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What Does Not Exist

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  “What a man can't remember doesn't exist for him.” 
― Robert Ludlum the Bourne Identity

 

If you’d have asked Jim Morita where he saw himself in two years, back when he was leaving the Army, the answer sure as shit would not have involved freezing his balls off on a boat, in the Mediterranean Sea, in the middle of the fucking night, that’s for sure.

Then again, the reason he is freezing his balls off on a boat, in the Mediterranean Sea, in the middle of the fucking night, revolves around three of the four other idiots who are comfortably asleep below deck.

Yes, they are as good as brothers, and yes being ex-military there are enough instances where they’d saved each other’s lives that that bond is unshakeable. But that didn’t change the fact that they are all safe and warm in their bunks, whilst he wanders pointless laps around the boat to make sure all of equipment was fine and that they aren’t inexplicably floating away, whilst losing sensation in most of his extremities.

It’s all Falsworth’s fault in the first place.

They’d been part of an elite special ops team. Jim had worked mostly with Gabe Jones and Tim Dugan since starting in Special Forces, and then with James Montgomery Falsworth in several joint missions with the British SAS.

It was after one of those missions that they’d gotten blind drunk on some bottom shelf bourbon that Dum Dum had conned someone out of; sitting around a camp fire in the mountain and high off of the adrenaline from another successful mission, they’d come up with The Plan.

Mostly they were doing what was fast becoming traditional after several tours, they were discussing what they were going to do when they got out of the military.

He has never been entirely sure how it had happened, but due to the vast amounts of what was essentially rubbing alcohol they’d been drinking, it had gone from Falsworth’s family funded retirement, Gabe’s plans to aimlessly wander Europe, and Morita helping with his brother’s chartered fishing service, to them deciding that they should all stay together, which had rapidly devolved into somehow becoming fishermen (in France, because Gabe was fluent in French).

Yes that made them all responsible for coming up with the stupid idea, but it was Monty that had made it a reality. He was the one who found Dernier after all.

Jacques Dernier had spent years working bomb-disposal for Sécurité Civile before inheriting his father’s fishing boat.

Monty – whose French was enthusiastic but unintelligible – and Dernier – whose English was even worse – had met in a bar near the dock in Marseilles. Through some inexpert translation via a drunk backpacker, they had somehow managed to come to an arrangement.

At that point in time Jim had been going out of his mind with boredom, helping his brother take tourists out into the San Francisco bay and pretending that the fish being caught were impressive and clearly worth the effort. When Monty had shown up it had taken him all of about a second to pack.

They have been at it for about eighteen months now, and despite the fact that they barely know what they are doing, they’ve at least broken even.

Dumdum no longer gets sea sick 70% of the time and has actually managed to procure a license to drive their vessel, they can nearly (mostly) understand what Dernier is shouting even without Gabe there to translate, and so far nobody’s fallen off of the ship and drowned.

It’s nice being away from the large crowds and noise of the city. Every now and then they make port in Marseilles for a weekend, mostly to unload their haul, but the majority of their time is spent out on the Mediterranean.

Usually it’s great, the brisk sea air, constantly having something to do. Being surrounded by guys that don’t care if you need to go sit quietly by yourself for an hour in the dark, that don’t get mad when you wake up screaming in the middle of the night, and who never have pity hiding in the recesses of their eyes. It’s one of the best things to happen to him in a good long while.

Of course it would be a lot better if he weren’t about to lose his junk to frostbite.

Sucking in another drag of his cigarette (one of those bad habits he picked up in the army and hasn’t managed to kick, especially in the moments when he needs something to do with his hands) Jim exhales, eyes sweeping over the horizon as much as the various lines and knots holding everything on board in place.

He’s almost made a full lap of the boat, back to the empty beer bottle artfully duct-taped to the wall. It’s taped up next to the door that leads down to the living quarters as an ashtray, for his and Dernier’s cigarettes as well as Dumdum’s cigars when they’re on deck.

It’s not until he’s stubbing the butt out on the wet rim of the bottle that he sees it, moonlight glinting off of something in the water.

Every inch of him freezes, mind already jumping to seven different scenarios that all involve explosive devices and enemy snipers. The mist of icy salt water that’s hitting the side of his face is what brings him back to here, to the middle of the goddamn night out in the middle of the Mediterranean. Not in the dessert. Not anymore.

There’s only just enough moon visible for the light to catch off whatever is floating in the water, could even be just the water itself. But there’s no way he’ll do anything but lay awake, worrying about what it could be, if he tries to ignore it and head below deck.

The rain is starting to pick up, storm rolling in fast as more clouds sweep overhead and obscure what little light is left. Jim resigned himself months ago to never really being completely dry.

He’s almost to the rail, leaning out and trying to shield his eyes from the rain for a better sightline. He should have grabbed a light, it’s so dark that he can barely see his hand in front of his face let alone something tiny floating a ways away.

The lightning is sudden, striking only a fraction of a second before the thunder, a booming crash that echoes in the open air as everything is illuminated in a flash of white.


by Nostalgia-in-Starlight

The yell leaves him before he can stop himself, because that is a man floating face-up in the water. The man doesn’t respond to the sound, clearly unconscious as he rolls about with the waves, his mouth and nose barely staying above the surface.

Jim doesn’t hesitate, throwing the door below deck open and screaming, “Man overboard!” at the top of his lungs.

It sounds cliché after he’s said it. Like this is some massive ship and they’re playing pretend at being sailors. But it’s the first thing that pops into his head, and he knows that no matter how deeply unconscious they were, every single man below deck is now awake and on their way up.

Running back over to the rail he searches the floating man out, relieved to see that he’s actually drifting closer, close enough that they should be able to pull him up with a boat-hook instead of having to dive over into the frigid water.

By the time Jim’s got the long pole over the edge and is gently guiding it to grab on to the back of the floating man’s clothing, Gabe and Dumdum are on either side of him, Dumdum grabbing onto the pole and helping him heft as Gabe leans dangerously over the side to pull the man on board.

They don’t speak, the only sounds being the splash of the waves, and the crash of thunder that drowns out their grunts of exertion. Monty and Dernier are there to help pull him the rest of the way over, gently laying him out on the deck.

“Get him below,” Jim calls out, walking ahead to hold the door, “and mind his head.”

As a team, the five of them manage to navigate their way down the steep and narrow set of stairs that lead to the main hold of the ship. Jim hastily grabs the detritus of last night’s supper off of the table, pulling off his coat, gloves, and watch cap, before rushing over to grab his kit.

Monty’s taken charge of the others, clearing them out of his way and sending them back on deck to see if they can spot anyone else in the swell.

The silence that follows is sudden and jarring, the tumult of the weather outside barely audible. There’s a soft plink-plink-plink as water drips off of the man and onto the floor. He’s still unconscious, skin cold to the touch.

Jim checks his front over, barely pausing at the strange and somewhat tactical looking suit he’s wearing. It’s made out of some sort of wetsuit material, though parts of it feel reinforced like armour. There’s a series of buckles and clips down one side of his chest holding it closed. The entire left sleeve appears to be made out of some sort of metal plated armour, all the way down to cover his hand like a glove.

There aren’t any wounds he can make out on the man’s front, his face is pale and his breathing is shallow, but his pulse is steady.


by Lorien

Gently Jim rolls him over, careful to turn his head to the side. The man’s hair is long, almost past his collarbones, and dark brown. He feels a little weird brushing it back behind his ear, but it feels weirder leaving it covering his face. Weird and a little unnerving.

Once he’s on his stomach Jim can see them, three holes in the back of the suit, two spread over his right shoulder blade and one down on the left. It’s closer to his spleen than Jim would like, but he’ll deal with that when he gets to it. The fabric around them is already growing darker, the blood seeping through now that he’s out of the water.

Opening his kit Jim pulls out a pair of scissors, not bothering to roll him back over and struggle with the complicated fastenings on the front. The suit is two pieces, a top and pants, making it easier to manoeuvre. The fabric is thick and hard to cut through, he needs both hands to roughly hack his way along the centre. Once he’s sawed through the collar he drops the scissors, and gently, so as to not shift his shoulder too much, pulls the man’s right arm through.

When he gets to the other side he has to stop. The left arm isn’t some kind of armour plating covering him from shoulder to fingertips, it’s actually his goddamned arm. There’s rough and angry looking scars at the place where the metal meats flesh, the skin mottled and warm to the touch. The arm itself his heavy, making a solid thunk as he lays it back on the table. There’s a star, painted bright red on the curve below the shoulder joint.

Shaking his head he turns back to the wounds. Compartmentalisation: a special ops medic’s best friend.

Apparently battlefield triage is like riding a goddamned bicycle, his hands are steady as he pushes up his sleeves and pulls on a pair of gloves. The feel of the latex is familiar, in an oddly soothing way.

Lucky for the guy, the bullets aren’t too deep. The thick fabric of his suit must have been designed for protection, reinforced like armour. At least enough that the bullets are still quite close to the surface.

The icy water seems to have helped slow the bleeding a little, and Jim’s hands motions are sure and practiced as he digs each slug out and drops it into an empty tin cup.

He’s poised ready to apply some pressure to the wounds when they start bleeding again, but the bleeding has almost completely stopped. For a confused second he thinks the guy might be dead, but his back is still rising and falling, and there’d still be some blood even if his heart had just stopped beating.

The closer he looks the more concerned he gets because honestly? The wounds look like they’re already healing. Which, in Jim’s expert medical opinion, is really fucking weird.

Nothing adds up, he thinks as he tapes some gauze down over each wound.

He’s not showing any signs of hypothermia, and even the briefest of dips into the water at this temperature is sure to show some hint of the cold. And if he wasn’t in there long enough for the chill to take hold then Jim should have seen whatever vessel he apparently fell off of.

Pulling off his gloves he holds the back of his hand against the guy’s forehead. It’s warm but not fever warm, and there’s some definite colour to his cheeks. His breathing remains deep and even, and as he searches out a pulse he finds it to be strong and steady.

The more he examines, the less he finds. There aren’t any head wounds, no other cuts or bruises; there’s nothing to suggest he’s been tied up or restrained in any way, and he seems well fed if a little pale. Apart from the oddly mild bullet holes in his back the guy seems in better health than Jim.

Sighing he turns away from the unconscious guy. He’s got to pack away his kit, then find somewhere to put him. He’s idly considering which berth would be best and whether the others found anything else floating in the water when the boat gives a small lurch.

The swell must be picking up outside, and the few unsecured items in the room that slide with the sudden shift mask the sound of movement.

Jim’s not an oblivious guy, it may have been a couple of years ago but he was in Special Forces and that kind of hypervigilance doesn’t really go anywhere in a hurry. But he’s completely blind-sided by the flurry of movement. There’s a hand wrapped around his throat and shoving him hard against the wall.

“What the hell are you doing to me?!”

His voice is gravelly, each sound scratching against his throat like it’s trying to claw its way out. His eyes are wide and wild, darting around the room. When they focus back on Jim the piercing grey is so focused he feels like they’re about to rend the flesh clean off of his bones.

“What the hell are you doing to me?!” It’s stronger this time but no less rough, the fear clear in every syllable.

Jim tries to answer, honestly he does, but the guy’s squeezing his windpipe so tight he’s starting to hear his own pulse, rapidly beating in his ears.

“Where am I?” Jim’s roughly shaken, skull rattling against the wall. “Who are you?”

This time he manages to get a few inarticulate choking sounds out. There’s a pause where the edge of his vision is starting to darken, and the pounding has grown so that he can feel each thudding pulse beat through his entire skull, before the guy releases his grip.

The coughing and spluttering hurts like a motherfucker, and Jim’s pretty sure he’s going to have some serious bruising around his neck. He rubs at it gently, slumping forward slightly and sliding down the wall. He doesn’t collapse on the ground like he wants to, the guy is still standing too close in front of him, hands tensed like they’re going to reach out and grab.

Once his breathing is a little less shaky, he’ll try and explain, he’s not too sure how well his voice is going to hold up but the poor guy’s been shot and dumped off a boat, and Jim wants to help him despite the near strangulation. He doesn’t get a chance, the metal arm emitting a whirring sound as several of the plates adjust and realign.

It’s loud, even over the sounds of Jim panting like he’s run a marathon, and if it startles him, it’s nothing compared to the poor guy it’s attached to.

He’s staring down at his arms in absolute horror, like he’s never seen them before and with an unpleasant lurching sensation in his gut Jim realises he might not have. He tries to straighten but the guy’s eye flick back to him, laser focused and ready to strike.

“Easy pal,” he rasps out, slowly raising his hands in front of him, “I’m just trying to help. We found you in the water.”

“The water?” He hasn’t attacked, though his body is coiled tense enough that were he to, Jim has no doubts he’d be dead in seconds.

“The ocean. We found you floating and pulled you aboard.” He nods to the cup still sitting near the table. “You were shot, I took the bullets out and patched you up.”

The tension doesn’t bleed out of him, but it’s different now. He’s not ready to lash out, but he’s definitely close to breaking point. His eyes are darting around everywhere, taking in the table, the tin cup, the small porthole over the other side of the room, the fairly nautical looking walls and paint job.

“Do you know what happened?” Jim asks gently, taking a small step forward.

The guy tenses up even further, looking for the world like a cornered animal, so he freezes where he is.

“Easy pal, I’m not going to hurt you.” He tries to make his smile reassuring. “My name’s Jim, Jim Morita. How about you?”

If anything it makes him look more confused, his eyes darting down to the side, a small crease appearing between his eyebrows.

“What’s your name?” Jim tries again, tone light and encouraging.

“Oh god,” the guy sighs, almost under his breath. When he looks up it’s not at Jim but through him, “I don’t know.”

He’s barely gotten the words out before he’s collapsed, unconscious in a heap on the floor.

Well shit.

*

“What is it Sitwell?”

“It’s been confirmed sir, mission failed.”

*

“Знаете ли вы, кто я?”

“Dites-moi qui je suis.”

“Sag mir, wer ich bin.”

It doesn’t matter how many times he says it. It doesn’t matter what language he asks in. The words just come out, switching between dialects like everything else he’s tried. Easily and without thought.

The men who had pulled him out of the water have fed him and clothed him. They let him sleep in one of their beds, and agreed that it would be better for him if they didn’t alert the authorities. They haven’t asked for anything in return, arguing quite strenuously against his offers to help with their daily work.

That lasts for three days. On the fourth day he asks Jim, the medic (not a doctor, he’d argued when he’d first been called that) to take a look at the gunshot wounds in his back. Jim is halfway through asking about any pain as he slowly and gently pulls away the dressings. His question fades off somewhere in the middle.

There hasn’t been any pain, at least not in the wounds. There has been a constant ache in his skull, fading as the days go by but still present even now. But that makes a certain kind of sense, he can’t remember who he is after all.

But the most he’s felt on his back is a persistent and irritating itch, the reason he has come to Jim, asking if he could take a look at them.

“Is there something wrong?” Every single drop of emotion is squeezed from his voice. It’s flat, calm almost.

The silence stretches. Turning he finds Jim staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed, patch of gauze and tape held out in front of him like some sort of shield.

There’s a small mirror attached to the wall, he hurries over to it skirting around the table. The three seconds it takes to get there is plenty of time for the panic to rise swiftly, clawing its way up his throat and taking hold of his lungs. He can’t hear anything over the rushing of blood in his ears.

Outwardly he is calm. Outwardly he is always calm.

Each breath is painful, grating through his throat like barbed wire, burning in his lungs, and yet to any observer he knew that there’s nothing to show how incredibly panicked he is.

As he twists around to look at his reflection in the grimy mirror he can’t actually see anything, his vision blurred and unfocused. It takes him several seconds of rapid blinking to even locate the wounds.

“Wounds” isn’t actually the right word. They’re scars, the skin pink, shiny and new, stretched over the spots where not three days ago there had been bullets pulled out of his flesh. He has seen them, small and slightly misshapen and covered in his drying blood, rattling around the bottom of a tin cup that no one is going to drink from again.

Twisting further he pulls the last patch of gauze off from over the third wound, the one lower down on his back that Jim had told him was lucky not to have ruptured his spleen. It is just as healed as the other two, looking for all the world like it had occurred several weeks ago rather than several days.

By the time he turns back to face Jim the other man has composed himself.

“Those have healed quite nicely.” He smiles, the only thing betraying his confusion being the forced brightness to his tone.

But he doesn’t look scared, at least not scared of him, and that is a trend that continues over the course of his time on the boat. None of them are scared of him, at least not in the way that he is.

He is terrified of himself. Terrified by the fact that he can’t remember who he is, where he’s from. He’s terrified by the things that he does know, and can do despite that. On his eighth day he picks up a knife and immediately begins flipping it across his fingers, twirling the blade thoughtlessly, getting a feel for the balance.

When Gabe walks in to the kitchen he is a microsecond away from tossing the knife into the other man’s throat, eyes already marking the trajectory, muscles in his arm coiling in preparation. As it clatters to the ground Gabe is the one to grimace apologetically, like it’s his fault. He can see it in his dark brown eyes, regret that he’s startled him with his unannounced entrance.

The unending patience and understanding these men show with him is not only confusing, but make a weird lump rise in his throat every time he thinks too hard on it. They saved his life, they let him stay with them, they taught him how to help. Even though he’s been working, has taken turns on watch in the middle of the night, has risen before dawn to haul nets and crates, he will never be able to repay the debt he owes them.

The self-proclaimed Howling Commandoes have made him a part of their small and dysfunctional family. Sharing jokes and telling stories of their time together, they treat him like a normal human being, not some empty shell who will stop talking for minutes at a time, staring blankly at nothing. They gently bring him out of it, continuing whatever conversation is happening like he isn’t some sort of broken doll.

Dumdum is the one that starts calling him Sarge, ostensibly because he reminds him of a sergeant he’d gone to basic with. The others pick it up from him, citing that they feel uncomfortable with just giving him a name, because he already has one, even if he can’t remember what it is.

He doesn’t entirely feel like he deserves it, it is yet another gift that he can never repay. It makes him feel like a part of something, having a name they’ve given him the way they have given names to each other; Dumdum, Monty, Frenchy, Jim.

It’s weird to think that tomorrow they’ll be making port. After almost three weeks of this being the only thing that he has to remember, it’s just strange that it’s almost over. He’s not entirely sure how to feel about it.

But he can’t stay on this boat forever, he knows that he can’t.

The Commandos don’t want to get his hopes up, so they carefully refrain from mentioning things like there being people waiting for him. Family, friends, someone who knows him, who can help him figure out who he is, how he got here.

There’s a not so small part of him that dreads the answer to that unasked question. What if there isn’t? What if he never remembers who he is? What if he’s stuck, wandering aimlessly around Europe, no name, no memory, nothing to his name but the small collection of clothing that the others have given him?

It’s thoughts like those that have him hiding in the galley, arms wrapped tight around his torso like if he can just squeeze hard enough he can stop himself from coming apart at the seams. Sucking in a breath he tries to loosen his hold, stop the metal from squeezing his lungs so tightly.

He’s got his flesh and blood hand gripping his metal arm like a vice, wishing it too were flesh and blood, so he could actually feel the way his fingernails dig in.

It’s disconcertingly smooth. Even after close to three weeks of hauling fish and digging around the boat’s engine with Dumdum, there isn’t a single blemish on the surface. Which is why it’s so surprising to feel multiple small indentations on one of the plates. It’s on the back of the arm, where – if it were his actual arm – the base of his triceps would meet his elbow.

He loses time standing there, running his finger across the marks. At first touch it could be mistaken as a single scratch, but the more he skims the pad of his index finger over it, the less likely that is. It’s far too straight and the marks are broken, disjointed. There are longer lines and tiny dots that almost felt like pin pricks.

Morse code. The second the thought has popped into his head he can feel it, the distinct breaks between dots and dashes, the uniformity of each mark.

“Hey Sarge.” The sound of Gabe entering the galley makes him jump, his finger slipping off of the plate. “I was about to get some dinner going, wanna give me hand?”

Ignoring the question he hurries over to the other man, turning so he can hold his elbow out behind him.

“Can you see that?” he asks, thrusting it towards Gabe.

Pain is shooting through the back of his shoulder, tearing at the muscles and tugging on several spots on his collar bone and shoulder blade, the points where they figure the arm is anchored to his skeleton. He doesn’t flinch away from the pain, though a small portion of his brain recognises that he should. Instead he pushes it back further, trying to get it as close to Gabe as he can.

Gabe doesn’t say anything, just quietly leans forward to look. In that moment he’s never been more grateful for the way that Gabe, like the others, never make him feel like he’s stupid. They answer his questions, even when he asks them halfway through a conversation that has absolutely nothing to do with what he wants to suddenly know.

On top of that they’ve taken to trying to comfort him by suggesting increasingly crazy and outlandish scenarios as to how he ended up here.

They can’t actually be what happened. He knows that he didn’t fall out of an aeroplane, singlehandedly saving the world by disarming a nuclear device. But it’s nice to hear anyway, knowing that they try to keep their actual theories to themselves. It is a kindness.

But he’s heard them, talking quietly to each other. His hearing is another one of those things that scares him, that he can pick up and differentiate between so many sounds at distances farther than what is normal.

Before they knew he could speak French (like most things, even he didn’t know he could until it happened) he had overheard Dernier and Gabe discussing it. Words like “human experimentation”, “government funding”, and “illegal torture” that had sent ice cold chills down his spine.

Something unpleasant was lurking in his head, he could feel it stirring in the back of his mind, pressing at the edges of his memory and trying to break through. He shied away from it, flinching internally like it was the threat of violence looming over him, not simple memories. Either way he knew that he never wanted it to break through, he never wanted to remember whatever would inspire such a reaction.

“Sorry Sarge,” sighed Gabe, dragging him back to the present, “I can’t see– wait, there’s a tiny little scratch near your elbow.”

“That’s it,” he replied, trying to keep the impatience out of his voice and probably failing. “Can you look closer? It doesn’t feel like a scratch.”

“You mind if I touch it?” The Commandoes had noticed from the beginning that he’d reacted badly to being touched, especially when it took him by surprise.

His nod is a hurried jerking motion, his desire to know what exactly he’s found and potentially learn something, anything, about himself outweighs any discomfort the thought of Gabe being too close brings.

Gabe is so gentle, carefully cradling his elbow as he gently runs his finger over the small panel. The new position is much kinder on his shoulder, the throb of pain easing almost immediately.

“Holy shit,” whispers Gabe, voice little more than a single exhalation of air, “it’s, it feels like-”

“Morse code.” He doesn’t have the patience to wait for the other man to get past his baffled astonishment.

“Yeah.” Gabe shuffles closer, almost chest-to-back with him and continues to run his index finger over and over the metal.

He can’t feel it. Some parts of the arm can pick up on pressure and a little heat and cold. He’s found that the most sophisticated sensory input is in his hand and fingers. But whoever designed the arm hadn’t found it necessary to make this particular part capable of any of that.

“Besoin d’aide avec diner?” The pair of them flinch in tandem at Dernier’s entrance. “Désolé, je ne voulai pas… interrompre.”

Blinking he looks from Dernier to Gabe over his shoulder, noticing the way the other man is gently holding on to him, close enough that he can feel the warm exhalations against the back of his neck. The intimacy feels foreign to him, but he knows exactly how it looks, and what Jacques’ sly tone is implying. Before he has a chance to explain, Gabe beats him to it, not even switching to French like he usually does when speaking with Dernier.

“Get some paper and a pen,” he barks out, finger not ceasing its movement along the panel.

Sensing the excited tension in the room Dernier is quick to comply, rummaging through one of the drawers they keep odds and ends in, pulling out a scrap of paper and a biro.

“Dash-dash,” Gabe begins reciting the second Dernier is ready, “dot, dash-dot-dot, dot-dash-dash, dot, dash-dot-dot, dash-dot-dot-dash.”

Dernier is scribbling translations as he goes. Gabe gently releases the metal arm before walking to read over Dernier’s shoulder.

MEDWEDX

“You think maybe it’s some sort of anagram?” asks Gabe, glancing between him and Dernier. “Some sort of code maybe? Another language?”

The second Gabe mentions languages he recognises the word. The Morse code may translate to medwedx in the Latin alphabet, but in Cyrillic it is медведь, medved’, which means bear.

As the word and its translation register he hears it, echoing in his mind like a whisper. It’s a female voice, husky and deep. He can smell gun oil, some sort of perfume, floral yet musky. It’s accompanied by a flash of red, like blood against snow.

“На всякий случай, медведь”“Just in case, bear.”It’s not quite a whole memory, just fragments, dizzying and disjointed, fuzzy around the edges in a way that doesn’t entirely feel real.

His fingers return to the indentations, according to Gabe they’re barely visible, and he can only just feel them. They are on a part of the arm that’s fairly well hidden, he hasn’t attempted to pull any of the panels open, but he assumes that they are capable of exposing the inner workings of the arm. How else would it be possible to perform maintenance on it if required? But he can’t think of any reason someone would want to examine this particular panel. It doesn’t appear to grant access to the elbow at all so it’s no good for working on the joint.

It is for him, a secret that only the two of them knew about. He doesn’t know who she is, but she helped him to put it there. He can’t remember it, but he knows it as truth.

Just in case, bear.

It sounds like an endearment, teasing but still sincere. A name for him that is his and yet isn’t, just like the name Sarge. Another secret they had between them.He runs his finger once along the marks, pausing at the end and pressing his finger down before he can even think about it. There’s a small click as it gives, the tiny panel popping open less than a quarter of an inch, barely open at all. The scrap of paper falls out almost immediately, right into his hand. He pushes the metal closed, feeling it click once more as it locks into place.

Gabe and Jacques are still arguing amongst themselves, trying to parse out what the hell the Morse code means, not paying him any attention. He doesn’t know why he slips the paper into his pocket, why he doesn’t speak up. It has nothing to do with trust, he trusts these men more than he trusts himself most of the time.

Maybe it’s having something that is his, something that he found for him. Everything he owns was a gift from the Commandoes, and selfishly he likes the idea of having this one small thing.

“We should get started on dinner before Dumdum starts whining,” he mumbles once their discussion has run out of steam.

He’s abusing their kindness he knows, relying on the fact that they’ll go along with what he says if he changes the subject.

They don’t ask him about it, Dernier chatting away happily in French (they slip easily into the language when it’s just the three of them, when they don’t have to worry about excluding the others) about their day as they prepare dinner.

When the rest of them come down to eat with them they switch back to English, listening as Jim and Monty gleefully relay the story of Dumdum nearly falling overboard this afternoon. It’s not until he’s been sitting there staring at his potatoes for fifteen minutes that he realises that he wants to talk about it.

There’s a base level thrum of fear at the thought, spiking every time he shifts his jaw ready to speak. It spikes again when he moves to settle back in his chair slightly, ready to not say anything at all. He’s learned to trust any and all instincts, but he’s confused by the way that both options are filling him with the same amount of dread. Tell or don’t tell?

Always tell, lying means punishment, hiding means punishment.

He’s gotten good at not reacting to the thoughts, maybe he’d just always been good at not reacting to them, it’s not like he’d ever know. They feel like an instinct, but with a fraction of a second delay. Instead of his body just moving the way it’s supposed to or doing the thing it needs, there’s a moment where he can feel it, like a thought, telling him to move.

It echoes through his mind, high pitched, insistent, scared. He’s learned to trust the voice, to a degree, but he’s also scared shitless by it. Because it’s just one more thing – on the growing list of things – that make him feel like he never wants to find out who he was.

Tell, don’t tell… just thinking about it sends an unpleasant roll of nausea through him. It’s not about what he should do, it’s about what he wants to do, he decides. It may be something he found that is his, one of the only things that is completely, but that means that he gets to decide what to do with it. And he wants to share.

The tiny slip of paper is rolled tightly like a scroll, maybe an inch long if that. As Gabe and Jacques explain finding the markings on his arm he sits, half listening. By the time the other Commandoes have started throwing around suggestions for what the seemingly random combination of letters mean, he’s got the scroll pinched between his forefinger and thumb. It’s hidden under the table, resting on his lap, he rolls it back and forth working up the courage to speak up.

“It means bear.” He says it quietly, he only ever speaks quietly though. Every time he tries talking louder than a low murmur it comes out rough like sandpaper. More like a hoarse growl than human speech.

Silence falls immediately, the increasingly loud yet still good natured argument the Commandoes had been getting into dying down at once as all five of them turn to face him. His muscles tense slightly at the attention, his eyes darting around. But there’s no hint of a threat to the way that they wait, just patience tinged with excitement.

They are excited for him, excited that he is slowly remembering.

"медведь.” The Russian sounds much better suited to his gravelly voice. “It’s Russian for bear. I…”

The flash of red, the teasing lilt to her voice. Was she a friend? A lover? Is she out there looking for him, wondering where he’s gone?

Even after he’s trailed off into silence they don’t pressure him to continue, just keep waiting with all of the seemingly boundless amounts of patience they keep showing.

“I think that she called me medved’.” He tries to make it a statement, to make his voice certain, but there’s still a hint of a question at the end.

“Well you look it Sarge.” Dumdum’s voice is always loud and clear, he’s learned to stop himself from flinching every time he speaks.

“Especially with your beard growing in,” adds Monty, “you look like a proper grizzly.”

“Maybe that’s where your arm went,” suggests Jim, “you lost it off wrestling bears in Siberia.”

They never shy away from talking about the arm, never treating it any differently than his other one. Even when he uses it to lift objects heavier than what any one man should be able to handle.

And they never pretend that it is not there. Sometimes the only thing he can feel is grateful to whomever saw fit that despite whatever had happened to him before, he wound up being found by these men.

“I remember…” If he sounded uncertain before, it’s nothing compared to how he sounds now. “She said it was just in case.”

Five pairs of eyes follow his hand as he brings it up from his lap. Laying it on the table he uncurls his fist to reveal the tiny roll of paper.

“That was hidden behind the panel?” He nods, even though Gabe’s to busy looking at the arm to see. “Have you opened it yet?”

He’s done nothing but fiddle with it since he found it, his hand constantly reaching into his pocket just to check that it is still there.

“Do you want to?” The question is spoken much more softly.

Initially he had been filled with a burning hunger for any information he could get, any shred he could discover about himself. But…

He had hesitated, he didn’t read it straight away. He may not know a lot but he knows that there is a reason for that. There’s that thrum of fear again, not as loud or as pointed as the scared voice, but that small sense of trepidation is something he has a lot of respect for.

And yet, he wants to know. It would be too easy to ignore it, spend the rest of his life in the relative safety of this boat, hiding behind the kindness and compassion from the Howling Commandoes like a child behind a blanket. Often he’s found himself seriously considering it, late at night when he can’t sleep over the barrage of unanswered questions and insecurities flashing through his mind like a constant drone.

Sucking in a breath he nods, unrolling the tiny scrap with trembling fingers. Part of him wants to rush, get it over with as quickly as he can, like pulling off a Band-Aid. But a larger part of him is absolutely terrified of destroying the closest thing to a clue to his identity he’s got.

It’s almost anticlimactic. Opening the paper he doesn’t find a name or a photo, there’s no phone number, no “in case of emergency…” helpfully written for him to follow.

