Bucky had the vague memory of a church and a painting with a man shaped figure in armor and robes with wings and a sword striking down a bright but twisted figure. Again Bucky felt his companion’s amusement. “Yes, James, that is me. I am the First of the Archangels and the eldest of the Host. There is nothing, within my Lord and Father’s Will, that I cannot do. I can free you. I can restore your mind, your memories, and take you away from here.” Bucky felt, for the first time in a long time, hope, but also amazement.

                ‘How,’ he asked his eyes searching for the presence in the room but unable to find him. It seemed as if he dwelt wholly within the room and fill it totally with his angelic presence. Michael smiled.

                “I am an Archangel, and like all of my brethren, I cannot dwell in this plane of existence without a fleshly form. As a result there are Vessels that were created long ago to contain our essence, our Grace, so that we might walk the Earth as Men and interact with them,” Michael explained. Bucky furrowed his brow in confusion. “You are one of the True Vessels: Vessels that are a perfect container for the Grace of my being. True Vessels are rare and are only found from descendants of my first Vessel. I can enter you; can remain there as long as you need me. I will not harm you, in fact, by you becoming my Vessel; I can undo the programming within you and restore you again; make you whole.” Joy nearly overwhelmed him, but Bucky felt the presence of the person within his mind that called itself Yasha quail in fear.

                ‘I don’t want to die,’ Yasha whispered and Bucky felt guilty. He was just as much a prisoner of HYDRA as Bucky was, and knew nothing else. Michael seemed to sigh in understanding.

                “I can separate the two of you, contain you, little Yasha, until you are fully formed enough as a soul, and I can create for you a body of your own,” Michael said tentatively and Yasha sighed with relief and yearning. Bucky felt him recede and looked at the ceiling with renewed hope. “I can get you home, but I need to remain with you, if you agree.”

                ‘Why,’ Bucky asked. Bucky felt Michael’s displeasure and anger as assuredly as if it were his own.

                “My brothers have meddled with our Lord’s Will for the last time, and I will no longer remain to watch them destroy themselves. I need a vessel to hide from them, and only in a True Vessel can I truly hide,” Michael explained. Bucky nodded. “Will you be my Vessel, James Buchanan Barnes? Will you help me end this fruitless war my brothers started? Bucky, do you consent?” Bucky didn’t have to think for long before he gave his answer.

                “Yes,” he said out loud. His voice was gravely and rough from disuse, but it was still his voice. Michael sighed, and all at once the room seemed to be filled even more with the Archangel’s presence, concentrating itself in a swirling tunnel of light around him. Bucky arched up off the chair and seemed to be lifted from it as the essence of the mightiest of the Archangel’s began to pour into him. The spiral of light intensified and the sound grew again as Michael poured his Grace and all his essence into Bucky’s body, but carefully; mindful of the unborn life nestled within Bucky’s womb. Bucky felt himself being pushed gently down within his mind and Bucky gladly went. The last thing he saw was the guards and doctors writhing in pain as their eardrums burst and their eyes were burned out of their skulls, when they saw Michael’s Grace uncloaked pouring into Bucky’s body; his very being overwhelming them to the point of death. Bucky let himself drift down and his mind went blank.

~*~*~


 

When Steven reached the door to the Prep room, he felt instant relief. That relief was soon turned into confusion when he could not hear anything from within the room. All that he heard was a faint sound like the muffled howling of the wind behind a thick wall. His brows furrowed in confusion, wondering why he was hearing it, when he was nowhere near an outside wall. He looked down and saw a ray of light leaking out from behind the door at the bottom. Steven calmed his mind and stretched out his senses to find out what was happening in that room. He felt death and pained agony overshadowed by sheer terror, and then he sensed something else. A brightness and warmth that was wholly made of love and holy righteous wrath, and reminded him of how he felt for that brief moment when his powers and whole being were enhanced before the sheer amount of power overwhelmed him.

Steven opened his eyes and saw that the light had gone but he still felt the strange presence within. Steeling himself and forcing down his fear, he waved his hand over the lock and completely dismembered it before pushing the door open. He shifted into a fighting stance but quickly fell out of it, as his mind whited out in shock when he saw what was within. The room was in tatters, as if a whirlwind had come through and destroyed everything, but that wasn’t what had him standing blank in his shock. It was the carnage within. Bodies, dead bodies littered the room as if they had been picked up and thrown like ragdolls, doctors and guards alike. They were completely lifeless. Their ears were bleeding and their eyes were burned out of their skulls leaving a pair of gaping, scorched cavities where they should be. And in the very center of the carnage was Bucky. He was standing calmly before the ruin that was once the conditioning Chair, completely still and barely looking as if he was breathing. Steven took a step inside the room and over the corpse of a dead guard, before he halted again when he saw something else: Bucky was glowing. A strange light shown from within his body, giving him an ethereal glow, and Steven swallowed hard around the lump in his throat. Bucky tilted his head and looked over his shoulder, before he turned fully and Steven saw the change in full. It wasn’t just his form that seemed to glow with this unearthly light, his eyes were filled with it too, making his silver blue eyes shine like pale Cobalt streaked with shining silver.  The pupil was washed out with the same light, like whatever was within was barely contained within his body, and shown out of his eyes like a hallowed light.

Steven took and step back and his foot bumped into the leg of a dead scientist, forcing him to stop. Steven looked down and around him at the damage done and looked up again in startled shock as he heard careful precise footsteps moving towards him. He looked at his Ada in wide-eyed shock, with no small amount of fear, and moved out of Bucky’s way as he walked toward Steven and then past him to the door. Fearful Steven stepped closer and reached out his hand to stop him but thought the better of it.

                “Ada?” Steven asked cautiously and softly, his voice breaking a little in desperation. The Soldier paused, tilted his head and without looking back answered him.

                “I am not your father,” he said in a deeper and more gravelly voice than his Ada ever had. Steven took a step back in fear and his Ada’s shoulder’s sagged a little after he took a deep breath, “But … he his safe with me.” His Ada stood still for a moment before he turned, his eyes more normal but still unnaturally bright. “I am here to help, to undo a great wrong my brothers have done to you and your Adar,” with that he drew himself up shoulders brought back as the light in the room flickered and died, before a single light shown on him, lighting his shadow upon the wall. Steven took a step back in shock as from the back of his Ada’s shoulders on the shadow emerged the shape and form of two massive wings. Only shadows but they dwarfed his Ada’s shape with their size, stretching out to spread over the wall and wrap around it; they were so huge. Steven looked back and saw that the light had returned to his Ada’s eyes and the glow to his form. With an unearthly voice he spoke again. “I am Michael.

                “Holy Shit,” Steven breathed. Michael arched a brow and smirked.

                “Language.”

TBC….

Chapter Text

~~**~


 

The commandoes were just finishing up pulling files from the base to be hauled out for data-mining when Steven arrived. The Commandoes gape at him for a moment and Steven smiled shyly. The silence was broken when Dugan gave a hearty laugh and surged forward to pull their former Lieutenant in to his arms.

                “You’re really alive, Kid,” he laughed and squeezed Steven tight. Steven stood lax for a moment before his arms slowly came up to loosely hold Dugan of their own accord. When he realized what he was doing he quickly enveloped his arms around his Sergeant.

                “Dugan,” he sobbed softly into the aging ginger’s neck. “I thought I’d never see you again!” Dugan pulled Steven even tighter to his chest and savored the moment with the boy before the others protested.

                “Hey, Dugan,” Gabe said, “quit hoggin’ the kid, and let us have our share!” Steven released the old sergeant with a laugh and was instantly mobbed by the others. Gabe pulled him into a big bear hug that turned into a group hug when the others decided they weren’t going to wait.

                “I missed you guys,” Steven whimpered around a sob, and buried his face into Gabe’s shoulder.

                “We missed you too, kid,” Jim said into his ear, and Steven smiled. “We missed you both.”

                “Speaking of our esteemed colleague,” Falsworth said as they pulled out of the hug, “where is Bucky?” Steven puffed out a breath of air in worry and looked out to the door.

                “He’s going to meet up with Fëanor before us,” he said carefully, “but something happened,” he widened his eyes and looked at the ground shaking his head in disbelief. “And you’re not gonna believe it!”

~*~


 

Fëanor and his team make it to the records room just as Bucky comes around the corner; the moment they saw him, the breathed a sigh of relief. Arion gasped and let out a sob, emotion overwhelming him and filling him with joy and sorrow. Arion could only stare at the man he had loved so much and still loved despite everything. Bucky had changed so much in appearance, but underneath it all Arion could still see his beloved James. Overcome with joy, tears ran down his face and he rushed to Bucky. He came to stop before him and quickly took in his changed appearance, his eyes roving over Bucky’s armored leather jacket pausing for a moment on the shiny metal arm, before he reached up and brushed away the hair partially covering his face. Arion smiled watery at the change as he brought both hands up to cup Bucky’s cheeks, before he threw his arms around his beloved and pulled him flush to his body. Arion embraced his beloved and reached out through their bond to find him but when he did he felt someone else besides Bucky. Arion’s eyes snapped open and he pulled away in confusion.

                “James,” he said then shook his head. “No. Not James. Who are you?” Arion took a step back and shifted into a fighting stance. Bucky finally looked at Arion and his eyes began to glow.

                “I am Judgment and Mercy,” he said and his voice took on the tone of thunder and wind, echoing in the space as if it were a cathedral.  There was a gasp from Joshua, and the clang of a Sword being dropped from Maedhros’ hands.

                “Archangel,” Joshua gasped. Arion looked at the being that wore his beloved’s face with fear and confusion. Before Arion could speak again the commandoes and Steven came out of the record room. The Commandoes gaped in awe at the sight of their old Sergeant, the same as he was the day they lost him, not having aged a day.

                “Holy Shit,” Dugan exclaimed, and Bucky looked over at him with a raised eyebrow.

                “Language,” he chastised slowly and calmly, the glow finally fading.

In the room before Steven explained what happened. To say that they were shocked would be an understatement.

~~*~


 

                “You’re saying that your Ada, our Serge, is being … possessed… by an angel?” Morita asked incredulously. “Don’t tell me you buy this, Dugan.” Dugan looked back at Steven and saw his honesty.

                “I am not lying!” Steven hissed, “You didn’t see what it… Michael… did. He tore the room apart as if it was nothing, and the Chair… it looked as if it had been torn to shreds, as if it was made of paper! He was glowing and he showed me his wings! And he is an Archangel, Jim; there’s a difference.” Steven glared at the old Asian man, and folded his arms over his chest.  Gabe grinned and jabbed his elbow at Jacques and mumble something to the Frenchman, which he started to laugh at. Steven threw the pair a dirty look, because he heard them and understood.

                “It really is you, isn’t it, Steven,” Falsworth said with a fond smile. He chuckled and went to place a hand on the older young man’s shoulder, “you haven’t changed.” Steven smiled softly but still glared daggers at Morita. They suddenly heard voices outside and realized that the others had finally made it.

                “If you don’t believe me, then see for yourselves,” Steven said smugly. The group turned and went for the door when they heard a terrible voice like thunder and wind echo into the room. Its power had them all clenching their guns and shaking slightly in fear.

                “I am Judgment and Mercy,” it said and they all recognized Bucky’s voice but the power laced into it was not his. The clanging of a dropped sword had them all coming out of their stupor and making for the door.

~*~

                “Barnes,” Morita asked once he got a good look at the man before him, “is that you?”

The Commandoes took in his appearance with awe. He was covered head to toe in black, his jacket a mockery of the blue one he wore years ago with leather straps going across his chest the back harness and weapon belt accentuated the change in his physique, making his waste look even slimmer and chest more broad. His right arm was covered while the left was bare, showing off in contrast his shiny metal arm. His weapon belt had more weapons than they could name in a breath but contained a pair of combat knives some throwing knives and more guns then any sane man would ware in public. His Kevlar pants had knee pads and pockets that lent to a very combat feel. His boots were combat issued and made of the same reinforcing leather and Kevlar weave. Every inch of his body was crafted to feel aggressive and dangerous, and though his face was uncovered, the draw of his brow was aggressive looking and blank. His hair was longer than it was but there was no mistaking who was under the layers of armor and death. It was mockery of his former self, but it invoked awe and fear; just what HYDRA was going for in their most dangerous weapon.

The being within Bucky raised his eyebrow in a careful expression of askance, and though it wasn’t Barnes doing it, the commandoes instantly recognized Bucky’s “did you just ask me that, really?” look. That look brought a bark of laughter from Falsworth, and a trilling chuckle from Dernier, and before they knew it the whole team was roaring with laughter; even Steven had cracked a smile. Bucky, or rather Michael, simply smirked and shook his head, but his eyes and whole face softened and he looked more like Bucky than the Soldier.

                “No,” he said with a smile, “but he is in here; safe.” Dugan grinned and pulled Bucky in to a crushing bear hug. Michael grunted at the force behind it. “And I thought cupids could only hug this hard,” he groaned through clenched teeth. The group laughed at the Archangel’s obvious discomfort, and Dugan set him back down.

                “It’s good to see that he’s alive,” Dugan said softly. Falsworth came forward and sat a hand on the ginger’s shoulder.

                “If only the Captain could be here,” he said with a touch of sorrow. “He would have been so happy to know you are alive.” The commandoes all got looks of old sorrow and grief tinged smiles, before they physically shook themselves out of it.

                “not that this hasn’t been a touching reunion,” Fëanor finally said, “but I think we need to go before someone realizes that this base has been dark for too long.” The others nodded and gathered their weapons.

                “He’s right,” Adrian said, “we need to get going. Brother, shall we?” Nelyo scooped up his fallen sword with a smile and moved to take point.

                “Never thought you’d ask,” he said with a grin. Fëanor and Joshua shook their heads with rueful smiles, and followed. The group made their way out of the base, encountering comparatively little resistance on their way out than they did coming in.

The Commandoes covered the rear with Fëanor’s team in front, while Steven and Bucky (Michael) were in the middle, perfectly protected by the rest of their friends. That wasn’t to say that they didn’t fight as well. They did, and viciously they fought. Steven showed the Commandoes just how much his skills had changed and evolved, where as Michael fought with a precision and ferocity that none could match. If it wasn’t with his guns, it was with his knives. Two long triangle bladed knives whirled in his hands as he moved, flashing silver in the pale light; his face perfectly still as if carved from stone. His expression determined and steeled with wrath, made him a terrible sight to behold.

They leave the base and a trail of bodies behind them, and head for their extraction point and the ship waiting for them to take them to safe harbor. Just as they crest a hill overlooking the base, Michael stopped. The rest of the team took notice and turned to see why.

                “Mike,” Dugan asked, “why’d you stop?” Michael stood staring at the ground for a moment before he turned and looked at the base. On his face is a look of pure malice, and hatred that none of the Commandoes had ever seen on their sergeant before; save for briefly when Zola’s name was ever mentioned in his earshot. “Michael?”

Michael’s breathing was forcefully calm, as his face broke into a vicious snarl. It was a look of utter hatred, one he had thought was only reserved for his fallen brothers. Suddenly he brought his right arm up and straight out, palm and spread hand facing the base. At first there was nothing. Then the ground began to shake. It was slight at first, only a low tremble, but it quickly grew into a full tremor as the earth seemed to roll and quake under an unseen force. Cracks started to form in the ground around the base as Michael’s expression grew more cold and determined. Suddenly his palm twisted up and he thrust his arm up toward the heavens, as if he was sweeping something away. In the blink of an eye the base is enveloped in a beam of blinding light, so bright that the others had to turn and look away. The sound of breaking stones and twisting metal reach their hearing, over the massive sound of an explosion, before they are knocked down by the force of a shockwave. The sound as it rushed over them was akin to a blast wave. The rush of suddenly displaced air being violently forced away was like a prolonged thunder clap; it roared long and low. It could be felt in the bones. Steven braved a chance to look and saw the light collapsing in on itself, pulling in everything near to it like a collapsing star. And then like a cosmic implosion, the light exploded back out and pushed them all back into the ground; another shockwave pressing them all flat; but not Michael.

Bucky’s form stood tall and strong under the onslaught. He never moved an inch his arm still thrust toward the sky and his face as still as stone. Finally the dust and wind began to settle, and the earth became enveloped in a deathly calm. Nothing sounded. Neither a bird nor beast made a sound; even the wind had ceased its howling it became so still. The commandoes finally pulled themselves back onto their feet as Michael lowered his hand to his side. They all moved to stand at his side to see what had happened. They looked over the hill’s rise and were instantly overcome with shock.

                “My …GOD!” Falsworth gasped, when he saw the sight before him.

                “Lord in Heaven,” Dugan breathed.

                “It can’t be,” Morita exclaimed.

                “It’s… just,” Gabe tried to put into words, but couldn’t. Luckily Jacques did.

                “C’est incroyable,” he said, “Il n’y a rien!” (It is incredible! There is nothing!)

                “It’s gone,” Steven said.

                “As if it never existed,” Maedhros breathed in shock. He looked at his father, and saw similar shock and awe on his face. He looked back down on what was once the base. Down below was nothing more than a smoking ruin and smoldering crater where the earth collapsed in on itself when the base was vaporized under Michael’s blinding wrath and might.

                “And God raised his hand and sent the angels and the Archangels, to destroy his enemies,” Joshua said softly as Michael turned and looked at them with glowing eyes. “And Michael raised his might against them, and they were smote from existence.” Joshua looked at the wide eyes of the others and then back at the Archangel. “You’ve done that before, haven’t you?” Michael nodded and looked at the destruction he wrought.

                “The last time I did that was in Sodom and Gomorra,” he said, “I wiped the cities from the face of the earth so that none could find them in the future.” He looked at the group again and smiled softly. He dropped his chin to his chest and seemed to sag under his own weight, and he would have toppled over had Steven not reached out and grabbed him by the arms to hold him up.

A change came over the man in Steven’s arms, as if a weight had been lifted and years of hardship were lifted from his face leaving it young and soft again. Bucky’s form slowly blinked his eyes open and looked up, and for the first time in years there was recognition in his eyes, when they light on Steven; recognition that Steven knows.

                “Stevie?” he said softly, and Steven’s face crumpled as tears fell and a brittle smile pulled across his lips, full of joy and love.

                “Ada!” Steven sobbed and buried his face in Bucky’s chest. He was finally home.


 

TBC….

Chapter Text

~~*~*


 

Peggy and Howard waited in the ship for the others to return. It was a long and arduous wait, and there were several times that Howard went up on deck to look for any sign of their team’s return; successful, hopefully. It was the wee small hours of the middle of the night, when it seemed that the moon had finally given up its final light that Howard made another vigil watch for the others, when Peggy finally had enough of waiting below deck, and joined him. The two stood side by side, peering out into the snow waiting for any sign of the mission’s success or failure.

Suddenly they felt the ship begin to shake with the faintest signs of tremors. Howard looked out toward the tundra in hopes of seeing anything in the whirling snow. Then the earth began to shake with such violence that the boat began to bob and roll with the now violent sea.

                “I thought there weren’t any fault-lines in this area,” Peggy shouted above the wind as she clutched to the railing. Howard dug in his heels and clutched the railing for dear life.

                “There aren’t,” he yelled. Peggy looked at him with worry, before turning her gaze back to the frozen tundra. Suddenly the tremors seemed to cause the earth to split and crack, and very quickly Howard was worried that their mooring wouldn’t hold. Just as he was about to let go of the rails to talk to the captain, the tremors reached their crescendo and a blinding beam of light burst from the ground in the direction of the base.

                “What in the name of God is that?” Peggy shouted as she turned away from the light.

                “I don’t know,” Howard yelled back. “But it came from the base!” suddenly the howl of the wind was silenced by the deafening boom of an explosion. The two directors had barely the time to look at each other in abject horror, before they were knocked to the ground by the force of a massive shockwave. The force of it rolled over them long and low, causing their very bones to be shaken by it. Howard braved the risk to his sight and looked over his arm, which had been shielding his face from the blast, and gaped at the sight of clouds and snow being sucked into the direction of the beam. He watched in awe as the light began to collapse in on itself, before exploding back out. Howard had just enough time to shield his face and eyes again before the shockwave rushed over them like a wave, knocking them flat again. Howard likened the sound and sight to an imploding star, and to an atomic bomb detonation.  The wind howled louder and longer than any of the gusts before and carried with it the smell of ozone and scorched rock.

After a few deafening moments the wind died, and the ship was enveloped in a deadly calm. Peggy and Howard uncovered their eyes and looked at each other, before Howard pushed himself to standing and helped Peggy to her feet. They both rushed back to the rails and peered out over the now silent tundra for any sign of what had happened. It took them a moment to realize the wind had completely died and the storm was silenced. There was no sound at all.

                “What just happened, Stark,” Peggy said quietly, fearful to break the calm. Howard shook his head and lifted his binoculars to peer deeper across the white barren ground. A wisp of smoke on the horizon did nothing to quell his fears that something had gone terribly wrong.

                “I couldn’t… I don’t know, Pegs,” he answered shakily. After a long moment he dropped the binoculars back to lie on his chest by the strap. “I don’t even want to … fathom a guess.”

                “What is your best hypothesis based on what we saw,” Peggy asked. Howard floundered for the words.

                “I don’t think I wanna do that,” he whispered. Peggy turned to look at him and saw his wide and fearful eyes laden with guilt.

                “Howard, they’re not dead,” She told him, trying to cut off his line of thinking.

                “You don’t know that,” he said.

                “Howard,” Peggy said calmly, trying to placate his fears.

                “You saw what I did! I’ve only seen that kind of an explosion once,” he snapped, his brown eyes wild with fury and grief. “No one could survive that,” he whispered. Peggy looked away from his wide tear-filled eyes and back to the snowy wastes.  At first she thought her eyes were playing tricks on her but after blinking several times, she realized that the specks on the horizon were in deed the snow goose crawlers they had brought with them.

                “Look!” she said with a growing smile. She pointed at the approaching vehicles, and Howard snapped his gazed out to the snowy ground. He quickly brought his binoculars up and looked through them. Sure enough, Howard could see the waving arms of the red haired son of Fëanor leaning out the window of one of the crawlers.

                “It’s them,” he shouted. His smiled stilled as he looked for Maedhros’ hand signal, but it grew to a manic grin when he saw Maedhros signal success. “They did it!” Peggy threw her arms around Howard’s shoulders and laughed and cried into his chest. Howard paid this no heed as he focused on the second crawler for sight of their recovered friend. Howard let loose a bark of laughter, when he caught a glimpse of a silver arm in the truck. “I can see Barnes!” he dropped the field glasses from his eyes and grinned. He wrapped his arms around Peggy and let loose a whoop of a laugh.

                “They did it,” Peggy crowed, “We did it. Oh, if only Steve could be here!” Howard pulled away and met her trembling smile with his own. He hadn’t seen her like this since the early years after Steve’s death. Here lips were trembling and her eyes were wet with tears, but her face was still strong. It was no wonder Rogers had loved her so; she was an amazing woman.

                “I know, Pegs,” he said, “I wish he was too.” He gave her a brittle smile, before he turned back to watch the crawlers come to a stop on the ground very close to the gangplank.  The doors opened and the two aging directors quickly walked down to ground level to meet them. The two come to a shocked halt when Steven exits the second truck followed quickly by Bucky.

                “My God,” Peggy exclaimed. Her shocked wide eyes never left Bucky’s form.

                “My sentiments exactly, Peg,” Howard said as his eyes raked over Barnes’ form. Aside from the grunginess and the long lanky hair, Bucky didn’t look any older than when he did during the war. It was his slightly gaunt appearance that hollowed out his handsome face, and the haunted look in his frightened eyes that gave them pause; suddenly glad that his captors were most assuredly dead. “He doesn’t look much older than the last time we saw him. Hard to believe it’s really been forty years.”

                “It’s almost unbelievable,” Peggy said as Steven coaxed his Ada toward the ship and their friends. “I wonder if Steve…” she stopped herself, and moved to join the group. They had all gathered around Bucky, but he only looked confused and frightened. “Gentlemen, I do believe we should continue this inside. And if you are not opposed, I think we should tell the captain to get under way.” Peggy quickly ushered them back to the ship and up the gangplank, before back into the comfort of their own ship’s galley.

                “Jesus Almighty, Barnes,” Howard said with a grin, “it’s really you!” Bucky looked at him from his chair nearest the heat, all snuggled up with a blanket over his shoulders and his hands wrapped around a mug of hot cocoa. His expression was confusion and no small amount of fear.

                “Do I know you,” he asked softly. The commandoes all looked sad and despondent for a moment, before they all started telling him their names and how they met. The longer they talked the more confused he looked, as well as frustrated.

                “James,” Arion said softly as he came to kneel before Bucky. “Do you know who I am?” Bucky looked at him for a moment before a type of peace washed over his face.

                “There was dress,” he said softly. Arion grinned, tears pouring down his face with his overflowing joy.

                “Yes,” he gasped, “there was.”

                “And… rings,” he with confusion and blossoming hope in his eyes. His gazed dropped to his silver hand and he worried his ring finger with a thoughtful expression. He seemed to pause in this for a moment before he spoke again. “In light…or in darkness,” he said as if the words were drawn out of him by force. He looked up at Arion with awe and overwhelming love, mingled with recognition, and breathed, “My love eternal!” Arion’s face glowed with joy.

                “James,” he asked. Bucky’s face crumpled and he began to cry.

                “I’m so sorry,” he sobbed, “I missed our wedding!” Arion gasped and threw his arms around Bucky, laughing and weeping with joy.

                “It’s alright, meldonya,” he said (beloved), “at least we are together again! Oh, my love! I’m so sorry! I left you there! I love you so much; I thought I would die when they told me you were gone!” Bucky wrapped his arms around Arion, and buried his face in his long golden hair. He breathed in Arion’s sent and kept pressing kisses to his jaw and neck.

                “Doesn’t matter,” he murmured into his neck, and pulled away to look him in the eye, “you’re here, that’s all I could ever hope for!” he smiled and looked at the others. One by one, recognition dawned on his face as he remembered them and laughed and cried with equal measure of joy and relief. When he came to Peggy he grinned like a loon. “Pegs? Is that you?” Peggy bravely held back her tears. She thought she would never hear his voice say her name again. It hurt, because she always knew he would know her as Steve’s best girl. As soon as he remembered him, all his joy and hope would vanish into a void of despair.

                “Yes, Sergeant,” she said. Bucky grinned cheekily at her.

                “You haven’t changed a bit,” he said charmingly. Peggy gasped, and covered her sob with laughter, wanting so badly to scream at the unfairness of it all. That Steve was gone, and once Bucky remembered him, she would have to relive that pain all over again on his face.

                “And you are still a sly charmer,” she teased, “At lease they couldn’t erase that from you. Though some might wish they had.” Bucky grinned and laughed, before he turned his gaze on Howard. At first there was a glimmer of something, before recognition bloomed across his face with a smile that suddenly died on his lips. His face went deathly pale, and horror rounded his eyes to as big as saucers.

                “I think,” He said timidly, “they wanted me to kill you.” Horror bloomed across the faces of the rescue partly like a bad bruises. Howard let out a nervous chuckle, and loosened his tie.

                “Well,” he said, “if they wanted that, then at least I’m doing something right.” He chuckled and wilted under the combined force of the glares of the commandoes and Peggy. “What? I thought we should look on the bright side. You’re not going to… are you?” he asked. Bucky quickly shook his head.

                “They didn’t get that far,” he said, “I saw your picture in the kill file, but they hadn’t given me the activation sequence. I wasn’t given the orders yet.” There was a collective sigh of relief from the group.

                “Well, that’s a relief,” Dugan said. Steven nodded as well. Bucky suddenly seemed to sag in Arion’s hold and he leaned heavily on the elf. The others saw this and smiled. “I think you better take Bucky off to his bunk to get some rest.” Arion nodded, and helped Bucky to his feet.

                “We’ll finish debriefing in the morning,” Peggy told them, “when we’re in safer waters and are all freshened up a bit.”

