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Blood was dripping through his fingers. The scent of copper invaded his nostrils as he watched the stream of red liquid flow along the crevice of his hands. The vital fluid was rapidly cooling along his skin and he startled with the realization that he had been standing there long enough for the scarlet gore to begin flaking. Jerking his hands down he risked a glance upwards and almost dry heaved at the sight before him. The guts of his companions were strewed about the warehouse - thus creating a backdrop of glittering ruby red against the suffocating cocoon of monochromatic gray.
Death. The stench of it invaded his mouth as he mentally grasped for an explanation concerning the chaos presented before him. Darkness clogged his mind as he strained for any semblance of understanding. Had he done this? Had he been the one who'd torn away the spine of Martinez with his bare hands? Could he be responsible for literally crushing the heart of sweet ol’ roly-poly Garfield? Crushed the skull of a bright eyed man (Richard) who had barely entered the beginnings of adulthood? Dear god no. No no no nonononononono…
He hadn't been witness to such tragedy since the war. Bodies thrown in ditches by the dozen. The smell of burnt flesh and sulfur in the air. Screams of pain and the abused flesh of his throat as he yelled himself hoarse in response to fellow soldiers who cried out for him in a firefight. The last words on his men's lips as they begged for him to send their love to a wife, child, mother, and father.
Please tell ‘em Rogers....
Go give ‘em hell soldier...
Thank you S -- “teve,” he flinched as the sound of another being trickled through his thoughts and stopped him mid-mantra; the memory of blood red lips forming silent pleas faded away. He whirled around and found himself face-to-face with a familiar stern mouth and steel-grey blues. Despite the initial harshness to the man's face, Steve could see the concern pooling in his eyes. Yet knowing all this and feeling the familiarity tug at his mind couldn't help him clearly identify this man.
“What? Who-” he breathed out questioningly as the words rang familiar in his ears. His head began to pound severely, yet he’d regained just enough sense of his surroundings to prevent himself from backing away. A movement that would have led to him trampling over the body of another. The thought made him sick.
“Steve. It's just me. Bucky.”
“Bucky?” he swallowed back a sob as comprehension finally took hold. He knew Bucky. Bucky was his friend. Bucky was… safe. However this understanding didn't stop his breaths from shortening in panic as the others’ gaze roved over destruction he himself had been staring at moments ago. He never once doubted that Buck wouldn't turn his back on him, yet neither had he imagined that he'd do something like this.
Steve continued to closely watch Bucky’s face - silently dreading the inevitable reaction that would occur once full realization set. He had killed (slaughtered) these men. Dear god he had murdered them with his bare hands.
It was supposed to have been a simple mission. Coulson had contacted them with news of a Hydra base he had been made aware of. His own agents were too tied up with their own affairs, therefore it was left to Steve’s team to scope it out. However,the Avengers were still incomplete and scattered about, leaving him with no choice but to take a small tactical squad as back-up. Barnes had accompanied him for obvious reasons, despite the fact that he had been previously benched. Steve had relented in allowing him to tag along, yet argued that he stay behind until the entirety of the situation had made itself known. More than likely the warehouse would be abandoned, however, Steve didn't want to take that risk. It hadn’t been easy to convince the man to sit back and wait, but Steve wouldn’t budge. He couldn't handle losing Buck again - not so soon after the last incident.
Everything had been going smoothly. There were no snags as he’d given orders and directed the men to position themselves near any possible escape routes. He remained calm and relaxed as he went through the proper motions of infiltration - the even breaths of Bucky in his ear an immediate reassurance.
Him and three of his men paused before the main entrance to the building. Head turned down and shoulders hunched forward he waited for the silent affirmation from his scout crew. This type of operation was familiar to him. Mere muscle memory even as his mind raced ahead to the plans he had for the evening. It was amidst the action of his body moving into position, and wondering whether Tony would actually take Steve up on his offer to visit the Avengers training facility, that everything had gone wrong. His body broke out into an uncontrollable sweat and a searing pain had suddenly split through his head. The sound of his name being yelled over the comm unit was lost to a sense of pain and darkness.
He held no recollection of harming any of his fellow soldiers, but the evidence was too clear to ignore. Something was terribly wrong with him, and he needed help. Fast.