000-7-17-12-0-14-26
Gemeinschaftsbank
Zurich

The Commandoes don’t ask to see the paper, they don’t shuffle or sigh or in any way indicate impatience. They allow him to sit, staring at the numbers and words as if he could just magically remember why he has them if he could only look at them hard enough.

It never works out that way, he’s spent hours upon hours locked away from the others doing just that.

Writing and reading in nearly six different languages. He can fold a paper crane, he knows how to make macaroni and cheese, he can gut a fish, sew, run through a set of exercises for his arm each morning almost as soon as he wakes up. He can do all of that and more without even thinking.

Dumdum had come across him once, sitting in the middle of the floor staring at the small lengths of rope he’d twisted and contorted into almost ornate knots that he’d been tying and untying for nearly two hours. The comment Dumdum had made in passing about everything coming back to him had cause him to snap. It was the only time he’d ever raised his voice, yelling at Dumdum and allowing the anger and uncertainty he’s felt since he’d woken up to flow through him unimpeded.

Nothing had helped, his body seemed to remember everything it had ever been taught, yet his mind, his fucking mind, was completely blank of anything even close to useful.

Silently he hands the paper to Gabe. He can’t bring himself to pull his eyes up from the table, fixating on the old and scarred Formica like it could somehow tell him who he is. Even without looking he still knows everything that is happening. He can still hear as each and every man seated around the table has the scrap of paper handed to him, knows exactly how long each of them read it before continuing to circle, know which of them fiddle with the edges, which grip it too tight.

Yet another thing they don’t talk about, not with any real seriousness at least. They may joke about him eating his spinach, but that doesn’t explain the things that he can do. The strength is one thing, he can usually play it off on the metal arm; it’s a machine, it should be stronger than he is. But the other things, the way that he can hear whispered conversations on the opposite side of the boat, even over wind and rain, the way that he can run the length of the boat three times over in the time it takes any of the others to do it once.

“It is less than a day to Zurich by train.” It’s Jacques that breaks the silence.

There is absolutely no way he can get to Zurich by train. He knows it with more certainty than he knows anything else. He has nothing, not cent to his name, at least not that he could use for something as basic as train fair. For all he knows the number is to a vault in the bank that is filled from floor to ceiling in gold bricks. That still doesn’t help the fact that the only things he has to trade for passage to Zurich are the clothes off of his back and they aren’t even his.

Not many people would accept a pair of Dumdum’s old boots as payment.

“We were going to save this until tomorrow when we docked.”

He’s so absorbed by the way he can feel his heart beat speeding up that he almost doesn’t register that Monty is talking to him. It’s nearly impossible to hear his over the sound of his pulse in his ears anyway.

Monty is the de facto leader of the crew, something about him being the highest ranking member among them from when they fought together in their respective militaries. It’s Dernier’s boat, but Monty’s money that got them started. They defer to him for decisions, refusing to call him Captain however, usually addressing him with his formal rank. The emphasis on the American pronunciation of Lieutenant has nothing to do with respect however, and everything to do with making fun of their friend.

Monty pulls an envelope out of the inside pocket of his jacket, sliding the crumbled and slightly grubby looking paper package across the table. It’s filled with even grubbier and more crumpled bills.

“It’s not much,” he continues in his smooth accent, “but it should be more than enough to get you to Zurich.”

“We all pitched in,” adds Jim brightly.

Looking at it he can see that it’s close to €500.

“No.”

He doesn’t get any further than that, throat closing up so he can’t get the words out. It’s too much, he doesn’t deserve it, it’s their money, why would they…? Shaking his head he makes to shove the cash back across the table.

No one reaches out to stop him, the five of them keeping their hands exactly where they are. But he knows even before his arm is halfway extended that they aren’t going to take it back. Stubborn is one way of putting it, idiotic is more accurate. Part of him is already mapping out places on the boat where he could easily hide the money, easy for them to find, but hard enough that it will take them a couple of days.

“Look,” begins Dumdum, leaning across the table slightly, “thanks to you the engine doesn’t sound like it’s about to explode every other day. Trust us, you’ve earned it.”

He’d taken to pottering around in the engine room when the open air and bright sun on deck had grown to be too much, fleeing from to somewhere dark and cool. He isn’t sure exactly how he went from pressing himself into the tightest corner to stop from feeling like he was about to shake apart, to messing around with the engine itself. He found an old and mostly incomplete toolbox somewhere and before he knew it had started pulling the engine apart, cleaning and oiling and generally just trying to restore what little he could.

Once Dumdum had caught him down there he started to join him, listening to him explain what he was doing, and helping where he could. Dumdum could drive anything that moved, at least anything mechanical. He was ok with engines, but hadn’t ever worked on something as large as the one that powered the small fishing vessel.

He wasn’t sure when (if) he had worked on an engine of this size, but his hands were steady and sure, going through the motions and slowly staining themselves black with very little thought.

Despite what little he had done as an impromptu mechanic, it was barely enough to repay the debt he already owed them, from saving his life to feeding him and giving the clothes off their back (almost literally), there was no way he could even hope to come close. Forget about adding money to the mix.

But he knows, even before opening his mouth that there’s no way they’ll accept that. Little shits would probably just try find a way to sneak more in, just to be contrary sons of bitches.

So instead of arguing, he manages to mumble a thanks, tucking the cash into his pocket.

It’s Dumdum that breaks the silence, promptly starting an argument with Jacques about whose turn it is to do the dishes. He knows better than to offer, there is a roster in place for chores. Unfortunately no one seemed to see it necessary to write said roster down, meaning that every night it was a chorus of “no, no I did it two nights ago!” that would often turn into a scuffle depending on who was involved.

Leaving them to it, the rest start to quietly clear their plates, dropping them one by one into the sink for whoever out of Dumdum and Jacques lose the argument tonight. He knows for a fact that it’s Gabe’s turn to clean, and when he makes eye contact with him, all he gets is a sly smirk and a wink. He’s not going to bring it up if nobody else does.

It’s Monty that suggests they all go to bed. They have to be up even earlier than usual, ready to make port in Marseilles in the morning and start unloading their haul.

Though he dutifully follows the Lieutenant’s instructions, changing into his borrowed pyjamas, brushing his teeth with his borrowed toothbrush, he doesn’t go to sleep. Instead he lies there, curled under the covers like they can somehow protect him from what is coming tomorrow.

In less than eight hours they’ll be making port, and though he plans on staying to help them unload, it’s still only what feels like in equal measure the shortest and longest period of time before he will be by himself. No name, nothing but the clothes he’ll be wearing, the money he’s been gifted and an account number for a bank in another country to help him find his way.

Pulling the covers tighter around him, he shuts his eyes, wishing for the oblivion of sleep.

*

The shock of being in port is one he’s not prepared for. First it’s being on solid ground for the first time, he knows that theoretically he would have spent more time on land than out at sea, that his muscles – so good at performing actions he has no memory of again and again – should be ready for disembarking the boat. And yet for the first hour he’s slightly off balance, body prepared for a roll of the waves that never comes.

After that it’s the noise. For three weeks all he’s heard are the rumblings of the aged engine, the voices of five other men and the splash of the water against the side of the boat. Now there are more voices, men angrily shouting in French, the laughter of a group of small children playing around some empty crates nearby.

Cars and bicycles driving past, the smell of fumes mixed with freshly baked bread from the small patisserie across the road. The smell of fish is stronger, three other boats docked nearby unloading their haul. It’s almost suffocating.At first it was easy to ignore, too busy helping the Howling Commandoes unload their own haul, not much room to focus on anything else. But now it is lunchtime and they’ve finished. Monty and Dernier are chatting to an official looking man, with a large but well-groomed beard, arguing good-naturedly.

He’s hanging back with the others, Dumdum has a half smoked cigar hanging out from under his moustache, and Jim had offered him one of his cigarettes. It’s familiar, in a comforting way, the drag of smoke into his lungs.

By the time they head back over, Monty rolling his eyes indulgently as Dernier badmouths the bearded man, the anxiety has been building for a while. A hollow, slightly sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He knows it’s time to go, that he has to leave the relative safety of the boat and head out into the unknown, try and find himself.

It sounds stupid to put it like that, like he’s on some sort of journey of self-discovery, fresh out of high school and ready to take on the big bad world. It’s much more literal for him though, actually searching for any and all clues as to who the fuck he actually is. He doesn’t even have a name. It rolls constantly through his mind, building in volume the longer he tries to ignore it.

Turning to the others, he’s ready to go. Well, he’s trying to pretend he’s ready at least, but he’s worked up enough courage to tell them goodbye.

His mouth is barely open when Gabe steps forward, slightly sad smile on his face.

“Can I hug you?” The question takes him by surprise. Not the fact that Gabe would ask, of the five of them he is the best at remembering the skittish reactions he has to being touched, asking casually every time like it’s not something strange and abnormal.

His words have left him, but he nods, managing to suppress the instinctive flinch as Gabe steps forward. His muscles still tense, he can’t do anything to stop that, the way he reacts to something surrounding him, restraining him.

But the hug doesn’t feel like restraint, Gabe’s hold is warm and not too tight, it’s comforting like nothing he’s experienced so far and he melts into it slightly, relaxing as he hugs back. It doesn’t take the others long to join in, each of them vocalising something ostensibly to protest such a display of emotion but also to give him warning before they too have wrapped their arms around him.

He knows it looks strange, six grown, rough looking guys embracing. But he can’t find it in himself to care. It causes a weird lump to rise in his throat, eyes and nose burning slightly.

All at once they let go, stepping backwards in a single motion. There’s a sense of relief, probably better described as comfort, to see that he’s not the only one looking a little wet around the eyes. Gabe’s smile is too bright, like he’s forcing himself to remain positive and encouraging. Dumdum’s moustache is twitching slightly as he blinks rapidly.

The mumbled, “thank you,” doesn’t feel like enough. Honestly he doesn’t think he could ever say anything that could come close to being enough, not in any of the languages he knows. Never in the rest of his life will he do anything that will fully repay them for the kindness they have shown him.

They don’t seem to mind though, smiling back at him like it’s plenty.

“We’ll be here for another four days,” says Monty, “then we’re out again for three weeks.”

The invitation to come back if ever he needs to isn’t spoken aloud, but he hears it anyway. Looking between their faces he knows that whatever happens, if he goes out to find nothing, nothing about who he is, where he is from, no hint to any of it, he will always be welcome here.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Walking to the train station takes longer than he would like, but the alternative is asking for a ride with someone. Just the thought of being trapped inside an enclosed pace with a stranger is enough to have him huddled in a small alley, shaking out of his skin.

By the time he pulls himself together enough to keep walking to Gare Marseille Saint-Charles it’s nearing four o’clock. It takes him twenty minutes to walk what Dernier told him would take half an hour. He knows that he could make the journey in less time than he does, but the entire way his eyes scan over every single person in his path, tourists, children, men, women, it doesn’t matter. They all get a thorough once over.

He doesn’t like the thought of playing into his paranoia. But checking everyone out to see if they are paying him too much attention, looking over their clothes to see if and where they are hiding weapons, it distracts him from the gaping chasm of panic that he’s not going to find anything in Zurich.

There’s not another train for an hour by the time he makes it into the crowded station. He purchases a ticket, parting with almost all of the money the Commandoes had given him.

They had lunch at the docks, before they started unloading. Dernier had run away and returned with pastries and coffee. He liked coffee, even the black sludge they made on the boat every morning, but the milky concoction in the cardboard cup that Dernier had presented him with made his brain misfire slightly, it was so delicious.

He manages to purchase another café au lait, and a sandwich from a small and, according to the couple behind him in line, overpriced café. The pavilion is too much for him, large glass ceilings and windows, hundreds of people. There are trees planted along the walkway at intervals.

Tugging Gabe’s coat a little tighter around himself he heads to the platform, sitting as far away from anybody else as possible. Other commuters give him a wide berth, no one attempts to occupy the other half of the bench he’s seated on.

He knows how he looks, and probably smells come to think of it. His clothes are well worn and not the cleanest, laundry facilities on the boat weren’t the best and everything you washed ended up stinking of fish and soaking with salt water anyway. His beard isn’t long, darkening his jaw and standing out stark against his pale skin, but it had passed the vicinity of stubble two weeks ago.

He’s considered trimming it. His hair too, which was long enough to brush against his collar bones. The hair he’s kept because it’s one of his most distinguishing features (if you didn’t include the arm, which he wasn’t, choosing to cover it in a pair of gloves and long sleeves) and hopefully would make him recognisable if he came across anyone who knew who he was.

For the hour he waits for his train, he sits upright and completely still, eyes sweeping the area frequently.

He’s so worked up that he doesn’t sleep the entire way to Zurich. It’s close to seven hours by train, with only the one stop in the middle. The train is somehow worse than being below deck on the boat. The echoing rumble of the engine and screech of metal against the tracks have him gripping the armrests too tightly, his breath coming out short the entire way. By the time he makes it to Zurich it’s after eleven, and the left arm rest is distinctly misshapen.

He doesn’t have the money for a hotel, even if he found a cheap one, it’s far too late to be checking in anywhere without being memorable to the staff, and on the chance that the account number he had wasn’t for a secret vault filled with gold he didn’t want to waste any of his money until after he’d seen it.

It’s freezing cold, the snow has stopped falling but still covers the ground in a fairly thick layer. He manages two hours of sleep, curled up on a wooden bench in a small park before he’s awoken by the sound of voices.

On your feet! Can’t you read the signs?

It takes his brain a fraction of a second to process the German, distinctly Swiss. But he goes from asleep to awake in half of that.

The park is closed, you can’t sleep here.

There are two of them, both police officers, dressed in uniform with large fur trimmed hats to keep them warm. By the time he’s completely upright on the bench they are both standing in front of him. The taller of the two has his hands on his hips, frowning down at him over a rather impressively large nose. The other has his baton out, standing a little closer, he’s the one who is speaking.

Their breath comes out as small clouds of fog in the icy air, both of them watching him expectantly.

Come on, up,” the younger of the two speaks again, leaning over him slightly, “There is no sleeping here.

“Alright,” he sighs in response, rubbing tiredly at his eyes.

He’s exhausted and cold and in his tiredness responds in English.

Let’s see some identification.” It’s the taller officer that speaks this time. “Show me your papers.

He doesn’t have papers, he doesn’t have anything, just a little over a €100 and a tiny handwritten note.

“I don’t-” he shakes his head, switching from English. “No papers, I lost them. I lost my papers.

On your feet, let’s go, put your hands up.

He’s so fucking exhausted, and cold, right down to his bones. His left shoulder aches and he just wants to curl back up on the hard wooden bench and go to sleep. He just wants to sleep.

I just want to sleep.

The younger officer reaches forward with his baton, as if to tap him on the shoulder, yelling something angrily in German. He doesn’t hear what it is he commands, just sees the tip of the baton moving towards him from his slumped position. It’s like it happens in slow motion and yet in a fraction of a second at the same time.

One moment he’s tired, so tired he can barely muster the energy to sit upright. The next he’s got his hand around the end of the baton and he’s wide awake. The police officers both yell something, one yanking on his baton the other stepping forward on his other side.

He moves without thinking, pulling forward and catching the officer off balance, left hand shooting out to pull the officer’s sidearm from his belt. He smacks him across the temple with it, knocking him to the ground in an unconscious heap.

The second officer moves to pull his own weapon out. He’s on his feet before the first officer is even all the way on the ground, hand puling the baton from his slackened grip, throwing it at the second officer and hitting him square in the chest knocking the wind out of him.

Before the officer can recover he steps forward punching him in the face hard enough that he too is on the ground as unconscious as his partner.

It takes less than a breath from the time he was sitting to where he stands now, gun held expertly in his two hands, moving between the two men briefly until he is certain that they are down. He exhales slowly, and the silence breaks as the rest of the world rushes back in. He can hear some distant traffic, the trees rustling in the light breeze. He’s panting slightly, puffs of breath fogging up the air before his face.

Nausea rolls through his stomach at the sight of the two unconscious men, then at the gun still held in his hands. What did he – how did he –?

Dropping the gun he does the only thing he can, and runs from the park.

*

“…CEO and owner of the Kronos Corporation gave a statement today on his current expansion plans, surprising press with the story of an attempt on his life.”

We have been receiving a lot of red tape from the Government, more so than I would ever expect for a humble company such as my own. It makes me wonder what they are so afraid of. That the prospect of my business on their shores has concerned them so much that they would stoop to such an attempt. I-”

“That’s Aleksander Lukin, former KGB, now private citizen and industrialist. He defected to the US as the KGB was dissolved, was with us for two years before deciding to return to Russia after we wouldn’t allow him to re-form his private enterprises here.

“In this interview – and I’ll make the tape available to anyone who wants it – he goes on to describe an attempt on his life three weeks ago. He was a nightmare when he was on our side and now that the Russians are no longer being as indulgent with him, he’s trying to come back. He’s threatening to share information on supposed illegal experiments and missions performed by the agency if we don’t help him.

“The Director wants to know if there’s any truth to his claim that we’re the ones who tried to kill him. I told him there’s no one that reckless on my senior staff. Dismissed.”

“Karpov? A word please.”

“What can I do for you Pierce?”

“I seem to recall us having a conversation not too long ago about your former protégé, Department X in particular. The Winter Soldier’s name popped up if I recall correctly.”

“Your point?”“Someone tried to take Lukin out. Tried and failed. Was it the Soldier?”

“You’re asking me a direct question? I thought you weren’t ever going to do that.”

“Did you deploy the asset?”

“A handler couldn’t remain with him on the boat, he was to be invisible. We lost contact with him.”

“That was almost three weeks ago. You’re telling me the Asset is not only loose but is more than a week outside the safe parameters for recalibration, and you have no idea where he is?”

“It’s been nearly two weeks since he should have been wiped.”

“Two weeks.”

“We’ve been working around the clock; we’re sleeping down there. We’re doing everything in our power to track him down.”

“And you didn’t see it necessary to let me know?”

“You’ve never wanted to know the specifics before.”

*

The night is spent wandering the city aimlessly, never stopping, avoiding any and all contact with other humans, terrified that he could snap again and hurt a group of innocent passers-by. He circles back around to the park, pleased to see that the two officers had been picked up by another patrol unit and taken to the hospital.

At the hospital he holds a dirty towel to his head, sitting in the waiting room near the coffee machine until the second pair of officers come past, chatting about their two friends making a recovery from fairly minor injuries, but being held overnight for observation.

He doesn’t realise just how relieved he is capable of feeling until he hears that he hasn’t killed anyone.

The bank opens at nine in the morning, but he forces himself to go to the small caffe next door and order some breakfast. Having a full stomach and more coffee calm his residual nerves somewhat. It’s nearly two in the afternoon.

Now all of his anxiety is focused on the well-dressed woman sitting behind the grand looking reception desk. She’s slim and blond, maybe in her early forties, dusky rose lipstick and perfectly coifed hair setting off her expensive looking cream suit and skirt.

Her greeting is in German, professional, yet friendly.

“I’m here about a numbered account.” He tries to make his voice sound confident, like he belongs here despite the fact that he looks homeless.

“Of course Sir,” she replies, switching into perfect if accented English. “Please could you enter your account number here and I will direct you to an appropriate officer.”

Smiling politely yet coolly, she slides a small pad of paper across to him. The paper is a thick and expensive card stock, and the pen is no better, heavy with subtle gold detailing. He writes the number down from memory, sliding it back to her with what he hopes is an equally calm smile.

His eyes wander as she moves away from him, speaking softly in a professional tone over the phone.

There’s a row of tellers to the left behind her, two men and one woman working. It’s quiet this early in the morning, only two of the tellers dealing with customers, the other typing away on his computer.

The older of the three is talking to what at first glance appears to be a teenager, barley taller than five foot (five three if he had to guess, and he knows with a sinking feeling that his guesses have proven to be more than accurate) and maybe 100 pounds soaking wet. He’s wearing dark skinny jeans tucked into a pair of clunky black boots, nearly swimming in the large coat hanging from his slender frame.

He’s gesticulating rather angrily, dark blue woollen beanie grasped in one hand. It’s not until he focuses on the increasingly loud conversation that he recognises the man is speaking English with an American accent.

“…No, no I’m sorry I don’t understand.” His voice is surprisingly deep, making the likeliness of him being a teenager much lower than his stature would suggest. “I’ve told you, I come in once a month to make this withdrawal, I’ve done it three time and never had any problem.”

“Sir,” the teller sighs, barely refraining from rolling his eyes by using them to give the guy a slow and rather pointed once over, “As I have told you now several times, I cannot perform such a large withdrawal, particularly since you are not the sort of – rather, not a patron of this bank.”

“Where’s the woman I usually speak to?” interrupts the tiny man. “She always works Saturdays. Where’s Wanda?”

“Miss Maximoff is no longer an employee of this institution.”

There’s a beat of silence where they stare at each other. The lady working two tellers over is starting to glance their way too, shooting dirty looks at her fellow employee when she thinks no one can see her.

“I just want to make my monthly withdrawal,” tiny guy braves on. “I’ve done it before. Look, I’ve got receipts, here-”

“Sir.” The man he is now referring to in his head as Snooty Teller interrupts him. “I would ask that you calm down before I am forced to call security.”

“I’m calm!” Tiny guy sounds like he’s speaking through gritted teeth. “I just don’t understand why I can get access to my money the same as I have been doing for the last three months.”

“Sir.” He turns away from the argument at the sound of a male voice. “If you would follow me.”

The man standing next to him is wearing a dark, well-fitted suit. His tie is red with a tiny gold pin, his hair combed neatly. Flicking one last glance at the tiny blond American who looks close to leaping over the counter, he follows the man through a door and down a set of stairs.

He’s led to another door, a small glass panel mounted on the wall just below eye level to the right of it. The man gestures towards it. Staring at it for a moment he notices the tiny red light to the bottom of the glass, it’s some sort of screen. He isn’t sure what exactly to do, tapping it lightly and hoping for the best. It lights up, a soft glowing black screen with the outline of a hand in white.

Pulling off his glove he holds his own hand to the screen and tries to keep his breathing even, praying to anything out there that he is recognisable to the system. A soft blue line appears, sliding the length of the screen and then back again. There’s a brief pause before the red light flickers and a green one replaces it, the door making an audible click as it unlocks.

The man holds the door open for him, leading him to a small room cordoned off by a heavy red curtain. Tugging the worn glove back into place he follows him through.

There’s another grand looking reception desk in the corner, much smaller than the one upstairs. The man behind it jumps slightly as they enter, eyes darting between the pair of them before hastily clicking something on his computer. He turns away from him, probably playing some game on his computer rather than doing his work, stepping into the littler room, more a cubicle than anything.

“I will be just a moment sir.” The man gestures to a chair sitting next to the small desk. “If you would like to take a seat I will fetch your items for you.”

He sits. The furniture in the tiny cubicle is much more modern than the dark mahogany and ostentatious detailing in the main bank. The chair is sturdy and comfortable, the desk small with two drawers. Inside the top drawer there are a selection of pens and pads of paper, each embossed with the bank’s name and logo.

The second drawer holds a dark blue bag. It has one strap and a draw-string close, made from a thick sturdy canvas like material. In the bottom corner there is the bank’s name and logo modestly adorning a tiny square.

At the sound of someone clearing their throat outside of the curtain, announcing his return, he slides the drawer shut, turning just in time to see the man slide the curtain open. He’s carrying a large metal box, shaped somewhat like a brief case but much deeper.

Gently the man places it on the desk, inserting a key into the lock and turning it until it clicks. Removing it from the lock he steps back, bowing slightly as he backs out of the cubicle.

“When you are finished sir, the box will lock upon closing it. Please return it to the desk before you leave.”

With that he pulls the curtain closed behind him, leaving him alone with the box.

It wasn’t a vault full of gold, that’s for damn sure. Though in all honesty he wouldn’t have the first clue how to deal with that situation had it been the case. What was he supposed to do with a room full of gold?

It takes several attempts to get his hands to work, jerkily reaching over and yanking the lid of the box up in one swift motion, eyes screwed shut like he’s expecting it to explode. It doesn’t, yet it still takes him another minute to work up the courage to open his eyes and look inside.

The first thing he sees is the passport sitting on top. Ignoring everything else he reaches for it, opening the small booklet with trembling fingers.

That’s definitely his face, staring straight at the camera and not smiling. It’s an older photo, his hair is short in it and he looks much younger. He stares at the picture for a long time before he turns to read the other information.

“My name is James,” he breathes it out like a whisper, or maybe a prayer, full of air and barely audible. “James Buchanan Barnes.”

He could almost cry at the realisation, he has a name, and a birthday, March 10th 1987. He’s 29 years old.

There’s a sheet of pink paper, an address listed in French.

“I live in Paris.”

It’s more than he could have hoped for, than James could have hoped for. His name is James, he’s 29 years old and he lives in Paris.

Also in the box are a couple of credit cards all with his name printed on them, a small stack of euros, close to €1000 at a guess. There’s an expensive looking watch and he slides it on his right wrist without thinking. There’s a small container that looks like it could contain contact lenses, which is weird because he isn’t wearing any now and his eyesight is far beyond perfect.

The box itself is rather shallow, only an inch or so deep, almost like…Poking his finger around the corners he finds a small hole in the green felt, reaching in an levering what appears to be a tray out of the top of the box. He’s barely sat it down on the desk when his breath catches.

There’s a gun. It’s the first thing he sees, the first thing his mind locks onto. But under the gun is almost more confusing. Bundles of money, thousands and thousands in different currencies, he can see dollars, yen, pounds, pesos. There’s another three bundles of euros and two bundles of Australian Dollars.

Underneath all of the money are more passports. At least half a dozen of them, from various countries. Flipping them open he’s met with the same image of his face, over and over, but with different names. Ivan Mikhailovich Kuznetsov, Guillermo Santos Lima.

His breath is coming in short and shaky, hands trembling slightly as he digs through them all.

Blinking he shakes his head, reaching into the second drawer and pulling out the bag. Shaking it out, he awkwardly empties the entire contents of the box into the bag, the money, the passports, everything but the gun. He places that gently back into the box, pressing the lid closed until it clicks shut.

Tightening the drawstring of the bag he slings it over his shoulder, taking a deep breath and picking up the box before drawing the curtains open. He tries to make his face relaxed and friendly as he returns the box to the man at the desk. The guy hastily hangs up the phone as he approaches, his smile a little too bright as he struggles to maintain eye contact.

It makes every single one of James’ senses go into overdrive, everything around him coming into sharp focus.

“I’m trying to remember.” He smiles blandly at the man. “How long has it been since I was here last?”

“I don’t- sorry,” the man stutters, hands shaking slightly as he reaches over to grab the box. “It must have been six weeks, since you were last here.”

To give the guy credit, he does try to pull it together. But there’s no way to hide how his eyes keep darting over James’ shoulder.

There’s a door there, not the one that he entered through either. Smiling thanks he moves to leave, keeping his pace sedate as if he doesn’t have a care in the world, like he’s not completely aware that there’s something on the other side of the door coming for him. Once he’s out in the hall he runs up the stairs, taking them three at a time until he’s back at the main bank. Taking a breath he slows his pace, walking towards the exit like any other guy.

“You there with the blue bag, stop!” the command is sharp and clear, echoing in the large room, bouncing off of the marble.

The fact that it’s in English is what first tips him off, the accent being American just confirms the suspicion growing in his gut.

James freezes, raising his arms slowly. He can hear the man approaching behind him, heavy footfall, combat boots, confident strides. Ahead he can see the front doors, they’re being blocked by two more guys, dark clothes, military styling. They’re holding automatic weapons in their hands. That, combined with the uniforms, are a sure sign that they aren’t bank security.

He can see advanced military training in their posture, similar to the way the Howling Commandoes used to stand and move. And they were all Special Forces.

The man who stopped him reaches out to take hold of his wrist, ready to pull it down behind his back and restrain him. It’s like there are two parts of him, both at war with one another. The calm quiet part is in control, keeping his breathing even, his heart-rate steady, ready to act at a moment’s notice.

The other part is scared, always scared, a relentless scream of begging and pleading. Ready to comply, ready to comply, submit, ready to comply.

He can feel the man’s presence behind him, it makes all of the hairs on the back of his neck stick up. In one swift motion he twists, turning around and slipping underneath his hold so that James is the one pulling the guy’s arm behind his back.

With his metal hand he pulls the gun free from his grip, pointing it towards the two blocking the exit. There’s a scream at the first shot, the well-dressed woman behind the reception desk ducking for cover as the two men open fire. Using their comrade as a shield he works his way backwards, away from the tellers and towards the door he just came from.

It’s not easy to pull the man with him. He’s still conscious and if he’s been shot it’s nowhere that’s stopping him from putting up a fight. Waiting until he’s through the door and out of the others’ line of fire, James cracks him over the head with the butt of his own gun and allowing him to crumple to the ground. An alarm starts blaring, instructions ringing out in German.

Pulling the guy’s radio off of his belt, James straightens, tucking the earpiece into his own ear. Slipping the gun into his belt, he looks around, finding a fire evacuation map mounted above an extinguisher. Ripping it from the wall he begins climbing, listening to the tactical team argue over their radios.

They are all using English, and, ignoring the way that people are running into their offices and locking their doors as he passes, he follows the map to the nearest fire exit. He climbs the stairs, pausing to hear the strike team enter from three floors below.

James is quick and methodical, scanning every floor as he reaches it, making his way up the building until he’s two floors below the roof. He hears when the strike team realise he’s listening over the comms, yanking the earpiece out and throwing the entire thing into a trash can when they spout some code and switch channels.

At the back of the building he finds and old fire escape, there’s yellow tape and warning signs covering it, the stairwell damaged and not safe to be used in an emergency.

It’s locked, but that doesn’t matter, with the screeching protest of the lock ripping open his metal hand takes care of it. Pulling it shut behind him James turns. He’s stood on a small and not too stable looking platform. There’s a hole in it, three rungs of a ladder descending before ending suddenly, the metal rough and rusted like it was literally ripped away.

Dropping down the hole he grabs onto the second rung at the last second, using the momentum to swing his legs towards the building. The tips of his toes find purchase on the tiniest of ledges, little more than a decorative embellishment running across the face. He can hear voices as someone ascends the stairs, approaching the door.

He’s only just lurched forward, fingers barely managing to grip onto little more than sheer brick as the door bangs open.

The metal platform shudders alarmingly as two sets of combat-booted feet step out onto it. Snow falls off, drifting past him as they shuffle around, sweeping the area with guns out. James hardly dares to breathe, pressing his entire body against the icy wall like if he wills it hard enough he can melt into it.

“Clear,” one of the men barks into his radio.

There’s more shuffling, more shuddering, and more snow fall as they head back into the building, the door slamming loudly shut behind them.

James waits until the count of five before moving. He’s almost trapped, four floors in the air with very little in the way of foot holds on the way down. But he needs to move quickly before they realise he’s no longer in the building and expand their search to the surrounds.

Someone in the bank might have called the police. The regular police, not whatever elite tactical squad or private security were currently hunting for him.

He’s caught, torn between the need to move, move now, and the reasoning that there’s very little he can do to move.

Glancing over his shoulder again, James gauges the distance to the ground. He knows a normal man would likely not survive it, but he’s done nothing normal since waking up. He’d probably survive if he just dropped right now, though the chance of breaking his legs is too great for him to risk it. Using his teeth he tugs the leather glove off of his metal hand.