Arion carefully took Bucky to lie down on his own bunk and took the chair next to his. Bucky smiled up at him and quickly entwined their fingers together; flesh and metal. Bucky’s eyes began to droop, and before long they shut altogether. When his breathing finally evened out with the indication of sleep, Arion pressed a kiss to his crown.

                “Goodnight, my darling,” he said and carefully lowered himself to lie beside him, cautious not to disturb Bucky’s much needed rest.  After a moment, Bucky’s metal arm wrapped around Arion’s waist and he rolled over to pull him into his strong arms. Arion snuggled up to Bucky’s much broader chest and breathed in his sent; smiling all the while. “Sweet dreams,” he murmured as he slipped off to the land of dreams as well, all the while sending waves of love and calm across the bond to keep the terrors from his betrothed’s rest.

~*~*


 

Howard and Fëanor stood together later, hunched over the blue-prints of something. Steven wandered in looking for company, and unwilling to go to sleep just yet, and saw them. He tilted his head in confusion as he heard heated whispers ping back and forth between the two, and approached them on silent feet. When he was close enough he finally heard what they were saying.

                “No, no, no,” Howard said, “the power cell has to be there or else it there won’t be enough room for the mechanical skeleton.”

                “We have already crammed too much stuff in the bicep already, Stark,” Fëanor argued. “We need more room if we are going to focus all the main electronics in the upper part of the arm.” Stark signed and ran his hand through his silver hair. Steven peeked over his shoulder and saw a schematic of the mechanics of a robotic arm; more specifically, one to replace the current model his Ada wore.

                “If only we knew how far up the connection actually is in the arm, so we can actually build off of that,” he said. Steven looked again at the plans and realized that they were based on the theory that his Ada still had some of his arm and shoulder left; which he didn’t. Hadn’t had any of it left since the late fifties and the second model was put in. Steven then remembered the trackers and kill-switches placed into the arm to prevent another escape attempt. Both issues had to be rectified, and Steven realized now was as good a time as any to fix the first problem.

                “That won’t work,” he said calmly. Stark squeaked like a little girl that saw a mouse, and leapt two feet into the air, whirling and clutching his chest with fright and breathing like he had just sprinted a hundred yards.

                “Jesus H Almighty,” he gasped, “since when did you become as silent as death. What did they teach you in there, how to frighten a man into a heart attack by startling him 101?” Steven smirked and snickered at his unmanly squeak. Fëanor wasn’t any better, huffing and shoulders shaking with silent laughter. “That wasn’t funny! I have a very delicate heart these days.” Steven smothered his smile, and explained his interruption.

                “What I meant was,” Steven said as he pushed Howard aside to point at the plans, “those plans are useless on Ada. He has no humerus left, and his shoulder has been completely replaced.” Stark slumped in frustrated defeat, but Steven smiled. “The connection is in the shoulder socket, and most of the neural interfacing is there. There is definite room for improvement. With my help and with Fëanor’s skill in the forge with metals, I think we can make the replacement even better. For one it will be lighter.” Steven started pointing out and drawing where things were laid out in the arm and shoulder, moving into the chest and shoulder blade, before explaining the reason for the interlocking plates. After a while Stark realized something.

                “You know,” he said slyly while fingering his mustache, “with your powers I bet that you could scan the arm, and create a perfect three dimensional model layer by layer all at once. That way we can improve the structure and the overall mechanics of the arm without having to worry about crowding, because we won’t be working from scratch.” Steven looked at Howard in surprise and then looked thoughtful for a while. Fëanor on the other hand, looked impressed. “What? I have good ideas once and a while. Not as often as they used to, but still.”

                “That could work,” Steve said softly. “It would also have the benefit of finding the trackers and kill-switches without having to tear the whole thing off. I know he wants it gone but he has kind of gotten used to the thing; so have I, to be honest.” Stark put up his hand and stopped him from his external mutterings.

                “Whoa, whoa, wait,” he said, “back up; Kill-switch, trackers; as in plural?!”

                “Yes,” Steven said confused, as if that was obvious.

                “We’ve got to get them out of him, NOW!” he said, and made to go for the living quarters before Steven and Fëanor stopped him.

                “It can wait until Ada gets some sleep,” Steven said. Howard looked about ready to argue until a sharp look from the Noldor smith forced him to back down. Steven smiled and continued; “Besides they made me design the blasted thing in the first place, so I could have a new and improved model drawn up in no time. In fact, if there is enough dust in here,” Steven said before he stood back and laid his hand on the table. He drew his hand up and from the drawing raised a perfect three dimensional model of his Ada’s arm; socket plating and all. “There, that should do it.” Fëanor’s and Howard’s eyes went wide with awe and their jaws just about hit the floor.

                “WOW,” Howard said, “you definitely couldn’t do that in the war.” Steven smiled shyly.

                “What is the material made of,” Fëanor asked.

                “The original schematics called for Vibranium alloys, but they used steel,” Steven said his nose curling up in disgust. Fëanor looked it over with a critical eye and Howard did the same once his awe and wonder wore off.

                “I can already see where we can improve it with better tech and alloys,” Howard said, pointing to the power cell and the neural connection, and the wires that acted as nerves. “Some of it will have to be invented to do it, but with your help, I don’t see why we can’t have a working model ready before Christmas.” Steven grinned with joy, glad someone was finally listening to his ideas.

                “yes, and if we use Mithril alloys for the majority of the outer shell,” Fëanor said, while pointing to the hand, “and have the hand made of all Mithril, with Vibranium for the majority of the inner and some of the outer structure to reinforce it, it would be virtually indestructible; Mithril in the hand for strength and the Vibranium in the meat of the forearm and upper arm to absorb heavy impacts and punches. “ Fëanor began to verbally brainstorm his ideas; showing off why he was so revered as a craftsman and inventor for his innovative ideas and groundbreaking methods; all the while, without realizing it. “There will need to be an impact absorbing gel for the joints and specialized caps for them to prevent denting. An internal sheathing to create water tightness, perhaps a carbon-fiber and Vibranium/Mithril weave; with a coating to protect from corrosion perhaps. Yes, yes, that will work.”

Howard looked at Steven’s shocked and awed face with his own grin.

                “He’s not far off what I would design,” he told Steven. “That combination of metals and materials would definitely guarantee the arm would be light enough to not be any different from his real arm, and strong enough to take the punishment he is used to doling out with this version.” Steven smiled, “we’ll get those trackers out as soon as possible, and remove the kill-switch too. We don’t want to lose you or him so soon after getting you back. I think it would kill your father, if you did.”

Steven smiled and started altering his holographic design to fit the new alterations the two scientists and inventors made. All the while, he smiled, and wondered at his state: he was truly free.

TBC…

 

 

Chapter Text

~~*~*

Joyous Guard: Never had there been a more beautiful sight to Bucky and Steven’s eyes than when they saw the shining manor on the hill and the cliff and sandy beach below. Bucky all but wept when the ship finally docked and he stepped foot onto soil he hadn’t trod in forty years. Arion and Steven caught him and held him up when his knees threatened to collapse under the onslaught of his emotions. Joy and sorrow, flooded his body, and were most prevalent in his mind. The night before, they had removed his trackers and threw them into the sea, along with the kill-switch and other control features not necessary to the arm’s function. When this was finished, it was as if a veil had lifted from his mind, and for the first time realized that someone was missing from the group. A face that at first he couldn’t place a name to until he remembered the day Steven was born. Against logic and driven by fear he asked, when the group was together, the question that was troubling his mind.

                “Where’s Steve?” The group collectively froze on the spot, and Bucky looked at them with worry and mounting fear that something was terribly wrong. “Where is Steve?” he asked again with a harder voice, but they all could sense the fear and dread in his voice. They all remained silent for a long moment, sorrow and old grief clouding their features. Panic raced across Bucky’s features and his breathing became uneven. It was Peggy who finally broke the silence and put words to Bucky’s mounting dread.

                “Steve,” Peggy said, her voice cracking and eyes filling with tears. She swallowed hard around the lump in her throat and steeled herself for the conversation that she thought she would never have. “Steve…” she paused took a cleansing breath and continued, “a few weeks after your… after you fell… Steve went after the last HYDRA base. It was in the Alps, and Steve was able to get us in. We almost didn’t make it in time. Schmidt… he built a plane that could take him and several bombs to the states. He called the bomber the Valkyrie and with it he was going to raze the world’s major cities to the ground. By the time we got there, Schmidt had already taken off. Steve was lucky to get on the plane. That was the last time I saw him.” Peggy could barely hold the tears back, just by looking at Bucky’s face. Heartbroken couldn’t even come close to the expression on his face. He looked crushed and devastated. His tears flowed freely and he clenched his jaw, desperately holding back the sobs building in his chest. He opened and closed his mouth several times; not trusting his voice not to crack. Peggy soldiered on. “By the time we made contact again, he told us that Schmidt was dead and… the plane was… was headed for New York.”

Bucky let out a gasping sob then, and clutched at Arion’s offered hand. Steven stood aside, his face like stone save for the tears running like rivers down his face. He knew what happened next. After all, it was how they finally broke him.

                “Steve,” Peggy croaked, tears finally flowing, “he… he put the plane in the water… somewhere off Canada in the arctic. He saved the world, and gave his own life for it!”

The dams finally burst and Bucky let loose a choked wail. Arion gathered him into his arms and let Bucky wail and scream into his chest, all the while tears of his own were running down his face and into Bucky’s hair. Bucky clutched at him for dear life, and Arion let him. He became Bucky’s anchor of emotion, and pillar of strength, while Bucky crumbled and fell to pieces in his arms. Bucky’s sobs and wails were an ugly thing; all gasping breaths and gut wrenching screams. Steven’s grief was quiet but every now and again, his breath would hitch and a small whimper would escape his mouth. Arion looked up at him and saw the aged grief and hopeless despair in his son’s eyes. With a tight smile, he lifted his arm and beckoned him in. With a sob, Steven collapsed into his father’s embrace, and held onto his parents as he grieved with them. It took several minutes to calm him down, but eventually Bucky stopped wailing and screaming out his anguish. He pulled away from his beloved and their son with a quivering smile, and looked at Peggy.

                “Did he suf…” Bucky asked and swallowed down a sob. “Was he afraid? Did he suffer?” Peggy kept a stiff upper-lip but even her resolve not to break down in tears was cracking. Even forty years later, and the pain was still strong.

                “I stayed on the line with him,” she said softly. “I spoke with him the whole time. We… we made plans… to go dancing.” Bucky let out a watery giggle at that.

                “He was a horrible dancer,” Bucky said with a watery smile. “Had two left feet; you’d never know he was mostly elvish!” the group shared a weak chuckle, and Bucky looked back at Peggy again. “What else?”

                “I told him I’d show him how to dance,” she said softly. “He…” Peggy took a fortifying breath to stop her crying and smiled at Bucky. “Howard said it… it was likely he hit his head on the instrument panel. He probably never felt a thing.” Bucky let out a wounded sound, and buried his face in Arion’s chest again.

                “He would have been unconscious, probably had a concussion,” Howard said hollowly, staring into his drink. “He would have slipped into a coma from hypothermia and … it would have been like he fell asleep. I doubt he felt anything after the crash.” Howard stared at his drink for a long time, remembering the first recovery mission, when he made the decision to keep looking for Steve; not Captain America, Steve. “I still look for him. Every year, I look, but we have no idea where he went down.”

                “You mean you never found him!?” Bucky shouted; his face contorted with horrified shock. Howard shook his head.

                “Officially, Steve was labeled Missing in Action, possibly dead,” Howard said with a hollow voice, “the army won’t declare him officially dead until they find the body. There ain’t no body; nobody ain’t dead; as they say. Hence the search and recovery missions every year that I fund out of my own pocket. They stopped; I didn’t.” Bucky smiled weakly at his old friend.  Howard smiled back with a little more life in his eyes again. “I will find him, Barnes. I promise. If it takes me ‘til the next millennium to find him, I will. Steve won’t stay out there forever. He’ll get his funeral, he’ll be with his parents; you have my word!”

Bucky felt the weight of the past few days greatly. And finally being on friendly soil again, allied soil, made his heart soar. He walked into the house, remembering with perfect clarity the last time he stood on those floors and walked the halls, he was with Steve. He felt alive again, and more himself than he had in years. Bucky made for the living room but stopped and turned into the library. He smiled in nostalgia. It was exactly the same. The rug, the sofa, the chairs; even the book shelves were the same. The only thing different was the large painting over the fireplace mantle. Bucky smiled softly and sadly. It was the painting Steve did of the photograph he took of Fëanor and his whole family, reunited and reconciled.  It was the picture Bucky had liked the most out of the lot, and Steve had put his paints to use and made his one and only painting. Bucky and Steven had thought it was gorgeous, but Steve was a perfectionist when it came to art, and worked at it for weeks before he finally gifted it to the elf as a Christmas present. Bucky sighed and sat down on the familiar sofa before curling up on his side to rest.


 

~*~*~


 

He was a woken several hours later by a gentle hand on his shoulder. Bucky blurrily blinked up at his host and smiled contentedly. He sat up and stretched languidly like a cat before he made note of the tray of food before him with a grin. Joshua smiled and let him dig into his simple meal of mashed fruit and a rich vegetable and beef broth. Steven warned them not to give his Ada any heavy solid food for a few days, to let his stomach re-accustom itself to anything but nutrient mush. Bucky looked up from his soup and saw Adrian smiling at him from the other loveseat. Steve flashed him a quick smile before he focused back on his food. A few moments later the others arrive just as Bucky was setting down his bowls, licking his lips and the spoon several times to get every last drop. He blushed at the collective chuckle it produced from the others, and set the spoon down.

                “So,” Maedhros said with his arms crossed over his chest, after a long pause, “Steven told us about your little identity issue.” After a second of confusion and furrowing his brow, Bucky gasped and nodded, as if a light bulb had gone off in his head.

                “Ah, that,” he said with a small awkward smile, “it’s not so much of an issue as it used to be.”

                “Ada,” Steve said with a stern scowl. “Yasha is completely separate personality and has a great deal of the Soldier’s instincts and conditioning, built into his psyche. I wouldn’t say that it is a non-issue in the least!”  Steven glared. He knew Yasha’s mind, he was in his mind enough to know the difference between them, and Yasha was a problem. Bucky smiled and chuckled.

                “It’s not an issue anymore, because,” he said, “Yasha is no longer a loyalist.”

                “That’s impossible,” Steven exclaimed, “he was formed from the Soldier and was made to be loyal; he can’t not be: it’s in his programming!” Bucky sent his son a cold and hard look.

                “Just like it’s in my programming, Steven; in yours,” he said, and Steven flinched. Bucky’d struck a nerve just as he had intended, but his face softened and he smiled. “And I didn’t mean he was never a loyalist. I said, he is no longer a loyalist; big difference! He ceased to be after he realized some things, chief of which was that he was being used, and saw what they put you through. He wants no part of it; not any more. Michael is going to help me with him, and as soon as Yasha is ready, he is going to make him his own body.” Steven started and looked at his Ada in shock. The others held similar expressions of disbelief.

                “Who’s Michael,” Stark asked. Steven and the others winced. Bucky looked uncertain but felt a calming nudge from the current passenger in his mind.

                “Michael is, ha… well, he’s Michael,” Bucky said unsure as to tell his friend’s he was currently possessed by the most powerful of all the archangels.

                “St. Michael the Archangel, general and commander of the Holy seven Legions,” Steven answered for him. Stark’s gaze zeroed in on the sergeant with skepticism.

                “There’s no such thing,” Stark snorted. Bucky’s eye twitched and Steven looked at the others for help but they just shrugged their shoulders. They had no idea how to convert ardent skeptic Howard Stark into believing that an honest to God Archangel was using their sergeant as a vessel.

Suddenly Bucky felt himself being shoved down as Michael surged to the surface with ire and irritation, and the others gasped in shock as his eyes began to glow and turned vibrant cobalt. The whole room began to shake and the lights flickered out. Lightning flashed, and just like at the base the massive shadowy outline of wings began to spread across the wall.

                “This is you problem, Howard Stark,” Michael said, his voice echoing with a thousand others, “You have no faith.” Howard paled and sank back in his seat. And just as suddenly as he arose, Michael dove back under the surface; pushing Bucky back up again. Bucky looked at Stark with a look that said “you believe me now?” and Howard chuckled nervously, before tugging at his collar.

                “Peg is never going to believe this,” He mumbled.

                “I think she believes just fine,” Peggy said from the doorway. She was the picture of composure, but signs of shock and no small amount of fear could be seen in her eyes. Michael had shocked and unnerved her.

“So Michael, “Howard chucked nervously, taking a sip of his drink, “He can do that?” Stark asked. Bucky nodded.

                “Then why does he need you,” Steven asked, and Bucky licked his lips as his brows furrowed in thought. It took him a moment before he spoke and haltingly answered.

                “Michael says that it is possible to create a vessel for himself,” he said carefully as if he was trying to wrap his head around the idea or the concept. “but it takes a lot of time and energy to do that, and most of the time they don’t look right because they are rushed, also because it is very noticeable, and he wants to stay off his brothers radar; so to speak. He says that it will take time, and that is time he didn’t have. Yasha has agreed to this.” Bucky said imploringly, “he agreed to remain under the surface for as long as it took to make his body. I know this is confusing, it’s confusing me, but Michael hasn’t lied. I can feel it. It’s different now. Yasha’s thoughts are not tangled in mine anymore. And the Soldier is even farther down; I can hardly feel the … anything about it anymore!” Bucky smiled, full of wonder and joy, and after a moment Steven did too.  There was relief in his grin as well as joy, for Steven did not want to take another life; especially not one that had been his only refuge in his darkest hours.

                “So he’s safe,” Stark asked. Bucky nodded, and the group smiled and sighed in relief. “Good! Well,” Howard said with a clap of his hands, “now that we have that messiness out of the way, Fëanor and I are going to get to work on the skeleton of the internal structure. We could use your help too, Steven,” he said and pointed at the technopath. Steven blinked in surprise and smiled.

                “I’d be delighted to help, Howard,” he said. He stood up and started to follow the two inventors out of the room. “I actually have some ideas about improving the artificial nerve-system. Have you ever heard of fiber optic wires?” Bucky smiled, as the conversation finally drifted out of the room and beyond his hearing.

Bucky sighed in relief, at Howard’s quick deflection back to what he cared about. It was clear the inventor was unnerved, but he wasn’t the type of man to show it. Peggy moved into the room briefly after Steven and Howard had left and set her hand on Bucky’s shoulder in a sign of comfort but quickly left. Michael was an unknown to her, and she needed time to process what she had seen and heard. The others took it quite well but Peggy and Howard didn’t see what Michael did, and the Archangel had no intention of a repeat performance in the near or distant future.  A wistful smile stretch across his face as he pushed those thoughts out of his head and focused on his son. He looked up at the group, and wished that a certain someone was there with them.

                “Steven’s going to be having a blast,” he said to Arion and the group. His smile was wistful and serene, but there was a touch of sadness to it. “I wish Steve was here,” he said and Arion moved to sit beside him and took his hand. Bucky’s smile returned but it was filled with age old hurt. “He would know how to encourage Stevie’s talents.” Bucky paused and gripped Arion’s hand tighter as the tears threatened. “I always knew he was gonna die first, it’s just… I never wanted to see the day come, ya know? I did everything I could to keep him alive, and what does he do?” Bucky laughed brokenly, “The moment I leave he gets shot up with that Serum, and joins the War! He was supposed to stay away!” Bucky sobbed, “The minute I’m gone, he went on a damned suicide mission and killed himself to save the world!” Bucky ranted a snarl on his face but tears in his eyes. He broke down in tears when Arion wrapped his arm around him. “I miss him so much!”

                “It’s alright, love,” he said, “Steve wouldn’t want you to dwell. He would want you to live your life. Make something better for yourself than what you were given. Take your life, take what HYDRA gave you and turn it into something good; into something that can help people!”

Bucky calmed and genuinely thought about what Arion said. To make his life something good again, would be a big snub at HYDRA and all their work on him, but to turn what they had created into something that could save lives instead of destroy them; that would be the ultimate snub of all. Bucky thought for the first time about his life after the War. What he’d planned to do with himself, and how he was going to make the world better. A smile grew on his face as he remembered his pre-med courses at the Manhattan College, where he took his electives with Steve for cheap just before the war broke out. Then he realized that he could go back to that: go back to school to become a doctor, just as he had planned to be. With the knowledge he had from HYDRA on anatomy and with some extra studying, he could be a doctor. Bucky smiled and thought if he could be a doctor and he wanted to snub HYDRA, then why not take their own weapon and turn it into something that could make ordinary people’s lives better again after being broken. A surgeon, he thought, he could be a surgeon. With extra work he could be the best in his field, but Bucky wanted more. He wanted to not only be the best, no; he wanted to pioneer a new field of surgery and prosthetics.

                “I am going to use this against them,” he said, flexing his metal hand, and looked up at Arion. “I am going to use what they gave me and become a doctor for this,” he said motioning to his metal hand. “I am going to become a surgeon of prosthetics and limb re-attachment. I am going to make things right.” Arion smiled and wrapped his arms around his beloved.

                “You have my support, James,” he said, “but first we need to ensure that you have your freedom returned.” Bucky nodded and pulled away to look him in the eye.

                “What do you need me to do,” he asked.

                “We already told Steven this,” Arion said. “It is only fair that you know the plan too.” Bucky nodded and settled in to listen. For the next few minutes Bucky quietly listened to Arion explain Fëanor’s idea about taking what they knew, what he and Steven knew, to President Reagan.  Bucky sat quietly in introspection thinking about every possible outcome.

                “Do we have any idea how he will react,” he asked after a moment. The group looked at each other with nervousness and no small amount of worry. If Bucky rejected this idea, then they had no idea what to do about his freedom.

                “Not in the slightest,” Falsworth finally said. “But that’s no less than what we used to go on for our plans back in the good old days. I do think it’s worth a shot, Sergeant. After all you are a War Hero, and a member of the Commandoes.” Dugan laughed and patted Bucky’s shoulder to loosen him up.

                “I have it on good authority, that Reagan idolized us Commandoes,” Dugan said, and Arion looked at him in surprise and apprehension.  “What? Am I not allowed to have sources? I have ears, I read the papers; watch the news too. He’s mentioned it several times, many times saying that he wished he took the time to get to know Rogers, before he took off for Europe and became a big Hero. The last time, he said that he wished that he had the chance to meet the man that Steve talked so much about. That was you, Barnes. Steve talked about you to Reagan on his tour. Reagan said he wished he had the chance to know you.” Dugan spread his arms wide and grinned. “Well, now he has the chance!” Bucky looked at Dugan in shock, and a blush spreading a little across his cheeks. Steve was still changing his life, even after he was gone. He might just have given him the chance he needed.

~*~~*


 

The next few weeks were nothing short of slow for the rescue team. It felt as if time could not go any slower than it did. Many a comment was made on it being as slow as molasses in January, but time moved ever forward as it always does. Howard and Peggy avoided Bucky for quite a few days before they managed to get past the shock, but after that it was business as usual; slow. The only times when it felt as if time was rushing past were in the middle of the night. Bucky seemed fine in the light of day, but all could tell that the nights finally came to take their toll on the poor man. Many a time the Commandoes or one of the team with more sensitive hearing would wake to his echoing screams of torment. More than once Steven had to go into the room to physically restrain him lest he hurt himself and the baby. And it wasn’t just the screams that disturbed them, it was the wails and begging afterward, when he had woken but was still trapped in the nightmare’s clutches.

 After nearly a week straight of night after night, waking to his screams and begging, Steven finally crumpled under the weight. After finally snapping Bucky out of his episode, Steven left the room and found a dark corner to slide down the wall and huddle into himself in. He sobbed into his bony knees and wept bitter tears at his own helplessness. He huddled there for a long while, overcome by his own helplessness and the despair in his own heart, and more than once he felt the darkness encroaching on the edges of his vision; beckoning him away. Steven shook his head and pushed down his feelings of despair, because he knew that nothing good would become of it. He still sat there and cried at his Ada’s brokenness, even though he was far more broken than his Ada; the sharp edges in his mind and black spots in his memory were more than enough proof of this.

He finally looked up when he heard careful footsteps approaching his hidden place. When he did, he saw Maedhros standing before him with a sympathizing smile. Steven watched as the redhead folded his long legs and tall form up and into the spot beside him. Maedhros didn’t look at him but kept his eyes on the pattern of the wallpaper across from them. After a moment Steven looked back at his knees and tried to push away his emotions.

                “When I first came back from… there,” Maedhros said after a moment, and Steven looked up sharply to stare at him. “My brothers didn’t understand. I would have nightmares every night. Not even my Findekáno’s warm touch and soothing presence could keep the dark visions away. It was so hard to be strong when all they saw was a broken elf, not their big brother. After a while, I started taking sleeping draughts so I wouldn’t dream. Don’t think you are alone, Steven,” he said and finally turned to look at the younger half-elf, “you are far from alone! I understand what you are going through, and it will take time to become yourself again. Just wait, you’ll see.” Steven smiled weakly and nodded. If anyone knew what they were going through, it was Maedhros.

                “Thanks,” Steven said after a moment. “I needed to hear that.” Maedhros turned and set his hand on Steven’s knee as he moved to stand.

                “It will get better, Steven,” he said and smiled, “you will see. It just takes time. Time is the only thing that can heal this wound; Time and a listening ear.” Steven tried to muster a smile but it turned brittle and was more of a grimace than a smile. Maedhros turned and was about to walk away, when Steven spoke, his eyes distant and hollowed out.

                “The first time they had me kill someone, I cried until I threw up,” he said. Maedhros stopped, turned around to look at him and saw the haunted look in Steven’s eyes. “I curled up into a little ball in my cage and cried, like I was a baby. I didn’t start crying until they had me in the van, heading back to base. When I started, I couldn’t stop. I finally realized what I was about to become, what they made me into, and all I could do was cry.” Steven laughed bitterly, and didn’t hide the tears running down his face. Maedhros sat down in front of him, just to give Steven something tangible to look at. Steven locked eyes with him and gave him the most broken and helpless look Maedhros had ever seen outside his own mirror.

“I realized I couldn’t do it. It was after that that the psychic conditioning started; for both of us. For Ada, it was a sequence of words they recited after a wipe, when he was removed from cryo: ten words. That’s all it took to turn Ada into a killing machine. For me, it was so much worse! They made phrases and little rhymes into something that would make me compliant enough for a memory imprint. All they had to do, when the mission was done, was to say the pass-phrase and it would all unravel. I would wake up, and realize what I had done. Every time they took me out, was a living nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from. Ada at least couldn’t say no; of course not. They kept him so hopped up on the drugs and the conditioning tied him up so much that he was no better than a robot! Just give him the target and he would take ‘em out. Didn’t matter how, our where, he would do it; and you couldn’t run fast enough or far enough to get away.” Maedhros sat in silence and lent a sympathetic ear to Steven’s woes. After a while Steven calmed down and Maedhros slid over to wrap his arm around Steven’s shoulder. Steven leaned into it with all the desperation of a man who was touch starved, and just needed simple human contact without pain.

                “It will get better, Steven,” Maedhros said. “Just by talking, it is getting better, isn’t it?” Steven sniffled, and nodded. A small smiled pulled at his lips, and he buried himself deeper into the redhead’s embrace. That is where the two were found not much later, by Arion: Steven leaning into Maedhros’ chest, with Maedhros’ arm around the blond man. Arion smiled and moved to Steven’s other side. When Steven looked over and saw him, he pulled away and instantly fell into his father’s arms. Steven wept and clung to him for a while until he finally had control of his emotions.

                “It will be better, my son,” he said. “Don’t you worry; it will get better soon.”