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What happened next was a mere blur to Steve. He recalled small snippets of Bucky turning to him with a determined glint in his eye and a twitch in his jaw - voice calm and reassuring. Gloves had been shoved over his hands and a coat thrown over his shoulders. He could still feel the cool touch of metal to his upper arm as Bucky steered him back to the motorcycle and guided Steve's arm to wrap about his waist.
Neither man spoke during the drive. Steve was too lost in his own thoughts to pay attention, but he trusted Buck. He couldn't erase the image of jaws unhinged and bloodied hair littering the ground. The echoes of their terrified screams suddenly came back to him and his grip around Bucky tightened. Digging his nose into the warmth of Barnes neck Steve squeezed his eyes shut. If he'd felt any discomfort at Steve's actions at all he didn't complain.
A maze of hallways and the bright lights of an elevator were like a sting to his conscious. He blinked to full awareness as the melody of a familiar voice greeted both Bucky and Steve. Friday - his mind supplied and suddenly he knew where Bucky had taken him. The realization that he was at the tower, and the feeling of smooth metal heavy against his left palm, helped to assert a calmness within him.
The tower was safe. Friday and Bucky wouldn't let him hurt anyone. Friday may not be Jarvis but he had faith in Tony’s engineering intellect. He knew about the safety protocols that Tony had installed after New York, and he trusted that the A.I. would follow them to the letter.
Within the next five minutes they were both standing before a familiar glass door. Before the accords, and even Ultron, Steve had frequently made trips up to Tony's workshop. He could recall the daily sessions in which he’d make himself comfortable with a book or sketchpad as Tony tinkered away. He could remember the familiar presence of U, and Butterfingers as they beeped in curiosity at his drawings of them. He could even still recall the days Dum-E presented him a smoothie while Tony vaguely warned Steve that he shouldn't drink it if he valued his tastebuds. For robots with a simplistic design, they conveyed a multitude of expressions that Steve couldn't ignore, which always led to him accepting the offer. Besides, the drinks weren't half bad as long as Dummy steered away from using the fire extinguisher foam as a substitute for whip cream. Yet standing there after all the arguments and battles fought, it felt even more foreign than waking up in the twenty-first century. He felt out place and unwelcomed. He didn't like it.
It begged the question of why Buck would bring him here of all places? He could understand Natasha, Sam, or hell even Clint. Tony though? Wanda would make more sense than a man with a chip on his shoulder. Steve glanced at Bucky with a questioning look.
Unsurprisingly Bucky ignored him in favor of tapping on the glass insistently. Despite the force used, the sound proved insignificant against the pounding rhythm of Tony's music. Bucky stopped with an annoyed pinch to his mouth and opted to glare at the ceiling instead. Steve held back a small grin at the man's subconscious pout of annoyance and cleared his throat.
“Friday, if you could please?” His voice was surprisingly steady.
They both watched as Tony jerked out from the inner skeleton of a strung up suit once the music was abruptly cut off. An unfamiliar young lady suddenly rounded the corner wall and came into view. It took less then a second for Steve to realize that she was an advanced hologram. It always amazed Steve at the wonders that Tony was able to bring to life. His fingers twitched with the urge to clasp about a pencil and just draw. Rolling his fingers into a fist he placate himself with watching the two converse instead.
It was intriguing to watch the emotions flit across the other man's face as he listened to her presumably explain that he had visitors. Steve observed as his eyes darted toward them in genuine surprise which soon gave way to mild panic and apparent annoyance. He studied the way Tony’s mouth twisted into a sharp smirk that soon gave way to a flat line before shaking his head and schooling his expression into a neutral ambivalence. Steve felt a twinge of sorrow pass through him at that, but he shouldn't have expected anything less. Tony wasn’t going to welcome either of them with open arms, especially with everything that had happened between them.
Squaring his shoulders, Tony tossed an oily rag aside and gave a vague wave of permission to which the young woman smiled in apparent approval. The doors slid open with a hiss and Steve was assaulted with the familiar scent of motor oil, fire, and metal. The tension in his muscles began to bleed out as Steve stepped foot within the familiar territory. His eyes having slid shut as he worked to keep himself calm, cool, and collected.
Steve's jaw twitched in slight annoyance as he blinked his eyes open and found Tony's gaze locked on him with a pointed glare. The dark hue of chocolate dwarfed the pupils until they were mere pinpricks of anger, and he couldn’t help but feel a flash of irritation in response. Obviously the man still held a grudge, and Steve didn’t know if he could handle an irate Stark after everything that had occurred hours ago. The unease must have been evident on his face to have the wariness and concern suddenly abrogate the simmering heat of anger. In the next second Tony was shaking his head to erase any evidence of his unsettlement and Steve was once again presented a blank face and an air of forced nonchalance.