It won’t be damaged, he’s done way worse to it during his time at sea than scrape it along some concrete, and it’s as smooth and perfect as it’s always been. Without removing the leather from between his teeth he drops, dragging the metal down the side of the building in an attempt to slow his descent. It doesn’t do much, apart from make a lot of noise and send sparks flying.

About ten feet above ground he digs his fingers in, managing to grip onto some sort of sconce or ledge. The jolt sends pain tearing through his shoulder, and he lets go almost immediately. But it’s enough to slow him so that when he lands, he can roll slightly, using the blanket of snow to absorb some of the shock.

James clambers to his feet quickly, picking up the bank bag from where it landed next to him, and slinging it back across his shoulder. Replacing his glove he brushes snow from his body, glancing around as he crosses the small but thankfully empty courtyard.

Jumping a fence and then another he’s back on the street in less than two minutes, stuffing his hands into his pockets and hunching his shoulders against the cold, meandering along like every other pedestrian.

He’s been walking for two blocks when he hears it, the distinct sound of a scuffle coming from a narrow side-street. Turning the corner he sees a young woman running off in the other direction, throwing a frightened look over her should as she goes.

Halfway down the street there’s a fight, two guys whaling on a third who’s currently trying to get back to his feet. It takes him a second to recognise the third man as the tiny angry blond from the bank, and before he knows what he's doing James is walking down the alley.

The two men tiny blond is fighting don’t seem to be putting much effort in, taking it in turns to hit him or shove him back down whenever he struggles to his feet. They don’t hear James coming.

He grabs the first with his left arm, throwing him – though not as hard as he knows he’s capable of – back slightly. The second guy turns and makes to take a swing at him, telegraphing the punch so hard he might as well have stopped to politely explain his intentions beforehand. It takes very little to duck the blow, returning the favour with a right hook of his own, nice and gentle.

The guy stumbles back slightly, looking between James and his friend. James bares his teeth, feeling a small stab of pleasure at the sight of all the colour draining from their faces. He lurches forward slightly and is rewarded with the pair of them taking off in the other direction.

He not sure exactly why he does it, but he swings forward placing a firm kick on the rump of the first guy, causing him to stumble as he runs.

“Legt euch gefälligst mit jemandem in eurer eigenen Größe an!” he yells after them.

James turns back to the tiny blond, offering a hand to help him to his feet. It’s promptly ignored, the guy struggling to stand before clumsily brushing snow off of himself.

“I had ‘em on the ropes,” he mumbles thickly, wiping at the blood dripping from his nose.

He doesn’t appear to have any other injuries, at least none that James can see.

“Most people thank someone when they intercede in getting the shit kicked outta them.” He’s not sure why he says it, it sort of just slips out. Too much time being exposed to the Commandoes’ snark and sass.

“Thank you.” He’s never heard someone sound so disdainful and yet deadpan at the same time. It might not mean much since he’s only got about three weeks’ worth of conversation to draw from, but it’s impressive none the less. “But I didn’t need your help.”

James can’t help the scoffing sound that escapes. The kid’s still bleeding and looks like a strong breeze would knock him over.

“I can handle myself,” tiny blond’s voice is ice cold, and he’s tensing like he’s about to attempt to show James how well he can do just that.

He’s not entirely sure why it makes him smile, but it does. He doesn’t doubt for a second that the guy would do just that; fight him even after he’s already seen James defeat the two guys that had put him on his ass. But he knows for a fact that it wouldn’t matter how brave and strong he was, there aren’t many people who could defeat James. Besides, he doesn’t want to fight him, he just wants to help.

“Right,” he nods, “like I’m sure the girl I’m assuming you stepped in to help could handle herself.”

“What?” tiny blond’s face crumples in confusion, and James can’t help but find it kind of adorable, just like how he can’t seem to help himself from teasing him.

“Oh I get it.” He nods. “Girls can’t handle themselves.”

“That’s not- I didn’t-” tiny blond is even cuter when he gets flustered. “It doesn’t matter if she’s a black belt and could defeat them with her pinkie! Those guys were being assholes and-”

“You stepped in,” he interrupts, “because it was the right thing to do.”

“Exactly!” the guy exclaims, nodding like James just helped to prove his point.

“Like if you walked around the corner and saw a two-to-one beat down, the right thing to do would be to step in and help even the odds, no matter how capable the other guy was?”

“Right! That’s-” he breaks off suddenly, realising what he’s just agreed to.

James can’t help the shit-eating grin that spread across his face, because even disgruntled this guy is one of the most attractive things he’s laid eyes on.

Short and skinny yes, but with the biggest blue eyes framed by ridiculously thick lashes. They are only emphasised by the thick glasses he’s got on. He’s quite pale, skin looking almost translucent, and he can see his blond bangs poking out from under his beanie.

Now that his nose has stopped bleeding the guy wipes it off with a handkerchief of all things, folding the blood stained fabric up and tucking it inside his pocket. His nose is almost a little too big for his face, slightly crooked like it’s been broken before and with how combative the guy’s been acting James doesn’t doubt that it has. It’s pink, either from the icy cold or from having an up-close and personal encounter with some asshole’s fist.

His jaw is sharp, jutting forward now as he all but pouts at James. It looks strong enough to crack rocks off of. Combined with the way his shoulders are hunched and his arms folded, everything about the guy screams: back off, don’t touch.

“Look,” James begins, “I overheard you at the bank.”

Tiny blond’s posture goes from sullenly defensive to outright hostile in the blink of an eye.

“Are you following me?”

“No.” He knows he shouldn’t roll his eyes, but he does anyway. “If I were following you I wouldn’t have let the two idiots trying to rearrange your face get as far as they did.”

That seems to stump him for a moment, or at least James doesn’t give him much of a chance to come up with a response to that.

“I thought maybe we could help each other out,” he explains.

This time it’s tiny blond that rolls his eyes, scoffing loudly before turning to walk down the street. He doesn’t object when James follows, just digs through his pockets.

“How’d you figure that?” Pulling out a set of keys, he stops in front of a tiny beat up car.

It has to be at least thirty years old, the front fender is nearly rusted through, one of the rims doesn’t match the others and the hood is a different colour to the rest of the car. He can see stuff piled up in the back seat, books and bags, a box of random items and a lamp. Tiny blond looks like he’s been living out of the thing.

“You need money,” he reminds him, “I need a ride to Paris.”

Tiny blond stares at him like he’s grown a second head.

“Yeah, I’m not exactly running a car service right now.” He turns away from James, fumbling with the keys, trying to jam one forcefully into the lock.

“I’ll give you ten thousand euros to drive me to Paris.” Tiny blond doesn’t even look up, just muttering about scams and conmen under his breath in French, using some very unflattering descriptors.

“…il pense que je suis stupide.”

“Vous seriez stupide pas à,” he calls back, tossing a stack of euros at him.

Tiny blond manages to catch it against his chest, staring down at the bundle like he’s never seen cash before.

“I can give you another ten when we get there.”

The sounds of sirens blare as a police car drives past the opening to the small side street, no doubt headed towards the bank. Ducking his head, he turns away from them, moving slightly closer to the side of the street.

“That for you?” Tiny blond jerks his chin towards the road.

“Look,” he sighs, letting his frustration seep into his tone. “It’s pretty simple pal, I pay, you drive, no questions asked.”

Tiny blond keeps looking at the mouth of the street, frowning slightly. Turning back to James he shakes his head.

“That’s a way more trouble than I’m looking for right now.”

James nods, it was worth a shot.

“Ok, can I have my money back please?”

He watches tiny blond glance down at the cash, fingers playing with the corners of the notes. Even from here James can see the longing. The guy has almost definitely been living out of his car, and the bank wouldn’t let him withdraw whatever he usually did. He wants to take the money, it’s plain as day. It’s just a matter of finding out how badly.

James holds his breath and waits.

Chapter Text

“He’s in Zurich now?”

“Yes sir, our source from the bank called it in, the strike team were mobilizing last I heard.”

“Jesus Christ Sitwell, how the hell did he even know to go there? That programming was supposed to have been wiped four years ago.”

“I don’t know sir, usually the handlers accompany him, but it is still set up for his biometrics.”

“Goddamnit, I liked it better when I thought he was dead. Alright, listen up everyone! I want security footage from in and around the bank, have the police been called? Monitor the scanners.”

“Sir, I’ve got Strike Team Bravo on line two, the Asset got out of the bank.”

“Eбать! Ok trains, buses, planes, taxi chatter, I want it all. Sitwell, call in any and all Alpha team spread over Europe. Crossbones, Rollins, everyone. I want them all active and waiting for our order.”

“I’ve got CCTV near the bank!”

“Put it up on screen two. Jesus is that the best angle?”

“I’m sorry Mr Karpov, that’s the only angle.”

“There! Right there, blow that up! Who’s he talking to?”

“See if there’s any footage of him from the bank.”

“Rogers, Steven Grant, Us Citizen 28 years old. Two arrest warrants from protests in Paris, one from London. Born in Brooklyn, New York, parents both deceased.”

“I want everything you can find about Rogers, his high school GPA, everything. Sitwell, grab your go bag, you’re going to coordinate the team in Paris. The rest of you I want a package on Rogers sent to my phone by the time I’m back in my office.”

*

“…which was completely hypocritical since she always complained about how bad I was at staying in bed and resting, yet she was the one running around and trying to cover shifts at the hospital when she had terminal cancer…”

Tiny Blond’s name is Steve and he’s from Brooklyn, New York. Since climbing into the little beater of a car – James having performed some impromptu human origami and sitting with his knees practically in his armpits – Steve has been rambling.

“…and yeah, I miss her, pretty much all the time. She was basically my best friend. Well, more like my only friend since kids and teenagers don’t really want to hang out with the tiny, asthmatic, half-deaf, constantly sick kid. Not that they could a lot of the time. I’m pretty sure I spent more of the year out of school than in it…”

James now knew more about Steve than he did about anyone else on the entire planet. At first they had driven in rather uncomfortable silence, then Steve had mumbled an apology for the radio not working. After a couple of mumbled attempts at small talk where he tripped over his words and seemed to grow more impossible shades of red, James had asked what had happened at the bank.

“…And it’s not like there’s a lot that you can do with a fine arts degree anyways. Ma inherited the apartment from Maimeó, so selling it covered most of her hospital bills…”

It hadn’t taken long for Steve to get rolling on a good long rant about Snooty Teller and then about why he needed to make one large withdrawal in the first place, until he kind of just kept on talking.

“…so I was living in London with her for a while. Of course, eventually she got ridiculously busy with work and was travelling everywhere. After that it got pretty boring just hanging about by myself in the same place all the time, so I figured I might as well hang by myself in lots of different places. Usually I like to spend a couple of months in each city if I can…”

Steve’s father was killed in the Gulf War when Steve was just 18 months old, and he was raised by his mother Sarah who was a nurse and died of stage IV ovarian cancer when Steve was twenty-three. He has astigmatism, asthma, mild scoliosis, a compromised immune system, a heart valve defect, and is mostly deaf on one side.

He has glasses for the astigmatism, medications for the asthma, underwent several surgeries, wore a back brace throughout most of his childhood, and there is a small hearing aid tucked discreetly in his right ear.

“…set up online so I can just post it to wherever people want. And sure, I mean the money isn’t fantastic, but I do a few small gallery showings when I can, and those pieces usually sell for a lot more. Plus most places now days have free Wi-Fi so it’s pretty easy to do commissions and a graphic design gig here and there. Since I’m not really paying for any sort of accommodation…”

James is hanging off of every word. It would be all too easy to let the deep timbre of Steve’s voice wash over him, especially since he barely slept a full hour last night. But he’s far too interested in what Steve is actually saying to allow the soothing sounds lull him to sleep.

“…and it’s actually pretty easy to use a gym or a by-the-hour hotel every couple of days or so to shower. I met this Swedish guy in Spain who basically dragged me back to his hostel to use the shower and-”

He’s so surprised when Steve stops mid-sentence that it actually takes a moment to realise that’s what has happened. Jumping slightly he twists around in his seat (as much as his pretzel position allows at least) to look at the other man.

“And what?” Compared to the smooth flow of Steve’s voice his own comes out sounding particularly hoarse.

Steve is frowning slightly, staring out the front windscreen like the road ahead did something to offend him. His hands seem slightly disproportionate to his body, almost like a puppy that hasn’t quite grown into its paws yet. His fingers are long but not too slender, clenching and unclenching around the steering wheel.

“What do you mean, ‘and what?’?” He glances over at James quickly before his eyes flick back to the road. “Listen to me! I’ve been yammering on for the last two hours and you haven’t said anything. I don’t even know your goddamn name.”

Once more his eyes flick in James’ direction.

“Well?” At his puzzled expression Steve huff out another irritated breath. “What’s your name?”

Seven seconds. It takes him seven agonisingly long seconds to remember that he has a name now.

“James Buchanan.” He can hear the complete lack of confidence in his own voice. “Barnes! James – my name is James Buchanan Barnes.”

There’s a beat where Steve turns his head to stare at him. It’s long enough that by the time he manages to direct his attention back to the road they’ve veered into the wrong lane. He swerves back sharply, tyres skidding a little on the icy road.

The sudden movement slams James against the window, he’s not prepared enough to tense against it. The blow is sharp and jarring, he flinches away from it like it was on purpose, heart-rate spiking slightly as his eyes dart around the confines of the car, looking for a threat.

There’s no way he could act any more twitchy or weird if he tried, he can see it reflected in the increasingly suspicious glances Steve keeps throwing him out of the corner of his eyes. Why did he have to answer with his full name? He could have just said James, like Steve was just Steve. Nice and anonymous and not at all something that someone psychotic would say.

Not just his surname, but his full name. James Buchanan Barnes.

“If you don’t want to tell me that’s fine,” Steve said coolly, “but you don’t have to lie.”

“I’m not lying.” It’s barely audible, even to him.

“And if you’re gonna make something up,” he continues as if James had not said anything, “at least put some effort in. James Buchanan? Seriously?”

“I don’t know who that is.”

It feels weird to admit it out loud, that there’s something he doesn’t know. The Howling Commandoes were aware from the beginning, they knew right away that he couldn’t remember anything. They never treated him differently or like there was something wrong with him. Just casually explained whatever it was, without him even having to ask, like it was no big deal. It’s… embarrassing having to admit it to somebody new.

“Fifteenth president of the United States?”

James just shrugs, not looking at Steve. He doesn’t even know who the current president of the United States is. He doesn’t know anything.

It’s been close to three weeks since he woke up, and in that time it’s never really hit him how little he has. Physical possessions aren’t too bad, the Commandoes gave him what he needed and they didn’t have much so it never felt weird. But Steve has things. Things that hold memories and anecdotes, neatly and lovingly piled up in the seat behind them. Things that matter.

Steve has stories, from his childhood, from three years ago. He can tell James about his mother and his father and their stories. James doesn’t even know if his parents are still alive, he doesn’t know their names. He could have siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins. He could have grandparents. Work colleagues, friends, a girlfriend, a fiancé, a husband. And he doesn’t even know.

All he’s got is a name, and he can’t even trust that it is his own.

“Hey.” Steve’s voice breaks through the ringing in his ears, deep and calm and real. “Easy buddy, take a deep breath, that’s it.”

James sucks in air until he feels like he’s going to burst, eyes screwed shut as he shakes and shakes. Listening to Steve he exhales slowly when told, following his directions as he slowly counts until it doesn’t take effort to make his breathing so calm.

“I’m sorry.” It’s spoken quietly, and as James opens his eyes he can see Steve shifting uncomfortably in his seat. “I didn’t mean to make you... I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“S’not your fault,” he mumbles, looking at his feet “I just…”

The thought of sharing this with someone frightens him. Not in the way that some other things do, there’s no scared voice telling him to keep quiet, to not disobey. But it makes his gut churn uncomfortably and his skin prickle. The idea of opening up, making himself vulnerable to what amounts to a complete stranger, it’s daunting.

But Steve’s hardly a stranger now, he reasons dryly. After all he just spent the last hour listening to him describe what is pretty much his life story. He knows more about Steve than he knows about himself.

“Fuck it.” He sits up straighter in his seat, or as straight as he can in the cramped space. “I don’t remember anything from before three weeks ago.”

The silence that follows is loaded. He watches Steve, who is very carefully keeping his focus on the road. He can see the argument he seems to be having with himself; the battle between his earlier disbelief and his apparent desire not to make James freak out again. He sees the moment the disbelief wins out, can tell when Steve is about to say something, probably along the lines of what he said before about lying.

So he doesn’t let him, letting the fear and anxiety break through, like a levy collapsing under the weight of floodwaters.

Now it’s his turn to ramble, voice getting louder and more desperate sounding the more that he speaks. He’s not explaining what happened, the things he does know, he can’t seem to make those words come out. It’s just a constant stream of what he doesn’t. The things that Steve’s been talking about, friends, family, history. He has none of it.

He’s barely keeping his breathing in check, doesn’t even notice that they’ve stopped driving until Steve switches off the engine, the rattling rumble cutting out so that the only sound is his shallow breathing.

“Hey, hey.” Steve doesn’t reach out to touch him, keeping his distance. “It’s ok, I’m sorry. Alright? Deep breath again, come on.”

It’s harder this time, but he manages to match Steve’s counting, shutting his eyes and focusing on nothing but the sound of the other man’s voice.

“We’re going to take a break from driving.” Steve explains quietly. “I need to stretch my legs, and it’s nearly nine. I’m starving.”

James looks around, they’re in a fairly small parking lot, only a few other cars parked here so late at night. The neon lights illuminating the front of the small diner are bright enough that he has to blink several times. Steve is watching him, seemingly waiting for him to make the first move.

Grabbing the bank bag from between his feet he levers the car door open, struggling to pull himself out without falling on his ass. Stretching out the kinks in his back, neck, and legs is momentarily distracting. He allows himself a moment to enjoy the way each of his joints pop and his muscles twinge.

When he’s finished he looks over to Steve, only to see the smaller man’s expression oscillating somewhere between amused and apologetic.

James leads the way into the small diner, selecting a table at the back without consulting with Steve. He slides in to the booth closest to the wall, eyes automatically sweeping over the entire room, picking out the emergency exits and taking note of each person inside. The feeling of something solid behind him, the way that he has clear sightlines into the kitchen and the main entrance soothes some of his residual panic.

Steve’s gaze is calculating as he slides into the seat opposite him, watching him long enough that it’s starting to make James slightly uncomfortable. It feels like it goes on for a lot longer than it probably does, Steve eventually looking down to the laminated menu in front of him.

James follows suit, eyes flicking up every other second to perform another sweep of the room or to watch the tiny blond seated across from him.

Steve had removed his beanie and scarf upon entering the diner, James assumes that they are on the seat beside him. He himself hadn’t been wearing a scarf or a hat, the winter air outside not affecting him in the short distance between here and the car.

Steve reaches up to idly push his glasses back along the bridge of his nose every few minutes. It doesn’t look like they get very far, and James can only assume that it’s some sort of nervous tick, like Steve knows he’s being observed but is choosing not to say anything about it. The small flash of guilt that realisation causes make James return his attention to the menu in front of him.

He is still completely aware of the waitress as she approaches.

She’s not much taller than Steve, maybe in her late teens, probably from one of the nearby towns or villages. She’s dressed in black; black t-shirt, black jeans under her white apron, and black sneakers that are well worn but still neat. She tucks a strand of her dark hair behind her ear as she approaches, pausing a fraction of a second to adjust her smile before taking the last four steps to their table.

Up close she looks even younger, maybe not quite out of high school. Despite the late hour she’s cheerful and friendly, complimenting both of them on their French before heading back to the kitchen to place their order.

They sit in silence, even after she’s returned with their coffees. Even fifteen minutes later, after she places their food in front of them. Steve is the braver of the two of them, sucking a deep breath before fixing James with his bright blue eyes.

“So,” he begins, “amnesia?”

James nods, not quite able to hold Steve’s gaze. He knows, he knows how crazy it sounds, he can hear it in the sceptical tone of Steve’s voice, the way he’s looking at James like he’s quite clearly lost his mind rather than his memories.

“I’m sorry,” Steve sighs, but not in a way that suggests he’s sorry James can’t remember who he is, “but you’re going to have to give me more than that. No offence, but it sounds like a load of bullshit.”

It does. It sounds like something that’s been made up to cover for the fact that he won’t tell him anything about himself.

“I got hauled out of the ocean by a fishing crew.”

And that doesn’t sound much better. It’s just hitting him now how bat-shit insane the entire story comes across. But if it sounds crazy, it’s nothing compared to how it feels actually living it.

He starts from the beginning, the boat, the bullet holes, the Howling Commandoes. Steve listens patiently, never interrupting with questions or any of the arguments James sees flash across his face. His frown deepens when James explains the incident with the police in the park, expression shifting into something that James can’t quite name when he describes following them to the hospital.

Steve’s eyebrows climb up to his hairline when James describes the contents of the safety deposit box, before his eyes drop to the table, like he can see the bank bag through the flat surface where it’s safely nestled between James’ feet.

When he gets to the part in his story where he found Steve getting the shit kicked out of him James shrugs, trailing off into silence.

“You do realise how ridiculous that all sounds, don’t you?”

James nods, eyes dropping to where his hands are folded neatly in his lap. His hands .

Eyes snapping back up, he glances around the restaurant. There’s no one near enough to be able to hear them, and none of the other people are looking in their direction. Flicking one more glance at Steve, he pulls the glove off of his left hand, slowly extending it towards the other man.

Steve’s eyes widen dramatically at the sight of the gleaming metal, his own hand reaching out towards it before he’s able to stop himself. Pausing he looks back up to James, silently asking permission. Nodding James holds his breath, watching as Steve’s long fingers slowly draw closer.

His touch is incredibly gentle, barely registering on the sensors in the arm. It sends a weird shiver along James’ spine, and he’s glad that Steve’s attention is so focused on the intricate plating that make up his fingers that he doesn’t seem to notice.

“I found the note with the bank address in a panel behind my elbow.” He’s not sure why he’s whispering, but this moment between them seems fraught with tension, and he knows that when Steve leaves this diner, this is the thing that’s going to decide whether James can go with him.

Steve hums absent-mindedly in response, gently gripping James’ pinkie between his forefinger and thumb, bending it slightly.

Releasing his hand Steve leans back in his seat, gaze assessing as he watches James pull the glove back on.

The silence stretches between them, and James can’t handle it, can’t deal with the way it makes something tense and anxious swirl around in his stomach.

“It’s ok if you want to leave me here,” he sighs, eyes fixed on his hands as he tugs on the worn leather, trying to adjust its fit around the metal. “I can hitch a ride the rest of the way.”

“Why would I leave you here?” Steve says it quietly, eyes still somewhat assessing.

The laugh James lets out is hollow and without a trace of humour.

“You can’t honestly want to keep me around,” he scoffs, “Not after hearing all of that.”

Steve straightens, squaring his shoulders and jutting out his jaw. Once again James can see his preparing himself for a fight, ready to do the exact opposite of what James is telling him, simply because James told him not to.

“Who has a deposit box filled with currency, multiple passports, and a gun ?” he questions, not waiting for a response. “Some sort of assassin or Mafioso, that’s who.”

“Not necessarily,” shrugs Steve unconcerned, “You could be in witness protection or something.”

“Bullshit,” he growls.

He has no idea why he’s arguing this. Doesn’t have a clue what it is spurring him on to basically ruin any chance he has at getting to Paris.

“You don’t know that you’re not.” Steve’s smirking at him, like the outcome doesn’t possibly involve his grizzly death .

Because that’s just it, it’s not just himself that James is scared for. He’s absolutely terrified that if he snaps, if something terrible has happened to him in his past and it comes back to bite him, if anything happens, it’s not just him that it will happen to. Steve is right in the thick of it now, in just as much danger if not more.

“I can tell you the licence plates of all eight cars outside,” he begins, not allowing Steve the chance to argue, “I know that if I needed to I could hot-wire at least five of them. Our waitress is a dancer, she’s done ballet for at least seven years, probably longer. And the two guys at the counter are wearing shoulder holsters, probably local law enforcement.”

Steve still looks far too skeptical, eyes challenging James to keep going.

“You’re ambidextrous.” James could almost smile triumphantly at the shocked look that flashes over Steve’s face. “But it’s not natural, you had to teach yourself how to use your left hand, probably when your right was broken, so you tend to favour your right.”

He sucks in a deep breath, pleading with his eyes for Steve to just understand .

“We walked in here and the first thing I did was pick a seat with my back to the wall, checking sightlines and exits. Out through the kitchen is best, only one cook this late at night and he’s got it propped open with an old brick so he can sneak out for cigarettes. In this altitude I could run flat out for thirteen miles before my hand starts shaking.

“Why do I know that?” he finishes, staring unwaveringly at Steve. “How can I know all of that and not know who I am?”

Steve doesn’t say anything in response, and James finds that he has to look away. There’s something hiding in Steve’s eyes, not quite fully apparent, but enough that James can see that it looks a lot like pity.

“You really should leave me here,” he sighs, “For all you know I could be a drug dealer.”

“I don’t know that.” He looks up at Steve’s tone. It’s firm, and he can see in the blue of his eyes that he’s made his mind up and James will have a hard time trying to change it. “And honestly? Neither do you. You said it yourself, you can’t remember, so maybe... I should stick around until you find out.”

Unsurprisingly, in the two days since leaving the Howling Commandoes James hasn’t gotten any better at knowing how to deal with kindness. He doesn’t know what to say, thank you is insufficient, it doesn’t feel like he will ever know what to do or to say to repay the compassion that Steve is now showing despite everything that James has just told him.

In the face of it all he can do is sit there, staring into the dregs of his coffee like it will miraculously give him an answer.

“James Buchanan Barnes still sounds like a made up name you know.” Steve bravely tries to lighten the mood. “But if it’s what you want I can call you James.”

He doesn’t really want that. He may be referring to himself as James in his head, but the more he thinks about it the less it fits. It doesn’t feel like the name belongs to him, not the way being called Sarge did. But he can’t ask Steve to call him that, it doesn’t evoke the same sense of security out here in the world, not like it did on the safety of the boat.

“I don’t know what I want.” It’s a quiet admission, but he knows Steve hears it, hears what he means by it.

“Well I’m not calling you Jim,” Steve smiles, “you really don’t seem like a Jim any more than you feel like a James. And Buchanan is even worse.”

James just shrugs.

“Bucky.”His head snaps up at the name, body responding to it without any input from his mind, ready to answer like Steve was trying to get his attention rather than test out a new name.

He likes the way it sounds, carefree and light, a nickname like Sarge but milder. It is very simple, cheerful and like he’s not a threat. As if there isn’t a violence coiled deep inside of him, ready to snap and destroy everything nearby.

Softly he smiles at Steve, hoping that the other man can read the acceptance and gratitude there.He can be Bucky.

*

There’s a soft tapping noise next to his head and he snaps awake at the sound of it. Eyes darting everywhere he reaches for the bag tucked between his feet, gripping it like it’s the only real thing in the world.

It takes him a full thirty seconds to recognise the cramped interior of Steve’s car, to allow the slight ache of being curled into a rather uncomfortable position creep into his consciousness.

It’s daylight, though only just. The sky outside a soft grey, tinges of pink in the clouds.

Looking to his right he sees the source of the tapping, Steve’s standing outside, paper cups in each hand as well as a paper bag. He’s rugged up again, beanie and scarf, breath causing little clouds of fog to plume in the freezing morning air.

Bucky slowly climbs out of the car, once again stretching out the kinks in his spine.

“It’s morning?” He accepts a coffee from Steve, taking a large sip and allowing the warm milky liquid to wake him up the rest of the way.

“It’s just before eight,” smiles Steve, taking a sip from his own coffee before offering one of the paper bags. “I know it’s cliché but I got croissants. I figured for €20,000 I could shout you breakfast.”

“I slept.” It’s not quite a question, but it’s not a statement either.

He glances around them, taking in the aged sandstone and brickwork of the small bridge they’re parked near, the gentle rushing of the river. There are buildings and cars, the noise a little shocking after the near silence of Steve’s car. He’d gotten used to the stuttering rumble of the engine after the first hour of driving, the sound had become somewhat comforting.

“You were dead to the world,” shrugs Steve, biting into his croissant before continuing to speak with his mouth full. Bucky doesn’t know why he finds it endearing. “I pulled over and caught a couple of hours myself before continuing this morning.”

“Is this it? Are we there?” he looks around more thoroughly, noting the old fashioned lampposts, the café a little ways away.

“Not quite.” Steve replies. “We’re about twenty minutes out. I figured you’d want to be awake for the last bit. Maybe something will jog your memory.”

Bucky doesn’t know what to say to that, choosing to take a large bite of his croissant instead. The pastry is still warm. Flaky and delicate on the outside but soft in the centre. He washes it down with another gulp of coffee. Steve has pulled the lid off of his cup, breaking bits of pastry off to dip into the hot liquid.

He’s sitting on the hood of his car, Bucky leaning against a low brick wall in front of him.

“Do you think there’s a family waiting for you?”

The question is asked in a light tone, like Steve wants to know if his coffee is ok.

If Bucky is being honest, he’s absolutely terrified by the prospect of someone waiting for him at the apartment. Yes it could mean the answer to a lot of his questions, the clue to unlocking all of his memories and finding out who he actually is.

But it frightens him. It's one thing not to know who he is, but another thing entirely to not remember someone who is apparently important to him. How is he supposed to explain to someone he apparently loves that he has no idea why it is he does?

“I don’t know,” he admits. “I mean, I’ve thought about it. I know objectively that it’s a possibility.”

There’s a flash of red hair again, the smell of gunpowder in his mind. It’s the closest to remembering anything that he has gotten. But when he tries to think of her in the context of family, something doesn’t fit. He knows, in the way that he doesn’t actually know how he knows it, that whoever she is she isn’t waiting for him in the apartment in Paris.

They finish the rest of their breakfast in silence, not saying anything as they both brush off crumbs and place their empty cups into a nearby trash can. The silence continues as they drive, Bucky looking at anything and everything outside of the window, hoping that it will be familiar.

“This is it.” Steve nods out the window up ahead, towards a small sandstone apartment building.

It’s maybe six stories high, with a large cluster of scooters and motorcycles parked in a small patch out front. There are several young looking trees growing in the street. Everything is neat and very Parisian looking, even if he has no idea how he knows what something Parisian looks like.

Steve makes to pull into a parking spot up the front.

“Don’t pull over here,” he instructs, instincts telling him not to park right outside but to move slightly further away. He no longer questions why he knows things like that, just complies. “Park a little further up.”

Steve does as he’s instructed, moving down the block a little before pulling into a space. The sound of the engine switching off feels very final. Bucky doesn’t make to move, just stares out the window at the building.

“Bucky.” He can tell it’s not the first time Steve’s tried to get his attention .

“Oh god, the money,” he reaches into the bag at his feet, pulling out another bundle of cash and handing it over to Steve.

“Thank you, for, you know…everything,” he mumbles, ducking his head.

“Anytime.” Steve’s response is almost embarrassingly sincere, he can feel heat rising in his cheeks.