And he was right. The following days were blissfully nightmare free, and Steven was rested enough and strong enough to get to work with Howard and Fëanor. The work kept him from dwelling. Fëanor’s internal work was nearly done, by the time Arion finally approached him with the plan to go to the President with their information and throw themselves on his mercy. It was no lightly thing for Steven and Bucky to consider, but if turning States evidence was the only way to get rid of the men that controlled and used them for good, then that was only one course they could and would take.

~*~*~


 

Returning to the States was a trial in and of itself, what with Bucky having to go through security and other pains just to set foot in Washington DC. But when they did arrive, Steven and Bucky were squirreled away into a hotel near the White House. Bucky thought it ironic that the first monument he would see returning to the States a free man would be the White House, when he had never seen it before and had never been to Washington in his life. Steven was just glad for the plush accommodations Howard had procured for them. Stark had gone back home after Steven off handedly suggested that he take the designs to his son, Tony, so that the two of them might work on the robotics and electronic part of the Arm together. Steven smiled at the thought that Howard was getting to know his son better because of his own Ada, and his work would help a man he had only ever heard about in stories.

Bucky, on the other hand, was going stir crazy, waiting for Arion and Peggy to return from setting up their meeting, and private conference. He prowled the room like a caged tiger, and after a good hour of watching him do this, Steven had finally had enough.

                “Ada,” Steven snapped, causing Bucky to jolt and look sharply at him, “please, stop! Worrying won’t help anything, and your pacing is driving me nuts!” Bucky fisted his hands in his hair and growled in frustration.

                “Then what am I supposed to do?” Bucky asked harshly, jerking his hands away from his hair. He shrugged his shoulders and spread his arms wide in frustrated confusion. “just stay here until my fate is decided and they send in the swat teams to take us down, or maybe wait for the bullet to go through my head?!” Steven rolled his eyes at Bucky’s dramatics, and set aside his reading to sit up and look at his Ada.

                “You’re thinking of the absolute worst case scenario, Ada,” Steven said. “I’ve done my recon, this guy won’t do that.” Bucky snorted in derision. “Ada, he’s as old as you… no, wait, he’s actually older than you! He’s a responsible man and he genuinely cares about people, Ada. He kept the film reels about Auschwitz. He wanted people to know the truth! Ada, they’re calling this man the best thing for the country since Roosevelt and the greatest republican since Lincoln! He’s a good man, Ada. He joined the reserves before the war! He did everything he could to help us troops over here.” Bucky looked skeptical and worried, but there was a seed of doubt, and Steven lunged for it like a lioness. “He liked Steve, Ada.” Bucky looked up sharply, his eyes wide as saucers.

                “He did,” Bucky asked timidly. Steven nodded fervently with a grin.

                “Yes, he did,” Steven confirmed. “Reagan said that he could only wish that he could live up to Steve’s goodness and faith in humanity, and his hope to make the world better. He has said many a time that he wished Steve was on his cabinet to council him and to give him hope and advice. Ada, he idolizes Steve, and does everything he can to make this world the better place Steve wished for. I remember Steve mentioning meeting him. He said he was a good man. Those are Steve’s words, Ada; not mine! Have a little faith in Steve’s judgment.”

Bucky calmed a little and sagged in on himself, before he nodded in acquiescence and sat down in a chair by the bed to watch the TV. Steven sighed in relief and picked up his reading. After a moment though, he had to put it aside again, when Bucky started tapping his finger on his thigh and bouncing his leg up and down.

“Ada,” Steven said softly, “what’s really bothering you?” Bucky looked at his son sheepishly and worried his lip for a minute. “Ada, I could just read you; you know that.” Steven raised his brows encouragingly and Bucky finally caved.

                “Steve’s memorial is here,” he said, and Steven’s eyes went instantly soft and sad with understanding. “I thought I would get a chance to see it before I go to the axe,” Steven opened his mouth to rebuke this, but decided against it. “I know Steve’s grave is next to his ma, and his Dad’s, but I would like to see the memorial wall. They had a statue of Steve commissioned by some artist from New York; it was a guy Steve knew. There’s a picture of it in the history books in Fëanor’s library. It was exactly what Steve would want: nothing flashy or overstated, but classical and … I cried when I saw the picture. He captured every bit of Steve’s essence and the sorrow in the figures.” Steven knew what statue Bucky was talking about and a lump lodged itself in his throat. He saw it too.

The statue evoked the memory of Michelangelo’s pieta, with Steve kneeling on the ground, his shield cast aside as he held Bucky’s lifeless form in his arms. The artist knew Steve just enough to express the expression of Steve’s face with perfection: shock and bone deep grief. Behind him was Bucky’s ghostly image carved from marble, his face calm but still invoked a sense of sorrow from his face. Bucky’s ghostly hand was setting on Steve’s bronze shoulder. Bucky’s ghostly form was draped in his field uniform with his dark blue pea coat, whereas the one in Steve’s arms was wearing his army field greens; something Bucky had not worn since he joined the Commandoes had was given his new uniform. It portrayed his Ada as a regular soldier that Steve mourned over and felt the loss of keenly; something that Steve had felt very much, in reality. Every soldier lost under his command was a son, brother, husband, that would not be going home, and Steve never wanted to feel that guilt. So he became the shield, he went first, or no one went. He would rather risk his life than the lives of his men. It defined him, and the world hardly ever saw it. Only in his Memorial statue was this shown. The plaque was even made with Steve’s own words.

                “I would rather die myself, than see good men go home in boxes. I will gladly pay the price of freedom, if it meant not one more life is lost. This is my choice.”

Steve’s words reminded the world that saw it, that that was precisely what he did; Steve paid the ultimate price for freedom, and never came home. Steve’s statue marked the entrance to the memorial. It was the first thing people saw when they went in, and the last when they left. It was a reminder of how high the price of freedom was to Steve and those that loved and lost him: his life and the life of his dearest friend. His last words to Peggy, that were not intimate, were cast into bronze for all the world to see. Every school child knew his words to Peggy from the moment they released the recording on the tenth anniversary of his death.

Those words, simple as they were, were a constant reminder of the sacrifice Steve made so that others could live free; a sacrifice he made so willingly. Steven swallowed down his tears and looked up at his Ada, seeking his understanding. Bucky’s gaze was only imploring, an aching need to see Steve’s face, if only in bronze, and get some closure to his pain. After a moment Steven nodded.

                “Okay, Ada,” he croaked behind his tears. “We’ll go, but I’m not letting you go out there looking like this.”

Steven stood up and pulled his Ada to the closet. He opened the wardrobe to show him Bucky’s fine dress greens. Bucky gasped, when he saw it. He hadn’t worn it since that last night in New York with Steve at the Fair, and to his shock, there, lined up above his left breast pocket, were his medals. Every ribbon from every honor he was given throughout the war was perfectly lined, little metal medallions dangling and covering one another. Everything was there, just the way he had worn it, belt hat and all. Bucky almost cried, when he saw the Purple Heart with valor, knowing that it was because of his fall he was awarded that. Steven pulled the uniform out on its hanger and handed it to his Ada with a smile.

“Put it on, and I’ll do you up to look like an old man. No one will notice you dressed like that.”

Bucky smirked at Steven’s antics and took the uniform over to the bed to start work on getting dressed. It only took a few moments to strip down to his skivvies and socks, and re-dress in the uniform. As he did, Bucky felt himself going through motions that were as easy as breathing. The pants came first, and then the undershirt, then the blouse and tie, before he put on the coat; always careful it didn’t wrinkle. Bucky pulled on his shiny black shoes and laced them up. Once he was finally squared away, he had Steven pull his hair back in a French-twist braid at the nape of his neck.  The hat went on last, and Bucky found himself putting it at a jaunty angle, just as he used to. He didn’t even realize he was doing it; it was all muscle memory. Bucky looked in the mirror and took in a sharp breath through his nose.

                “I look like me again,” he said staring at his reflection.

And indeed he did. Every line and bulge reflected to his former self. And though his hair was long, Bucky still saw that young soldier he once was staring back at him. Bucky looked at the medals pinned to his chest and realized this is what he would have looked like if he had made it through the war and came home.

Steven smiled and hugged his Ada from behind. Bucky smiled back at him in the mirror and held Steven’s arms closer to his body. Steven pulled away and with a wave of his hand, Bucky jerked back. He saw that his face had suddenly become far older, and his hair was now shot with white. Steven grinned at his handy work and Bucky ran a hand over his face. He laughed, when he found that it was still smooth to his hand but not to his eye.

                “You like it, Ada,” Steven asked. “I’ve been using things like this for a while now. They’re like a glamor, so it’s only what you see; like a mask made of light.” Bucky chuckled and marveled at his aged face.

                “Amazing,” Bucky awed, looking left and right for any kind of flaw, “Stevie, you do this all the time?” Steven nodded. “Wow! My son is Merlin!” Steven blushed and Bucky pulled him in for a hug. “Thank you. I don’t know what I would do without you. Now,” he said turning around and clapping Steven’s shoulders, “we should get going before it gets too crowded.” Bucky moved to leave but Steven cleared his throat. “What?” he asked in confusion his hand on the door knob.  Steven shook his head and smiled.

                “We should leave a note so they know where we’re going, if they get back before we do,” he said. Bucky flushed in embarrassment and went back to the end table to write a note on the note pad.

“Gone to the Memorial; be back before lunch.”

Steven smiled, when Bucky signed it with his own name and a few kisses. Minutes later they were out the door and on their way to the memorial. Foot traffic was light and they didn’t meet much resistance before they finally came to stand before the memorial. The statue was even more impressive in person than it was in pictures, and it evoked more emotion too. Bucky and Steven slowly walked the walls and the domes until they reached the Wall of Freedom. There Steven and Bucky stood motionless as they gazed at the stars of the men that died in the war and for freedom. Bucky stood beside the wall and set his hand on it, before he bowed his head, knowing that one of those stars was for Steve. He moved to stand before the wall proper and looked down. Before their feet lay a simple placard carved from stone.

HERE WE MARK THE PRICE OF FREEDOM

Bucky crumpled then, and fell to his knees, covering his mouth with his gloved hand. He reached out and placed his free hand on the plaque feeling the smooth stone and cut letters under his fingers. His hand fell to cover the word Price for a moment, before he moved and sat back on his haunches; his head bowed. Steven knelt down beside him, and wrapped a comforting arm around his shoulder. The Price of Freedom; such simple words, yet they evoked so much power and emotion: simple words that conveyed the truth of everything.

Steven and Bucky knelt there for several moments before a hand came to rest on Bucky’s left shoulder. The two looked up and saw a young soldier’s face smile sadly down at them.

                “You lose a friend in your unit, sir,” he asked. Bucky smiled sadly and warmly.

                “Son, you don’t know the half of it,” he croaked. The soldier smiled, and Bucky noted he was a young lieutenant and an Army Ranger. “I lost my best friend. He was my captain.”

                “I haven’t thought about this place in a while,” He said, “I like to come and look at the Captain’s Memorial to remember the important things.” The man turned and held out his hand. “Phil Coulson, Sergeant. It’s an honor to meet you. What unit were you in?” Bucky smiled at the innocence in the young man.

                “107th infantry of New York,” he said with a small but proud smile. “I was later reassigned to a different unit after mine was rescued in Italy in ’43. I didn’t mind. I had a hell of a Captain to follow.” The Lieutenant smiled before offering the two men a brief salute, and waking away.

                “Thank you for your service, Sergeant,” he said as he dropped the salute, “I hope we new recruits can measure up.” Bucky smiled at the man as he walked away, glad there was someone who cared. As they looked over their shoulders, as the man walked away, they saw Arion and Peggy walking towards them. The two shared a look, before they straightened their appearance and stood to meet their fate.

~*~*


 

Bucky walked through the halls of the White House toward the Oval office with something a bit like excitement and apprehension churning in his gut; just being in the same building as the man who would decide his fate made his stomach churn and twitch. Steven held his hand and gave it a squeeze every now and then to reassure him that everything was going to be fine. Before he knew it, he was standing before the door of the Oval Office waiting to be admitted to his meeting. Bucky sat down in one of the plush chairs, and tapped his thumbs together, generally just doing anything to alleviate his stress. The carpets were beautiful, and he had no doubt that Reagan’s wife picked them, Bucky thought with a whimsical smile.  Everything about the look screamed classy and elegance, that seemed more up a woman’s alley than a cowboy like Reagan.

Before they knew it the door opened and a young secretary came out to meet them, clutching a black leather binder that could only be an itinerary planner. She smiled at them and waved them up.

                “The President will see you now,” she said. Both Bucky and Steven stood up, smoothed their jackets, straightened their collars and ties in stress, before following Peggy and Arion inside, as the lady ushered them inside. She closed the door behind them and left them to it. Bucky pulled his hat straighter, and tried to calm his face. The mask Steven gave him was gone, showing the eternally youthful features he carried now.

Bucky took in the cream and silver qualities of the rug and the rust red and gold drapes, before his gaze was finally brought to the man sitting at the ornate desk. Bucky swallowed back his nervousness, as he took in the aged actor’s face. His dark brown hair was shot with silver, and his recognizable handsome face was lined with age, but signs of many smiles. He wore a simple grey suit with a dark red tie, and his hair was pulled back in the same style he always wore it in. while the man looked old, he was by no means frail. His physique was still strong and slim, and he looked good; despite the lines of age upon him.

He was sitting in his chair with his hand’s folded carefully on the top of the desk, his expression neutral, but still showing signs of sympathy. Bucky swallowed the lump in his throat and stepped forward. As he did so, Reagan stood up from his chair to stand calmly behind the desk. Bucky removed his cap, when he reached the desk, tucked it under his arm, sharply clicked his heels, straightened his back, and pulled a very formal salute.

                “Sergeant James Barnes, reporting in, SIR!” he snapped out on reflex. Steven pulled into his own stiff backed salute but kept his eyes on the man before them. Bucky took his eyes off the wall and moved them to the man before them. Reagan was straight faced and blank for a moment, until he clicked his own heels and returned their salutes.

                “At ease, Sergeant,” he said, dropping the salute. “You too, Captain.” Steven and Bucky dropped into parade rest and looked at the now smiling President. “It’s an honor to finally meet you, Sergeant.” He said and came around the desk to shake Bucky’s hand. “I’ve heard so much about you. Please have a seat,” he said after dropping Bucky’s hand, motioning them to the two cream colored sofas.  Steven shook Reagan’s hand when he offered it and moved to sit beside Bucky on the left sofa. Peggy took her seat in the high-back, and Arion carefully sat down on Bucky’s right; taking his hand and offering comfort.

“Now,” Reagan said once he was finally settled, “how can I help you? Director Carter, and Agent Adria have already given me a briefing on this, and I must say it is … incredible, and saddening. I do hope that I can help you both, Sergeant; Captain.” Bucky let go of Arion’s hands and laced his fingers together before him, elbows on his knees. He looked every bit the penitent man seeking mercy.

                “I can give you the names, aliases, and locations of every KGB sleeper agent, spy, or plant inside the US,” he said.  Reagan’s eyebrows rose in surprise and he nodded for him to continue. “I can also give the names and aliases of similar agents in the UK, France, and most of the western world.” Reagan nodded and leaned forward.

                “And what do you want in return,” he asked. Bucky’s eyes went misty and he swallowed back his tears. He looked down at his hand, and tried to calm his breathing.

                “I want my life back,” he croaked when he looked up. “They took everything from me, and I just want it back! I want to have what they said we could have, after the War: a house, the promise of a paid education, and a future.” Reagan looked thoughtful for a moment before he turned sympathetic eyes back on the younger man.

                “I can understand that,” he said, “and if your information is good, it would be invaluable to us. Sergeant Barnes…” Reagan paused and seemed unsure of how to ask his question for a moment, “I was told that the reason you have this information was because you were one of the KGB’s agents. If I am misinformed, please correct me. Right now, all I want is the truth.” Bucky swallowed hard against a lump of regret and grief that lodged itself in his throat.

                “No, ah… that was … your information was correct,” he said softly and haltingly. Bucky turned his tear-filled eyes on the older man and gathered what little courage he had left. “When I fell from the train, I was hurt; badly. Steven found me, tried to patch me up, but they found us first. They … conditioned us; turned us into weapons.” Bucky squared his jaw, removed his left glove, and mustered up his finally words, “I became the Fist of HYDRA: the Winter Soldier.” Reagan sat back with a long breath and stared at Bucky and his silver hand for a long time. He contemplated something for a long while, Bucky could tell, before he came to a conclusion. Reagan stood to his feet and went back to his desk. He pressed the intercom and the secretary answered.

                “Yes, Mr. President?” she asked.

                “Could you bring in a tape recorder and a video camera, Miss Drake,” he said. “And cancel my appointments for the next few hours.”

                “Of course, sir,” she answered, “will that be all, Sir?”

“That will be all, Sue,” he said and ended the call. Bucky gasped and shock and relief. He dropped his head to his clasped hands, and thanked every saint and God in heaven for mercy. Reagan turned to look at him, before he moved to kneel before Bucky and took his clasped hands away from his forehead.

“Bucky, I need to know everything that happened to you both out there. I need you to give a full testimony of what happened after you fell, and what they did to make you into the most notorious assassin in the world. Can you give me this, Sergeant? I need all of it, if we are to prosecute these men to the fullest extent of the law in the States, and be tried for War Crimes under the Geneva conventions.” Bucky gasped and looked up with an awed smile, turning to look at Steven with hopeful eyes.

“I’ll tell you everything, Sir,” he said.


 

~*~*~*


 

This is the written transcript of Sergeant Barnes (AKA the Winter Soldier’s) testimony against the terrorist organization known as HYDRA and their core leaders and scientists. Below is his affidavit; sworn before three witnesses, followed by Captain Buchanan (AKA the Winter Knight’s) own affidavit. 

The witnesses are as follows:

                Director Margaret “Peggy” Carter of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistic Division (SHIELD)

                Agent Arion Ingwion “codename: Míriel Adria” of British Intelligence and MI6

                President Ronald Reagan of the United States of America

Court authorized person(s):

                Legal Assistant to US Attorney General Edwin Meese; and Lawyer for the White House (name omitted for personal protection)


 

~*~*~


 

(Blank camera screen for a moment before it changes to show three men sitting together on a sofa. They are in the Oval Office, and a figure speaks just off screen.)

                “We’re on, Sergeant. Just tell us everything you remember. Take your time.”

(The man in the middle squirms in his seat before he looks up at the camera. There is a microphone set up on the table attached to an audio-tape recorder.)

                “I don’t know how to start.” (He whispered, uncertain.)

(The man to his right touches a gentle hand to his back.)

                “Start with your name, and go from there.” (He said, and the man in the middle nods.)

(He looks up at the camera and begins to speak.)

                “My name is James Buchanan Barnes, I was… I am a Sergeant in the US Army. My friend’s call me Bucky. I was assigned to the 107th infantry of New York in the year 1943. I was sent to Italy were my company and several others were tasked with taking the city of Azzano. We were captured by the Nazi splinter group known as HYDRA. We were… taken to a factory in Krausberg, no… um…k… Kreischberg … where, uh…um…”

(The man looks visibly disturbed and swallows. He licks his lips and continues.)

                “Where we were forced to work on the factory floor to make Schmidt’s bombs. When we were no longer strong enough to work, some of us were taken back into an isolation ward on the other side of the factory, where… a… where a man named Arnim Zola experimented on us.”

(The man’s gaze became distant and blank.)

                “We could hear their screams all the way across the factory, in our cells. They didn’t stop, and when they did, they came and took another one. I lost my whole unit, and most of my company. They went after another of my men sometime after … maybe three weeks. I took his place.”

(There are tears in his eyes now, and his is visibly struggling to stay calm.)

                “At first it was blood draws, and then the injections started. It burned like fire in my veins! I don’t know how long after that it was that Steve… Captain Rogers… came for us. All I remember was repeating name, rank, serial until that was all I could do to stay conscious. Then Steve came.”

(The man smiles, but it is sad and pained.)

                “Everybody knows what happened next.”

(There are chuckles off camera. The man off camera clears his throat before he speaks.)

                “When did you notice something was wrong?”

(The man in the middle looks pensive and slightly confused before he answers.)

                “I didn’t really. Not at first. It started out as little things. My aim was better, my stamina improved. I started hearing things more clearly and from further away. I could run faster, and jump higher. I started noticing that I could understand things faster, and calculate complicated problems in my head. I didn’t notice until it all just piled up, and before I knew it I was almost as strong as Steve, and I could keep pace with him in the field.”

(The soldier, for it was finally seen that he was indeed wearing a uniform, looked embarrassed, when he looked to the man off camera.)

                “Why didn’t you say something to your superiors?”

(The soldier grimaced and winced.)

                “Because I was scared; I heard what they wanted to do to Steve, and I wasn’t about to go back to a lab, when I just escaped one. I didn’t want to be experimented on anymore. I thought that the… differences… were useful, so I kept quiet. I didn’t want to be shipped back home to a lab. I wanted to stay. I wanted to help.”

(The soldier laughs.)

                “Besides, who else was going to watch Steve’s flank? He didn’t do it himself, and I wasn’t about to let him fend for himself; no matter how strong and damn near indestructible they made him!”

(The man off camera laughs with the soldier for a minute before he sobers and asks another question.)

                “What happened after you fell, Bucky?”

(The soldier took a shuddering breath, and tries to calm his nerves.)

                “Steven, found me. I hit my head, so I… I don’t remember much; just flashes. The first real thing I can remember after falling was… cold and um… pain… in my side and my arm. I fell into a river and was half on shore when Steven found me. It all goes fuzzy after he pulled me out of the river, but um… I remember soldiers… dressed in… Russian uniforms. They had me on a litter. There was… blood … in the snow. My arm was gone… it just stopped above … my elbow. Everything after that is… just… flashes. Them putting on the first arm…”

(The soldier’s gaze turned distant as he went silent.)

                “Sergeant, how do you remember that; them putting on the arm?”

(The soldier’s face twisted in pain and fear.)

                “Because I was awake! They strapped me to an operating table, and… just… started working me! There were drugs, no anesthetics, nothing! I felt everything!”

(The soldier sobbed and began to shake, as if he was not mentally present in the room.)

                “The bone saw, as they cut off the end of my arm; the knives as they pulled tissue away from bone: I felt all of it! I must have passed out after that, because when I woke up, it was on me. It looked just like this one, only it was much heavier.” (He paused for a long moment, running a hand up and across his left side.) “The first time they made me use it, I broke all the ribs on my left side. They miscalculated the bone to weight strength ratio, so they had to replace the ribs and collar bone to reinforce that side. That meant more surgery. Steven knocked me out before they started, and kept me asleep until it was over. They made him heal me so they could start conditioning right away.”

(The soldier went silent again. The man off camera asked a question.)

                “Bucky, what did you mean by ‘reinforce that side’?”

(The soldier looked up and smiled bitterly.)

                “They replaced all the ribs on my left side, along with the collar bone and shoulder blade with metal versions to create stronger anchor points for the arm’s covering and the weight. The first version was only robotic from just above the elbow down; the rest was metal sheathing and armor that they could take off to do maintenance on the attachment point. This was later replaced in ’57 after a failed mission resulted in the arm’s destruction and the rest of my arm being shattered beyond repair. The fully robotic arm was attached above the shoulder and used more anchor points; it was almost as heavy as the first, but in comparison, much lighter.”

(The man off screen sighed, and huffed a teary breath before he asked another question.)

                “Bucky, you said they conditioned you. Was this like training or…?”

(The soldier interrupted.)

                “Torture; it was torture. Physical abuse, mental, but mostly they just put me in isolation until I broke down enough for them to start programming my mind. They had a telepath… named Nicola Zhukov. He got inside our heads, made us do things we didn’t want to because they ordered us to. They combined his work with hypnotic suggestion and brainwashing. It seemed to work, but it never held long enough for it to be useful to them.” (The soldier whimpered and started to quietly cry.) “Then they started using the wipes!” (He gasped.)

(The man off camera shifted and leaned into view.)

                “The wipes; what are those, Sergeant?”

(He asked and the soldier seemed lost in memories of pain.)

                “When I had no memories they could manipulate me, but after I healed from the fall my memories came back; slowly at first, but then more. That’s when I realized who it was that had us. They made us strong, fixed my arm and expected that we would be like soft clay to mold. I fought back, killed four guards and a technician, before they stopped us.” (He paused and then shook with some old fear, his eyes wide and full of terror.) “They had a chair. They put me in it, and all my memories went away.”

(The man just in camera leaned forward and touched the soldier’s knee to get his attention. The soldier jerked back and huddled into the sofa.)

                “Bucky, how did the chair do this?”

(The Soldier slowly composed himself and calmed his rapid breathing before he spoke.)

                “They put this… thing around my head and on my face, like headgear, and it… it sparked like electricity and when it latched around my face, I … everything was burned away. It took them a few tries to get the voltage right, and when they did, they started using Zhukov with the chair to put… words in my head, that… all they had to do was say them, and I went away; wiped clean, prefect blank slate. I did what they wanted, because I knew if I didn’t, it meant I had to go back to the Chair.” (He looked up at the man with eyes filled with fear and pain.) “That’s a Wipe, sir. It means they scrub my mind clean, so I can’t remember and I don’t want to for fear of the Chair.” (He looked back at his hands and the man on his left reached out and took the metal hand in his own.) “In 1950 they moved us to a facility in East Berlin. By then, they had been programming and conditioning us for five years. The combination of the Wipes and brainwashing made me into what was the beginning of the Winter Soldier. It wasn’t perfect. I still had episodes where I remembered and lashed out, but for all intents and purposes I wasn’t Bucky Barnes anymore. It was in Berlin that The Red Room came. They took over the project, and they wanted perfection. They wouldn’t settle for second best.”

(The soldier bowed his head and leaned into his counterpart on his left.)

                “Second best; what do you mean?”

(The President asked.)

                “My version of the serum wasn’t complete. It wasn’t like Steve’s. As far as they were concerned, I was a fluke, and Steven was too. They brought the Serum. I don’t know how they got it, but they had enough for a full dosage, like what we gave Steve, and a booster, to fix the problems of the unfinished Serum I had. They injected us with it; Steven got the full dose. I had booster. It worked, but it enhanced Steven’s abilities. They deemed it too dangerous to synthesize more from that source and started to work on reformulating it. My own enhancements were boosted, my strength tripled, and my endurance was the same; the problem to them was that it also enhanced my healing to the same as Steve’s had been. Wipes only lasted a few weeks before the programming would breakdown, and I began to remember. Reconditioning after those were ten times worse.”

(The President pats the man’s knee in sympathy, and asked another question.)

                “Bucky, after they conditioned you and programmed you, what did they have you do?”

(The soldier shook with silent tears, and covered his face with his hands. He leaned forward and began to sob into them, hunched over his knees. After a moment he composed himself, but tears could still be seen running down his face.)

                “It is okay, Ada.” (The man on his left spoke up.) “Just tell them.”

(The soldier visibly forced himself to calm and answered in tears.)

                “Everything; but mostly I was their silent killer. I was an assassin, a spy, a trainer, an escort; I was anything they wanted me to be for the mission. But mostly I was an Assassin. I was a ghost story; a shooter that could make impossible shots, and disappears without being seen. I became the thing of nightmares to their enemies. If you became a liability, they sent me after you. To them I was only ‘The Asset’. To the world, or at least to those that believed I was real, they called me the Winter Soldier. They sent me on the impossible jobs, missions, because if it could be done, I could do it; no matter how damaged I came back to them. I couldn’t fail, because if I did, I was punished; we were punished. They sent me after anyone that was a threat to them: judges, lawyers, prime ministers, heads of state, doctors, scientists, journalists,” (he paused and looked the President in the eyes.) “President’s… and even some their own; whoever was a threat to their final goal. They sent me as a message: you can’t hide from them, because the Winter Soldier will find you. I did this, against my will, for the last forty years.”

(The president took a deep breath, and looked at him in disbelief. He sighed and looked suddenly much older before he asked another question.)

                “Why did you stop now? What made you want to escape now; after all this time?”

(The soldier visibly crumpled and hunched in on himself. He began to cry while holding a hand to his belly.)