“Well if it isn't Captain Fuddy Duddy and his loyal sidekick the Summer Soldier,” he paused long enough to splay his hands in a parody of sun rays, “to what do I owe the pleasure?” Instead of the words being relayed with a teasing lilt, it was laced with a twinge of bitterness followed by utter annoyance.
[Now boss, is that any way to greet your guests?]
Steve turned to face the woman from earlier. She planted her hands on her hips and tilted her head at Tony in something vaguely akin to disappointment. That voice… Friday?
“Keyword having been guests. That would suggest they were invited, and I don't remember extending such a request now, do I?”
[That argument only works if you even bothered with inviting people in the first place.]
“Good god Friday, you sound more like Pepper everyday. You taking lessons or something?” Tony turned to the A.I. with a small sniff of disapproval.
[Or something boss,] she responded easily enough, and Steve couldn't help but grin. Dressed in a form fitting dress of white and sporting chin length locks of red, she resembled a more rambunctious teenage version of Pepper Potts. Tony just gave her a fond smile that fell flat with the haggard lines of sleep deprivation lining his face. Steve couldn’t help the ache that lanced through his chest at the notion of Tony having been left in isolation for so long. Let it be said that Stark had a way to aggravate Steve like no other, yet feel a complete one-eighty the next second. It was a complexity Rogers would rather not dwell on.
“I didn't know you’d upgraded Friday Tony. It's impressive,” and just like that Tony's attention was back on Steve. Tony gave a little sniff that had a corner of his mouth twitching in displeasure.
“Didn't see the point considering she's only accessible in the tower, and it's not like you were here to begin with so....” He waved the rest of his comment away.
Steve clenched his hands into fists and glanced away to prepare himself before turning back. However Stark’s attention had already shifted over to Bucky once again; his eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“From what Friday tells me, there's an actual reason why you came here. Time is money and all that shit, so...” Tony picked up his tablet and began to mess with something on the screen. Steve knew better than to assume that Tony wasn’t paying attention to them as well. Neither did Buck since he wasted no time in tugging Steve forward.
“Something's wrong with Steve. I'm still too fucked up in the head to be of any real use and you know that Shield or the government isn't an option at the moment. You need to help him.” Tony lifted his face from the screen and arched a single brow at such a demand.
“Really? I could of easily told you something was wrong with that man the moment he uttered fondue,” he took to a stand and sauntered over to the main desk, thus placing more distance between the three of them.
“Wait, how'd you…?” Steve interrupted with a frown. He valiantly ignored the heat rising at the back of his neck. Tony had never told him before when they'd still been - close.
Tony turned to him and pointed. “Howard,” he said in quick explanation, before turning to point back at Bucky, “secondly, I don't have to do anything. I'm not an Avenger anymore, remember? Got dropped like a sack of patatoes by big, blue, and blonde. Pretty sure you had a hand in that. So yeah, so sorry but Friday will have no problem hooking you up with a hotel.”
The sound of his tablet smacking against the steel surface of his desk was the only sound to accommodate such an accusation and blatant dismissal. Steve stiffened in response but Bucky remained unperturbed.
Tony sat back down on a well worn stool and swiped his fingers upward in a movement that conjured various holograms to life; a scramble of code skirting across the air. The blue hue of its glow splashed across his face and chest in a well known pattern. He was obviously choosing to ignore them, but Bucky would have none of it.
“You're right. You don't have to do shit, but that doesn't mean you won't.”
Tony just hummed in response as he dragged a particular set of numbers out of the clump of others. “You sound so gosh-darn sure of yourself Winters. Why is that?” He absentmindedly asked not truly expecting any real response if his sudden look of surprise was any indication.
“Because, whether you like it or not Stark, Steve was and still is your friend.” And that was true wasn't it?
Tony froze mid motion; his face twisting in something akin to a pained grimace. Steve could practically hear the grinding of teeth as Tony rubbed his chest; the muscles in his jaw twitching anxiously. The words spoken between them during their fight rings through Steve’s ears, and by the way Tony is staring at him, Steve knows that Bucky has hit a nerve. Slowly he shuts off the holograms and drags a hand up over his ragged face before stained fingers find themselves running through greasy hair. Clenching his hands around his knees, lips thinned into a dire line, he gives Bucky an assessing look.