Bucky hesitates again, staring at the building once more. Now that he’s here, he’s absolutely terrified to go up. It’s like the bank all over again, only this time he knows he can’t sit and wait in Steve’s car until he works up the nerve to go inside.

Steve’s just watching him, something understanding in his gaze.

“I mean,” he looks away then back at Steve. “You could come up? Or you could wait here. You don’t have to…I should go but you could, you could… wait here?”

He keeps tripping over his words, wanting Steve to come up with him but not sure how to ask.

“If I just wait here, you’d probably forget about me,” he jokes, and Bucky likes the way he can joke about it, that he doesn’t dance around the fact that Bucky can’t remember anything. But there’s a self-deprecating tone to his voice that Bucky doesn’t like, as if the joke is at Steve’s expense rather than his own.

“How could I forget you?” It’s spoken sincerely. “You’re the only person I know.”

It causes Steve’s skin to flush pink, his eyes dropping as he blushes.

They walk across the street together, Bucky compulsively adjusting his grip on the strap of the bank bag. There is a set of large and ornate wrought iron gates that open into a small alcove. The twin doors are locked, an intercom mounted on the wall. He finds the right apartment number and buzzes. There’s no response.

“Guess you’re not home,” smirks Steve, and it’s almost enough to make him laugh.

They both turn at the sound of movement, seeing a short round woman scurrying over to the doors. She’s probably in her sixties, wearing a beautiful floral dress and her hair perfectly styled.

“Monsieur Barnes!” she exclaims, smile lighting up her face as she pulls the doors open. “Back early from your business trip?”

Her accent is thick but her English is good, and she steps right up to him, grabbing him by the shoulders and pulling him forward so she can reach his face where she presses a kiss to each of his cheeks.

“Y-yes,” he stammers, blushing red to the roots of his hair, he can hear Steve sniggering behind him. “I think I lost my key.”

It’s a lame attempt at an excuse but she doesn’t seem to mind, reaching up to pinch the cheek she just kissed.

“We shall have another cut for you,” she smiles brightly, teeth looking startlingly white against the red of her lipstick. “I can bring it up this afternoon no?”

“Thank you,” he mumbles, ducking his head as his blush deepens.  

Her eyes fall on Steve behind him and she steps back immediately, a small flash of fear crossing her face. “Forgive me, I didn’t mean… I was…”

It’s an odd response, the way she trails off, gaze flicking between the two like she regrets greeting him so enthusiastically.

“Not at all,” Steve responds, smiling brightly at the woman before holding out his hand. “I’m a friend of Bucky’s, I mean James’. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Mathilde,” she supplies, expression softening and shoulders relaxing as she shakes his hand. She turns to Bucky, “ I thought perhaps…Well he’s certainly nicer than a lot of your other colleagues.

He doesn’t feel it necessary to point out that Steve speaks French also, and Steve doesn’t seem to either. They eventually head up the stairs, after Mathilde has recovered somewhat. She continues to chatter away in heavily accented English, explaining to Steve that even though he was only ever home a couple of days every few months or so, he was her favourite tenant, and she was pleasantly surprised that he was back so soon

.After promising that they would join her for dinner they make their way to his apartment with the spare key she has leant them.

Why had she been so afraid of Steve? Not even afraid of him, more afraid that she had done the wrong thing in greeting Bucky in such a friendly way. And the mention of his other “colleagues”, the tone that she had used had been downright icy. It doesn’t add up. Did she usually act more indifferent to him when he was with other people?

But she hadn’t mentioned anyone else living with him, just that he had people over frequently. And if he was only here every few months or so why did he even bother renting the apartment? Rent on a place like this couldn’t be cheap. It would almost make more sense to stay in a hotel. Unless he had a lot of personal possessions he likes to leave here.

But this was the only trace of an address he could find in the deposit box. If he was here so infrequently where else did he live? Or did he stay in hotels in the other places he travelled?

Unlocking the door he takes a deep breath before stepping inside.

It’s an enormous space, painted white with large open windows and high ceilings.

Overall it’s very Spartan, minimal furniture and absolutely nothing in the way of personal touches. There are no photos or pieces of art on the walls, no bookshelves filled with books, no plants. There isn’t even a television.

The large living area has a desk and a chair over to one side near the fireplace, a single laptop set up and several sheets of paper and booklets spread out over the surface. He flicks through a couple of them, reading over the text in various languages.

“I think I might work in security,” he says it more to himself than to Steve.

It’s almost a relief, to have something slightly tangible about himself that doesn’t amount to professional criminal. He’s not entirely sure how the multiple identities fit into it, but the money kind of makes more sense, as does the gun.

“So I’m not sure I want to admit how long it’s been since I last showered,” Steve says lightly interrupting his train of thought. “Mind if I uses your bathroom for a bit?”

“Yeah sure,” he nods, “it’s right through…”

He trails off, at the realisation that he doesn’t know where his bathroom is.

“We’ll find it,” Steve smiles reassuringly.

They walk towards the small hallway, the first door is a bedroom, one twin bed, neatly made with fairly plain sheets and only one pillow. The only other pieces of furniture in the room is a small wardrobe and a dresser.

The second room is another bedroom, though this one is set up like a gym, several pieces of exercising equipment spread around it.

The third door opens to the bathroom. It’s very clean, all of the fixtures are fairly modern. A shower, a toilet and a sink. No bath. The shower has a bottle of shampoo, one of conditioner, and a bar of soap. There is one towel hanging on the rack. Steve lets him enter the bathroom first, even though he’s the one who wanted to shower, patiently waiting to the side as Bucky examines the small medicine cabinet behind the mirror over the sink.

There is a razor and a toothbrush, plus shaving cream and toothpaste. There are several orange bottles of pills, though they don’t have any labels on them, plus what looks alarmingly like a hypodermic syringe. He closes the cabinet pretty quickly after that.

“I’ll leave you to it then,” he mumbles, hurrying out of the room ready to search the rest of the house.

He heads to the kitchen first, opening empty cupboard after empty cupboard. There’s one bowl, one plate, one set of cutlery, and a solitary mug sitting in the drying rack next to the sink, and as far as he can tell, that is all of the kitchenware he owns. There aren’t any pots or pans, no knives, or anything else to suggest that he cooks.

The fridge is filled with several foil packets, each marked with a ubiquitous Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner. He peels back the corner of one to find what amounts to homogenous sludge, rice and a solid bar that smells awful. He closes the fridge.

The cupboard next to it has several boxes, each filled with individually wrapped versions or the solid bars.

Moving on from the kitchen he returns to the living room. There’s a telephone on the desk, though the screen doesn’t show any voicemail waiting for him. He picks up the receiver, holding it to his ear he is pleased to hear a dial tone. The keypad for it has lots of buttons besides the numerical ones. He hits redial, listening as the line begins to ring.

His eyes travel the room while he waits, taking in the complete lack of anything anywhere. It’s causing panic to rise slowly an inexorably in his chest.

He’s so distracted that the sound of a professional sounding woman greeting him in French causes him to nearly drop the phone, and he completely misses what she says.

“Yes, hello? Hello?” he stutters, looking down to take note of the phone number displayed on the screen.

“Yes sir, Hotel Regina, Paris, how may I direct your call?” she switches to English at his greeting.

“I’m looking for a guest there,” he doesn’t know why he says it, if the hotel is in Paris there’s no reason for him to stay there when he rents an apartment, but as always he trusts his instincts. “James Barnes.”

There’s a pause where he can almost hear the clack of her keyboard as she checks.

“I’m sorry sir there is no one here by that name.”“Oh, ok thank you,” he sighs, disappointed.“Is there anything else I can do for you sir?” she asks.

“No-Wait, yes!” He jogs over to the doorway where he left the bank bag. “Sorry. Can you please check another name for me? Hang on a second.”

He rifles through the bag until he finds the passport that he wants, opening it to the photo page to read out the name.

“Ivan Mikhailovich Kuznetsov,” he reads out, “that’s K-U-Z-N-E-T-S-O-V.”

“One moment sir.”

He holds his breath, dropping the passport back into the bag and pacing slightly.

“You are a friend of Monsieur Kuznetsov?” she asks, something off with her tone.

“Yes,” he lies, biting his lip.

“Then I am sorry to be the one to tell you sir, but Monsieur Kuznetsov died in a motor accident three weeks ago…”

The rest of what she’s saying fades out into nothing as a ringing starts in his ears.

Monsieur Kuznetsov died in a motor accident three weeks ago.

Monsieur Kuznetsov died in a motor accident three weeks ago.

He hangs up the phone with a mumbled thanks, dropping it onto the desk. There’s silence in the apartment, pressing in on him as his focus zeroes in on every single thing. The placement of everything in the room, the way the curtains hang.

He starts walking, heading first to the kitchen then through to the hallway, he passes the bathroom, pausing to listen to Steve moving around inside. He can hear him brushing his teeth, the two thuds as he presumably removes his boots at the same time.

Everything is catalogued as he goes, locations noted as he picks out the things in each room that could be used as a weapon. As he passes back towards the living room he hears the shower turning on, the sound of the running water echoing in the small bathroom.

He can’t even explain how he knows that something is wrong, just that he can feel it, almost like it’s a tangible thing floating in the air.

“Bucky there’s no hot water,” Steve comes out into the living room, wearing his jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.

Bucky turns to face him, just as there’s an explosion of sound and glass as someone comes through the front door, bursts of machine-gun fire preceding him.

Bucky moves without thinking, rolling to the side and onto his feet just a second before the man is fully on his. He sweeps out with his metal arm, grabbing the gun with his metal hand and wrenching it out of the man’s grip, flinging it across the room hard enough that it embeds itself into the wall

.They square off for but a moment, just enough time for Bucky to take in the man’s strong jaw, smoothly slicked back hair and black tactical gear, before there’s a fist moving at speed towards his face. He blocks the blow ducking under the second before sidestepping a kick.

It’s fast, a flurry of precise and powerful movements as they fight. Bucky’s at an advantage, he has the metal arm and he can tell that he is much stronger than the other man, almost inhumanly so. Any blow he lands could end it, with enough power behind most of them to knock the guy out. But he is fast, expertly dodging and ducking.

Bucky is the first to get a good hit in, knocking the guy back several steps as blood flows from his newly split lip. The guy pulls something long and black out of a holster on his hip, almost like the baton that the police officer in Zurich used. But with a flick of his wrist it changes, lighting up with a crackle of energy.

It’s one thing to see it but another to feel it, slamming into his chest and lighting up his entire body with white hot pain, all of his muscles locking into place. He almost collapses when it stops, breaths coming out hard and fast. He shuffles back slightly regrouping as he watches the other man, the pair of them circling each other.

The man says something, a single word, and though Bucky can recognise it’s Russian, he doesn’t really hear what it is so much as feel the word vibrate through his skull like thick white noise. His muscles relax and he straightens from his fighting stance. He’s confused and scared and fading as his body slowly responds to the word. Ready to comp-

There’s a yell and a thud. Bucky blinks, fog clearing from his brain as he processes the sight in front of him. Steve has run over, jumping on the man and trying to tackle him to the ground. In one swift move the man flings him off, tossing him aside like a rag doll. Steve hits the desk, knocking his head slightly on the way down.

Bucky snaps forward like a snake, taking advantage of the guy’s attention being diverted elsewhere and hitting him in the side of the head with the metal fist. It’s enough to daze him slightly, knocking him to the ground, but not enough to knock him out completely.

He pins him, grabbing onto the front of his shirt with both hands and shaking him roughly until his eyes sort of focus.

“Who are you?” he growls, not yelling. His voice is low, almost a purr, but filled with ice.

The guy’s head lolls slightly, and Bucky drops him, patting him down until he finds a small satchel strapped to his back. Breaking the strap with his hands he steps back. Steve has climbed to his feet, breathing hard and watching them as he pushes his glasses back up his nose.

“Here,” he says, tossing the bag to Steve, “open that up and tell me what’s inside.”

He grabs a hold of the guy again, repeating his earlier question in Russian, shaking him for good measure.

“There’s,” Steve’s voice comes out breathless, “there’s a picture of me. How did he get that? How did you get that?!”

Steve’s voice is verging into slightly hysterical, looking at him he can see a small smear of blood dribbling down his temple. He’s breathing too hard, breaths coming in short and sharp, getting louder as he draws closer to where he’s hunched over the man.

“How did… how did you?”

Bucky drops the guy, stepping out to block Steve. He looks equal parts like he’s about to collapse and/or try beating the guy for information. His face is getting a little red as he continues to fight for breath, and Bucky remembers with a pang about Steve’s asthma.

“Hey, hey.” He grabs Steve by the shoulders. “Stop! I’ll take care of this.”

He’s about to demand Steve tell him where his meds are when another crash distracts him.

He turns just in time to see the man disappearing out the newly broken window. There’s a screech of tires and a horn blaring in the two seconds before a sickening thud sounds. Several people scream.

Once more the clarity takes control, he knows exactly what he needs to do. Letting go of Steve he gathers up the small satchel, tucking it into the bank bag and slinging it across his shoulders. Absentmindedly he tells Steve to get dressed, collecting all of the papers and brochures strewn across his desk into a pile and shoving them in the bank bag as well.

He turns back to Steve, ready to go, only to find the other man standing frozen, staring out the window. His white as a sheet, blood slowly trickling down the side of his face and breathing still shallow and irregular.

“Steve?” He steps forwards slowly. “Steve we have to go.”

Steve isn’t even looking at him so much as through him, eyes slightly glazed over.

“He jumped out the window.” His voice is faint, barely audible over the rough sounds of his breathing. “Why would someone do that?”

“Steve, Steve. ” He ducks down, trying to get Steve to meet his eye. “We have to go, we can’t stay here.”

He’s not sure if it’s the shock, the asthma, or the blow to the head, but Steve is basically gone. Bucky runs into the bathroom, gathering up the bag of stuff Steve had brought up with him and collecting his boots. He returns to the living room, dropping the boots on the ground and pulling Steve into a chair.

He rummages through the bag until his hand clasps around something cylindrical, made of metal and plastic. He pulls it out, barely glancing at the instructions before holding it to Steve’s lips, which are just as white as the rest of him, one hand at the back of Steve’s skull. He depresses the medication, pleased that it’s either so ingrained, or just automatic by now, that Steve inhales deeply with each pull. With his breathing now more even, he collapses slightly, slumping over in the chair.

Dropping the inhaler back into the bag he quickly shoves Steve’s boots on his feet, pulling off his glasses and tucking them into his bag. Bucky wraps him in his scarf, jacket, and hat, before hastily wiping the blood off of his face and pulling him out of the chair.

With both bags slung across his shoulder he all but carries Steve out of the apartment, the smaller man limp and leaning against him, stumbling his way down the stairs. Mathilde is sitting at the bottom, eyes open, bullet in her forehead.

He tucks Steve tighter into his side, hiding her from view as best he can, thankful that he hadn’t replaced Steve's glasses after wiping away the blood.Out on the street, they walk quickly but calmly away from the building, ignoring the growing crowd surrounding the place where the man had landed.

They make it to Steve’s car, Bucky holding on to him with one hand as he fishes the keys out of Steve’s pocket. He bundles the smaller man into the passenger seat, tossing both bags in at his feet before slamming the door shut. Getting in the driver’s side he pushes the seat back as far as it will go, still not having much legroom, but there’s  not a whole heck of a lot he can do about it now.

The only thing he can do is get them as far away as possible.

*

“Code in.

“Agent 22, Sitwell, Alpha 37509.”

“What is it Sitwell?”

“Rollins is dead.”

Where? At the apartment?”

“He went to the Paris apartment, failed to check in after.”

“Well that’s unfortunate. Clean it up.”

“All due respect sir, but I can’t. There’s a body in the street, the Paris Police are involved now.”

“Get on the Police Scanner, find out what the hell is going on. How are we progressing with the other plan?”

“Everything’s in place, we’re just waiting on Lukin to find out.”

“Keep my posted.”

*

“Wait here,” he instructs, undoing his seatbelt. “I’ll be back in five minutes.”

He doesn’t want to leave Steve alone, but he can’t come with him. He’s been recovering from the shock slowly, only having the one other asthma attack. He’s not exactly fully responsive yet, and Bucky’s taking a bit of a risk leaving him, there’s no telling whether he’ll still be there when he gets back. But he needs to get a new bag for all of his stuff and dump the bank bag, it’s too recognisable.

He ducks into the first convenience store he finds, grabbing a bottle of coke and an energy bar for Steve as well as a re-usable shopping bag and a map of Paris. When he’s outside he dumps the contents of the bank bag discretely into the shopping bag, tossing the bank bag into the trash before tucking the new one up over his shoulder, holding it close to his body as he walks back to the car.

When he gets back he stops dead. Steve is gone.

He looks around, spinning from side to side, trying to spot him in the crowds. Even if he was still close by, he’d be easy to miss, he’s about a head shorter than everybody, dressed in fairly nondescript winter clothes, beanie covering his head just like everyone else.

Bucky considers taking the car, the keys are gone, probably with Steve, but he could hot-wire it. He immediately feels guilty for even thinking it. Everything Steve owns is in that car, his clothes, his art supplies, anything of his mother’s that he couldn’t part with. He can’t take the car.

Maybe Steve will come back for it? But the idea of standing and waiting, not actively working towards a goal is not appealing in the slightest. Luckily he’s saved from deciding by a recognisable figure hurrying across the street.

He’s so relieved that Steve is back, but angry at him for leaving, so the first thing he thinks to say is, “I told you to stay in the car.”

Steve just throws him a look, fumbling with the keys and climbing back into the passenger side without saying anything. Bucky huffs out a frustrated breath before getting in.

“Jesus Christ,” he continues once the door is shut, “I told you to stay in the car.”

“I needed a new inhaler,” Steve bites back, “and I didn’t think you were coming back anyway.”

The second half of the sentence is muttered under his breath as he pulls the new inhaler out of his bag, removing the packaging and giving the tiny canister a few shakes.

Silently Bucky reaches into his own back, pulling out the coke and the energy bar, and handing them over.

Steve blinks at them owlishly, eyes flicking up to search Bucky’s face.

“They’re so you don’t slip into shock, plus your blood sugar is probably really low after all of the adrenaline.”

“Thanks,” Steve mumbles, accepting the food and drink, looking for all the world like he had nice bit of rage building up and Bucky’s poked a hole in it by doing something so thoughtful. He’s deflating fast and not sure how to deal with it.

They sit in silence for a long time, Steve eating and Bucky examining the map of Paris, trying to figure out where they are and where it’s safe to go next. He’s mentally making a list of things they need to buy: food and supplies, things to disguise themselves.

It really hits him in that moment; this is it, he’s now on the run. Guiltily he glances over at Steve. Steve who agreed to help him, Steve who tried to believe that there was an innocent explanation for everything, who didn’t automatically think the worst, the way that Bucky did. Steve’ who is sitting there, trembling slightly with the aftershock, still too pale, but who had come back to the car because that’s where Bucky might be.

“You should go to the police,” he sighs, staring out the front window, purposefully avoiding Steve’s gaze.

“What?”

“You have the money I gave you,” he continues still not looking at him, “the pictures, you can take my passport, you tell them everything that happened.”

“My history with French Law Enforcement is not great.”

“They’ll believe you.” He says it more to convince himself than Steve.

“You want to tell the cops so bad, you go!” Steve’s not quite yelling but it’s loud in the small confines of the car.

“You think I want you to go to the police? You think that’s good for me?”

“This photo is from the bank,” Steve points out. “This is from yesterday. How did they get that?

“I don’t know,” he exclaims, because he doesn’t.

“How do they even know we’re together?” Steve continues, steamrolling right over him.

“I don’t know!” He’s shouting now, anger and fear and panic rising up in his throat and making his voice ring out shrilly. “I don’t know who did this, I don’t know about that picture, I don’t know who I am!

He’s practically panting, breaths coming out loud and fast.

“Look,” he sighs sheepishly glancing at the blond, “I’m just trying to do the right thing here.”

“Yeah, well maybe I am too.”

Steve’s got his shoulders square and his jaw sticking forward in that way that Bucky is coming to recognise is his “just try and make me change my mind” pose. His eyes are flashing dangerously, like he’s daring Bucky to argue with him, and even when he looks like he’s trying to goad someone into hitting him in the face he’s probably the most beautiful thing Bucky’s ever seen.

But it’s thoughts like that that absolutely petrify him, and scare him right down to his core. Because he likes Steve. He’s stubborn and sarcastic and argumentative, but he’s also caring and funny and almost inhumanly beautiful. If something were to happen to him because he keeps trying to help Bucky, well Bucky would never be able to forgive himself.

He really does think it would be best for Steve to go to the police, to get above this as fast as he can, to never look back and never think about Bucky again. But he also knows better than to try and convince Steve of that.

Bucky should keep running, never stay too long in one place, just keep moving until whoever it is that’s after him either gives up or he’s dead. It’s bleak and he has no idea how to explain that to Steve just at this moment. But they can’t stay here.

“I need to figure this out,” he sighs, knowing that it’s not enough of an explanation.

“So we figure it out.”

The “together” isn’t spoken, but he can hear it anyway. It makes something warm swell up inside of him.

“First things first,” he pulls the map out to look at it, “We need to go shopping, find somewhere to lay low, make ourselves a little less recognisable.”

He looks for something like a mall nearby, preferably something that will be busy, though given that it’s Saturday after lunch he likes his chances. Marking out a route mentally on the map, he folds it up before tucking it back into the shopping bag and handing the whole thing over to Steve.

“You got a couple of hats of something? Maybe some sunglasses?”

*

“Lukin went to the morgue. He didn’t buy it.”

“What do you mean he didn’t buy it?”“I mean he went in and examined the remains. Apparently the lack of bullet holes tipped him off.”“That is unacceptable.”“Do you know how hard it was to get a metal arm on that guy after we’d burned him to a crisp? All due respect sir, but I wasn’t expecting him to grope the fucking corpse.”

“Where is he now?”

“He just left the morgue, less than three minutes out.”

“Call in Crossbones.” 

 

Chapter Text

The hotel they find is pretty basic, on the opposite side of the city to his apartment. It’s cheap, and the clerk manning the front desk is more than happy to accept an extra €50 instead of their passports. It’s the sort of place that isn’t massive or grand, and makes economic use of what space they do have.

It’s clean and fairly modern, the kind of place utilised by business travellers who don’t have the kind of corporate expense accounts that can afford to put them up in five star joints.

Their room is on the fourth floor, close to a stairwell, far away from the elevators, window that isn’t facing the main street. It’s late enough when they check in that not many of the other guests are about and the staffing is minimal. They keep their hats lowered and their heads down anywhere there might be cameras.

The first thing he does when they are inside of the room is to press Steve back against the closed door. Fixing him with a stern look he holds a finger to his lips, waiting for Steve’s nod of acknowledgement. Dropping the bags from his metal hand, Bucky turns to face the room.

He knows its paranoid, ok. He’s completely aware that combing over every single inch of the room, checking the lamps, mirrors, phone, all of the fixtures, the bed, and even the doorknobs, for listening devices and bugs is completely and totally paranoid. But he would rather be paranoid and safe than well. Not.

Plus given everything that has happened in the last twenty-four hours Bucky feels like a little paranoia is warranted.

Once he’s cleared the small space he nods at Steve.

It’s only the one room with two large single beds and a desk with a large mirror opposite. There’s a tiny bathroom to the side, big enough for a shower, toilet, sink, and not much else. The floor is all hardwood, with one rug on the ground between the two beds.

Bucky dumps their shopping on the bed closest to the door, Steve follows with the bag of things they took from his car. They haven’t spoken about it but Steve seems fine following whatever plan Bucky has. He doesn’t have a schedule per say, just a list of things they need to do before sleeping, and a general idea of which things need doing first.

Ignoring the rest of their shopping, he pulls out the box of hair dye. The entire label is in French, with a woman on the front who – judging by her expression at least – is ecstatic to have her hair dyed what is essentially a very plain coloured brown.

The small box easy to open, he pulls the contents out one by one, lining them up next to each other on the desk. A bottle of liquid, a tube, a tiny plastic pocket, and a folded sheet of instructions. Unfolding the instructions he skims over them quickly.


by Lorien

“You should take off your shirt.” He doesn’t look up when he says it, still absorbed in the instruction booklet.

So he doesn’t see the way Steve’s entire frame tenses at the suggestion, but at the continued silence he finally glances away from the French text. Steve’s not looking at him, eyes pointed down at the ground as he fiddles with the hem of his shirt. His shoulders are up hear his ears, a red flush blooming across his cheeks.

“So we don’t get dye on it.” He’s not sure why he feels the need to explain himself, but looking at the stiff way Steve is standing, how he’s not meeting his eye, the words come out of their own accord.

Steve’s expression pinches slightly, and he’s still not looking at Bucky, but he sucks in a breath and grabs the hem of the shirt with both hands, pulling it over his head in one jerky motion. Placing the instructions leaflet down next to the bottles, Bucky pulls the small chair out from under the desk.

When he glances back at Steve it’s to find him holding his now folded shirt in both hands, almost glaring at him with an almost defiant expression on his face. There’s a hint of red on his cheeks, and something in the hunch of his shoulders, almost like he’s ashamed. But his chin is jutting forward almost stubbornly, and there’s a challenge in his eyes, almost daring Bucky to say something.

He’s not sure what he would say, even if he had it in him to find words right now.

Even before he’d removed half of his clothes Bucky knew that Steve was small. The layers he’s been wearing the entire time he’s known him haven’t exactly done much to hide that. But now he can see the slight build of his shoulders, the way his stomach is almost concave. He can count every single one of his ribs, poking out through his pale skin. There’s a scar on his sternum, straight and surgical, almost four inches long.

Clearing his throat he turns back to the desk, opening the tiny plastic packet and pulling on the pair of gloves. He’s pretty sure hair dye wouldn’t stain his metal hand, but he’s certain it would take a lot longer than is worth it to try and clean it out from between all of the plates and grooves.

By the time he’s added the dye into the bottle of developer, Steve’s seated in the chair. Shaking the bottle to mix them together he turns, stepping around so that he’s behind him. Steve is watching him in the mirror, the dim light of the room making his eyes practically glow.

“Your glasses,” he nods, giving Steve an apologetic sort of grimace.

Once they’re off and folded on the desk he snaps the little plastic top of the bottle, sucking in a fortifying breath.

It’s not brain surgery he’s performing, but he still takes great care when slowly squeezing the dye onto Steve’s scalp. He follows the instructions to the letter, starting with his hair line and the roots before smoothing it through the rest of Steve’s hair.

He’ precise, making sure that not a single drop finds its way onto the exposed areas of Steve’s skin. They didn’t think to get something to try and clean it off if it were to go anywhere it shouldn’t, and the last thing they need is for it to look like Steve just recently dyed his hair.

It doesn’t take long to finish, dropping the bottle into the small waste basket under the desk before using both hands to smooth the hair back, checking that there’s an even coverage and he didn’t miss any spots. Pulling the gloves off, he drops them, the empty tube from the dye and the instructions into the bin as well.

They’ll have to take the bag of trash with them when they leave, drop it in a dumpster or nearby public trash can.

“It needs to sit for half an hour before you rinse it.”

He starts pulling everything out of the bags on the bed, placing it all in neat rows so that it’s evenly spread out over the patterned sheets. Steve stays sitting in the chair, not really able to help without his glasses on.

They bought a lot at the mall. All knew clothes for him, as well as some extra things for Steve. Most of it in dark and neutral colours, made from sturdy fabrics. Warm, but easy to move in, and as nondescript as he could find. Two cell phones, both on pay as you go plans and bought with cash. A couple of bottles of water and some small snacks, granola bars and the like.

The less they have to stop for food the better.

They brought a lot from Steve’s car (now abandoned on the other side of the city). The laptop is three years old, slightly battered and covered in stickers. All of Steve’s work is saved to a portable hard-drive, along with most of his personal photos. Bucky plugs it in between the two beds, balancing it on his lap.

It’s one of the many things he seems to know without knowing, fingers expertly working on the keyboard, wiping as much as he can, removing any spyware or malware he can find, changing things like the IP address, and generally taking the entire thing off of any recognisable database.

He doesn’t even understand half of the commands he’s typing in, entering line after line of code on autopilot until the entire system reboots. He couldn’t explain to Steve what he was doing even if he wanted to. All he knows now is that it’s safe to use without being traced.

He plugs each of the phones in one at a time, setting up accounts and email using fake names and information, so that they can keep in contact if they are separated.

Steve makes a comment about showering, grabbing some clothes and the small toiletries bag he brought before heading to the bathroom.

Along with the laptop, toiletries and few pieces of clothing, Steve stuffed several personal items into the worn duffel they took from the car.

There are four battered journals, two books that look worn but well cared for, and a small roll made from a soft brown leather. The initials SGR are stamped in the bottom corner, the cord holding it shut neatly tied. Inside he knows are different pencils and pens, not really important on their own. Not like the case itself.

Bucky knows he should not have let Steve bring any of it. The books and journals especially are heavy and cumbersome and take up far too much room. They need to be travelling light, only the bare essentials. But when they had been pulling what they needed from the car, he couldn’t bring himself to tell Steve to leave them behind.

They are a part of him, a part of who he is, where he has come from. They are memories, more precious than money. Bucky would give anything to have something, anything that means that much. But he doesn’t. There is nothing that he owns that holds that much value, and he wishes that there was even the smallest thing he could claim that did.

Knowing that, wanting that, there is no way he can begrudge Steve these few fragments of his past.

Slowly he splits everything into two neat piles. The things like clothes are easy, each of them having their own now. The food and water he splits evenly, adding a phone to each pile. He puts all of Steve’s things in his pile save for the laptop, which he places on his own. It’s bulky and heavy, and since Steve already has the journals and books to carry it makes sense for him to have this.

He doesn’t think twice before splitting the money either. It’s a lot more than €20,000, even after their shopping spree. But he doesn’t really care about their agreement, he’d give all of the money to Steve if he could, and this way they will both have enough in case something happens and they are separated.

They will ditch the duffel along with the empty shopping bags. They purchased two backpacks from a camping store, not quite large enough to be considered rucksacks, but big enough to fit everything they need.

They’re as prepared as they can be, it probably won’t be enough, they don’t have any weapons, and even though he can feel the knowledge of where to get them, niggling at the back of his brain, he’s afraid to touch those memories. He’s not ready for anything else that might come along with it.

Besides that, it is probably somewhere, like the bank and his apartment, where whoever it is trying to kill him knows to wait. Safer to leave it. They’ll deal with that problem later.

For now he needs to get them hidden, on the move so that they are harder to track. Dying Steve’s hair was a start, the golden blonde stands out too much in a crowd.

Glancing at the mirror he takes in his own reflection.

He likes the long hair, likes the protection that it offers, the way he can hide himself behind it if needed. But if you don’t include the arm (which given how easy it is to hide in this whether, he doesn’t) it’s the most distinctive thing about him.

That was a good thing, when he wanted to be recognised, when it could be the difference between finding someone from his past and being lost forever.

It has to go.

Peeling his gloves off he moves towards the mirror, taking the scissors they had also purchased from the drugstore and sitting them on the desk.

The mirror is tall enough that he can stand in front of it, not having to stoop or lean to see his reflection. He brushes his hair back, combing through it with his hands until he can hold it in a tail using his flesh hand. Scooping up the scissors with his metal fingers he attacks the bunch of hair.