                “Ada, it’s okay; you can tell him.” (The man on his left said.)

                “James, just tell the truth.”

(The man on his right finally spoke. His accent was German with a refined quality. He wrapped his arm around the man’s shoulders and pulled him into his side. The soldier nodded and swallowed back more tears.)

                “They found out…”

(He stopped and tried to compose himself again.)

                “They found out what, Sergeant.”

(The President asked. The soldier looked up again with shame in his eyes and self-loathing.)

                “They found out that … I am a… hermaphrodite, sir. I was born one.” (He stopped and fresh tears ran down his face. The Soldier wiped them away with his hand, and took a shuddery breath before continuing.) “They were going to scrub the project. They had been trying to find a suitable replacement for years, but had thus far been unable, until they found out. They got ahold… of… Steve… of Steve’s sperm, and … um… impregnated me with it.” (The soldier is openly crying now, but still held together enough to keep the sobs at bay.) “Steven overheard that they were going to … decommission the project, and terminate us; after the baby was born. I guess we both still had some self-preservation left, because he found Arion and told him what was happening and how to get to us.” (The soldier chuckled and smiled proudly at the man on his left.) “Arion recruited Howard Stark and Peggy Carter to help get us out. Generals Joshua DuLake and Fëanor Noldorean also helped, along with my old team. With their help, we were able to make our escape.”

(The President sat back and went out of camera. After a moment he asked another question.)

                “Are you sure that no one followed you, or that they can find you?”

 (The Soldier smiled, and laughed.)

                “They don’t even know I’m gone. As far as they know, I was still in Cryo-freeze, when the base blew. It’ll take them months to dig through the wreckage; if they ever find out that the base is gone. By then, I will be long gone, and hopefully safely away from their reach.”

(The president sat forwards, back in camera, again, his face confused and curious.)

                “Cryo-freeze?”

(He asked. The soldier blinked and gasped in realization.)

                “Between missions, they kept me in cryogenic hibernation. It was easier to deal with me then, because the reanimation process would leave me weak. They would take me directly to the Chair for a pre-mission Wipe and activation. When the mission was over, they Wiped me again and used my helpless state to lock me back in the tank, and freeze me again; until the next mission.”

(The President ran a hand over his mouth in shock, and looked up at the soldier.)

                “They did this after every mission?”

(The soldier nodded sadly.)

                “Most of ‘em.”

(He said softly.)

                “My God, what kind of animals were these people?”

(The soldier smiled at the rhetorical question.)

                “Soldiers, Scientists, and politicians: I can give you their names; every last one. I’ll give you the names of every person that hired my ‘services’ from them. I can give you the names of their allies and contacts in the US and in Western Europe. Every last sleeper agent, mole, spy, assassin, and plant down to the lowest of rank, to the highest; I can give it to you.”

(The president looked conflicted, before he spoke.)

                “I don’t want to start a witch hunt.”

                “You won’t be starting one.”

(The man on the Soldier’s left spoke up. The president looked up at the young man’s hard face.)

                “It would be a targeted strike! Every last one of those men and women are loyal to only one thing: their cause, HYDRA’s Cause. Absolute control; that’s what they want, and they’ll do anything to get it! We’re prime examples of the lengths they’re willing to go to, t’get what they want!”

                “Mr. President, we have been given inside data on a terrorist organization growing in our own government. We would be fools not to strike a killing blow with it while we have the chance; while we have the element of surprise.”

(Director Carter advised, and the President sighed. He looked thoughtful, and then his face hardened to stone.)

                “You’re absolutely, Director Carter; and I won’t be that fool. I’ll do everything in my power to have these men and women prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Sergeant, Barnes?”

(The soldier pulled himself up to attention in his seat.)

                “Yes, Sir?”

(The president smiled at his loyalty to protocol. The president stood and went to his desk out of screen.)

                “You have risked your life to get me this information, and your freedom. After Captain Buchanan gives his testimony, I am going to recommend that you and your partner be placed in Special Witness Protection; until such a time that we can find all the heads of HYDRA and take them down. You will eventually have to make a sworn statement in court, and before a grand jury, but until then your identity and location will be kept a state’s secret. This information will not leave this room, and these tapes will be placed into the care of my personal estate.”

(The soldier sat with his mouth wide open in shock. The president finally came back into view with a hand written paper in hand.)

                “This country has done you both a great disservice. As two of our most highly decorated heroes, it should have been a priority to recover the two of you, once there was the man power. The fact that you were both swept under the rug and left to rot and be tortured in a foreign enemy nation, it makes my blood boil. I can only hope that, in some small way, this will make up for what was done to you both.”

(The president handed the soldier the paper. The soldier took the paper with shock and confusion. He looked at it and his eyes widen. He looked back up at the President with wide disbelieving eyes.)

                “It’s not official, but I’ll have my secretary write a more official one up, but for all intents and purposes, that is a legal, binding document. You can keep that on you for a long as you like. I have a copy for Miss Drake to work from; gotta love carbon paper!”

(The soldier began to laugh and grinned, even with tears running down his face. He stood and wrapped the president in a hug, burying his face in the man’s shoulder.)

                “Thank you.”

(He said so quietly that it was barely caught on audio.)

~*~*~


 

The days after Bucky confessed his crimes to Reagan, went by in a blur. After Steven determined that the agent in charge of their relocation wasn’t HYDRA in any shape of form, and his superiors were clear as well, they went along the rout of finding them a permanent location. Bucky adamantly stated that he wanted to live in Brooklyn, and after a grueling two hours arguing his points, the agent caved and started showing them pictures of safe-houses approved by the Agency. Bucky and Steven vetoed the whole lot stating that he would not bring a child into rundown old roach-motels like the apartments the man suggested.

After that Bucky went about finding the place himself, and after scouring the ad listings for apartments, he found himself staring at the picture of a Brownstone house instead. Bucky didn’t know what drew him to the picture, but the minute he saw it, he knew he had to tour it in person. Three more hours with a pushy realtor, Bucky was in love with it. It was old and needed to be brought up to code but the bones of the house were so strong and beautiful, that Bucky could see the potential. The fact that it needed a major renovation worked in his favor, because he could have the security and special phone lines installed without question.

Bucky held his son’s arm and smiled at the house.

                “What do you think, Stevie,” he asked. Steven looked the house up and down from an assassin’s point of view for a second then from an artistic perspective. He smiled and hummed.

                “It’s got potential. And if Stark works on it, it might be ready before the baby’s born,” Steven joked. Bucky laughed. “I like it. It’s exactly what I thought home would look like.” Bucky smiled and pulled his son into a one armed hug. Bucky placed his hand on his lower abdomen, with a contented smile. There wasn’t much of a bump yet, but there was an obvious displacement of his washboard abs. Bucky wanted a house to walk over the threshold into with his husband, before he was too big to fit into his uniform.

The wedding was planned, and the venues were ready, all they needed was the dress from his sisters and the ring’s from Fëanor.

                “What do you think,” the realtor asked with a sugary smile. Bucky grinned back.

                “We’ll take it!” he said and the realtor beamed at them. She moved to the table with the papers to get them ready for signing. “I think Nelyo’s going to like it too.”

                “Nelyo,” Steven asked.  Bucky nodded.

                “Yep,” he answered, popping the p at the end. “Fëanor wants us to have extra protection. You’re not going to be there always, and Arion has work in London; so Fëanor suggested that Nelyo and Huan come to stay with us, as company and protection.” Steven looked skeptical but thought it over and smirked. Fëanor was still a tactical genius even if people didn’t acknowledge it, and his plan was fool proof.

                “They always manage to think of something,” he said and Bucky grinned at him as he moved to the table, and signed the first page. He sighed as he signed the last document, realizing that he was at long last owning his own home.

TBC…

Chapter Text

~*~*~

Bucky looked up


at the old house before him with trepidation and mingled joy. His old home, it looked exactly like it had the day he shipped off to basic. What little change there was to the house was negligible to the fact that the bones and shape of the house remained largely the same. Bucky felt a wave of love and happiness wash over him as he stood on the sidewalk just a few feet from the front porch of the house he grew up in. when he learned that his sister Becca had inherited the house, he knew he had to see her and his other baby sisters again. Bucky was alone this time, Steven having opted out of seeing a house he would have spent so much time in, if they had returned home at the end of the War, in favor of spending as much time with Fëanor and Stark working on the new arm. Stark sent his loyal butler Jarvis to watch over him, but Bucky wanted to do this himself.  He may only be going to get his mother’s wedding dress and the veil and headpiece he sent back belonging to his grandmother, but he still needed to see his sisters.

Bucky took a deep calming breath and stepped onto the property that he hadn’t since before he shipped out to England. He walked slowly up the path, each step felt like a homecoming, and he wanted to savor the feeling for a little longer. When he finally stepped onto the front steps, he smiled at the creak the second step made as he put his weight on it. New boards or no that step still creaked when weight was put on it. He slowly strode across the porch and stood at last at the front door. He reached up with his hand to knock but instead thought better of it, and pressed the doorbell. The bell rang in the same cheery “Ding, dong,” it always did when he was a boy, and it brought a nostalgic smile to his clean shaven face.

Bucky heard the thump of footsteps on the old wooden floors coming from the kitchen, before he heard a man’s voice call out, “coming.”

                “I’ll get it, Becca dear,” Bucky heard the man say, “You just finish those pies.” Bucky grinned and chuckled at the mental image of Becca covered in four and hands sticky with pie dough.

                “Alright,” a woman said, and Bucky sucked in a sharp breath. It sounded like Becca, but also so much like their mother it hurt. “If it’s Agnes coming over to ‘borrow’ my pie tin, you can tell her to forget it, until she brings back my casserole dish she borrowed for her last shindig!” Bucky snickered, and he found himself grinning, despite the tears in his eyes.

Bucky blinked back the tears and turned away for a brief second before he heard the doorknob turn and the front door open. Bucky turned back to the door just in time to see a familiar older man open the door and look at him with confusion. Bucky smiled warmly to himself. He couldn’t blame him for not recognizing him, because he had his cap on low over his eyes. Bucky looked up and slowly took this cover off his head. He could see the moment the man recognized him, because the man’s eyes widened to the size of tea plates and he dropped the book he had in his hand. The book fell to the floor with a loud thump, but Bucky smiled as the man’s jaw dropped down to meet it. He stood there staring at Bucky for a moment before Becca called out to him from the kitchen.

                “Who is it, Jon,” she asked. The man, Jon, stood there slack jawed for a moment longer, before he opened and closed it breathlessly for a second until he found his voice.

                “BECCA,” he shouted, and Bucky heard a sound in the kitchen like a utensil being dropped. “Becca, come quick!” tears of joy were forming in Jon’s eyes the longer he stared at Bucky, and took in his shape. Bucky smiled, and held the cover tight in his hand. He wore the uniform specifically for this effect. He wanted to feel like he was truly coming home from the war, and he needed to see his sisters as he would have if he had come home. He was dressed to the nines in his uniform, with every medal and ribbon in its perfect place on his left breast. Around his neck was hung a very new medal, one he didn’t want but the President could be very stubborn, and insisted. The Medal of Honor hung like a stone weight around his neck, a reminder that Steve had pushed through command for this posthumous award for Bucky before Steve plunged the plane into the deep.

Bucky’s eyes flicked over the man’s shoulder when he heard footsteps coming from the kitchen. A woman appeared and Jon moved aside to give her a full view of the man in their doorway. Becca looked older but no less like his sister. She gasped and her hands flew to her mouth. Bucky smiled and stepped over the threshold into his old home. He dropped his cover in the chair beside the door and opened his arms wide.

                “Bucky,” she gasped, when her hands dropped and stood their motionless for a moment. She stared at him for a long while, as if unsure that her eyes were telling her the truth. Bucky grinned.

                “Not the kind of welcome home I was expecting, Becks. Mama taught you better than that. Are you gonna stand there all day with your mouth hanging open like a flytrap,” he teased with a grin, “or are you gonna come and give your brother a hug!” Becca let out a choked sob, and flew towards him.

                “BUCKY,” she cried and flung herself into Bucky’s arms. She buried her face in his jacket and wrapped her arms around him. Bucky brought his arms up to hold her closely to him, burying his nose in her graying dark hair. “You’re home, Bucky; you’re home! We thought you were dead! But you’re here!” Becca pulled her face out of Bucky’s shoulder with a watery smile. “You’re home!” Bucky pulled her back and smiled with his own watery eyes.  He looked here over and pulled her back in close; burying his nose in her hair and breathing deep the sent. A smile stole over his face when he recognized it as rose water, the same perfume that Becca would put in her hair to make it smell pretty, just like their mother.

A commotion over toward the living room caused Bucky to lift his head. An easy and happy grin pulled his lips wide, when he saw his other two sisters’ step into the entryway. The shock that stole across their faces was the same as Becca’s, and he reached out with his right hand. Squeals of shock and joy filled his ear for a moment before he was surrounded by his family; clinging to him as if he would disappear in a moment if they let go.

                “BUCKY,” his youngest sister cried. “They told us you were dead!” Bucky pressed a tender kiss to her crown, tears running down his face.

                “There were times I wished I was, Vicky,” he whispered into her hair. Victoria pulled away and smiled brightly at him. Bucky was at once assaulted by the memory of that smile on his mother; the same cheerful grin that graced her features even in the toughest years. “God, you look so much like mom, Victoria! I always knew you would.” He said with a fond smile as he cupped her cheek with his hand. Victoria leaned into it and pressed a kiss to his fingers. Bucky’s tears flowed freely and he looked back at the other two sisters. He tried to step away from them to get a better look, but they held on tight.

Bucky chuckled and gently pried their fingers from his jacket, to push them back. They were all shorter than him but that was a given considering he was a whopping six foot now. Before he was a healthy five 10 and a half but he figured that the serum gave him a bit more height. They were all in heights ranging from five four, (Anna) to five seven, (Victoria). Becca was just under five seven, and was still as curvy as she was when he left. All his sisters had their mother’s dark hair, but Victoria had a hue of red in it more bright than the others. It was now highlighted with copper hair dye and the glint brought a smile to his face.

                “We thought you were gone, Bucky,” Anna said, “How…how are you alive?” Bucky smile turned brittle at her question and Anna shook her head. “You know what, never mind. Forget I even asked.”

                “Bucky,” Becca said with a wide teary smile. She pulled the man that had greeted Bucky at the door back into his view; but not before closing the front door. “This is Jon Proctor, my husband.” At this Bucky’s eyebrows shot to his hairline. His mouth dropped open in disbelief at the man that married his sister.

                “Jon Proctor,” his said incredulously. “You married Jonny Proctor!?” Becca smirk and puffed up his chest proudly.

                “Yes,” he said with a tone of finality. Bucky sputtered for a moment.

                “He used to pull your hair, and steal your dolls! Do you know how many times I had to beat up this punk for you,” he asked. Becca smiled and Jon blushed at the reminder of his youthful antics.

                “Don’t care,” she said, proudly, looking up at her blushing husband. Her gaze suddenly turned soft and tender. “When you were declared missing in action the second time and it was said you were more than likely dead, Jon helped me. He started being nice to me after the first time, and when you were declared possibly killed in action, he asked me to marry him.” Jon smiled and looked back at Bucky with a steady gaze.

                “I was drafted in late ’44, and I got my orders to ship out just before you went missing,” Jon explained. “They sent me over to Europe as a replacement for a unit in the Airborne. I heard what happened to you and I didn’t want to go without her knowing I loved her. We got married the day before I left for England.” Bucky’s gaze was soft and full of understanding. A smile drew across his face at the memory of how in love he was with Arion the day they got engaged. The joy in his heart to know he wouldn’t be alone, made him smile just as warmly that day as he was now.

                “It broke daddy’s heart when the chaplain came to the door with that letter from Steve,” Victoria said. Bucky’s eyes saddened, and he nodded. “We were all looking forward to you coming home to get married. We thought it was you at the door.”

                “Instead it was the army, come to tell us that you were gone,” Anna said. Bucky dropped his head in grief, and slowly nodded. “Mom screamed when she opened the door and saw the Minister there. Everyone on the block knew something bad had happened; it wasn’t until the next day that it was announced in the papers. I never saw so many flowers or casserole dishes in my life.” Bucky smirked wryly.

                “I didn’t just come here to see my baby sisters,” he said with a happy smirk. “Do ya still have mom’s dress?” Becca gasped and her hand flew to her mouth.

                “You mean you’re,” she asked breathlessly, and Bucky nodded. After a moment Becca squealed out a happy laugh and flung herself at Bucky, wrapping him in a bruising hug. Bucky hugged her back with a happy smile.

                “Wedding bells ring on the 14th,” he said with a grin. Becca pulled away and Bucky could see the overjoyed look on her face. Her mouth opened and closed several times before she let out a bark of laughter. Anna and Victoria pulled him into similar bruising hugs, squealing with joy, before pulling him into the living room. Bucky smiled and sat down in what was obviously his dad’s old recliner reupholstered. Becca disappeared for a moment but Bucky could hear her rummaging around in the old closet in their dad’s study.

                “Mom and Dad locked it up in here after you were lost,” she shouted, “Dad said it was yours and Mom had already finished the alterations so it wouldn’t fit any of us the way it was.” Becca trudged back into the living room carrying their grandfather’s lost steamer chest; the one he sent back home. Jon quickly took the chest from her and set it down on the floor in front of Bucky’s chair. Bucky smiled down at it fondly, remembering that the last time he saw that trunk he was pregnant with Steven. His hand drifted absentmindedly to his belly and he rubbed the smoothness there, where there once were rocklike abs. Becca smiled softly at the action before she spoke again. “I named my son after you,” she said.

Bucky looked up sharply at her admission, his eyes wide with shock. Becca laughed at his look and knelt down to unlock the chest.

                “You named your son … after me,” he asked softly. Becca smiled softly and nodded.

                “James Buchanan Proctor,” she said, her eyes soft, “he goes by Jim most of the time, but most of the family calls him Jamie.” Bucky felt his eyes prickle with tears at the memory of his parents calling him Jamie until he insisted on being Bucky.

                “I’m so sorry, Becks,” he croaked out. Becca just smiled and opened the trunk, revealing the folded up white gown that their mother had worn on her wedding day. Bucky’s smile was watery and trembling as he carefully reached out with his gloved hands and picked up the garment by the shoulders.

Their mother had done a flawless job altering the Victorian style gown. The neck had been removed to create an off the shoulder neckline, and the long sleeves were changed out for a sleeve that hugged the arm tight until the top of the elbow. From there the sleeves had a beautiful embroidered band that transitioned into a large open bell sleeve, with two layers of fabric reaching at the shortest point just past the fingertips of the hand, and at the longest to just above the ankles. The inner layer of cloth was an almost sheer silk whereas the outer layer was thicker and had a layer of lace and chiffon sewn on the hem.

The overall look was so very elvish in style that Bucky could have sworn it was a traditional Numenorean wedding gown, instead of a dress his mother had bought from a dress shop in Brooklyn. Most of the lace had been removed from the top of the dress and replaced with better quality silk lace in similar patterning, but the overall look still held the beauty it had when he saw his mother wear it on his parents’ 25th anniversary. The long lacey layer on the skirt was replaced with a more elegant layer with less lace that showed the silk underneath. Only halfway down the skirt did the lace reappear, below the knee, and even then it was more subdued with only the heaviest part on the hem and train. The train was long, and Bucky had loved how beautiful it was before, but now he knew it would look stunning on Arion’s form.

The lace and silk created a thing of beauty that he held in his hands. His hands shook slightly as he ran his fingers over his mother’s hand stitched alterations. The dress was perfect; exactly what he had drawn it like in the designs. He looked down into the trunk and laughed, when he saw the sketches lying on the box that held the Mithril headpiece that belonged to his grandmother.

                “We all wore grandma’s veil and circlet,” Becca said and Bucky looked up to see her fond and happy face gazing at the box, “but it was always supposed to be yours. Grandma said it was to be given to the firstborn, be it his bride or for her. It’s yours, Bucky.” Becca looked up at him with a teary smile. Bucky gently lowered the gown onto his lap and reached out his arms. He quickly pulled her into a hug and pressed a kiss to her cheek.

                “Thank you,” he said softly, “for keeping it safe.” Bucky pulled away and picked up the box that held the circlet and veil. He carefully opened the box and smiled at the silver steel and gold wire that made up the beautiful crown. The veil was just as beautiful as when he last saw it. “I want you all to come,” he said and looked up, “to the wedding. It would make me so happy, and I just want you to be there.” Becca smiled and nodded.

                “We’ll be there, Bucky,” Victoria said. Bucky grinned.

                “Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Jon said with a grin. Bucky chuckled and grinned before his face turned somber as he looked down at his still gloved hands. He swallowed hard and wringed his hands for a moment.

                “There’s something you gotta know,” he said and looked up. “I was… found by… HYDRA, when I fell; we were found.”  Becca and his sisters' hands flew to their mouths in shock. “Steven’s alive. He was with me; he found me at the bottom of the cliff. They took us both. He’s the one that got us out. They didn’t just… keep us prisoner. We were slaves. They brainwashed us and programmed us to do what they wanted.” Bucky looked at his hand and slowly pulled off his gloves. The silver fingers elicited a gasp from his sisters and a hiss from Jon. “I lost it when I fell. They fixed me up and put this on me, and then turned me into their weapon to be used at will. This,” he said wiggling his fingers, “isn’t even the original; that one was broken a long time ago. This one goes all the way past my shoulder.”

Bucky’s eyes flickered over to Anna, who whimpered, and smiled sadly at her. It wasn’t going to get any better. Bucky dropped his head and looked at his twined fingers before he continued. For several moments he spoke, haltingly and having to stop when he needed to wipe the tears from his face, but he finally spilled everything; everything but the reason he was even there that is.

                “How did you escape,” Jon asked softly. Bucky smiled wryly and pressed his hand to his belly again.

                “Did Mom and Dad tell you about how I am different,” he asked, and for a moment Jon looked confused, before he gasped and nodded. Bucky smirked. “They found out too. They wanted … they were going to scrap the project, and terminate us, because they finally had a way of making the perfect Soldier loyal from birth.” Bucky looked up and worried his lip before he spoke. “I’m pregnant; it’s Steve’s.” there was a collective gasp before Becca let out a choked sob. Bucky’s lip quivered and tears spilled from his eyes as he tried to stay composed but failed. He squeezed his eyes shut to stop the tears but before he could control himself, Becca, Anna and Victoria wrapped themselves around him in a giant hug.

Bucky crumbled in their embrace and started to sob. He sobbed and shook apart in their arms, and they just held him.

                “It’s not fair,” he wailed, “Steve should be here! He’s not even going to meet his son!”

The three sisters held their brother as he mourned the loss of his dearest friend, and they all shed tears over the fact that Steve wasn’t there to see Bucky alive again, or get to meet his baby. When they finally pulled away, Bucky’s eyes were red and wide, but so were his sisters’.

                “You don’t worry a single stitch about anything, Bucky,” Becca said, as she wiped the tears from her face. “I’ll finish the dress up for Arion, if you could just get him over here for the adjustments. You just worry about your uniform being up to snuff for the big day!” Becca grinned, and Bucky smiled thankful for the change in conversation and mood to something truly happy.

~**~*


 

Talking to Howard after meeting his Sisters again and seeing them was even harder. He worried his lip as he watched Steven and Stark engrossed in their work. Steven was smiling, and Bucky could see the darkness lifted from his bright eyes and saw him become the bright young man he had been so long ago. Steven seemed to sense his presence and looked over his shoulder at his Ada with a smile. Bucky mustered up a soft smile of his own and gently hinted with a nod of his head and gesture of his hand, that he needed a minute alone with Howard. Steven smiled sadly but nodded and left.

                “Stark,” Bucky said softly to gain the man’s attention. Howard looked up from his work and saw Steven gone. He looked over to the door and saw Bucky standing behind him instead.

                “Oh, Bucky,” he said in surprise, “I didn’t hear you come in.” Bucky smirked ruefully and hung his head shaking it softly.

                “Still the same old Howard,” he said to himself. He looked up and mustered his courage to speak. “There’s something I need to talk to you about.” Howard’s eyebrows notched up in surprise but he turned around and switched of the soldering iron. After too many lab fires, it became second nature to turn them off before having a discussion with someone. He swiveled back around in his chair and leaned on the table with a smirk.

                “So,” he asked, “what can I do for you? What do you need?” Bucky smiled and worried his hands for a moment.

                “I need a Best Man for the wedding,” he started looking down at his hands, still mismatched but his. “I was wondering if you would do it.” Bucky looked up with pleading eyes, and saw Stark’s face completely open with shock. His mouth was dropped open and hung there for a moment before opening and closing. After a second it snapped shut, and his chocolate brown eyes filled with tears as they widened. He swallowed thickly and pushed a brittle smile onto his face. Bucky saw through the press-smile and into the reason behind it. “There isn’t anyone else I would trust with this.”

Howard’s brittle smile became thrilled, but there was still a tinge of sadness in it and in his eyes. He grinned and stood up, before stepping to bring Bucky into a big hug. Bucky returned it with careful strength.

                “It would be my honor, Barnes,” he answered. Howard pulled away and grinned at Bucky’s smiling face. “There’s no one else I’d do this for.” Howard drifted back to his desk and looked down at the drawings and schematics of Bucky’s arm, as well as the first components finally being pieced together. “It should have been Steve doing this, not me.” Howard said, and Bucky moved to Stark’s side and looked at the incomplete arm being assembled on the table. He gently wrapped his arm around Howard’s shoulder and pulled him into a one armed hug; one that he had given Steve so many times.

                “I know,” Bucky said, his heart aching at the loss of his dearest friend and brother in all but blood. “But he would have wanted you to do this for him.” Howard nodded stoically and fingered at the internal arm pieces.

                “The arm should be finished before the wedding,” he said, changing the subject. “I don’t know if it will be ready to be installed by then, but Steven and I are doing are best. Fëanor has the rest of the pieces done, so it shouldn’t take too long to get it finished.” Bucky glanced over at Stark and saw the mild frustration in his features at his inability to finish his project.

                “Howard,” Bucky said. “Have your son help you.” Howard looked at Bucky with a look that told him what the man was thinking; he didn’t have to be psychic to see the ‘why would I do that,’ on his face. Bucky chuckled; same old Howard.  “I know that he would love to help, and you’re always bragging about how smart he is. You two are too much alike, and you’re drifting apart. Before you know, it you won’t even know your own son anymore. Talk to him, Howard. Don’t ask for help; just ask him if he wants to help. I think he would jump at the chance to prove to you he is as good as you are. You two need to bond, and you both love this stuff; so why not bond over it.” Howard smirked and looked down at the electronics that Steven at created for the arm. It was so far over his head that he had no idea what he was doing, and frankly Tony would. Maybe it was time for the father to learn from the son.

                “Okay,” he said, “I’ll ask. Tony comes home tomorrow, I’ll ask him then.” Bucky grinned and tugged Howard’s shoulder closer.

                “Good,” he said with a grin, “don’t start arguing with him, and don’t order him. Just ask him if he would like to help you on a robotics project, and I guarantee you he won’t say no.”

~*~*


 

TBC…

Chapter Text

~~**~


 

Of course Tony didn’t say no. In fact; the moment Howard gruffly asked his son if he would like to help him on a robotics project, Tony’s eyes widened to the size of dinner plates in shock before he grinned like a giddy little school boy, and nodded so fast his head was almost a blur. Steven snickered at his enthusiasm but let it slide in favor of showing the boy his creation.

Tony’s hands had run over the incomplete cybernetic arm with reverence and awe. He admired the workmanship before scrutinizing the small wires and servos that made the arm move. Steven watched the boy work with pride as he manipulated the skeleton and mechanical structures of the wrist and elbow joints. The manic glee on Tony’s face told him that the young genius found the design and craftsmanship flawless. The boy looked over the sheathing that would act like a second skin, with the same laser focus. He put it down after a minute before focusing on the electronics that would translate Bucky’s nerve impulses into something that the mechanics and the miniaturized computer would understand.