Bucky merely crossed his arms across his chest in defiance; the light playing off the metal of his arm beautifully. Seconds dragged by as they stared at eachother in silent conversation. Neither wanting to back down if theie posture was anything to go by. The way Stark’s fists suddenly clenched and his mouth flattened into an impossible line - he’d understood. Bucky would win this round. Finally Tony turned to Steve with a sigh and his shoulders slumped in defeat.
“Fucking shit Rogers. Just tell me what the hell happened before Robocop here tries to kill me.”
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Tony hadn't believed it at first. Captain America capable of cold blooded murder? Laughable. Hell even Steve was beginning to question if it was all just a bad dream. Yet the stiffness of blood lining his wrists did well to remind him that it wasn’t just another nightmare.
With a growl of annoyance Bucky jerked Steve's hands forward and tugged off his gloves to present the blood to Stark. Secondly he tossed Tony a small USB that held footage he had stolen from the Operative’s main hard drive. Tony was hesitant at first, but finally relented once he realized that the soldier before him would not budge until Bucky was satisfied that Tony understood this was no joke.
Surprisingly Tony merely took their word for it and didn’t play the recording. A weight Steve hadn’t known he was holding was soon lifted. He didn’t think he was ready to face that again so soon. Instead Tony had ordered Friday to encrypt the file while notifying Dr. Banner that his assistance was required immediately. Apparently Tony hadn’t been living in the tower alone after all.
“Attilan,” was Tony’s vague explanation once he noticed Steve’s inquiring glance. Before Steve could question him further Tony was already making his way out of the workshop and towards Bruce’s personal lab. Of course Tony had gone searching for Bruce. The scientist was probably the only one he trusted after he quite and with Rhodey having been- Steve brushed the thought aside before he could dwell on it any further. With a shake of his head he moved to follow as well.
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Bruce looked like hell but in a way that suggested he was on the mend. There was no time for pleasantries, as Friday had informed him of the situation beforehand. They had barely shook hands in greeting before he had guided the Captain to a chair in the far off corner. If there was one thing Bruce understood, it was the fear of losing control and the unknown.
Steve was soon hooked up to various monitors with Bucky tensely watching guard by his side. The whole setup had him on edge and it was understandable. Hydra and their ministrations were never too far from the forefront of his mind. More than once Steve had to placate Buck as Bruce approached the Captain with the need to draw blood. It was safe to say there was a collective sigh of relief throughout the room once everything was finished.
“Alright Steve, I have all I need. For now I'd recommend getting some rest. Tony?”
“Yeah, yeah. You know where you're floor is Cap. Jason Bourne here can room with you or whatever. Friday will contact you once we know anything.” With those last words. They were dismissed.
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“Tony come here for a moment will you?” Tony stopped fiddling with a beaker Bruce had advised him against touching, and made his way to the other’s side. He thrummed his fingers against his thigh absentmindedly as Bruce began to talk with him in hushed tones. Bruce pointed out various data intervals on screen, and released a sigh through his nose.
“Are you seeing what I am seeing?” Banner murmured lowly. Tony took a moment to skim through the readings himself, and his brow furrowed in momentary confusion. Suddenly, understanding began to dawn on him and he could feel his stomach drop at the implications.
“No, this can’t be right. Good ol’ Dad was adamant that the serum was perfect. That Rogers was perfect…” Tony’s mouth opened and closed for a moment, his mind refusing to fully accept what the data was telling him.
“I’m afraid not Tony,” Bruce responded gently, his eyes roving over Tony’s in concern and sympathy, “according to the reading thus far, it seems that the serum is slowly breaking down. Dr. Erskine and Howard couldn’t predict the validity of the serum over such a stretch of time. We all just assumed that the serum would remain in full functioning affect, but it seems that even this has an expiration date.”
Bruce watched as Tony’s eyes remained riveted on the screen, his expression stern and focused. He didn’t like it either, but statistics didn't lie. His insides clenched and he could feel his chest tighten in a form of slow growing panic, and with good reason too. The serum was deteriorating slowly but surely, thus leading to Steve’s incident the night before.
“A glitch or bug then. So you're telling me that Captain America's a dead man walking?”
“Numbers don't lie Tony. I'm sorry.”
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