It takes bit of sawing, his hair is surprisingly thick and the scissors are fairly cheap, but they’re new and they’re sharp and eventually he manages to cut through it all. Dropping it in the small waste paper basket without much of a second glance he continues, picking up small sections of his hair with his flesh hand and cutting them off.

If he had to think about it, he would consider himself right-handed. It’s the one he uses first a lot of the time. But he’s just s dextrous with the left, and the thought of having strands of his hair caught in the plates and potentially fucking with the mechanics of the fingers makes him shudder. It’s not something he’s certain he’d know how to fix.

He’s starting to get itchy. Whatever small snippets of hair that are escaping his hold as he cuts are catching in the collar of his shirt, irritating his skin. He should have taken it off before he started.

He pauses to glance at the closed door to the bathroom. The sound of the shower running is audible, and if he concentrates he can hear the sound of Steve singing softly to himself. His voice is smooth, and though Bucky can’t recognise the song he knows that Steve’s singing on key, his deep voice oddly relaxing.

Dropping the scissors back to the desk he hastily tugs his shirt off, using it to brush away any extra hair sticking to his neck. The relief is immediate but short lived, the sight of his own reflection in the mirror catching his eye.

He would never take his shirt off in front of Steve. The other man may have been embarrassed earlier, self-conscious about his slender frame and the surgical scarring on his chest. But there was something beautiful about the slender lines of Steve’s torso, his slim build and sharp edges strangely ethereal. And if the neat scar on his sternum was something to be ashamed of, then Bucky’s naked torso by comparison was a canvas of ugly marks.

The scarring around his shoulder is the worst, off-colour and mottled skin where the metal met flesh. There were more scars on his chest, most of them large and jagged. He knew that the bullet wounds on his back had healed cleanly, barely leaving a scar at all according to Jim when he’d last examined them.

So for something to have marked his skin the way the scars littered across his chest had, they would have had to have been severe.

Shaking himself he returns to the task at hand, snipping off sections of his hair with much jerkier motions.

It’s a mess. The general shape is there, short around the back and sides, and a little longer on the top. But it’s jagged, with small tufts sticking out here and there. It quite literally looks like someone who’s never cut hair before has picked up a pair of scissors for the first time and hacked away at it blindly.

Bucky’s still shirtless and staring at himself in the mirror, so he can clearly see the way every single muscle in his torso tenses when the door to the bathroom opens behind him. So distracted, he didn’t even notice the shower switching off.

The soft gasp is barely a sound, little more than an intake of breath. Without turning around he can see Steve, reflected in the mirror. He stands frozen in the doorway, steam escaping around him in clouds. He’s put a t-shirt on, still slightly damp in patches it sticks a little to his skin, not doing much to hide his slender frame.

Now that he’s seen it Bucky can imagine only too easily what it would look like, drops of water running along his prominent collarbones, glistening across the expanse of his chest. He has to blink several times to clear the image from his mind.

They stare at each other in the mirror for a beat too long, Steve’s eyes not wavering from his, not dropping down to look at the scarring on his naked back.

Steve is the braver of the two of them, clearing his throat slightly before steeping fully into the room, placing his small toiletries bag on the bed.

“Need a hand?” he asks.

Bucky’s about to answer when Steve seems to realise what he’s just said, eyes darting to the metal arm quickly as his face reddens. The blush colours his neck too, and Bucky finds himself wondering just how far down it travels. Steve looks mortified, and unsure how to apologise for his slip.

Shaking himself slightly Steve moves closer, now unable to meet Bucky’s eye as he gestures for him to take a seat in the small chair. It feels like it’s made from toothpicks but it holds, only creaking slightly as he shuffles his weight. The arm itself is heavy, and he can only imagine what else is metal in his body. He’s grown used to the pull of it, the constant ache in his shoulders and back, the way it pulls on his skeleton and his muscles.

Pain is just one of those things he’s always felt, at least he can’t remember ever feeling any different. His body is always sore, and the headache has faded from the initial agony he woke up with those few weeks ago. But it’s constant, it’s how he knows that everything is real, that he’s not dreaming. That Steve is not something he’s imagined.

It keeps him grounded, when everything happening seems like too much, too crazy to even comprehend that this is his life. Who wakes up with no memories and is apparently wanted by people trying to kill him? If it weren’t for the pain he would have gone crazy from the beginning, losing himself in the madness of it all.

When Steve steps up behind him, scissors in one hand, the other moving to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He’s watching Bucky, he can feel Steve’s eyes on him, the moment stretching on as he waits for him to relax again. The tension is still there, the thought of having someone at his back holding something sharp is enough to have his chest tightening and his senses on alert.


by Lorien

But he forces it down, consciously making his shoulders relax and his breathing even out. He’s not afraid of Steve. It seems stupid, he barely knows the other man in reality. Sure he’s heard everything, heard Steve’s story and seen the way he is around him. But that shouldn’t be enough to cause the blind trust Bucky’s been showing him.

It could easily go wrong, Steve’s got even less of a reason to trust him, and there’s nothing but his inherit goodness keeping him here. But weirdly, Bucky does trust him, more than he trusts anything, more than he trusts himself.

The first snip of the scissors seems to snap the tension in the room. The ambient sounds drifting back into his consciousness, traffic on the street, the hum of the heating. He relaxes into it.

He allows himself to sneak glances at Steve in the mirror, watching him as he works on the mess Bucky’s made of his hair. Steve’s eyes don’t linger on the arm, or the scarring. He doesn’t stare at Bucky’s naked torso, just focuses on his task. There’s a slight frown playing across his features, a tiny line forming between his brows. He’s not quite pursing his lips, but there’s a slight pout to them as he concentrates.

It draws attention to how full they are, still red from the heat of the shower. His hair is damp, neatly combed to the side and several shades darker than what it will hopefully be when it dries. In the soft light of the room he’s almost glowing, hair and lips contrasting sharply with how pale he is. His face is like porcelain, glowing almost. It makes him look ethereal, beautiful.

He can’t help but watch after that. It would be too easy to sink in to the feeling, to allow himself to melt into the sensation of Steve’s fingers gently running through his hair. All of his muscles have been slowly relaxing, no longer the coiled spring the sight of the scissors moving towards him had caused. Any more relaxed and he’s going to melt right into the floor.

As Steve moves around Bucky, he doesn’t pay any attention to the metal arm. He doesn’t give it a wide berth, doesn’t shy away from it. He treats it exactly the same as he did the other arm, letting himself brush against it.

The sound of the plates shifting and re-aligning themselves sound so loud in the otherwise silent room. But Steve doesn’t even pause at the sound, doesn’t spare it a glance. The whirring of the servos almost sounds like it's purring.

As he steps around in front of him, Bucky opens his knees wider, allowing Steve to step into the vee of his legs without much thought. Steve’s just wearing a t-shirt and boxers. He smells like hotel soap and deodorant, simple and clean.

He doesn’t have to sneak glances in the mirror, he’s free to stare up at him now, Steve is so focused on what he’s doing, taking extra care not to let any of the hair fall into Bucky’s eyes. Bucky’s hit again by just how beautiful Steve is. He knows the other man wouldn’t believe him, even if he were stupid enough to blurt it out.

The way he held himself before when he was shirtless, the defiant way he’d glared, tells him everything he needs to know about the way Steve views himself.

He had been so ready for Bucky to say something, for him to judge him with nothing more than a glance.

But in truth he is almost too beautiful to look at. His eyes are such a clear cornflower blue, the lashes around them long enough that Bucky can see them brushing against the lenses of his glasses. His jaw is sharp and his nose slightly too big and crooked in a way that suggests it’s definitely been broken before, and yet there’s something soft about him, the fullness of his lips, the light smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose.

It’s almost too much, and he finds himself having to look away. Dropping his eyes brings them level with his chest, hidden under the slightly too large t-shirt. He can see the way his ribs expand and contract, slightly faster than they should, the slightest rattle to his lungs.

Bucky knows that if he reaches forward he’ll be able to feel the irregular beat of his heart. The hummingbird-fast thrum of it against his ribs. His hand is moving before his mind has a chance to catch up. Dropping it back to his lap he has to curl it into a fist against his thigh. He screws his eyes shut.

He doesn’t see Steve put the scissors down, but he hears the small clack of them against the desk. Before he can quite process the sound there are two hands in his hair, gently running across his scalp before lightly fluffing it up a bit.

“Well I’m pretty sure I won’t be getting offered a job in a Paris Salon any time soon,” Steve says lightly, “but at least you don’t look like you hacked it off with a knife in the dark.”

He should be checking his reflection out in the mirror, he should be concerned with what the final result is. But the second his eyes open they go straight to Steve.

He’s still stood between Bucky’s legs, idly playing with Bucky’s hair and smiling down at him. His eyes are sparkling at his own joke, face lit up by the soft lamplight. His hair isn’t light enough anymore to glow. He’s the most beautiful thing Bucky’s ever seen. Memory loss or no.

Bucky gets to his feet slowly. Steve doesn’t step back, though he blinks at the movement. They’re practically chest to chest, Steve’s head tilted back to that he can meet Bucky’s eye. Shuffling forwards slightly he watches at Steve’s pupils dilate, swallowing up the blue around them until there is just the smallest band of colour left.

He’s not sure how long they stand there, eyes locked, breathing the same air. He’s terrified of pushing any further, of taking that last step that will tip them over the edge into something new and unknown. It’s not the thought of being with another man that has him hesitating, even with only the short amount of memory he has he’s been aware of the way he finds both men and women equally as attractive.

What scares him he most is the thought of ruining the only good thing he has got. It’s barely been 48 hours, and yet he feels like he’s known Steve his entire life. He trusts Steve, more than he trusts himself, and he’s terrified of the thought that this could be the thing that pushes Steve away.

But…

They’ve been frozen in this moment for what feels like an eternity, and Steve hasn’t backed away, hasn’t said anything or done anything to show that he doesn’t want this. If anything he’s drawn closer, leaning into Bucky slightly as if pulled by gravity. His breathing is shallow, his eyes never wavering.

Bucky can’t quite bring himself to move any further than this. He’s not sure what exactly he’d do if Steve were to reject him, but that’s only part of the reason. A lot of it comes from his desire for Steve to want him the way that he wants Steve. He’s made it clear now, gone as far as he can. Steve has the chance to either back away, or to close the distance between them.

Either way, the thought of pressuring Steve into this makes something cold curl in his stomach.

Perhaps recognising this, or just losing patience, Steve sets his jaw, nods to himself slightly and leans in to close the gap between them.

Even though he’s the one that started this, Bucky’s caught off guard by the movement, nearly overbalancing with the strength of it. The kiss is forceful, and even though their lips are both sealed shut he can feel the knock of their teeth. Steve’s up on his tip toes, their faces not quite aligned right, smushed together as his glasses poke into Bucky’s face.

It’s quick, only a couple of seconds long. As they pull apart and Steve drops back down away from him he looks embarrassed, wincing slightly and not quite meeting Bucky’s eye.

Bucky refuses to let that be it. If he’s ever felt this way before he has no memory of it, and even if he has he doesn’t care. This is one of those things that he knows is his, the way that Steve makes him feel. Like he’s a real person, not just three weeks’ worth of experiences duct taped together with a bunch of muscle memory and instinct. He feels like he’s whole and worth something.

Slowly he reaches forwards, telegraphing his movements as he uses both hands to slide Steve’s glasses off of his face gently. Folding them he leans forwards to place them on the desk, never breaking eye contact.

Steve’s flushed, his skin glowing a rosy pink, his eyes so swallowed up by black they don’t look real. He moves with Bucky, almost leaning into him rather than away, like he’s caught in some sort of gravitational pull. He doesn’t kiss Steve right away, first reaching up with both hands to cradle his face gently.

Steve could be dismissed as delicate, porcelain skin wrapped around a skeleton of spun glass, fragile. It would be all too easy to break him, his arm and his strength too much for even the biggest of guys. But there’s a steel to him, something hardened by life and by time. More than that he trusts Steve, to tell him if it’s too much, too fast.

So when it’s him that leans forward to kiss Steve it is gentle. Not out of any fear, but because he wants to savour it. He has a special regard for what few memories he has, and he’s damn well going to take his time making this something he can keep forever.

Their lips press together, and Bucky’s nearly overwhelmed by how soft and plush Steve’s are. They hold like that for a long moment, Bucky cradling Steve’s jaw with the very tips of his fingers, so very careful with his metal hand. Steve is letting him take the lead, waits for him to be the one to deepen it.

The second his lips part, and he gets his first taste of Steve, slightly salty from the fast food they’d eaten for dinner, he’s gone. Sinking into the kiss like it’s the only thing he ever wants to do for the rest of his life. Steve sighs, and it send a shiver up Bucky’s spine.

The kiss turns hungry quickly, Steve no longer satisfied with being a passive participant, stepping forward and against Bucky hands sliding up from where they were resting on his chest to wrap around his neck. He winds his fingers into the newly short hair at the back of Bucky’s neck and pulls, tugging Bucky down towards him and causing him to moan brokenly.

Bucky slips his hands down grabbing a hand full of Steve’s thighs and lifting him up. Steve’s legs wrap around him automatically, hips grinding as he levers himself higher, kissing Bucky even deeper, and biting down on his bottom lip.

They’re both hard, Steve’s boxers doing nothing to mask the outline of his dick as he grinds against Bucky. He keeps letting out these soft whimpers, and it’s all Bucky can do not to hold him down and focus all of his energy on nothing but getting Steve to keep producing those sounds.

They break apart, long enough for Bucky to deposit Steve onto the desk. He’s still got his legs wrapped tight around Bucky, ankles crossed and pulling him closer. He struggles to grab the hem of Steve’s t-shirt, hands trapped between them as Steve bites at the hinge of his jaw.

Eventually he manages to pull back enough to tug the white cotton over Steve’s head, leaving his brown hair ruffled. The flush on his cheeks spreads down his neck, across his collarbones and all the way down to his navel. Now Bucky is the one kissing Steve’s neck, biting softly at the skin and then soothing it with his tongue.

In one swift movement, he picks Steve up dropping him onto the bed. He tugs at the button of his jeans, fighting with the stiff denim until he finally manages to get them off, kicking them somewhere behind himself. His underwear is soon to follow, until he is completely naked.

He stands over Steve, faces with endless amounts of pale flesh, flushed and panting and with no idea where to start. Steve decides for him, slipping his boxers off and tossing them so that they hit Bucky in the chest. It snaps something loose, breaking the tension that's been building up since Bucky got to his feet.

He smiles. There's something so alive about Steve like this. He’s vibrant, smirking at him impishly, eyebrows raised like a challenge.

It's a challenge that Bucky is all too happy to accept, climbing over Steve and kissing him hard enough his head is forced back into the pillow. He presses down, feeling every inch of Steve, skin in skin. The first slide of their cocks together makes him groan, eyes slipping shut as he dedicates a solid minute to just grinding against each other. Lost in the feel of it.

This is going to be over embarrassingly quickly though if they don’t slow down. Bucky can feel it building rapidly, heat pooling in the pit of his stomach, pleasure coursing through his veins. He pulls back slightly, holding himself up on his elbows so that he is hovering above Steve.

The needy groan Steve lets out as they separate sums up Bucky’s thoughts pretty accurately. But he’d already decided that he wanted to savour this, to take his time.

He starts by kissing his way along Steve’s neck, pausing every few to work the skin with his teeth, leaving marks in a trail across his collarbones and down his chest. Once he starts moving down he can’t find a good reason to stop, so he just keeps on going, trailing kisses along Steve’s sternum, following the white surgical scar.

His fingers slot into the gaps of Steve’s ribs perfectly, he can hold him down with both hands as he continues his path down his almost concave stomach. Steve keeps sighing above him, head thrown back in the pillows and softly moaning whenever Bucky finds somewhere especially sensitive.

He has to half climb off of the bed, feet braced on the ground.

By the time he’s made it down to the crease above his thigh, every muscle in Steve’s torso is tense, his back bowing slightly as Bucky just keeps going lower. Biting at the sensitive flesh on the inside of his thigh, touching and kissing everywhere except for where Steve clearly wants him the most.

When he finally does wrap his lips around the length of him, he has to grip Steve’s hips tightly, almost hard enough to bruise. The blonde nearly jack-knifes off of the bed, crying out and throwing his head back as Bucky mouths at the head of his cock.

He gets a little overzealous at first, eyes starting to water as he tries to take as much of it as he can. He pulls back to catch his breath, mouthing at the head, swirling his tongue around it before working a little more into his mouth. He keeps going like that, pushing a little further each time until his throat relaxes and he is swallowing him down to the root.

Steve is babbling, a combination of curses, wordless sounds, and something that could be Bucky’s name. He’s got his fingers in Bucky’s hair, gripping it tight enough to burn. The slight touch of pain send sparks of pleasure down his spine.

“Up, up here,” Steve mumbles, pulling Bucky’s head away. “Want you- want to, up here.”

Bucky quickly climbs back up the bed, slotting himself against Steve and kissing him, deep and hungry. Steve wraps his arms around him, fingers digging into his shoulders. There’s nothing elegant about it, the pair of them grabbing at each other, barely kissing at all, too much tongue and teeth.

Bucky reaches down with his right hand, gripping them both. He rubs his hand against the head of their dicks, gathering the pre-come and using it to smooth the way.

It’s tight and hot and oh so good, the squeeze of it, the feel of Steve, hot and hard against him. It’s too much, building in him, uncontrollable. It doesn’t take long to bring both of them to the edge. Steve gets louder but less coherent the closer that he gets, his whines and moans getting higher and higher pitched.

Steve tips over first, spine curving away from the bed ass he cries out. Bucky barely has a second to register the feel of him, pulsing hot as he comes all over both of them, before he’s falling right alongside him. It burns through him, hot and bright, the pleasure exploding behind his eyes.

They collapse against each other like puppets with the strings cut, both of them breathing hard. Though Steve’s breath is laboured it’s not enough that Bucky’s worried he needs his inhaler.

Steve snuggles closer, ignoring the cooling mess spread all over their stomachs and Bucky’s hand, lazily kissing Bucky’s jaw before tucking his head under his chin. Reaching over him, and ignoring the way he grumbles at being jostled, Bucky pulls a handful of tissues from the box on the small bed-side table, giving everything a perfunctory wipe. He searches for the trash, seeing it all the way across the room under the desk. His bones feel like jelly, and the way Steve’s tucked around him makes his desire to move less than zero.

He drops the soiled tissues over the side of the bed, he’ll deal with it in the morning.

Steve grumbles again when Bucky tries to pull the covers out from beneath them, wrapping himself tighter around Bucky and pressing his face into the joint where his flesh meets metal. Eventually Bucky frees the blankets, pulling them up over their shoulders and rearranging them so that his head is on the pillow.

It’s a tight fit, the bed barely big enough for him let alone another person. But Steve seems content to give his best octopus impression, and Bucky can think of worse ways to spend the night.

Tightening his hold on Steve, he presses a soft kiss to his head, letting his eyes slip closed.  

*

Even if it’s one of the better night’s sleep he’s had, Bucky’s eyes snap open at the crack of dawn. Steve is next to him, rumpled and adorable, mouth open and snoring slightly.

The bed is barely big enough for the two of them, made possible only by the fact that Steve is so small and fits against Bucky almost like he was made to. It would be all too easy to just wrap himself around Steve, snuggle down into the beckoning warmth and just close his eyes.

But they can’t stay here, and the more he gets done before Steve wakes the quicker they can get started trying to figure out who the hell he is. Because Steve wants to help him, Steve wants him to know because Bucky wants to know. If he turned around and told him that he never wanted to find out about his past, Steve would stop looking.

There’s something warm that is burning brightly in his stomach, swooping through his insides and making the edges of his mouth curl upwards without any effort. He feels relaxed, like something has loosened in his spine and a weight’s fallen away from him.

As he makes his way around the room, silently packing away their things, he keeps pausing to sneak glances at Steve sleeping. Sneaking isn’t really necessary, Steve’s dead to the world, spread out into the empty space left by Bucky, small limbs stretching across the warm sheets. Now that he’s moved slightly the snoring has stopped, though his mouth is still hanging wide open, head tilted back.

Shaking himself he gets back to work.

It doesn’t take long for him to finish. He showers quickly, unsurprised that the noise hasn’t woken Steve. Once he’s dressed and everything is packed away he pulls out the packet of anti-bacterial wipes they’d purchased from the drugstore.

It’s not much, and it won’t get rid of any DNA evidence, but he dutifully wipes every surface down, paying particular attention to where their hands have been. He sweeps up the remnants of his hair, wiping the floor after as well to catch any strays, dumping everything into the small trashcan under the desk.

He’ll take the bag and drop it into a public trash can or a dumpster a few blocks away from the hotel.

His motions are methodical and practiced, only faltering slightly when it comes to finding the small pile of soiled tissues he’d hastily used to clean them up last night. Steve was practically comatose in his arms, grumbling slightly at having to move.

The feel of him, naked and warm and only slightly sticky, had been tempting enough that he’d dropped them to the floor beside the bed rather than taking them to the trash. Wrapping himself around Steve so they’d fit on the single mattress together and drifting off to sleep quicker than he had ever done before.

The blush that crawls up his skin is automatic and out of his control, and while he isn’t ashamed there’s a part of him that is thankful that the floor in the room is hardwood, and the rug is on the other side of the bed. There aren’t enough antibacterial wipes in his arsenal to clean semen stains from hotel carpet.

It’s not quite eight by the time he’s done, and even though he doesn’t expect Steve to wake he scribbles a note on a piece of hotel stationary and leaves it on the pillow next to Steve. It’s only two words, back soon, but hopefully it’s enough to stop Steve from panicking if he wakes up while Bucky is gone.

Pulling the bag from the trash he grabs some of the money and heads out.

It takes him less than fifteen minutes to dump the trash and buy breakfast, and Steve is still dead to the world when he returns.

Part of him knows he should wake Steve, give him his breakfast and coffee while it’s still hot; get them up and about as quickly as he can. But the bigger part, the part that wins out, wants to sit on the chair by the desk, eating his pastry and drinking his coffee and watching Steve sleep.

Like a total creeper.

It’s not an expression he’s familiar with, and the thought of it makes him flinch slightly.

It’s one of those ghosts of a memory, nothing more than a sound and a feeling, no images to go with it, nothing to bring it into context. It sounds like a female voice, different to the one that called him медведь, lighter and softer, younger even, the accent similar to Steve’s.

The words sound like they should sting slightly, but the feeling that accompanies them is warmth. They’re teasing, but still affectionate.

Well he is being a creeper, watching Steve sleep, committing the curve of his neck to memory. The shallow rise and fall of his chest, the way the soft light filtering through the windows falls over him like even the universe can’t help but point out how warm and bright and beautiful Steve is.

Bucky knows that he sounds like a complete and total sap, but he likes it. He likes that his observations of Steve are stupid and romantic, that he’s easily distracted by the shadows cast by his eyelashes. It’s better than picking out weaknesses and looking for weapons. More human.

Steve makes him feel more human.

It’s ridiculous and idiotic, because he’s only known him for less than three full days, but he thinks that he might even lo-

The sound that comes from the bed is not quite a word, jumbled up with a groan and a mumble. Steve rolls over, burying his face into the pillow, second sound muffled by it as he stretches. Several cracks cry out as his spine shifts and joints click into place and Steve melts onto the mattress like he’s made of liquid.

Part of Bucky wants to laugh, but the other part of him swells up so big with that feeling of warmth and, and love, that the sound doesn’t make it past his lips.

Steve’s liquid state lasts for six seconds before he jerks suddenly, sitting up and turning to face Bucky. His cheeks are glowing red, and he struggles to hold his eye for long. But it’s bashful more than real shame, so Bucky doesn’t worry.

“Mornin’,” he smiles before taking another sip of his coffee, “I got breakfast.”

Steve hasn’t pulled the sheets up very far to cover himself, and as he blushes Bucky can watch it travel all the way past his collar bones and down towards his navel, tracing the path past the small bruises on his neck and chest that Bucky had put there with his mouth.

He can’t help but feel a little proud of them, the marks causing some primal, slightly possessive part of him to purr.

“Morning.” Steve’s smile is small but bright.

Bucky stands, handing Steve the coffee and croissant that he’d bought, a mirror of the breakfast Steve had gotten for him the morning before.

Settling back into the chair he watches as Steve takes a long sip of the coffee, eyes darting over the room, taking in the packed bags on the opposite bed and Bucky’s dressed state.

“I cleaned the room,” he explains, gesturing unnecessarily, “I wiped it down for prints and got rid of our garbage.”

“So I shouldn’t touch anything? Can I stand on the floor or is it going to leave footprints?”

Bucky can recognise Steve’s light tone as teasing, and now he’s the one who’s blushing and smiling bashfully.

“It’s ok,” he ducks his head, “I left your stuff out so you can shower. I can just wipe it again. It won’t do a lot, I just think that we should get in the habit of leaving as little a trace as we can when we stop somewhere.”

It’s one of those instincts, feels like it’s burned into his muscles, getting rid of as much as possible to minimise any trace of himself. He’s ok with it, knows that it’s keeping them safe. And it’s to a point now where he doesn’t just act before his brain catches up. He recognises the need and then consciously chooses to enact it. Like a real live boy.

Steve slips out of bed, doing nothing to hide the fact that he is still very much naked. His movements are confident as he walks across the small room, though there’s still a pink tinge to his skin. He pauses by Bucky, only hesitating for a fraction of a second before leaning forward to press a kiss to his lips.

It’s quick and chaste. Steve tastes kind of stale and a little like the coffee he’s been drinking. He gently runs his fingers through the newly short hair at the back of Bucky’s neck before straightening. Grabbing his little bag of toiletries he heads into the bathroom, pulling the door closed but not all the way shut.

The urge to follow him into the shower swells up in Bucky suddenly. He has to take a minute to calm himself down because they really don’t have time for that. He could lose himself in Steve so easily, spend the rest of his life touching him and holding him. Learning every inch of him, every single thing that makes him blush to his navel, what causes him to make the soft sighs and sounds that he made last night.

There are worse things that he could dedicate his life to.

But not yet, not while the danger is real and still very present. If it was just him he’d be tempted to ignore it, but it’s Steve also, Steve’s safety in question. There is very little he wants less than to endanger Steve any more than he already has.

By the time Steve’s out of the shower and dressed, Bucky has everything ready. He’s finished his coffee, the empty cup now holds only the paper bag his croissant was in. Steve hands him his toiletries kit to put in one of the bags, sitting down on the freshly made bed to lace up his boots.

“So do we have a plan?” he asks, tying his laces into neat bows before double-knotting them.

“We’ll have to go to the hotel, the one where I stayed as Kuznetsov,” he explains, leaning against the desk, “See if we can get any records from them, phone bills, room service, that sort of thing.”

If they could see how long he was there, who he called, even what times he ate, it could be a helpful start. He heaves a small sigh, this is the part where the plan gets difficult.

“The only problem is-”

“You’re supposed to be dead?” Steve’s sitting up, eyebrows cocked and a small smile on his face.

Bucky nods. Part of him is realistic, that it’s going to take effort and recon to get access to the hotel’s records. He can’t be seen at all by any of the staff. Hotel guests dying isn’t something that happens frequently, and he knows that everyone, from the manager to the people who wash the linens will know about it.

They’ll have spoken to each other, about how tragic it was, or even gossiping with the sort of morbid fascination humans tend to have towards something terrible that doesn’t affect them directly. Many of them will never have seen him during his stay, but they will all know what he looks like now.

So it all boils down to Steve. To Steve being able to get in and out multiple times without drawing attention to himself. Steve reporting back to him all of the information he needs to form a more concrete plan for stealing the records. It could take days, they’ll need to find somewhere new to stay, keep on the move.

The plan has been forming in his mind, ever since waking earlier he’s had a small portion of his brain dedicated to figuring out their next steps. It’s easy to him, compartmentalising that way. Dividing his focus to several separate tasks. Cleaning the room, planning their next step, and a small rebellious section that keeps drifting back to Steve.

“So here’s what we need to do…”

Chapter Text

Bucky isn’t expecting to feel so nervous. He’s been so calm and collected about a lot of things, especially when there is a plan in place. The stuff that’s given him the most trouble is when there are things that are uncertain. The realisations of how little he can definitively state as fact, the overwhelming panic caused by not knowing what’s real.

But there’s a calm that usually settles over him when it comes to action. When there is a goal and a plan, everything else becomes inconsequential background noise.

Now however there’s anxiousness churning in his stomach, rising in his throat like bile as he stands, waiting by a payphone two blocks from the Hotel Regina to hear from Steve. The small glass booth is stifling, the air humid from his shallow breathing as he fidgets with the phone cord, counting seconds in his head.

It’s only been a few minutes (twelve minutes, thirty-four seconds) since he left Steve at the front of the hotel, quickly but calmly walking to the pay phone and locking himself inside. The claustrophobia isn’t helping, but he’s so paranoid that stepping outside and potentially missing the sound of the phone ringing is unthinkable.

Steve is fine. He’s fine.

It’s a very public hotel, there are lots of people around. No-one can know that they are together, no-one will recognise him, even if there are people in place like at the bank to take him out should he show up. (The cynical part of his mind keeps telling him that the sort of people that are after him know everything).

It doesn’t take long for him to get caught up imagining scenarios where jack-booted thugs have snatched Steve and are hurting him so he’ll tell them where Bucky is. He’s picturing Steve, bruised and broken, grinning through a bloody mouthful and sassing his captors because he’s an idiot with absolutely no self-preservation instincts.

He’s worked himself up so much that the sharp tapping on the glass of the phone booth makes him jump out of his skin, whirling around ready to yell at whatever impatient asshole stupid enough to try and tell him to hurry up.

It’s Steve.

The relief is so sudden and overwhelming he almost sags with it, eyes roaming over every inch of Steve’s face, looking for injuries, looking for anything in his expression to suggest that he’s not here of his own free will. The concern pinching Steve’s brow is enough to stop him from sweeping the surrounds to see if he can spot any snipers.

Pushing the stiff door open he steps out. The cold air is a welcome relief, and he’s so happy that Steve is here and safe and not getting tortured for information that it takes him a second to realise that something must have happened.

Steve was supposed to call him from the lobby, using one of the burner phones they’d bought to relay the information Bucky needed before he could tell him what to do next.

“What happened?” It takes all of his self-control not to grab at Steve and pat him down. “Did something go wrong?”

Steve shakes his head, looking torn between being concerned about Bucky and amused by Bucky’s obvious concern for him.

“No nothing went wrong. Um…”

Now Steve’s eyes drop and Bucky notices the flush spreading across his cheeks.

“What happened?” he repeats, confused.

“Well I was walking across the lobby, counting my steps and doing all that stuff you asked.” Steve’s still blushing, not quite able to hold Bucky’s eye. It takes him a second to realise that Steve’s embarrassed, and not because he made a mistake. “And there was this guy working at the concierge desk. He kept… smiling at me.”

Bucky frowns down at him, still not quite following.

“All this trouble making floor plans and looking for security cameras,” Steve rolls his eyes, “I figured it might just be easier to ask for the records.”