After a long moment studying the attachment point, where the arm would be permanently grafted to his Ada’s muscles and skeleton, Tony turned around with a look of awe and bliss on his face.

                “Who designed this,” he asked. Steven grinned at the awe and respect in the boy’s voice, and raised his hand with his Ada’s signature cocky smirk. Tony’s jaw dropped and his eyes went wide and expressive. “You?!” he asked incredulously. Steven grinned and laughed.

                “Yep,” he said with a bright smile. Tony’s look of pure disbelief didn’t leave his face.

                “I don’t… no offence or anything,” Tony said, “but I thought you were another of Dad’s hired goons, not a cybernetics engineer genius!” Tony looked back at the schematics with awe. He picked up one of the blue prints and waved it at his father and Steven. “This, the idea that you can use fiber optics wires to simulate human nerves and impulses, is pure genius! Dad, tell me you’re just shitting with me and you made this.” Tony demanded, but Howard remained silent with an amused smile on his face. “Dad! Dad?” after a second Tony’s expression dropped into shock again as he looked back and forth between his father and Steven. Once it finally set in that Howard was telling the truth, the blueprints slipped from his limp fingers and he plopped down into his father’s chair. “You’re not, are you?” Tony asked timidly, and Howard shook his head raising an eyebrow and looking at Steven’s smirking face.

                “Tony, I want you to meet someone near and dear to my heart,” Howard said and moved to gently pick his son up from the chair with a gentle hand under his arm. He tugged him to stand before Steven and smiled. “Tony, this is Captain Steven Grant Buchanan of the Howling Commandoes: artist, tactician, marksman, and technology genius extraordinaire. He’s the one that gave me many of my ideas during and after the War.” Tony numbly held out his hand to shake Steven’s and Steven laughed at the gesture before pulling the boy into a bruising hug. Tony let out a sound that was most definitely a squeak, as Steven squeezed him tightly.

                “You’re strong! Can’t breathe…” He gasped and Steven quickly pulled away, concern flashing in his eyes, still not used to being gentle with his new strength. “Thanks,” he said looking up and down Steven’s muscled chest. Howard smirked and Steven snickered at the boy’s obvious hero worship.

                “Steven’s also a mutant with Class five abilities,” he said and Tony looked at his dad then Steven before his eyes widened and he blinked in shock.

                “Wow,” he said, “didn’t expect that. You don’t look like a mutant.” Steven grinned and chuckled shaking his head in mock despair at the teen’s lack of filter and manners.

                “I was a series five Class five in the War,” Steven explained, “the only one of my kind. I had five separate abilities that I could control with equal strength.” Steven looked down at himself and at his more muscular arms and chest, “now, I’m as Series 10: the only one in recorded existence.” Tony whistled.

                “How’d you make that kind of leap,” he asked bluntly. Howard shot him a scolding look and Tony shrank in on himself. “Sorry.”  Steven shook it off and waved away the apology.

                “No, it’s okay,” he said, “I don’t mind telling him. I was captured after Ada fell from the train, and they experimented on us; on me.” Steven’s eyes turned somber and distant, “They somehow managed to get ahold of Steve’s blood and synthesized enough Serum from it to create one Super Soldier. They didn’t know about my powers, and as a result, the serum enhanced them too. I found out later that they used it on me because the detected a small amount of a different version of the Serum in my blood, but it was diluted enough that I only saw minimal results. The dosage they gave me made me as strong as Steve once was, and even more powerful. They didn’t know that I had my powers from before and assumed that the Serum gave them to me. As a result the project was scrapped and Ada and I were used for more… nefarious purposes.” Steven explained his gaze becoming clear again. Tony’s eyes were wide and sympathetic but only for a moment.

Once the moment past, Tony looked at the schematics and the incomplete arm on the table with unrestrained glee. Steven smirked at Tony’s childish behavior, and moved to stand beside him.

                “I designed the system to be used with light and durable metals,” Steven told him. “I gave them to Fëanor to create the metal parts. All of these mechanical pieces, and the synthetic skeleton,” he said gesturing to the arm’s delicate hand and wrist, moving to the elbow and even the shoulder socket, “were made by his hand. Your father and I were working on the electronic part of this,” Tony looked mesmerized but Steven could feel his doubts about its strength pop into his mind, “no, Tony. This is just the internal structure.” Tony looked over sharply at the taller man.

                “How did you…” he started.

                “Know what you were thinking?” Steven finished for him with a chuckle, “I’m psychic, Tony. I’m Telepathic. It’s one of my abilities. I knew what you were going to ask. Fëanor is creating the external structure which will attach to this sheathing,” Steven said gesturing with his hand and causing the mesh that would go over the arm’s internal structure and attach to the external plating to rise without touching it. “It will act like a moisture barrier and make the structure water proof; it will also attach the plating to the arm and allow it to move in only the way it’s supposed to move.” Tony’s jaw dropped at Steven’s display of power. He turned and looked up at the mythical Commando stepped right from the pages of his dad’s comics, with something akin to awe.

                “Is there anything you can’t do? What other powers do you have,” Tony asked in rapid fire speed. Steven giggled at Tony’s enthusiasm.

                “Well,” Steven chuckled, “I have telekinesis, Telepathy, which are quite usual for Class fives. Let’s see, there’s my healing ability.”

                “You mean you regenerate,” Tony interrupted.  Steven smirked but shook his head.

                “No, not like that,” he said, and Tony’s shoulders drooped. “I do have an accelerated healing rate but what I meant was that I can heal others, with just a touch. The elves call it the Gift of Healing, and apparently it’s pretty rare.” Tony smiled, his eyes sparkling with wonder. “I have what your father calls Electrokinesis, which means that I can manipulate energy and absorb it; even channel it through my body; store it up when I need it. It came in handy quite a lot, back in the day.” Tony looked like he was just itching to hear those stories but Steven had to disappoint him. “They’re a bit too mature for someone your age, maybe when you’re older.” Tony stuck out his lower lip and pouted with his arms crossed. Steven grinned and shook his head. Tony was sulking like a child, and that definitely meant he wasn’t mature enough to hear those stories. “The last one his Technokinesis or Technopathy; it’s what gave us quite the edge when it came to HYDRA tech. I can manipulate and control any form of technology, mechanical or electronic, and it also helps me understand how it works. That’s why I could design that arm all the way back in the forties. I had ideas about improving technology that Howard said was impossible, and yet… I was right,” Steven said with a smug smirk at the old inventor.

                “Yeah, yeah,” Howard groaned, “rub it in, why don’t ya.” Tony grinned and started to laugh.

                “You proved my dad wrong!?” Tony asked joyously, and Steven nodded. Tony grasped his chest and threw his head back as if he was in ecstasy and let out a trilling sigh. When he finally looked back at Steven there was respect and covetousness in the teen’s gaze. “Steven, my friend,” he said with a smirk, standing up on his toes to throw his arm over Steven’s shoulders, “I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.” Steven instantly burst out laughing and doubled over from his mirth.

                “I saw that movie, you mook,” he laughed and straightened out to grin at the teen. “France, 1944; it was right before the Germans broke through the Ardennes. We just finished the film when we were given the order to move out. Gabe loved that line! Dugan too!” Tony smirked with sparkling eyes.

                “So who is the arm for,” he asked absently, but Steven could see the bright curiosity in the teen’s eyes. Steven smirked.

                “For my Ada,” he answered cryptically, and Tony made a sour face, like he didn’t get a satisfying answer. Steven looked over the teen’s head to Howard and projected his thoughts. ‘Should we tell him? Can he keep that kind of a secret?’ Howard shrugged his shoulders and pursed his lips, his pencil mustache twitching like a mouse’s whiskers. After a moment of contemplation, he nodded. Steven looked at Tony, whose face was pinched as he looked at the arm and fiddled with some of the connection points. “It’s for Bucky,” he finally said.

Tony’s head snapped up in a flash and his eyes went wide, a second later his mouth dropped open, and he gaped like a fish as he tried to process the new input.

                “Bucky,” he said, his face still a picture of shock, “As in Bucky Barnes; The Howling Commando; the Lost Commando, ‘the only Howling Commando to give his life in service of his country,’ Bucky Barnes? That Bucky?!” Tony practically shrieked, and Steven nodded. Steven watched with a barely suppressed grin, as Tony squealed like a fan girl and had a little freak-out moment. Tony looked over to Howard in askance, and the old inventor just grinned and nodded. “Bucky Barnes, oh my GOD!” after a moment what Steven told him sank in and he turned laser focus on Steven. “Wait, you called him Ada; that’s elvish for father.”

                “Technically, it’s a diminutive of Adar, meaning dad, da, papa, or daddy,” Steven said calmly. Tony’s jaw once again hit the floor.

                “Barnes is your father,” he asked, “how’s that possible? You fought in the war you were at least 21 or maybe 20.” Steven winced, crossed his arms over his chest and shrank into himself.

                “Actually,” he said hesitantly, “he’s, uh… my … he’s my mother.” Tony’s eyes became like dinner plates again and seemed to lose all ability to speak; all that came out of his open mouth was a strangled squeak. “It’s technically still classified, and I could get into a lot of trouble for even telling you this, but I was born on February 10th…1944. There’s a film reel somewhere of me begin born, and some more of me growing up, but … yeah. Basically my whole life was a government, well, Army, cover-up. If you want to see the film you’re welcome to it, but I don’t think you should.” Tony’s mouth snapped shut and he whipped around to look at his father with wide eyes.

                “Yes, I knew,” Howard said. “It was classified for a reason. I held that kid the day he was born, bigger than you, but still so small.” Howard’s eyes became soft and fond. “He grew so fast, and was smart as a whip. He was only twelve days old or around the equivalent twelve years, when his powers manifested; so young, and yet so powerful. Barnes loves that boy more than anything, and the feeling is mutual.” Howard looked Tony in the eye and smiled proudly at his son. “When Barnes fell, Steven couldn’t except that he was dead, and hijacked a troupe transport to take him to the area where Barnes fell in the Alps. The transport came back and told us that he parachuted down just fine, but he never came back. We all thought he was gone too; dead or captured. We were right about the second one.” Howard suddenly looked very old and he slowly sat down on his desk stool. His eyes were filled with regret and shame. “We thought Bucky… was dead. No one could have survived that fall. We hoped he was dead, but in reality, Barnes and Steven here,” he said gesturing to the tall blond, “suffered a fate worse than death; capture at the hands of HYDRA’s soviet branch: the Red Room.” Howard looked pained and Tony looked physically ill. “I can’t. No… I won’t tell you the details, but when Barnes fell he lost his arm and the soviets fixed him up with a metal one. Not unlike this one here,” Howard gestured to the prosthetic on the table. “They brainwashed them both, and controlled them, but we got them out.” Tony looked back at Steven with trepidation and a little bit of fear.

                “They called Ada the Winter Soldier,” he said, his eyes hard and his face blank, “and I they call the Winter Knight.” Steven’s eyes softened. “Ada’s arm is far too heavy, so your father and I built this one. It’s much better, and I do hope you will lend us your expertise on the matter.” Tony brightened, grateful for the topic change; he wasn’t the only one.

Tony turned back to the arm with unrestrained glee. He picked it up and manipulated the joints, smiling at their smoothness of movement and action; so very natural. He set it down and turned to look at the tall half elf before him.

                “Okay, I’ll help,” he said and Steven relaxed, until Tony raised his hand. “But, on one condition…” Steven stiffened knowing what the teen wanted. “I wanna meet him; Barnes, that is. I want to meet Bucky Barnes, when you install this bad boy!” Steven smiled but still deferred to Howard, seeing as it was his son. Howard looked uneasy at the thought of his son being around a programmed soldier, who was still undergoing intense deprogramming and reconditioning to normal behavior. One look at Tony’s obvious excitement and anticipation, and Howard caved like a house of cards.

                “Okay,” he conceded.

                “YES,” Tony hissed and he pumped his fist with glee.

                “On one condition,” Howard said. Tony slumped and pouted at his father.

                “Fine, anything, what,” he said, uncaring but still eager.

                “If anything happens, anything at all; if Barnes starts to lash out,” he said, sternly, “you leave the room and stay out until Steven says it’s safe to return.” Tony groaned at his father’s overprotective behavior.

                “Argh,” he groaned throwing back his head in a melodramatic fashion, before dropping his head down to look at Howard with a pout, “Fine! Now can we get back to this beauty?” Howard sighed in relief and shared a grin with Steven.

                “Sure, kid,” Steven said and moved to stand behind Tony, before he began explaining how the system worked.


 

~*~*


 

Fëanor gave them the call that he had finished the plating just as Tony and Howard were finishing the neural adapter for the shoulder. Tony was beyond excited, and was bouncing up and down on his toes like a kid on caffeine. Steven told him more than once to calm down, reminding him that they would only be installing the arm after Bucky’s surgery to remove the old out of date connector. The new one had already been sent ahead, to the best neurosurgeon in the world that would be not only removing the old version but installing the new one. Steven told Howard to keep his son calm while he assisted the doctor.

Steven was no wilting flower when it came to blood and gore but he had issues with seeing his Ada’s blood and gore. Steven hated seeing him in pain but the surgeon had guaranteed that Bucky would be kept under anesthetic the whole time. Steven knew the designs and his Ada’s nervous system better than his own at times, and Stark knew that there would be no one better than him to oversee and assist in the neural connections being fused properly. Not only that, Steven’s healing ability would cut down on the recovery time by 90%.

By the time Howard and Tony arrived at the hospital with the new arm, minus the shoulder socket, Bucky was already recovered enough with his own body’s enhanced healing and Steven’s gentle coaxing that they could install the arm. Howard and Tony came into the recovery room to see Steven and Bucky preforming the necessary stress reducing exercises for the arm to be properly calibrated.

Tony stopped dead in his tracks when he came into the room and saw Bucky. He was bare-chested and only wore hospital scrubs for pants but he was smiling. His hair was way longer than in the old photos and his face slightly more careworn but it was Bucky Barnes. Tony’s jaw dropped and his fingers slackened. He almost dropped the case that held his pride and joy collaboration with his father, but it was saved when he felt a nudge in the back of his mind that was definitely not his subconscious.

                ‘Tighten fingers and close mouth, party boy,’ the voice said and Tony instantly snapped his mouth shut with a loud clack. He looked over and saw Steven looking at him with an arched brow. ‘Don’t break that before it’s even on him. It’s just as much mine as it is yours, kid.’ Tony curled his fingers tighter around the handle, and gave the former soldier a sheepish smile.

Just then Bucky looked up from his exercises and saw Tony. After a moment of confusion, his face lit up with a big grin. He slid off the bed and used his IV pole to steady himself as he walked up to Tony.

                “You must be Tony,” he said once he was right in front of the teen. Tony gulped and looked up at his with wide awed eyes. Bucky grinned and steadied his balance enough to offer his hand to the boy in greeting. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, kiddo. your father has told me so much about you already, I feel as if I already know you; Can’t get the old bastard to shut up about you, really!” Tony numbly took Bucky’s hand and shook it with a dazed smile on his face. Bucky just laughed and looked down at the case in his hand. “Is that it; the arm?” the question finally seemed to snap Tony out of his stupor and he jolted before plastering on a grin.

                “Sure is; ready and waiting for final calibrations and install,” he said. Bucky grinned and clapped Tony on the shoulder.

                “Good,” he said with an excited grin, before he hopped back onto the bed. “Then let’s get this show on the road; I’ve been without an arm for long enough!” Tony grinned back at the man and Bucky could see the hero worship in the teen’s eyes. Bucky rolled his own briefly before he settled his face to a calmer smile.

Tony pulled the case up to sit on a nearby table, and with a flourish he opened the case and revealed the silver coated arm. Bucky’s eyes lit up in wonder. Though the arm looked almost identical to the previous one, this one shone brighter in the florescent lights; the Mithril gleaming in its buffed finish. Bucky stood up and walked over to the arm. He brushed his fingers over the gleaming metal and marveled at Fëanor’s superb craftsmanship. There wasn’t a single piece that had a bur or flaw in its construction, and the transition from the silver Mithril to the Vibranium was so perfect, that Bucky could not tell where one metal began and the other ended. It wasn’t quite a mirror finish but it was buffed and polished enough that Bucky could make out blurry reflections in the metal. The one thing that made him grin was that there was no longer a red star on his shoulder. It was no longer branding him as someone else’s property.

Bucky ran his fingers over the elbow and down the arm until he reached the hand. He carefully picked up the wrist from its foam casing and laid it flat. He sucked in a sharp breath when he finally saw the only flaw in the silver. On the ring finger, on the first metal plate, instead of the band being made entirely of Mithril, there was a ring of Gold that wrapped around the finger, bisected by several plates, to make a perfect band of gold. Bucky ran his fingers over the Gold band with reverence and joy.

Bucky looked up and locked eyes with the very man that made the band on the finger. Fëanor gave Bucky a soft smile.

                “It has a molecule layer of Mithril over the Gold to protect it from wear,” he said, and Bucky’s smile became watery and his eyes bright with tears. “It won’t change the strength of the finger, or compromise the durability of the hand. That finger is just as strong as the others.” Bucky nodded in thanks and looked back at the ring with a hardened resolve.

                “They’re not taking away my wedding ring,” he said while rubbing the ring of gold, “not again!”

Bucky took a moment to recover his emotions before he turned and with Steven’s help sat back on the hospital bed. He gave the Stark’s a nod and said, “I’m ready,” before the two engineers started the process.

Steven stood off to the side but close enough to help, if they should need it. Howard plugged in the cords to the data ports that were still exposed on the underside of the arm, and with Tony and Steven’s help heaved the metal arm out of the case. The arm was actually very light, but several natural weights were added to the wrist and elbow to ease Bucky’s spine carefully back into realignment. It was easily ten pounds lighter than the previous one that was just removed and destroyed. (Howard didn’t care if it was a modern marvel of biomechanical cybernetic engineering; it was a weapon that had nearly destroyed his friend that the man never wanted grafted onto his spine.)

The two Stark’s held the arm close to the connector port, and gave Steven a nod.

                “You ready, kid,” Howard asked Steven as he flexed his fingers and cracked his knuckles. Steven nodded, and Howard grinned back. “Then let’s get moving! You are clear to go.” Steven took a deep breath and closed his eyes, forcing himself to relax.

When he opened them again, there was a glow to his eyes as he brought up his hands in a graceful manner; much like a conductor raising his hands to begin a symphony.  In a matter of seconds, the dangling wires inside the arm around the ball of the shoulder came to life and began to rise up to find their respective partners on the already installed shoulder and connector port. With a twist of his fingers, the pairs began to match up and bind to one another; bare ends easily slipping into minute metal sleeves attached to the other side. These little sleeves acted like little power stations, giving the signals a boost of energy to get them to keep going, much how actual nerves reacted. It was these hundreds of little fiber-optics wires that would create the neural net, that would control all the artificial nerves and receptors that would simulate touch and give Bucky feedback on pressure and temperature. This was far more sophisticated than the old arm, which could old sense pressure and minor temperature changes; not texture and pain. This arm could sense pain, but it was dulled.

Steven created everything in the arm to act like a normal one, and pain was necessary towards the natural function. The pain receptors in the arm would flare if something was damaged and needed repair; just like how pain responded in a living flesh and bone arm. Everything was perfect, but Steven was still unsure how his Ada’s body would react to the sudden return of all those severed senses. Mostly Steven hoped that with the addition of the pain receptors, Bucky would no longer feel phantom pains from his lost limb.

Steven pushed this all out of his mind as he attached the last nerve cluster and began to manipulate the arm to move closer. The arm lifted out of Howard and Tony’s hands and came to levitate mere inches from the connector socket. Steven gestured with his hands again and the mechanical parts started stitching together. Hundreds of tiny pistons and shafts started attaching and fixing themselves to their appointed areas, and soon the artificial muscles were completely fixed. Steven took a breath and lifted his hands. Tony watched in awe as the under sheath lifted and attached to the artificial muscles like a skin before the metal plating lifted back and over the shoulder to rest on the attachment port on the pectoral muscle. With a twist of Steven’s wrist, Tony could hear the tiny connectors attack to the sheath and the sheathing connect to the muscles with a symphony of metallic clicks and whirs.  Once the clicking stopped, Steven sighed and his shoulders relaxed.

He looked over at Howard and Tony, and gave them a final nod. The two Stark’s returned it and moved to take hold of the arm by the wrist and elbow. Howard looked up at Barnes and saw his face as still as stone but sweaty and pale from the effort it took to remain still with all the new input from the receptors and sensors. Howard placed a hand on the remaining flesh on Bucky shoulder, and gave him a solemn pat.

                “It’s almost over, Barnes,” he said encouragingly, “just hold on a little longer.” Bucky flicked his gaze over to the aged inventor and gave a sharp nod.

                “I’m ready,” he said through clenched teeth. This was the hard part, locking the shoulder back into place. It was difficult and hard, almost akin to fixing a dislocated shoulder, but it had to be done just right for the last connector to engage. Tony and Howard lifted the arm with Steven’s telekinetic aid, and positioned the arm to slot into place.

                “Ready,” Howard asked Steven and the blond nodded. “Okay. On the count of three… one… two,” and without warning Bucky, the two Stark’s put their weight behind the arm and shoved it into position. Bucky let out a startled and pained yell, and lashed out… with the metal arm. Howard and Tony were sent sprawling while Bucky gasped for breath at the sudden rush of new sensations and sudden relief of pain. “Okay, that was my fault,” Howard groaned dazedly as he carefully picked himself up.

Steven sent the inventor a scathing glare before moving to kneel before his Ada’s trembling form. Bucky was breathing harshly and deeply but his eyes were clear and bright, so Steven carefully placed a hand on Bucky’s knee. Bucky’s gaze snapped over to Steven for a moment before they drifted to look down at his hands. He slowly and cautiously brought them up to look at and admire. He turned the palms to face him and he slowly clenched his hands into fists, the left only a fraction slower than the right, before relaxing them again. Howard cautiously picked up the calibrator and plugged in the data cords to record the input from the right side as well as the left. Bucky twisted and turned his wrists examining the left one with awe. Stark watched the data input and started tweaking the reaction rates for the left one to match the instantaneous signals coming and going from the right side.

Tony peeked over his dad’s shoulder and watched what he was doing for a moment. The teen rolled his eyes and reached around his father to type in a completely different coding to the calibration. Howard glared at Tony for a second before he realized that the new coding was adapting to Bucky’s needs better. Howard graced his boy with a proud smile before getting back to the calibration, and before long Howard and Tony deemed it perfect. The two marveled at their work for a moment, completely ignoring the tears of joy running down Bucky’s face as he began to comprehend that there was no more pain.

Bucky let out a wild and joyous laugh laden with tears, and the two looked up from their work to see Bucky’s grin. Steven was smiling back with tear filled eyes and the two shared a moment of pure relief. Arion stepped forward and laid his hand on Bucky’s metal wrist. Bucky jolted from the touch and looked up at his betrothed with wide eyes. Bucky slowly ran his smooth metal fingers over the texture of Arion’s skin before moving to touch his face. Steven smiled and moved to stand by Howard. With a wave of his hand, the calibration wires detached, and Bucky was free to move.

And more he did. After a brief moment of touching Arion’s teary face, Bucky surged up from his seat on the bed to pull the golden elf into a bruising kiss. All the while tears ran down his face.

                “I can feel you,” Bucky said after pulling away. His lips were drawn into a bright smile, and his eyes twinkled with joy. Arion smiled back and pressed his own more tender kisses to those lips, before kissing Bucky’s cheek and pulling him into a tender hug. Bucky returned the hug with just as much tenderness. The moment lasted until Tony cleared his throat, causing the two to pull apart and look at the teenager.

                “Not to be the killjoy,” he said awkwardly, “but how does it feel?” Tony scuffed his shoe on the ground and Bucky smiled at the motion.

                “Like I got my arm back, kid,” he told him with a soft smile. “Thanks.” Tony looked up at the compliment and grinned. After a second he shrugged and attempted to brush off the compliment but Bucky wasn’t going to have it. “I mean it. Thank you. You’re real special, kid; you’re somethin’ else. I don’t think I could ever repay you and your dad for this, but if you want, there’s a spot in the wedding party that I think has your name on it.” Tony looked up at the soldier with wide eyes. Bucky grinned when he saw that hero worship return, and Tony’s jaw drop to the floor. “Whadda ya say,” He asked with a drawl, “is ring bearer appropriate or do ya think yer too old fer that?” Tony’s jaw clacked shut and his eyes widened for a moment before his head shook so fast it was a blur of movement.

                “That’s fine,” he squeaked. Bucky barked out a laugh, and pulled Tony into a one armed hug, with the left arm. Tony barely contained the girly squeal that threatened to come out, but that didn’t stop the dopy smile on his face as the mantra, ‘I’m going to be in Bucky Barnes’ wedding!’ repeated itself in his head.

                “Better get out yer finest suit then, kiddo,” Bucky laughed, “’cause it’s gonna be a military weddin’, and I’m pullin’ out all the stops!”


 

~*~*~*


 

TBC…

Chapter Text

~*~**~


 

The day of the wedding dawned bright and clear. The clouds parted and the sun shown in an unusually warm fashion for the season, lighting the freshly fallen snow with a rainbow of sparkling crystals. The crisp clean air was sharp with cold, but Bucky took a deep breath anyway, a smile pulling on his lips. He closed his eyes and sighed, letting freshly recovered memories of days gone by filled with laughter and snow wash through his mind’s eye. He opened his eyes and looked out at the street from his front porch. His smile grew into a grin as he chuckled at the neighbor kids, rushing out to play in the snow. Their parents smiled at him and waved. Bucky waved back.

They had all, in their nosey way, come over in small groups or alone to see the newest addition to their block. Bucky still had the collection of pies and cookies in his kitchen to prove how kind and nosey they were. Steven had caught one older lady snooping upstairs, on her way to the bathroom. He had found her in the as yet unfinished nursery. They lady’s questions after that were about his wife, and the little one, and when Bucky told her that the wedding was in a few days, he saw the gossip gears turning in the little old lady’s head. After that he had to endure the looks from the older crowd, varying from scorn to at least some respect. Those ones at least acknowledged that he was marrying before the baby was born, the other more snobbish ones were just put off that the wedding wasn’t before the child was on its way. Bucky chuckled at the thought; if they only knew.

After a moment savoring his fresh morning air, Bucky quickly returned to the warmth and safety of his house. He shook of his cold robe and rushed through breakfast. After a meager morning meal he rushed up to the shower to get fresh and clean. Steven met him on the way to the shower, and his son gave him an encouraging smile. Bucky closed the bathroom door behind him but felt Steven’s mind brush against his own. He sighed with contentment, after a moment. This was something he truly missed, his son’s mind occasionally brushing up to his, seeking comfort. Bucky savored the moment as he stripped out of his shirt. He paused when he saw his reflection in the mirror. At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him, but when he placed a warm hand on his abdomen, there was a small but distinct bump. Bucky smiled and rubbed his hand over the small swell in awe. None of his other pregnancies had ever shown, but he knew that it was a distinct possibility that this one would. Bucky marveled at it for a moment, running his hands over the small convex shape that barely filled the cup of his hand.

                “Hello there, little one,” he murmured, and smiled when he felt a flutter from within. “Finally making yourself known, aren’t ya?” another flutter seemed to come as a response and Bucky chuckled. “I know, soon you’ll be so big, that I won’t have room for ya in me anymore,” Bucky looked up and saw the military dress uniform hanging on a hook just inside the bedroom,  “and soon I won’t fit into my uniform either. Which is why the wedding is today, and not in a few weeks.” Bucky stepped out of his baggy sweat pants, and underwear, and turned on the shower, making sure that the temperature was nice and hot. Another perk of the future: hot water. Bucky smiled again and stepped under the spray. He ducked his head under the spray and let it wet his now short hair. He let Steven cut it a few days before in preparation for the wedding, and now it was the same length he’d had it before the train.