Bucky doesn’t understand, “I don’t understand.”

“I flirted with the concierge.” He huffs it out in one breath, like he’s ripping a Band-Aid off. “For whatever reason he kept checking me out, so I started talking to him and…”

Steve holds up several sheets of paper, folded in half and slightly crumpled, like he’s been fidgeting with them the entire walk over.

“You just asked for them?”

“I told him I was Mr Kuznetsov’s personal assistant,” he nods.

Then it clicks, Steve seduced the guy at the front desk into giving him the records, and doesn’t seem to understand how it worked. The smile that spreads across Bucky’s face is wide and bright, he could almost laugh. All of his careful planning, working out ways to get as much information as he could so that he could eventually disguise himself somehow and break into the hotel to steal the records. Steve basically said “fuck it” and asked for them.

“What do you mean ‘for whatever reason’?” He’s still smiling, nudging Steve with his elbow. “Poor guy took one look at you and didn’t stand a chance.”

Steve’s blush deepens and he rolls his eyes, like Bucky’s making fun of him. Bucky is making fun of him, but not for the reason Steve seems to think. It’s a slightly sobering thought; that Steve doesn’t seem to realise just how attractive he is.

He saw a glimpse of it last night, the way he looked equal parts ashamed and defensive, like he was ready to fight Bucky if he had said something disparaging about his appearance.

Bucky wants to say something, probably something sappy about how beautiful Steve is, how the concierge was doomed from the start. But now isn’t the time, they have to move, get out of the open to somewhere private so they can look at the records.

But he takes a second to silently vow to himself that after this is over, when they’re safe and away from danger, he’s going to do everything he can for as long as it takes until Steve sees himself the way Bucky sees him.

*

“Sir, Secretary Pierce is on line one for you.”

“Karpov.”

Aleksander Lukin was just assassinated in his Paris home.

“Yes I know. I just got the report… We think it might be the Asset. He felt compelled to finish his mission.”

This was supposed to be contained, quiet. It’s a matter of hours before this is spread across the international news circuit.”

“We think it means his mission parameters are back in effect.”“What happens next?

“Programming dictates he’ll check in at the nearest safe house within 24 hours for maintenance and wiping.”

You better be right Karpov. For your sake.

*

There were only two numbers listed in outgoing calls on the hotel’s phone log. The first was disconnected when Bucky tried calling, the second was for the office of Patrick Nestor at the Roxxon Oil Corporation. After a mumbled “wrong number” he’d hung up on the secretary, before opening the internet app on his phone and searching for Nestor.

Patrick Nestor was born in America, living in Paris and working as an executive for Roxxon Oil’s International division, located in Paris. His name popped up every now and then in the news when Roxxon inevitably swallowed up yet another industrial firm.

Going to see Nestor is a gamble, he could be one of the people who thinks he’s dead, he could be the one trying to hunt him down and kill him.

But there is a background check on him (much more thorough than what Bucky can accomplish using Google) in the small stack of papers he’d gathered at his apartment. Only two pages long, covering everything from the names and political affiliations of Nestor’s parents, to the schools he went to, to his current financial situation and investment portfolio.

There aren’t any further notes on the typed pages, everything neatly set out with only the barest amount of information. Nothing is highlighted or underlined, there isn’t anything scribbled in the margins, just a list of facts and absolutely nothing to discern any kind of context to it all.

But it’s worth the risk, it’s the closest thing to a lead they have.

Which is why he finds himself walking into the Roxxon offices that afternoon, leaving Steve several blocks away at a small café that offers free Wi-Fi, reading through everything they have and trying to find a new angle.

He walks confidently into the building, heading straight for the elevators like he knows exactly where he’s going (thanks to the floor plans included in the background check on Nestor he does) and like he has every right to be there. He barely makes it out of the elevator on Nestor’s floor when a female voice he recognises as the secretary who answered the phone calls out his name.

Well not his name, but Kuznetsov’s name.

“You cut your hair!” she smiles, speaking English.

Standing up from behind her desk quickly she walks around to shake his hand, her touch lingering slightly, but in a way that he interprets as friendly rather than flirty.

“It looks so different,” her eyes sweep over his shorter haircut, eyes crinkling with the breadth of her smile, “It looks lovely.”

“Thank you,” he mumbles, playing a hunch and colouring his tone with a heavy Russian accent.

Gripping his right arm just above the elbow she gives it a small squeeze before looking back over her shoulder. The door is large and solid, a sleek plaque with Nestor’s name attached to it. The entire office is fairly closed in but with all of the walls made from glass, creating an impression of open space.

“Monsieur Nestor didn’t say anything about you meeting with him today,” her tone isn’t accusatory, if anything she seems glad to see him.

“I should have called,” he sighs, keeping his gaze lowered.

She is maybe twenty years older than him, well dressed in a simple blouse and skirt that are clearly designer. Her watch is rose gold and the studs in her ears are definitely real diamonds, small and demure. They way she’s holding him, one hand one hand on his elbow, the other loosely wrapped around his wrist, speaks of familiarity.

There’s something about the way she speaks and smiles that reminds him of the landlady at the apartment, warm and motherly, like at any moment she’s going to try and introduce him to her young single daughter.

“Oh he won’t mind at all!” She gives his elbow another squeeze before steering him towards the closed office door. “We were getting worried, we have not seen you in so long.”

She pushes the office door open easily, despite the fact that Nestor is visible on the other side of the glass walls, in the middle of a phone call.

The irritated expression on his face as he glances up at the interruption fades almost immediately when he sets eyes on Bucky, shifting into a smile. He holds up one finger, wincing apologetically at them before returning to his call.

Nestor is in his late forties, fair skinned and slightly balding, his mousy brown hair artfully combed to hide the fact. It’s hard to tell how tall he is sitting down behind his expensive desk, but he looks like he’d be shorter than Bucky. Medium build, not overly muscular but not sporting too soft a stomach either.

The background report had Nestor as happily married with no children, and Bucky can see the wedding band glinting on his finger.

He wraps the call up quickly, smiling apologetically at Bucky once more as he deposits the sleek phone back into its cradle.

“Mr Kuznetsov, what a pleasant surprise.” His accent is very much American, light and pleasant with hints at his Boston upbringing. “It’s been so long I was worried you had decided to take your business elsewhere.”

Nestor can’t quite keep the accusation out of his tone as well as his secretary can, something sharp about his eyes as he looks Bucky over briefly.

“Of course not,” Bucky smiles, injecting a little more confidence into his tone than he’d shown earlier, “I had a small family emergency at home that I had to take care of.”

“Nothing too serious?” Nestor makes a good go of sounding concerned, but his eyes narrow slightly.

If he was doing some sort of deal with Nestor and then suddenly dropped off the face of the earth for three weeks or longer then Nestor is justified in being suspicious. Bucky can only assume that Kuznetsov was selling something to Roxxon and Nester was facilitating, and that kind of radio silence could easily be interpreted as finding someone else willing to pay more.

“A very disgruntled fiancée complaining about how much travelling a have been doing.”

There’s a pause before Nestor laughs, shaking his head and smiling at him.

“My wife is much the same,” he sighs. “She was very happy when I was relocated here permanently. Shall I have Léa get you a coffee?”

“No, thank you.”

Nestor gestures for him to sit, thanking Léa in a way that’s clearly a dismissal. Settling back into his own chair he gives Bucky a surveying look, much more relaxed now that he has an answer to where Bucky has been the last month.

“Now,” he leans forward arranging some of the papers on his desk, “I assume you’re here because you are still interested in selling to Roxxon?”

“Absolutely,” he nods, “I apologise for the delay-”

“Not at all.” Nestor gives him a look that clearly states women, what are you gonna do?

It probably wouldn’t do well to hit the man he’s trying to get information out of, so he smiles like he agrees.

“Everything was pretty much wrapped up if I recall correctly,” Nestor turns to examine something on his computer, mouse clicking away. “We were just waiting for the last of the papers to be signed. Were you still interested in utilising the boat? It’s available right away if you would like, Mr Lukin returned it earlier than expected.”

“Of course,” he nods.

“Excellent. Perhaps I could organise for you to have her for an extra week? Maybe take your fiancée for a little romantic getaway?”

“That is very generous of you.”

“Not at all,” Nestor shakes his head, getting up from behind his desk, “We like to take care of the businesses we buy into.”

Bucky also gets to his feet, leaning forward to shake hands with Nestor.

“I will have my lawyer fax over the relevant paperwork,” he nods, releasing Nestor’s hand.

He’s lead back out towards the elevator.

“Léa, can you please fetch Mr Kuznetsov one of the brochures for the boat?” He turns to Bucky while she gets up to retrieve it. “You can show it to your fiancée, surprise her with a small holiday.”

He thanks her when she passes him the large brochure, printed out on thick glossy paper, photos of an expensive looking boat adorning the cover long with the Roxxon logo.

“If you and your fiancée are in the city over the weekend give me a call, we can all go out to dinner to celebrate, I’ll bring my wife along.”

Smiling and nodding and saying his goodbyes, Bucky beats a hasty retreat. The elevator ride seems to take forever, but he waits until he’s out of the building and almost a block away before pulling out the burner phone and calling Steve.

“So I’m definitely Kuznetsov.” He speaks before Steve even finishes saying hello. “I just had a meeting as Ivan Mikhailovich Kuznetsov.”

“Bucky-”

“So I’m definitely James Barnes,” the landlady at the apartment had confirmed that, “I’m just also definitely Kuznetsov.”

“Bucky-”

“Kuznetsov who apparently has a business to sell to Roxxon oil.” It doesn’t feel right, there’s nothing in all of the info he’d take from the apartment to suggest anything like that. All of it seemed to be about private security. “Unless the business was private security? That doesn’t-”

“Bucky!” Steve practically yells it.

“What?”

“I just found Ivan Mikhailovich Kuznetsov’s body at the morgue.”

Bucky freezes, just stops right in the middle of the sidewalk.

“If you’re Kuznetsov, whose body do they have?”

That is a really good question. And why would they (whoever they end up being) need to have a body in the first place? Did they fake an entire accident on the motorway? Just to appease someone at the hotel who probably wouldn’t even check up on the story so thoroughly. There is something more at play here.

“Which morgue?”

Steve rattles off an address and agrees to meet him there.

It’s on the other side of the city, nearly an hour by bus. Steve is waiting for him when he gets there, bundled up against the chill of early evening and leaning against a wall two buildings over. It’s easy to get in to see the body, the guy working is young and pretty low on the food chain, stuck in here whilst everyone else is starting dinner, and all too happy to accept the €100 Bucky slips him.

He leads them into a long room, the left side lined with the cooling units they keep the bodies in. Something about it makes the hair prickle unpleasantly on the back of Bucky’s neck. It’s not so much the thought of death, it’s the thought of being put inside a box like that, preserved. Trapped.

The guy reaches over to a door marked 107C pulling it open, turning to face them with a bored expression as he slides the drawer out.

It’s empty.

“Is this a joke?” Steve sounds angry, offended even.

The guy blinks at him, turning to look down at the slab and jumping when he sees that there is nothing on it.

“Oh my God,” he’s white as a sheet, “you shouldn’t be in here! I need to call my supervisor.”

Bucky doesn’t hesitate, dragging Steve from the room while the guy fishes his cell phone out of his pocket and dials. Glancing over his shoulder as they step back through to the small office he makes sure the guy is still on the phone. Letting go of Steve he stalks over to the desk.

“What are you doing?” Steve hisses.

Bucky doesn’t answer, looking over all of the clutter until he finds it. The book is large and leather bound, and when he opens it is filled with neatly filed lists of names and dates, all in different sets of handwriting. He flips to the last used page, tearing it out of the book and hurrying Steve from the room.

When they are out on the street he scans over the names, stopping dead when he sees one he recognises.

“Aleksander Lukin.” He frowns down at the name.  “The guy at Roxxon said something about a Mr Lukin.”

“When did he sign in?” Steve is up on his tiptoes, leaning over to read the sign in sheet.

Bucky hands the page over for Steve to read, pulling out his phone to search Lukin’s name. Typing it into google brings up several international news websites, the first is Russian and he clicks on it before reading the headline fully.

Aleksander Lukin Assassinated

“What is it?” Steve’s staring up at him, concern all over his face.

“Lukin was killed last night.”

There goes any chance of finding out why he might care about the death of Kuznetsov.

They aren’t too far from the hotel, so they walk a little further, stepping into a small café and finding a secluded table towards the back. Steve goes up to order their coffees and Bucky pulls his phone back out to read through the full article. The more he reads the colder he feels, until it’s all that he can do to now throw up.

By the time Steve slides into the seat across from him, placing two coffees on the table, he feels ready to shake out of his skin

.“What is it?” Steve’s voice is soft, the concern evident. But there’s an undercurrent of caution, like he’s preparing himself for the worst.

Bucky doesn’t even know how to answer, just slides the phone across the table to Steve.

“What does this say?” Steve glances back up at him. “Buck I can’t read Russian, what does it say?”

“It says Aleksander Lukin was shot dead in his Paris Home last night.” His voice is flat. “It says that in an interview given two weeks ago Mr Lukin spoke about a man, who came on to his boat in the middle of the night and tried to kill him. It says he shot that man, in the back, three times.”

His voice hasn’t gotten any louder, stating everything in the same monotonous tone, like he’s reading it from the article instead of reciting it as fact.

“It says that I’m an assassin.”

He can’t read Steve’s expression, he’s watching Bucky, face giving nothing away. Is he scared? Disgusted? Angry?

Bucky thinks back to that morning, to daydreaming about him and Steve working through whatever it was that had happened to him, and then what? Building a life together? It seems so incredibly naïve now. He knew right from the start that something bad had happened to him. And the more he learnt, the more weird things he could just do without trying, everything that had happened to him since he set foot on dry land, the more certain he became. He said it to Steve himself, they aren’t the sorts of things good people can do.

Good people don’t have guns and aliases in safety deposit boxes, good people don’t get attacked by shady militant types, they don’t see someone throw themselves out of a window without blinking.

Assassins do.

*

You said it would be twenty-four hours, and he’s not back.

“We’re working on it.”

I have to go before the World Security Council, what exactly do you suggest I tell them when they start asking about Lukin and Department X?

“The Winter Soldier has broken programming and is roaming free around Europe and you’re worried about a budget meeting?”

Karpov, I’m not sure you understand the position I’m in-

“The position you’re in? There’s nothing tying you to any of this mess, you made damn well sure of that over the years Pierce. I’m the one whose neck is on the line. I know how Hydra works, if I don’t get this mess sorted out I don’t make it to next week.”

*

They catch a cab back to the hotel instead of walking. He still can’t read Steve, can’t figure out what he’s thinking. The silence is starting to scare him a little, he’s so used to Steve filling the silences with his deep voice, chattering about anything and everything like he too has been alone for a long time and is thankful to have someone to talk to finally.

It’s when they are a block away from the hotel that Bucky sees the flashing lights. There are people milling about everywhere, a large group forming at the hotel entrance as police try to keep them back slightly. The red and blue illuminating the entire scene.

He tells the cab driver to let them out here, opening the door while the car is still moving when he doesn’t. Tossing some notes at the driver he grabs both bags in his right hand he slings them over his shoulder, using his left arm to gently but hastily pull Steve out of the cab.

Keeping his head lowered and his hand on Steve he walks in the opposite direction to the hotel, ignoring the way the driver calls out about his change. They keep moving, turning into a darker side street away from the noise and bustle of the main walkway.

He’s muttering to himself under his breath, and it’s not until Steve speaks that he realises he wasn’t doing so in English.

“What the hell is going on?” Steve sounds confused, but there’s an edge to his voice, something verging on anger.

“We’re blown.”

“Blown?” Steve glances back over his shoulder where the faint red and blue glow of the lights is still visible. “You don’t know for sure that was for us.”

Swearing in Russian he pulls Steve forward faster, striding up to a parked police car. Using his metal arm he elbows the passenger side window, reaching through the broken glass to grab the sheet of paper sitting on the seat.

“Jesus Christ Buck what are you doing?!”

“Here! This is blown.”

The paper has both of their faces on it, their descriptions written out in French. He doesn’t know what it is they are wanted for, probably something to do with the man from the apartment, dead in the street. It’s like the walls are closing in, every time he thinks he’s got something figured out, has halfway formed a plan, the universe just throws another curve ball at him.

He was starting to form an idea in his head, something to do with corporate espionage, maybe connections to a crime family or drug cartel. But this, the police being involved if for nothing more than an attempt to try and flush him out, this means that it’s much more official than that. That there are governments involved somehow.

But it raises just as many questions as it answers. Which governments? Was he working for them or against them?

He can see that Steve is about to turn and run about a second before it happens, darting forward and grabbing a hold of him so he can’t go anywhere. He’s much bigger than Steve, even without the metal arm and his inhuman strength he would be able to stop him.

“What are you going to kill me too?”

Steve’s jaw is stuck out, his shoulders squaring like he’s preparing himself to fight Bucky and doesn’t care that Bucky knows it. But it’s not until he asks that question that Bucky realises just how sick the thought of Steve being scared of him makes him.

“Steve.”

“Is that what happens next?” He’s bracing himself, preparing for a blow he thinks is coming.

“We have to stay together.” Bucky needs them to stay together, he can’t lose this, can’t lose Steve. Not when he’s the first thing that has made him feel like a real human being. “Whatever happens next we have to-”

“We?” Steve’s voice is getting louder, there’s something slightly hysterical to it. “The only thing we had in common was that neither of us knew who you were. I think we’re well beyond that now.”

He feels desperate, desperate to hold on to Steve, to go back to how things were this morning, loose and warm and wonderful. Not like now, now that Steve’s looking up at him, his blue eyes filled with anger and fear, looking at Bucky like he’s a bully.

Just like that he knows he’s lost Steve. He could argue, could point out that he told him all of this, he told Steve he wasn’t a good person. It’s not his fault that this is what it took for Steve to believe him. But it’s all pointless now, they can’t go back to this morning, can’t pretend that there is a reasonable explanation for how Bucky is the way that he is, one that doesn’t involve death and murder and crime.

“You can’t go to the police now,” his voice is calm. Usually the stillness comes over him without any of his control, when something starts happening and his muscle memory and instinct take over. Now however he draws it around himself on purpose.

He purposefully brings for that ice cold persona, letting it envelop him, pushing his emotions down into a place deep inside of himself where they can’t bother him.

“The people who are after us,” he continues, “the ones who killed Lukin, who took our photos at the bank, they are going to kill us.”

“The people you work for Bucky.”

“Maybe,” he agrees, no point arguing about it, not now when they both know the truth. “Either way they are the reason the police are here.”

Steve can’t hide his shock, glancing back over his shoulder again. Bucky can see the realisation hit him, can pinpoint the second he figures out just what that means.

“I will take you anywhere you want to go,” he grabs Steve’s shoulders, purposefully ignoring the way he tenses, “I will take you there and I will leave you. I promise you won’t ever have to look at me again. But we can’t stay here.”

He stares at Steve, making sure the other man is looking him in the eye. Nothing matters right now except for keeping Steve safe. If he’s a monster, he’s a monster. Steve can already see it, so there’s no point trying to hide it. Ha can focus all of his energy on keeping Steve safe, whether it scares him or not.

“We stay here we die.”

*

“Eyes here. Whatever you’re currently doing, stop. Bury it. This is Level One. Contact D.O.T. I want trains, buses. All traffic lights in Paris go red, monitor all gates and runways at Charles de Gaulle and Orly. All CCTV and security cameras in the city go through this screen right here. Scan all open sources, phones, computers, PDAs, whatever. If the Asset’s face pops up anywhere, I want to know about it.”

*

They’ve stopped at a gas station just outside the city limits, the car they stole is parked towards the back. Bucky is taping some plastic over the driver’s side window of a new one, covering where he broke the glass with his metal arm. Steve’s been markedly silent at the theft of the cars, disapproval in his eyes but not actually saying anything.

Steve is at a payphone, calling an “old friend” from London who owns property nearby.

“There was no answer.” He’s got both of his hands stuffed deep in his coat pockets.

“How long did you let it ring?”

If the place is empty they can crash there in relative safety for the night until they figure out where Steve can go before Bucky leaves. He doesn’t want to leave, and not just because he doesn’t want to be away from Steve. Steve doesn’t want him to be near, so Bucky won’t be.But he has no way of knowing if Steve is safe, of keeping Steve safe, unless he’s got eyes on him. Abandoning him somewhere “for his own good” feels an awful lot like giving up.

“Look,” Steve sighs, glancing out at the highway, “I can hitch, it’s no big deal.”

“I said I’d take you.” It was as close to giving his word as he could get, and after everything, his word was the only thing left to offer.

They climb into the sedan, silently putting on their seatbelts and pulling out of the car park. They’ve been quiet in each other’s presence before, but it had grown comfortable. Now it was back to the stiflingly awkward silence from when they’d first left Zurich, filled with tension and mistrust.

Bucky wants to turn on the radio, drown it out with whatever top 40 hit is playing. But he can’t bring himself to reach over and do it, can’t be the one to admit defeat. He doesn’t want to acknowledge that everything is broken between them, that he’s the one who broke it.

“Peggy and I went to high school together.” Steve is, as always, the braver of the two. “She grew up in London but her Cousin Sharon’s family lived in New York. Peggy came to stay with them for a year whilst her parents were divorcing.”

His tone is different from their first car ride, there’s none of the animation from his earlier stories. Instead of sharing a memory, he’s just stating facts, bland and cold. It almost makes Bucky want to shiver, despite the fact the heater is working. His chest aches.

“I stayed with her in London when I first came over.”

Bucky remembers, it’s a perfect example of the difference in how Steve is speaking to him now. Listening to him talk about living in London the first time had been almost enthralling, Bucky had hung onto every word, building images in his mind of this Peggy and her apartment, the way she was around Steve.

It doesn’t take them long to get to the small farmhouse, it’s a sturdily built little cottage, large trees surrounding it, well maintained but showing its age. There’s snow blanketing the entire yard, Bucky can make out a small shed with wood for a fire piled high inside of it as he opens the gate.

“You sure she still owns this place?” He asks it as they get their bags out of the back, eyes sweeping over the building.

“Her grandmother was a spy in World War Two,” Steve explains, his breath fogging up the icy air, “She helped liberate the village over the hill from the Nazis. Bought this place when she retired. Peggy would never sell it.”

They spend too long looking for the spare key, Bucky eventually giving up and bending down in front of the ancient lock on the front door.

“We can’t just break in!” Steve hisses, almost whispering like he expects someone to be nearby.

“We were doing that anyway, key or no,” Bucky rolls his eyes.

It’s not like he’s going to kick the door in. It takes very little effort to work the old and slightly rusted lock, the door clicking open after less than a minute.

Straightening and taking a step back, he lets Steve enter before him, eyes sweeping the surrounds, taking in the fields on one side and the sparse forest on the other before following. Steve’s already moved on from the kitchen, Bucky wanders through towards what could be the living room.

“We can stay here for tonight until we figure out our next move.”

He stops dead in the living room. There is a tree and decorations, tiny multi-coloured fairy lights strung everywhere and most definitely turned on, illuminating the room in a soft rainbow glow. Steve comes into the room, takes one look at the decorations and the colour immediately drains from his face.

He’s opening his mouth to say something when they hear it, the sound of the large gate swinging open and a car pulling up.

“Get outside!” Steve starts physically shoving him in the shoulder herding him out of the room and back through the kitchen.

They manage to make it outside and have the door shut by the time the engine switches off, coming around the corner just as a tall brunette woman steps down from the large SUV, shutting the door behind her, eyes fixed on their stolen sedan.

Bucky watches her startle at the sight of them, tracks the way her hand jumps to her hip reflexively, tensing as he recognises the motion as someone reaching for where they’d have a gun holstered. She relaxes when her eyes land on Steve, only the tiniest flash of confusion crossing her features as her eyes take in Steve’s dyed hair before settling into a smile.

“Steve!” her accent is crisp, teeth flashing white against the dark red of her lipstick. “How long have you been waiting here?”

“Not long,” even Bucky can tell Steve’s returning smile isn’t genuine and he’s only known him for a couple of days. “I wasn’t sure you’d be here.”

“Yes well, it’s only my house now, isn’t it?” Her smile has grown a little sharper, eyes narrowing slightly at the small laugh Steve forces out. Something in her shoulders slumps as she looks at them, voice sounding long suffering. “What trouble have you gotten yourself into now?”

“Can’t a guy just want to visit an old friend?” There’s a teasing edge to Steve’s tone, he’s not panicking at the question. Bucky tries to let it calm him down as well.

“Steve, darling,” Peggy shakes her head, though her tone is equally as teasing. “You have always been the most dreadful of liars.”

There’s something warm about the way she says it, like it’s something she admires about Steve rather than something that’s going to get them into trouble.

Bucky looks to the car, surprised by the people inside. There’s another woman, smaller than Steve if he had to guess, with chestnut hair. Her eyes are taking in the scene before her, concerned but not outright worried. She keeps turning in her seat, expression shifting into a bright smile as she talks to the little girl in the back. Strapped into a car seat she’d be maybe five, curly white blond hair poking out from a bright red beanie with a giant bobble on the top.

"Ok,” sighs Peggy in resignation, “Shall we go inside before we all freeze to death?”

She doesn’t wait for an answer, turning to the back of the car and opening the door, unstrapping the little girl from her car seat as the other woman says something to her Bucky can’t make out. Peggy responds and the other woman climbs out of the car, bouncing out onto the snow and smiling blindingly at the pair of them.

“Long time no see Brooklyn.” Her own Brooklyn accent is even heavier than Steve’s, eyes sparkling as she gives Bucky a very obvious once over. “Who’s tall dark an’ handsome over here?”

“Hi Angie,” he calls back, “this is Bucky.”

“Nice to meet ya Bucky,” her eyes sweep over him once more, her smirk deepening. “I’m Angie.”

“Ma’am,” he nods.

Angie cackles, throwing her head back and laughing loudly.

“Ma’am?” she says gleefully, “another gentleman I see, perfect for you Steve.”

He doesn’t have to look at Steve to know that he’s blushing to his hairline, Angie’s triumphant expression says it all.

“Leave the poor boy alone darling,” Peggy sighs, hoisting the little girl higher on her hip, “and let Howard out before he ruins the upholstery.”

Angie darts around the back of the car, opening the back and letting a large black Labrador out. The dog immediately runs towards them, running small circles around their legs and sniffing everything he can get his nose on before practically climbing Steve in an attempt to lick his face.

The smile Steve is wearing is the first genuine one Bucky’s seen on him in hours, his own lips curling up in response before he remembers. He can’t stay with Steve, not anymore.

When he turns back to the others he finds Peggy staring at him, there’s something assessing in her gaze that makes him feel like she knows absolutely everything. He’s the one to break eye contact, stepping forward and offering to help Angie carry the bags of groceries inside.

Following everyone into the kitchen, ignoring the teasing laugh she gives, he deposits everything on the counter at her direction. She leaves them to take the little girl, Dottie, upstairs to get her out of her winter gear. Peggy is already hanging her coat up by the door, gesturing for them to do the same.

“Just leave your bags here,” she points to a spot by the door, “I’ll show you up to the guest room later, but I need to get dinner started for Dottie, it’s getting rather late.”

“We didn’t mean to intrude,” Steve apologises, “We were travelling near the area and I figured it was worth a shot seeing if you were staying at the house for the holidays. We were only going to stay the one night.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Peggy huffs, rolling her eyes as she begins unpacking the groceries, “you’re always welcome to visit whenever you like.”

Angie returns with Dottie, the little girl holding her hand and shyly peeking out at them from behind Angie’s legs.

“Dottie, this is Mommy’s friend Steve, you remember Steve don’t you?”

“From the computer?” Dottie’s voice is tiny and heavily accented with Russian, though she seems to speak English very well for a five-year-old.

“That’s right,” Angie beams, leading her a little closer, “we talk to Steve on Skype sometimes.”

Steve bends down to say hi to Dottie, the little girl mumbling hello back before burying her face in Angie’s legs.

“And this is Steve’s friend Bucky,” Angie gestures towards him.

She has to be terrified of him. He knows he looks intimidating, even to adults, he can’t imagine how scary he must look to a five-year old. He’s glad for the first time that his hair is no longer long.

Slowly he gets down on one knee, ducking his head further and trying to meet her eye. She’s still got her face pressed against Angie’s side, one eye barely visible beneath her hair as she stares at him.

It’s lovely to meet you.” At the sound of him speaking Russian she twists to face him fully, expression a mixture of surprise and confusion, before she smiles brightly.

Stepping away from Angie and dropping her hand, she walks towards him, asking a million questions about how he speaks Russian and no one ever knows Russian, not even Mommy who can speak four languages.

By the time the others are making dinner Dottie’s barely paused for breath. Angie is the one cooking with Steve helping her, and Peggy supervising. Mostly Peggy is sitting perched on the counter, away from the other two.

Ostensibly it’s so she doesn’t get in their way, but he can feel her eyes on him from the other room, her position having a perfect sightline into the dining room.

He’s been tasked with helping Dottie set the table. He’s the one walking around and putting cutlery out whilst Dottie trails after him like a duckling, still babbling away in Russian about her new school she just started, and how she likes it much better than where she was before because the teachers are much nicer even if they don’t speak Russian.

He’s listening to her, nodding along in the appropriate places and responding when needed, but he can still hear the conversation taking place in the other room. Steve is (badly) bluffing his way through explaining how they met. Changing their story so that they met when Steve first got to Zurich, seeing each other a few times and then eventually deciding to go to Paris together. Bucky’s Russian stems from his grandparents on his mother’s side being from there.

Peggy teases him about his hair, asking if he lost a bet with another backpacker.

“But you’re ok?” she asks, tone turning serious, “You’re happy?”

“Sure,” Steve replies, fooling exactly no one.

“Steve,” there’s a hint of warning in Peggy’s tone.

“You know me, I try too hard.”

“Always so dramatic,” she shoots back, tone warm and accepting.

Bucky doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand if it’s some sort of reference to their shared past that he won’t ever get to know about. If it were him he would have said something along the lines of still getting to know each other, but Steve’s response seems loaded. Like it’s somehow his fault that they will never get any further than tonight, that pretending to be a couple in front of Steve’s friends.

Dinner goes pretty smoothly, Peggy telling stories about them from high school, embarrassing Steve as much as she can. They talk about how she and Angie met, about adopting Dottie over a year ago. It’s really the only time he speaks up in the conversation, asking how it happened.

The story is decidedly less pleasant, Dottie’s early childhood spent being “trained” by her father, a former military agent who it was discovered had murdered his wife. Trained for what they don’t say, but Bucky can easily imagine.

He glances down at the blonde, who had insisted on sitting next to him, poking him in the arm (thankfully the right one) when he has been talking to the others for too long.

Other than that he doesn’t say anything, listening to the conversation around him, the embarrassing stories getting more outrageous the further through their wine they get. Steve does his best to turn the conversation away from anything to do with Bucky.

Part of him knows it’s so they don’t get caught out in their lies, to keep his friends safe from any knowledge of anything to do with Bucky. But irrationally he still feels hurt by it, taking it way too personally every time Steve neatly evades having to answer anything to do with him.

Eventually it gets late enough that Dottie is almost falling asleep against him, Angie getting up to take her to bed.

“We might turn in too,” Steve yawns, somewhat unconvincingly, but as the only completely sober person at the table Bucky’s sure he’s the only one who notices.

Angie and Dottie wish them goodnight, Dottie sleepily whispering something in Angie’s ear. He’s surprised when she sets her down, only to have the tiny blonde hurry over to him and wrap her little arms around his neck in a hug. She mumbles goodnight in Russian into his ear before letting go and heading back to Angie.

He can’t quite interpret the way Steve is looking at him, he’s as surprised as Bucky is, but seems to find Bucky’s shock amusing, something almost fond in his gaze. Bucky’s reading too much into it, it has to be the wine.

They stop in the kitchen to get their bags before Peggy leads them upstairs to the guest room. She points out where the bathroom is on the way past, also hers and Angie’s room. They can hear Angie reading Dottie a bedtime story, the little girl giggling as Angie puts on various voices for each character.

The guest room is small but cosy, the bed taking up most of the space. The matching bedside tables and dresser are all made from the same dark wood, old but well looked after.

Peggy bids them goodnight before leaving.

The door has barely clicked shut when Bucky moves, pulling the thick spare blanket that’s folded across the foot of the bed and a pillow off of it.

“I’ll take the floor.”

*

“Tell me about her.”

“Margaret Carter, Sales Executive for a British telecommunications company, married to Angela Martinelli, American born actress, currently playing Miss Adelaide in a West End production of Guys and Dolls. They have one daughter, five years old, adopted together thirteen months ago.”

“She studied with Rogers their senior year of high school.”

“They stayed in touch through college, he lived with her for six months in 2012.”

“Carter inherited the property from her Grandmother when she turned eighteen, usually only stays there in the holidays so very little in the way of phone traffic. Two incoming calls today, both from the same payphone located here.”

“Call in Crossbones.”

*

Bucky has been lying completely still since the moment the light switched off, waiting for Steve to fall to sleep. His eyes are shut, tuning out everything but the slightly wheezing rattle of Steve’s breath, waiting for it to slow and even out.

When it does his eyes snap open, staring up at the dark ceiling, the room almost pitch black. He can still see fairly well, the outlines of the various pieces of furniture prominent in the darkness, even with the only light coming from the moon outside. It’s almost completely covered by clouds and the curtains are drawn shut, masking most of it. And still Bucky can see.

It’s not enough, trying to fixate on the weird, inhuman things that he can do, not enough to distract him.

What has he done?

Not only is Steve’s life at risk, but now he’s involved the people he cares most about, the closest thing to family he thinks Steve might have. He’s put them in danger, the three of them.

Peggy had definitely reached for a gun when she’d first been surprised by them, not easily recognising Steve with his newly darkened hair. The gun hadn’t been there, but the action was so reflexive that he knows she carries one regularly.

They never did get to talking about what Peggy did for a living, focusing more on Angie’s crazy stories from the stage. He hadn’t asked Steve either. Try as he might he can’t justify anything with the thought. Just because she carries a gun doesn’t mean anything. She could be law enforcement, ex-military even, not a monster. Not like him.

Because he is a monster, he can feel it, crawling under his skin like insects. The knowledge that despite the fact that he can’t remember it, he tried to kill someone. And now every single person in this house is in danger. Because of him, because of the things that he has done.

The thought of “what if” keeps bouncing around his head, angry and increasingly loud until it’s all he can hear.

What if something happens? What if someone comes?

It’s those thoughts that have him getting up, silently slipping out from under the blanket. He pauses to a moment to watch Steve sleep, see the rise and fall of his chest. He’s hoarding these moments, like a dragon with treasure, locking them away so that later, when he can no longer see for himself, he’ll at least have the memories of Steve.

But he has to check, has to see for himself that everything is ok, that no one has been slaughtered in their beds because of him.

He goes downstairs first, checking each and every window and door, double checking, triple checking them to be sure that they are locked and secure. He can see the dog, Howard, asleep in the laundry, curled up on a large half-chewed bed.

He moves back upstairs, pausing outside Peggy and Angie’s room, not daring to step inside, not when he knows they could hear him. He can see them both sleeping, curled tightly together. Peggy’s face has been cleaned of her lipstick, yet she somehow still looks perfectly coiffed, unshakable.

There’s something softer about her while she sleeps, something younger. She isn’t pinning him with her shrewd gaze, making him feel like a bug under a microscope.

Angie is wrapped around her like a tiny little octopus, face buried against Peggy’s breasts, arms wrapped around her middle. She’s got one leg kicked out from beneath the covers, and her hair is already a tangled mess, even though they can’t have been asleep for more than an hour.

Checking on Dottie next, he gets caught up watching her.

Her room is illuminated by a small lamp in the corner, a small sphere with stars cut out of it that sets a gentle glow over the entire space, little stars silhouetted on the ceiling. Everything is red; red blankets and pillows, a large red rug in the centre of the room. There are toys littered on the floor, flowing out of the small wooden chest at the foot of her bed.

She’s stretched out like a starfish, drooling onto a stuffed bear she has in one hand, the other stretched up to the head of the bed. The way she’s holding it is strange, like she fell asleep gripping one of the rungs. Even from here he can make out the marks around her wrist, the faint scars circling them.

After everything she’s been through, the horror in her past they didn’t speak about at dinner but that he could put together on his own. After surviving that and being adopted by two loving women, getting to go to school like a regular little girl, he’s come along and made it unsafe for her.

Because of him she might be killed, or lose her parents, or any number of horrible things.

He doesn’t realise how long he is standing there, watching the rise and fall of her chest, until Steve touches him lightly on the arm. He startles, he didn’t even hear Steve come in, but otherwise doesn’t react.

“What are you doing in here?” Steve whispers. “You’re going to wake her.”

Steve tugs gently on Bucky’s arm, silently trying to get him to leave the room.

“I don’t want to know who I am anymore.” He speaks quietly, doesn’t even know if Steve can hear him.

But he’s stopped trying to pull him from the room, hand still gripping Bucky’s arm but no longer tugging on it.

“What kind of person does this?” He turns to look at Steve, like Steve holds all of the answers. “Agrees to kill a complete stranger? How long have I been a murderer? How many people are in the ground, because of me?”

His voice is taking on an edge of hysteria. He has to stop, take a breath so that he doesn’t start screaming, doesn’t wake everyone up.

“I don’t want to know,” he drops his head, everything in him just breaking, like he can barely hold himself up underneath it all, “I’m glad I can’t remember anything.”

They stand like that for a moment longer, Bucky staring at the floor, eyes burning like he’s about to cry but can’t quite bring himself to. Steve pulls gently on his arm, and this time Bucky goes. He lets himself be led back to their room, not saying anything when Steve takes him to the bed, pushing him down until he sits on the edge.

He allows Steve to tuck him beneath the covers, crawling in next to him. It’s not until Steve wraps himself around him, squeezing him tight, that he realises he’s shaking. Shivering so hard he’s sure that if Steve wasn’t there, wasn’t using all of his strength to hold him together, he’d shake right apart.


by Nostalgia-in-Starlight

“We could disappear.”

Steve is probably asleep again. He’s speaking so quietly, hoping that he’s asleep, that he can’t hear him, afraid that he can and he’ll say no.

They have the money, they have all of the passports. They could run away together, start fresh just the two of them. Somewhere new, somewhere safe, pretend to be normal people. Steve could protect him, stop him from going back to whatever creature he was before.

“You’re so good Stevie,” the nickname slips out without much thought, “you make me better, make me wanna be better.”

They’d be hiding, never staying anywhere for too long, always on the move. But they could be together.

“Could you do that?” he screws his eyes shut. “Is it selfish of me to ask you to live like that?”

Steve doesn’t say anything, not answering save for tightening his hold around Bucky. Wrapped up like this, tangled together the way he’d seen Angie and Peggy earlier, he feels warm. Steve’s head resting on his chest a comforting weight.

Eventually he sleeps.

Chapter Text

When they wake in the morning they don’t really speak, silently re-making the bed and getting dressed, packing up their bags before heading downstairs to the kitchen. Peggy’s there already, looking slightly rumpled with her pyjamas on and yet still so incredibly put together, drinking a coffee.

Looking up from her newspaper she startles slightly, eyebrows flicking up at the sight of them.

“You certainly weren’t exaggerating about only staying the night.” She takes a sip of her coffee. “Will you at least stay for breakfast, there’s coffee.”

Angie and Dottie trail in before they can answer, both bundled up in their winter gear, stomping snow off of their boots.

“Well I ain’t got a clue where he’s gone, but Howard is getting as unpredictable as the asshole he’s named after.”

“Bad word!” Dottie gasps, looking gleeful as she points at Angie. “Gotta put a pound in the jar!”

“That I do princess,” Angie winces, throwing an apologetic look at Peggy and ruffling Dottie’s hair. “I’ll do it when we get back home.”

Peggy seeming to notice Bucky and Steve’s confusion explains, “The damn dog’s run off somewhere.”

“Does that happen a lot?” There’s something unpleasant swirling in his gut.

“Please,” Peggy scoffs, “Idiot mutt thrives off of the attention, and he’s usually pawing at the door before we’re even in the kitchen. Not to mention it’s his breakfast time.”

He’d seen Howard last night, sleeping in the laundry, the door was closed, but there had been a large flap for him to get in and out. Forget food, forget the attention, it doesn’t make sense for him to go out in the cold last night, it especially doesn’t make sense for him to not return.

Everything fades out, his senses sharpening as he takes in every single aspect of the room, the large windows, Peggy in her pyjamas, no shoes on, just a thick pair of socks, Dottie struggling to bend in her thick padded snow coat, little arms trying to reach her boot laces.

“You need to get everyone into the basement.” He cuts over one of them speaking, he doesn’t know who, doesn’t care.

“I beg your pardon?” His eyes zero in on Peggy.

“Peg, what’s going on?” Angie is the one that asks.

“You’re all in danger,” he rushes, eyes never wavering from Peggy’s, “I’m sorry, I can’t explain.”

“Steve.” Her eye flick towards him.

“It’s not him,” he says it fast, they don’t have time, “it’s me. Please, you need to get everyone into the basement.”

He’s not sure what it is that convinces her to do what he says, but she doesn’t argue, standing quickly and striding over to Dottie, scooping her up into her arms and ushering Angie over to the cellar door. He turns to see Steve looking at him.

“Go downstairs with them, I’ll take care of it.”

Steve looks like he’s about to argue, jaw jutting forward as he squares his shoulders.

“Steve do as he says.” He doesn’t expect help to come from Peggy.

She’s glaring at him, something calculating in her eyes. Whatever he was about to say, Steve doesn’t argue with her, following them through the thick wooden door.

Bucky waits for it to click shut, listening for the sound of the heavy lock sliding into place before heading through to the living room. There’s an old rifle mounted on the wall, he pulls it down, expertly checking it over to find that it is clean and very well maintained.

After kicking in the door to the office, he finds a small safe under the desk. It takes but a second to break the door off with is metal hand. The contents are unsettlingly similar to what he found in the safety deposit box, passports and a small stack of cash, plus several files with angry red stamps all over the front.

Besides all of that he not only finds ammunition for the rifle but a Glock 19 and several clips.

Stuffing what he needs into his pockets he leaves the office. He’s back to operating on autopilot, all of his actions happening before he even thinks of what to do. He can’t say how he knew to look in the office; that close to the desk was the best place to search for a safe.

He doesn’t know why he’s dragging the small gas cylinder over to the stack of wood until he’s already rigged it to explode, sending a large thick plume of smoke into the air between the house and the tree line, obscuring everything behind a thick black cloud and ruining any vantage point.

Silently he waits, eyes focused on the tree line, waiting for any sign of movement, searching for the signs of a sniper leaving their nest to find another. He locks onto the flash of motion straight away, mirroring their path, always staying between whoever they are and the house, but heading towards the high grass of the field.

Pausing to fire the rifle into the air he waits for the cloud of birds to shoot into the sky circling back around to the tree line so that he can come at them from behind. And he waits, rifle poised at the ready.

There’s something so intimately familiar about it, the way his breathing slows, his focus sharpens. The feel of the rifle digging into his shoulder, the cold metal of the trigger warming under his touch. Everything else fades until all he can see is at the end of his scope.

The field has settled, the birds flying off to settle somewhere else. He can feel the slight breeze against his face, making the long grass sway slightly. There’s snow in patches, gathered in the yard and near the base of the fence, everything a wash of white and yellow.

The black clad man stands out against it, dark uniform contrasting sharply with the soft and faded wood. His movements are tactical and precise, approaching the fence with his gun raised, sweeping the area as he goes. Bucky waits.

He waits until his breathing has slowed almost to a stop, counting as he inhales an exhales. Waits until the man reaches up to grip the top of the fence, preparing to pull himself over.

The bullet hits him the shoulder just as he reaches the top, causing him to topple over onto the other side.

Bucky’s already on his feet, rifle held steady, quickly but silently traversing the grassy field until he is back in the yard. He’s not out of breath as he approaches the guy, curled up on the ground and gripping his shoulder as he writhes slightly.

He doesn’t recognise the man, aim remaining steady as he sweeps him over with his eyes. He’s got guns on each hip, along with one of the batons Bucky recognises from the apartment. There are several other weapons, knives and the like strapped to his body. The armour he’s wearing is black, though the front of it is different, two stripes of white on his chest, forming a large X.

His gun is pointing directly at the guys face, right between his dark eyebrows. Unlike Bucky, the guy is breathing pretty hard. His face is twisted up in pain, but he can still make out the strong line of his jaw, his nose. His hair is dark, like the stubble dotting his jaw, but there are touches of silver at his temples.

“Who sent you?” his voice is calm, icy, but he’s not expecting the man to laugh

.“You know who,” the guy coughs, wincing as the movement jars his shoulder.

But his voice is mocking, taunting Bucky. The calm is cracking quickly, after weeks of all of this building up. He doesn’t know anything, who he was, what he did, why he did it. He doesn’t know who the hell he worked for or against, or even which of them is currently trying to kill him.

“I don’t,” his voice is little more than a snarl, “I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t. Why are you trying to kill me?”

“Kill you?” the guy laughs again. “I’m the goddamned repo team, here to collect the malfunctioning weapon.”

His eyes narrow and his expression quickly changes from teasing to a sneer.

“No point killing something that’s barely an animal.”

“What did you call him.” It’s not a question, it’s a growl, and it’s coming from Steve.

He turns, gun not wavering from where it’s pointed at the man who is still visible in his periphery. Steve is standing there, not even wearing a coat, hands balled into fists as he glares at the guy so fiercely he looks about two seconds from jumping him.

Peggy steps out from the house behind him. She’s got another Glock in her hands, pointed at the man.

He sees the guy moving, turning he watches as his eyes fall on Peggy and Steve. Without thinking he moves, stepping to the side so that he is directly between Steve and the man, squaring his shoulders and blocking Steve from view. Something must show on his face because the guy’s expression turns mean again.

“Aw,” he coos, “would you look at that, the Winter Soldier’s gone and developed feelings.”

He flicks his eyes behind him, towards where Steve is standing.

“Hate to burst your bubble kid,” he calls out, “but Pinocchio here’ll never be a real boy. When I take him in, all it’ll take is one trip to the chair and he’ll shred you to ribbons just because we ask him to.”

That word, chair, is so innocuous. He’s used it himself, in his head, out loud. And yet, there’s something about the way this guy says it, like a threat and a promise all rolled into one that sends ice cascading down his spine. It makes him more afraid than anything else has so far.

“No,” it comes out weakly, his hands are starting to shake. He tightens his grip on the rifle to steady them, sucking in a breath.

“Yes you will.” The guy stares him dead in the eye, past the barrel of the gun aimed at his face like it’s not even there. “Because you’re the Asset. It’s what you do, what you’re good at.”

He shifts on the ground, pushing himself up slightly despite his injury. The rifle twitches in Bucky’s grip, following him so that his aim doesn’t waver from the guy’s face.

“Children, women, men,” he begins eyes practically glowing with excitement, “doesn’t matter, we wind you up set you off and you kill them all the same. You torture them if we ask, cut them and drown them and bleed them. Gun them down in front of their families, burn them alive in their homes. You’re an-”

Bucky cries out, butt of his rifle cracking across the guy’s face with such force blood immediately starts spurting from his nose. He falls back to the ground, unconscious. At the same moment the click of a safety flicking off sounds behind him.

Whirling around, he has the Glock from the safe in his hand and pointed towards the woman before he can even think. She’s got her gun pointed at his face, aim steady, standing in a textbook example of the Weaver stance. Law enforcement training perhaps.

It’s a long moment before he recognises that it’s Peggy, his mind so focused on threat that it’s not until he hears Steve calling his name that he can shake it off, blinking several times.

“Peggy what are you doing?” Steve’s standing to the side, eyes darting between the two of them, hands outstretched.

“I’ve heard that name before,” she’s speaking to him now, “Most of the intelligence community don’t believe you exist, the few that do throw that name around. Winter Soldier. Credited with over two dozen kills, and that’s just in the last five years.”

“How do you even know that?” Neither of them look at Steve when he speaks, eyes still fixed on each other. “What’s going on?”

She doesn’t answer him.

“You don’t work for a telephone company do you?”

“No I do not.” He can detect regret in her tone, her expression softening slightly. She doesn’t look over at Steve, but he can tell that she wants to. “I work for the Government. And we’ll just leave it at that.”

It makes sense, fits with everything he’s observed about her in the short time they’ve been there.

“I guess you’ll be arresting me then?” He asks it lightly, but he’s not entirely kidding.

“The thought had crossed my mind.”

Steve apparently is very much against that idea, if the way he strides forward planting himself firmly in front of Bucky is anything to judge by. He’s far enough forward that Bucky can’t reach him, can’t tug him out of the way of the goddamn guns they’re pointing at each other.

“Peg, that’s not him.” He’s got his hands out in front of him, like it will somehow stop a bullet if Peggy were to fire. “It’s not.”

And Steve, brave, stupid, idiotic Steve, tries to explain. Glossing over far too much he starts from the boat, repeating the story that Bucky told him at the diner. He skips the part about Bucky attacking law enforcement in the park, and downplays how much danger he was in at the apartment.

Steve also doesn’t mention them having sex, which Bucky knows is a good thing, that Peggy would just discount everything automatically if she knew for certain they were sleeping together (he can tell she suspects). But that doesn’t stop one of those irrational flashes of hurt from hitting him.

“Steve,” Peggy’s tone is reasonable, not irritated or angry, “nothing you are saying disproves it. If anything being sent to kill Lukin just confirms it.”

“Bucky wasn’t the person who did that,” Steve argues. “He doesn’t remember it.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that he did,” her eyes are soft, apologetic, like she doesn’t want to be the one telling Steve this.

“She’s right Steve,” he doesn’t say it loudly, but he knows that Steve can hear him, “you know she’s right. You said it yourself.”

Peggy is shocked, clearly not expecting any help with her argument from Bucky himself. She hides it well, betrayed only by the minute raise of her eyebrow and a split second widening of eyes before she schools her expression.

Steve turns, dropping his hands and ignoring the fact that – even though it’s aimed at Bucky – there is still a gun at his back. His eyes are wide, and he looks guilty at being reminded of how he reacted yesterday. He doesn’t deny it though, doesn’t try and pretend that it’s not what happened.

“I know what I said.” His eyes are unwavering, staring right at him.

He knows he should be looking at Peggy, it would be the smart thing to do, to keep his eyes on the woman aiming a gun at him. But he can’t look away from Steve. There’s something naked in the way he’s staring at him, something raw, and honest.

Steve is stubborn, he figured that out the first time they spoke. It’s one of the reasons he didn’t even entertain the idea of trying to change Steve’s mind when they first found out what he was. Because Steve was stubborn, and righteous and good.

“But there’s something not adding up here Buck,” he continues. “You know there’s not.”

There’s a lot not adding up, mostly because he doesn’t have all of the pieces to the equation, there’s still so much he doesn’t know. But he honestly cannot think of anything that would make it ok, that would make the fact that he has killed and tortured children ok.

Steve doesn’t seem to agree.

“Look at how you’ve been since you woke up.” He argues. “You’re first instinct was to help me, even though you’d never met me. You don’t see the way you move Bucky, every time there’s a loud noise or something happens, the first thing you do is get in front of me. That guy took one look at me and you were between us before I could even blink.”

He laughs, his accent getting stronger the more he speaks.

“It’s fuckin’ annoying as hell a lot of the time, but it’s not the sort of thing a soulless killer would do.”

“Steve,” he and Peggy say it at the same time, both of them ready to argue.

It’s Peggy that Steve turns to however.

“What about the ‘chair’?” he points out, the word sending another thrill of fear down Bucky’s spine, even though it’s Steve saying it and he knows, with more conviction than he has for anything else, that Steve would never purposefully try to hurt him. “Why would he have to go anywhere first if he was just some ruthless assassin? Why did it sound like a threat? If he really was just the Winter Soldier, he wouldn’t need to be threatened, he would just do what the guy had said and killed us.”

Steve takes several steps towards Peggy, part of him wants to reach forward, drag him back so that he’s closer to Bucky where he could pull him out of the line of fire. The urge is so strong he finds himself leaning forwards slightly, preparing to move.

The fact that Steve stops with enough distance between him and his best friend that she can’t reach him either is the only thing stopping him.

“Peg, I love you,” he’s speaking softly, purposefully calm, “you know I love you. But something’s not right here. You can do what you need to, but if you arrest Bucky, if you… if you have to kill him. You’re going to have to do the same to me.”

Peggy flinches, like Steve had physically hit her, something pained twisting her features as her eyes dart between the two of them.

“He doesn’t remember anything about himself, but he always, always, tried to do the right thing by me, no matter what. Even when he could have saved himself. I trust him.”

It’s not the same as telling Peggy he loves her, but it hits Bucky just as hard. He doesn’t deserve it, doesn’t deserve Steve’s trust, but now that he’s got it he wants to, wants to do something to earn it, to be worthy of it.

Peggy lowers her gun. Whether it’s because she trusts Steve and his judgement, or she knows that she really will have to shoot him to get him out of her way, Bucky won’t ever know. She doesn’t like the idea of letting him go, he can see it written all over her face.

But he knows she’s a practical person, knows that her desire to get her wife, her daughter, away from all of this plays a part. That it’s almost as strong as his desire to get Steve way from all of this.

The second her gun is down he lowers his own, not missing the small flash of surprise on her face. She knows that he can see it, something challenging in her eyes, daring him to deny that the thought of shooting her now that Steve was out of the line of fire didn’t cross his mind.

He doesn’t try and deny it, verbally or otherwise. She wouldn’t believe him even if he did.

Turning to face the unconscious guy on the ground he drops to a knee, patting him down. He pulls off three separate guns, four knives, the stun baton, every tiny and unfamiliar gadget and tool on his belt and hidden in the many zippered pockets on his pants. He’s also wearing a small back pack, but Bucky doesn’t pause to look inside, just adds it to the pile.

Once he’s certain he’s gotten everything he turns to see if there is anything in there he can use to restrain him. He jumps at the sight of cable ties entering his peripheral vision. Peggy’s standing as far from him as she can and still be able to reach, the red of her nails contrasting starkly with her skin.

He nods his thanks, making sure not to touch her as he accepts the cable ties. Glancing around, he finds a large and solid looking tree.

Straightening, he grabs the guy by is collar, using his metal arm to drag him to the tree, leaning him against it in a sitting position. Pulling the guys arms around behind him he fastens them together with the cable ties. The trunk of the tree is almost too wide, and the guy’s arms are pulled back in a position that cannot be comfortable. Bucky really can’t find it in himself to care, tightening the cable ties around the guy’s wrists as much as he can without cutting off all of his circulation.

By the time he’s finished Peggy has already gone inside, no doubt to get Angie and Dottie. Steve is still waiting for him.

“Peg’s gonna wait until we’re away before she calls it in,” Steve explains. “She’s got some story planned out to tell her superiors, but she wants to keep Angie and Dottie out of it.”

Bucky nods, following Steve back into the house. They gather their bags, still in the kitchen, and silently wait out by the car. Steve keeps opening his mouth like he’s going to say something, closing it again at the sight of whatever Bucky’s face is doing.

Steve trusts him. It keeps looping through his head, sounding shocked and incredulous. Steve trusts him, and still wants to help him, even after all of this mess. Because Steve is a good person. Steve is a good person and because of Bucky he’ll never be able to lead a normal life again.

He has to leave him.

If anything he wants it even less than he did yesterday, not just because he won’t be able to see him, to touch him and hold him and know for certain that he is alright. But because Steve is the only, the only, good thing about Bucky.

They could have done it. Run away together. He lets himself imagine it, the pair of them travelling the globe, much like Steve had been doing before. Moving from place to place, seeing everything and anything, and at the end of the day curling up together and falling asleep, just the two of them.

It’s a nice fantasy, but he knows it won’t ever happen. It’s not even about him anymore, it’s just about Steve. The only way to keep him safe, to protect him from Bucky’s past, is if he leaves him. He has to go and make sure that there is no one left in the entire world who knows about him, about Steve.

Peggy and the others return, and while they are getting into the car, strapping Dottie into the back and trying to remain calm so as to not frighten her, he fishes through his pack.

“What?” Steve stares at the money he’s holding out to him.

“Take it,” Bucky urges, shaking it at him, “You get out of here, you run. You stay under the radar. You’ve got the phone, it’s nearly €100,000 all up. You can make it.”

“What are you going to do?” there’s a heavy dose of suspicion colouring Steve’s tone.

“End it.”

Something must show on his face, because Steve looks like he’s about to argue.

“You’re just looking after it for me,” he smiles, trying to make his expression reassuring, “I’ll find you when it’s done, I promise.”

Steve wants to believe him, he can see it written all over his face, and for a moment he lets himself imagine it again, hunting down and getting rid of anyone who could find them, the pair of them riding off into the sunset.

“Ok,” Steve nods, taking the money and putting it into his own pack. “You better come find me.”

“Don’t do anything stupid until I do,” he wants to cry, the burning in his nose and eyes almost too much.

“How can I?” Steve’s eyes are looking a little wet as well, his voice wobbling slightly as he tries to make his tone light. “You’re taking all the stupid with you.”

The sound he lets out is half a sob, half a laugh, stepping forward and grabbing Steve’s face in both hands. The kiss is rough, almost angry, like an argument. Steve telling him he better come back, and Bucky enraged that this is probably the last time they’ll ever get to do this.

Eventually they let go, Bucky pressing one last soft kiss to Steve’s lips, then one to his forehead. He has to step back, stop himself from starting down a path where he just keeps kissing Steve and doesn’t stop.

Steve doesn’t say anything else, climbing up into the car next to Dottie.

“The only reason I haven’t called this in yet is because I have no guarantee that my people will get here before whoever is after you does, and my priority is getting my family away. That includes Steve.”

She was waiting for them to be alone.

He glances over the three of them, Angie putting on a brave face and leaning around her seat to talk to Dottie, Steve staring resolutely out the front windscreen.

“I know.” He sighs, turning to look her in the eye. “Would you believe me if I said I want you to get them as far away from this too?”

She stares at him, eyes calculating.

“You’re not planning on finding him after, are you?” It’s not really a question.

He should be surprised that she listened in on their conversation, angry maybe, but he doesn’t really have the strength for it now.

“I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna be around to try,” he admits, shrugging.

He has no idea who he was before, he barely knows who he is now. A few weeks of memories and tiny fragments of the past not adding up to a whole person, not by a long shot. What he does have is Steve.

“He didn’t have to help me,” he explains, “but he did. If I’m going down, I’m taking anyone that could possibly find him after down with me.”

She doesn’t respond to that, but he sees a flash of something in her eyes, almost like approval, begrudging but still there.

He stays standing there, watching them drive away until he can’t see them anymore.

Peggy didn’t bother locking the door, so he heads back into the kitchen. First things first he organises all of his new supplies.

In addition to the guns, knives, and stun baton, he now is the proud owner of a taser, a tranquilliser gun, long range directional microphone, and several small electrical gadgets that he doesn’t recognise but seems to know how to check over.

There’s a laptop, which he opens up on the table, once again setting it up to remove any spyware.

The phone is an older model, one that doesn’t come equipped with GPS. There is only one phone number in the outgoing call log, made four hours ago, before the sun would even be rising. Chances are it was the guy calling to check in with whoever had sent him, letting them know he was in position.

He hits the send button, holding the phone up to his ear.

It’s doesn’t ring, just lets out several beeps before clicking.

“Code in please.”

He doesn’t say anything, barely breathing as he listens to the man repeat the command three times. After the third repetition he waits, counting to twenty in his head.

“Who is this?” he asks, keeping his voice even. “Who are you?”

“Vanya?” It’s different voice that speaks this time, deeper and heavily accented.

He almost recognises it, not enough to know who it is speaking, but he can feel the familiarity reverberating through his bones.

“Talk to me Vanya,” the man continues soothingly, “tell me where you are. Let me help you.”

He doesn’t answer, not that he would know what to say if he did. The way the man speaks to him, softly like he’s trying to sooth a small child or a frightened animal, it rankles him. Makes him shudder, like something unpleasant has just trickled down his spine.

“Why don’t you ask Steven what he wants to do?”

The confirmation that they know about Steve angers him, but it’s the easiest thing to deal with at the moment.

“Since he’s dead, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t give a shit.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that.” He sounds like he’s trying to sound sorry, but he’s not doing a good job of it. “How did that happen?”

“He outlived his purpose.”

Waiting patiently he packs all of his new gear into his pack, mentally counting how long it takes for the man to come up with a new plan, now that he knows Steve isn’t there as a weakness to exploit.

“I can make this better Vanya,” the name sounds so cloying, sickly sweet, “you just have to tell me where you are.”

He knows he doesn’t have long, they’re probably attempting to trace the call. It will take longer to triangulate his position using the cell towers than if his phone was loaded with GPS. Still not long enough.

“Just tell me where you are Vanya, I promise I can make it better.”

The man wants his trust, calling him Vanya, acting like if Bucky were just to turn himself in everything would be ok. That he will be ok. He knows better, knows that the outcome for that is either death or being turned back into whatever sort of monster this Winter Soldier was.

“No,” it’s easy refusing, easy to reject whatever lies the man is trying to sell.

He has no idea who the man is, or who he works for. He doesn’t even know if he’s in Europe or somewhere else. But he doesn’t care, and he certainly doesn’t trust him. The only person he trusts is Steve, can’t even trust himself. And there’s a small voice in the back of his mind, the one that is usually scared and begging for him to comply and not make anything worse. It’s still quiet and scared, but even it knows that he’s doing the right thing.

He recites a time and a location over the phone, explaining that he’ll call this number

.“Come alone.”

*

Karpov where in the hell are you? What’s going on?

“I’m already on a quinjet. He made contact.”

Crossbones?

“Picked up by local authorities, no connections to us. The Asset has set up a meet.”

And you’re going?

“Strike team are prepping. I’ll wear a wire.”

And what exactly is your plan for this mess?

“I’m going to clean it up.”