He lathered up his hair with shampoo and scrubbed his scalp vigorously, and once he felt clean, Bucky rinsed it out of his hair. The conditioner went next, and while it sat, he scrubbed down the rest of his body with his body wash. The clean sent of Old Spice brought a smile to his lips, as he scrubbed every inch of his body with a loofa mitt. Bucky was glad for the waterproof quality of his new arm, because long hot showers, and even the occasional bath, were a new favorite pastime of his. Once his hair and body were rinsed thoroughly he turned off the water and grabbed his towel. All the while thinking about what Steve would think of the future. Bucky felt tears prickle at his eyes before he chuckled and placed his hand on his little bump.

                “I know Arion’s not your Daddy, but he’s going to love you just as much,” Bucky said with a brittle smile. “Your real Daddy, his name is Steve, just like your big brother. I named him after Steve. He would be so happy if he were here,” Bucky said as he got dressed, stepping into clear underwear and slipping into his undershirt. Bucky continued to talk to the baby about Steve as he pulled on his socks and pants, before slipping on his blouse, and buttoning it up. The uniform shirt was a bit snugger around his middle because of the baby, but it fit well enough that once Bucky tucked it into his pants and buckled his belt it was almost unnoticeable. Bucky stared down at the tie for a moment before carefully putting it on and tying it in a regulation knot.

Bucky reverently ran his hands over the olive-drab jacket, and belt. It was the very one he had worn to pick up Steve for their last night in New York, and it was just as crisp and clean as the day he put it in his foot locker. The carefully sewn sergeant bars were still there, as well as his shiny brass buttons, but the insignias were added making him a member of the Strategic Scientific Reserve, which he wasn’t, but Honorary SHIELD agent he was, and these were the only insignias they had that would fit with the uniform. The infantry bar sat proudly below his medals, and Bucky saw with raised brows, that there were a lot of them. He spotted his unit citations and marksmanship awards quickly enough, as well as his awards from his early days in training. Next he spotted the awards he received while in combat, and with shock, he saw that they were more than he had realized. Bronze stars and Silver Stars for bravery and valor, as well as his Distinguished Service Cross, sat proudly for all the world to see, along with his Purple Hearts; one for his time as a Prisoner after Azzano, and the other for the  last Mission he ever went on. Then his eyes graced on a ribbon that made his jaw drop, a pale blue ribbon with five stars: the Medal of Honor.

At first he thought it was a mistake, until he saw the note pinned to the sleeve.

                “It’s not a mistake, Barnes. Steve recommended you after Volgograd in ’45. He said you earned it just as much as he did his medals,” Signed Peggy.

Bucky felt his eyes mist up and he smiled at the note. With reverence and care he slipped into the jacket, buttoning up the brass buttons and buckled the belt. He gave the jacket hem a final tug, and looked at himself in the mirror. The man he saw could have been him, forty years before, with matching cocky grin and all. Bucky gave his damp hair a final brush before he tugged on his cap and went downstairs. He had a wedding to get to, and this time he wasn’t going to be late.

~~*~*~


 

Standing before the alter at the Church was a strange feeling, and Bucky felt the flutter of excitement and nerves in his belly as the music played and the groomsmen and bridesmaids walked down the aisle. He watched Howard preen in his best suit as he moved to stand beside him, and Bucky suddenly felt a twinge of pain at the sudden thought that it should have been Steve standing there instead. He mused this for a while and felt the brush of Steven’s mind against his in concern, but Bucky smiled. He was quickly pulled out of his musing when the music suddenly changed to the bold and distinctive sound of the church’s large pipe organ playing the classic wedding march intro. The nerves in his gut turned into sudden calm as he turned to look at the doors.

Bucky gasped and his breath caught, when he saw Arion standing there. For a moment the light cast him in silhouette, before he stepped forward with his father’s arm held out to escort him to the alter, and then the light became a halo that turned the love of his life into a radiant angel. The white of the gown became soft and warm in the sun’s rays and the veil became a soft white glow. The circlet became a ring of starlight upon Arion’s brow, and made the glow of Arion’s golden hair into a crown woven into intricate knots around his glowing face. Arion beamed at him, and it was all Bucky could do just to take a breath and not rush to Arion and pull him into a passionate kiss. Steven smothered a chuckle at the dopy look of love and affection on his Ada’s face.

Bucky had only eyes for the love of his life and in a few moments, his future husband. Likewise was Arion narrow sighed at the moment, for his eyes welled with tears at the sight of Bucky in his dress greens, and for a moment he was transported back in time to the day they saw each other again. Arion smiled and watched Bucky step down to face both Arion and Ingwë. With an awed calm he turned back to the minister and moved to stand beside Arion. The chaplain smiled and looked upon the couple with joy, before he spoke those very familiar words that any person one day longs to hear:

                “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to bear witness to the union of these two souls in holy matrimony.” Bucky grinned like a loon and Arion was no better. At this point Steven finally did snicker and the Commandoes all chuckled at the stupidly happy looks on Bucky’s and Arion faces’. But they all declined to say a word, knowing that they deserved it. “Who gives this Bride away to be this man’s wife,” the Chaplain asked. Steven raised a brow to his parents and he received this image of a lot of red tape being bound up in in mind. A smile stretched across his lips and he calmly watched.

Ingwë stepped forward slightly and raised his head proudly.

                “I do,” he said, “I give this bride away.” the chaplain smiled, and the Vanyar King turned and gave Arion’s hand to Bucky. He placed their hands in one another’s and clasped them in his own. “May you both be blessed,” he said and moved aside. Bucky nodded and turned to look at Arion.

The words of the minister became background noise, and Bucky just tuned him out in favor of letting his eyes run over Arion’s form. The dress was every bit a beautiful on Arion as Bucky had expected it to be, and the sight of his beloved wearing it and the veil, had him lost in Arion’s unearthly glow. Bucky was similarly gazed upon with the same reverence. Arion took in Bucky’s form with longing and barely hidden desire. He was resplendent in his green suit; his cap slightly skewed making him look rakish and cocky. The ribbons on his chest sat proudly and perfectly above his left pocket, and his chest looked even more impressive in the finely tailored suit.

The two were so lost in each other’s eyes that when the minister asked them to speak their vows, they were caught off guard. With a sheepish smile Bucky took Arion’s hands and spoke his vows.

                “Mírë,” he said looking deeply into Arion’s eyes, “from the first time I set eyes on you I knew you were different. From the first time we spoke, there was a spark. And although I think my parents would have wanted us to wait, I will never regret what our first moment together gave us.” Steven smiled through blurred eyes when Bucky’s gaze flitted over to look lovingly at his son, before looking back to Arion. “I have loved you for so long, that I have forgotten what it was like not to be this much in love. You were the first thing I remembered, and you will be the last I will forget. We’ve been through war, separated by time and nations, and kept apart by evil men, but we are together at last on this day, to say this: I love you, Arion, and I always will. We’ve been together for so long but we’ve also been kept apart for so long, so we know all the good stuff and all the not so good stuff. But I was willing to endure them because I love you, and now I want to make you a promise: no matter what happens, good or bad, I will always love you. If our love can endure decades of war, torture and hell, then it can stand up to anything; and I’m willing to put it through the better years to come.”

Arion was smiling but his eyes were bright with unshed tears, as his lips quivered in an attempt to keep from crying. Bucky smiled back and the tears quickly fell, making Arion’s smile fall, as the love over flowed from his heart. It quickly returned only to be beaming bright, in reflection of Arion’s joy. He felt his heart swell with the love and happiness that Bucky’s words evoked. He felt whole again, after hearing those words, and thus he felt that his own declaration of love and vows of devotion would be just as powerful to his beloved.

                “My Darling James,” he said softly, “from the first moment I set eyes on you, I knew you were special. The connection we had was instantaneous, and it gave me something I never thought I’d have; love and a family. Though I wish sometimes we had waited for this day, I cannot bring myself to regret the fruit that was born from our first union,” Bucky’s eyes filled with tears as he looked over at their son, and Arion felt his heart swell with love. “I have never been good with words, but I can only say this: my vow and pledge to you is to love you for as long as the Powers that be let us be together. I vow to honor you, and forsake all others in your sight. And though we have seen the worst, I know it won’t be the last of all the trials in your life together.” Bucky smiled but this time it was tinged with sadness. Arion’s gaze flickered down and saw that Bucky had moved his hand to cup the small swell of his belly. “I vow to love you through all those trials, good or bad, because I love you. And I always will.”

Arion smiled and looked over to his parents in shock when he heard a whimper and sigh. His Atar was trying and failing to hold back his tears, and his mother was openly crying; trying desperately to dry her tears and regain some proper regal decorum. His brother was smiling through tears and hugging his wife close. The couple sent him a happy smile of their own, when he beamed back at them. He looked back at Bucky and found a smile on his face that was so full of love and contentment, that he felt tears prickle at his own eyes at the sight of it.

Soon, though, the moment was interrupted when the priest cleared his throat and smiled indulgently at them. It was as smile born out of overseeing dozens of weddings. The couple smiled sheepishly at him and he nodded.

                “Now that the couple has exchanged their vows of love and devotion,” he said, “there will be the exchanging of rings. Do you have the rings?” Bucky nodded and turned to Howard. The older Man had already procured the rings from Tony, who was grinning like a fool, and handed them to Bucky. Bucky smiled at the older man and turned back to pass Arion the ring he would exchange with Bucky. “Ready? Good. The exchanging of rings is a symbol of love and devotion, as well as a promise. The ring is a perfect circle without beginning or end, and thus symbolizes the love these two shall have: without beginning or end.” He smiled again and cleared his throat. “Now, if you would repeat after me: I… insert your name,” he said to Bucky.

                “I, James Buchanan Barnes,” Bucky repeated.

                “Take this ring…”

                “Take this ring…” Bucky echoed with a smile and fresh tears in his eyes.

                “As the symbol of my marriage…”

                “As the symbol of my marriage,” Bucky said his voice cracking but holding under the weight of his emotions.

                “And with this ring…”

                “And with this ring,” Bucky said softly, slipping the band onto Arion’s finger.

                “I thee wed…”

                “I thee wed,” Bucky echoed softly, his voice barely a whisper, as tears slipped down his face. Arion smiled wide and squeezed Bucky’s hand looking down at his finger and seeing the gleam of gold on it. The priest smiled at them and began to repeat as he had done for Bucky.

                “Repeat after me: I… insert your name,” he said.

                “I, Arion Ingwion, take this ring… as the symbol of my marriage…” his eyes filled with tears and his voice became soft, “and with this ring… I thee wed!” and with that he slipped the band onto Bucky’s metal finger to rest over the band Fëanor had imbedded into the Mithril.

After that time seemed to blur as the two marveled at the bands on their fingers and the love they shared. They gazed at each other lovingly only stopping to wipe a stray tear away from their eyes. The priest’s voice became a background drone that they tuned out until they heard him say to Bucky: “for as long as you both shall live?” and with a grin, Bucky answered the only way he could, with a cocky grin and a sure set to his shoulders.

                “I do.”

                “and do you, Arion, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or worse; in living and in dying, in plenty and in want, for as long as you both shall live?” the priest asked. Arion smiled and without taking his eyes off Bucky, he sealed his fate.

                “I do.” There was a collective sigh of happiness, that brought laughter bubbling up from within Arion and he laughed and smiled with the joy overflowing from his heart. Bucky joined him and the two giggled and smiled like the love sick fools that they were not caring about the world for a moment and only about this moment, and this place.

The priest smiled and chuckled joyfully himself as he closed the bible in his hands with a thump.

                “So with the exchanging of vows and rings, it is my honor, to pronounce you both Husband and wife,” he said, with a grin. Bucky and Arion shared a conspiratorial chuckle, at the fact that in this relationship, it was really Bucky that was the wife, and Arion was his husband. “You may kiss the bride.” The two didn’t need to be told twice, and with a happy giggle, Arion thrust the bouquet of flowers into the priest’s hands and pulled Bucky into a searing kiss.

The two wound their arms around one another and only pulled apart when Dugan let out a Wolf Whistle.

                “Huba Huba!” Bucky pulled away and broke out laughing like a loon, and it seemed that the laughter was contagious, because before they all knew it everyone was laughing. They had completely forgotten any morose feelings or sadness, and were washed up into the joy and happiness of it all.

The exchange of rings was the moment that Bucky would remember forever the most about this day, as silver was exchanged for gold and promises were made that echoed the words on the bands: “In Light or in Darkness; My love eternal.”

~~*~*~*


 

The reception was a blur of drinks and food and laughter. Howard had gone all out on the reception hall, making sure that it looked just like one of the old dance halls that Bucky had frequented back in the day. The tables were trapped with silk tablecloths and the banner was just as cheesy and romantic, saying “Congratulations Love birds” with doves printed around it.

Bucky barely remembered the speeches Howard and the Commandoes made in his honor only that they made him blush like a virgin and Arion laugh openly and with joyous mirth, the sound like that of ringing bells in his ears. When they finally cut the Wedding cake, a behemoth that was ten tiers high and each tier was four layers thick, to represent each year Arion and he were kept apart, Bucky was light with joy and his mind pleasantly fogged by light booze. Arion smiled brightly and kissed his cheek, before licking the frosting off Bucky’s nose. Bucky couldn’t stop the bubble of giggles that erupted from the action, and for the first time he felt as if his face was frozen in an expression of joy. His cheeks actually hurt from how much he was smiling, or rather grinning like the love sick fool that he was. Bucky had only just managed to get his mirth under control when Arion wrapped his arms around Bucky’s waist pulled the dark-haired soldier in closer until they were chest to chest. Arion ran his hands slowly up Bucky’s sides and back before they roamed toward the front and traveled up his neck to cup Bucky’s jaw. With a tender smile, Arion slowly pulled his beloved into a passionate kiss. The kiss melted whatever logic and thought in Bucky’s mind leaving him dazed and with a blissful expression on his face when Arion slowly pulled away.

Arion smiled a cheeky smile and took Bucky’s hand. Bucky was like a mindless sheep being led by his master, as Arion carefully pulled him onto the dance floor. Bucky didn’t even realize what was going on until Arion manipulated his limp arms into a proper dance pose to lead. Bucky finally realized what was happening when the band began to play the first strings of a familiar waltz. A tender smile full of wonder and joy pulled across his lips when he realized that they were going to dance to “Always” just as they had the night Bucky asked Arion to marry him. The band started slowly, letting Bucky find the rhythm and his dancing feet, but it was as if they were also waiting for something. Steven looked over at Howard when he saw the man fiddling with something out of the corner of his eye by the stage. The man turned to the band with a smile and a thumbs-up before looking back at the dance floor.

Steven looked at the man in confusion and caught the elder’s eye for long enough to convey his askance in a single expression and a mouthed question, “What are you doing?” Howard smiled brightly, but there were tears in his eyes and his smile was a little more brittle than before. It wasn’t until the speakers up on the stage started to emit the static of an old recording that Steven understood. The Band took the record’s queue and followed its tempo as the record began to scratch out a recording of the same song begin played by a piano. Bucky paused for a moment in his slow but careful waltz as he recognized the piano’s tune and bar-room quality. After a moment of playing, the room was suddenly filled with a man’s voice humming the tune.

Everything in the room seems to stop, except the band, as Steve’s voice finally comes out of the speakers along with the commandoes, singing a song last sung a lifetime ago. Arion pulls Bucky back into the rhythm of the waltz with a melancholy smile. Bucky’s smile finally breaks as he leaned into Arion and began to cry, dancing across the floor with Arion to a song they had danced to 40 years ago hearing a voice that Bucky thought he would never hear again outside his memories and dreams. His face is leaning into Arion’s neck when he finally found his voice again.

                “I wish he was here, Mírë,” Bucky whimpered into Arion’s ear, his voice broken by repressed sobs. Arion felt the tears on his ear and in his hair, and just held Bucky closer while resting his cheek on Bucky’s left shoulder, feeling his own tears slide down to stain the green coat darker.

                “I do too, James,” he whispered back, not trusting his voice to speak any louder lest it crack with his repressed sobs. “We all wish that could be here with us!” Bucky let out a shuddery breath and began to softly cry into Arion’s hair, a wound he didn’t even know was there finally lanced and being washed clean. And they dance like that, holding each other close, crying into each other’s shoulder, until the record finally stops and the band began to play a new song; something lively and familiar dragging the melancholy out of Bucky and the others. It made him smile and brought out all the joy he felt in dancing, and before he knew it Bucky was Swinging, and jiving and Twisting the sad memories away.

The night ended not much later with a group photo. Bucky and Arion standing together as a married couple, Arion on Bucky’s left and Steven on his right, the Commandoes flanking them on either side and guarding their rear, as they smiled one last time for the camera for the last Wedding picture of the night. It later became Bucky’s favorite picture of that day, right after the one of just the two of them, Arion and Bucky swaying on the dance floor to Steve’s singing, tears on both their faces but smiles on their lips. The two pictures had a place of honor on the mantel, for years, flanking a photo of Steve with Bucky and Arion; taken the day the two got engaged.

~*~*


 

TBC…

 

 

 

Chapter Text

~*~**


 

As the guests began to trickle back out and leave for home, Bucky and Arion slowly swayed to the faint music from the stage. Steven watched the two with a contented smile on his face, his heart full of warmth and joy. He watched as they held their foreheads together and slowly turned together for a tender kiss. Steven glanced away from the dance floor only when he felt a presence at his left shoulder. Fëanor kept his distance from the couple, but approached the young half-elf with his own whimsical smile.

                “I had almost forgotten how much love and joy I had felt on the day of my own wedding,” he said with his eyes on the swaying couple. Bucky and Arion were pressing soft kisses to each other’s lips and cheeks. “There is no way to fully describe how it felt,” he smiled and suddenly the smile fell into sorrow, and age old grief, “and there is no way to express my sorrow for what I have lost. I did love her, once, but…” he paused and Steven looked over to see an old pain take over the elf-smith’s features. “We drifted and before I knew it, we no longer felt that love for each other anymore.” Steven looked away from the Noldor’s private grief and back to his smiling parents. Steven didn’t need to ask who Fëanor meant, he could see in his mind’s eye the flash of auburn hair and violet eyes. Steven felt more than saw Fëanor take a deep breath to quell his turmoil.

                “I know,” Steven said, and turned to the elf-lord with sympathetic eyes, “you don’t have to explain.” Fëanor smiled a soft grateful smile before his features schooled themselves into something more like what Steven had expected of them, soft but all business.

                “I discussed this with Director Carter before I came to you,” he said, “I think, and Nelyo agrees, that Sergeant Barnes and yourself will need protection and security until HYDRA can be eliminated for good. Now, I know,” Fëanor said and held up his hand placatingly when Steven opened his mouth to object, “You feel that you can protect your Ada by yourself, but your Ada is pregnant, he is with child, and he won’t be able to protect himself for much longer. You can only do so much, Steven, before you are spread too thin. You’re not invincible. No matter how great your powers are, even you cannot take on an army all by yourself; and that is exactly what HYDRA will send, when they discover that you both are alive and free.” Steven looked mulishly at the floor and then looked over at his Ada, smiling and holding Arion’s hand to his belly. His squared shoulders suddenly drooped and his whole form seemed to sag under the weight of new knowledge. He knew that his Ada was beginning to show, and very soon he would be too large to properly defend himself. And Fëanor was right; there was only so much he could do.

                “What do you want to do,” he asked, his voice choked with emotion. Fëanor took pity on him and placed a comforting hand on the younger man’s shoulder.

                “Nelyo and Huan will be staying with you both as protection and security,” Fëanor said. “It is only temporary; just until we can take down HYDRA for good.”

Steven looked down and away, his lips tight as he contemplated his new arrangement. While it was true, that they needed protection, Steven was reluctant to take Fëanor’s eldest son away from him when he had only just got him back. Of course the logical side of Steven’s mind told him that Maedhros and Huan were better protection than a few patrolling policeman; and even with the leaps and bounds in recovery, Bucky still had the occasional lapse that would leave all of them shaking with the fear of what could have happened. Huan would be a companion that would snap Bucky out of an episode without him lashing out, and Steven had also noted that the hound had taken to sleeping near Bucky’s side and that his nightmares were less severe since then. With a heavy sigh, Steven’s shoulders sagged and he nodded his consent.

                “Alright,” he whispered softly, “if only for Ada’s and the baby’s sake.” Fëanor smiled softly and squeezed Steven’s shoulder in comfort.

~*~


 

Bucky smiled at his beloved as they walked into their new home. As much as Bucky wanted to carry Arion over the threshold his pregnancy prevented him from doing so. Bucky pulled Arion into a contented kiss that soon turned more passionate. Arion grasped the sides of Bucky’s face and deepened the kiss, while Bucky ran his hands up and down Arion’s back. Within seconds of finding the buttons, Bucky’s fingers became more nimble than they had ever been in his life, and the silk covered buttons quickly became undone. Bucky pushed the cloth from Arion’s shoulders in a show of reverence he rarely displayed to his beloved. The dress dropped to the floor and Bucky took a moment to look upon the beauty of the pale skin revealed to him. Arion’s cheeks flamed a bit at the reverent and hungry gaze on Bucky’s face.

Boldly, Arion pulled Bucky away from the bedroom door and towards the bed. Once his knees hit the edge of the mattress, he stopped and with calm gentle fingers and a teasing smile, he slowly divested Bucky of his coat and shirt. They stood together then, drinking in each other’s form naked from the waist up, before they slowly came together again in a passionate yet tender kiss. Arion’s hands roamed Bucky’s figure, nails raking up and down his back as he was pulled flush to Bucky’s chest and belly. Bucky’s hands gripped and kneaded Arion’s waist before he slipped his fingers below the band of the slip and gently pushed it off Arion’s hips; leaving him in naught but his undergarments.  While he was doing this Arion’s hands snaked around to unbuckle Bucky’s belt and undo his fly.

With a kick of his legs the pants were off and Bucky was just as bear as his husband. Bucky slowly pulled Arion down onto the bed and pulled the elf on top, guiding his form until the Vanyar was kneeling between Bucky’s legs. Arion surged in to kiss him and didn’t stop there. His kisses trailed down from Bucky’s cheeks and neck, as he moved with calm sensual movements nipping and sucking marks onto the tanned skin. Arion slowly moved to lick the seam between flesh and metal, and Bucky arched off the bed, gasping like a fish his chest heaving and his flesh prickling with goose-bumps.

Arion grinned at Bucky’s reaction but spoke not a word; instead he sent his desire and lustful feelings across the bond between the two. Bucky flushed even harder and his manhood jerked in his boxers. Arion grasped at it from between the cloth, and Bucky’s rolled back into his head at the sensations. With a positively wicked grin on his face Arion kicked off his own undergarments before tugging Bucky’s off. Bucky looked down and watched as Arion licked, kissed and nipped his way down, spending a moment to press a tender kiss to the growing swell of his belly, before Bucky felt Arion’s tongue lick him from root to tip, his tongue pressed flat and wide. Bucky moaned and panted for breath, as his head fell back onto the pillow.

His eyes closed and he lost himself in the sensation of Arion’s very skillful tongue teasing at his opening with every broad swipe. Bucky shifted his legs wider and whined, feeling his vaginal opening begin to become wet not from the tongue but from his own arousal. Suddenly the tongue vanished and Bucky’s eyes snapped open to find Arion hovering over him his face mere inches away. He started a bit at the surprise but his eyes widened as he saw how Arion’s eyes had darkened with desire. The pupils of his eyes had dilated wide until naught but a thin blue ring surrounded the black; the minute band of green all but vanished. Arion’s hands slowly ran up Bucky’s sides before jumping up to grasp and rub up his arms. Arion’s fingers laced with Bucky’s before he released the right hand and slowly sank down to press a kiss to Bucky’s flushed lips while caressing his jaw. Bucky’s mouth opened with a gasp as Arion slowly pushed inside. Bucky moaned into his beloved’s throat and mouth as Arion pressed slowly into him until they were flush.

Bucky lost time after that, and usually that would bother him but now, as his mind whited out with the cresting wave of his orgasm, he couldn’t be bothered to care. When he finally came down from the high, he found himself wrapped in the warm embrace of Arion’s arms. Bucky smiled and snuggled into Arion’s embrace with a contented sigh. Arion nosed Bucky’s dark hair and pressed a kiss to the dark crown, before resting his cheek on it.

                “I missed this,” Bucky sighed contentedly. He snuggled down and rested his cheek on Arion’s strong chest. “I missed being in your arms.” Bucky’s cheek bounced with the vibrations of Arion’s chuckles.

                “As did I, my love,” Arion said with a smile. “I never thought I would hold you in my arms like this again, until I joined you in the hereafter.” Bucky smiled wryly at this and chuckled.

                “You really think I would have gone to heaven?” he asked and looked up at Arion’s smiling face.

                “I refuse to contemplate any other possibility,” Arion said, and pressed a kiss to Bucky’s nose. “You are a good man, my love. There is no other place you would go.” Bucky’s nose crinkled and he smiled before resting his cheek on Arion’s chest again.

                “I don’t know where I’d be without you, Arion,” he said, “but I am glad you are here, that I’m here, with you. I will rest safely in the thought that Steven and the baby are safe.” Bucky closed his eyes and sighed again, a blissful smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

Arion swallowed nervously, and cleared his throat. Bucky looked up at him and saw the worried look on his face. Bucky pulled away from Arion’s arms and pushed himself up onto his arm, so that he was still reclining but was sitting more upright.

                “What’s wrong,” Bucky asked, his brow furrowing in concern. Arion let his arms drop from around Bucky’s form and laid them on his thighs. His eyes closed as he looked to find the words.

                “I won’t always be here, and neither will Steven,” he finally said opening his eyes to see confusion and almost betrayal in the pale cobalt orbs. Arion winced and looked pleadingly at Bucky to wait for his explanation. “There is still a lot of work to be done, now that we know who our enemy is, and I will be needed at MI6 to clean house. I have no doubt that HYDRA to advantage of my director being killed to try to put a mole in his place, or at the very least high enough up to give them a foothold and spread throughout the agency.” Arion pushed himself up to recline against the headboard. “I cannot allow that! I have already asked Steven for his help in cleaning house with the agency, and he has agreed. This will only be for a short while. The further along you are, the more I will be here. I don’t want to miss him being born,” Arion said, as he leaned over and softly caressed the growing bump on Bucky’s belly. Bucky ducked his head and placed his own hand the bump and laced his fingers with Arion’s. When he finally looked up there was an understanding in in his eyes.

                “I understand,” he said with a sad face, and he gaze was once again drawn to the bump, “it isn’t safe for the baby. You’re gonna try to make it safer for him. I knew Steven would go after them, but… I don’t like it but I understand.” He looked up again and Arion crumpled under the weight of the emotion in his beloved’s gaze. Arion opened and closed his mouth several times as he searched for the words to change the conversation into more pleasant pillow talk. He looked down and saw Bucky’s fingers tenderly brush the curve of his belly.

                “What are you going to name it,” he asked with a soft smile. Bucky looked up and saw the gentle look in Arion’s eyes, which were also tinged with sorrow. Bucky smirked and rolled onto his back, reclining slightly, and put his hands on the bump.

                “It’s a boy,” he said softly, and looked back at Arion. His smile grew wide and bright at the shock in his lover’s gaze. “They had already sexed him, as soon as they could.” His smile was now tinged with bitterness at yet another thing stolen from him, but it softened again as he felt the babe’s gentle movements. “I was thinking about… Joseph.” He looked up at Arion and saw the question in the blond elf’s eyes. “It’s what Steve would have named his first son, besides maybe James,” he said with a wry smirk and a huff of laughter. Arion saw the bright shine of his eyes, though, and knew Bucky was struggling to not breakdown again over the thought of Steve’s death. Bucky swallowed the lump in his throat and smiled again. “After his Dad, and uh… maybe Arthadan,” he paused, uncertain of his decision, but soldiered on, “after the man Steve was so much like, and the father of Steve’s family.” Bucky looked at Arion and saw the soft love in his eyes and the shining tears on his lashes.