*

The van pulls up two blocks away from the meeting point. Bucky watches as a man gets out. He’s tall and broad-shouldered, hair liberally doused in grey, his face gaunt and aged, but still holding on to its last vestiges of handsomeness. As Bucky watches, the Man tugs the hem of his shirt down, touching his finger to his right ear before accepting a coat from someone in the van

.He pulls it on, as well as a pair of gloves, glancing around before walking away. Instead of following the Man Bucky follows the van. Keeping his distance he sees it park, two teams of two people spilling out and heading in opposite directions.

It’s still fifteen minutes until he’s supposed to meet the Man, but he moves quickly, ducking to attach one of the small devices he’s found in his new supplies to the tailgate. It takes less than a second, he’s in and then back out on the sidewalk, hat drawn low and head ducked so that the two people still in the van don’t notice him.

Bucky keeps walking, speeding up his pace slightly once he’s around the corner, slipping into a building and taking the stairs two at a time. The roof of the building overlooks the bridge, providing him with the perfect vantage point for the surrounding road and foot traffic.

Settling down behind the low brick wall surrounding the roof, he pulls out his rifle scope, scanning everything below. He sees the Man waiting on the bridge, coat off and folded over the railing. He’s looking at the people around him, a small sheen of sweat visible at his hairline, despite the icy air.

It’s easy enough to find the two teams backing him up. There are a man and a woman not too far away, pretending to be tourists, taking it in turns to sap photos of each other standing on the bridge, eyes alert and faces tense.

The other two are across the road a little further down.

He memorises their faces, what they are wearing, mentally cataloguing everything he can see. He tucks the scope back into the pack, pulling out the phone and dialling the man as he descends the stairs.

“Vanya-”

“I told you to come alone,” even though he knew he wouldn’t, “but I guess even that was too complicated for you.”

He hangs up, exiting the building through the back door. When he’s a couple of blocks away he ducks into an alley, pulling out his burner phone. Pairing the phone to the small GPS tracker he’d placed on the van was just one more of those things his hands new how to do, and as he opens the map app he allows himself a second to smile at the theatrics of setting up a meeting.

There was no way that he was going to be there, and the Man had to know that. But that was the thing about Bucky calling the shots, the Man had to show up anyway. If there was even the slightest chance Bucky might appear, He had to be there. Because apparently he was that valuable to them.

The guy at Peggy’s had said he was part of the repo team, and whilst the other guy at his apartment had come in guns blazing he hadn’t been shooting to kill, just to injure. He was important to them, him and his body, alive and well.

They weren’t worried about what he knew (not that they had reason to be, what with his memories being what they were) they were worried about him. Bits and pieces are coming together. The guy calling him a malfunctioning weapon, Gabe and Jacques whispering to each other about illegal human experimentation.

Whatever had happened to him, whatever they’d done to make him into this weapon, this Winter Soldier; they would do anything to get him back.

And now, not only does Bucky know what the Man in charge looks like, but thanks to his new bag of toys, he knows exactly where he is.

It’s easy to follow the blinking dot to their base of operations. He can stay a whole street behind them the entire way, riding on his stolen motorcycle and watching the GPS tracker where his phone is nestled in the holder on the handlebars.

He pulls over when the van stops, switching the bike’s engine off and wheeling it into a small alley. The van is parked the next block over, and he moves without thinking, finding a small apartment that is diagonally across from the building the van is parked in front of.

The Man is talking to six people in front of the building, four of them he recognises from the bridge. The other two either were driving the van or already in place. The man enters the building, and by the time he gets up to the third floor, stepping into an apartment with the lights already one, Bucky has his directional mic ready, earbud in place.

There’s another man already in the apartment, shorter and completely bald, wearing glasses and a suit. He greets the Man as Karpov. The name doesn’t mean anything to Bucky, but he makes note of it, it’s easier to keep track of everyone now that he can hear them speaking, can put names to faces.

The man already in the room’s name is Sitwell, Karpov yelling at him the second he walks into the room. Together they begin shredding everything in sight, Sitwell occasionally stopping to type something on one of the many computers. Two of the guys from downstairs come up to give a report.

Predictably they haven’t seen any sign of Bucky. Karpov loads them up with a couple of boxes each, sending them back down with instructions that no one is to take breaks, everyone is on high alert.

He watches for several minutes longer. Karpov and Sitwell are the only names he knows, but there are eight people downstairs guarding the place.  Three women, five men, all of them dressed as civilians and armed with semi-automatics. Ten hostiles total.

Two remain in the lobby of the building, eyes routinely scanning the perimeter. Two more stand outside by the van, the other four spread out across the length of the street in pairs.

As he watches and listens, he searches through his bag, pulling out the various guns, knives and weapons, slipping them into his pockets, tucking them into his belt, his boots. He doesn’t recognise any of the gadgets he leaves out before putting his backpack back on.

It’s not until he picks them up, fingers working automatically pushing buttons and flicking switches, he almost gets a flash of what is about to happen right before it does.

He climbs down the side of the building he’s in, pausing at the bottom to press the button on a tiny remote-like device. Every single car alarm within twenty feet of him goes off, headlights flashing, horns blaring. He looks out in time to see the security team nearest him looking confusedly in the other direction, darting across the street and into the narrow alley beside the building that Karpov is in.

Once he’s safely hidden in the shadows he climbs, using his metal hand and the drainpipes on the side of the brick to scale the building. At the third floor he presses the button again, and through the bud tucked into his ear that is connected to the directional mic still across the road, he hears them react.

“That’s the eastern dining window,” Sitwell calls out. “Bathroom window. That’s this window right here.”

Climbing through the widow nearest him he finds himself in the stairwell. Glancing over the railing he sees the tops of the two guys on the ground floor. They’ve both got their weapons out, moving towards the front door, leaning forward to try and see what’s going on outside.

“Even the goddamn safe’s alarm is tripping,” Sitwell’s still talking.

Karpov either doesn’t care or doesn’t want to respond.

“Where is your field box?” His accent is thicker, voice coming out harsher.

It’s an older building, conveniently with the fuse box for each apartment located out in the hall. The ancient lock is no match for the metal hand, and as he flicks all of the switches he presses the device once more, silencing every single alarm at the same moment the apartment is plunged into darkness.

The lights in the hall aren’t affected, so the guys downstairs are none the wiser. Climbing back out through the window he shimmies along the side of the building, ripping through some cables as he passes, listening to Sitwell reporting that the phones are dead.

The window he slips through this time leads into the bathroom. He waits, listening. He can hear the click of Karpov’s gun as he checks it, the soft footfalls over the microphone fading out as he travels from room to room. They grow louder in the hall, passing the open bathroom door.

Bucky is in the shower, completely still, he’s not even sure he’s breathing at this point. He waits until Karpov has passed before climbing out, stepping into the hall with his gun already raised to the exact height he needs to aim at the back of Karpov’s head.

“You move, you die.”

“Vanya,” his tone is not resigned so much as accepting, almost like he’s relieved that Bucky is here.

Karpov lets his gun drop to the floor with a dull thud. Turning to face him, his expression is calm. He doesn’t react to the gun pointed at his face.

“Who am I?” Bucky speaks quietly.

“Tell me Vanya,” Karpov’s tone is soft, cajoling almost, “what happened in Marseilles?”

“What did you do to me?” the more he looks at Karpov, the harder it is too keep himself calm.

Karpov’s eyes are dark, almost black, staring at him like he’s some sort of misbehaving child. Karpov repeats the question, calling him Vanya again, his voice taking on a slightly harder edge. It’s like he thinks Bucky’s being obstinate on purpose. Like he just up and left halfway through some job, and is now back simply to cause trouble.

Soldat!” The sharp word startles him, causing him to flinch. “Mission report: what happened in Marseilles?”

He doesn’t know, he doesn’t know what happened in Marseilles. He doesn’t know who he is, if his name actually is Ivan, or if it’s James. He doesn’t know if he’s Russian or American. He has no idea who Karpov is, what he’s done to him. He has absolutely nothing.

“What happened in Marseilles?!”

“I don’t know what happened!” He yells voice breaking. “I don’t – I don’t know. Why are you – what do you want from me? Who am I?”

“You are a malfunctioning two-hundred million dollar piece of equipment,” Karpov yells back, “You are the property of Department X and Hydra, Soldat, and you will tell me. What. Happened. In. Marseilles?”

“You sent me to kill that man,” it comes out almost like a question. “You sent me to kill Lukin.”

“We don’t send you to kill,” Karpov’s no longer yelling, his voice turned gentle, and for a second Bucky wants to believe him, wants to believe that he is not a murderer.

“If I just wanted Lukin dead I could have sent Sitwell to shoot him in his home.” He smiles at Bucky, a smile filled with pride. “But you my Vanya, you are special. You are a ghost, the fist of Hydra, able to kill without a trace. You were sent in to execute the mission so that the only possible explanation was that Lukin was murdered by a member of his own staff!”

He’d gotten the plans from the boat from Nestor. Knew exactly when Lukin would be aboard and where he would weigh anchor. He’d used a small inflatable dingy, slashing it with a knife so that it sank into the depths of the ocean before swimming the rest of the way.

-Pain, white hot and intense, every inch of him hurting-

I t was easy, climbing aboard, most of the staff and crew asleep below deck. The target is in the main living area, he can see him as he slips inside, spread out on the large leather sofa, sound asleep. It will be easy, the gun already covered in someone else’s prints, not just on the trigger and the grip, but in the trigger mechanism, on the bullets and the clip.

All he has to do is fire, drop the gun somewhere on deck and flee into the ocean. He’s got it almost touching the target’s temple when he sees it.

-everything so cold, cold and numb but still hurting, it’s always so cold-

I t’s him, a picture of his face, but also nothing like his face. He knows what he looks like now, his hair, the blank expression, the lifeless eyes. The photo is him but younger, his hair shorter, eyes brighter, smiling. He has no memory of doing that, and even now, trying to make his muscles conform to that expression feels strange and almost painful.

A flash, bright light, sun-bleached sand, a sound, laughter. It hurts. His head is aching, a throb that just keeps building and building. It’s disorienting, he stops, stumbles, makes a sound. The Asset doesn’t make sounds, but he just did, hand reaching up to touch his temple, cool metal doing nothing to dispel the pain.

-the leather is always so hard, beneath the stains, the blood, the urine, the vomit, stiff with it-

T he click of a safety being switched off. PSM, 5.45x18mm cartridge. The target holds it comfortably, aimed directly at his centre mass. He can see the way the target recognises him, eyes widening slightly, but aim never wavering.

So they sent the Winter Soldier. Poetic, but foolish.”

“Остановить солдат. Послушай меня. Код авторизации: 17-1-9”

-opening his mouth, biting down on the hard rubber-

He’s obeying the first two instructions without thinking. The Russian washing over him, like a balm soothing all of the pain in his skull. By the time the Handler is reciting the authorisation codes for a second time he has straightened, eyes ahead, standing at attention.

The third recitation changes something. He’s opening his mouth to respond with his compliance when the pain returns, sharper this time. It’s like a white hot brand has been stabbed through his skull. He stumbles again nearly falling.

He has to ignore it, he has to complete his mission. His mission…

-laying back in the chair, the restraints locking into place around his arms and head-

He’s… Who is he? Everything hurts, it’s too bright. He can’t think, he needs to… he needs to…

Why is he here? Where is he?

Opening his eyes he sees a man. There is a man in front of him. He has a gun, it’s pointed at him. Everything hurts. His head, his eyes, his spine. He feels like the entire world is pulling painfully to the left, tearing, dragging.

Soldat?” The man is hesitating.

He’s hesitating but he is holding a gun that is pointed at him.

-the blinding agony, the fire of every single nerve being electrocuted, lit up and burned until there is nothing left behind-

He sees the man, but younger, dressed in a uniform, praising him in gentle Russian. An older brunette woman brushing hair back from his forehead, pressing her soft lips to it instead. The dessert, sand bleached almost white by the sun, yelling, explosions, gunfire.

-…seventeen, benign, nine, homecoming, one…-

He doesn’t think, he just runs.

He’s on a boat, he can see the edge, the rail, just beyond the stairs. He runs towards it. He hears the man yell that word again, “soldat!” but he keeps running, ignoring the way the world keeps lurching around him, throwing him about.

Something hits him in the back, hard. Then twice more within seconds. Everything is happening so fast, the force of the blows pushing him forward, over the rail. It’s not until he’s falling, down into the dark, that he feels the burning pain, searing, coming from whatever hit him.

-the restraints pull away, cold air hitting his sweat soaked skin, he’s breathing hard -

The last thing he feels is the sharp, ice -cold impact of hitting the water, then nothing. The black ocean swallows him whole.

-“Ready to comply”-

It physically hurts, like he’s reliving the pain of each and every moment. Bucky doesn’t remember everything, but he remembers enough. He remembers the older code phrase Lukin had used, remembers it snapping something loose in his already scrambled brain.

Bucky remembers the chair, compliance. He remembers being empty, even emptier than he is now with barely any of his memories. He tries to cling to the small flashes of something other than the soldier, the brunette woman, the laughter in the desert, hints of who he was before.

But it’s not quite enough to drown out the fear and pain of being the soldier.

“I don’t want to do this anymore.” It slips out, a mumbled confession that holds no less truth to it.

“Vanya,” Karpov’s tone is warning, he takes one solitary step forward.

“Vanya is dead!” Bucky yells it, grip on his gun tightening as he aims it more squarely at Karpov’s face. “The Winter Soldier died four weeks ago.”

He’s the one that takes a step towards Karpov this time, letting all of the rage and fury, all of the pain and fear of the last however many years he’s been like this show on his face.

“I’m gone,” he growls, “You said it yourself, I’m a ghost. But if I so much as think that there’s someone there, if you ever try, I’m going to take everything that you’ve burned into my brain, every single skill, and I’m not going to rest until I’ve used each and every one on you.”

He pulls back, staring at Karpov, eyes not wavering from his until he witnesses the exact moment the realisation sinks in, the very second Karpov realises that the Winter Soldier does not bluff.

“I’m nobody’s puppet.”

He knows he should kill them all, the smart thing to do would be to remove the entire building from existence. It’s what he came here to do, to wipe any trace of them off of the face of the earth. But he’s just so tired, filled with a bone-deep exhaustion.

Bucky does not want to. He doesn’t want to kill anymore. He wants to never harm another human being in his life. He can’t remember all of them, but he feels them buried just below the surface, the victims of the Winter Soldier, waiting for him. The small fragments of who he was before have latched on, restoring that part of him, the part that can’t bring himself murder ten people in cold blood.

Just because he doesn’t want to fight, does not mean that they won’t force his hand. He’ almost completely forgotten that Sitwell is there.

The sound of the other man is enough to make his head snap up, watching as he hits something on his phone. He doesn’t know what it is, or what it does, but he can guess, and right now his guess involves some sort of panic button that will bring all eight of the agents upstairs.

He doesn’t hesitate, smashing the butt of his gun against the side of Karpov’s head, pulling out the tranq gun tucked into his belt and firing two darts into Sitwell’s neck. Both men drop to the floor at almost exactly the same time.

The sounds of the agents moving quickly up the stairs are faint. Even with his enhanced hearing it’s hard to make them out. They are all very well trained. He slips the Glock into his bag, pulling out the stun baton.

Bucky does not want to kill.

He knows that it will probably happen anyway, the agents in the hall preparing to breach are not going to give him much of a choice. It’s the nature of a fight like this, and even though he doesn’t like it, he accepts it. But he makes the choice to use non-lethal force, to not arm himself with the weapons designed to kill.

They kick the door in, spilling through in an explosion of splinters and bullets. Bucky turns, deflecting most of them with the metal of his arm, raising it to cover his head and face, aiming the tranq gun underneath it and firing off two shots.

They hit their marks, a pair of agents falling to the ground with matching thuds.

Their comrades step over them easily, the first throwing something that looks a hell of a lot like a grenade into the apartment. Bucky grabs the large dining room table, ignoring all of the files and computers covering it. Using his metal arm he flips the table towards the agents, ducking behind it as the flash bomb goes off, eyes shut and ears covered just in case.

The agents all have helmets and masks on, tactical gear hastily put on over their civilian disguises.

Two more go down thanks to computer monitors to the head.

There are four more of them, he can hear one pair waiting in the lobby, the other two hastily ascending towards him. He takes the jump at a run, vaulting over the rail and letting himself free fall an entire floor, metal hand grabbing hold of a section of the railing.

It tears with a screech, his legs swinging under, both boots solidly connecting with one helmet, knocking the agent into the wall. A spray of bullets chase him onto the landing, fired by the agents on the ground. One of them trails a searing path across the meat of his right shoulder.

He lands heavily, barely having time to register the agonising tearing sensation in his left shoulder as the second agent still on the stairs comes at him. She’s small and fast, though not as fast as him, managing to get in several good jabs with her stun baton. One of them to his temple, breaking the skin as fire shoots through his brain.

It’s only a moment, his vision whiting out and nausea rolling through his stomach, but it’s enough for her to kick the side of his knee with her boot. He swipes out with his metal hand, half blind. It catches her across the side of the head, knocking her into the wall.

Lurching forward he swings again, this time the blow knocks her down the small flight of stairs, she doesn’t get up at the bottom.

Bucky waits, head throbbing, shoulder burning. Only two agents left. He slumps against the wall, sliding down so that he’s half sitting, slipping his eyes closed so there is only the barest sliver of light poking through. Just enough to make out the agent rushing up the stairs, gun out and trained on Bucky, moving steadily forward.

It’s the blood steadily dripping down the side of his face, not too serious a wound but enough to make it look like he should be unconscious. The agent is still cautious, doesn’t lower her gun as she approaches, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Smart woman.

But not smart enough to avoid the last two of Bucky’s tranq darts embedding themselves into the meat of her thigh. She wobbles for a moment, before toppling backwards onto her colleagues, the three of them piled in a heap. One to go.

He waits, but the final agent is smart enough not to come up the stairs, holding his ground at the bottom, knowing that Bucky has to come down if he wants to get out.

The sounds of gunfire and crashing thuds will have alerted any neighbours, he hasn’t got long before the police arrive.

He straightens, pushing down the pain in his shoulder, head, and knee. He can almost make out the last agent, a sliver of shadow hiding under the stairs where he can presumably ambush Bucky at the bottom. It’s only one floor to the ground, and his knee is not actually that bad.

Ignoring the fact that he may just break his leg, he jumps, landing hard and rolling to the side out of the line of fire. The agent’s aim is good, sticking to where Bucky’s extremities are, trying to avoid his head and centre mass. It’s cute, that they still think they can capture him.

He comes out of the roll, knife already unsheathed and flying through the air, embedding itself neatly in the joint of the man’s shoulder, the small area not covered by his Kevlar vest. He drops his gun, letting out a huff of breath as the blow registers.

It’s plenty of time for Bucky to stagger forward, metal arm curving in a graceful arc and connecting solidly with the side of the guy’s head.

The silence is broken only by the sound of his panting. There’s blood dripping into his eye, and he clumsily wipes it away. His backpack is still firmly in place, though everything else he’s wearing has been damaged. There are multiple holes in the sleeve of his jacket, from where the bullets bounced off of the metal, not to mention the blood slowly soaking into the back from his brand new gunshot wound.

The metal arm is completely untarnished, but his shoulder is completely fucked, even the slightest movements sending bolts of pain shooting down his spine. Cradling the arm to his chest he straightens, once again wiping blood away from his face.

Stepping out onto the dark street is like shedding a skin. He may be broken, bloody, barely able to walk, but he is not just the Winter Soldier. He is broken, bloody, barely able to walk Bucky Barnes.

It may not be his real name, James Buchanan Barnes may just be yet another fabrication. But Bucky? Bucky was all Steve, and if he gets to choose anything, he gets to choose what he is known as. Not the Asset, not Vanya, and not the Winter Soldier.

Bucky is the one that limps slowly off into the night.

*

A Man waits in a parked car. He has no name, but that is not needed. He has a target and a timeframe and a mission to complete.

The Target limps towards him, poorly illuminated in the dim street lights. Pale, with blood running down the side of his face, stumbling slightly.

The Man steps out of the car. 2.6m away the Target sees him, stops. There is but a fraction of a second where they look at each other, both recognising the other for who he is, why he is there.

The Man fires. Two shots, the sound of them dulled by the suppressor attached to the end of his gun. The Target drops to the ground, dead.

The Man calls his employer to confirm the kill.

*

Secretary Pierce, I’ve-

“Make it quick Sitwell, I’m on my way to meet with the WSC.”

Sir… the Strike team is down. The-the Winter Soldier’s gone… Karpov is dead.”

“Finish cleaning the site, a team will be there soon.”

Sir?

“Shut it down Agent Sitwell. The team will take care of the rest.”

*

“Thank you for agreeing to speak with us, Secretary Pierce. As you know we are here to discuss the proposed Department X program. It is the duty of this council to determine not only the feasibility of such a program but any ethical repercussions.”

“The Department X program has already been terminated. It was a theoretical exercise developed during the Cold War that Vasily Karpov had suggested could be rejuvenated as a new kind of training platform. It was determined that the cost for such an exercise was too high several months before Karpov’s death, and as such was terminated.

“Now, if I could, I would like to draw your attention to Project Insight…”

Chapter Text

Bucky’s eyes snap open with a start. It’s not quite dawn, he can see the first hints of light peeking through the edges of the curtains. Steve is sound asleep next to him, snoring like he always does, though he denies it every time.

It had taken two weeks to track him down, but eventually he’d found him, running a small coffee hut that was barely more than a cart, in Sarandë, in the south of Albania. They stayed there for another two weeks before making their way south, hopping across the Greek islands.

After a month in Istanbul, and two weeks in Varna, they were now in Bucharest. They’ve been living in the tiny one room apartment for the better part of three weeks. Bucky likes Romania. He likes the people and the language, the weather getting warmer now that spring was half over, though it is still cool enough that it isn’t strange for him to wear long sleeves in public.

It is not the first time he’s woken from a nightmare, and he knows it won’t be the last. He doesn’t wake up screaming much anymore, his dreams having moved on from the memories of torture and pain. Occasionally they’ll sneak up on him, sending him lurching from the bed, shaking and terrified and never entirely sure of who or where he is.

Steve has gotten pretty good at talking him back down; and after an incident where Bucky threw him across the room and nearly through a wall, he’s gotten much better at doing it from afar.

Now however, he mostly just wakes, eyes snapping open as everything comes into harsh focus.

The routine is the same, wake up from the nightmare, usually in the pre-dawn hours, get out of bed. He doesn’t ever try going back to sleep, every time he closes his eyes after the fact his mind just spins in circles, reliving every detail, every moment, until he’s nearly worked himself into a panic attack.

Once he’s out of bed he goes to sit at the table. They call it a table, when really it’s more of a desk. They usually eat on the couch, sitting at either end facing each other with their feet tangled in the middle. The table is where the computer is set up, where Steve does some of his drawings and where Bucky writes.

That’s the next step. After getting up and going to the table he writes it all down. Everything he can remember from the dreams, any insignificant detail that comes to mind. He has three notebooks so far, filled with what he has remembered. Sometimes it’s just writing the same thing, this time with a slightly different detail, or with something added in the middle.

There are pictures too. He can’t draw for shit, they discovered that the first time he’d tried. He’s good with rooms and places, able to sketch out rough maps and floor-plans. But Steve has sat, sometimes for hours, listening as Bucky talks, describing what little he can of people’s faces.

His favourite is the teenaged girl. She’s maybe sixteen or seventeen, with a mischievous smirk, dark hair, and his eyes. She only shows up in the good memories. They are weaker, faded like they’ve aged, and often only as long as the briefest of moments.

Driving in a car and singing loudly to a song he doesn’t recognise. Holding her by the back of her shirt over the edge of a pier, laughing whilst she shrieks and screams bloody murder.

He keeps every single face Steve draws. Hers because she’s a part of his past from before, a cousin or even a sister. He doesn’t remember her name. The others he keeps because he needs to. Steve draws them like they were, alive and smiling, doing something good in the world until Bucky came along and ended them.

He’s not doing it to torture himself. While it doesn’t change the fact that he did it, objectively he understands that he wasn’t in control. But he feels responsible for these people, like he owes it to them to keep going, to keep trying.

The worst was when he remembered the accident. It had been the middle of the day, they were in one of the parks because Steve liked drawing people going about their lives. A helicopter had flown over head, maybe a news chopper or some sort of ambulance.

But the sound of the rotors beating in the air had been enough for him. He’d blacked out, mind full of the sounds of gunfire, remembering the moment when the chopper they’d been evacuating in had been shot from the sky. He’d somehow survived the crash, though he doesn’t think he can really say he survived being captured.

When he’d come around again he was back in the apartment thankfully. Tucked away in the rickety old wardrobe, curled into a ball with his arms wrapped around his knees. He didn’t even realise until Steve had come running inside – out of breath and panicking after searching for Bucky for most of the afternoon – but he’d been muttering the entire time, reciting his name rank and serial number.

That night he’d woken no less than seven times from various nightmares. The surgery where they’d attached his metal arm. The series of painful injections that had left him writhing on the metal table, burning from the inside out. The torture, the sensory deprivation. The way they’d starved him, cut him, burned him, until he was little more than an animal. The first time they wiped his mind.

He hadn’t written any of it down. He knows that Steve reads the notebooks, he told him that he could after all. Maybe Steve would recognise something, someone famous maybe that he’d killed, or even a landmark.

But he doesn’t ever want Steve knowing how he’d been unmade.

Bucky knows that Steve has figured a lot of it out. He’s smart like that. But it’s one thing to think abstractly that Bucky was tortured and his mind erased, and another thing entirely to hear the exact number of times they covered his face in a towel and poured water over his nose and mouth.

To read exactly how many bamboo splinters had been inserted under his finger nails.

So he never writes those things down. Sometimes he’ll remember a technician, an agent or a superior. Those people go into the notebooks. So do the small flashes of bases of operations, various safe houses and drop points. But never what happened to him in those places.

Those are for him and him alone to carry.

Once he’s written the dreams down it’s time for his run. He changes into his running gear, leaving a note for Steve so that he knows where he is (even though it is the same each day).

The routine is identical to every morning before. Nightmare, remembering, running, rinse and repeat.

Steve is always still asleep when he leaves, though he’s usually up by the time Bucky returns with coffee and sometimes breakfast.

His runs are cleansing, he can focus on nothing more than the sounds of his breathing, the beating of his feet against the pavement. It chases the demons and the nightmares away, so that he can try and make it through another day, always moving forward, never letting himself fall into the downward spiral that is obsessing over his past.

It’s on his run that he first notices the man, standing at a grocers across the road from the foot path Bucky follows. He doesn’t think anything of it until he sees him again, this time at the end of his run when he slips into the coffee shop he and Steve usually go to.

There’s something about the man that puts him on edge. The last week has been unseasonably cold, cold enough that Bucky’s been wearing his jacket when he runs. The man is not dressed for the cold. He has gloves on, but his jacket is too light, no sign of a hat or a scarf to compensate for it.

The materials that he is wearing are all very plain colours, not too light, not too dark, but made from what Bucky can tell even at a distance, are sturdy materials. They have to have been tailored, the cut too well fitted to be off the rack, and something about them screams military.

Even the way the man holds himself is wrong, the way he’s positioned in the room, the way he keeps scanning the crowd, keeps tugging on the hem of his jacket. He’s very well trained, all of the movements made to look casual, even to a professional eye.

But Bucky wasn’t trained, he was brainwashed to be better than the best. The clothing’s too casual to be so well fitted, his stance slightly too carefree for the cold, the sweeps of his eyes too evenly spaced to be aimless gazing.

Bucky pays for the coffee and breakfast sandwiches, smiling at the server like it’s any other day. But instincts are taking over, the tactical awareness and careful blankness of the Winter Soldier coming to the forefront. It’s a hard feeling to replicate, but he’s gotten better over the last few months at controlling it, at not letting it control him.

He takes a roundabout way back to the apartment, cutting through some buildings, keeping his pace calm but essentially looping around in circles. He knows what he has to do, they’ve planned for this situation or any like it.

The most important part is to get them out. If it were just him, he could turn and fight, deal with each threat as it approaches. But it’s not just him, and Steve is the priority. Steve is always the priority.

When he gets home he goes straight for the bug-out bags, saying nothing more to Steve than they’ve been made. Steve doesn’t argue, he doesn’t question Bucky, just starts packing down the laptop and the stuff on the table, shoving it into the bags.

Bucky grabs all of the money and passports hidden around the apartment. They only take what they need, everything else gets left behind.

It takes less than three minutes before they leave, not bothering to lock the door behind them. The go down the fire exit at the back of the building. They climb into the car, Bucky driving.

When he pulls out onto the street he sees the man again. Thankfully the man doesn’t see them, but it’s a close thing. They aren’t going to be clear of his line of sight for a while, not without breaking several speed laws. And with a sinking sensation in his gut, he recognises the outline of a gun in the guy’s pocket, hand wrapped around it ready to fire but hidden from view.

He does not want Steve to get shot. And if the guy does start shooting at Bucky, the chances of him hitting Steve are more than likely.

“We’ll have to split up,” he can tell even before he says it that Steve wants to argue, “I’ll lead him back through the city and you can get away clean. This way it’s less likely he will be able to tell you’re with me.”

The one thing they (meaning mostly him) have been most careful about is hiding Steve. He told them Steve was dead, and if there is any luck in the universe, it’s going to stay that way.

Steve, by some miracle, doesn’t argue, though he can see it on his face that it’s a close thing. He pulls over close to the bridge. He’ll let the guy catch a glimpse of him before he crosses to the other side of the river, hopefully he’ll follow and Steve can circle around the block and head in the complete opposite direction.

Throwing the car into park he reaches into the backseat, grabbing his bag.

He spares a minute to lean across and kiss Steve, for luck or just because he loves him, either way it’s short and easy. They don’t let it be a kiss goodbye.

“Forty-eight hours,” he presses another kiss to Steve’s lips. “I’ll meet you in Toulouse.”

“It’s a date,” Steve smiles.

As he walks across the bridge he keeps his pace casual, slow enough that the guy should hopefully see him, but not so slow that it looks like he’s trying to get attention. He can feel Steve’s eyes on his back, allows himself a glance over his shoulder.

Steve’s already climbed into the driver’s seat, Bucky catches the smallest hint of his smile before he’s turning his attention ahead, no point risking the guy catching what he’s looking at.

There’s not too much in the way of foot traffic, enough to blend in, but not so many as to impede his path. Two cars pass him in the other direction but other than that the road is quiet.

He’s almost to the other side when he hears it, the rev of an engine, the sound of gunfire, three shots ringing out, followed by the screech of tires. He turns just in time to see it, the guy standing in the middle of the road, people around him scattering.

He’s facing away from Bucky, firing his gun at the car driving straight at him. Firing his gun at Steve. Bucky sees two of the shots shatter the windscreen, the car hitting the guy before swerving to the side, crashing through the railing and off of the bridge.In that moment, everything is frozen.

In that fraction of a second everything goes dead silent and the calm takes complete control. There’s a rush, like a wave crashing over him. He is the Winter Soldier, everything else just fades, is pushed away to make room.

The Winter Soldier follows orders, and his orders are to hunt down and destroy anyone who had anything to do with it, with anything that led to him standing here watching as Steve Rogers dies.

Bucky Barnes dies with him.