                “I think it’s wonderful,” Arion finally said, his voice soft. “Steve would have been so proud. And I am sure his Father would have been honored.” Bucky tried to smile but found he couldn’t and Arion pulled him into his arms when the tears finally came. He held Bucky through the tears and sobs and pressed his kisses to the brunette crown, until they sobs subsided into wet hiccups and hitching gasps of breath. “Thanks,” Bucky finally said, “I don’t know what came over me.” He laughed, “probably hormones!” Arion smiled and chuckled, pulling the brunette closer while he slid down to rest on the bed. Bucky tucked himself into Arion’s arms and breathed deep his unique scent.

                “I love you, James,” he said as Bucky drifted off to sleep, “never doubt that. I would walk to the ends of the Earth and into Hell itself to retrieve you. You are my heart; my Bucky.”

~*~*~


 

Cleaning out MI6 of the traitors and moles was easier said than done, and Arion knew if it were not for Steven’s unfathomably powerful telepathy, it would not have been done. The former HYDRA assassin and spy had used one of his tricks to change his looks and hide his clothes from sight. He was there to give confirmation and possibly remove HYDRA moles forcefully if he had to. Arion and his new Director started with interviews, with Steven sitting in the corner feeding Arion questions via telepathy; completely innocuous to the agents he was interrogating. Arion quickly asked the agents the question and Steven would look to be seemingly taking dictation while in reality he was probing their conscious minds for clues. (It was sort of like a psychic interrogation, where Steven was gaging the reactions of their responses by reading their conscious thoughts.) Once Steven had determined that they were clean, he looked up at his father, and gave a mental signal. Arion would then tell them they were finished and continue on to the next agent.

This was a long a tedious process that left Steven mentally drained and exhausted. By the time they got to the actually field agents, there were relatively few HYDRA moles. Even amongst the field agents there were very little plants. That is until they came to the prestigious 00 unit. Arion was one of the first, and the only survivor of the old guard; he respected these men, worked with them. He trusted these men with his life, so it was to his shock and utter internal horror that one of them turned out to be HYDRA.

He was a recent replacement for the famous, or rather infamous, 007; carrying on the tradition of taking on the name of the original agent as his new alias, and be coming James Bond. Arion had never felt, nor was he given any reason not to trust the man with his life. That belief, that trust, came all crashing down into rubble when Steven looked up suddenly from his dictation and stared at the man with piercing eyes full of hatred and loathing.

Arion looked over his shoulder at his son when he felt the sudden shift of emotion in the room, and saw the look of barely contained rage in the blue eyes of his son. Arion’s eyes widened a bit when Steven snapped the pen in his grasp, dropping all pretense that he was there merely as an observer. Steven’s gaze flickered over to Arion’s and the elf felt Steven’s presence in his mind.

                “Him,” he said via his telepathy, as he nodded. Arion furrowed his brows in askance, wanting to be sure.

                “Are you sure?” he asked back. Steven’s eyes hardened into blue diamonds, and Arion felt taken back at the barely contained violence surrounding his son’s form.

                “Positive,” he growled back, as his jaw clenched and his lips thinned.  Arion swallowed hard and looked back to the agent sitting comfortably in his chair. A glance at the director and a subtle nod was all the confirmation needed for the director to turn a steely glare on the 00 agent. The agent seemed to sense that the atmosphere in the room had turned against him and he sat up from his confident sprawl. He didn’t even get the chance to pull his firearm when Steven struck.

The weapon instantly fell into its components, as he watched in horror, while Steven stood up and dropped all semblance of being a bland dictation tech; illusions falling away like the rippling of water. The Director and Arion saw the moment it registered in the mole’s face just who had been in the room with them. At first it was confusion, then shock, then complete and utter terror, as Steven took a menacing step closer to the man. The man scrambled out of the chair and reached for his belt, when he was thrown back onto the wall and pinned there with a bruising and invisible force. Steven calmly and slowly walked around the chair and gestured to the man’s belt. The buckle opened, and into Steven’s hand was flung a small white capsule. It lay harmlessly in Steven’s palm for a second before he rolled it to be pinched between his thumb and two forefingers.

Steven’s face was calm and blank as he stared at the capsule, for a moment before he slowly closed his eyes and shifted his gaze to set on the now trembling HYDRA plant. His eyes were like steel as he silently glared at the pathetic excuse of a man that would commit treason and align himself with a known enemy of his country. Steven didn’t even take his gaze off the man; he just calmly folded the pill into his hand and crushed it into dust. He dropped the powder out of his hand and calmly wiped his hands of the white substance.

                “I need you both to leave,” he said in a hoarse and quiet voice, his tone flat and calm; all promising violence. Arion stepped forward to object and Steven snapped his cold hard gaze over to his father. Arion froze in his spot. “Now!” he ordered with the same cold and quiet voice with more strength and steel behind it. Arion saw the wrath and fury barely contained in those blue eyes, and for a moment quailed in sudden fear. The only other who had such a look in his eyes to match that cold fury, and almost wild hate was Maedhros before his re-embodiment.  Arion nodded meekly and backed away until Steven turned his focus back onto the traitor. The blond elf turned and pulled his boss out to follow.

                “Let him do what he must,” Arion said calmly, while he felt anything but. “He is the only one who might be able to get him to talk.” The new director nodded mutely and followed Arion out of the room, closing it securely behind him, and engaging the soundproof system, before walking down the hall. The sound proofing worked well enough for those with normal hearing, but Arion could still hear some muffled screams and indistinguishable sobbed words from down the hall.

While his boss lit a cigarette and began to puff on it, Arion began to truly wonder what those monsters must have done to turn his once bright and joyful son into such a cold and calculating being; and what exactly they had turned him into.

~*~**


 

The rest of cleaning house was relatively simple after that. Though Steven had gained a terrifying reputation as a master interrogator that would always smile when he was done and thank his subject for their cooperation, Arion could see the darkness that lurked behind his false smiles. The turncoat agent caved quickly under the force of Steven’s will and advanced interrogation techniques. He quickly revealed the names of all of his coconspirators and his contact with the rest of HYDRA.

They were lucky; the cancer had not spread very far into the prestigious intelligence agency. And it seemed that, though there was corruption in the government, very little was HYDRA based. Steven frightened his father, and the director of MI6, to the point that they realized this: though the Soldier was the rumored Bogyman of the Soviets and the KGB, the Knight was their mythical demon. A terror unleashed only when necessary, but left a bloody trail in his wake with no trace after he was finished.

Once they finished their review, Steven and Arion found themselves on the earliest flight home. By this point it was several weeks after the wedding, and was nearing Steven’s birthday, something that had never been celebrated; so it was to the surprise and shock of Arion and Steven when they returned home to see that Bucky had grown; a lot. At not quite 6 months, Bucky’s belly was very obviously not something that could be anything but a baby. Arion greeted his beloved with a smile and stepped out of the entryway to pull Bucky into a kiss.

Steven on the other hand, was frozen to his spot, his eyes riveted to the prominent curve of his Ada’s belly. Resentment and jealousy flooded his system, before he finally looked away, when he heard Bucky calling his name. Caught staring like a deer in headlights, a jolt of fear ran down Steven’s spine, when he realized that for a moment he hated the baby.

                “Steven,” Bucky called to him softly, his brows crinkled with worry and concern. “Stevie, you okay?” In that instant Steven backed away, when Bucky reached out his hand to touch him. Steven’s breaths became fast and erratic as his eyes became glazed with a thousand yard stare. Knowing that he had somehow inadvertently triggered his son, Bucky sighed with sympathy and quickly pulled Steven into his arms. “Oh, Stevie, it’s okay. It’s gonna be okay.” Steven stood there for a moment in numb shock before he slowly brought his arms up to return his Ada’s hug. The gentle embrace quickly became Steven clinging to his Ada for dear life as he began to sob, and shake like a leaf in his arms. Bucky held him close and rubbed his back as Steven worked through his panic attack.

Once Steven stopped shaking, only then did Bucky let him go. Steven whipped the tears from his face and under his nose, and smiled brokenly at his Ada. A broken laugh made its way out of Steven’s mouth, and Bucky cupped Steven’s cheek to rub away the last of the tears. It took a moment for Steven to compose himself, but he did so with only a few hitches in his breath. Once Steven was semi composed, Bucky caught his gaze and gave him the typical “I am concerned about you” look that every parent gave their child at least once in their lifetime.

                “I’m fine, Ada,” Steve said and cleared the last of the frog out of his throat. Bucky raised an eyebrow but didn’t push the issue.

                “You wanna talk about it?” he asked, and Steven shook his head.

                “No,” he said and took a deep breath to relax his shoulders and remove the last of the fragility from his figure. His smile was more genuine and still fragile compared to before, but Bucky smiled back glad that Steven was a least trying to be okay. Steven grinned down at Bucky’s now very big belly and Bucky chuckled. “Gees, Ada. You’ve really gotten big!” Bucky blushed but smiled happily as he placed a gentle hand on his belly. “You didn’t get this big when you had me.”

                “Yeah,” he said, “the doc said it’s because he’s a bit higher than you were,” Bucky chuckled with as tender smile. “Maedhros says I’m carrying more towards the front, and he’s a big baby, too!” a wide grin spread across Steven and Bucky’s faces, before Bucky pulled Steven into the house proper. “You two have been gone so long that you missed the best part of moving in: unpacking!” Steven let out an undistinguished snort at Bucky’s obvious sarcasm. “But I managed to get everything unpacked and mostly put away. Except,” Bucky sighed, and looked pleadingly at his husband and son, “I need some help in the nursery.” Arion looked over at Steven who gave his Ada a happy smile.

                “We would be glad to help, darling,” Arion said.

                “Whaddya need, Ada,” Steven asked. Bucky gave them both the most grateful smile, and pulled them towards the stairs.

The sound of a large barking dog followed them up to the second floor, where they found Maedhros sitting cross-legged on the floor of the freshly finished nursery, glaring at the instructions for a modern baby crib.

Steven stifled a snicker, and Arion bit his lip to keep from laughing, but Bucky grinned at the elf’s obvious frustration at the supposedly simple instructions. After a few moments of silent snickering, and hissing laughs held behind teeth, Steven licked his lips and spoke up with a fiendish grin.

                “Need any help,” he asked and the famous elven king shot a glare over at the smirking blond captain. Maedhros turned his eyes back to the instructions and the scattered pieces of the furniture before him and glared at the manual with distain.

                “I could plan multi-racial, army battles amongst the free peoples and the elves,” he began, “and yet this … THING… makes no more sense to me than the garbled hidden tongue of the orcs; and even THAT made more sense to me!” Bucky snickered and grinned at Maedhros’ pain, and Steven turned to look at his Ada.

                “How long has he been at this,” he asked with laughter in his voice.  Bucky just folded his arms across his chest and tried desperately to keep a solemn face and failing horribly.

                “All morning,” he said, before finally breaking down into a fit of laughter. “I tried to get him to let me do it, but he insisted.

Steven let out a bark of laughter unlike any he had before since his days in the War, and leaned on his Ada’s shoulder to stifle the laughter. Maedhros just glared at the three laughing family members as if they were the denizens of the dark pits of Angband itself. After a long while, Steven finally regained his composure and grinned at the red-haired elf.

                “Alright, alright,” he said with lingering laughter, “move over, Nelyo; lemme help.” Maedhros scooted over and Steven took his place inspecting the instructions. Bucky smiled at them and Arion gave him a knowing look before leaning into his side to whisper in his ear.

                “Don’t we already have a cradle, and crib for the baby from your family,” he said softly, and Bucky’s grin curled into a smirk.

                “Yep,” he drawled before looking at Arion out of the side of his eye his smirk turning positively wicked, “but he don’ know that.” Arion’s forehead dropped onto Bucky’s shoulder with a helpless thump, overcome with helpless snickers.

                “You’re horrible,” he giggled into Bucky’s shoulder, and Bucky only grinned.

                “Whaddya expect,” he drawled, with a smirk, “ya married me.” Arion looked up and smiled warmly at Bucky with love in his eyes.

                “Yes, I did,” he said and leaned in and kissed him.

~*~*


 

The months and weeks flew by for the budding family. Steven had finally managed to get his mind situated so that he could follow through with his plans in the future. Bucky and Arion, on the other hand, were spending whatever time they could to prepare for the imminent arrival for the baby. Bucky had gotten much bigger as time progressed, and had begun to spend more time resting than moving.

Birthdays had become something that Bucky eagerly awaited, and planned. Steven’s own birthday had been celebrated with a massive marble cake and his favorite ice-cream. Pizza was also something that Bucky was glad to be home for; because pizza in New York, especially Brooklyn, was a rite of passage that he didn’t want Steven to miss out on. Bucky ordered several boxes of his favorite, as well as some that he had a feeling Steven might like, from the best pizzeria in all of Brooklyn; a shop that had been opened when he and Steve were just moving in together. Steven took one bite of Bucky’s own personal favorite pie and his eyes lit up with surprise and a smile pulled across his lips. He looked very much like a kid tasting a new delicious food for the first time, and his following sigh and moan was that of a soldier tasting home cooked meals after a year of K-rations.

But there was one birthday that seemed to jump on Bucky like a stalking cat: Steve’s. As the due date of the baby eked closer, Bucky seemed to forget about anything else but his son’s impending arrival. Braxton Hicks plagued him for the pasted month and even before, setting everyone in the household on tender hooks. So it came as to no surprise to anyone that the Fourth crept up on them, and caught them unawares.

On the day before the fourth, Bucky seemed to come out of his head and the bubble that was “I’m having a baby any day now”, and saw the neighborhood decked out in the stars and stripes. A quick glance at the calendar told him that it was the third of July: the day before Steve’s birthday. The realization that he would be celebrating this day without the man who was born on it, brought a stab of pain to his heart; even more so that he had nearly forgot it. A sharp kick to his ribs brought him out of his melancholic thoughts, and reminded him that a part of Steve was not that far away. So with a smile as he rubbed his voluminous belly, Bucky started to plan a celebration for the Fourth of July that would have been the kind of birthday Steve would have truly deserved.

Nelyo and Arion both pitched in by getting the house and back yard fixed for a proper cookout, with the large grill being prepped for its first use. Steven became the shopper, once Bucky had finally created a shopping list, and went shopping in every butcher’s and farmers market and shops in Brooklyn for all the things needed for a proper Fourth of July Barbeque. Mostly it consisted of Steve’s favorite foods as well as a cake that Steve had made the mistake of admitting was his favorite to Bucky when they were teens. But the center was a large homemade apple pie, courtesy of Bucky’s sister Becca and the late Mrs. Sarah Rogers. The pie was something that Sarah had always made for Steve on his birthday, because the things needed to make a cake were very expensive, but a pie was something she could do; even if it took her a few weeks to save up the money to buy the best baking apples she could find. She had given the recipe to Becca once and after she died, Becca took on the job of making it for Steve every year. Bucky didn’t dare try to make it for fear that it would never measure up.

The day of the Fourth of July dawned bright and clear, with nary a cloud in sight. The birds sang their cheerful predawn calls, and woke the early risers from their sleep. Bucky woke early to this cheerful birdsong, and lay in bed thinking about what he would be doing if he was back in the forty’s in that old shoebox apartment with Steve.

A bittersweet smile graced his lips as he thought about what he would be doing; first wake Steve with a special breakfast and then spend the day with his best friend at the park or inside. Bucky rolled onto his shoulder and turned to look at Arion’s peacefully sleeping face, before he ran a loving hand over the massive swell of his belly and the still sleeping baby within. Tears welled up in his eyes as he finally thought about the reality that was his life: Steve was dead, and gone for over forty years, and Bucky was pregnant with his child. He slumped back down a little, his head hanging, as silent tears ran down his face.

He let himself wonder about Steve for a moment and about what had happened to him; before he turned his tear stained face up toward the ceiling and closed his eyes in prayer.

                ‘God,’ he prayed, ‘if you can hear me, if you even want to answer, there’s something I need to know. Is Steve there, in Heaven; with his Mom and Dad? Please let him be there, ‘cause there is no other place he deserves to be. There is no other person I know that should be there. Please let him be with his parents, it’s what he deserves. I don’t need an answer now, but sometime maybe, soon. I ask this humbly in your name, Amen.’

A thousand miles away in the blinding white expanse of the arctic, the wing of a plane, once encased in white snow hiding the black metal from sight, began to peek through; as the ice, slowly but surely, began to melt. A long journey home was almost halfway over, and a soldier, still sleeping in his icy prison, was preserved; waiting to be found. Waiting to come home.

TBC…

Chapter Text

~*~*~


 

The morning of the 29th day of July dawned with a pervasive sticky heat that promised a day of sweltering temperatures and unbearable humidity. It reminded Bucky of the summers so long ago where he would lie in bed in naught but his underwear, panting from the sticky heat. Bucky groaned in discomfort, bare save for a thin nightshirt, before rolled out of bed to close the window, pausing to rub his belly before he stood. Arion moaned and turned onto his side.  His eyes cleared of sleep just in time to see Bucky pull the window shut. Bucky leaned on the window frame and breathed in steady measured breaths. His metal arm rested on the window frame taking his weight as his other hand swept down his belly to cup the heavy weight. Arion noted that Bucky’s stance was wider than normal and that the mound had shifted low in his pelvis. Arion sat up when the measured breaths became a low grunt of discomfort.

                “James,” he asked calmly, “are you alright?” Bucky un-tensed and let out a slow relieved breath. He nodded and pushed off the window with a relieved sigh.

                “Yeah, I’m fine,” he said softly, and smiled. “Baby just moved is all.” Arion smiled warmly and slid out of bed. He went to the thermostat and turned on the cooling, before he stood behind Bucky and wrapped his arms around him; his fingers lacing with Bucky’s as they cupped the mound on his belly. Bucky smiled softly and leaned back into Arion’s embrace. The baby was very large and he had come to find out that at this point in the pregnancy, it was uncomfortable to the point of almost painful for the baby to move at all.

                “Your belly is tight,” Arion said as he ran his hands over the firm mound. A worried frown on his face appeared when he felt Bucky’s back muscles tighten, and the muscles on his side slowly follow. Bucky sucked in a breath and slowly breathed it back out as the cramp loosened its grip. “Are you sure you are alright?” Bucky chuckled and leaned into Arion’s arms, his head leaning back to rest on the elf prince’s shoulder, looking his beloved in the eye with a contented smile.

                “Yeah, just a little sore,” he said. “These cramps are annoying. I’m just glad you’re here.” Arion smiled back at him, when Bucky smiles lazily at the elf. “I missed you.” Arion leaned around Bucky for a kiss, sighing contentedly as he did.

                “I missed you too,” Arion said, with a soft smile. Bucky sighed one last time before he detangled himself from Arion’s warm body and moaned in relief as the cooling finally kicked in and lowered the unbearable heat of the room to manageable. Suddenly Bucky turned to the door, as a set of deliberately loud footsteps reached his ears. A warm smile graced his features when Steven poked his head in the door.

                “I missed you both,” he said softly, and Steven smiled. It was a small and barely noticeable thing but it was warm and genuine, and it reached his eyes and gave them warmth again. Arion chuckled at his husband’s domestic warmth, before he looked pointedly at their son. Steven’s smile vanished but the smile in his eyes remained.

                “Howard just called,” he said, “the guys are all in town and want to swing by to see our new digs. Also, Tony’s home, and Stark is gonna bring him along.” Bucky grinned and chuckled at the antics of his old friends. Arion smiled as Bucky moved to the closet to get dressed.

                “Well,” Bucky said with a rueful smile, “I suppose I oughta be my best dressed, if we’re gonna have company.” Arion smiled and rolled his eyes before helping Bucky get some clothes on.

~*~*~


 

A few hours later Howard and Maria knock on the front door. Arion answered it with a warm smile that froze the moment he saw the very large home video camera in Tony’s hands. Arion arched his eyebrow, and gave Howard a look of derision that made the corporate munitions monger squirm under the scrutiny.

                “Sorry about the camera,” Maria apologized, before sending Howard a glare, “Howard thought today would be a good day to play catch-up with his old mission reports, and quality control reports.” Howard flushed a little under the heat of her glare but refused to back down. After a moment of glaring at him, Arion turned his gaze to the bored and irritated looking Tony, who looked like he wanted to be anywhere but here at the moment. Arion smirked slyly as he realized that Tony likely had no idea where he was, and that likely his attitude would do a full 180 once he found out just who lived here.

                “It’s fine, Maria,” he said and Tony’s face snapped forward to look at him. Arion smiled at the wide eyed awe on Tony’s face when he realized whose house he was visiting. “Hello, Tony. It’s good to see you again.”

Arion waved them inside and Tony looked around in awe at the house for a bit before composing himself and plastering on a bland smile. Arion smiled and shook his head as he shut the door, amused at the teenager’s antics. Nelyo poked his head out of the kitchen in curiosity and smiled wide when he saw the guests. Arion heard a startled growl from Huan before the large golden head of the dog looked around the corner. Huan’s ears perked up when he saw that it was friends and trotted off into the den to fetch Steven and Bucky. Nelyo stepped out and greeted Howard with a warm smile and handshake. Maria he greeted with a kiss on her hand, and Tony was given an enveloping hug in greeting that made the teen squawk in indignation.

                “Ack,” he squawked as Maedhros’ gave him one last squeeze, “really need some air, buddy.” Maedhros released him and just to rile him further, ruffled his hair. “HEY! Do you have any idea how long it took to get that just right?” Howard rolled his eyes, and gave a glare at the ceiling.

                “Too long,” he grumbled and Tony sent his father a nasty look. Maedhros just laughed, and pulled away. Before long Huan and Steven came trotting out of the den to investigate the commotion, and upon seeing it was just Tony and Howard, a giant smile graced his face. Howard looked over just in time to catch the grin before it shrank down to its normal hidden smile. “Steven! You’re back!” Howard grinned and pulled the younger man into a backslapping hug. He pulled away and looked over the blond with a careful eye. “How long you been home?”

 Steven shrugged and brushed off the concern in Howard’s voice.

                “Almost a month,” he said, and Howard’s eyebrows shot up in shock. Before Howard could gather his wits Steven turned and shouted over his shoulder, “Ada, Howard’s here! And he brought the family!” Tony looked over Steven’s shoulder just in time to see Bucky’s very large form waddle out of the den and into the living room.

                “Jesus, Barnes,” Howard breathed when he caught sight of the big belly, “you’re huge!” a wry smirk pulled on Bucky’s lips.

“Whoa, Bucky,” Tony snarked, “you look like you swallowed a watermelon whole.”  Bucky shot the teen a look before he quipped back.

                “No, really,” he said sarcasm dripping from every word, “I didn’t notice. Thanks for pointing it out, Howard.” Maria turned sharply to his husband and shot him a disgusted look, before slapping him on the arm.

                “OW! What,” he whined rubbing his arm, “what’d I do?” Maria’s dirty look made the inventor shrink under her gaze and cringe. A snort of amusement brought their attention back to the living room, where Steven stood with a hand over his mouth hiding his smile, and his laughter.

                “Really, Howard,” Maria said, “you have no tact. I expect that kind of behavior from Anthony, not from you!” Howard had the sense to at least look shame faced, before he told Tony to set up the camera. Bucky looked on bemused before finally settling down onto the loveseat, to rest his aching feet and ankles. As he gingerly lowered himself down, a twinge pulled through his back and sides and he winced, before sighing in relief. He settled into the seat, before looking up at Howard expectantly.

                “What’s the camera getup for, Howard,” he asked. Steven let out an undignified snort from his seat on the couch, and Bucky shot him a glare out of the corner of his eye. Steven turned his snort into a cough, but Bucky could see the struggle not to smile on his face, before Bucky gave up and rolled his eyes. He looked expectantly over at Howard, who was blushing only slightly and looking completely unrepentant. “Well,” Bucky said, “I’m waiting.”

Before Howard could speak, Steven’s head went up and his gaze became distant. Bucky looked over at his son with concern, but Steven’s eyes cleared and a wide smile pulled on his lips.

                “They’re here,” he said with a grin and took off like a shot towards the front door. Howard quickly followed suit with Tony hot on his heels, leaving Bucky alone with Maria. A sour look pinched Bucky’s features and he glared at their retreating forms.

                “Oh, don’t mind me,” he said loudly, his voice dripping with distain; “I’ll just sit here and gestate.” Maria sent him a sympathetic look before settling down beside him.

                “Don’t mind him,” she said, “he was the same way when I was pregnant with Tony.” Bucky cocked a wry smile at that before his face pinched as a cramp tightened in his back. A spark of worry made his brow furrow but before he could dwell on it, in tromped the Howling Commandoes in all their grayed glory.

                “Barnes,” Dugan bellowed, and opened his arms wide. Bucky grinned at the antics but made no move to get up.

                “If you expect me to stand up, Dugan,” he said with a scornful smirk, “you’ve got another thing comin’. My feet hurt my back aches and right now, I’m comfortable, so I ain’t movin’ offa this couch, even if I’m given orders to by the president of these United States!” Dugan stopped short, and stared at Bucky’s very round form before he burst into bellows of laughter. The others soon joined in the rowdy laughter and Bucky’s smile turned more genuine. The group all settled into chairs and began talking. Many commented on Bucky’s rotund size, to which Bucky would smile pleasantly and remind them that they weren’t in the best of shape either. “At least I’ve got an excuse,” he said with a saccharine smile, while tapping his belly, “what’s yours?”  

Wild laughter erupted after that, and when Arion poked his head in to check on them, they were all grinning and laughing. Soon enough, Howard managed to get them talking about their old missions, while the camera rolled on Bucky’s laughing face. Within minutes of asking about the old Missions, Howard had them all talking about the old days correcting each other’s recollections, and laughing up a storm; all the while Bucky’s cramps were quickly forgotten, but not for long.

                “Hey, Bucky,” Dugan asked gently, when Bucky sucked in a pained breath and grit his teeth through a sharp pain, “are you alright?” Bucky breathed deep calming breaths, through his nose and worked through the pain. Just as suddenly as it came, it was gone, leaving him breathless and nervous, because of where the pain gripped him.

When it finally left him, Bucky let out a breathless chuckle, and nervous smile.

                “I guess I should have been off my feet sooner,” he said. He looked up and saw all the nervous faces turned towards him. He flashed them a disarming smile and rubbed his side. “Just a cramp; I’ve been having them on and off for a few days; usually if I overdo It.” the looks of concern were slowly fading, and soon Dugan had roped them all in to a retelling of one of their last missions before the train. The laughter and smiles did not, however, remove Bucky’s own worry that something was wrong, but soon they were all laughing at Dugan’s retelling of Steve’s rescue of the allied battalion in Volgograd.

About halfway through the story, Bucky suddenly doubled over his large belly with a strangled cry of pain. Dugan went silent and the rest of the group moved closer to find out what was wrong. Steven didn’t. He stayed rooted to his chair because he knew: the baby was coming.

                “Barnes,” Falsworth asked slowly, as Bucky panted through the pain. “Are you alright?” Bucky didn’t hear him, his mind drawn inward as he felt his belly tighten around his middle like a vice, doubling, tripling its grip until there was a sudden and familiar feeling in his core of a rubber band being snapped, and a sudden release of pressure. Bucky sucked in a gasp, as he felt a gush of liquid rush out of him, and darken the crotch of his pants. He unfolded himself from around his belly and looked down at his pants with growing dread, before he looked up, his face as white as a sheet.

                “My water broke,” he said meekly, his eyes like saucers. Steven thought he had the look of a spooked colt, but then again the other’s had similar looks of dawning horror as it hit them that the baby was on the way. Bucky gripped the seat cushions and grit his teeth, his eyes squeezing shut as a powerful contraction racked his form. A gasp strangled by a scream, came out of his throat as his eyes flew open and he sat upright in shock. “He’s coming!”

Arion didn’t need to be told twice, as he dashed to his beloved’s side and took Bucky’s hand. He genuinely feared for Bucky’s health. He’d had little to no form of medical monitoring from HYDRA other than the baby was healthy. Bucky saw a special healer every few weeks to ensure that the Baby was in good health, but they had no idea what the strain of child birth would do to him again.

During the time they had spent together, as the baby grew, Bucky had finally opened up about the three pregnancies before Steven was born. Arion held him as his form was racked with sobs, mourning for the children he had lost. He confessed that there had been no one to help then either, and he was afraid that he would lose this baby too, because of his fear. And as another contraction gripped his belly in a vice, Bucky looked over at his husband in terror that this would happen again.

Fortunately Falsworth was just as prepared to take charge at this moment as he had been, when he delivered Steven, all those years ago. He quickly maneuvered his way in between Bucky’s legs and carefully rested his hands of the prominent mound on Bucky’s belly. The dome of flesh was hard as rock under his hands but, slowly and ever so gradually it was loosed from the contraction’s grip. When it was finally soft enough under his hands, Monty pressed and felt around to find the babe’s position in the womb. Thankfully after a moment he found it, and with a sigh of relief, he learned that the babe was facing the right way and was settled low in the pelvis.

                “The babe is where he’s supposed to be,” he told Bucky, and the dark haired man, smiled weakly in relief. “He’s on his way, no doubt about that, but how long he’ll take to get here, is up to him and you now, Barnes. It’s only a matter of time.” Bucky looked down at Falsworth’s kneeling form with tears in his eyes, and gave him a tight nod. Before he could do much else, a contraction rolled over him like a wave, forcing him to clench his teeth and grip Arion’s hand in a vice-like grip. His eyes became glazed and distant as he worked through the contraction, his mind drifting away; a coping mechanism he had developed with HYDRA. Arion recognized the distant gaze for what it was, and pulled on Bucky’s hand to draw him back into his body and awareness.

                “James, listen to me,” he said putting a touch of Power into his voice, ‘hear my voice: come back to the light. Heed my command, and return to me.’ Bucky’s eyes cleared and he looked over at Arion’s kneeling form. Arion saw fear and pain in Bucky’s eyes but also love. Arion knew this child meant everything to him, and to lose it would crush him. Arion slid up onto the sofa to sit on Bucky’s right side. He gripped his hand and brought it up where Bucky could see it. “You see this,” he asked, and Bucky nodded though his eyes were clouded with pain and his breathing was sharp and irregular. “You hold onto me through this. You can feel me, so let me ground you, meldonya.” Bucky nodded after a moment, and soon enough Arion could feel Bucky’s pain bleeding through the bond; letting him take it away.

                “Alright, Barnes” Falsworth said, “We’ve got to get these pants off.” Bucky looked down and cracked a wry smile that they were still on in the first place, before he eased himself out of them. Steven quickly grabbed the throw blanket off the back of the couch and draped it over his Ada’s leg’s so as to give him some dignity. In the meantime Howard had moved Maria into the kitchen to help the other men boil some water and clean the needed tools.

After doing so he pulled Tony aside, to speak with him in private.

                “Tony, I need you to reposition those cameras,” he said. Tony had as dazed look on his face before he snapped out of it and asked why.

                “They’re fine where they are,” he said “why move ‘em?” Howard looked over his shoulder at Bucky’s laboring form and then at Steven who was hovering nearby. He looked back at Tony and leaned down to speak in a more murmured voice.

                “Because, believe it or not, we actually got film of Steven being born,” he murmured to Tony. “Bucky doesn’t know it, but I have the only copy left. I thought that having a chance like this would never happen again, but here we are.” Tony reeled back.

                “Why,” he asked incredulously. Howard rolled his eyes and huffed frustrated, before he explained.

                “We got extremely lucky when Steven was born,” he said. “We had a rolling camera right there to document the moment. Tony,” he said calmly, “there have been only a handful of modern documented cases of hermaphroditism, and the only documented case of one actually having a functioning uterus was Barnes. He was the only one in modern medical history to have actually given birth.” Howard licked his lips before he divulged a secret he swore never to tell anyone, “the only other to have gotten pregnant, was Steve.” Tony’s head jerked up and his eyes widened to the size of saucers,

                “Steve,” he asked in shock, “as in ‘Captain America’ Steve; that Steve?” Howard winced at the sound of Tony’s incredulous voice, and shushed him as he looked up when Bucky cried out in pain.

                “Yes,” he hissed, pulling Tony away, “that Steve. Tony, I … have I put his memory so high on a pedestal that you don’t believe anything about him is true anymore?” Howard sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. He looked over at Bucky’s laboring form, and felt a wash of sadness. Steve should have been here to see his baby be born, but even if he couldn’t Howard knew one day he would. He suspected that the reason Bucky survived the cryo-freeze was because of the Serum. Howard knew that if Bucky could survive that, then there was a slim chance, but a chance nonetheless that Steve could somehow be alive in the ice. The least he could do for his old friend was to let him see the birth of his first child, even if it wasn’t in person.

Tony saw the look on Howard’s face and knew this was something important to him so he quickly moved to as he asked. Howard snapped out of his revere and helped him position the camera for a front row view of everything. Howard looked up to thank Tony and saw that his son had turned an interesting shade of pale green.

                “Tony, are you alright,” he asked, and chuckled a little. Tony gulped down a shaky breath, but only seemed to get paler. “You look like you’re gonna faint, kiddo!” Tony pointed to the barely covered nether regions of Bucky’s form. Howard looked over and his eyes widened in shock; Bucky’s opening was gaping slightly and just barely seen was a small shock of honey gold hair. He froze, remembering watching the tape of Steven being born as his own golden head had bulged at the opening before being born. Bucky screamed out in pain, before he grit his teeth together and bore down. Howard watched in fascinated awe as Bucky’s opening bulged before it opened to reveal more of the golden head. He snapped out of it just in time to take the freshly cleaned towel from his wife and hand them to Falsworth.

Falsworth draped them over his bent knees and pulled on the rubber surgical gloves that Nelyo handed him. With careful hands, he gently pressed his fingers around the edge of the opening, easing it around the baby’s head. Bucky threw his head back with a scream, and bore down again, as a contraction peaked, squeezing his belly in a vice and forcing the baby out of his womb. Bucky grunted, as he bowed his head to his chest and widened the splay of his legs; trying desperately to free the baby. After a long minute of pushing, he stopped with a whine. Falsworth shook his head in frustration and looked up at Bucky’s tired face.

                “Barnes, I need you to move,” he said. Arion’s panicked eyes darted over to the aged Englishman. “The babe’s shoulder is caught, and it can’t get free unless Barnes changes position.” Bucky let out a wounded whine before he shifted forward so that he was more squatting with the couch supporting him.  The change must have done something, because Bucky let out a choked gasp and grabbed for any sort of support. His eyes went unfocused as he became more aware of the baby moving down within him.

He felt as the contraction built that this would be the one, so he rallied his strength, checking his grip on Arion’s hand, before he bowed his head to his chest and pushed. An animalistic growl came out of his chest as he pushed with all his might. With a startled gasp he felt the head finally slip free. Bucky sagged for a moment resting in his lover and son’s arms, before he rallied once more to push the shoulders out. He bore down with grit teeth, and his head thrown back, tears running down his cheeks. A broken wail left his throat as he opened his mouth, his agony made voice, only to be joined by another. Bucky’s eyes flew open and he collapsed with a gasp. He looked down with awe and wonderment on his face, and saw a squalling red baby safely held in Falsworth’s hands.

                “Congratulation’s, Barnes,” the old Englishman said with his own teary smile, “it’s a boy!” Bucky gasped and smiled as Howard carefully swaddled the baby and tied off the cord before cutting it; severing forever the connection the baby shared with him.

                “A boy,” Bucky breathed and ran his hand under his nose to try to stop the tears in vain.

                “Born 3:45 pm on the 29th of July,” Howard said with pride, “a beautiful baby boy. What’s his name, Bucky?” Bucky grinned as he watched Falsworth carefully rub the baby clean with a soft towel.

                “Joseph,” he said with a hitch in his voice as he saw a little hand reach out from inside the swath of towels. “Joseph Arthadan Rogers, for his grandpa and the man his father looked so much like.” Falsworth hands the now named baby off to Peggy, who swaps the bloodied towels out for fresh ones. With utter and complete tenderness, Peggy gently hands the baby boy back to Bucky. For a moment there is stillness as Bucky took in the baby’s face, before the wonder and joy became twisted with sorrow and grief. Great wracking sobs wretched themselves from Bucky’s frame as he sobbed over his newborn son.

                “He looks just like him,” he sobbed, his face twisted between love and guilt. “Oh, God, He looks just like Steve!” Bucky broke his gaze off the baby and buried his face in the newborns swaddled chest, unable to bear the pain of looking at the living image of one as dear to him as a brother.

Steven observed this all with a smile marred by sorrow unending, watching his Ada sob and weep over his little brother through his own tears. Suddenly his eyes become hard as diamonds and his smile vanished beneath a clenched jaw. In that moment suffused with sorrow that should have been overflowing with love and joy, Steven is filled with a terrible resolve to destroy those that took them, Bucky and Steven, away from everything they loved. Just as he swore all those years ago, when the news came that his Ada was gone, he swore again to destroy them and wipe them and their descendants from the face of the earth. Watching his Ada sob over a wailing newborn, Steven swore vengeance, and vowed no mercy to his enemy.

                ‘They wanted a monster,’ he thought through his inner turmoil, ‘well they’re going to get it!’

TBC….

Chapter Text

~*~**~


 

The house is quiet, and still, save for the occasional creak of an old floorboard. Arion shut the front door and made note of how silent it was before taking a fortifying breath and hanging up his rain coat. It had been raining all afternoon, and though there was still an hour before sunset, the sky had become dark and dreary; almost as if it was reflecting the moods of those therein. Arion’s keen elven hearing picked up the soft scratch of pen on paper and the light clack of metal touching plastic. Arion looked around the barren living room and heaved a sorrowful sigh, before turning his gaze to the stairs. A low whine brought his attention back to the room and saw Huan lumber out of the den with a soulful sad look on his face. Arion gave the loyal hound an understanding smile tinged with sadness before he turned to the banister and walked up the stairs.

The last few days had been trying for the family, Bucky and Steven none the least of all, and the core of the reason revolved around the tiny newborn baby sleeping in the cradle in the nursery. Arion stepped onto the landing and knew instantly that Steven was holed up in his room, working on finishing his preparations to take down HYDRA and the Red Room. A quick glance at the shut door and the sound of plastic and metal, along with the faint smell of solder confirmed that, before Arion walked past the door with a sad shake of his head.

Steven was heading down a dark road, and as much as Arion wanted to protect and shield his son, to go with him, he ultimately knew that this path for Steven and Steven alone. Arion would help him as much as he could but the task Steven had set before himself was something that only he could accomplish and Arion would just be in the way; as a target or a hindrance.  At the end of the hallway just off their bedroom, was the nursery. Arion found his steps taking him there without thought, and once he stepped inside he knew why. The once cheery atmosphere had turned mournful and bleak. The only light came from the open curtains, letting in the dreary gray light escaping the rainclouds and the shadows of raindrops on the windowpane. There, in the room sitting by the window in the handcrafted rocking chair, was Bucky. The reflection of the rain from the window and the gray light made his expression all the more bleak, and hid the silent run of tears down his face.

 Arion’s heart broke once more as he saw how badly the baby’s birth had taken its toll. The babe was nestled safely in the crook of Bucky’s arm and was asleep, but Bucky’s face was turned away; an expression of heartbreak on his face. It was almost as if looking at the baby brought him pain. Arion remembered but a few days ago Bucky’s face was alight with joy at the prospect of seeing his son, and now, he couldn’t even look at him. Arion stepped into the room and purposefully on the creaky floorboard to garner his beloved’s attention.  Sad blue eye’s washed grey with grief turned to him, and Arion’s heart broke even more as Bucky attempted to muster a smile that crumpled in moments. Bucky dropped his face and for a brief moment his eyes lit on the child in his arms. The bleakness was overshadowed for a moment by soft and tender joy, before his eyes welled with tears and he looked away again at the rain drops running down the window.

Arion crossed the distance in three long strides, and knelt down beside the rocking chair. A tender hand ran over the crown of soft honey gold hair, as Arion watched the child sleep for a few moments, trying to gather his thoughts. After a moment his gaze turned up to his beloved’s face. Bucky’s eyes were hollow with grief, and dark purple smudges made their home underneath them. Arion was painfully reminded of how Bucky had looked when he was told Steve was dead. They had all thought that those wounds had healed, but it was apparent that the birth of his son had only ripped open those wounds again and showed them all just how much they had festered. Arion closed his eyes with his own broken grief. He was slowly losing his husband by inches because of this grief, he just hadn’t seen it because Bucky had become so good a concealing his pain; and because he was happy. The joy of marriage and the upcoming birth of a child had buried that pain, but now that Bucky was truly faced with the child of his friend the truth and come crashing down on him; devouring any joy he felt over the birth of his son and drowning him in guilt and grief.

                “James,” Arion said softly, running a hand up and down Bucky’s arm, “talk to me, my love. Don’t shut me out, please. Don’t let your grief devour you,” Arion gasped softly around newly born tears and rest in head on Bucky’s shoulder, “as it nearly did me.” Bucky rocked the chair gently for a moment before he finally spoke.

                “I thought it would help,” he whispered with a hoarse voice, and Arion looked up to see Bucky looking at him with a tired and sad expression.

                “What would help, my love?” Arion asked grasping at Bucky’s arm, and searching his eyes for an answer.

                “The baby,” he said with a sad smile, and Arion could see the love in them, but it was so over shadowed by grief that there was no room for it. Bucky took a shuddering breath before his expression became pained and so sad once more. “I thought that once he was born, that the pain would go away. I was wrong.” Bucky looked back down at the sleeping bundle in his arms, and the dam finally broke. Bucky’s shoulders hunched over the baby as his body was wracked with shuddering sobs. “Thought that if I had his baby it would make up for what I did!” Arion looked at his love in shock for a moment and was frozen stunned as Bucky stood and gently placed the baby back in his crib.

                “What do you think you did, James,” Arion asked finally. Bucky braced his hands on the railing of the crib and sobbed his head hung between his shoulders as they shook with sobs.

                “I killed my best friend!” Bucky sobbed and looked up at his husband with broken eyes. Arion stood and pulled Bucky’s back flush to his chest as the brunette heaved heavy sobs that wracked his frame. “I killed him! It’s my fault! If I had only been faster, stronger, I would have never fallen from that train! Steve’s dead because of me! He could have landed that plane, I know could; he didn’t want to, and it my fault. It’s because of me!” Arion turned Bucky around in his arms and forced the man to look him in the eye. “They played the tape, the recording of … of… of Steve’s final transmission. Steve crashed that plane because of me, and they made sure I knew it! They used it …” Bucky sobbed, “to break me! I thought Steve was coming, I told them every day. And then they played that tape… and then Steve wasn’t coming.” Arion pulled Bucky into his chest and let him sob and grieve. “I love him so much, Arion! He my son… but all I can see is Steve! Oh God, it hurts so much! Why did it have to be Steve!? I can’t even look at him: my own son!”

Arion pulled Bucky tighter into his chest and held him, finally understanding that the love he held for his child was the love of two people: the love of a father to a son, and the love of one friend to another. The love Bucky held for Steve was poisoning his love for his son, and coloring it with grief and pain. In that moment it became painfully aware to Arion that this was no way for a child to be raised; haunted by the grief and ghost of a long dead father. It would poison both of them, and ruin any chance of relationship. Furthermore, Bucky had essentially been raped by the scientists that forced him to conceive and had used his best friend’s sperm to do it. It was a tangled web of grief and pain that had woven itself around the baby, and only distance and time could make the wounds heal. With mournful tears Arion pressed his cheek on to the crown of Bucky’s head.

                “James,” he said, “maybe it would be for the best if we … if we find a home,” he pulled Bucky away to look him in the eyes, “a home  where he isn’t around all of this pain and despair. Somewhere he will be loved, and where he is close; so you can be near him.” Bucky’s face was a mixture of pain and denial, but also a small bit of relief.

                “He’s safe here,” Bucky said, but Arion shook his head and looked at his beloved with sorrow.

                “Is he, really,” Arion asked, and Bucky looked torn and struggled to find a reason to deny Arion’s words. “He is loved, but his mere sight hurts you beyond words. Joseph needs a home where he will be loved and cared for, and where his presence won’t bring you pain.” Bucky looked back at the peacefully sleeping baby, and his resolve crumpled. New tears flowed, and Arion pulled Bucky back into his embrace. “Charles Xavier has many adult students,” he whispered into Bucky’s hair, “many of which would be glad to adopt a special child, and can protect him from HYDRA. He would be safe.” Bucky looked down on Joseph’s small and sleeping form before he nodded, his own guilt and grief driving a wedge between his love for his child.

                “Call Charles in the morning,” Bucky said softly. “But tell him that I can’t lose him; I won’t leave him completely.”

Unbeknownst to the pair, Steven stood like a silent shadow watching his father and Ada sway sadly in the comfort of each other’s arms. For a brief moment he felt his heart break at the sight and at the wave of negative emotions emanating from his Ada, and he wanted nothing more than to stay behind and wait to take down HYDRA and the Red Room. But the moment was brief and the single clarity of the mission drove all else from his mind, before he turned and went back to his room.

His own bedroom, as a contrast to the light and peaceful normal atmosphere of the nursery was a picture of controlled chaos. Tiny circuit boards littered the benches and worktables set up in the room, and a large drafting desk was littered with drawings of components, and half completed electronics. Steven brushed his hands over the finished parts and they began to float midair. Steven stood in the middle of the room and raised his hands, his eyes falling shut to the peace and certainty of creation. The objects began to float and dance in the air around him, before his hands turned in a signal of stop and all motion ceased, the parts and components of the invention suspended in the air around him. Steven then moved his hands close together, palms facing, and the components suddenly began to coalesce. Wires and tiny pieces of silicon moving from a jumble of parts to become a complete board the size of his palm, as his fingers twitched like a pianist playing notes. Sparks of electricity dancing on fingers charged a battery that flew to join the coalescing board, and then even smaller chips began to fuse to the board lining up in orderly rows and with mathematical symmetry. Adapters attached to a cable before a final piece of plastic covered the card shaped board in black. Steven’s hands turned up and his palms flat, before he opened his eyes to look at his creation.

It was an innocuous little thing only slightly larger than a credit card, measuring around 3”x4” in length and width, barely a centimeter thick, with a smooth mat black plastic shell. There was a single small cable about the diameter of a spaghetti noodle, thin but still covered in a rubber protective sheathing. On the end of the cable was a small port that was, and is, identical to a USB port used today, only more advanced, and in Steven’s other hand was an adapter to use on the computers of the soviets and the Red Room. Steven smiled as the object floated to land in his open palm.

Steven was no idiot; he knew the Red Room had used his scribbled designs, scratched on the walls of his cell to keep his sane, to advance the technology of their computers ahead of the Americans. But he also knew that because of this he could exploit that system and the flaw he built into it. He was going to bleed every ounce of information the Red Room and HYDRA had on them until he had everything, and then he was going to use it to destroy them. All the world loves a hero, and Steven was not above using his once earned fame to burn HYDRA and its heads into ash.

A nose caused him to turn and look at the door. Arion stood there with Bucky, both their faces a mixture of awe and wonder.

                “What is that,” Arion asked as Bucky studied the sleek square of technology in Steven’s hand. Steven looked at it with a detached smile.

                “A hard-drive,” he answered, bringing it up to inspect it in the light. Arion’s eyes widened and he looked at the drive again.

                “Hard-drives are much bigger,” he said, “nearly twice that size and thicker too.” Steven looked at the black drive for a second more before placing it on the drafting desk. Steven fixed his father with a dispassionate look and raised a sardonic eyebrow.

                “That’s because they are hard disk based,” he said turning to look at the rest of his now finished gadgets, “mine is not.”

                “What is it then,” Bucky asked, and Steven looked back at his Ada.

                “Digital Solid State drive,” he answered succinctly. Bucky’s eyes went wide and he looked at the wedge of black plastic with something akin to awe. “There are no moving parts as to get broken, and all the data is stored digitally instead of on an analogue disk. This makes it more durable and resistant to electromagnetic pulses, with the added bonus of being faster and with more longevity.” Bucky looked at Steven and his wonder dropped into resignation. He looked around and saw the completed gadgets and weapons all ready for storage and use. With sad and weary eyes he finally looked back at his son and saw the cold burning wrath in his eyes, and the determination in the set of his jaw.

                “You’re leaving,” he asked with weariness, “aren’t you?” Steven’s eye’s met his Ada and the blank look became slightly sad.

                “Yes,” he answered calmly with as soft voice. “I can’t stay. It’s not safe; I have to make it safe. I’m not coming back until I stop them, or I find something important. If you need me, I’ll come, but … not until their gone.” Bucky closed his eyes and felt his heart breaking all over again but he knew it was hopeless to try and stop him. There was too much of his own stubbornness in Steven to avail Bucky in dissuading him from this course of action. With a kind of sad resignation, Bucky sighed and looked at his son.

                “Where are you going,” he finally asked. Steven’s eyes suddenly become as hard as diamonds, and burn with a fierce ferocity unlike any he had seen before.

                “To make them pay,” Steven answered with a hard but soft voice.

In an instant, Bucky knows that Steven is going after the Red Room, and feels no remorse for what he is about to say.

                “Come back with your shield, or on it! Give no mercy to those that gave us none,” he said before he remembered something. “But don’t hurt the Widows if you can help it, Steven. They had no choice in the matter. Be careful with them, especially Natalia, and free them if you can; they deserve a better life than that of slavery to the State, especially Natalia.”  Steven looked down at the suitcase and duffle bag containing the contents of his future and his life, seeing the guns and clothes and gadgets all together reminded him of other missions, that at the time seemed just as important and a little red-haired spitfire along with it. Steven had liked Natalia a great deal, and he knew Yasha thought of the girl like a little sister, so he nodded before continuing with his packing.

A kiss on the cheek is the only goodbye Bucky gives him, but Steven can hear in his mind the ‘please be safe,’ rolling around like a broken record. Steven smiled, and pressed a kiss to Bucky’s forehead.

                ‘I will,’ Steven projected into his Ada’s mind. Arion stands stoically in the doorway as Steven pulled his last bag together and over his shoulder.

The hug was sudden and fierce reminding Steven that the wiry strength came from his father, whereas the bulk came from his Ada. Arion pulled Steven tightly to his chest and clung hard to his form, before he pulled back to press his forehead to Steven and initiate Osanwe.

                (“you be careful, Steven,”) he said, and Steven chuckled, the sound reverberating through Arion’s mind. (“Gird your mind, Yonya, for the Enemy will use every one of their tricks and tools to reassert control over you.”) Steven nodded.

                (“I’ll be careful, father. I know their tricks well, and I have already removed several triggers that would give them easy control over me again,”) Steven responded. (“I will not be easily controlled again.”) Arion pulled away and broke the Osanwe but not before pressing some of his own mental shielding onto Steven’s mind.  He was not keen to the idea of losing his son again after just getting him back.

Steven gathered his things and was met by Huan and Maedhros at the bottom of the stairs.

                “I won’t try to talk you out of it,” Nelyo said, and Steven stared at the tall reborn Fëanarion with shock and respect. “I had to do my own soul searching when I returned, so I understand. Just remember this: there are those that love you, Steven, who will do anything to see you brought safely back home. You have help, so don’t be afraid to avail yourself of it.”

 With that Maedhros moved away from the door and placed a brief hand on Steven’s shoulder in comfort before moving away with the silence of the Eldar. Huan pressed a cold nose into Steven’s neck and leaned on him for a moment before climbing up the stairs to be with his Ada. Steven opened the door and didn’t even fail to notice the enigmatic date on the calendar by the door cheerfully stating the day as July 30th, the day after his brother had been born. Steven shook off the regret and opened the door and found Stark standing by his car at the bottom of the stairs.

Howard doesn’t even say a word as Steven throws his things in the back seat before climbing in. the two spend the ride in silence as they drive to the airport. It is only once Steven is at the Airport check-in that he speaks.

                “Whatever intelligence you gather over there would be invaluable to us, Steven,” he said, his face stoic and like stone. “There is a rot inside SHIELD and we need to know how far it’s spread before we can deal with it. If you can get us that data, Steven, we might just save SHIELD.” Stark stood in silence before he broke it again. “Look, Steven, there aren’t a lot of things that I’m proud of anymore. I’ve done a lot of things that don’t make me proud, but SHIELD… SHIELD was the one thing I knew I could be proud of. It was the one thing I thought Steve might respect me for. I didn’t just build this agency for Pegs, I built it for him. This is my legacy to Rogers, and I want it unsullied for him the day I can hand over the reins.”

                “Steve’s dead Howard,” Steven said after a moment of tense silence, his voice cold and dead, “he’s dead and he’s not coming back. The sooner you accept that the better off you and your family can be. I do this for you, and only for you. The only legacy Steve left was born yesterday, and I intend that to be a good one and the only one.”  With those final parting words Steven turned, walked away, and got on his flight to Europe.


 

~*~*~**


 

~July 31st, 1986 ~

The base was small on the surface, and was seemingly rundown. Then again the base of operations was all underground. HYDRA may have grown and changed with the decades, but as the years went on some things always remained the same: HYDRA was evil and they liked to go underground like the rats they were.

Steven selected this base carefully, with personal reasons behind it, but also for its strategic value. The target was a Red Room facility in East Germany; the very same base where the Winter Soldier was born. This one held the first version of the Chair, the one that created the Winter Soldier and was used to create the Winter Knight. Steven thought it ironic that the place where the Soviet branch of HYDRA created their perfect weapons would be the first to fall.

Steven remembered with crystal clarity how they had starved them and beat them both within an inch of their lives just to try and break them. But no matter how hard they pushed they wouldn’t break. It wasn’t until the little rat Zola came back, and brought Zhukov with him that they finally found a way to break them: Psychic conditioning. It was new and required a telepath, but it was a method that never failed to give results. It was here that Steven’s mind was first invaded, and he realized the inadequacy of his own mental shields. He was here that Zola constructed the first Chair, and with Zhukov’s help he created the Winter Soldier and destroyed Bucky and Steven’s Ada along with it.

Steven shook himself out of his stupor and checked himself once more. Both his Colt 1911A1’s were in their holsters ready and fully loaded with 10 round clips, his throwing knives were strapped to the small of his back in easy reach, his grenades were strapped to his tactical belt, along with extra ammunition and a few more guns, and the drive was safely tucked away in one of the pouches on his belt. His tactical uniform rounded out the picture, and declared loudly for all to see that this was the feared assassin the Winter Knight. He fixed on a super mat mask over his eyes and covering his brow and cheekbones, and looked at the reflection of himself in a puddle of water. He was a fearsome sight with that mask, a faceless soulless assassin that was created not very far from where he stood. With a vicious smile he knew that everything on him was created to tell people who he is and now he was going to use that to drive fear and dread into the very hearts of the men that used him and the same fear they drove into him.

Sufficiently armed and ready, Steven took a deep breath and let himself slip into the persona of the Winter Knight. When he opened his eyes his mind was dead calm and the only thing before his eyes and in his mind was the mission. With calm and confident steps, Steven walked through the gate and towards the main entrance. 

There are three guards in visible range, and four more just behind the door, but they are no threat. The first guard approaches with no fear, seeing only a returned asset, but the Knight has him in his sights. The agent is in his way. The Knight locked eyes on the target and marked him as an obstacle to be removed. The Knight drew his weapon and fired.

There is shouting, gun fire, pandemonium, and death.

Obstacles eliminated.

The Knight smiled, and said, “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!” his smile was a vicious thing. The tables had finally turned.

To Be Continued in Mirrored in His Silver Shield…..